Monday, October 3, 2016

2016 Mets: Resiliency & Character, Part I

As was the case last season, I'm writing out this Mets Report Card before the story of the 2016 has been completely written. 2016 started out well enough, but after a strong April, the Mets stagnated for a good 3 1/2 months, looking very much like a team that was tired and suffering from World Series Hangover. Players were injured, others were underperforming, and the whole thing was a mess as the season continued to unravel.

But, something funny happened. The Mets never died. They just kind of hung around, took advantage of other slumping teams around them and then caught fire at the exact right time. They went from a listless 60-62 to run off a 27-12 record over the last 6 weeks of the season in order to catch and pass four teams in front of them and clinch the top National League Wildcard spot on the second to last day of the season.

How do you describe it? Breathless? Improbable? I keep thinking of adjectives, but in the end, I keep coming back to the fact that it's just Baseball and it's the nature of the game for things like this to happen. What it will lead to, I have no idea. But for only the second time in the history of the team, they've managed to make the Postseason in consecutive years and sometimes, it doesn't matter how you get there, just so long as you get there.

So, Rapid Fire Report Card time is upon us again. The Mets used 46 players in 2016. I know it seems like they used way more than that and if you want to have your mind blown, the Mets actually used 49 players over the course of the 2015 season. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. More impressive is the fact that of the 46, only 22 were pitchers, and 24 were position players. We will, as usual, begin with the position players and the pitchers are forthcoming.

Travis d'Arnaud - F
It's now been a few years of waiting on d'Arnaud to really have that kind of breakout year we think he's capable of, but instead what ends up happening is that he gets hurt about 2-3 weeks into April, misses about 8-10 weeks, and then comes back and it takes him forever to get on track. Last year, down the stretch, he got it together. This year, he never did. He had a passably good August...and then went back in the tank. This isn't now where we can count on him going forward. It's now crossroads and one more chance to get it together. .247/.307/.323, 4 HRs and 15 RBI in 251 ABs isn't going to cut it for anyone.

Rene Rivera - B+
I wouldn't use this disparity in grades between d'Arnaud and Rivera to say that I think Rivera was demonstrably better than d'Arnaud, because offensively, he wasn't. But given that Rivera was a scrap heap pickup that turned into a reasonably solid defensive solution (and personal catcher for Syndergaard), that provided sporadic offensive sparks, well, you can't ask for a great deal more from him. .222/.291/.341 isn't eye-popping but 6 HRs and 26 RBI in 185 AB is better than d'Arnaud generated this year.

Kevin Plawecki - D
I'll be hard on Plawecki too, because this is now twice he's really had a major opportunity to show he's an every day Major League Catcher dropped right in his lap and he hasn't picked up the reins and run with it. Because d'Arnaud keeps getting hurt, I'd love to be able to say that the Mets could simply hand the job over to Plawecki and run with it from there, but while his defense has been OK (let's say somewhere in between d'Arnaud and Rivera), he just hasn't hit much at all, what?.195/.299/.258, 1 HR 10 RBI in 128 ABs. I always think it's a weird sign when a guy's OBA is higher than his slugging percentage. Take from that what you will.

James Loney - B
I feel like I'll be doing this a lot this season, parsing out some higher grades than you think a certain player might merit just based on the fact that he wasn't on the team or wasn't expected to do much and delivered slightly better results. I give Loney this benefit based on the fact that he wasn't even in the Major Leagues at the beginning of the season, came here basically in an absolute emergency situation, stepped in and did OK. Not great, not off the charts, just OK. But that was all the Mets needed him to do, just be OK and not be a negative. His defense for the most part was fine, he came up with some important hits and at times when nobody else was doing much of anything, popped a few key Home Runs and took it from there. We weren't expecting to need 343 ABs from James Loney. But the .265/.305/.397 with 9 HRs and 34 RBI is about as good a return as could be expected.

