EmailQ&A: What should we expect from Zack Wheeler’s second half?

eMail Mail Mailbag Icon Brian D, a reader of MetsBlog, asked: Zack Wheeler pitched as many games this season as he did the entire 2013 season. Overall, he hasn’t necessarily improved his record. He tosses way too many pitches an inning in my opinion…

I personally don’t think he’s going to be as promising as everyone seems to think.

Michael Baron, Contributor

I’m willing to be patient with Wheeler, Brian. I also don’t worry about a pitcher’s record when he is subject to pitch limits, depends on run support, and a bullpen to not blow leads for him. I am more concerned about other statistics and what the eyes and ears are telling me about progress…

His raw stuff is better than most, and he’s actually performing about as well as Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw did after a similar number of starts in their careers. That alone makes me a believer in this kid.

Wheeler Pre Game

There’s no question Wheeler has had his ups and downs early in his career. He has always struggled to execute consistent mechanics and release point, and in turn he struggles with his overall command. He also often struggles to put hitters away, which helps contribute to his high pitch counts, pitches under duress, and shorter outings. But, this is part of the growing process for most young pitchers, Brian – either it will all click for him one day, or it won’t, but it usually takes more than 36 starts for a starting pitcher to put it all together.

I do think there have been several areas in which Zack has improved upon this season. For instance, his strikeout, walk and home run rates have all improved, and he’s also maintaining his velocity from start to finish in his outings, something which was a concern heading into the season. Anyone in the organization I’ve talked to about Wheeler generally agree he’s getting better. So, it sounds like they’re planning to stick with and trust the commitment they’ve made to him and that’s probably the right call at this time.

Wheeler is one of nine candidates in MLB who could demonstrate significant second-half improvement, according to Baseball Prospectus.

He has walked more than two batters just twice in past 11 starts and he entered the All-Star break with a string of three consecutive starts in which he pitched six or more innings and surrendered just a single run >> Read more at Baseball Prospectus.

Jeurys Familia 2 (Baron)

Mets closer is up in the air, decided game by game

6:00 p.m.: Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia and Diasuke Matsuzaka are all closer candidates, Terry Collins said on Tuesday.

4:15 pm: The Mets do not have a set closer, Collins told reporters before Tuesday’s game.

According to Collins, he will decide the night’s closer on a game-by-game basis, choosing between Kyle Farnsworth, Jose Valverde, Jeurys Familia and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

3:35 pm: In his return to the bullpen on Monday, Mejia recorded the final out of the seventh inning and also tossed a scoreless eighth inning. Collins talked earlier in the day with Mejia about switching roles. Mejia told him, while he’ll always want to be a starting pitcher, he’s happy to be pitching in the big leagues and he’ll do whatever he need to do to help the team win.

This past weekend, Collins said he is close to making Familia the team’s closer.

Familia, 24, has allowed one run and three hits, while striking out 10, in his last 7 2/3 innings, dating back to May 1, during which opposing hitters are batting .121 against him.

“Three days in a row, pounding the strike zone, throwing his breaking ball for strikes, the confidence is really mounting on him,” Collins said (ESPN, May 11). “Yeah, he’s real close.”

Michael Baron, Contributor

Familia struggled to throw strikes the first month of the season. He was falling behind in the count and becoming very predictable. In short, he wasn’t pitching like he did during Spring Training.

However, he made an adjustment at the start of this month and he has been dominant since…

To read more of this story, click here


MetsBlog Q&A: Curtis Granderson talks about his slump, Citi Field, and playing in the NL

Michael Baron: It’s been a tough stretch to start the year. How do you mitigate a slump like this during the game?

Curtis Granderson: You go ahead and say, ‘I can’t get everything back in one at-bat, I got to take this one pitch at a time,’ and understand what the opposing pitcher is trying to do at that time and what the situation is. If it’s a situation where I can get the runner over, let me get a pitch where I can do that. If I gotta get the runner in, I gotta do that. … I just have to continue to drive that point home, and realize I can’t get it all back at one time.

