The 2012 New York Mets have surprised many thus far
The All-Star break is generally considered the midpoint of the baseball season and is, therefore, a good time to evaluate how a team has performed during the first half.
With a 46-40 record, the New York Mets have been one of the surprise teams in baseball so far. Prior to the start of the season the Mets were almost universally picked to finish last in the National League East. I, myself, predicted that the Mets would be "lucky to win 70 games this season."
I am very happy to be able to say that I totally misjudged this team.
The Madoff losses that engulfed the franchise led to the inevitable departure of big name players Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez and Jose Reyes. It seemed that all that was left was David Wright, R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana coming off of shoulder surgery. The rest were rookies, untested minor leaguers and journeymen.
What looked like a mess has gelled into a scrappy team of underdogs that have re-energized a fanbase so used to heartache.
Here are the midterm grades for the 2012 New York Mets.
Ike Davis is starting to produce
Ike Davis had a slow start to the season both offensively and defensively. An 0-for-16 start put Davis in a hole that he is just starting to climb out of.
He had a miserable April and May with an average under .200 and a total of just five home runs and 21 RBIs. , but manager Terry Collins stuck with him.
Collins' faith seems to be paying off as Davis has more than doubled his production in June. For the month, he had six homers and drove in 24 runs. He also hit a respectable .264, and increased his on-base percentage to .363 from .214 in May.
Defensively, Davis' six errors are the second-highest total among National League first basemen. However, his defense is solid, and he seems to have regained his overall confidence.
Backup for Ike in the field is, generally, pretty shaky with Justin Turner and the now departed Zach Lutz each contributing errors of their own. Both Daniel Murphy and Vinny Rottino have also had spot starts at first base.
Total overall grade: C+
Daniel Murphy is adjusting to second base
Daniel Murphy was given the second base job in order to keep his bat in the lineup. Like Davis, his defensive play has improved as the season has progressed.
However, his nine errors are second most in the league for his position.There have been some cringe-worthy errors but, just last week, Murphy made a great play that was actually the No. 1 "Web Gem" of the night on ESPN.
Murphy's hitting has been solid overall, although his average did drop off a bit throughout June. He seems, however, to have found his power. His three home runs and 19 RBIs in June more than equaled his run production for April and May combined.
While not fleet of foot, Murphy has stolen six bases in seven attempts.
Defensive replacements for Murphy have been reliable and include Justin Turner, Ronny Cedeno and Jordany Valdespin.
Overall grade: B-
Ruben Tejada has stepped up in taking over for Jose Reyes
Ruben Tejada has slotted in very well following the departure of Jose Reyes. A natural shortstop, Tejada has been steady in the field and more than adequate with his bat.
Tejada was batting .305 on May 6 when he went on the disabled list and missed six weeks with a quad injury. Since coming back, Tejada has been even better. He has 21 hits in 14 games and has raised his batting average to .325.
What Tejada has not been able to replace is the speed that Reyes brought to the Mets. Tejada is not slow, but he is definitely not a base stealer and has just one steal so far.
Backups Omar Quintanilla and Ronny Cedeno filled in admirably when Tejada was on the DL. As if Terry Colllins really does have some magic, Quintanilla contributed right away. He went 3-for-4 with two doubles in his Mets debut, helping the Mets to a 6-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Overall grade: B+
David Wright is having an MVP season
David Wright is having an MVP-type season. As the only veteran everyday player left on the team, he is leading both on the field and off.
In the clubhouse, he is serving as a mentor to the younger players and new additions. On the field he has been consistent and provided the team with many clutch hits.
Wright started the season hot and and has not cooled down yet. His batting average was .389 in April, .347 in May and .340 for June. His current .351 average is third best in the National League. He has the second-best on-base percentage at .471 and the fourth most hits with 106.
While Wright's power could be better, his run production is strong. In addition to his 11 home runs, he is second only to Joey Votto in doubles with 27 and fifth in RBIs with 59.
