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Thoughts on Opening Day

Mike SteffanosTuesday, April 7, 2009
By Mike Steffanos


Sorry I'm later than promised with more in-depth thoughts from yesterday's game. I find that I'm writing more often and with better quality this year when I try to do a little more than I think I can do. Sometimes I drop the ball, or in last night's case passed out on the couch, but I'm continue trying to produce almost as much as I promise.

Anyway, let's get to yesterday's game.

Johan

Someone took offense yesterday when I characterized Santana's outing as decent. I wasn't trying to disparage it, but it was hardly Santana at his best with four walks and not completing six innings of work. I don't think he had his best stuff, particularly struggling with the changeup at times, but it's a truism that great pitchers like Johan know how to manage games when it's not all working for them. Now if he can only convey this ability to Ollie Perez...

Bullpen

Going into spring training, the bullpen plan was Sean Green in the seventh, J. J. Putz in the eighth and Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth. Needless to say, that worked to perfection yesterday.

I liked what little I saw of Green this spring, and he continued to impress yesterday. Putz and Rodriguez are givens, as long as they're healthy.

It seems to me the next big question to be answered is whether Jerry Manuel can work in the other guys to fill in the gaps and keep these three relievers fresh. It will certainly be tempting, especially when he gets six innings and a lead out of his starters, to follow this same script as long as it mostly keeps working.

The smart thing to do, however, would be to get Pedro Feliciano, Brian Stokes, Bobby Parnell and Darren O'Day into the mix early and often. The Mets bullpen was at its best in 2006 when there were nice complementary pieces in the bullpen that allowed Willie Randolph the flexibility to keep his top pitchers fresh.

It's a long season, and it's crucial that the Mets bullpen isn't warn out before the middle of September. Exactly how Manuel manages these pieces will be an interesting subtext of the early months of the season.

Beyond Santana

After handing their ace his first win of the season, the Mets now face the reality that they will deal with for at least 128 of the next 161 games -- the starts from the other guys in the rotation.

There's been a lot of negative words written about the Mets rotation beyond Santana, and perhaps they will prove true. I find comfort, however, in the simple fact that "they" have been saying the same thing about the rotation for the last couple of years, and mostly they've been wrong.

The Mets have had enough starting pitching the last two years. Maine and Perez each had 15 wins in 2007, and Pelfrey picked up for the injured Maine last year. No one is confusing the Mets starting rotation with the '86 Mets, but it's been good enough.

I hold out hope that it will be "good enough" again, which combined with a better bullpen should give the Mets a better shot at making the playoffs this year.

I know Perez looks horrible now, but he always seems to look like this at some point every year and then come back with some good pitching. I made the point a couple of days ago that people tend to see Perez more for what he isn't than for what he is. He actually had a stretch last year of 13 straight games from June 29 - September 3 where he lasted 6 innings or more.

They were pretty good games, too. He allowed 4 earned runs in two of them, 3 in another couple, 2 runs twice, 1 run five times and 0 twice.

He's likely never going to be consistent enough to be a top of the rotation pitcher, but Oliver Perez is better than we tend to think when we are most frustrated with him. If he can avoid getting off to the same sort of truly awful start he began last season with he should be a decent third or fourth starter.

Daniel Murphy

He only went 1-5 yesterday, but the 1 was a big home run and he also drove in the Mets second run with one of those outs.

Murphy is the subject of much discussion. Much of the nay-saying boils down to something similar to this from Rob Neyer:

Will Daniel Murphy justify the Mets' faith in him? Or will he revert to his minor league performance, which was decent but far from scintillating?

... Here's the basic problem: As Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster points out, Murphy did exceptionally well when putting the ball in play in the majors, which is great except he hadn't done that in the minors. What are you going to believe? His 151 plate appearances in the majors? Or his 1,078 plate appearances in the minors?

I actually agree with some of what Neyer wrote in this piece, and expectations for Murphy probably are too high in some quarters. On the other hand, when Neyer speaks of the 1,078 minor league plate appearances vs. 151 in the majors, am I the only one that wonders just exactly how significant those 1,078 PA are?

