Tuesday, October 7, 2014

2014 Mets: Small Steps Forward, Part I

2014 for the Mets started out with about as much promise as the 5 years before it. That is to say there wasn't much. This was supposed to be the year that things finally started to get better for the team, but amid the emergence of some good young pitchers came the unfortunate and untimely injury that shelved Matt Harvey for the season and a general lack of activity to improve the roster in the offseason—particularly the offense. Curtis Granderson and Chris Young were brought in but did not make the impact that was expected. Shortstop and Left Field continued to be a black hole. Others suffered through difficult seasons. But amid the offensive uncertainty, the pitching staff thrived and tantalized with a number of young arms that found themselves at the Major League level. Even without Harvey, the Mets boasted a wealth of exciting young arms that kept the Mets in games throughout the season, and many of them seemed to improve as the season went on.

The Mets improved by 5 wins over last year and the general consensus is that now is the time to strike—make the necessary improvements to set the team up for actual, tangible success in 2015 and beyond. A lot of the foundation has been laid and a lot of the names that served to make 2014 a small step forward will be there next year, and will hopefully build on what they started this season. Phrases like "change the conversation" have been thrown around a lot as it pertains to the Mets and their chances going forward—it depends on what Sandy Alderson can do—what he's able to do in order to improve some areas on the team that have been heavily neglected for as long as he's been running the show here.

As usual, the Mets used 45 players this season, and now it's time to grade everyone. We'll start with the position players, pitchers will be forthcoming. Read and enjoy!

Travis d'Arnaud - B
On June 6th, the day he was sent down to the Minors, Travis d'Arnaud was hitting .180, with 3 Home Runs and 9 RBI on the season. He returned on June 24th after tearing up AAA ball for a few weeks and promptly socked a 3-run Home Run off Scott Kazmir that led to a Mets victory. This was the first step in what turned into a solid second half of the season for d'Arnaud, and probably saved him from getting a D and me writing about his general failure to live up to expectations. After returning from the Minors, d'Arnaud hit .272 with 10 Home Runs and 32 RBI, finishing up with .242/.302/.416 with 13 Home Runs and 42 RBI, not eye-popping numbers, but respectable considering his poor start, the fact that he was a Rookie, and the fact that he's a Catcher and took the predictable beating Catchers usually take. Defensively, still figuring it out. Too many passed balls and a lousy time throwing out would-be basestealers. But he's developed a great rapport with a majority of the pitching staff, particularly Wheeler, and he just has the look of a guy who, once he's got a few years under his belt, is going to be one of these snarling Jerry Grote-types who will chew out Pitchers and not smile very much on game days. I'm looking forward to more.

Anthony Recker - C
Generally unimpressive season, much like last year, although he did come through with the occasional key Home Run, which sometimes fools people into thinking he might be better than he is. A good backup to have around for token Sunday afternoon starts. 7 Home Runs and 27 RBI in a part-time role is great, but don't look too far past the .201 BA and 64 strikeouts in 174 ABs.

Taylor Teagarden
Failed ex-prospect who ascended when d'Arnaud went down to the minors. I saw him hit a Grand Slam in his first game with the Mets which was a) completely shocking and b) the high point of his Mets tenure. Hit .143 in 9 games, which included the Grand Slam and 1 RBI otherwise. 

Juan Centeno
Forever remembered as the first Catcher to throw out Billy Hamilton, Centeno returned in September of this year and continued to play reasonably good defense in very limited opportunities. Hit .200 with 2 RBI, but considering that this was accomplished in 30 ABs I don't know how much stock you can put in it.

Lucas Duda - A
I'll happily admit that I was wrong about Lucas Duda. After spending the better part of two seasons relentlessly flogging Duda and decrying his presence on the team, Duda finally put it together in 2014. After a season in which he looked generally clueless both at the plate and in the field, where 14 of his 15 Home Runs came with nobody on base and he struck out 102 times in 318 at bats, Duda opened the season on the bench as a guy without a role, basically just as mysterious as the other two 1st Basemen on the roster. Sure, he was named the everyday starter after 4 games, and he responded with a 2-Home Run night against the Reds, but even after Davis was traded to Pittsburgh and the starting job was his alone, Duda still couldn't get his act together. At the end of May, Duda was hitting .230, with 7 Home Runs, 24 RBI and 42 strikeouts. But something funny happened as the calendar turned: Duda finally figured it out. His approach at the plate, generally very passive, changed to a more aggressive tact, and the result was that he cast himself in a whole new light. All of a sudden, Duda was now a dependable power source in the middle of the lineup, and not only was he hitting Home Runs with men on base, he was also getting extra base hits with runners on base. Though he cooled somewhat in September, he managed to close out his breakout season with a walkoff Home Run on the second to last day of the season, and Homered again in his final at bat, earning himself a curtain call that nobody thought he would get when he struck out on Opening Day. A second half in which he hit 18 Home Runs and drove in 51 helped him finish with a career best 30 Home Runs and 92 RBI. Quite a turnaround.

