Saturday, December 30, 2017

Studious Metsimus Presents The Happy/Crappy Recap For 2017

It's the end of another calendar year, Mets fans.  And with just six weeks or so remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie, it's time to look back and reflect.  No, we're not reflecting on all the injuries that seemed to be Ray Ramirez's fault in the eyes of the fan base.  (Okay, maybe we'll reflect on one or twelve of them.)  We're here to share what was happy and what was crappy about the 2017 season.  And if you followed this season as closely as the Studious Metsimus staff did, you'll probably expect the "happy" part to be as long as a Jeff Wilpon interview and the "crappy" part to be of a similar length as a modernized version of "War and Peace".

You know what?  You may be right about that.

But despite everything that a 70-92 record might suggest, not everything was crappy for Mets fans in 2017.  We got to see the Nationals make another first round exit, which means all of Daniel Murphy's postseason celebrations continue to be with him wearing a Mets uniform.  We also saw the Yankees complete an eighth consecutive season without winning a pennant.  (Hey, we hadn't seen that occur in over two decades.)  And of course, future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran went out as a champion, winning a World Series ring with the Mets' 1962 expansion mates a full 13 seasons after his epic postseason run with the Astros led to him becoming the greatest free agent signing in Mets history.

As Mets fans, we can take comfort that things other than the Mets can give us pleasure.  Sometimes it's all we have.  And with that, I think it's time to delve into this year's Happy/Crappy recap.  I promise it won't depress you as you read it.  After all, we wouldn't want you to end up wearing a leg boot because of a depression diagnosis.

So what was happy about the 2017 season?


Seriously, what can we look back on and remember as a good thing that happened this past season?

(More crickets, getting louder...)

Anything at all?  Bueller?  Bueller?

(Crickets quieting down, mainly because they're all shaking their heads...)

Okay, so it wasn't easy to find something to be happy about when looking back at the 2017 campaign.  I mean, the team needed a win on the next-to-last day of the season to avoid their first year with fewer than 70 wins since Art Howe's crew "battled" their way to a 66-95 record in 2003.

Everyone except Ray Ramirez got hurt at some point of the season.  I mean, Jay Bruce was traded to Cleveland with almost two months left in the season and still had the third-most plate appearances on the Mets.  Michael Conforto got hurt swinging the bat.  So did Wilmer Flores, who found a way to foul a ball off his face.  Both players appeared to be heading toward career years, as Conforto was on pace to hit 35-plus homers and Flores had already established career highs in home runs (18), batting average (.271), slugging percentage (.488) and OPS (.795) before the invisible magnet in his nose attracted a fastball off his bat.  Even Noah Syndergaard, who was expected to contend for the Cy Young Award, missed the majority of the season recovering from a lat injury.

Hey, but at least he got to woo Mrs. Met on Twitter as part of his all-out war on Mr. Met.

The injuries, as well as the selling off of the team's veteran players (and by veteran, I mean the guys who made the most money and were in the final season of their contracts), allowed the Mets to call up their top two minor league prospects, Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith.

Aha!  We've reached the bright side!

Rosario and Smith had flashes of brilliance, but neither took the baseball world by storm, as both posted OBPs south of .300 and OPSs under .700.  Still, Rosario just turned 22 last month and Smith won't be 23 until the anniversary of the Midnight Massacre.  And yet, some people are calling for Smith's days as a Met to be terminated before he's gotten a chance to prove himself.  Why?

The two neophytes combined to produce a .223/.266/.395 slash line, which isn't that for off from Noah Syndergaard's career slash line (.200/.273/.345).  That may not sound impressive, but consider the following.

Rosario gives the Mets speed they desperately need.  The swift Dominican finished second on the team behind Jose Reyes in triples and stolen bases.  If Reyes doesn't return in 2018, Rosario will be the only dependable source for steals and extra-base hits that don't come to a screeching halt at second base.  Plus, he'd be the best candidate to go first-to-third on a single.  Without Reyes and not including Rosario's totals in two months with the team, the Mets would have finished the 2017 campaign with 17 triples and 27 steals.  That's fewer than Lance Johnson had by himself in 1996 (21 triples, 50 SB).  Rosario should become the go-to guy to get the go-go signal from his coaches.

Meanwhile, Smith may have batted .198 with 49 strikeouts in 183 plate appearances, but he was an excellent hitter with runners in scoring position.  On a team that occasionally struggled offensively, Smith batted .283 with an .871 OPS when a teammate was 90 or 180 feet from crossing the plate.  That explains why he drove in 26 runs in those limited plate appearances.  In fact, he was more likely to drive in a run last season than the 110 Million Dollar Man, Yoenis Céspedes, as Smith averaged an RBI every 7.0 plate appearances, while Céspedes drove in a run every 7.6 PA (42 RBI; 321 PA).

