By Mike Steffanos
The Position Players
As we continue in our struggle to finish our 2007 season recap before the 2008 season begins, we'll move on to the performance of the position players. The pitching staff gets the majority of the blame for the late season collapse, Jose Reyes takes a beating for his second half woes but, in fairness, it was pretty much a team effort.
As mentioned above, Reyes has taken a real whipping this off-season for his poor second half. He hit .307/.387/.439 before the All Star break and only .251/.316/.402 after, including a dismal .205/.279/.333 September. Reyes got a lot of build up as a potential MVP candidate prior to the season, and that only increased with the hot start. Many proclaimed him to be the most dynamic player in major league ball. Heady stuff, indeed, for a player who had only turned 24 in June.
Reyes was stealing a lot of bases early in the year, and there is speculation that fatigue was an underlying cause of his late-season struggles. I give some credence to this theory, and believe Reyes' offensive production would be better served by holding his attempts down in the 75-80 range. I also felt, and this is strictly my opinion, that Reyes was slapping the ball for singles more than he had the year before. Even in his strong first half, his .439 slugging percentage was almost 50 points below his 2006 number. It seemed to me that Reyes wasn't looking to drive the ball as he had the previous year, and I think that was a mistake. While Jose getting on base is, of course, a positive thing, those 50 points of slugging percentage sacrificed pre-All Star break only led to a 7 point rise in batting average. Hardly a worthwhile swap.
I'd like to see Jose return to being the dynamic, well-rounded Reyes of 2006, driving the ball for extra bases. Other than that, I think 2007 was a year of growing up for Reyes. Maybe all of the accolades were a little too much too soon. I think this adversity will be a positive for Reyes in the long term.
Carlos Delgado also drew a lot of criticism after a 2007 season that featured his lowest HR total (24), RBI (87), batting average (.258), OBP (.333) and SLG (.448) since becoming a major league regular in 1996. The SLG reflected a dramatic 100 point drop from his first season with the Mets. Moreover, Delgado looked slow and old up at the plate for most of the season, and never seemed to catch up to good fastballs up in the zone. He will be 36 next June, and it's unreasonable to expect the type of year he had in his prime.
On the other hand, it's hard to say how much Delgado's poor 2007 campaign was due to declining skills and how much was related to injuries. I don't think it's too much to hope for a bounce-back to more respectable numbers, particularly if you're not looking for Carlos to be that dynamic clean up hitter. I'd hope for the Mets to sign a right-handed backup with some pop to spell him against LHP. Delgado's contract is up after the season, and the Mets could go in another direction at that point without the need to eat millions of dollars of contract.
I know some fans are also angry with Delgado for his honesty in admitting that the Mets were "bored" at times during the season, but that was fairly apparent to anyone who was paying attention during the middle part of the year.
One of the things we've heard a lot from Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya was a desire to see the club work pitchers better. In this era of relatively small strike zones, an elite offensive team must take a patient approach at the plate. The idea is to put pressure on the other team's pitchers by forcing them to work long counts. Not only do you get more baserunners from walks, but also ideally better pitches to hit. This also gets you into another team's bullpen faster, where the middle relievers are usually the weakest pitchers on the staff.
In a scenario where the Mets are playing a 3- or 4-game series against a divisional rival, getting deeper into the bullpen earlier in a series not only gives them a better chance in that game, but also increases the possibility as the series goes on that the other team's better relievers are unavailable or pitching tired. Carry that on further, and working your rival's pitching staff well in a series may carry over when they've moved on to play a new opponent. This philosophy might lead to a lot of ugly 4 hour + games, but it's what works in today's game.
When hitting coach Rick Down was let go, one thing Minaya cited was his frustration with the failure of the club to work counts. To me, the failure on a consistent basis to work other team's pitchers was a reflection of a lack of a disciplined approach on the part of the team as a whole that may have been a symptom of what Delgado called boredom. Whatever you want to call it, I found it every bit as frustrating to watch as any lackadaisical play I witnessed in 2007. Even when they were winning early in the year there seemed to be a lot of quick innings. It was sloppy, and when things began to get tight it got worse. Like effort, discipline isn't something that could be turned on and off at will.
When the 2008 season begins and I evaluate the play of the team, I want to see a more disciplined approach at the plate. This doesn't mean guys taking fastballs down the middle and falling behind 0-2 in every at bat, but it sure as hell doesn't involve watching batter after batter weakly swinging at the pitcher's pitch early in the count, either. To me, better plate discipline will be a sign that this team is committed to avoiding a repeat of last season's disappointment.
Next: Willie and Omar.