On-Base Perception

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Sandy Alderson and the Mets: a defense of 'the plan'

Mets GM Sandy Alderson speaks with reporters. (Oct.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson speaks with reporters. (Oct. 29, 2010) (Credit: Christopher Pasatieri)

Here’s the first thing Mets fans need to know about the job General Manager Sandy Alderson has done over the last three seasons in Flushing: he’s acquired Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud, stud prospects kept from the major league roster by service time considerations and a freak injury, respectively.

The second thing is – wait, you still need a second thing?

Alderson has taken a lot of flack in recent days because his team’s lineup is stumbling, bullpen is crumbling and rotation – outside of Matt Harvey – is bumbling.

Most of that criticism is undeserved.

Let’s take the points one at a time:

The position players:

David Wright was a fringe MVP candidate in 2012 and has gotten off to another strong start in 2013. During the offseason, Alderson locked up the face of the franchise to an eight-year, $138 million extension. While the deal may seem like a no-brainer, executing it may not have been.

Alderson had to not only negotiate the money with Wright, but also negotiate the future. He had to sell him on being the face of a franchise that mattered, that had a shot of winning. Hundreds of millions of dollars are an appetizing proposal no matter how famous or wealthy you are. But a player with Wright’s talent could have gotten his payday a variety of places on the open market. Alderson had to not only operate with the pen of Bill Gates, but with the smooth tongue of Don Draper to get this deal done.

And he did.

Ike Davis got off to a slow start last season, but rebounded to hit 32 home runs. He hit .255 with 20 home runs in the second half after posting a .185 average in April and .154 average in May. He had totaled five home runs after the first two months of the season.

This year? Davis is batting .180 with four home runs, basically repeating last season’s awful start. His batting average on balls in play – a measure of how lucky a player has been – is 55 points lower than his career average. That Alderson and his manager, Terry Collins, aren’t giving up on Davis yet is the smart play. It’s also smart for fans not to lose faith yet either.

His up-the-middle players, Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy, are struggling but have still posted a positive Wins Above Replacement, an advanced statistical measure taking into account a player’s complete offensive and defensive contributions in comparison to that of a typical Triple-A replacement.

The outfield has been the major source of frustration, and there’s not much to defend there. Andrew Brown and Collin Cowgill were predictable yet inexpensive busts. Marlon Byrd hasn’t been worthless and could yet prove somewhat valuable. Jordany Valdespin is a headache – but a good pinch-hitter. Mike Baxter is not a headache, AND he’s a good pinch-hitter.

Lucas Duda is a lumbering defender but has a .368 on-base percentage (19th best in MLB among outfielders) and eight home runs (tied for 10th-best in MLB among outfielders). Tough to look at that as a failure.

Oh, and no catcher has more home runs than John Buck – acquired by Alderson as part of the R.A. Dickey trade. Mets catchers combined for five home runs during the entire 2012 season.

The rotation:

Let’s leave Matt Harvey aside, I think everyone is in agreement that that part of the team isn’t broke.

Jeremy Hefner, essentially filling in for injured Johan Santana, has pitched far better than his 0-4 record, posting a 4.24 ERA and 45.5 percent ground ball rate in six starts. Jon Niese and Dillon Gee, who most objective observers agree are valuable members of a starting staff, have struggled, somewhat inexplicably. That both have ERA’s north of 5.50 is more aberration – or at least surprise – than lack of preparation on the part of Alderson.

The free agent signing of Shaun Marcum was nearly universally acclaimed as a low-cost, high-reward move. Few, if any, predicted an 8.31 ERA three starts into his season. But given the righty’s 3.84 career ERA since ascending to the majors in 2005, it’s wise to remember that Marcum has only had three starts to make his mark on the Mets so far. And three starts isn’t a lot to judge a starter on. Heck, Andy Pettitte allowed 10 earned runs in two losses spanning 9.1 innings (9.64 ERA) in late April and early May. Yet no one is lambasting Yankees GM Brian Cashman for re-signing the legendary lefty.

Stashed in Triple-A is Zack Wheeler, who most evaluators agree is a worthy partner for Matt Harvey atop the MLB rotation. That Wheeler hasn’t been called up yet is mostly due to service time considerations that factor in to pay days down the road. Considering no one believes the Mets are contending in 2013, what sense does it make to call up the promising righty now? Thrilling fans in the short term cannot be a GM’s main source of concern, as opposed to building a winning foundation for the long run.

The bullpen:

Bobby Parnell has FINALLY emerged as the dominating closer his fastball says he should be. Alderson signings like LaTroy Hawkins (zero walks, 3.18 ERA), Scott Atchison (4.00 ERA) and Brandon Lyon (3.86 ERA) have panned out. Scott Rice was plucked from obscurity to post a 2.60 ERA in 17.1 innings.

Building a bullpen is nearly a constant work in progress, and May is a difficult time to judge the results as a whole. But the main pieces acquired by Alderson to fortify the late innings have worked out.

Trades:

Travis d’Arnaud. John Buck. ‘Nuff said.

Free agency:

Most of Alderson’s free agent signings were minor league deals, strengthening a leaky pen or filling out a short rotation. But let’s face it, the 2013 free agent class was not baseball’s cream of the crop. One of the reasons the Dodgers executed their mega-deal with the Red Sox in July 2012 was because they weren’t impressed by the free agents available in 2013.

New York was probably not the place for Josh Hamilton. B.J. Upton strikes out far too much. Michael Bourn doesn’t have an OBP befitting of a true leadoff man.

It’s correct that any of these players would be an upgrade over the current Mets players. But “the plan” is not about making a quick upgrade. It’s about making the RIGHT upgrade.

The reactionary, quick upgrade brought the Mets players like Jason Bay. How well did that work out?

The 2014 free agent class, however, is a different story, headlined by the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Hunter Pence, Jason Kubel, Mike Morse, David Murphy, David DeJesus, Ryan Raburn. And those are just some of the outfielders.

If Alderson sits back and doesn’t pull the trigger this Winter, there’s reason to be upset, reason to question the Mets’ commitment to winning.

Right now? Fans should be glad to have a smart, frugal, savvy dealer like Alderson running their team. The dividends aren’t far away, and the payoff is potentially great.

Tags: Sandy Alderson , Mets , Matt Harvey , Travis d'Arnaud , John Buck , David Wright , Ike Davis , Lucas Duda , Mike Baxter , Jordany Valdespin , Daniel Murphy , Ruben Tejada , Marlon Byrd , Collin Cowgill , Andrew Brown , Bobby Parnell , Shaun Marcum , Johan Santana , Zack Wheeler , Jon Niese , Dillon Gee , Jeremy Hefner , LaTroy Hawkins , Brandon Lyon , Scott Atchison

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