Neil Walker - B+
Walker's fine season sort of gets swept under the rug a little bit, partially because of the back injury that ended his season a month early, but primarily because the enigmatic fellow that he replaced had a career year of monumental proportions and shoved it in the Mets' faces on a regular basis. But it's not as though Walker was a slouch. Ostensibly, Walker was Murphy with a lower Batting Average, fewer puzzling mental mistakes and no instances of hopping around the field like a scalded dog. Walker, like basically everyone else on the team, slumped badly in June and July but he was great in April, great after the All Star Break and carried the team for a spell before he got hurt. Only managed 113 games and 412 AB, but tied a career-high with 23 HR and went .282/.347/.476 with 55 RBI. Free Agent to be so his status is sort of unknown but I wouldn't have a problem with bringing him back.

Asdrubal Cabrera - B+
Not sure where, exactly, this season came from for Cabrera, but I'm not complaining. This was one of the more under-the-radar signings that the Mets have ever made and it turned into absolute Gold. Cabrera loses some points because he slumped pretty badly in the middle of the season and had that whole RISP issue. And then he got hurt in July and from the way it looked when it happened I assumed he was done for the season. Somehow, he was out but two weeks, and when he came back it was like a different player. Hitting between Reyes and Cespedes just rejuvenated him and all of a sudden over the last 6 weeks of the season he turned into Mr. Clutch. Also better D than expected for the most part and in general a steady, reliable presence on the field and a real leader-type off the field. And depending on how things go from here that 11th inning Home Run against Philadelphia could end up turning into one of the more iconic moments in team history. .280/.336/.474, 23 HRs set a club record for SS and 62 RBI.

Jose Reyes - B+
To paraphrase Jack Kerouac, "You never should have left the Mets. But now, you're back and everything is OK again." I've said it a few times before but I'll say it once again. I absolutely get why people might hate Reyes now. What he did to his wife was despicable and shouldn't be condoned. And I admit I was as skeptical as anyone when he was brought back here. But the more time passed and Reyes got to doing Jose Reyes things again, sentimentality just got the better of me. I can only imagine how fast he must have run to get back to the Mets and having him back here just feels right. I know that this isn't 2006 Jose Reyes anymore and he's never going to be that dynamic guy again. But he came in here and injected an energy to the Mets offense that just didn't exist. He was the leadoff hitter they didn't have, he started getting key hits, and he all of a sudden became the ringleader of this bizarre Three Caballeros thing with Cabrera and Cespedes. You want one of the key reasons the Mets managed to make it back to the Postseason, Jose Reyes is it. .267/.326/.443, 8 Home Runs, 24 RBI in 255 ABs.

Lucas Duda - C
I was sorely tempted to grade Duda lower, if only because before he got injured in May, he hadn't really done much and didn't go on one of his trademark hot streaks where he hits 8 Home Runs in 5 days, but then he got hurt and for a while there it looked like he was going to fade out into oblivion, but somehow he came back right in the middle of the final weeks and no, he didn't do much, and durability-wise he was shot, but at least he came back, so I have to give him some credit for that. 47 Games and 153 ABs led to .229/.302/.412, 7 HR, 23 RBI. It doesn't say much by itself but the potential from his bat was definitely missed over a large swath of the Summer.

Wilmer Flores - B
Flores started off the season as one of those players that the Mets weren't quite sure what to do with. The one thing they couldn't do was get rid of him, because he's now so firmly entrenched as a fan favorite that there would have been a revolt if he were dealt. Plus, to be clear, I am still firmly on the Flores bandwagon and I think the Mets would be short-sighted to not find some place for him somewhere, and ultimately they did, because people kept getting hurt. To his advantage, Flores can play every Infield position reasonably well, which is to say it's an adventure but he won't embarrass himself. Also I believe ended up being the Mets best hitter against Left-handed pitching to the tune of a .340 BA and 11 HRs. Unfortunately, his season ended up getting short-circuited in Atlanta when Collins forgot to remove him for a Pinch Runner and he subsequently wound up getting thrown out at Home Plate on a close play in a close game and in his ensuing collision with Pierzynski injured himself in so many different ways that it's ended up shelving him for the duration of the season. Which might become a big problem on Wednesday night. 307 ABs, .267/.319/.469, 16 HR, 49 RBI. Now project that over a full season...

