Reese Kaplan -- Hot Start Helped by Unsung Heroes


Before the season started the most optimistic of Mets fans were salivating over an offense that included the likes of Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Jay Bruce, Adrian Gonzalez and Todd Frazier.  Surely you had five batters there capable of putting up 30/100 type seasons and that would propel the Mets from obscurity into contention.

Well, as we’re all well aware the club has ended the month of April with a surprising 17-9 record, yet the output from this modern day quintet of a murderer’s row has been pretty much non-existent.  Todd Frazier has been a pleasant surprise, hitting 4 HRs, driving in 17 and batting (for him) a surprisingly strong .256 batting average.  From there it’s a downhill slide.  Conforto has been particularly poor with just a single home run, 6 RBIs and a .222 AVG.  (He gets something of a pass having been rushed back and not preparing with a traditional spring training due to injury).  Cespedes is on a record setting pace of striking out and Bruce has only recently started to come to life. Adrian Gonzalez has until recently been flirting with the Mendoza line. 

Then it must be the stellar starting pitching on which the team was built that’s kept the Mets atop the division, right?

Ummm, no.

Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are doing what they’re expected to do.  deGrom is 3-0 with a 2.06 ERA and really should have another couple of victories if not for the gasoline provided by the bullpen.  Syndergaard is 2-1 with a 3.10 ERA.  People would sign up for a full season of that type of productivity. 

After that, however, it gets much less impressive.  Zack Wheeler was retrieved from AAA shortly after starting there and he’s been a work in progress.  He is 2-1 with a 4.09 ERA with about a strikeout per inning pitched.  The walks are down (for him) and he is indeed looking like a back end starter.

Matt Harvey has been banished from the rotation due to ineffectiveness.  Steven Matz is hanging on by a thread.  He’s 1-2 with a 4.98 ERA despite striking people out at a prodigious rate but he recently admitted he’s lost confidence out there. 

Then there’s Jason Vargas.  To be fair, he didn’t have much of a chance at preparing for the season after suffering the fracture in his non-pitching hand, but given how poorly the club’s starters have fared he was rushed back and it showed.  The 9 earned runs given up resulted in an ERA over 22.00.  Ugh.

So are they doing it with mirrors?  Well, there are a number of unsung heroes whose performances have far exceeded early season expectations.

Let’s start with the backup outfielders.  Juan Lagares, after a very poor spring showing off his allegedly revamped swing, is actually leading the team in hitting right now.  He’s batting a robust .342 while playing sporadically.  He’s probably get more time on the field if not for the exploits of his teammate Brandon Nimmo who bats lefthanded and is hitting .313 himself.  More importantly, Nimmo is getting on base to the tune of a .488 OBP. 

Asdrubal Cabrera was another person for whom expectations where fairly modest.  He has had two good seasons for the Mets but many wondered whether his attitude, health and declining defense made it a wise investment to pick up his option.  No one is wondering now.  He’s hitting .340 with 5 HRs and 17 RBIs while leading the team in ABs.  Yeah, that’s $8.5 million well spent indeed.

On the pitching side of the ledger two names clearly stand out.  Paul Sewald had been an absolute monster in the minors but was pretty lackluster as he was clearly overused in 2017.  This season he’s showing that the minor league numbers were indeed no fluke and his new off-speed pitch is setting up his fastball.  All he’s done so far is deliver a 1.98 ERA over 13 games with 17 Ks in 13 IP. 

You could, however, make the argument that Robert Gsellman’s success is even more surprising.  Granted, he looked terrific when pressed into starting duty in 2016 , going 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA and a respectable WHIP of 1.28.  Last season he took a major step backwards before his now infamous declaration about not caring when he got sent down to AAA.  The results were ugly – 8-6 and a 5.19 ERA with batters hitting .280 against him.  This year is actually quite similar to 2016 with a 3-0 record and a 1.80 ERA.  The WHIP is again down to 1.27 and batters are hitting a more acceptable .232 against him. 

An honorable mention should go to bullpen mate Seth Lugo.  He’s not been quite as good at a 3.77 ERA and a 1-0 record.  Batters are hitting .245 against him.  He’s showing quality but not at the stellar levels of Gsellman or Sewald. 

The conclusion, of course, is that once the fearsome fivesome of batters gets it into gear then this hot start should be sustainable.  Matz and Vargas have nowhere to go but up.  If you get some improvement from Amed Rosario and a return of Kevin Plawecki then the offense shouldn’t be a problem. 


Mack Ade said...

Reese -

Good morning.

Got the game last night on Fox Sports South... boy, that was tough to watch.

A few things:

1. The Mets bats, or lack of them, lost this game. The pitchers held the Braves to 3 runs. That should have been enough for a victory.

2. Is it my imagination or does every pitcher that debuts against us shuts us down?

3. If this is Noah's worst start for the rest of the season, I'll take it.

4. Did you see all those 'horrible' pitchers that the Mets swung and missed at? Well, they are sliders and they start out looking like they are coming straight down the pipe and wind up in the dirt. Unhittable if thrown correctly. Attention all Mets pitching coaches... teach your pitchers how to throw sliders. Screw the fastball. Make that their secondary pitch.

