Wednesday, January 16, 2013

10 Biggest Disappointments for the 2012 Mets

by John Vittas

It was another disappointing year for the New York Mets in 2012. It marks their sixth straight year of October golf reservations and their fourth straight losing season. Here’s a list of the ten disappointments that defined this year’s overall disappointment. 

My analysis of the why the Mets finished with a losing record yet again

10. Dillon Gee’s injury

It can be argued that Dillon Gee’s season-ending surgery marked the turning point for the Mets in 2012. The team was playing winning baseball prior to the All Star Break, which is exactly when Gee’s injury was reported, shocking Mets fans that his promising season would be ending early.

Gee was coming off an eight-inning gem against the Cubs, where he gave up just one run and did not walk a single batter. In fact, nine of Gee’s final ten starts in 2012 were quality (at least 6 innings allowing 3 earned runs or less). 

Dillon Gee

9. The End of July

When Gee went down at the All Star break, the Mets had a 46-40 record, only four and half games out of first place, and on the precipice of the second wild card spot. But it all fell apart with the ring of the second half bell.

The Mets lost their first five games in Atlanta and Washington and fell in 11 of their first 12 contests following the All Star Break. They finished July with a 7-18 record and their season came to a screeching halt, as Terry Collins’ crew found themselves hopelessly out of contention for the fourth straight year.

8. Ramon Ramirez

Sandy Alderson traded Angel Pagan for Ramon Ramirez and Andres Torres in hopes to sure up what was a shoddy bullpen in 2011. Ramirez had posted four straight seasons of sub-3.00 ERAs and at least 68 innings pitched. There was no more sure-thing in the market for set-up men than Ramon Ramirez.

But Ramirez wound up falling short in both of those key categories, only pitching 63 innings and recording an ERA of 4.24, over a point and a half higher than his 2.62 mark from 2011. The worst part was that Ramirez was only effective in low-leverage situations, forcing Terry Collins to save him for games where the victor had already been decided.

Combine that with Torres’ lackluster season, and it’s safe to say the Pagan trade falls into Sandy Alderson’s “bad” column.

Ramon Ramirez

7. The Bullpen

Ramirez wasn’t the only sore spot in the Mets bullpen in 2012. All in all, the pen was a disaster for Terry Collins. The Mets were last in bullpen ERA for virtually the entire year, until the Brewers edged them out for the dubious title on the final day of the season.

So the Mets had the second worst bullpen in the Majors, which offers no comfort to Sandy Alderson or Terry Collins. The primary culprits: Manny Acosta (6.46), Ramon Ramirez (4.24), Frank Francisco (5.53) and Miguel Batista (4.82)

The only exceptions were Jon Rauch and Bobby Parnell, who held down the set-up role for an incapable closer in Francisco. Francisco is the only one on the culprits list who will be returning to New York in 2013, as Sandy Alderson tries to revamp his bullpen yet again.

So who has he brought in to help lead the transformation? Well, no one yet. But the third-year GM is waiting for the bullpen market to play out before he inks some arms for 2013. 

The Pen has driven Terry Collins nuts the past two years

6.  Lucas Duda

After his first full season in the Major Leagues, Lucas Duda appeared to be ready to take over right field at Citi Field for the long term.  After hitting close to .300 in 100 games with an OPS 81 points higher than David Wright in 2011, Duda regressed considerably in 2012.

The most alarming part of Duda’s season was his second half. He maintained acceptable starting numbers through the first three months, but batted just .204 after that. He earned himself a demotion to Triple-A, and didn’t hit well there either.

The good news for Lucas is that he’s going to get another chance to prove himself in 2013 because of a very thin Mets outfield.  He has a big league eye and big league power, stroking a career-high 15 home runs in just 400 at bats this season. However, he still needs to prove he can be an everyday player in all aspects of the game. The former USC star would be well-served to get more aggressive at the plate, work on going the other way and certainly needs improve his outfield play, especially on balls hit over his head.

Lucas Duda

5. David Wright getting snubbed for the ASG start by Pablo Sandoval

When the All-Star rosters were announced on July 1st, it was hard to argue David Wright wasn’t the Most Valuable Player in the National League. He was hitting .355 with 9 HRs and 50 RBIs and appeared to be carrying an overachieving team into a playoff race.

But in the last week before the voting closed, San Francisco’s late push to the polls propelled the Kung Fu Panda in front of Wright for the first time all season, despite his severely inferior numbers. The results prompted Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson to tweet some controversial comments, mocking Sandoval’s nickname and blaming Wright’s loss on Mets fans:

“Wright vs. Sandoval: A city of 8 million was outvoted by a city of 800,000.”

For what it’s worth, Sandoval did have the biggest hit of the All Star Game, a three-run triple off Justin Verlander in the first inning. The hit made it 4-0, springboarding the NL to victory and earning them home field advantage in the Fall Classic.

