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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Saturday Means Story Time

Despite what you might think, and what’s popularly held to be our birthright, the Mets do not actually spend every day under a little black cloud.

It’s always useful to think of a conflict from the other guy’s perspective — besides making you a better person, you might learn something. So consider Saturday’s game from the point of view of a knowledgeable, veteran Nationals fan — a species that may actually exist. The Nats worked counts. They steadily drove Zack Wheeler‘s pitch count higher. They had leadoff runners galore. They played good defense. They fought back from deficits. And they got Bryce Harper to the plate four times, with a total of four runners in scoring position.

They did everything right except win.

Why didn’t they win? Because Harper struck out three times and hit one ball hard — a sharp one-hopper to Wheeler’s backhand. Because Angel Hernandez was at the center of a weird call that ended an inning instead of sending Jayson Werth to third. And because the Mets kept hitting home runs — including that Michael Conforto kid who can’t hit lefties and the somehow still-animate corpse of Jose Reyes. Yes, the Mets did all that! The same Mets who keep forcing pitchers into last-minute starts and don’t even blink when their best hitter injures himself in batting practice. Those idiots! The Nats did everything right and lost to those idiots! Stuff like that happens enough, you wind up thinking someone’s out to get you. (Though a .666 winning percentage and 3.5-game lead in the division do cushion the blow.)

That’s enough empathy. Through blue and orange lenses, Saturday’s game was strange, interesting and ultimately satisfying, showing you enough from Wheeler to remain hopeful about the future, enough from Reyes and Jeurys Familia to make you reconsider recent despair, and more than enough from Conforto to make you hope the people who make Metsian decisions saw the same thing you did.

But still, baseball postmortems tend to be heavier on storytelling than analysis. Which is something we ought to guard against. And there was plenty of suspect storytelling around Saturday’s game.

Let’s start with Wheeler, sent to the dugout an out shy of qualifying for a win. That kind of thing sticks in a pitcher’s craw, particularly when he leaves amid chatter about the inability of his infield to play defense.

That chatter, to be clear, was on the money — in fact, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling were in the middle of a discussion of the Mets’ lack of range when Asdrubal Cabrera and Reyes obligingly failed to corral a grounder in the 5.5 hole, followed in short order by Cabrera being a touch too slow to retire Ryan Zimmerman. Mathematical proofs have been sent up with less.

But the best defense is throwing strikes, and Wheeler didn’t do that often enough. He threw 54 strikes and 42 balls, allowed the leadoff guy to reach in four of five innings, and gave 10 of 22 batters faced the chance to swing at 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 or 3-1 pitches. Yes, Wheeler’s defense did him no favors — but he undermined himself repeatedly and was lucky to get as far as he did.

Next up: Familia. He got his first save of the year, which was certainly a nice development. (I still can’t believe the game didn’t come down to Harper as the tying run.) But there’s some dubious storytelling going on there too.

I skipped Friday night’s game for my own sanity, but caught the final couple of batters on Gameday … which was a baffling experience. Seeing INJURY DELAY paired with Josh Edgin replacing Familia, I assumed Familia had been hurt — and was still fretting about that when Harper’s AB became IN PLAY, OUT(S) and a miraculous F sprouted next to the score.

When I found out what had really happened — that Terry Collins had gambled and subbed Edgin for his struggling closer — I was curious. And after the end of today’s game, I went back and watched that inning and wound up even more curious.

On Friday Matt Wieters‘ hit, the first of the inning, came within a whisker of winding up in the glove of a diving Conforto. Adam Lind — whose chin pubes ought to qualify him for a prison term alongside Scott Spiezio — slapped one just past Neil Walker. Then Adam Eaton barely beat out a grounder perfectly placed in the hole. Familia fanned Trea Turner and was promptly removed by Terry, setting the stage for Edgin’s heroics.

Look, it worked — that’s far and away the most important thing. But compare Friday night with Saturday afternoon. On Saturday, Familia reported for duty and watched Conforto make a nice play in left and T.J. Rivera snag a tough hop at first. He then struck out Michael Taylor for the victory.

Reallocate the plays we’ve discussed by a couple of inches and you can easily turn Friday into Saturday and vice versa. Yet just watch the narrative become that Terry’s gutsy call lit a fire under Familia, who responded.

It’s a good story. But saying so won’t make it true.

Let’s tell one more.

Conforto’s two-homer Saturday left the SNY crew predicting that he won’t sit down again — and led to postgame coverage celebrating Conforto’s newfound success and hard work against lefties, which culminated in his homer off hard-slinging southpaw Enny Romero.

All very nice, except this one isn’t true at all. In fact, it’s the most irritating Just So Story in recent Mets history.