All I am saying is give Smith a chance.

That was the good that came out of the 2017 season.  Now it's time for the bad and the ugly.  Can we have some orange and blue toilet paper, please?

Okay, we've gone over the injuries ad nauseum.  We've yet to discuss the pitching staff posting the highest team ERA since 1962, but doing that would just get us ad nauseous.  So let me tell you a story about something that happened with the one team expected to do worse than the Mets in 2018.  I'm talking about the Miami Marlins.

The Marlins have a new co-owner/CEO/gift basket giver.  To protect the not-so-innocent, let's call him Dirk Jitters.  Mr. Jitters was part of a group that purchased the team, then decided to enrage the dozens of Marlins fans in South Florida by trading the one player who made them come out to Marlins Park on a nightly basis; Giancarlo Stanton.  But faster than you can say "most overrated shortstop in the history of baseball", Mr. Jitters also found a way to trade slugger Marcell Ozuna and speedster Dee Gordon and is now supposedly looking to unload the contracts of Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto in this liquidation sale.

One can only imagine what he would have done with Jose Fernandez had he lived.

But Mr. Jitters did also something that was very unexpected.  He attended a town hall in which Marlins season ticket holders were invited to ask questions about the direction the team was taking.  Mr. Jitters calmly answered questions from the gathering of disgruntled fans, including Marlins Man, who left his seat behind home plate at a nationally televised road game to attend the meeting.

In doing so, Mr. Jitters was able to address the paying customers in person and made him more than just a guy in a suit with a closet full of gift baskets.  Which means he's already done more as a Marlins executive than the Wilpons have done with Mets fans.

Dirk Jitters has more balls than both Wilpons combined.

When was the last time you say Papa Smirk and Little Jeffy address the media or the team's fans?  They don't need to.  That's why they hired Sandy Alderson.  The Wilpons are the most hands-off owners in baseball except when someone wants to get their hands on their piggy banks.  To most fans, they're just urban legends as most of the team's supporters have never seen them in person.

The Studious Metsimus staff once attended a similar gathering of season ticket holders in 2013, which allowed fans to ask questions to members of the front office.  Alderson was there.  So were his merry men (John Ricco, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi).  Who wasn't there, you might ask?

Fred, Jeff and Saul.

The Mets' owners once had no problems giving out money to the top free agents and to re-sign their own players.  They gave newly-retired world champion Carlos Beltran a seven-year, $119 million contract.  They traded for a guy currently on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, Johan Santana, then proceeded to sign him to a six-year, $137.5 million extension.  Then a con man "made off" with their money and apparently their public appearances as well.

As long as New York keeps signing low-risk, high-reward players for pennies on the dollar and get low performance and high injury rates from these players, the fans will continue to revolt.  They'll continue to come to the ballpark (blame the food) and watch the games on SNY (blame Gary, Keith and Ron), but they'll always be figuratively throwing darts at photos of the Wilpons.  Maybe not so figuratively in some cases.

With little chance of the club acting like a large-market team and with the owners continuing to avoid breaking open their piggy banks for a proven commodity in his prime (Céspedes notwithstanding), the fans might have to endure a lot more of the crappy before the happy returns to Citi Field.

And that's it for 2017.  For most Mets fans, the year couldn't come to an end any quicker.  For the cast of crew of Studious Metsimus, we're not ready to give up on the year just yet.  At least not until we thank those who inspire, educate and amuse us.

Respected and long-running 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, Good Fundies, MetSilverman, Converted Mets Fan and Mets Daddy, just to name a few (or 15, to be exact) always have interesting stories to share, day or night.  Check them out some time.  I'd say "tell 'em Ed sent you" but I'm not sure all of them know who I am.

From all of us here at the corporate office of Studious Metsimus, which is quite literally a desk with a computer, an iPhone and a cat who swipes at us whenever we need to use "his" bathroom, we'd like to thank you for your continued support of this site and wish you a safe and happy New Year.  And by "we", I mean Ed Leyro (the dude at the computer), Joey Beartran (the roving reporter/culinary expert with the iPhone) and Taryn "The Coop" Cooper (the chick getting swiped by the cat).

And remember, Mets fans.  It's not how you play the game.  It's how much money you saved by not signing the top free agents on the market and hoping to get similar production from lesser players coming off a subpar season, then hoping to get a game-winning single from them once a month.  (This paragraph was approved by Fred and Jeff Wilpon.)

Hey, Dirk Jitters?  If you could get rid of this monstrosity in Marlins Park, you'd be doing your fans a great service.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Joey's Letter To Sandy Claus (2017)

I hope Sandy Claus brings me lots of presents.  If he needs bows for them, I've got just the place where he can find them.

