Spring Fling / Give Him a Ring / Leave Him Crying: NL East Edition

New York Mets


B
RIAN’S FLING

Daniel Murphy – 2B

Jim McIsaac, Getty Images
Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

A line drive machine (28.6%, 3rd in the majors) with 600+ PA’s for the third year running, Murph is a safe (if not terribly exciting) date you can rely on to not embarrass you at parties.  Which, when we’re talking about the Mets, is a actually kind of a big deal.  He’ll turn 30 next year, and won’t do you any favors defensively at 2nd base, but his top tier contact skills combine with inoffensive power and speed worthy of a fling for now.

MATT’S FLING

Travis d’Arnaud – C

Brad Penner, USA Today
Brad Penner, USA Today

A nod to the somewhat out of nowhere excellence of Jacob deGrom – if anyone tells you they thought he would put together a season like this, they are lying.

When we first started on our Fling/Ring/Crying series back in May, d’Arnaud had just been demoted to AAA because good gravy he was badThat 72 wRC+ actually gives him the benefit of a doubt given that he plays his home games in the destroyer of right-handed-non-home-run-offense that is Citi Field – that is, wRC+ asserted that if he played his games in a perfectly neutral park, he’d ONLY be 28% worse than his league average peer. Whoops. Even after being recalled two weeks later, d’Arnaud was pretty underwhelming, and on July 11, his wRC+ sat at sad-panda 75.

This post is guilty of using arbitrary endpoints to craft a narrative.

From July 12th on, d’Arnaud has slashed .274/.325/.474 – good for a wRC+ of 128 – he has been almost exactly as good as he had previously been bad, which has made him one of the better hitting catchers in baseball over the past two months (please note that the linked leaderboard begins at the All-Star Break, not July 12). What happened?

Well, probably a few things.

1.) we can assume that the mental break from his miserable failures he received while playing at AAA probably helped to clear his head a bit.

2.) d’Arnaud was impossibly unlucky while struggling over the season’s first 6 weeks – a .218 BABIP is an outlier no matter how you slice it, though d’Arnaud really wasn’t making much quality contact.  Since returning from AAA, d’Arnaud has traded some groundballs and flyballs for line-drives, and his BABIP has been much better for it. In addition, d’Arnaud has done more with the flyballs he has hit, as his average flyball distance increased from 273.5 feet to a more robust 285.4 feet.

4.) d’Arnaud has appreciably improved his approach at the dish – while he has walked a bit less, he really cut down on the strikeouts (18.4% K rate before demotion, 13.8% since).

To summarize, d’Arnaud has both cut down on the plate appearances that ended with him NOT putting the ball in play and sufficiently improved the quality of contact when he HAS put the ball in play such that he can reasonably expect better results. Nicely done. While I am not really sure what one could reasonably expect from d’Arnaud in the future, he has, at the very least, demonstrated the potential for growth.

BRIAN’S RING

Matt Harvey – SP

USA Today
USA Today

It says more about the Mets than Harvey that the safest pick for a Ring is a pitcher who’s entire 2014 was lost to injury.  In 2013, Harvey ranked 5th in WAR among hurlers, despite throwing less innings than just about every other pitcher in the top 35.  Harvey will not be rushed back to action this season, but will be expected to lead a formidable young rotation for the Mets in 2015.  A natural-born competitor, Gotham’s savior will rise to the challenge.

Matt’s Editorial Addendum: ...and per both FIP and xFIP, Harvey was the best pitcher in the game among ERA Title qualifiers.

MATT’S RING

Lucas Duda – OF

Chris Trotman, Getty Images
Chris Trotman, Getty Images

It really SHOULD be Matt Harvey, but I will attempt to make do with someone who actually played for the Metropolitans this season.

