This year's Mets team has been a pleasant surprise, going 45-42 with makeshift lineups and a lack of star power. They have performed above everyone's expectations, despite a slow start and injuries to their corner infielders and ace pitcher. The Mets are proving that the best teams aren't always the ones with a roster full of overpaid superstars (see New York Mets, 2007-2010). In fact, sometimes all a team needs is a young group of players with the hunger and desire to succeed.
Daniel Murphy, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Bobby Parnell, Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada were all supposed to be bit players on the Mets in 2011. Other than Niese, none of the players listed above was guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster, with some of them opening the season at AAA-Buffalo. But through injuries and Terry Collins' desire to give his young players a chance, all have been instrumental in the team's success over the first half of the season.
Daniel Murphy has kept his average around .300, while collecting his share of extra-base hits and clutch hits. His 17 doubles rank third on the team, while his .350 batting average with runners in scoring position have helped him collect 35 RBI, good for second on the team behind Carlos Beltran.
Jonathon Niese has continued his development from fringe pitcher to top of the rotation starter. He leads the team with 92 strikeouts and is tied for the team lead in wins with eight. Since starting the season slowly with a 1-4 record, Niese has gone 7-3 and has a 2.73 ERA over his last ten starts.
Dillon Gee went from Buffalo to near All-Star. He won his first seven decisions this season and is currently tied for the team lead in wins. His .800 winning percentage is tied for the National League lead with the Braves' Jair Jurrjens, a pitcher Gee defeated in their head-to-head matchup on June 4. He is also the hardest pitcher to hit in the Mets' starting rotation, allowing a .222 batting average to opposing hitters. As a result, the Mets are 11-2 in Gee's 13 starts.
Bobby Parnell has been an on-again, off-again pitcher since making his major league debut in 2008, but since returning from AAA-Buffalo in late May, he has been constantly in "on" mode. Parnell is the owner of a 0.96 ERA over his last 16 appearances and has held opposing hitters to a .200/.241/.218 mark in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, respectively, since the beginning of June. He has also become a strikeout machine, averaging 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings, after averaging 7.7 K/9 innings from 2008-2010.
It's a fact that no one saw Justin Turner coming, but once he arrived, he made his presence felt, setting Mets rookie records in consecutive games with an RBI and consecutive games reaching base. He has also been the team's best hitter with runners in scoring position, batting .386 in such spots. As a result, he sits just one RBI behind Daniel Murphy for second place on the team despite having only played in 57 games.
Ruben Tejada was supposed to be the kid with the slick glove who wasn't supposed to do much with the bat. But in addition to his fielding prowess, his offense has been a pleasant surprise. In 44 games hitting mostly in the eighth spot in the batting order, Tejada has collected 18 RBI, the result of a .314 batting average with runners in scoring position and a .318 average with men on base. Also, unlike most free-swinging young players, the 21-year-old Tejada has made excellent contact this season, striking out only 25 times.
All of these players have given the Mets significant contributions this season despite lacking the experience that their higher paid colleagues possess. In addition to their mutual success, there is one other important feature shared by all six players. None of them is older than 26 years of age. Therefore, they all stand to have long careers in the major leagues should they continue to build on their achievements.
There was a time when “the kids” meant Jose Reyes, David Wright and no one else. The team didn’t develop their own players, preferring to sign or trade for 30-something players like Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, Orlando “The Dookie” Hernandez, Moises Alou and Luis Castillo, rather than giving their young players a chance. Many of those veteran players performed well at the start of their careers in New York, but broke down long before they played their last games for the Mets.
The 2011 Mets have not lived by this mantra, giving players such as Daniel Murphy, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Bobby Parnell, Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada the opportunity to succeed at the major league level. Their success has translated into more wins for the Mets and the hope for meaningful games in the second half of the season, something that hasn’t been seen since the Mets moved across the parking lot into Citi Field.
Sure, having veteran leadership is always important, but how can those veterans lead when they can’t withstand the rigors of a 162-game season? The current Mets are better suited to play the entire season and are showing that they deserve to play. Before too long, there will come a day when Murphy, Niese, Gee, et al. are going to be the veterans that the next generation of players will be looking up to for leadership. It’s good to know that the 2011 Mets are getting the on-the-job training that will lead to success for this generation and future generations of Mets players.