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Out of Left Field?

Mike SteffanosMonday, February 23, 2009
By Mike Steffanos

I promise to get to the conclusions for the 2009 Mets previews series, but I wanted to weigh in on some of the weekend's news.

The biggest news was Jerry Manuel's pronouncement that Daniel Murphy was the Mets everyday LF and Ryan Church could find himself in a platoon in RF.

Joel Sherman weighs in on this in his blog:

The beauty Manuel laid on the media on Sunday was that Daniel Murphy was a full-time player in left, but Ryan Church is on notice that he has to perform to avoid Fernando Tatis eating into his at-bats against lefties, in particular.

Forget about Manny Ramirez for a moment (as hard as that might be to do), but if the Mets were this worried about Church didn't they have to protect themselves better than with Fernando Tatis as the righty-hitting option/replacement? Right now the next level for a righty bat in right field is Bobby Kielty or Nick Evans, neither of which is overly appealing. Both Jerry Hairston Jr. and Gabe Kapler were low-priced free agents this winter who might have offered up a greater level of depth as at least a righty-hitting platoon partner for Church.

But what this also says to me is that Fernando Martinez is on the clock from the outset of the season and if the touted prospect ever stays healthy long enough to prove he is the real deal then Church's day as a Met are going to move toward extinction. And if Martinez is not ready and Church fails to fulfill Manuel's vision then it will not be very deep into the season that you are going to hear the Mets linked to some expensive right field option from a team looking to dump salary in a bad economy. My early-line favorites are: Detroit's Magglio Ordonez, the White Sox's Jermaine Dye and Kansas City's Jose Guillen.

I'm sorry, but I think Sherman takes a few leaps here. First of all, we're not sure how serious Manuel is about this until we see how it goes. My initial reaction to hearing this was that Manuel was dangling a carrot in front of Murphy while giving Church a little kick in the ass.

Everyone, including me, was just assuming that Church would be the everyday RF because he has more of a track record than Murphy and Tatis. In fairness, though, the sum of what Church did last year doesn't warrant an automatic job. Certainly he might have been able to earn that had he not suffered the concussions and the resulting effects, but we'll never know.

Church came into camp last spring needing to prove that he can hit lefties consistently to win a full-time job, and this is a reminder that he will need to do that all over again. That makes sense to me.

Murphy has a lot to prove, too. Given his approach to hitting there is no reason why he shouldn't be able to hit lefties but, on the other hand, there is no reason to accept on faith that he is a major league hitter until he proves it over the long haul.

The track record is somewhat mixed on Murphy vs. lefties. Last year in the minors, mostly at AA Binghamton, Murphy hit .315/.378/.495 overall, .320/.385/.502 in 240 AB vs. righties and .305/.363/.481 in 131 AB against lefties. The year before in High-A ball at St. Lucie he went .287/.342/.429 overall in 513 AB, and struggle somewhat with a .257/.314/.362 line against southpaws in 152 AB.

You could argue that it's a real good sign that he did so much better last year. The truth, though, is that Murphy doesn't have much of a track record with less than 1,000 total minor league AB, which is the equivalent of not quite 2 full seasons. We're all learning about Murphy on the fly, and that includes Murphy himself and the Mets organization. I like him a lot, but I'm not ready to anoint him as a star. I doubt that Jerry Manuel really is, either.

The Fernando Martinez talk is nothing but baseless speculation at this point, since Martinez himself still has something to prove.

Citi Field will have a large OF area to be patrolled, and if we do see Murphy and Tatis play together very often I will whisper a quiet prayer for Carlos Beltran, who will be forced to cover more ground than any other CF in baseball. You can get by with two weak corner OF in a bandbox, but that's a lot tougher in a big park like the Mets new digs.

Summing up my opinion on this one, I'd advise folks not to take everything Jerry Manuel says to heart this early on. I like Daniel Murphy, and believe he will be a solid major leaguer, even possibly a very good player, but I need more than 150 major league AB to form a real opinion.