The conventional wisdom around Conforto’s 2016 is that his hot start was ruined by wicked lefties and the kind of slumps that young players are prone to, and he learned a hard but necessary lesson by being forced to go down to the minors, work on his craft and earn his place.

But do the facts support that? I’m indebted to Joe Sheehan for the following, which is just one of the many reasons you ought to subscribe to the man’s newsletter.

Going into 2016, Conforto had 180 minor-league plate appearances against lefties and hit .274. In the big leagues, he collected 34 plate appearances against lefties in 2015 and early 2016 and hit .188.

One hundred and eighty plate appearances is a decent sample size. Thirty-four plate appearances is not. Yet those 34 trips to the plate convinced Collins that Conforto should be platooned. After starting 26 of the Mets’ first 27 games and hitting the cover off the ball, he was benched for 13 of the next 45. The results were exactly what you’d expect for a young player denied regular playing time: Conforto started pressing and went into a tailspin. (Also highly relevant: he had a .167 BABIP over that period, which is a level of unlikelihood that makes you speculate about Gypsy curses.)

But wait: Terry did send Conforto up to face a lefty as a pinch-hitter on May 29. That lefty was Clayton Kershaw.

The tale of Michael Conforto and How He Lost Confidence is complete and utter nonsense. Collins thought Conforto couldn’t hit lefties because he was young and left-handed. He then created a self-fulfilling prophecy, mismanaging Conforto to the point where he couldn’t hit anybody. It was troglodytic negligence, plain and simple.

So yeah, it was fantastic watching Conforto take a tough lefty into the seats for his second home run of the day. But I bet he would have done that a few times already if he’d just been left alone last spring.

Unfortunately, that’s not the story and never will be; instead, Conforto has to stand at his locker and give non-answers to dumb questions. Watch him politely deflect questions about hitting southpaws with the usual cliches, but note where his compliance ends. He maintains he could always hit them, adding that Kevin Long’s always thought so too.

Conforto’s a smart player. He can size up a pitcher, work a count … and understand there’s no upside to calling out the boss for wasting a year of your career. Maybe the conventional wisdom is true this time, and that shot off Romero will be the start of Conforto playing 140 games a year. But I’m going to keep my fingers crossed, because Terry likes his fairy tales — particularly the ones in which the heroes are Proven Veterans™.

Storytelling is what we do around here — it’s what we all do. But lots of times there’s more than one story to choose from, and a weakness for the familiar can cause us to miss the tale that best reflects what actually happened. And I love baseball too much not to push myself to keep looking for that story, on bad days and good ones alike.

37 comments to Saturday Means Story Time

  • Lenny65

    What a terrific summary of the first reasonably happy Mets day in, uh, a while. I feel similarly re: Conforto as does every Mets fan or so I’d imagine. It’s time to see who he is, now, because we already know the potential is there. it’s time to see if that potential is the real deal and there’s only one way to do that and it doesn’t involve Vegas.

    • Eric

      Keep Conforto hitting lead off. If the Mets are committed to Cabrera batting 2nd and Reyes gets hot at the bottom of the order, Conforto can drive in Reyes from the top of the order.

  • Eric

    With a typically short outing by Wheeler, the middle relief – Edgin, Robles, and Blevins – deserves credit for holding down the Nationals. But now Salas and Reed are worrying.

  • eric1973

    In addition to TC messing with Conforto, let’s not forget how he has currently ruined Salas by overusing him, especially in that Miami game that Saturday night.

    And also how he did not tell Harvey he might be needed to start last Thursday, so Harvey worked out til he dropped, the night before.

    Both tales Strange But True.

  • GroteFan

    Thank you for memorialzing the hot mess that our manager is.
    Remarkable isn’t it that is only injuries that forced Conforto into the lineup.

  • Curt

    Re Conforto, I can only say yes, and that my sanity will be tested if/when he sits for a sub-.200 hitting Granderson when Cespedes gets back. Terry likes his fairy tales. The other one I like is that Flores can’t hit righties. Er, the numbers say different. Now as with many right hand batters he hits lefties BETTER but his career numbers against RHPs aren’t bad and certainly better than what Reyes has done this spring. I used to struggle watching Wilmer play defense at third but my standards have changed over the last month – next to Jose’s play this spring he’s Brooks Robinson.

    Re Familia, my impression from Friday is that he didn’t have his control, kept falling behind hitters, and his ball didn’t have the bite it usually does. Plus batters were able to lay off the sinker with 1-0, 2-0 counts. Yesterday he both mixed his pitches better (loved getting strikes with the slider) and had better control. Besides, any time TC doesn’t follow “the script” is a good day for me.