The hit was an interesting foreshadow to Game 1 of the World Series, where Sandoval took Verlander deep twice in his famous three home run game. 

Sandoval's bases clearing triple comes at the :30 mark

4. Mike Pelfrey’s injury

Despite another rocky Spring Training, Mike Pelfrey came out of the gates hot in 2012, allowing just five runs over his first three starts, capped by an eight inning, one run gem against the Giants.

But elbow discomfort quickly developed into the one prognosis any pitcher shutters over – Tommy John Surgery. The operation marked the end of Pelfrey’s career with the Mets, as he’ll try his luck in Minnesota next season after being non-tendered by New York at the end of November.

Pelfrey appeared headed for a strong season in 2012, and the pattern of his success in even years suggest he could have been a big factor in what would have been one of the best rotations in the National League had he stayed healthy.

Chris Schwinden and Miguel Batista floundered in his absence before Chris Young was able to solidify Pelfrey’s spot in the rotation. There’s no telling how many games Pelfrey’s injury cost the Mets in 2012, but I reckon it was more than one or two.

Mike Pelfrey

3. Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ Second Half

After Andres Torres came up lame running down a ball in the gap on Opening Day, the centerfielder with the blonde flow whose name no one could spell got a call earlier than anyone expected. For two and a half months, Kirk Nieuwenhuis could do no wrong, spraying balls all over Citi Field and consistently making highlight-reel catches.

He reached his peak line of .311/.386/.444 on May 5th and maintained an average around .300 into June. But his bat began to ware down around the middle of the month and Kirk’s playing time dwindled. Shortly after being sent down to AAA after five straight hitless games in late July, Nieuwenhuis was diagnosed with a serious foot injury, ending his rookie campaign and costing him many September at bats and additional Major League experience.

His line finished at .252/.315/.376, certainly adequate for a fourth outfielder, but Nieuwenhuis showed he is capable of much more. His defense and athleticism are his greatest assets, and he has the pop to be a star in the league. In a mid-December interview, Nieuwenhuis claimed to be 100% healthy and ready to compete for the starting centerfielder spot in Spring Training. And unless the Mets sign someone else, it appears to be Kirk’s spot to lose. 

Cool promo. I see Kirk as a reason the Mets improve the next few years

2.  Frank Francisco

Talk about making a bad first impression, Frank Francisco pitched to the tune of a 7.71 ERA in the month of April, and his May was not much better.

But the veteran is known as a second half pitcher, so things would get better right? Not exactly. The former Ranger and Blue Jay spent the entire month of July on the disabled list and continued to struggle after his return, finishing with a post-All Star Break ERA of 6.75.

Francisco issued a walk every-other inning and posted a WHIP north of 1.6. The worst part for Mets fans is that he’s under contract for another season and Terry Collins has already pronounced him as the likely candidate to close games again in 2013.

Francisco did strike out more than a batter per inning, so he’s still difficult to hit. But he isn’t getting any younger, and will be 33 on Opening Day.

The Mets better hope Francisco won’t become another name on their long list of bad contracts. 2012 was the first time in five years that Francisco’s ERA exceeded 3.83, so the Mets can hope that his first season in Queens was simply a stroke of bad luck.

Frank Francisco

1. The Catching Situation

There was no bigger weakness for the Mets in 2012 than whoever had the number “2” next to his name in the batting order. Whether it was Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas, Kelly Shoppach or Rob Johnson, the Mets got almost no offensive production from behind the plate.

Mets catchers batted a combined .218 in 2012. That’s good for 14th in the National League. Somehow, the Cubs and Marlins had averages that were even lower. The Mets’ catchers were last in the NL in OBP and dead last in all of the Majors in slugging percentage…by a lot.

Their .286 slugging mark was 38 points below the 29th-ranked Padres, 38!!

Josh Thole has to bear the brunt of the blame on this one. He started 90 games behind the plate for New York and batted a career-low .234, a number that is simply unacceptable for a guy with only seven career home runs. Needless to say, his slash line of .234/.294/.290 was also the worst of his career, and one of the lowest in the Majors.

Thing is, Thole had no help. Mike Nickeas drowned at the plate in his first real Big League opportunity, ending the season with a .174 average.

The relatively cheap acquisition of Kelly Shoppach didn’t help matters either. Shoppach batted just .203 with the Mets after leaving Boston with a respectable .250 average. His slugging percentage also dropped 129 points after arriving in Flushing.

No matter how you cut it, the Mets catchers’ provided no production in 2012, and it’s fair to say they haven’t even had an average offensive catcher since Mike Piazza, except for maybe Paul Lo Duca.

Let’s just say there’s a reason Thole and Nickeas are in Canada. Sandy Alderson also recognized this deficiency as the biggest disappointment for the Mets for 2012.

And to his credit, he did something about it. Let’s just hope Travis D’Arnaud lives up to the hype.

The Mets needed a lot more of this out of Josh Thole in 2012

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