The Mets' current conundrum: How much do Spring Training results matter?

The Mets' current conundrum: How much do Spring Training results matter?

by Brian Erni March 09, 2018 0 Comments

Forget about Yoenis Céspedes wearing his hat backwards. The biggest issue facing the Mets right now is figuring out just how much stock they can put in Spring Training results.

Coming out of camp, the best thing that a team can be is healthy. The Mets, exhaustive injury reports notwithstanding, doing a pretty good job of that. But the next thing this team needs is clarity around some key battles in camp.

In January, Mickey Callaway told Darren and me on Orange and Blue Thing that, while Spring Training results matter, they wouldn't be the sole determining factor in deciding the Opening Day roster. 

"I think you can't ever forget what guys have done in the past. I obviously want guys to have success in Spring Training, but I want guys to improve on the things they need to improve on, and that's what we're going to be paying more attention to," Callaway told us. "Spring Training can be a little bit of different of an animal. This guy that has such a great Spring Training might, for some reason, be playing in the 6th and 7th inning early in Spring Training against A ball pitchers that are pitching and kind of reaping the benefits of that. So we're going to have goals for each player in Spring Training and see how they get better at those goals."

So of the three major competitions in Mets camp, what have the spring results yielded so far? And should it even matter? Let's break it down:


Center field

Over a span of nine spring games (26 at bats), Brandon Nimmo has slashed .385/.452/.846 with two homers and 6 RBIs. Meanwhile, despite all that was made about his newly remade launch angle swing, Juan Lagares has collected two hits -- both singles -- in nine trips.with three punch outs and no walks.

Should the Mets care?: Yes. I know a hamstring injury slowed Lagares down out of the gate, but the roster make up is starting to conspire against him, too. Nimmo is the Mets' best lead off option, and there's enough inside the body of Major League work to make me believe that this kind of production is for real.

The problem is, at least for the first month, that Lagares is so good defensively, it's hard to justify removing his glove from center. But the 24-year-old Nimmo, a former first round pick, has gotten on base at a .367 clip at the Major League level. The Mets' next-best option to lead off, Adrubal Cabrera, even at his best (.351 last season) is almost 20 points lower than that. 

Has this changed their plans?: I don't know if Nimmo's performance has changed the Mets brain trust's minds, but it should. I've been advocating for Nimmo for the lead off spot for a while now, and there is no doubt in my mind that should be the get every game against right handed pitching. And if he shows improvement against lefties and plays even an adequate center field, he should have a full-time job, Lagares' contract and Gold Glove be damned.


Catcher

Kevin Plawecki looks like a different player. The two-year reconstruction of his swing is paying off. After finishing his final 27 games of 2017 with a .303/.411/.474 slash line to go along with three homers and 9 RBIs, the former first round pick has batted.333/.444/.467 with five RBIs this spring. But Travis d'Arnaud isn't far behind. D'Arnaud spring slash line currently stands at .294/.455/.529 with a homer and two RBIs this camp, and had his own strong finish (.297/.343/.656, six homers, 19 RBIs in 20 games) to 2017.

Should the Mets care?: They should certainly be encouraged. I mentioned Plawecki's pedigree, but d'Arnaud is also a former first rounder, and in Travis' case, has been the centerpiece of two trades for reigning Cy Young Award winners (Roy Halladay in December 2009 and R.A. Dickey in December 2012). There is so much untapped potential behind the dish for the Mets that if one or both of these guys finally have an epiphany, it could make their lineup deadly.

Has this changed their plans? Probably not. Plawecki is close with Noah Syndergaard, so he'll probably act as his personal catcher. That means Plawecki might get the Opening Day nod if Thor is on the bump on March 29, but I think this should stay as a platoon until one guy establishes a clear leg up.


The Open Rotation Spot

Matt Harvey (1-0, 1.80 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, .200 opposing BA, two walks, three strikeouts) looks like the 2015 version of himself: effective and determined. Zack Wheeler (1.80 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, .364 opposing BA, no walks, eight strikeouts) looks like the 2014 version of himself: electric, but with room for improvement. Steven Matz (54.00 ERA, 7.20 WHIP, .667 opposing BA, four walks, one strikeout) looks...well, not as good.

Should the Mets care?: A friend of mine, who is a college baseball coach and a fellow Mets fan, told me recently, "Any time one of these guys isn't pitching the way they're capable of, I'm concerned," and I think that's prudent. But it's so hard to say whether Matz's struggles are indicative of future hardship. Remember, Dave Eiland corrected a mechanical flaw in Matz's delivery, and any time a player changes something, he's bound to encounter failure before he graduates to success. The key is trusting that promised success will actually come.

Some may note that, while Wheeler looks better than Matz right now, opposing batters are still getting hits against Zack. But in such a small sample size (Wheeler has thrown just five innings), that could just be a product of a high BABIP or a generous official scoring. The 8:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio is eye-popping, and very encouraging.

Has this changed their plans?: Man, this is the toughest one. Matz certainly hasn't stayed healthy enough, or pitched well enough, in the past year to have a disastrous spring be a complete non-factor in his rotation status. But can I really hold 1.2 bad Spring Training innings against him? Not with that straight of a face. Matz is on the mound on Friday in Lakeland. It would behoove him to get things straightened out right away, or else Wheeler may just steal his spot.




Brian Erni
Brian Erni

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