New Pitches

John Maine and Mike Pelfrey are going back to the curveballs they used to throw
When John Maine came over to the Mets, his second pitch was a curveball with a pretty big break. Before his first emergency start he hurt himself, and was unable to use that curve. After that, Peterson talked him into scrapping it, supposedly because he had trouble throwing it for strikes.

Maine's slider has looked decent at times, but he struggles to throw it for strikes at other times. It will be interesting to see if he throws both breaking pitches and, if so, which one is used more.

Meanwhile, I remember when Pelfrey was drafted his curve was described as more of a slurve than a real sharp breaker. Pelfrey is happy to go back to it because he feels he can throw it for strikes more often than his slider.

I remember games last year where Pelfrey was consistently missing with the slider and didn't throw it much. If he has a breaking pitch he can get over, I'm in favor of his using spring to work on it.

Parnell and Muniz add splitter
There's been a lot of buzz about prospect Bobby Parnell working on a splitter, with J.J. Putz providing some instruction.

Parnell has a live sinking fastball, and the addition of a splitter would give him enough of a repertoire to be a solid major league reliever. The problem, as I see it, is that Parnell doesn't always throw his fastball for strikes. He has a BB/9 rate of 3.9 over 470 minor league innings.

You need to set up a splitter by getting ahead with the fastball, which then gets hitters chasing those nasty splits. Parnell is going to have to throw strikes more consistently to make it to the majors. If he can do that and master the splitter, he could be a very good major league reliever.

On the other hand, Carlos Muniz is a reliever with fairly ordinary stuff, but he throws more strikes than Parnell. Although there hasn't been a ton of buzz, he's been working on adding a splitter, too.

Muniz has no chance to be a closer at the major league level, but if he can get more swings and misses he has a chance to be a pretty good middle reliever. He probably bears a little more watching this spring than I originally thought.

I'll be back tomorrow with a conclusion to that preview series. Later on today I will posting NostraDennis' first contribution of the spring. Also, if you missed it yesterday, please check out or newest contributor, MetsFanSZ, and his entertaining piece on being tossed from Shea Stadium.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (2)

I think Jerry is trying to show that he's got confidence in Murphy, who did all the right things last year in his MLB debut and Fall/Winter League stints. He's also trying to let Church know that he really stunk the joint up when he came back after that 2nd concussion. The reality of the matter is that Tatis has to platoon somewhere, because he doesn't have the durability to be a starter- and it makes more sense for him to work with Church, who's had more of a known history with lefties than Murphy has. And it also allows the Mets to gauge what Murphy has and doesn't have out there on a full time basis.

Unlike Willie Randolph, he's actually letting his young players play until they take themselves out (if they do, really). Willie never let his youth do much other than get spot starts and do utility work- get them in from the minors and then sit them down for a month, and then bitch when they don't hit. Screw you and your stupid ideas, Willie. I'll take Jerry's path over that anytime.

I also agree about Fernando Martinez, but we really need to see a full year of him in the minors- if he can ever stay healthy. But if he can produce in AAA, and either Church or Murphy hasn't done much, I'd like to see him up mid-season.

And as for trades for the OF... Why is Sherman asking for older OF'ers who may be past their primes when Matt Holliday is a free agent in the offseason? He's a righthanded corner outfielder who is a 4 tool player and is maybe just entering his prime. And he'll be a free agent. And the Mets will have nearly $38 million freed from the roster next season. It's almost as if Sherman doesn't want Minaya to think ahead, and just make Steve Phillips style moves.

I agree J. B., I think it's a confidence move with Murph, and lighting a fire under Church. Although I don't really think Church needs that. I believe he is ready to come into this season and prove that he can sustain consistent production through the whole year. He was on his way to a career year and then the injury. He's looking for redemption as the entire team should be. If this team can get out of the box quick, it's possible they can steamroll through the season. My hope is all the way to World Series win. Nothing like competition, and the outfield is just one of the spots that guys are going at each other. Lets Go Mets!

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