Dear Sandy Claus,

Greetings from your No. 1 fan, Joey Beartran.  I hope you're not tired of my letters yet.  After all, this is the seventh time I've sent you one and your track record for giving me what I want for the holidays is as dependable as the experts who were certain that Matt Harvey was going to have a bounce-back campaign in 2017.  (Spoiler alert: He didn't.)

This year, I'm going to make my requests quite simple for you.  So simple that even a Nationals fan could understand them.  I'm going to go position by position and include lots of photos for visual aids.  If you still can't see what I'm asking for, just ask your assistant, Ricco the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  He'll light the way for you so you can acquire exactly what I'm wishing for.

Are you ready for my letter, Sandy Claus?  Because we have very little time before Christmas arrives and Spring Training starts earlier this year because of the March 29th season opener.  So put down that "How To Tell Awkward Jokes At Inopportune Moments" book you're so fond of and pay close attention to my missive.  The fate of the 2018 Mets depends on your undivided attention.

If at first you don't succeed, Sandy, try to read my letters more carefully!

At first base, we thought Dominic Smith was going to be the long-term answer.  To be honest with you, I still think he's the long-term solution.  Just because he batted .198 in 183 plate appearances during his late-season call-up doesn't mean he's going to turn into Mario Mendoza with a little pop and a craving for wet burritos.  How about looking at the fact that he drove in 26 runs in those limited times at the plate?  Smith batted .283 with runners in scoring position, which was higher than the team's combined .259 average in those situations.  On a team that occasionally had difficulty scoring runs, Smith averaged an RBI every 7.0 plate appearances.  Compare that to his financially stable teammate, Yoenis Céspedes, who drove in a run every 7.6 plate appearances despite possessing a .292 overall batting average on the season.  (Céspedes batted just .254 with RISP.)  Not even you can expect Smith to bat under .200 for a full season.  Imagine how many runs he'll drive in if he just gets his average up to Lucas Duda territory (.246).  Keep Dominic Smith at first base and you'll have given me my first present of the year.

Second base post-Daniel Murphy has turned into third base pre-Howard Johnson.  And that's not a good thing.

My sources tell me you want to trade for a second baseman.  I can see why, as last season, eight players attempted to play the position, with none of them playing more than 65 games there.  I was also told Ian Kinsler was your top target to become the team's everyday second sacker in 2018.  Well, he's with the Angels now after refusing to take the Mets off his no-trade clause.  Jason Kipnis has been discussed, but he's due to earn $31 million over the next two years (which includes a $2.5 buyout if he's not brought back for $16.5 million in 2020) and he's coming off an injury-riddled year in which he batted .232 in 90 games.

Sounds like your type of guy, Sandy.

Of course, if you don't get Cleveland to eat a chunk of his contract, we'd just be getting Neil Walker's salary back.  And it would serve as a reminder that Daniel Murphy was only paid $36 million for three years by Washington, or a lower average annual value than Kipnis is making for far less production at the plate.

Another option is Josh Harrison, a two-time All-Star as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  But I'm not impressed with his lack of pop - he's averaged ten homers per 162 games over his career - and doesn't walk very much, as evidenced by his career-high 28 walks last season.  He's also due to earn $10.5 million in 2018.  I'd like a little more production for that kind of money.

Here's the thing.  This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think a Wilmer Flores/Jose Reyes platoon isn't the worst thing that could happen to this team.  Flores would start against left-handed pitchers and Reyes would bat against righties.  We all know Flores isn't as productive as an everyday player, but has always been able to rake against southpaws.  Similarly, Reyes improved dramatically during the second half of the 2017 campaign, batting .288 with an .828 OPS after the All-Star break, as opposed to his .215 average and .655 OPS prior to the Midsummer Classic.  Both Flores and Reyes love playing for the Mets.  And they can both have their strong points come out in a second base platoon.  Flores will already be a Met in 2018.  Reyes would more than likely come back for far less money than the amount that would have to be doled out to Kipnis or Harrison.  I don't think a Flores/Reyes platoon would be the worst thing that could happen.

Abbott and Costello said "I don't know" is on third.  Sandy Claus claims Asdrubal Cabrera is there.  Who's right?

I'm glad you finally got those visions of David Wright dancing in your head out of your system.  If the $138 million man ever comes back, it should be as a backup player, albeit a very expensive one.  I'm also pleased you brought back Asdrubal Cabrera to play the position, although he had some difficulty there in 2017, making six errors in 40 starts as opposed to his error-free 32-game stint as the team's second baseman.  I think a full slate of Spring Training games at third will help him learn the position and he'll be fine.  But at the recently completed Winter Meetings, you did say, and I quote: "We've kind of zeroed (Cabrera) in at third base and we don't want to move him around, so while he gives us some flexibility, I'm not sure we want to exercise it."