Daniel Murphy - B
The Mets' lone All Star in 2014, Murphy was on his way to perhaps his finest season in the Majors before getting injured in August. When he returned, his general mojo seemed sapped, as he ended up finishing with a .289 BA after spending most of the season hitting over .300. In general, this was more or less the norm for Murphy, lots of multi-hit games, lots of doubles, lots of instances in which he had one of his trademark spastic fits of Murphyness and defense at 2nd Base that was occasionally brilliant and sometimes frightening. Finished with 9 Home Runs and 57 RBI, a bit of a dropoff from last season. While at this point, Murphy has proven himself a perfectly serviceable 2nd Baseman, and could be considered among the better 2Bmen in the National League, at 29, it's not likely that he's going to become anything more than he already is. With players like Flores and Herrera on the ascension, it could conceivably be that Murphy's best value to the Mets is as a trade piece.

David Wright - D
Look, nobody is going to say David Wright doesn't play hard, or that he lacks hustle or desire. But what Wright's problem has been for several years is that he somehow feels like he has to do everything and be everything to this team. You can live up to the team Captaincy off the field just as much as on, and Wright's done that, but Wright really killed the team and killed his season by refusing to rest a sore shoulder that eventually caused him to be shut down in early September, ending what was by far and away the worst season of his career. When a 2-week DL stint in June might have fixed the problem, Wright played through and watched as his numbers took a major tumble. He finished with a .269 BA, which was un-Wright like enough, but then there were the 8 Home Runs and 63 RBI, numbers poor enough that it's got many people concerned that maybe it wasn't the shoulder injury, maybe it was because he's getting older and starting to break down. I suppose the answer remains to be seen, but let's say he did more damage to his shoulder by playing through this injury, or at 32 on Opening Day 2015, he's finally burned himself out from trying to carry awful teams on said shoulders. We'll see what happens.

Ruben Tejada - C
Ruben Tejada gets a C this season, because even though he wasn't very good this season, he was if nothing else better than people expected him to be after a season in which he was hurt most of the time and hit .202 with 10 RBI. Although Tejada was buried on the bench for multiple extended stretches of time during the season while the Mets experimented with other options at SS, they seemed to keep coming back to Tejada. Again, Tejada wasn't especially good this season, but he did manage to play slightly better than he did in 2013, hitting .237 with a surprising 5 Home Runs and 34 RBI and performed slightly better in the field than he did last year. All that being said, nobody's convinced that Tejada is the solution here any longer and there's a pretty good chance that he's going to end up being non-tendered and the Mets will go after a flashier name at Shortstop who can actually hit with some consistency.

Ike Davis - D
I was going to give Ike an F, but that seemed too cruel since he only appeared in 12 games and did hit a walk-off Grand Slam in one of them. But in a season that kicked off with him getting an attack of the runs and running out to the field late on Opening Day, it sort of seemed like Groundhog Day for Ike Davis, as his slow start ultimately got him shipped out of town to Pittsburgh. Yet, when he was traded, I thought the Mets had made a mistake and dealt the wrong guy. WRONG! Davis was no better in Pittsburgh, while the guy the Mets kept ended up having a career year.

Josh Satin - F
After a good season as a role player in 2013, it wasn't illogical to think Satin could be counted on to repeat that performance in 2014. Sadly, after a season in which he mustered all of 3 hits and 3 RBI en route to a batting average of .086, logic was thrown out the window. At least 2 of those 3 hits were doubles. 

Eric Campbell - C
So since Satin was so awful, the Mets turned to Eric Campbell to take over the Josh Satin role as the right handed utility infielder off the bench, and Campbell responded with a season that wasn't dissimilar to the one Satin had last year. Campbell spelled Wright at 3rd and Duda at 1st and also played a little Outfield for a while, ended up with 190 ABs in which he hit .263 with 3 Home Runs and 16 RBI. That's all well and good, but if he comes back next season and hits .086, well, don't say you weren't warned.

