The Great Backup Catcher Debate: Is Batting Above .200 Important?

I must say, I have thoroughly enjoyed the backup catcher debate that has raged across Mets camp this spring. A few weeks ago, we heard that the Mets were thinking about starting last year’s rookie backup Kevin Plawecki in AAA Vegas to give him the opportunity to “continue to develop”. The Mets know Plawecki is a talented young player, and as we all know, development is absolutely impossible at the major league level. We certainly don’t want him to accidently stunt his growth by inadvertently being a major contributor on the major league roster on a daily basis. It’s better to have him rotting away at the MGM Grand in Vegas playing slots and smoking cigs while Wally Backman threatens to assault a nearby blackjack dealer.

But once this story broke, a big question arose. It’s the same question the Mets have had their Analytics Department researching since we lost backup catcher Ramon Castro in 2009. By the way, as an aside Ramon Castro was kind of the original Big Sexy. Look at his ridiculous file photo:

Ramon Castro

Anyway, back to the question that has baffled the statistical experts working for the Mets: Is batting above .200 important for a backup catcher?

Somehow this obvious goddamn question has been a head scratcher for the Mets. Since 2009 our answer has been a resounding NO. We rolled with Mike Nickeas from 2010-2012 and his astounding .180 career average. Then in 2013 we brought in Anthony “Golden Chin” Recker. Anthony Recker absolutely raked in 2013 to the tune of a .215 batting average, but then he regressed closer to his career .185 mark over the next two seasons. Now he is on Cleveland. I will truly miss his signature 3 pitch at-bat where he fouled two fastballs back to the screen and then struck out on an outside fastball. Occasionally he would hit the big freaking dinger though. Gotta love the dinger. Plus he was sooooo attractive. Three time Metssiah award winner for NYC’s sexiest backup catcher.

But Recker has not been our only offensive force backing up behind the dish. We had pig face Juan Centeno. He hit a cushy .164 in parts of 3 seasons (2013-2015) with the Mets. And now we have our most recent backup nominees: Johnny Monell aka “Mr. Vegas” and 2016 nominee for best spring training name Raywilly Gomez. Monell has a .161 career batting average and Raywilly Gomez has never had a major league AB. We just invited him to Spring Training like we were having a damn backup catcher picnic. And he’s not even going to win best spring name because that honor is going to pitcher Stolmy Pimentel.

Why oh why do we keep carrying these awful mooks on our major league roster? How are we still debating whether or not to carry Kevin Plawecki? Plawecki had a bad rookie season offensively. He struggled. He really did. When Travis d’Arnaud came back in 2015 it made a huge difference for us. But did I mention Kevin Plawecki struggled to the tune of a .219 batting average in his rookie season? For all you scienticians out there, you’ll notice that average is over .200. It’s infinitely better than every other person we’ve given the job to over the last 6 years. If Plawecki failed to develop any further and was a lifetime .219 hitter, he would be the best backup catcher we’ve had this decade. The Mets do realize backup catchers play all the time right? Stop the madness! Just give Plawecki the job and stop trying to make Raywilly Gomez happen. It ain’t happening.

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2016 Mets Season Preview: We Watched, Now We Win

metswatch

We are three weeks away from the Mets Opening Night game in Kansas City. A fitting matchup that pits us against the team that ended our 2015 season. The team that celebrated their first World Championship in 30 years as the Mets watched from the dugout. Our fans watched the celebration at Citifield and on television. It stung. Even when I think about it now the series still stings. It has left a scar that Mets fans will bear forever. But the experience will make the team stronger and unite the players in their mission to bring the franchise its first World Championship since 1986. And thanks to Sandy’s offseason personnel maneuvers, we are in a great position to get back to the Fall Classic in 2016. And this time, I think we will have the experience and talent to get the job done.

Infield and Catching Preview:

Despite being a team built on elite pitching, the Mets continue to subscribe to the mantra “offense is the new defense”. This is especially true in the infield. That being said, the Mets replaced Daniel Murphy and Wilmer Flores up the middle with Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. Walker and Cabrera are below average defenders. But Murph and Flores were so much worse. Murph and Flores really set the floor as far as advanced defensive metrics are concerned. Just brutal. So it should be nice to have experienced and near competent defenders up the middle for 2016. And I absolutely love having Neil Walkyear. In the contract year, when the payday is on the line, players are almost always at their best.