Let me get one thing out of the way.  You're obsessed with the word "flexibility" the way Mike Piazza was always "frustrated" and Art Howe's guys "battled".  Stop that.  Now that I got that off my furry chest, I still think you need to acquire a good defensive third baseman in case Cabrera can't handle that end of the bargain.  I mean, if it's not Cabrera, then it's Flores at third, and we know how that's worked out in the past.  If Juan Lagares is going to be a part-time player in center field because of his defensive prowess, then why can't we have a guy who's a good glove at the hot corner for those times when we need steady defense?  At least you need someone there for when Cabrera demands a trade at some point during the regular season.

In case you hadn't noticed, I've intentionally skipped shortstop and catcher.  Hopefully, the lack of visual aids don't throw you off and you end up demoting Amed Rosario and signing a guy like, oh, let's say Jose Lobaton to be a potential backup catcher.  (Wait, you did the latter already?  Maybe I should have included that visual aid.)  That being said, I trust in you to leave Rosario as the starting shortstop and Travis d'Arnaud as the No. 1 catcher, especially since d'Arnaud set career highs in home runs (16) and RBI (57) despite not setting high marks in plate appearances.  He'll be 29 in February and may finally have taken the turn into being a solid contributor in the lineup.  Shortstop and catcher are not positions I need filled in my Christmas stocking this year.  Come to think of it, neither is the outfield, as Céspedes and Michael Conforto (when he's fully healed from his "that's so Mets" shoulder injury) will be out there, as will a combination of Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo and whatever scrap heap outfielder you can coerce to come to the team with the promise of a Mex Burger.  But pitching is another story...

What was once a strength has crumbled like a poorly-made biscuit.  Speaking of which, I may be a little hungry.

You know what I really want for Christmas more than anything?  I want the pitchers to not give up four runs and be taken out before the end of the fifth inning.  That kills their ERA and their bullpen brethren.  I mean, the team's collective ERA was 5.01.  Not since 1962 had the club's pitchers done something like that.  And it's never a good thing to be compared to that squad.

I also want more than one starter surpassing 120 innings, as Jacob deGrom was the only Met to reach that figure in 2017.  Back in 1983, Jesse Orosco and Doug Sisk had 110 and 104.1 IP, respectively.  It should be noted that both of them pitched exclusively in relief.  Now the Mets can't get starting pitchers with those numbers.  Hopefully, with the departure of Ray Ramirez, Robert Gsellman won't be second on the team in games started and Rafael Montero won't be asked to pitch 119 innings.  Just keep the pitchers healthy and in shape and I'll be a happy bear.

Mets pitchers allowed 220 HRs in 2017.  If the apple went up for opponents' blasts, it would've malfunctioned due to overuse.

So there you have it, Sandy.  You're the architect of this team.  If everything crumbles apart like it did in 2017, you're the one who has to take responsibility.  And once again, I don't want to hear about payroll or player flexibility.  The only flexibility I want to hear is the flexibility to hire someone who can make Mex Burgers great again.  They used to be my go-to burger at Citi Field, but the one I ordered last season reminded me of the burgers in the "Where's The Beef?" campaign used by Wendy's in the mid-'80s.  And trust me, that's not a good thing.

I've got a beef with the lack of beef on Mex Burgers.

Did you get all that, Sandy?  If you didn't, allow me to recap my letter for you.  Keep Dominic Smith on the field and away from wet burritos.  Settle on a second baseman that won't make us constantly remind you that you didn't bring back Daniel Murphy.  Don't go back to the days when Mets fans counted the number of third basemen in team history.  Have current starting pitchers on the mound for more innings than 1980s relievers.  And speaking of the '80s, find some beef to put on those tasty burgers at Keith's Grill.  Or just reduce the size of the buns, call them Mex Sliders and give us three per serving.

Thanks so much for reading my letter, Sandy Claus.  I know it's hard to grant everyone's wishes, but I think it's about time you answered mine.  I've been writing for seven years and all I've gotten from you is one pennant, one early wild card exit and five losing seasons.  I'm too faithful to the team to get that kind of treatment, don't you think?

I hope you, Ricco the Red-Nosed Reindeer and all of your jolly elves have a Happy Holiday season.  Until then, I'll just sit here by the fire on top of these unopened presents, hoping that because Ray Ramirez is gone, I won't give myself a paper cut while I unwrap them on Christmas Day.

Love and Mex Burgers forever,
Joey Beartran

I hope my Mets knit cap doesn't catch fire.  If so, I'll have to add something else to my letter to Sandy Claus.