Kelly Johnson - B+
Returned in June as the Mets had to essentially hand over more Prospects to Atlanta to make up for their short-sightedness in not re-signing him in the first place. Returned and was gangbusters off the bench, though his .178 BA as a pinch hitter might not indicate as such, he did hit 4 HRs and drove in 11 runs in that role so he made his hits count. It's tough to know what to do with someone like Johnson, who at this point in his career is best suited for the role the Mets have given him, but the propensity with guys like that is to go with someone younger and/or cheaper. But it's hard to argue with someone who came in mid-stream and in 183 ABs hit .268/.328/.459 with 9 HR and 24 RBI with as many doubles (9) as Neil Walker.

David Wright - C+
I give Wright a higher grade than maybe he deserves because it's not really his fault that Management expected him to be able to play out a full season given his spinal stenosis, his age and the fact that he began to move with the grace of Ryan Howard. I'm also not surprised that once he did go down, that was it for him. The 37 games and 137 ABs he got only produced .226/.350/.438 with 7 HRs and 14 RBI. I mean, yes, in a similar vein to Reyes, for sentimental purposes we all wanted Wright to come back and turn back the clock to 2006-2008 David Wright, who was young, and happy, and peppy and hit everything in sight. Those days are unfortunately over and at this point it's not even clear if we'll see Wright on the field again, which on the one hand would be a shame, because I think he deserved a better ending than this, but on some level might also be a bit of a relief because as a team the Mets could move forward.

T.J. Rivera - A-
Rivera is clearly Daniel Murphy for the new generation. Undrafted kid from the Bronx, drifted through the system mostly un-noticed, called up late in the season, started hitting and eventually hit his way into the lineup on a regular basis as players fell around him. Clearly a Murphy-type, hits line drives all over the place and scares the hell out of you on defense. So far, fortunately, I haven't seen him try to steal second before the Pitcher throws the ball or field a ground ball in Right Field and take a flying leap and try to throw a runner out at 3rd Base. But 105 ABs produced .333/.345/.476 with 3 Home Runs and 16 RBI.

Matt Reynolds - B
I grade out Reynolds well simply based on the fact that I'm under the impression he was another all-glove, no-hit Shortstop and he did display a little bit on offense, most notably a Home Run to win a game vs KC in June and another one when he spent the entire night leading up to the game on airplanes. To the best of my knowledge played reasonably well defensively. 89 ABs, .225/.266/.416 but 3 HR and 13 RBI so he made his hits count.

Eric Campbell - D
Still not quite sure why he's here. Basically a Josh Satin clone without the eyebrows. Fortunately we weren't exposed to him for any more than 75 ABs this season, as opposed to 173 last year and 190 the year before. 1 HR, 9 RBI, .173/.284/.227. Yawn city.

Gavin Cecchini
When you're the 46th of 46 guys and you only get 6 ABs, most of them in mopup situations, you don't get a grade just yet. Purported to have a good enough bat to play somewhere but nobody's quite sure where yet. Did hit .333 and both his hits were doubles.

Curtis Granderson - B-
Granderson probably had the most uneven season of anyone, as he spent the first half of the year stuck in a 2014-esque quagmire, then he got shifted down in the lineup and started hitting again in the 2nd half of the season and down the stretch was one of the more potent bats the Mets had going for a while. As usual never complained and always smiled. Somehow managed to end up this season with 30 HRs to go along with 59 RBI, a side effect of hitting out of the leadoff spot half the season. Even hit a pair of electrifying walk-off Home Runs over the course of the year. .237/.335/.464 and maybe he's not done just yet. 

Yoenis Cespedes - A
For as good as Cespedes was last season, he was equally as good, if not better, this season. I realize that his season gets lost amid groundbreaking seasons from other guys in the NL, but the fact that he's not discussed among MVP candidates is totally asinine because for 4 months he absolutely carried the team even when he was essentially forced to play out on one leg. More importantly seems to genuinely enjoy playing here and doing Home Run dances with Cabrera and Reyes. Even if he opts out the Mets have to figure out a way to keep him here. It's just too good of a fit. If you really need to back it up with numbers, 479 ABs produced .280/.354/.530, 31 HR, 86 RBI, all totals that led the team and in most cases by a significant margin.

