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Thursday, May 16, 2013
Regression analysis

By Matt Meyers

Ruben Tejada, Dillon Gee and Ike Davis
Look on the bright side, Mets fans ... oh, wait, there isn't any.
The Mets may not do many things well, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an organization that does a better job of getting caught up in asinine controversies. The latest involves Jordany Valdespin getting hit by a pitch and manager Terry Collins sniping at fans who thought the Mets should have retaliated.

Of course, if I’m on the Mets, I have no problem with this absurdity as it's serving to distract fans from how badly the club is playing, particularly three of its supposed building blocks.

When this season began, I made the argument that we could be watching a team in the infancy of success. While it was hard to foresee a contender this season, you could see the makings of one down the road. Of course, that was predicated on some of the club’s younger players -- most notably shortstop Ruben Tejada, first baseman Ike Davis and pitcher Dillon Gee -- establishing themselves as solid big league contributors who could be part of a winning team. Six weeks into the season, that’s looking less and less likely, and the Mets’ rebuilding process looks more arduous than it did on Opening Day.

In addition to a bizarre stretch in mid-April when he forgot how to throw, Tejada has been a disaster at the plate. While we know he will never hit for power, the .360 OBP he put up in 2011 suggested he could be a solid player who combined decent defense with more-than-respectable on-base skills.

But while he shows an ability to work the count, he seldom hits the ball with any authority -- his 20 percent line-drive rate is by far the lowest of his career -- and it’s almost hard to remember how he was able to ever get on base with such frequency. Still just 23, there is time for Tejada, but the lack of progress is alarming. (He seems to have remembered how to throw, which is a positive.)

I’ve made my feelings on Davis well-known, but I never thought he was this bad. Last season, he rebounded from a slow start and hit 32 homers to go with a low average (.227) and OBP (.308) while playing good defense. If he could do that again, he’d be a valuable contributor. However, he is so lost at the plate now that it’s hard to project a productive career with any sort of confidence.

As for Gee, he was never going to be an ace, but his strikeout and walk rates suggested a guy who could be a solid back-end starter at a low cost, something that every team needs. And if he could fill that role for a few years, the Mets would have the freedom to shop some of their starting pitching depth in the minors to fill holes in the outfield. Instead, Gee’s strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and he looks more like 4-A fodder than a long-term piece.

The most disappointing aspect of these performances is that the Mets aren’t looking for these guys to be stars, but rather reliable parts of a winning team a couple of years down the road. If you can produce good players at multiple spots on the diamond, you can go outside the organization to fill your holes because you will have cost-controlled solutions already at hand. The Cardinals are a perfect example of this: Guys like Jon Jay, Lance Lynn and David Freese will never win MVPs, but they are good enough to give the club the flexibility to go out and sign the likes of Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran to support its homegrown stars (Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, etc.).

The Mets have a couple of stars in David Wright and Matt Harvey, and there’s reason to believe Zack Wheeler could join them soon. However, there is a huge gap below them and the guys who were supposed to fill it are not doing their part.

Yes, it’s just six weeks, and small-sample caveats may apply. But the lack of progress from the more promising young players on the club has to be disheartening for even the most wide-eyed Mets optimist.