Michael Baron: Do you go about your at-bats differently at Citi Field, as opposed to some other parks you’ve played in the American League?

Curtis Granderson: I haven’t. There are sometimes where you might have a glare in certain stadiums, but this isn’t one of them. It depends on how that glare is – it could be for an inning or an at-bat. Out of all the stadiums I’ve played in, there really isn’t much difference you take where you say, ‘OK, because the stadium is shaped this way, I’m going to do something a little bit different this time around.’ I’ve never really looked at it that way. You still have to get a pitch to drive, and if you can drive it, you can do some things with it.

Curtis Granderson waits in the dugout

Michael Baron: Do you find playing right field in Citi Field to be a bigger challenge?

Curtis Granderson: It’s not necessarily a bigger challenge. It has been a little windier to start the season, but it’s been windy on the east coast in general. Whenever you have wind, it’s another element you have to keep in mind, and look at which flags you can rely on to get your reads and judges on. It’s a learning experience in every stadium you go to. Each stadium has it’s own characteristics in terms of what the wind is doing.

The big thing is realizing if this is a wall I can possibly go into or if it’s a wall I need to be careful of, because I have to worry about my health.

Mets congratulate Curtis Granderson for his home run

Michael Baron: It’s early, but what have been some of the nice things about playing in the National League so far?

Curtis Granderson: I like watching the pitchers hit. It’s always something I enjoyed during inter-league play. Whether it’s a guy that can hit, or just a guy who is looking to move the runners over, it’s something I’ve enjoyed.


The Mets bullpen is thinning and lacking experience

Michael Baron, Contributor

Terry Collins used six relief pitchers during Monday’s game. They allowed five earned runs, including two inherited runs from Dillon Gee in the seventh inning.

“We ran into some of that in spring training,” Collins said about his bullpen’s struggles. “If you’re going to pitch here, you’ve got to be able to throw strikes, and you can’t walk guys.”

Carlos Torres – who walked only 27 batters in 86 innings last year – never landed a strike against Nate McClouth, the only batter he faced.

“I was trying to overthrow the ball,” Torres said. “That’s why the ball was elevated, and I missed those spots.”

Scott Rice followed Torres and walked Denard Span on four pitches to allow the tying run to score. Rice walked just 10 left-handed hitters all of 2013.

“I just didn’t get the job done, hands down,” Rice said. “That’s the bottom line.”


Jeurys Familia and John Lannan combined to allow four earned runs in the 10th inning. Lannan later said he expects to become more comfortable pitching in relief as the season moves on.

Bobby Parnell blew the save by allowing a game-tying double to Span in the ninth inning, moments after Juan Lagares gave the Mets the lead with a home run a half inning earlier. Unfortunately, the Mets lost Parnell to an elbow injury on Tuesday, which could require surgery.

The loss of Parnell leaves a gaping hole in the back-end of an already questionable bullpen. Jose Valverde will likely take over for Parnell as closer, which may be a good thing considering how he looked during camp and on Opening Day. The team spent much of the winter looking for fill-in closers in case Parnell hit a stumbling block, and it looks like they’ll be cashing in on that insurance with Valverde…

To read more of this story, click here


Opinion: The second LH reliever, and what it means for the rotation

Michael Baron, Contributor

On Monday, the Mets optioned LHP Josh Edgin to minor league camp. Later in the day, Terry Collins told reporters LHP John Lannan will still work as a starting pitcher this spring, but he is also being considered as a second left-handed reliever for the bullpen.

LHP Scott Rice is on the 40-man roster and expected to make the Opening Day roster.

Lannan is open to pitching in relief, because his primary goal is to make the Opening Day roster (Rubin, Mar. 11).

“I’ll do anything to help the team,” he said.

The last couple of years, the Mets have been burned by not carrying a second quality left-handed reliever to start the season. That has often led to overusing Rice and Tim Byrdak. It has also reduced flexibility late in games, and has forced other relievers to pitch in situations that exposed their weaknesses.