5. Please solve the roation but not at the expense of moving either Gsellman or Lugo back into it. The pen is working right now.

Thomas Brennan said...

Hey, Reese, there is no substitute for you!

Cespedes has heated up - .440 in his last 7 games. Up to .252, and I will take 26 RBIs from him every 27 games he plays. Bryce Harper after the all-world start is hitting .250 with 22 ribbies in 30 games. Nice arm gunning a guy down at the dish, too.

Thor pitching decently - but he should be better - his goal should be to be Max Scherzer - 6-1, 1.79, 65 Ks in 45 IP. I agree with Mack - figure out what you need to do (slider, whatever) to be overwhelmingly dominant, not just good.

Outfield: I would favor playing Conforto no more than 5 days a week, Bruce 6 days a week, and Cespedes a day off every two weeks - or Brandon and Juan won't play much at all...and they deserve to.

Nice 15 hitter by the Mets last night - just 3 runs allowed - but this team all too often over the years fails to take advantage. How often have you seen over the years the Mets trailing by two going into the 9th and fall one run short? Seems like hundreds. Let me check the Yank results for their type of typical finish - tie score in the 9th, Sanchez up, "It is high, it is far, it is...gone." Hey Mets, let's win like the big boys.

Alonso hit a game-winning, come from behind 3 run blast in the ninth after Tebow's second extra base hit (a triple) kicked off the ninth. More magic from the big boys Binghamton.

Anonymous said...

Is it me, or does Wheeler's slider break way to early, leaving batters spectating incuriously? His change and heat are pumping though. This will be an Oswalt year. And let's call the Vargas outing a mere rust-job

bill metsiac said...

Excellent article, Reese. One thing I don't understand is that people comment about Cabby's "bad attitude". Except for his comments about being abruptly shifted from SS, I've never heard of attitude problems with him. Can you point out any other examples of his poor attitude?

As an aside, if he continues anything close to his April performance, including his very solid D, is it an automatic that we let him walk? He's in his very early 30s,and I'm sure that if he ends up around .300, with 20+ HRs and a .350+ OBP, someone will offer him a 3-year deal comparable to Bruce's. Why can't that someone be Sandy?

And, Mack, I've felt for years that it seems like another team's debut SP is a kiss of death to us. Another one is, when our opponent's position is out of a game due to injury, his replacement kills us. 😨

Mack Ade said...

Anon -

Not sure about Wheeler's slider. Never have stood in against him. :)

Wheeler is getting the strikeouts but remains a pitcher that can be hit. He's a 4-4.50 ERA starter. That is all he is and will be.

Reese Kaplan said...

It is indeed beginning to look like Zack Wheeler=Mike Pelfrey (minus the hand licking).

Reese Kaplan said...

Oh, and there's this Anthony DiComo tweet this morning that pretty much sums up what the front office thinks of the former Black Night of Gotham:

"Asked if he's upset about a Page Six report that had Matt Harvey out partying in Los Angeles the night before pitching in San Diego, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said:

"Usually I get upset if a report is unexpected. So I guess the short answer is no."

bill metsiac said...

Anon, I agree that Wheeler is as you say. But how can you or anyone else say that it's all he WILL be? Do you have a crystal ball?

Thomas Brennan said...

Bill, do you remember Bob Gibson's slider? It was a fastball for 55 feet, then a tornado the last 5 feet?

I still think people have to consider that Nolan Ryan threw tons of pitches, and then it clicked - we can only hope Wheeler clicks, and that his last start was THE START of that.

Harvey's best pitch is a Highball. How do you say, "SLURP?"

My guess? He hopes to be released and then sign with the Yankees, and suddenly and mysteriously "revive". The Bronx is closer to Gotham than Queens is.

Mike Freire said...

Wheeler's results are what they are......and at his age, he is no longer a prospect. Expecting him to take a leap forward is like waiting to win the lottery, in my mind.

He is good enough to pitch in a ML rotation, but I don't think he becomes the "ace" he was supposed to be.

bill metsiac said...

Tom, I don't remember Gibby's slider, but he was not only as good a pitcher as I've ever seen, he was also the most intimidating. In today's game, he'd be very controversial, getting warnings and expulsions.

As for Harvey, he's got every reason to be motivated to succeed. Especially with Boras as his agent, he has to know that if he wants to get at least a decent contract next year, he must perform and demonstrate a positive attitude. The more he violates team policy, has mediocre (or worse) outings, and creates problems, the less he'll be offered next year.

Thomas Brennan said...

Bill, his slider reminded me of the one that Dellin Betances throws. Fast, and then buggywhipped at the last minute.

Never liked Gibson after he beaned Tommie Agee in the first at bat of spring training 1968. We all got the message, not just Agee.

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