    We’re all set for a sweep today with Noah going up against, er, someone who I’ve never heard of. That means we’ll probably lose but on Friday afternoon I was thinking of how it was bad enough that I’d consider anything but a sweep a successful series. Like my opinion of Wilmer’s defense, my standards have recently changed.

    • I believe the numbers support the contention that Flores can’t hit righties. He sports a .647 OPS career against them and a .366 slugging percentage — 50 and 40 points, respectively below his career averages. Against lefties, Flores is .523/.848 — an impressive hitter. Vs. righties he’s punchless.

      Having said that, I’d be tempted to put him out there in lieu of Reyes as well. (Reyes recent stretch gives me pause, though.) In any event, doing so would simply be a matter of the lesser evil.

      • Curt

        Vs righties if we give Wilmer a full season – I’m dividing 550 by 875 AB’s and multiplying his career numbers – Wilmer would bat .248 with 13 HR’s and 64 RBI’s. Not gonna remind anyone of Mike Schmidt but certainly not at the fictional completely useless level Terry Collins would have you believe. And I suspect if he saw them regularly his numbers might improve.

    • Jacobs27

      Wilmer deserves a chance to develop into a more complete hitter, but I don’t really see him as an upgrade over Reyes at 3B, that latter’s recent foibles aside. Neither of them is a good option to play there every day. The Mets have some thinking to do, assuming Wright’s a long shot to come back.

    • Eric

      What’s up with the infection in Flores’s knee? It’s mysterious and seems it could be debilitating and possibly very serious. Hard to imagine he’s doing much physical activity, let alone baseball activity, if he can’t use a knee.

      Familia threw a pretty slider yesterday. When he has control and command of even just 1 or 2 of his pitches, he’s practically unhittable with his arsenal.

      • Eric

        Update on Flores: He’s started his rehab assignment, so it doesn’t seem his knee infection was too serious. Still mysterious, though.

  • Jacobs27

    I second all of this. Thanks for the write up, Jason.

  • eric1973

    And if Nimmo did not get injured, Conforto would still be in Vegas. Raise a glass for the WBC.

    Salas is still on the 10-day Invisibility List.

    Regarding Wilmer, I feel like Charlie Brown waiting for the Great Pumpkin, with this guy. Lucky he’s young, or it would be almost time to retire. I still think he is a star in waiting. Love the Brooks Robinson line.

    • DAK442

      Wilmer could be a latter-day Melvin Mora: A solid young hitter who mans a bunch of positions whom management refuses to commit to over fusty old players. They almost made the comparison complete in 2015 by making a panicky trade for a totally spent veteran during a playoff push. Melvin went on to have a real nice All-Star career. Maybe Wilmer can do it in New York.

  • Dennis

    Interesting stats about Conforto’s history against lefties. Hopefully he will see more time (like every day) against any pitcher. A good win yesterday, as they desperately needed 2 of 3 this weekend. Now in a great position for the sweep…..LGM!

  • LeClerc

    Conforto was the future – but that was all in the past. He’s now the present (for the foreseeable future).

    Wheeler seemed to be channeling both Montero AND Bastardo. Interminable intermissions between pitches – followed by definite maybe nibbles on the outside corner of the plate.

    Collins has to let Cabrera sit and heal. Asdrubal’s clearly not sharp at shortstop now.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Nobody has been more excited or hopeful to see what Conforto can do when he’s right than I. I drafted him onto my fantasy team last year hoping for a breakout season. But wait a minute here. He got over 340 plate appearances last year and hit .220 striking out nearly once for every 3 at bats. And it’s the managers fault for not playing him enough? There’s a damn good case to be made that he might have gotten too LONG a leash. And if the idea here is that TC is too rigid and hard on young players, how does one explain him moving up MC to the 3 hole after his hot start? He got his chance and then some, but didn’t deliver.

    As for the “tough” lefty he took deep yesterday, Romero has a 5.73 ERA this year after posting a 5.91 last year in 52 appearances. He fell behind 3-1 and threw a fastball right down the middle, something pitchers with those kinds of numbers often do.

    If Reyes and Conforto continue to hit, what do you guys think about their positions in the batting order? Reyes speed seems somewhat wasted down at the bottom and Conforto’s power seems somewhat wasted at the top. We could have another Grandersonesque 30hr 60rbi season on our hands. At the same time I can somewhat see the desire to not rock the boat with what’s working at the moment.

    • Pete In Iowa

      As I recall, Conforto – and the Mets – took off last April AFTER Collins moved him to the three hole in Cleveland about two weeks into the season.
      Say what you will about Reyes finally starting to hit some and where he should be batting in the order. The fact is his defense has been atrocious all season. And it’s not just the plays he botches or those he simply doesn’t seem to know he should be making. it’s also his positioning which is way too deep most of the time. It’s pretty clear to me he is our biggest defensive liability and aside from TdA behind the plate, it’s not even close.