It seems like a big number, and it's certainly bigger than 151, but it's essentially less than two full seasons worth.

The first 93 of those minor league plate appearances came in 2006, the year he was drafted. Murphy's numbers were .213/.312/.300 for that first taste -- not very inspiring other than he already seemed willing to take a walk.

In 2007 Murphy spent the whole year with St. Lucie in the Advanced A Florida State League. In 559 PA that year, Murphy's offensive output climbed to .285/.338/.430. While that hardly put him on the map as an elite prospect, it was certainly a step up for the 22-year-old.

Murphy's last 426 minor league plate appearances came last year, mostly in Double-A at Binghamton. Murphy's offensive line, .315/.379/.493, indicated another step forward despite the jump in level.

I do believe we need to be cautious with these comparisons of Murphy to Don Mattingly and other such hyperbole. I also understand that there was nothing in Murphy's minor league numbers that screamed budding superstar.

I wonder, however, if I'm the only one that looks at these minor league numbers and notes an improvement from year to year, even as the level of competition goes up. Does the fact that Daniel Murphy improved so much in a relatively short minor league career have something to say about Murphy's potential above and beyond simply extrapolating from just over 1,000 plate appearances?

I guess I would indeed be surprised if Murphy hit over .300 in a full major league season this year, but after seeing him in action I wouldn't rate his chances of doing exactly that as impossible. I like his approach, I like the way he attacks every single at bat.

Maybe I'm just allowing myself to be biased, but I honestly think Murphy has a potential above and beyond simply comparing his minor league numbers to what others have done. Maybe he's not a budding superstar, but I think he has a chance to be a really good ballplayer in all the best connotative sense of that word.

I'll do my best to finish that "Keys to the Season" piece tonight or tomorrow. Take care.

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.

Comments (4)

I agree with the Johan assessment, just enough to win from a smart veteran pitcher, when you don't have command of your best stuff. Now I don't want to jump the gun here, but if the 7-8-9-innings go the way they did Monday, Faahhhget about it! Of course they were not flawless innings but quality none the less. Now we can
see what the other group is made of and this could very well be the best bullpen around. Hope the rest of the rotation can take a que, and learn that you don't always have to have your A-game to get a win, thanks for pointing that out Mike. Murph, will be fine, no, I don't think he will hit .450, but he will be a good # 2 hitter, and the rest of the offense will need to pick it up. When Sheff ( I hope I am right on this) is in the line-up he will help lengthen it along with Castro too. This can be a very explosive team. Health is the "MAINE" issue. We can get a serious look at our squad by Mid-May. If they are dominating, this could be a long season for the rest of the NL,. If they are barely above .500, a spark may need to come from somewhere. Lets Go Mets 2009!

This past winter I did something I rarely do, allowing myself to hope that the Mets would pursue J. J. Putz. Imagine my surprise when they actually traded for him.

When you campaign for a player, even slightly, you own him when he arrives. But more to the point, he owns me; now, I am resigned to riding on his every outing, trying to will the pitch to drop or find the black -- what used to be the black -- from the vantage of my television screen. I haven't found myself pulling for a guy quite like this for a while; maybe since like years ago when I would do pushups during Darryl Strawberry's at bats to encourage him to get a hit.

Say this, though: even though he didn't have full command of his splitter Putz did look dominating Monday night. And the two splitters we did see -- they moved. We have some weapons in the 'pen this year.

Apropos of nothing, that Danny Hererra must have an abundance of guts, wouldn't you say? You have to admire that.

DD, push-ups watching Straw, helping his at bat. Thank you, I'll show my wife that (she thinks I am nuts) as she wants me to buy the new lamps to replace the ones I foul tipped helping to drive in some runners at third with her broom. Push ups are cheaper. I'll keep it in mind.

Mike - thanks for the piece. Looking forward to reading your thoughts through out the season...

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