Sooooo…

You undoubtedly have forgotten our NL West Edition of Fling/Ring/Crying. If you feel so inclined as to review my Dodgers “Left Crying” and my Padres “Fling,” you will find that I simultaneously ripped and lauded two very similar players: corner outfielders Andre Ethier and Seth Smith. The basic argument (before Ethier’s production against RHP plummeted to league average levels) was that hitters who are substantially above better-than-average against RHP while struggling against LHP can still be quite valuable given that there are far more plate appearances to be had against righties than southpaws, but their salaries should reflect the fact that their games possesses such a glaring limitation. Ethier is being paid $17 million a year, which was far too much even before his substantial decline. Smith, who had demonstrated a fairly significant platoon split prior to this season, is being paid $6 million this season to be… well… a poor man’s Andre Ethier. As it happens, Smith is wrecking righties and lefties alike in 2014 and was one of the offseason’s great bargains.

Lucas Duda is a lot like vintage Ethier/Smith.

To be more specific, Duda is an even more extreme version – while Ethier was excellent against RHP and merely bad against LHP, Duda has been excellent against RHP while morphing into Gerrit Cole with a bat (i.e. a good hitting pitcher) when facing LHP. Again, there is an awful lot of value to be had from such a player – especially if the price is right. Duda has been absolute super-star against RHP – his .273/.376/.549 (with a big time .276 ISO) slash against them is good for the 5th best wRC+ against RHP in all of baseball. In spite of his limitations against LHP and with the glove, Duda will be a 3+ win player when all is said and done. While he is no longer “young” at 28, there are probably a few more useful years to be had – very likely at prices that are far friendlier to the Mets’ bottom line than would be the free agent market prices for a 3 win OF (though probably a good deal more costly than the $1.9 million bargain for which he played this season). While there is not an abundance of likeable material to be found within the Met’s MLB ranks, Duda has given fans reason to cheer.

But seriously, Matt Harvey.

BRIAN’S LEFT CRYING

The Mets Failpen – RP  

Getty Images
Getty Images

Just for posterity, I’m posting this in 2014.  There may be some confusion because it’s hard to discern a time in recent human history when the Mets Bullpen has not been a source of shame and embarrassment.  There are ten relievers who have pitched at least 20 innings for the Mets this year.  Their average performance when measured against replacement players that can be found for the league minimum salary in free agency is -0.7 Wins.  Generally, teams would like for the players they are paying to be worth more than players that can be acquired for free, but the Mets seem to always make an exception for their bullpen.

MATT’S LEFT CRYING

David Wright – 3B

Associated Press
Associated Press

I suppose this really could be an indictment of the Mets’ braintrust, but I am about to ream another team’s GM shortly and do not feel comfortable doing it twice in one post. David Wright is just going to have to be a team player and take it. Also, David Wright will forever piss me off for having been involved with this play (not actually… maybe):

Oh good gravy, Mets, what actually were you doing? You REALLY wanted to buy nearly all of Wright’s thirties for $138 million? I mean, I understand “thank you contracts” to an extent, but those usually wash down better when one is thanking a player for contributing to recent franchise success (i.e. during a World Series afterglow). Also, “thank you contracts” are less crippling when they are of shorter duration at higher dollar amounts – a team can concede some average annual value (AAV) to get the player off the books more quickly. At an AAV of $17.25 million for EIGHT YEARS, the Mets are on the hook to pay massive money for a long time to a player who is statistically likely to decline significantly over the life of the contract. To be fair, the Mets are hardly the first team to make such a mistake – not by a long shot – but it is not a good look when a player’s strikeout rate jumps to near-career high levels, walk rate plummets to essentially career low levels (at least since receiving every day playing time), and the player loses 25 feet of average flyball distance in just the second year of an 8-year deal. I get that Wright is the marketable face of the franchise and a fan favorite, but it rarely makes good business or baseball sense to make the sentimental move that the average fan would make if given personnel power. Extreme ups and downs have averaged out to essentially a league average player in 2014 – and $17.25 million should buy a lot more than a player that produces an awful lot like a Grego Blanco (Mr. MLB Average). While it is certainly not impossible for Wright to rebound, it becomes much harder to depend on such rebounds as a player gets older. Just blech all around.

Who did we miss? What did we get wrong? Post your Mets picks in the comments section below.

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