Although Wright has made eight errors in the field, it's apparent that he has worked hard on his defense. In the past he often made errant throws to first, but his accuracy and arm strength have both greatly improved.
Overall grade: A
Jason Bay has been unable to stay on the field
Poor Jason Bay. Not only has he had a miserable time at the plate since joining the Mets, but he has also been unable to stay on the field. Soon after coming back from injury, he was back on the disabled list with a concussion while sacrificing his body trying to make a difficult catch.
Left field has been the Mets' most perplexing position to field. With Bay's continued absence, Scott Hairston, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Vinny Rottino and Valdespin have all been given playing time. Collectively, they have been solid in the field and have contributed just two errors.
Nieuwenhuis came out of the gate swinging a hot bat and showing the hustle of a rookie trying to make a name for himself. He is still showing that grit and determination, but his bat has definitely cooled down.
To be fair, Nieuwenhuis was not on the team's Major League radar heading in to the season. He was only called up due to an injury to Andres Torres. His early success kept him with the Mets, and his services became more important once Bay went down again.
He has also been called on to fill in where needed and played all three outfield positions for the Mets during his first three months in the Majors.
Hairston has had some huge clutch hits for the Mets and looked solid in the field.
Baxter was another one that came from nowhere and quickly established himself with his solid hitting and defense. Unfortunately, it was his great catch saving Johan Santanta's no-hitter that landed him on the disabled list where he currently still is.
While only playing four games in left field, Valdespin has become the latest spark plug to arrive on the scene. His most memorable moment thus far was his game-winning pinch-hit three-run home run off of Phillies' reliever Jonathon Papelbon. The game winner was Valdespin's first Major League hit.
Overall grade: B-
Kirk Nieuwenhuis had a hot start
Although Andres Torres was brought in to replace Angel Pagan in center field, rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis has gotten a lot of the playing time due to injuries.
Nieuwenhuis started strong with a .325 average in April. His numbers have dropped off since, and his current average is .268.
The rookie deserves his place on this young team as he has been asked to do a lot early in his career. He has also shown some great potential, as well as some power. With few expectations for this team, the Mets have the luxury of allowing promising players like Nieuwenhuis to take their lumps at the major league level as they develop.
Nieuwenhuis covers a lot of ground in the outfield, but needs to be more assertive on certain plays and make sure to throw the ball to the correct infielder.
As for Torres, I still don't understand why the Mets traded Pagan for him. While Pagan is hitting a respectable .284 with 15 stolen bases for the San Francisco Giants, Torres is batting .201 with just nine steals.
Torres has come up with some clutch hits and has displayed a good arm. Despite often playing too shallow, he has contributed two outfield assists.
Overall grade: C+
Lucas Duda needs to cover more ground in right field
Lucas Duda is another Mets prospect still developing at the major league level. Duda is consistently hitting in the .250 range and possesses power. He does, however, need to work on his ball selection and pitch count as his strikeout ratio is high.
Duda has 12 home runs with 44 RBIs and has the potential to be a big run producer for the team in the middle of the lineup. The Mets are going to have to be patient with Duda as he learns the league. He practically bypassed Triple-A before joining the Mets.
Duda has made four errors in the field but contributed three assists. His problem is not catching the ball, but his lack of speed. Too many balls are dropping in that really should be outs.
This slowness has also been displayed by Duda on the basepaths. Obviously the Mets want him in the lineup for his power, but he is going to have to work on his outfield positioning to compensate for his shortcomings.
Hairston, Nieuwenhuis and Baxter have all played a bit of right field without committing any errors.
Overall grade: C+.
Josh Thole has worked well with the pitching staff
Josh Thole deserves credit for handling the pitching staff very well. Of course, that includes catching knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Thole has also made some excellent putouts at the plate, one of which landed him on the disabled list for a spell.
Thole is hitting a respectable .264, but is mostly a singles hitter.
