Friday, December 30, 2016

Studious Metsimus Presents The Happy/Crappy Recap For 2016

We've reached that time of year, Mets fans.  No, I'm not talking about the time when teams overpay for a .230 hitter because his lifetime WAR is higher than his team owner's IQ.  It's time for this year's Happy/Crappy recap, where I share what made Mets fans incredibly happy but also save space for what was indelibly crappy.

When the 2016 season began, the Mets were the defending National League champions.  When the season ended, the team the Mets beat in 2015 to earn the title of N.L. champs became World Series champions for the first time since Scott Atchison read the story of Rip Van Winkle in study hall.

The Mets got to see the Cubs win it all from the comforts of their own homes because they couldn't knock off the Washington Nationals for the division title and had to settle for a do-or-die wild card game against postseason pitching extraordinaire Madison Bumgarner.  Or in other words, a loss.

But the Mets gave us plenty to hope for in the near future.  They got everyone hurt in 2016 so that only half of those players will be injured in 2017.  (I mean, Ray Ramirez can't kill them all again, right?)  They held Daniel Murphy to no home runs against them in six September games between the Mets and Nationals.  (Never mind that Murphy failed to go deep against everyone in September; that's not important right now!)  And most importantly, they allowed Eric Campbell to export his .173 batting average to Japan, where he will most likely become this generation's version of Tuffy Rhodes.

But in all seriousness, the Mets are built to remain contenders for longer than anyone thought they would be when Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins first came on the scene in 2011.  And after six years of 70-something wins per season, the Mets are poised to be far more happy than crappy well into the next decade.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it's time for the 2016 Happy/Crappy recap.

Just like they did in 2015, the Mets got off to a quick start in 2016.  By mid-May, New York had a 21-12 record and was in first place in the NL East.  The pitching staff was once again responsible for the team's early success, allowing three runs or fewer in 24 of the first 33 games.  But the most important pitcher in the first few months of the season wasn't a starter.  Rather, it was closer Jeurys Familia, who for most of the season was on pace to break the all-time National League single-season saves record.  He finished four saves short of the N.L. mark held by Eric Gagne and Hall of Famer John Smoltz but still set a franchise record by recording 51 saves.

The new double play combo of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera was solid in the field and absolutely spectacular at the plate.  Even Cabrera's 0-for-34 stretch with runners in scoring position couldn't take away from how valuable an acquisition he was.  The new second baseman and shortstop became the first double play duo in team history to each reach 20 homers and produce an OPS over .800.  (Walker had an .823 OPS, while Cabrera's was .810; both players smacked 23 HR.)  And that's with Walker and Cabrera each spending time on the disabled list and combining to miss 70 games.  The Mets retained the services of the two steady middle infielders to ensure more pop and circumstance in 2017.

After no one thought the Mets could do it, they signed Yoenis Céspedes not once, but twice in 2016.  The first time, they allowed him to opt out of his three-year, $75 million deal after the first season was complete, which he did.  The second time, he re-signed with the team for four years and $110 million.  And this time, he's not going anywhere after year one is done.  Céspedes led the Mets in home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, parakeets, horses, spring training vehicles, Lion King tributes, ... You name it, he led in it.  And he'll be trying to do the same through the 2020 campaign.

'Member Wilmer Flores?  He didn't cry on the field this year, but he did start to hit right-handed pitching better.  And even though he had 175 fewer plate appearances this year compared to his 2015 folk hero campaign, Flores still put up 16 HR and 49 RBI.  How rare is that production for a Mets player with fewer than 350 plate appearances?  Flores became just the fifth Met in club history with that many home runs in a sub-350 PA season and the fourth with that many RBI.  And to think he just turned 25 and posted career highs with a .788 OPS and 108 OPS+.  Before too long, people might totally forget about his obsession with the show "Friends" and will only remember him for being a fine hitter who makes excellent contact (165 strikeouts in 1,220 career plate appearances).

Last, but certainly not least is the legend of Noah Syndergaard, which went off the charts in 2016.  From his bromance with Yoenis Céspedes and Bartolo Colón to his hilarious Twitter account to sticking a microphone up Steve Gelbs' nose, Thor became a fan-favorite both on and off the field.  The 14-9 record, 2.60 ERA, 218 strikeouts and three homers as a batter were pretty cool, too.  As was his memorable effort against that Bum in the wild card game.  All from a guy who hadn't been born when Nirvana was at its peak.  Mets fans hope Thor can lead the team to baseball nirvana in the near future.