Dilson Herrera - Inc.
After being primarily known as "the other guy" in the Marlon Byrd trade, Herrera distinguished himself by rocketing through the Mets farm system, beginning the season in A ball and finishing up in the Majors after generally destroying pitching straight up the line. Sparkplug type who was among the youngest players in the Major Leagues, came up with a bang, although he only hit .220 before a leg injury ended his season a week early, he did hit 3 Home Runs and drive in 11 in his brief cup of coffee. Next year probably won't be his time to ascend, but I expect he'll earn himself a role on the team before too long. 

Omar Quintanilla - F
I was sort of amazed he was still around and mystified that he was on the roster on Opening Day, but there he was. Somehow made it into 15 games before the Mets finally cut him, after he unsurprisingly hit .207, but still managed 6 hits to Satin's 3. Finally made useless by the presence of Flores and Herrera among others.

Wilmer Flores - B-
Flores still has a ways to go before he can be considered legit, but given a chance to play everyday in the latter half of the season, he made his playing time count. Although he remains suspect at defense and at times struggled to find offensive consistency, he did finish strong, hitting .260 with 5 of his 6 Home Runs and 22 of his 29 RBI after August 1st, including a 2 Home Run, 6 RBI game against the Marlins. Good chance he receives first crack at solving the SS mystery next season.

Wilfredo Tovar
Second year in a row he was called off his couch in Venezuela with a week left in the season to come back and play ball. Didn't play as much this season because the Mets actually had other options available.

Curtis Granderson - C-
I had kind of an ominous feeling that Granderson would come to the Mets and struggle, mostly because he was switching leagues after a season in which he was injured most of the year. And yes, he went through deep slumps and his numbers, .227, 20 HRs, 66 RBI, weren't very good, but much like the Pedro Martinez signing prior to 2005, this was a necessary signing for the Mets to make, not just for a fan base tired of watching the Mets do nothing in the offseason, but for other potential Free Agents to see that the Mets are willing to spend money, and established players like Granderson want to play for them. Hopefully, the remainder of his 4-year deal ends up slightly better than Pedro's did. Or at least he's better next year than he was this year. 

Juan Lagares - B+
Lagares can certainly stake his claim on a Gold Glove, as his defense remained superb. His offense was better as well, early in the season, but of concern is his general inability to stay healthy. He made multiple trips to the Disabled list that short-circuited his fine start, and ultimately he slumped offensively, finishing with a .281 BA after hitting around .320 for a while, but 4 Home Runs, 47 RBI and 13 steals did represent an improvement. He's certainly earned himself the CF job, but the question is if he can keep himself on the field for a full season.

Eric Young, Jr - C+
Young wasn't nearly the sparkplug he was last season, and ultimately he was reduced to a bench role, which is fine, because he's probably best suited for a bench role. Still managed to steal 30 bases but only hit .229 with a .299 OBA, numbers that would never work as a full-time leadoff hitter. 

Kirk Nieuwenhuis - C
Unexciting 4-A/4th OF type who seems to bounce between the minors and majors every season and doesn't do much to distinguish himself, outside of those first couple of months in 2012 when he came up, hit a lot and tantalized everyone before regressing. .259 better than the .189 he hit last year, but 3 Home Runs and 16 RBI wasn't an improvement at all.

Chris Young - F
I get the logic behind this signing but ultimately this was grasping at straws. Alderson clearly had some blind hope that a change of scenery would help Young turn into Chris Young circa 2010 but that didn't happen and after hitting a miserable .205 with 8 Home Runs and managing all of 12 hits from July 1st until August 7th, it's not really surprising or unjustified that he was released on August 8th. 

Matt den Dekker - C
I sort of have the sense that den Dekker is basically Kirk Nieuwenhuis with a better glove, and it's not even that much of a better glove. Another way to look at it is to say that the Mets have the market cornered on lefty-hitting Outfielders that can hit .250 without much power. 

Andrew Brown - C-
Andrew Brown's entire season basically happened by accident, when Chris Young couldn't answer the bell on Opening Day and in his stead, Andrew Brown hit a 3-run Home Run off Stephen Strasburg in the 1st inning. Brown did nothing to dispel the idea that that was some kind of weird, flukish thing that happened. After being sent down in late April after hitting .185, Brown returned in June, Homered in his 1st game back and then was done for good after lowering his average to .182. 8 hits for the season trumped both Satin and Quintanilla, though.

Bobby Abreu
Swan song for the Pro's pro Abreu, who went from years as a hated rival with the Phillies to sage veteran in the clubhouse at Age 40, still able to come off the bench on relative occasion and slash a line drive. Retired at season's end and provided a nice moment on Closing Day when he singled in his final At Bat and was able to walk off the field on a high note. 

Part 2, the Pitchers, forthcoming!

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