Lannan has never made a major league relief appearance. He’s held left-handed hitters to a .267 average in his seven-year career, which isn’t great. The Mets have some flexibility with him, since he cannot opt out of his minor league contract until June (Rubin, Jan. 30). That could allow the team extra time to work Lannan in relief at Triple-A to see how he’ll transition in to the role. Of course, this wouldn’t help the short-term, Opening Day roster situation.

At the same time, if Lannan is a reliever, the race for the last rotation spot will likely come down to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jenrry Mejia. Early in the offseason, it sounded as though the preference was to give Mejia the job if he was healthy at the end of camp. However, Terry Collins recently suggested his preference is for a veteran to win the spot, which could result in Mejia starting the year in the rotation at Triple-A. It doesn’t sound like the organization views Mejia as a reliever anymore, and that’s good news considering how much he’s been jerked around over the years.

The Mets should choose the best option for each role and not deliberately handicap themselves because they fear losing somebody on waivers. If players aren’t performing, they shouldn’t be on the roster.


How will the outfield shape up at the beginning of the season?

Michael Baron, Contributor

On Sunday, Terry Collins suggested to reporters only Eric Young Jr. and Chris Young are being considered as the team’s leadoff hitter heading into the regular season.

Collins said, if Juan Lagares is the center fielder, Chris Young would be the leadoff hitter and left fielder. Otherwise, Eric Young Jr. would be the everyday left fielder hitting in the leadoff spot, with Chris Young in center.

“It’s going to be a tough call,” Collins said on Sunday. “We know what Juan is defensively — he’s as good a center fielder as there is. But we’ve gotta take a look at both sides of the baseball. We’ve gotta make sure we can do something about producing some runs. We can’t have a lot of holes.”

No matter what, it’s highly likely Lagares will be on the active roster when camp breaks later this month (Rubin, March 9).


Eric Young Jr. certainly has shown glimpses of being a quality leadoff hitter. I love his speed and his potential to transform the lineup and disrupt games on the base paths. However, he is probably best suited as a fourth outfielder or utility infielder. Otherwise – as was the case last year – he runs the risk of being overexposed.

On the flip side, there might be just as many questions about Lagares. He swung at way too many pitches outside the strike zone last year and he needs to get on-base more frequently. He did show promise in the Dominican League this past winter, but the regular season is a different animal.

However, his ability to take runs away from the opposition with his glove might outweigh his offensive deficiencies. Team insiders acknowledged the value of outfield defense during the off-season, especially at Citi Field and the other big ballparks in the division. I agree, and I ultimately believe Lagares has a greater ability to contribute towards winning – with his defense alone – than any other current centerfield option on the 40-man roster.

I have to believe the Mets will value Lagares’ superior defense to what Eric Young Jr. might be able to contribute offensively. Lagares, flanked by Chris Young and Curtis Granderson, form one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. If winning is as important as people within the organization say it is, then putting the best combination out there, which plays to the strengths of their ballpark, should be the top priority.


Jeurys Familia has the stuff to be a closer

Michael Baron, Contributor

Mets RHP Jeurys Familia is at a similar stage in his career to where Bobby Parnell was when he was finding his way with the Mets in 2009. Back then, Parnell had no choice but to transition from a thrower into a pitcher.

Parnell still struggles with it at times, but he’s come a long way from where he was when he only had 23 big-league innings under his belt, which is what Familia enters the season with in 2014.

Jeurys Familia 1 (Baron)“I think (Familia) has got as good of stuff as anybody out of the bullpen in the National League,” Dan Warthen recently said  (NY Post, Feb. 20). “That’s how good he is. Power, resilience, breaking ball, change-up, sinker. All of it. It’s just a matter of if he’s going to throw the ball across the plate. If he does that, he is going to be good.”

Last year, Familia had a 4.22 ERA in nine appearances before undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow.