Michael Conforto - D
One month into the season, Michael Conforto looked every bit like he was ready to make The Leap into the upper echelon of young stars. But after being mostly spotted in against left handed pitching, which wasn't exactly well-advised in the first place, Conforto was thrown out against Madison Bumgarner, who made him look silly, and after that it seems he was never quite the same. He hit .365 in April, and followed it up by going .169 in May and .119 in June, and then was back in AAA to try and get it back together. After a strong performance in the Minors, he came back and again was inconsequential. So the cycle repeated. He returned in September and started to get his luster back a little bit, but by this point it was too far gone to make much of a difference. It feels like a wasted year overall. I still think that at age 23 he still has the potential to be as good as he's displayed at times but it's also a cautionary tale about messing around with the development of young talent. Part of me thinks that Conforto, among other Mets, needs a therapist as opposed to a hitting coach because slumps like this induced by one bad instance often seem indicative of a mental issue, not a mechanical issue. I know people, particularly athletes, don't like to make this acknowledgement but sometimes it's more helpful than they realize. 304 ABs, .220/.310/.414, 12 HR, 42 RBI. Wouldn't have thought that at the end of April.

Alejandro De Aza - C
Wouldn't have graded him this high except that after I brazenly predicted that he'd be the first Met to be DFA'd this season he proved me wrong by sticking around all year. That's not to say he didn't deserve it at times but come the second half he did some useful things. 234 ABs, .205/.297/.321, 6 HR, 25 RBI.

Jay Bruce - C-
It took close to 2 months but Bruce finally shook off the cobwebs of being traded during the last 8 or so days of the season when he hit 4 Home Runs and batted close to .500 during the most crucial week of the season. Give him credit for this, particularly since he spent the first 7 weeks of his Mets tenure in an absolute fog, where he barely hit anything, wound up getting booed mercilessly by impatient Mets fans, benched, and pinch hit for in key situations. You can't say that going .219/.294/.391 with 8 HR and 19 RBI in 8 weeks here is great for him but, again, think about Flores for a second. It's not exactly easy getting uprooted from the only team you've ever known in the middle of a season so I'm sure it was jarring for him to get moved even if he expected it coming.

Juan Lagares - D
The bloom, I think, is officially off the Lagares rose. Now two years removed from a Gold Glove season, he can still play CF well but doesn't seem to be capable of much else. Never really developed offensively like many hoped he would and also missed a significant part of the season hurt much like last year. I mean if he could be counted on to come off the bench and do something meaningful offensively I'd feel more in his corner but do the Mets really have room for another Outfielder who might not hit? Limited to 142 ABs, .239/.301/.380, 3 HR, 9 RBI.

Brandon Nimmo - B
Is he or isn't he? I'm not quite sure. First time he came up, he played regularly and performed reasonably well, happened to coincide with the Chicago series and he had his hands all over that weekend by driving in a game winning run in one game and hitting a 3-run Home Run the next game. Sent down and didn't see much burn when recalled. Did have some key pinch hits down the stretch. I'd say give him a longer look but I don't know where he fits. 32 Games, 73 ABs. .274/.338/.329, 1 HR, 6 RBI and not enough to go into deeper splits to try and tell a story.

Ty Kelly - C
Woefully unexciting utility guy, sort of out of the Danny Muno mold because I guess every season the Mets need to have one of those guys. Mostly a 4-A type that will keep getting called up and sent back to AAA because he's liable to get overexposed in a longer sample. In short stints, he's fine. .241/.352/.345, 1 HR, 7 RBI in 58 ABs. More PT wouldn't have proven anything.

Justin Ruggiano - B
When he was here, he did hit, to the tune of .350/.409/.650, with 2 Home Runs (one of which was a grand slam off of Wednesday Night's opposing pitcher) and 6 RBI. But the problem was, he was barely here, as indicated by the fact that he played in three games, got hurt, came back two weeks later, played in another 5 games, got hurt again and that was it for Ruggiano. 8 games, 20 ABs. Lefty masher that's been cast off from several teams and isn't really a masher. Do with that what you will.

Tune in shortly for Pitchers!

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