NY Sports Dog: Mets 2009:  Reasons for Concern?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mets 2009:  Reasons for Concern?

My good friend Andy the Lawyer presents some excellent points---as he told me, "I am by no means an alarmist, but there have been a few early alarm bells."

I heard a very good interview with Jayson Stark from ESPN about a week ago, where he delineated the difference between what is "too early" to worry about in April of the baseball season, and what is worth worrying about. In general, he said, its silly to worry in April when very unlikely things happen. For example, Yankee fans shouldn't worry when C.C. Sabathia gets rocked in his first start, as you have to expect he will bounce back. On the other hand, if you came into April worried about your team's bullpen, and then the bullpen impodes through the first month, then its not too early to be concerned. With that guiding principle in mind, and in light of the positives I posted about last time, here are some areas for concern with the 2009 Mets:

1) The Defense Has Been Bad

One of the things that troubled me about the Mets decision to NOT give Murphy a shot at second base was the illogical, in my mind, view that his defensive liabilities at second base would be MORE impactful than his likely struggles in left field. Personally, it seemed to me that as a former third baseman, the main issue for Murphy would be turning the doubleplay - he wasn't likely to have issues with throws, and range at second base is more than a tad overrated in importance in my opinion. In contrast, we knew based on last year that Murphy had trouble picking up balls in left field, and it seemed unlikely that those would disappear over one offseason of fall league baseball. At the end of the day, the decision to not try Murphy at second base (a new position) and instead force him to play left field (a new position) seems more related to the Mets inability, or unwillingness, to deal Luis Castillo and thus free up second base.

Thus far, Murphy has made several catastrophic misplays in left field. While not all count as errors in the boxscore, they are important nonetheless. Its not an exaggeration to say that inexcusable defensive miscues by Murphy have cost the Mets two games already - pretty bad considering the Mets have only played 13 games. His drop of a pop-up fly cost Santana a win, and his miscue of a line drive right at him last night led to two runs being scored. Simply put, its hard to imagine that his defense at second could have cost us more than his defense in left already has. And its unclear how much better he is going to get. If an offseason of outfield practice didn't get him ready, is he going to improve this season? And if not, will it start to affect his offense? While Murphy is a very nice offensive player, its hard to argue that his value over a replacement remains clear if he's making a defensive miscue every 3-5 games.

Its also worth pointing out that the Mets overall defense hasn't been elite for several years now. Its been a long time since the Mets had one of the best defensive teams in baseball. Aside from Beltran in CF, Reyes and SS, and Wright at 3B, its hard to identify a single other Met who provides even above-average defense. I don't think its too early to worry about this - the Mets look like a sloppy defensive team, and there is little reason to think its a fluke.

2) Starting Pitching

Going into the season, Mets fans were probably more worried about the starting pitching than any other aspect of the team. After Santana (who looks like he's off to a Cy Young start) the rest of the Mets rotation all had question marks. Unfortunately, only one of those four question marks (Livian, of all people) appears to be answered positively thus far.

Ollie is being Ollie

Ollie Perez, notwithstanding his mulit-millionaire contract, looks every bit like the frustrating guy Mets fans have had a love-hate relationship over the last two years. He continues to create trouble for himself with inexcusable walks, periodic wildness, and terrible conditioning. Mets fans hoped that the new contract would mark an improvement in maturity for Perez, who now needs to act like a veteran pitcher rather than a promising young thrower with "stuff". Instead, we've actually seen regression thus far, almost suggesting that he has become complacent with his new contract.

Ollie has had 3 starts so far this year, and 2 have been terrible, so bad that he didn't even make it through 5 innings. While we all know that Ollie can turn it on at any time, you have to be worried about him given his up and down track record and history of immaturity.

Pelfrey's Workload

Pelfrey's Workload increased dramatically last year, far more than teams typically like to do with young pitchers, due to injury concerns. While Pelfrey came through great last year, if anything the pressure was greater on his this year, when he is clearly being anointed as the #2 pitcher behind Santana after the Mets failed to sign Derek Lowe. Unfortunately, Pelfrey had two relatively ineffective starts and then went on the DL. If he can't pitch 150+ innings this year at a high level (sub-4.00 ERA), the Mets will have a major problem on their hands.

Whither John Maine?

Maine remains an enigma to me, almost more confusing than Perez (whose immaturity and lack of discipline explain alot about his inconsistency). Maine seems to be dedicated, serious, wants to throw strieks, and has great stuff. But his results don't match up - often because it seems he doesn't know how to stretch the zone and get hitters to expand their swinging area. Its unclear why this is, but its disconcerting to see that a guy alot of people picked to win 15 games a year ago now seems to struggle getting through the 5th inning. Hopefully we get a good start out of Maine today that gives Mets fans some confidence.

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