Monday, July 03, 2006

Setting the Curve
By Ben Valentine

This weekend marked the halfway point in the major league baseball season and it’s been a phenomenal first half for the Mets. With an 11 game lead, they are sitting pretty in the NL East and already can begin to figure out what they need in order to make a run at it all in October. So with that in mind grading the players seems a bit needless right? I mean if this team is doing so well, then the players are all playing well.

Or not.

The Mets are a top heavy team both offensively and in their pitching rotation. Such unbalance may come back to bite them down the road if one of their key players get hurt. As a fan who wants to see them do well, I cannot be blinded by the record. The players’ performances are indicators of things to come and today I’ll take a look at the hitter’s first halves. Who gets plus marks and who fails to make the grade? My answers may surprise you.

Without further adieu, let’s take a look at the top of the class so far:

Carlos Beltran: Did I call him a bust last year? Guess I was wrong about that. The only player in all of baseball this season who’s been more valuable has been Albert Pujols, Beltran is without question the Mets’ first half MVP. His OPS is 8th best at 1.009, which is impressive because he plays half his games at Shea and because he patrols centerfield. The 29 year old is set to shatter every mark he put up in his first season in Flushing. If he keeps raking like this, Beltran’s 100+ million deal will look like a bargain. Grade A+

David Wright: The best player in baseball under the age of 25 and quickly elevating himself into the consideration for top ten overall, Wright’s first half of 2006 has been an improvement over his impressive first year and a half in the bigs. While the defense is still lacking, Wright has a .979 OPS. He’s even stolen eleven bases as he makes a run at 30-30. Incredibly, he hasn’t been the Mets best hitter this year. Regardless, he’s one of the best players in the game. Grade A+

Jose Reyes: The 23 year old shortstop might be the most improved player in baseball. Last year Jose Reyes had an OPS of .686, thanks to a miserable .300 OBP. This year Reyes has splits of .291/.349/.477. As I wrote a few weeks back, the increased discipline he’s shown at the plate is the reason for the stark improvement. With eight homers and 11 triples to go along with 34 steals and 19 doubles, Reyes could hit 20 homers, 20 triples, 40 doubles and swipe 70 bases. That’s ridiculous, no matter what position you play. At shortstop, it’s golden. Grade A+

Jose Valentin: Where did this come from? An .850 OPS??? Valentin didn’t get a hit through the first month and a half and has been on fire ever since. He seemingly has solved the Mets’ second base woes, though I’m highly doubtful this lasts. Valentin’s OPS last year was a miserable .591 and he hasn’t had one above .800 since 2001. At the age of 36, he will probably fall off the cliff soon. However, he’s been very good so far. Grade: B+

Julio Franco: I will not make an age joke. This year Franco is batting .299/.349/.442/.791 in 46 games for the Mets. For a guy who’s basically a pinch hitter to have an OPS around 800 is solid. Omar Minaya got a lot of flak for giving Franco a two year deal this off-season, but there’s been no indication he can’t continue to perform at around this level. A solid role player so far. Grade: B

Ramon Castro: The Mets’ backup catcher hasn’t excelled this season, but in his 93 ABs, has in fact outplayed Paul LoDuca. His average isn’t as good but he’s drawing more walks and is hitting for better power when he does make contact as his .258/.340/.409/.748 line indicates. Castro is a solid defensive catcher as well. As I said earlier, the Mets would be wise to make this a platoon situation between the two in the second half. Grade: B

Carlos Delgado: Delgado ripped it up in April, posting a 1.008 OPS on his way to nine homers. He went into a tailspin come May, but has rebounded since to post an overall OPS of .883 so far. While the Mets figured they were getting a guy who would probably put a number of .900 or better, he’s still a solid offensive force. Delgado hasn’t posted an OPS below .900 since ’98, so expect him to pick it up in the second half. Grade: B-

Endy Chavez: Coming into this season, I thought Chavez was pretty much a useless player. Now that I’ve seen him, I can honestly say, he’s not useless. He can play defense and he can run. If you need anything else, get someone else. Incredibly he’s played way above his head this year, yet it still translates to just a .716 OPS in 160 ABs. (His career mark is .665) If Chavez could draw a walk, he’d be a useful player. But as is, he’s Jose Reyes from 2005, a speedy singles hitter who doesn’t get on enough to be effective. As a defensive/sub pinch runner, he’s fine. But Chavez should be the last guy off the bench to start a game for the Mets. Grade: B-

Xavier Nady: The X-Man or Professor Xavier (at least that’s what I like to call him), had an OPS of .915 in April but has been on the decline ever since. Of particular concern is the miserable .321 OBP. However, Nady’s career mark just .320, so perhaps this really is the best he can do. Overall, the Mets can live with Nady if he can continue showing the power (.487 slugging so far), but Lastings Milledge might want to keep himself ready at AAA. Nady could go into the tank at any moment. Grade: C+

Paul LoDuca: LoDuca’s .286/.327/.400/.727 line is typical for him; nice average, weak on base with little power and mediocre defense behind the plate. Leader or not, he is nothing more than a slightly below average player on this team. Currently standouts like Ronny Paulino, John Buck, Russell Martin and Damien Miller are out OPSing him. He isn’t killing the Mets but they should consider getting Ramon Castro more ABs in the second half, especially with LoDuca’s tendency to fall apart after the break. Grade C-

Chris Woodward: A solid backup in 2005, Woodward has been less than spectacular in 2006, posting just a .649 OPS this season. The 79 point drop can’t be attributed to less ABs; Woodward is on pace to get just 10 or so ABs less than last year. With Reyes and Wright entrenched on the left side and Franco the Mets first option off the bench, the team hasn’t been hurt by his decrease in production so far. Still, they probably would love for him to up that OPS to .700. Grade: C-

Cliff Floyd: After a career year in 2005, Floyd has collapsed back down to earth. His splits of .234/.325/.397/.722 are just awful. Injuries have reared their ugly heads again, but they can hardly take all the blame for this miserable start. As long as he can get out onto the field, Floyd is too good a player not to rebound. But there’s no way I can justify giving Uncle Cliffy a passing grade for the first half. Grade: F

Kaz Matsui: I had been a pretty big Matsui defender since he was moved to second, but his play won him few fans in his disappointing stay in New York. This year in 130 ABs he had a .505… OPS. That’s just unacceptable. There was little way the Mets could do worse at second, so they rightfully dumped him. The end of a forgettable era in Mets history. Grade F

Lastings Milledge: Called up surprisingly when Nady had to have an emergency appendectomy, Milledge had a nice first two weeks in the bigs. His last week was one to forget both offensively and defensively. His stint ended last Friday, with a .233/.287/.419/. 706 overall line. The 21 year old showed lots of promise and as long as he’s not dealt at the deadline, will be back this season. He should be the next in line to start if a Mets outfielder went down for a prolonged period of time. After all his “struggles” are almost as good as an Endy Chavez hot streak. Grade: Inc

That’s the hitters. Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the pitchers and if you thought I was harsh on the hitters, wait till you see what I’ve got to say about the back end of the rotation.

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