Noah Syndergaard clearly wanted to hear if Steve Gelbs was breathing heavily.  (SNY screen shot)

Not all was happy in the last season for the Mets.  In fact, some of the happy is intertwined with the crappy.  Time to unroll the orange and blue toilet paper and share what was crappy with 2016.

Once again, a quick start was followed by a mid-summer dry spell, especially with a lethargic offense that counted on players like James Loney, Alejandro De Aza and others of that ilk.  From May 12 to July 30, the Mets scored two runs or fewer in 35 of 70 games.  For all you kids out there, that's half the time not scoring more than a couple of runs.  That's not going to win a lot of ballgames.  (That would also explain why, by August 19, the Mets had gone 39-50 over their last 89 games to go from nine games over .500 to two games under.)

What happened to the vaunted starting rotation?  Matt Harvey went 4-10 with an ERA approaching 5.00 and a WHIP just under 1.50.  That's almost Mike Pelfrey in 2009 territory (Big Pelf had a 5.03 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in that sad, sad season).  And Jacob deGrom never found his fastball.  He must have left it wherever he left his winning record, as he went 7-8 with a career-high ERA and WHIP.  Let's not even talk about Steven Matz, who couldn't lose early on, then couldn't even get his grandpa to jump out of his seat during an 11-start stretch in which he posted a Harvey-esque 4.81 ERA and allowed opposing hitters to slash .303/.353/.472 against him.  The most consistent starter other than Syndergaard was Bartolo Colón, and now he's an Atlanta Brave.  Let's hope Zack Wheeler's unexpected two-year vacation has him ready to replace Big Sexy on the big stage.

As of this writing, the Mets still have Jay Bruce on their payroll.  He is a lefty-swinging outfielder with power.  They also have Curtis Granderson.  He also swings from the left side and patrols the outfield.  And you may have heard of this Michael Conforto guy.  Guess which side of the plate is his favorite and where he plays on the field?  Here's another thing about those guys.  They make outs.  Lots of them.  In fact, Granderson's .237 batting average was the highest among the three, with Conforto batting .220 and a late-season hot streak propelling Bruce all the way up to .219.  But hey, at least Granderson can draw a walk, and walks put fannies in the seats, right?

Jeurys Familia did a bad thing this off-season.  Something that was even worse than allowing that home run to Conor Gillaspie in the wild card game.  And because he couldn't control his temper off the field, he'll have to stay away from the field for a significant portion of the early 2017 campaign.  So either the Mets will have to score a ton of runs in April and early May or they'll have to depend on people not named Jeurys Familia to hold a slim lead when the starters are taken out of the game.  I hope the Mets paid their phone bill, because that bullpen phone is going to get quite a workout early on in 2017.

Finally, how does Ray Ramirez still have a job?  Sometimes it seems as if he spends more time on the field than the players do.  The disabled list welcomed a ton of Mets players in 2016, which has been par for the course since Ramirez became the head trainer.  Having him as the head trainer has become a head scratcher for most Mets fans.  Just don't scratch too hard while pondering why the players never seem to come back after injuries that began as day-to-day aches and pains turn into season-long nightmares.  Your head might end up in a walking boot if Ramirez finds out.

That's all she wrote, Mets fans.  You've just read what was happy and crappy about the 2016 season just in time to start thinking about what could possibly go wrong (and right) in 2017.  Can the 2017 top the two-season run the Mets have been on?  Will the offense finally hit in June?  And how will Noah Syndergaard antagonize Steve Gelbs next?

The answers will all be here in the coming year, as brought to you by your friendly neighborhood Studious Metsimus staff.  And if for some reason, the staff is on vacation or at an all-you-can-eat buffet when breaking Mets news hits, you can be sure that other members of the blogosphere - those who don't take vacations or eat - will be there to fill you in.  Blogs such as A Gal For All Seasons, Faith and Fear in Flushing, Mets Merized Online, MetsMinors.Net, Amazin' Avenue, Metstradamus, Remembering Shea, The Daily Stache, Mets360, Rising Apple, Mets Plus, Mets Police, MetSilverman, Converted Mets Fan and Mets Daddy, just to name a few (or 15, to be exact) always have compelling stories to share, day or night.  Check them out some time.  I'd say "tell 'em Ed sent you" but I'm not sure they all know who I am.