Mike Nickeas is an adequate enough backup catcher but doesn't do much with the bat. He has had a couple of clutch hits, including a grand slam versus the San Diego Padres in May. Despite his .172 average, he has driven in one more run than Thole in half the at-bats.
Rob Johnson is currently in Buffalo but did play in eleven games for the Mets when Thole was on the DL. In his limited appearances, Johnson batted .313.
Overall grade: C+
Johan Santana pitched the Mets' first no-hitter
The Mets' team ERA of 3.96 is ninth out of the 16 National League teams. However, if you look at the statistics of just the starters, the ERA drops to 3.55 which is third best in the league.
There's nothing left to say about R.A. Dickey. He is having a phenomenal season, and could be on his way to 20 wins and consideration for the Cy Young Award.
The fact that Johan Santana is getting second billing to Dickey shows what an amazing one-two top of the rotation the Mets have.
Coming back from a year out and shoulder surgery, Santana has been steady and inspiring. Just pitching the franchise's first no-hitter ever would have been enough. Outside of several bad outings, Santana always gives his team the chance to win.
Jonathon Niese was beat up last time out, but his seven wins and 3.73 ERA are indications that he is developing in to the pitcher the Mets think he will become.
The news about Dillon Gee and his blood clot is not good. He will be out of the rotation for at least several weeks, and his consistency and growing confidence will be missed.
In his brief time back, Chris Young has looked strong and pitched well. The veteran Miguel Batista has been adequate in his four spot starts. Interestingly enough, Mike Pelfrey hasn't been missed at all.
Rookies Jeremy Hefner and Chris Schwinden were both beat up in emergency starts, but can use their experience to continue growing while in Buffalo.
Overall grade: A
Bobby Parnell has been solid coming out of the bullpen
The Mets' biggest problem this season was supposed to be their strength. The bullpen has pretty much been a disaster. Their collective 4.94 ERA is dead last of all National League clubs. Their 13 blown saves are tied for third worst.
Then there's Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. When your closer goes on the disabled list and the fans look at it as a good thing, you know there are problems. Francisco has three blown saves and three losses with a 4.97 ERA. Even when he saves a game, it's a heart attack waiting to happen.
At 6' 11", Rauch looks menacing on the mound. His three blown saves and seven losses, unfortunately, tell the true story. Rauch has not been good at all.
The most dependable members of the bullpen are lefty specialist Tim Byrdak and Bobby Parnell. Byrdak is used mainly in specific situations. Parnell is finally using his heat to overpower hitters. His 15 holds and 2.83 ERA are giving Collins something to think about when Francisco returns from the DL.
Overall grade: C-
Scott Hairston has provided some clutch hitting
The Mets' bench is proving to be an important piece of the teams' early success. Nieuwenhuis, Cedeno, Baxter, Davis and Turner are all hitting over .300 as pinch hitters.
Meanwhile, Hairston and Valdespin each have two pinch-hit home runs and four RBIs.
The most impressive statistic that the Mets have put up this season is their ability to hit and drive in runs with two outs. The team is hitting .276 with two outs for the third-highest average in the majors. With two outs and runners in scoring position, they're even better. The Mets have the second highest average in baseball at .287.
Overall grade: A
Terry Collins has been pushing all the right buttons
Terry Collins deserves so much credit for the surprising and inspired play of the New York Mets. When he was hired, all the reports made it sound like he was a questionable choice.
With all the naysayers (myself included), predicting a season of inept play and embarrassments for the Mets, Collins has calmly ignored the doubters and gone on to show outstanding leadership and management skills.
Both the veterans and rookies respect him, and he always seems to be making the right decisions. Many times, I have questioned a move he has made only to see myself proven wrong. He knows what he is doing and is becoming one of the Mets' shrewdest hires in recent history.
The chemistry and energy that is coming from the scrappy 2012 New York Mets is being instilled by Terry Collins.
Overall grade: A+
Total Team All-Star Break Grade: B
What are your thoughts on the Mets at midseason? Let me know if you agree or disagree.