Asdrubal Cabrera is pretty much a shortstop impersonator at this point in his career. And he’s already back in New York getting platelet-rich plasma therapy on his knee and sleeping in an MRI machine. That being said, he should eventually return even if it’s not for Opening Day. And when he does he will represent an upgrade over Wilmer at the position. Plus, the guy has averaged nearly 17 dingers a season since 2011. He’s a real major leaguer, and I fully expect him to be a major contributor in 2016.

2016 is a huge year for Lucas Duda. He’s been one of the most productive offensive first basemen in the sport over the last two seasons. Top 10 in Wins Above Replacement at 1B. Top 10 in OPS. But up until the arrival of Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline last year, Duda had to be the big presence in the Mets lineup. Lucas had to be the guy. And Duda just never excelled in that spotlight. Well he doesn’t have to be that guy anymore. Now with Cespedes in town for a full season, Duda can be just another piece in a fairly stacked lineup. I expect big things from the gentle giant. He needs to continue to hit lefthanded pitching like he did in 2015. He needs to improve his approach against the breaking ball. Duda has two more seasons before he hits free agency. If he wants to cash in, he could really help his chances by improving upon his 2014/15 campaigns.

I have absolutely no confidence in David Wright and his ability to stay on the field. He has spinal freaking stenosis. My grandmother has spinal stenosis. David is dunzo. The doctors have no confidence in David’s ability to magically overcome this degenerative condition. The Mets loaded up on infield depth, seemingly signaling the organization has no confidence. Wright even appears to have no confidence. When they ask him about his injury, he just shrugs and says “I’m just taking it day by day”. I hope we make the playoffs and David is feeling strong enough to play at that time of the year. That’s my only hope for David this year. Other than that I expect nothing from him.

Travis d’Arnaud has been “Mr. Glass” his entire career. It’s always something with Travis. Baseball Reference projects he’ll have just over 300 ABs, which certainly represents a bearish forecast reflecting his injury history.

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I’m inclined to agree with this prediction because Travis has never shown once that he has the ability to put together a full season. That being said, I expect him to be one of the most productive offensive catchers in the league when he is on the field. He hit 12 home runs in just over 200 ABs last season. On the defensive side, his pitch framing has been praised. However, he struggled to throw out base stealers in the playoffs. He will need to improve that in 2016. And if d’Arnaud does somehow find a way to remain healthy and gets 400+ ABs, I fully expect him to be in the All-Star conversation.

Outfield Preview:

The Mets 2016 outfield has the potential to be among the most productive units in the league. Retaining Yoenis Cespedes was obviously huge. He’s a gold glove LF who will be trying his hand in CF for a full season. His defense in CF hasn’t been ideal over a small career sample size. But he’s a freak athlete, and he’ll be fine. And he’ll more than make up for any defensive shortcomings at the dish. I don’t expect him to match his career high 35 home runs from last season. I don’t expect him to bat .291. I expect him to regress to his career averages of around 25 home runs and around a .270 average. Which should make him the best hitter on the team by far. And as we saw last season, he’ll make everyone around him better. He’s just that kind of intimidating lineup presence.

Other than actually having him on the team, the best part about signing Cespedes is that it takes the pressure off of Michael Conforto. Remember in December when the Mets were planning on betting their entire 2016 season on a sophomore outfielder? Thank god that never came to fruition. Now Conforto can develop at the major league level. If he excels, then we are going to have an elite offense. If he stumbles…we can still have an elite offense. Conforto looked fantastic in his rookie season. He grinded out every at bat like a veteran. Unbelievable pitch recognition. The metrics said his 2015 defense in LF was acceptable. But we’ll have to see how he fares over the course of a full season. We will also expose him to more lefthanded pitching this season. And again, if he struggles against lefties we have the luxury of playing Juan Lagares in CF and Cespedes in LF.

Curtis Granderson was the Mets offensive MVP over all of 2015. On this there can be no debate. He came back from a shitty 2014 debut and shined in the leadoff spot. He hit for power, he drew walks, and he was even nominated for a gold glove in RF. His 2015 season at the plate was among the best of his career. I expect a regression offensively. However, I still expect him to remain among the Mets most productive hitters and biggest power threats. Pray for health. He’s going to be 35 come Opening Day. We need him at the top of the order to get back to the dance.

