Monday, February 11, 2008

Delgado Believe

This is #1 of 5 Key Mets players for the 2008 season.

Carlos Delgado came to the Mets prior to the 2006 season in a salary dump deal with the Florida Marlins. His resume at the time pretty much spoke for itself. To that point, he boasted 9 straight seasons in which he hit over 30 HRs and drove in over 90 runs. His consistency and power put him among the league's elite. Delgado didn't disappoint at all over the course of 2006. In addition to his 38 HRs and 114 RBI, his mere presence in the lineup helped to make the players around him better. Carlos Beltran, for one, seemed to reap the benefits of having a feared slugger hitting directly behind him, as his power numbers surged as well. And in the playoffs, he started off with a 4-for-5 performance and a mammoth HR in Game 1 of the NLDS, and never looked back, hitting with more consistency over that playoff run than anyone else on the team. It could easily be said that Delgado was the missing piece to the offensive puzzle for the Mets that season that put them over the top and helped them drive all the way down to Game 7 of the NLCS.

There was no reason to expect anything but the same from Delgado in the 2007 season. Yes, there were a pair of surgeries, one for Carpal Tunnel syndrome and another for Tennis Elbow after the '06 season ended, and in Spring Training, the distraction of the impending birth of his first child. But coming into the 2007 season, Carlos Delgado certainly was far from a concern for the Mets.
After Opening Day in St. Louis, where Delgado drilled a ringing double to drive in the Mets first runs of the season, it seemed like everything was OK.


Delgado appeared to have absolutely nothing going at the plate. Fly balls that were sure HRs in 2006 died at the warning track. He didn't hit his first HR of the season until April 23rd, finishing the month sporting a miserable .188 BA, 1 HR and 12 RBI out of his perch in the cleanup spot. He played better in May, but seemed to regress in June. It was frustrating and perplexing to watch, and the Mets performance suffered because of it. With Delgado not hitting, and clearly not himself, the Mets just muddled along. Beltran's production slipped and he began getting pitched around. Delgado was benched at times, other times moved down in the lineup to 5th or 6th, with Wright and Alou hitting ahead of him. There would be moments where Delgado did come through with a big hit, and when he had two 2 HR games in late May, it appeared that he had finally turned the corner. But that was just a mirage. Delgado regressed in June, got hot in July, hitting .323 for the month, and fell flat again in August. With Delgado unable to maintain a consistent hot streak for more than a few games at a clip, Delgado was finally shifted out of the cleanup spot for good. A big 3-run HR in Atlanta at the end of August once again made us think that Delgado would regain his form in September, but just as it appeared he was going to put it together, a hip injury undercut him and knocked him out of the lineup for two weeks when the Mets really needed him. He returned with a week to go and the Mets desperate, but it was too little, too late. And on that final, miserable day, his horrendous season ended with the indignity of having his wrist broken by a Dontrelle Willis pitch. Delgado grumbling with pain outside the batters box on that afternoon seemed to be a microcosm of his entire season: Pain and Frustration.

Add in that Delgado is going to be 36 in June, and it's easy to see why Carlos is the #1 Key Met for the upcoming season. After seeing how his presence had such a positive effect on the team in '06, and how his awful season in '07 screwed things up, it's clear that the Mets offense needs Delgado to step it up and return to form in 2008. But it's not clear whether or not he has anything left. Jeff Matthews at MetsGeek put forth a compelling hypothesis based on the wrist and elbow surgeries he had after '06, and his numbers compared with another slugging 1B, Fred McGriff. What Matthews arrives at is that it's not impossible for Delgado to have a big bounce back season—he neglects to mention that it's also a Contract year for Delgado—but that his performance might be closer to that of the second half of '07. Decent numbers, but not the kind of numbers you're used to out of Carlos Delgado.

Which would mean that the Mets offense wouldn't have quite the same punch it had in '06.

Which would mean that the Mets lineup after David Wright in the cleanup spot looks pretty pedestrian.

Which would mean that if the top of the order can't carry the brunt of the load offensively, the Mets are in for a lot of frustrating 4-2, 3-1 losses where they get a lot of hits but can't drive in any runs.

I've made the "Stand up, Delgado!" joke a few times in this forum, but it's appropriate, especially going into the 2008 season. I'd accept numbers close to his career average if not quite the same numbers he put up in '06. 30 HRs and 90 RBIs would do, with a .265 BA. But you can't at all say that you know he's absolutely going to do that now, and that's what makes this a scary proposition.


George said...

You're right, he can be kind of the lynchpin on making the offense click all around him. He just never had his "the monster is out of the cage" moment last year. This time of year, though, every baseball fan should be an optimist; it's what spring training is for, so I'm calling a big year for Delgado.

Joanna said...

I'm a Jays fan, and I still miss King Carlos. He is a stand up ballplayer and a stand up guy.