7 Reasons New York Mets Fans Should Not Panic Despite Matt Harvey's Injury

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2013

7 Reasons New York Mets Fans Should Not Panic Despite Matt Harvey's Injury

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    In typical New York Mets fashion, young ace Matt Harvey lifted the spirits of a bleak franchise devoid of any excitement for its future, only to cause further despair with the tearing of his indispensable arm. All hope may feel lost, but stay calm. Everything is going to be fine.

    During his first full season in the majors, Harvey gave Mets fans a reason to don orange and blue with pride every fifth game. The 24-year-old phenom posted a 2.27 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, remaining relevant in the National League Cy Young race with 191 strikeouts, 31 walks and a league-leading 1.99 FIP.

    Then the worst news imaginable struck, walloping Mets fans with a crushing, sickening blow. An MRI revealed that Harvey has a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. The team placed him on the disabled list, but the decision still looms whether to undergo Tommy John surgery, which will knock out his 2014 season.

    Last Friday, a mere two days before the announcement, Third Eye Blind treated Citi Field attendees with a postgame performance. They really should have waited a week, as Mets fans could sure use a listen to "Jumper" right about now.

    The injury revealed the Mets' savior, previously dabbed their "Caped Crusader" by Sports Illustrated, as a mere mortal susceptible to the aches of a pitcher. It's unfortunate, and Yankees' pitcher Adam Warren, understanding the woes felt across town, summed it up best when he told The Star Ledger's Andy McCullough that, "This sucks." But look around; the world still remains intact.

    September won't be pretty, but this is not the end of the Mets organization as we know it. This seems like the perfect time to sway your fandom to football, but rooting for the Mets still features some upsides. Other young talent not named Matt Harvey have impressed, and this setback is not a funeral. 

    So please, step off that ledge, my friend. It's not all dark and gloomy in Queens.

     

     

     

Juan Lagares' Glove

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    Let's not understate the desolate condition of New York's outfield headed into the season. With the likes of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter and Collin Cowgill vying for time, fans expected all-time low production in center field.

    Realizing that the only prescription to their horrid play was less Cowgill, the Mets gave Juan Lagares a shot to prove his worth. While he won't dazzle anyone with his subpar bat, the dude can play defense.

    Through 92 games, the rookie has generated a 14.7 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which ranks sixth among outfielders. Baseball-Reference's Defensive WAR marks him as MLB's fifth-most valuable fielder.

    Weary of the defensive metrics? Plays like this, and let's not forget this one, should help him pass the eye test with flying colors.

    And if you prefer simpler counting numbers, Lagares has gunned down baserunners for 11 assists, which leads all center fielders and is tied for best amount of any outfielders with Alex Gordon, Carlos Gonzalez and Alfonso Soriano.

    Anyone who looks at his defensive numbers or watches him man the outfielder should recognize Lagares as a Gold Glove candidate. Unfortunately, the newcomer is unlikely to win the popularity contest due to his lackluster .260/.298/.392 slash line and lack of recognition on a losing team.

     

     

Ike Davis Is Showing a Pulse

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    You've seen this story before. Ike Davis got your hopes up by erasing a putrid 2012 first half with a monster performance to close the season. So as the same scenario unfolds, you're not sold this time around.

    Understandable. Looking at his full body of work, Davis has still delivered inferior value to a replacement player, amassing a minus-0.2 WAR, according to FanGraphs. The man who once excited Mets fans with massive power potential is now wielding a .205/.327/.327 slash line, and the team isn't even sure if they want him starting at first base once 2014 rolls around.

    Despite that saying about not getting fooled twice, Davis is a changed man at the plate, so let's risk getting fooled again.

    He's only driven in five runs in August, but Davis has put on his Joey Votto mask and completely refurbished his strategy at the plate. He's hitting .297/.483/.500, drawing 23 walks in 24 games.

    Since rejoining the Mets from his demotion, Davis has ended 20.9 percent of his at-bats in strikeouts. While that's hardly commendable, it's a vast improvement from the lost batter with a 32.2 percent strikeout rate prior to his minor league stint.

