Much like it was in the 1980’s, this is an era of baseball becoming defined by three specific areas in the game.
Pitching, defense, and speed.
The Mets certainly have the pitching. And the additions of Michael Cuddyer, John Mayberry Jr., and both Jerry Blevins and Alex Torres gives the Mets much needed credibility offensively as well as a more solidified bullpen late in games, an area where many games are won and could be a difference maker for the Mets. There isn’t a single opinion in the game which disagrees with that.
But, there’s no questioning the Mets lack speed. In theory, this can be aided by more contact and hit and run plays, but that could take away from the hitting philosophy the team had adopted.
With that said, that’s not their biggest problem.
The one glaring need which has been under-discussed and is potentially underrated is the club’s defense, something which could be a major problem and could separate the Mets from the class of the National League East.
Wilmer Flores’ deficiencies have been well documented over the last four years. But, his defensive issues could become more glaring thanks to Daniel Murphy’s deficiencies as his double play partner. When those double plays aren’t turned, that results in more pitches thrown by the pitcher, an extra baserunner, and thus an extra opportunity to score one or more runs.
A talent evaluator expressed the same sentiments to Mike Vorkunov of the Star Ledger.
“Those double plays that don’t get turned could be the difference between a starting pitcher going seven innings instead of six,” he said.
That only covers their problems up the middle, too. The Mets will be playing Curtis Granderson in right field once again this season, a position which exposes his defensive weaknesses, although the dimensions at Citi Field are less quirky than they have been in seasons past.
Still, Terry Collins has cited Granderson’s familiarity with the walls in right and along the foul lines as reasons to play him there again. However, that means Cuddyer will be in left field, a position he’s played nine times and not since 2006 while with the Twins. Yes, Cuddyer is versatile and he didn’t show any glaring problems out there this spring. And, both Cuddyer and Granderson flank Juan Lagares, the best defensive centerfielder in baseball who has tremendous range, so that should help too.
There’s also the mystery surrounding Travis d’Arnaud’s defense.
When he came back from the minor leagues last year, he struggled to catch and throw the ball. The club has attributed part of his throwing troubles to bone chips he had in his elbow, and that does help explain the issue to an extent. But that doesn’t explain a league-worst 12 passed balls allowed. He also only threw out 19 percent of base stealers in 2014. While some of that can be attributed to the pitcher, d’Arnaud’s throwing was unquestionably erratic at best last year.
He worked closely with team bench coach Bob Geren both this winter and during camp to refine these skills, so it’s not as if he’s unaware he needs to improve in these areas. But, for a team depending so much on young, top shelf pitching, d’Arnaud’s defense could end up being a lynchpin.
When evaluating the Mets roster heading into Opening Day, there’s no questioning this club has improved greatly over the last 365 days, and is clearly continuing to grow before our very eyes. They have the potential to be very interesting this season, if not contenders as they claim they are as they get set to start the season.
The Mets are counting on their improved offense to outhit their problems on defense. But while there is no perfect team in this parity-defined sport, the Mets must hope their defense is one of their biggest surprises by the end of the year.