From all of us here at Studious Metsimus headquarters (which is basically just a desk that's equidistant from the kitchen and the bathroom), we'd like to wish you and yours a happy New Year.  And by "we", that's yours truly (Ed Leyro), our roving reporter/culinary expert (Joey Beartran) and queen of all social media (Taryn "The Coop" Cooper).

And remember, Mets fans, it's not how you play the game, it's how you managed to stay on the field when your head trainer is Ray Ramirez.

Thanks so much for your support!

The Studious Metsimus staff raises a glass to our readers!  (That guy on the top right needs to shave.)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Joey's Letter To Sandy Claus (2016)

I figured a sandy setting would be appropriate for a letter to Sandy Claus.  Plus, it reminds me of summer and baseball.

Dear Sandy Claus,

Are you there, Sandy?  It's me, Joey Beartran.  You may remember me from the letters I've sent you in each of the last five holiday seasons.  Other teams' fans have gotten some of their wishes already, such as Cardinals fans getting World Series champion center fielder Dexter Fowler under their tree, Boston lovers getting the Sale of the century and ChiSox supporters getting almost every other team's young prospects to fill their ChiStockings.

As for me and my fellow Mets fans, we're not really asking for much this year.  After all, you've given us two consecutive postseason appearances and have us in position to make an unprecedented third straight October run in 2017.  You've also somehow managed to get superstar slugger Yoenis Céspedes to shun other teams' offers not once, but twice, which has made the loss of former Mets farmhand and current American League Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer a little more palatable.

That doesn't mean we wouldn't want a little something extra from you this holiday season.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  We're quite pleased with the riches you've given us on such a tight budget, but at the same time, we're Mets fans.  That means we're never satisfied.

So since I seem to be the only one here writing you a letter, I figure I'd speak on behalf on my fellow Mets fans so that you know what we'd like this year.  Considering that we've all been nice this year - except for Ray Ramirez, who should probably receive a lump of coal in his stocking, just sayin' - I don't think our wishes are all that unreasonable.  Here goes.

What should I ask for?  This would be a pretty inopportune time to get writers' block.

I'd like a trading partner for Jay Bruce.  It's clear that the Mets have a glut of outfielders.  One is the team's best offensive threat (Céspedes), one is supposedly the star of the future (Michael Conforto), one is a former Gold Glove winner (Juan Lagares), one always says hi to me when I'm sitting in my Right Field Reserved seats (Curtis Granderson) and the other is Jay Bruce.  I don't really care who you trade him for.  Trade him for a new head athletic trainer for all I care.  Actually, if you trade Bruce AND the team's current athletic trainer in the same deal, you'd be killing two birds with one stone, which is probably a good thing for the birds because if they weren't killed by that single stone, the trainer might have to take a look at them and that would be a fate worse than death.

I would also like a shutdown bullpen, you know, like the Nasty Boys that helped the Reds win their last championship in 1990 or the relievers that helped propel the Cubs and Indians to the World Series last year.  (I'd mention the Royals' bullpen that led the team to two World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015, but it's a little too soon for me.)  With Jeurys Familia possibly missing some time to start the season due to his domestic violence incident (and he should also get coal for what he did), the Mets will need someone with late inning experience to complement Addison Reed.  I'm well aware that relievers can go from Mariano Rivera domination to Mel Rojas abomination in a matter of minutes, but I trust you to find someone with the talent to fill the hole left by the impending absence of Familia.  Oh, and make sure the guy you get us isn't named Armando or have a second cousin once removed in the Benitez family.

Without question, I want good health for the players who lost time in 2016 due to injuries.  You know, like Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Flores, Jose Reyes, David Wright, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz...  You know what?  Just keep those guys away from the players who managed to stay healthy in 2016 until it's been determined that their injuries aren't contagious.  Though I suppose you wouldn't have to worry about that much with Wright, since he breaks more than wind at a bean burrito eating contest.