It’s always been about command and consistency for Familia, both with his pitch execution and his delivery. Thankfully, he has the raw tools to be an effective closer, which is not an unreasonable expectation given his stuff. He has an electric fastball, a hard slider, and he incorporates a change-up every so-often, although that has always been a work in progress for him.

The Mets will likely endure similar growing pains with Familia this year, as they had to do with Parnell, but I’m OK with that given his potential to contribute in the back-end of the bullpen.


How will the bullpen be constructed on Opening Day?

Michael Baron, Contributor

The Mets signed relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde to minor league contracts earlier this month. The two veteran pitchers come with question marks, though both have a lot of upside and the kind of experience the team had been searching for to anchor their young bullpen.

Bobby Parnell 9 (Baron)

Historically, the Mets have preferred to send healthy veterans north on Opening Day. Not only do they seem to have more confidence in veterans, but there tends to be more roster flexibility with the younger arms, which allows the team to easily send them back to Triple-A. But, it’s hard to envision both Farnsworth and Valverde making the club for Opening Day, especially considering they want to give opportunities to some of the younger relievers in camp.

In the case of Valverde, I expect he has a steeper hill to climb than Farnsworth, considering how much he’s struggled in recent seasons. It could depend on how many relievers they decide to take north on Opening Day, but I expect at least one of them to join Parnell, Scott Rice and Carlos Torres on the roster come March 31.

The rest of the bullpen, however, remains in question. Most other spots are open, and there are a lot of options to choose from…

To read more of this story, click here

Jack Leathersich (BARON)

Jack Leathersich wants to make the team this spring

Mets LHP prospect Jack Leathersich is focused on making the big league club on Opening Day.

“That’s the mindset for everybody here,” he said (Rubin, Feb. 10). “I’m just going to go out there and give it my all and see what happens.”

It’s possible Leathersich or RHP prospect Jeff Walters could end up on the Opening Day roster, according to a one team official (Rubin, Feb. 7). Starting pitchers Rafael Montero and Cory Mazzoni could be considered for the big-league bullpen as well, the team official added.

Michael Baron, Contributor

The Mets are short on the left side of the bullpen, so Leathersich’s potential to dominate cannot be ignored this spring. He’s not very tall, but he throws his fastball in the low 90’s and is equally difficult for lefties and righties to pick up, which helps explain his impressive strikeout totals. Leathersich’s big issue is control and reducing his walks.

He isn’t on the 40-man roster, so Leathersich could fall victim in a numbers game to Josh Edgin. Still, there’s a lot of buzz about Leathersich and his quick rise through the system. If he can show improved command this spring, he might make it difficult for the front office to send him back to Las Vegas.

Steven Matz 3 (MLB)

Mets were happy with Steven Matz’s progress last season

The Mets were pleased to see their 2009 first-round pick, Steven Matz, return from Tommy John surgery and exceed 100 innings last year (Carig, Feb. 8).

“We were thrilled with just that alone,” Paul DePodesta said. “And then you put the results on top of it, and we were ecstatic about the year he had.”

Matz went 5-6 with a 2.62 ERA in 106 innings for Single-A Savannah, allowing 38 walks with 121 strikeouts in 21 starts.

He was added to the 40-man roster in November and will be in major league camp when pitchers and catchers report to Tradition Field next Saturday.

Matz was ranked the 20th-best prospect in the South Atlantic League in 2013, according to a list published by Baseball America.

Michael Baron, Contributor

The struggle to return from Tommy John Surgery has definitely set Matz’s career back. However, he’s still young and – if he can stay healthy – he could make an impact at the big league level by next season. He showed good command of a hard fastball with movement last season, but he still has work to do with his change-up and curveball. And, he will need to find a fourth pitch in order to make it as a starter. At this point, the most important thing for him is to stay healthy and gain experience and innings so he can refine his stuff and continue to develop in the coming season.

Read more: Finally a ray of light for Ward Melville lefty Steven Matz (Newsday)