Bench Preview:

Depth. We finally have it. Thank the old gods and the new. Am I worried about “Mr. Glass” Travis d’Arnaud? No not really. Because we have another young developing stud in Kevin Plawecki. He wasn’t very good last year. He hit .219. But he was a rookie, and he’s going to develop and grow in 2016. The other Mets beat writers keep saying he should start the season at AAA. They are insane. He will start at the major league level, and he will wind up playing all the time when Mr. Glass goes down.

Wilmer Flores is our super-sub. And by that I mean Flores is now our starting SS because Asdrubal is injured. Or is he our starting 3B with Wright being hurt? That is why teams need depth. Your super-sub becomes a starter every other week all season long. That’s how they make a goddamn living. But assuming Cabrera and Wright eventually come back, Wilmer is going to be busy filling in at every infield position. He’s never played 1B at the major league level. He stinks defensively at SS, 2B, and 3B. I’m guessing that trend will continue at 1B. That being said, he’s the only real proven major league insurance we have for Duda, Wright and Cabrera. So hopefully two of those three starters are healthy at any given time all season long. Just cross your fingers because the lack of real depth at 1B/3B is probably our most glaring weakness. One injury to Duda and we are in a bit of trouble. Did somebody say Soup?

Speaking of Soup, Eric Campbell is likely to make the Opening Day roster now that Cabrera is hurt. You want a preview? Here’s your preview: Soup sucks.

Ruben Tejada is still here. With Cabrera and Wright injured, Wilmer Flores is playing 3B and Tejada is the starting SS. And Wilmer is going to play quite a bit of 3B considering Wright hasn’t logged a single Grapefruit League inning thus far. The Tejada trade rumors continue to persist. I think they are BS. He just won’t go away. We keep trying to get rid of him. The competition we bring in at SS doesn’t matter. No matter how big a guy might be, Ruben takes him on. You beat Ruben with your legs, he comes back with a glove. You beat him with a glove, he comes back with a bat. And if you beat him with a bat, you better finish him, because he’ll keep comin’ back and back until one of you is cut.

The Mets backup outfielders are starting caliber. This is the best crop of backup outfielders we’ve had in years. A real two-headed platoon monster on the bench waiting to be unleashed. Juan Lagares is going to start against lefties. I imagine he will come into games for defense almost every night. Alejandro De Aza is going to be the primary lefthanded hitting pinch hitter off the bench. Juan Lagares can really hit lefthanded pitching. Alejandro De Aza can really hit right handed pitching. Kirk Nieuwenhuis could never really hit any pitching. The upgrade is going to be so significant. If somebody gets hurt, we will have actual productive starters to slide in. I’m so grateful. And I also call BS on the De Aza trade rumors.

We also have 2B Dilson Herrera and SS Matt Reynolds waiting in the wings at AAA.

Starting Rotation Preview:

The starting pitching is our everything. It’s what we are built upon. One rotation, under Warthen, unhittable, with power and strikeouts for all. Our rotation of studs has a chance to be the best single season staff of all time. That’s not an outrageous claim. That’s not Mets fan bias. It is a fact. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard are absolute horses. I’m not going to sit here and make career predictions for them even though it’s so tempting. That is way too hard to project and dependent on way too many factors. But I fully expect Matt Harvey, in his second season coming off TJ surgery, to dominate the NL. We’ve seen this happen historically with pitchers in their second year back from TJ. Plus he’s re-incorporating his deadly slider into his repertoire. Mike Petriello from MLB.com wrote a great article showing how the spin on Harvey’s slider improved over the course of last season as he became more comfortable on the mound. Harvey made slider related adjustments towards the end of July in 2015. The results?

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Bottom line is expect big things from a healthy Harvey.

