Exactly one year ago today, New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes seemed unstoppable. At the time, Reyes was a 24-year old who appeared ready to break out and announce his presence with authority. He had won NL Player of the Month Award in April with an incredible .356/.442/.596 line to go along with 17 stolen bases. But perhaps the most encouraging stat Reyes accumulated that month was the 16 free trips to first base.
As a point of comparison, back in 2005, Reyes walked 27 times. All year. In 161 games. The following season, things looked to be on the up-and-up, as he nearly doubled those numbers with 53. And in April of 2007, I believed that he was tapping into a potential that even I had not imagined him capable of.
And so it was, that as of May 23, 2007, I thought that my Mets had the best shortstop in Major League Baseball – and he was only 24 years old.
But it hasn’t worked out that way. Since that day, his line has been a far less impressive .268/.338/.407. Journalists, bloggers, sports radio, pretty much anyone with a voice, pen, keyboard or even a talking wheelchair put much of the blame on Reyes for the team’s failure to clinch a playoff spot in September. It’s absolutely true that Jose had a terrible month to close the 2007 season. The man batted .205. His OBP was .279. His god-given talent was no where to be found at a time when everyone was looking for someone to blame.
At the beginning of the 2008 season, it was believed that one of the keys to the Mets success was to get Reyes back on track. But right now, I’m just wondering – what does that mean?
Does “back on track” mean where he was at the onset of last year? Should we expect him to have an OPS-Plus of 166 like he did in April ’07? Because if that’s the guy we’re all expecting to see to lift these Mets from their latest funk, then we’re just being downright unfair. Me included.
As Tim Marchman (my favorite Mets beat-writer) writes, “Don’t Blame Reyes For Mets’ Woes“. When looked objectively, thus far in ’08, Jose has been an asset to the club. His current OPS-Plus stands at a better-than-average 107, which, once you factor in his defense (both in terms of ability at shortstop and the fact that, well, he’s a shortstop who can hit) and age, is actually quite good. In fact, Mr. National League MVP Jimmy Rollins won the award last year with a 118 OPS-Plus, which is inarguably better, but not as better as you may think based on their respective fanbase’s current perceptions.
So who is “to blame” for the Mets’ struggles? Well, a lot of things.
- We’re still in Mid-May. There’s a lot of baseball that is played in one year. We’re still at a small portion of that one year. Smaller the sample size, the more anomalies stick out.
- Strength of Schedule. Here’s a part of that “sample size” thing. The 2008 Phillies have thus far played 49 games. 28 of which were played against the Giants(6), Padres(3), Nationals(6), Pirates(3), Astros(4), Rockies(2) and Reds(4), who are generally considered to be the worst teams in the NL. The Mets have played 45 games. Only 14 of them against the aforementioned menagerie of underachievers. Now this is cherry-picking to the highest-degree, but the Mets haven’t exactly had it easy so far.
- No Power. So I don’t let this team off that easily, consider this. Collectively, the Mets are slugging .390. That’s “good enough” for 13th place out the 16 NL teams. In 2007, the Mets slugged .432 (8th Place), which is not great by any means, but acceptable once you consider Park Factor. For these Mets, it hasn’t been a lack of “clutch hitting” as some have suggested. They just aren’t hitting period. If they can’t hit in any other situation, how can you expect them to hit in “clutch” situations?
- Pitching. This is the area that concerns me most. It’s one thing to cite the lack of power in a Mets team that plays in a pitcher’s park. But if that holds true, then how do we describe the pitching as anything more than “not good”? Their ERA at the moment is a rather respectable 4.09. But what that doesn’t show is the fact that as a team, they’ve allowed (including unearned) 211 runs. That’s 4.7 runs per game. It’s a big difference.
- Injuries. This is kind of a double-edged sword. Yes, the Mets have been without Pedro Martinez, Orlando Hernandez, and Moises Alou for most of the year. But can we really say that this was a surprise? Sure, even I, a bit of a pessimist, didn’t expect it to be this bad, but that’s kind of splitting hairs. If we were relying on these guys to lead this team, then brothers and sisters, it was a flawed strategy from the start.
Now before everyone gets the wrong idea, let me just state that I am nowhere near giving up on this team. It’s May. I’ve noticed some Mets fans already setting themselves on fire. It’s really embarrassing. Please stop it.
But despite the date on the calendar, there are things here that are worth mentioning. As expected, the Luis Castillo signing was a pretty bad move. That Pedro signing hasn’t worked out all that well either. And let’s be glad that Carlos Delgado’s contract is up at the end of the year. I’m not one of the people who are calling for Willie Randolph’s head on a platter, but his bullpen management is questionable at best. And I don’t know whose idea it was – Willie’s or GM Omar Minaya’s – to have a bench consisting of Damion Easley, Marlon Anderson, Endy Chavez, Angel Pagan, and Fernando Tatis, but there’s not one name there that I would like to see on my roster – especially to back up a starting nine that you know is going to get hurt badly and often.
I still expect these Mets to win the NL East. I just may need to drink a few more beers to get through the year than I had initially planned.