    It's possible Davis will always be a maddeningly inconsistent player who gets marred in fits of futility, but he's an All-Star caliber talent when he's right. Just 26 years old, a bright future awaits Davis if his recent patience at the plate persists.

     

Their Healthy Starting Pitchers Are Rolling

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    While Harvey is out of the picture for the foreseeable future, he's not New York's only pitcher worth watching.

    Jonathon Niese, the rock of their rotation, sported an alarming 49:33 strikeout-to-walk ratio before getting placed on the disabled list with a partially torn rotator cuff. Since returning from a two-month absence, a rejuvenated Niese has earned a 1.93 ERA through four starts, striking out 28 batters while walking just six in 28 innings.

    This is the Niese who posted a 3.36 FIP in 2011 and 3.40 ERA last season. Not only does the lefty's revival serve as a timely reminder that pitchers can return from arm ailments, but the 27-year-old should grace Queens with his presence for a few more years.

    Three months ago, Dillon Gee's job stood in dire jeopardy. With a 6.34 ERA through 10 starts, speculation swirled that he would become the odd man out to make room for Zack Wheeler.

    Then he threw a gem against the Yankees, striking out a career-high 12 batters with no walks and one run allowed. From that point forward Gee has registered a 2.57 ERA. While his 7.96 K/9 ratio from 2012 stands as the outlier, Gee is a solid starter whom most clubs would gladly insert into their staff.

    But with Harvey sidelined, Wheeler is the clear moneymaker. Although the rookie has failed to match Harvey's other-worldly numbers from the get-go, Wheeler has notched 69 strikeouts through 76.1 innings with a 3.42 ERA. 

    Monitoring his pitch counts, shutting him down early or covering his arm in saran wrap can't assure his long-term safety, but Wheeler possesses electric stuff arm with ace upside. At the very least, let's enjoy him while we can.

Marlon Byrd and John Buck Were Not Part of Their Future Plans

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    Only the Mets. Who else could demonstrate awful enough timing to trade Marlon Byrd hours before doling out free T-shirts in his honor?

    Adding insult to injury, the Mets followed the wrong kind of Harvey Day by trading two offensive regulars a day after their ace landed on the DL. They shipped Byrd and John Buck, who had combined for 36 home runs and 131 RBI, to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Byrd, the steal of the offseason at a $700,000 bargain, was slugging a career-high .518 and keeping a tidy right field for the Mets. Only four catchers had driven in more runs than Buck.

    It's easy to chalk this up as another loss that signifies the waving of the white flag, but dealing away a month's service of two aging sluggers makes perfect sense.

    Byrd has been a bright spot for the fourth-place squad, but he's a career .279/.335/.424 hitter who earned himself a nice pay raise to celebrate his 36th birthday. All good will would have flown out the window once he commanded to receive fair compensation for his play.

    As for Buck, his RBI total can't hide his .215/.285/.367 slash line, and he inflicted nearly all of his damage during a fluky April. Travis d'Arnaud's arrival relegated him to the bench anyway, so they might as well have snagged a prospect for their troubles.

    In return for hampering their chances of rallying to a useless third-place finish in the NL East, the Mets gained Dilson Herrera, a 19-year-old middle infield prospect who has shown some pop with 11 homers in Single-A West Virginia. According to Baseball America's Ben Badler, "He's a natural hitter with a good swing who is difficult to get out because he doesn't have many holes."

    Poor timing but another intelligent move from Sandy Alderson. At least the Mets have a savvy general manager steering the wheel.

Misery Loves Company

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    Look, we're Mets fans, so positive thinking is a hard skill for us to master. If it takes a little darkness to boost our mood, so be it.

    It's a rough week for the Amazins, but at least their geographic rivals are embarking on enduring paths. Things could get a lot worse for the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies in the near future.

    Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for the Bronx Bombers, yet they have held on for their playoff lives with a 70-63 record. They remain in striking distance, but they remain fifth in line to secure one of two Wild Card spots, and that's despite holding a minus-six run differential.

    Although better times appear on the horizon, this offseason could throw their future in disarray. Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda and Cano will all enter free agency. While the Yankees would usually laugh and toss money at them before bathing in gold, they're on a quest to lower their team payroll to $189 million to avoid luxury tax penalties in 2014.

    Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Kevin Youkilis come off the books, but Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter are due a combined $78.5 million next season (h/t Cot's Baseball Contracts). There are also teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers catching up to the Evil Empire due to lucrative TV deals that make retaining Cano and Co. an uncertainty.

    As for the Phillies, they're stuck with an injured Ryan Howard, a deteriorating Jimmy Rollins and a closer who makes more money than a reliever not named Rivera should. The Phillies are currently ahead of the Mets by one game in the standings, but at least the Mets have developed young talent, while the Phillies have stubbornly refused to accept that change is necessary to breathe younger life into the franchise.

    Two or three years from now, the Mets could become the best team of the trio.

Help Is on the Way

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    As for the Mets, there's finally a reason to watch, even without Harvey. Some of their top prospects have recently graduated from the minors, and there's more talent waiting in the shadows.

    Along with Wheeler, both d'Arnaud and infielder Wilmer Flores have made their MLB debuts. Both figure to play prominently in the team's future plans.

    The young catcher has struggled, hitting .107/.257/.250 while playing less than stellar defense behind the plate, but 10 games is an awfully small sample size to write off a premier talent. Prior to his promotion, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo labeled him as baseball's top catching prospect and No. 21 overall minor leaguer. 

    Flores' opening week was subjected to a swarm of overhype due to driving in a bountiful nine runs in six contests. While he is still an unfinished product with a .290 on-base percentage, Flores projects as a solid contact hitter. And even though he holds no future at third base, he's flashed a surprisingly apt glove, despite most scouting reports stating the contrary.

    As for their young guns still training, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero could unite with Wheeler and Harvey to assemble a formidable rotation in 2015. Shipped to New York along with d'Arnaud in exchange for R.A. Dickey, Syndergaard has a 3.06 ERA and 10.2 K/9 ratio in 117.2 minor league innings.

    After climbing up the team's prospect ranks with a sizzling 2012 campaign, Montero blew through Double-A with a 2.43 ERA and 0.92 WHIP before advancing to Triple-A. The 22-year-old is holding his own in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, recording a 3.28 ERA and 2.92 K/BB ratio.

    The Mets have not blossomed much home-grown talent since unleashing David Wright and Jose Reyes. A new batch of players is indeed a welcomed sight. 

Harvey's Injury Is Not a Death Sentence

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    It's only natural for news of a young, All-Star pitcher having a tear in his pitching arm to ensue complete, utter panic. It's far from an ideal outcome, but the baseball community mourned as if it were prepping Harvey's funeral.

    Everyone shared the same fear for Stephen Strasburg going the way of Mark Prior when he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010, but he resurfaced a year later without missing a beat. In his second year pitching since recovering from the same infamous procedure, Adam Wainwright boasts baseball's best walk rate (1.21 BB/9) and trails only Harvey and Clayton Kershaw with a 2.41 FIP.

    For every Jordan Zimmermann and Francisco Liriano, there's a Chad Billingsley or Ben Sheets. But let's not write a eulogy just yet. For what it's worth, Harvey sounds confident in his ability to avoid surgery altogether.

    Thank you everyone for the kind words and support. I may be done this year, but I will be back next year for April 1.

    — Matt Harvey (@MattHarvey33) August 27, 2013

    Harvey and the doctors ultimately know best, but it makes sense to get the surgery out of the way to avoid risking further complications. While it places a dark cloud over next year, the Mets are still a significant move or two away from contention anyway.

    If he can return strong for 2015, he might have a potent nucleus of young starters hitting their strides and, if all goes well, climbing the NL East ladder.