Jacob deGrom has been the best pitcher on the team the last 2 seasons. I hope the 2015 workload and playoff innings have no effect on his 2016 performance. If he’s able to overcome any workload related fatigue, then he should be a Top 5 NL pitcher and Cy Young candidate. Noah Syndergaard has a chance to be the most dominant pitcher on the staff. The guy throws a 100 MPH with pinpoint control. Sports Illustrated included Thor on their list of Top 5 pitchers at risk of injury in 2016 as a result of his increased workload in 2015. Don’t even click the link and read the article. Just pray that we are blessed for once. Light your candles for Thor.

Steven Matz looked fantastic in his few regular season starts and postseason appearances. I think he’s an early favorite for NL Rookie of the Year. He’s another injury risk because of his size and delivery, but it’s okay. Why? Because once again we have the depth. We have Big Sexy Bartolo Colon gobbling up innings. We have our other elite hard throwing stud Zack Wheeler on the mend from his TJ surgery but expected back in June/July. We even have reinforcements in AAA in the form of Logan Verrett and possibly Sean Gilmartin if he doesn’t make the Opening Day bullpen.

Bullpen Preview:

I think our bullpen presents the single biggest risk of derailing our quest to return to the World Series. Nobody is worried about Jeurys Familia. He was among the most dominant closers in the game last season, and he should be again this season. But there is always injury risk and behind him we lack a viable tested 9th inning option. I love Antonio Bastardo and Jerry Blevins as late inning lefthanded relievers. But they are not closers. Bastardo is more likely to be a full inning option as he has had success against righthanded and lefthanded hitters in his career. But he’s not an elite late inning option. Addison Reed has closing experience, but he’s never been consistent. He spent time in the Diamondbacks minors league system last season for Christ’s sake. I think Hansel Robles has the best chance to break out in 2016 and serve as a top setup man. He throws 95+ consistently and his secondary pitches looked better as the season went on. By not acquiring a late inning reliever other than Bastardo, the Mets have made a big bet on Robles in 2016. If his command improves he should be a strong late inning weapon. But again I’m saying “if”. The bullpen is the only area where we are full of “ifs” outside of Familia. Luckily bullpens across the league are typically big “ifs”. So we have a lot of company in that department. Erik Goeddel may also make the team although he has battled spring injuries. Former Brewers closer Jim Henderson has also had a strong spring, but we would need to add him to our 40 man roster if he’s going to make the Opening Day team.

2016 Prediction:

I see the Opening Day 25 Man Roster as:

Starters: 1) C Travis d’Arnaud 2) 1B Lucas Duda 3) 2B Neil Walker 4) SS Wilmer Flores 5) 3B David Wright 6) OF Michael Conforto 7) OF Yoenis Cespedes 8) OF Curtis Granderson

Bench: 9) OF Juan Lagares 10) OF Alejandro De Aza 11) C Kevin Plawecki 12) SS Ruben Tejada 13) IF/OF Eric Campbell

Rotation: 14) SP Matt Harvey 15) SP Jacob deGrom 16) SP Noah Syndergaard 17) SP Steven Matz 18) SP Bartolo Colon

Bullpen: 19) CP Jeurys Familia 20) RP Antonio Bastardo 21) RP Jerry Blevins 22) RP Addison Reed 23) RP Hansel Robles 24) RP Erik Goeddel 25) RP Sean Gilmartin

My prediction for the season is that we will win the NL East, and we will win the World Series. For the first time in a long time, Vegas doesn’t even consider that a bold prediction. The main reason for my confidence is obviously the starting pitching. It’s so elite. I don’t think a single team in the league can possibly match it. I think we are going to beat up on the weak NL East teams (Marlins, Braves, Phillies), and ultimately we will outplay the Nationals down the stretch, yet again. Are the Cubs better than they were last season? Yes. Am I afraid of the Cubs? No. We destroyed them in the NLCS and I am confident we can do it again. Pitching wins championships. Unfortunately in 2015, we got beat by experience. Now we have the pitching and the experience. I think the 2016 Mets are deep and built to overcome injuries. Sure we need to get lucky. You always need luck. But in 2016, I think we have about as good a chance as we’ve ever had to win it all. If the Mets have me feeling confident, I can only imagine how confident the players must be. And I think that confidence combined with the overall talent on the roster will bring us to the next level. But no matter what happens this season, as Opening Day approaches the 2016 Mets have me feeling as confident as former Jets LB Bart Scott. See you in Kansas City this April.