I want the Michael Conforto from April 2016 to become the Michael Conforto of every month of the 2017 baseball season.  We've had several one-month wonders in the past.  Does Derek Bell and his red hot start in April 2000 ring a (ahem) bell?  No one expects Conforto to put up the .330/.402/.522 slash line he's produced in 166 career minor league games.  But I do think we should expect more than his .238/.319/.448 performance in 165 contests with the Mets.  Considering that after the 2017 campaign, the Mets won't have Bruce or Granderson on their payroll, Conforto will have to step up to prove that he is going to be a top contributor on this team.  And while I'm at it, can you get Terry Collins to trust him a little more against southpaws?  l know Conforto is probably never going to be a .300 hitter versus left-handed pitchers, but TC has shown as much faith in him against lefties as I have in myself becoming a vegan.  It's time to cut Conforto loose against the world.

Palm trees go with things that are Sandy.  Just hope "Exotic Canadian" isn't a euphemism for Jason Bay.

Speaking of cutting loose, it's time to finally see the Fab Five in action.  I'm talking about having Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler take over this rotation and not let it go until Scott Boras gets Harvey a nine-figure deal to underachieve somewhere else.  Unfortunately, this has yet to happen because Wheeler took a two-year injury sabbatical, Harvey never quite recovered from the ninth inning of Game Five and deGrom and Matz couldn't make 30-plus starts, leaving Syndergaard to do all the heavy lifting in 2016.  And what heavy lifting he did!  Thor basically carried the staff on his back and nearly led them past Madison Bumgarner and the Giants in the Wild Card game.  Imagine if the Mets had several pitchers who could do the same over a full season.  Wait.  They do.  As long as they stay healthy and Yoko Ono doesn't try to break up the band.

I'm a fan of Kelly Johnson.  I really am.  I'm not a fan of losing future major leaguers every time the Mets decide to acquire him during the season.  In 2015, the Mets reeled in Johnson from Atlanta with a package that included John Gant and Robert Whalen.  Both pitchers made it to the majors in 2016 and Gant recorded his first big league victory against the Mets in June.  (It came just three days before my birthday, which was not exactly an ideal gift for me.)  Then after re-signing with the Braves prior to the 2016 campaign, the Mets once again traded for Johnson, sending pitcher Akeel Morris to Atlanta in return for the utility man.  Morris posted a 2.27 ERA for the Braves' Double-A affiliate in 25 appearances following the trade so I wouldn't be surprised if he made it back to the show at some point in 2017.  Therefore, on my wish list, I'd like the Mets to keep Johnson around for the entire 2017 campaign rather than having to sacrifice their young for his services.  We can't keep stuffing the Braves' stockings with so much talent year after year just to get half a season of Kelly Johnson each time.

Finally, I'd like more of those delicious steak frites that you can only find at the Pat LaFrieda joint on the Promenade level.  Why aren't they offered on the field level?  I didn't even know they were an option until we were well into the season.  Also, why was there no Rao's pasta in the Foxwoods Club in 2016 like there was when the area was called the Caesar's Club in previous seasons?  That was my go-to dish when I didn't want to stand in a long line of people who only wanted hot dogs and beer and could have purchased said items from any vendor walking around the ballpark instead of taking up so much space on the line in front of me!  On a related note, I'd also like you to help me control my temper, especially when I'm hungry.

More places in the stadium where these are available would be most welcome.

So that's pretty much what I'm asking you for, Sandy.  Just dump the latest outfielder with the initials J.B. that failed to impress in New York, add a piece or two to the bullpen, keep the players as far away from Ray Ramirez as possible and remind Conforto that his Olympian mom is still the best athlete in the family until he learns how to hit a baseball on a consistent basis.

In addition, all I am saying is don't play Plastic Ono Band music near the starting pitchers and give Kelly Johnson a chance for an entire season.  Oh, and more stands with steak frites around the ballpark and the return of Rao's pasta dishes would be most welcome.  I'm speaking for all Mets fans, of course, not just myself.

Thanks so much for reading my letter, Sandy.  And thank you for what you've done to take this team from a perennial 70-something win squad to a club that has to cancel golf plans in October because playing ball for a title is much more fun than playing with a Titleist ball.

I wish you and your merry little elves a happy holiday season and I can't wait to see what you leave under my tree.  And remember, just because my tree is small doesn't mean you can't put everything I asked for under it.  You're a baseball maverick.  You'll figure out a way.

Love and Shake Shack forever,
Joey Beartran

Hope you get my letter, Sandy Claus.  And my tree really isn't that small; it still towers over me!