    • Eric

      If Reyes gets hot at the bottom of the order, that means Conforto will have RBI opportunities at the top of the order.

      I say keep Conforto where’s he at for this season with more ABs and focused on getting on base rather than HRs – which he’ll hit, anyway. As a lead-off man speed-wise, Conforto is probably the 2nd fastest Met on the field with the current line-up, and he’s a good base runner.

  • Pete In Iowa

    Right on the money about Conforto Jason. At the end of last April, he had better numbers in most every offensive category than Mike Trout and Bryce Harper at similar stages of their careers (you can look it up!!). Mismanaged – I totally agree. Hopefully, with his performance this season to date, those days of mismanagement are behind us. And, he has shown since the start, he is a very capable – well above average, in fact – defender.
    Speaking of defense, what is up with Reyes? Absolutely horrible. Has botched/not made at least four plays he should have in the first two games in DC. Not good!

  • Ken K. in NJ

    During the discussion about the defense on the left side of the Mets infield, Gary asked Ron if he thought the Mets should consider Reyes and Cabrera switching positons. Ron’s emphatic answer: Yesterday!

  • Matt in Richmond

    I caught that too Ken. Might be worth a shot. AC has looked awfully slow recently. Reyes would likely be more comfortable back at his regular position and Cabrera wouldn’t have as much ground to cover at 3rd.

  • Eric

    TJ Rivera looked good at 1B. For a utility infielder, he has a weak arm, even from 2B. But he looks to have a soft glove and react well, so 1B works. Rivera makes contact with his RH bat, which is an exceptional skill on this team. Like last season, Flores’s loss is Rivera’s gain.

  • Greg Mitchell

    Note on Reyes moving to SS: Indeed he might be more “comfortable” there but would the Mets? Consensus among scouts and other observers two years ago was that he was totally inadequate at SS now (no range at all) except as fill-in, which he is doing today.

  • Steve D

    Think Noah will agree to MRI now? This franchise never ceases to amaze …that’s why they are the Amazin’s. Mets (mis)management should never trust Syndegaard again.

  • Greg Mitchell

    Terry could have said: You’re not pitching until you take an MRI. Gilmartin is ready (or as ready as he’ll ever be). Just like he could have ordered Cespedes on 10-day DL. Did not.

    Thor gave up 5 runs even before the (obvious) breaking point. No way he was not hurting before then. Warthen didn’t even go out there until 9th batter….

    • Steve D

      Syndegaard was throwing pretty hard, so they assumed he was ok, but a bit rusty. I agree he had to have some discomfort, so he really is a dunce to try to pitch through it. In terms of hierarchy of blame, I would place it at

      1) Syndegaard
      2) Sandy
      3) Collins

      If Alderson can’t get Syndegaard to take an MRI, I don’t know what Collins can do. Of course the whole culture of the Mets is FUBAR, especially related to medical issues.

  • Greg Mitchell

    “Don’t know what Collins can do?” Not pitch him? Rumor has it manager makes out the scorecard. As for throwing hard–not an indicator of not being right. Rusty? Missed exactly one start, which happens all the time–sometimes deliberately when they are skipping starts to save innings. I guess he felt great that first inning–when he gave up more runs than any start in his entire life. Coincidence.

    Also Terry did not wreck Salas by over-pitching.

  • eric1973

    Well, Ces had told TC that he didn’t have to go on the DL, and that was fine with TC. And Thor said he did not need an MRI.

    Sandy is incompetent when it comes to this as well.

  • Ken

    Kevin Plawecki: Bullpen Savior, Extraodinaire!!!

    • Eric

      When Plawecki got knocked around in the 9th inning, I wanted to see Rene Rivera relieve Plawecki in a P, C switch.

  • Dennis

    Well… was a fun day.

    To everyone saying that Collins should demand this or that…..has anyone followed baseball over the last 20 – 30 years and realize that managers are basically powerless when it comes to making players do anything?

  • eric1973

    Ces actually probably hurt himself playing golf.

  • Matt in Richmond

    Well, Ron Darling who might know a little more about pitching than the average fan, didn’t have a problem with Noah avoiding the MRI and seemed to indicate, that if anything he probably should have taken the mound sooner. Injuries happen, and while I guess it’s human nature to try to find someone to assign blame to, it’s a futile exercise.

  • eric1973

    Rather than me rebut the merits of weak leadership, let’s hear from Sandy himself, who by the way, has some explaining to do:

    “It would be easy to dismiss this as this is just how baseball goes,” Alderson said. “But you do have to sort through the injuries and think about the kinds of things you’re doing preventively to make sure they’re minimized.”

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