Note – this is a column I wrote at the All-Star break. I’m posting this as a teaser for my full-season grades, which I will post later today.

It’s the All-Star break, a perfect time to hand out mid-season report cards for everyone’s favorite team, the New York Mets.

Catching
Brian Schneider – Grade C – Schneider has been pretty much what we expected to get. He’s been a defensive upgrade from old philandering, steroid-using pal Paul Lo Duca and he hasn’t run his mouth like his predecessor. He’s not much at the plate, but a .345 on-base percentage from a guy in the lineup for his defense is more than acceptable.

Ramon Castro – Grade C+ – While Schneider sports an ugly 77 OPS+, Castro has a robust 121 mark in the category. Injuries and general incompetence by former manager Willie Randolph have limited Castro to just 25 games and 77 at-bats so far, but new manager Jerry Manuel has given him 11 starts since taking over in the third week of June.

First Base
Carlos Delgado – Grade C+ – Delgado is posting a very similar line to what he did last year when he was considered a disappointment. But the fact that he has rebounded to post a .248/.328/.455 line after hitting under .200 in the month of April is impressive. If Delgado continues with his current numbers, he has a chance for 30 home runs and 90 RBIs which might even get the Mets to pick up his option in 2009.

Second Base
Luis Castillo – Grade C – Castillo is what he is – a decent player with no power. It’s not his fault the Mets decided to give him a four-year deal when there was no reason to go overboard to lock him up for that long. Castillo won’t embarrass you in the field, he has a nice .365 on-base percentage and he is still an excellent percentage baserunner. He’s also hurt and will battle injury problems for the rest of his contract.

Damion Easley – Grade C – Easley has filled in nicely for Castillo and there are rumors he may have earned additional playing time even once Castillo comes back. Easley is batting .354 in his last 96 at-bats. In the field, he does a nice job turning the DP but he doesn’t get to many balls. He’s a nice guy to have on the bench but it’s somewhat disconcerting that the 38-year old is the team’s top reserve.

Third Base
David Wright – Grade A- – Wright has not repeated last year’s monster numbers but he has been the team’s most reliable player from Opening Day. With 24 doubles and 70 RBIs in mid July, Wright has a shot at establishing all-time franchise marks in both categories. Mike Piazza holds the RBI mark with 124 while Bernard Gilkey tops the doubles leader board with 44.

Shortstop
Jose Reyes – Grade A- – After getting off to a dismal start to the season, Jose Reyes has been one of the top players in baseball the past two and a half months, although no one in the mainstream media recognizes it. Since the beginning of May, Reyes is batting .323 with 54 runs scored in 67 games. He’s also posted 33 extra-base hits in 294 at-bats and has driven in 33 runs from the leadoff spot in that time span. The only thing dragging down his grade has been an unusually poor defensive season.

Outfield
Carlos Beltran – Grade B+ – Poor Carlos Beltran. He makes everything look so easy that everyone expects the world out of him. And then he delivers, power, steals and Gold Glove defense and we’re upset because he’s only hitting for a .268 average. I don’t mind the average but I would like to see the slugging mark top .500 to get him an “A” grade.

Ryan Church – Grade B- – Church has battled concussion problems since Spring Training and is currently on the disabled list yet his 51 starts are the second-most by any Mets outfielder this year. Church has been a revelation, enjoying a fine offensive season (.307/.370/.512) along with being a top-notch defender in right field. But it’s hard to give him a higher grade than this when he’s missed nearly half the year.

Endy Chavez – Grade B- – Those who think defense is unimportant should watch Endy Chavez play. Carlos Beltran is a Gold Glove caliber defender. Endy Chavez is better. With Beltran firmly entrenched in center, Chavez gets most of his time in the outfield corners, where teams usually have their power hitters. No one will confuse Chavez with a power hitter. But if he can keep up his pace since June 1st (.301 average in 121 at-bats), he’s still a valuable asset even with no power.

Fernando Tatis – Grade C- – A recent hot streak has Tatis’ numbers looking good at the All-Star break. But he is not nearly as useful as his .292 average would indicate. He’s capable of the long ball, but has just four home runs in 120 at-bats. He has never walked much in his career and is the anti-Chavez in the field. Tatis will get chances to play while both Church and Moises Alou are sidelined. Hurry back, Ryan.

Starting Pitching
Johan Santana – Grade B+ – The numbers aside from the W-L record look fine. Not many pitchers in the game boast a 2.84 ERA or a 1.19 WHIP or 8.10 SO/9 IP. But we expected more than an 8-7 record or a team record of 10-9 in games he’s started. He’s the pitching version of Carlos Beltran so it seems only fair that he get the same grade.

Mike Pelfrey – Grade B – The light bulb has gone off in Pelfrey’s head and the results have been amazing. He’s won his last six decisions and the team has won eight of his last nine starts, with the lone loss being a 2-1 setback. He’s throwing strikes, staying out of the middle of the strike zone, changing the plane with a high fastball to complement his mid 90s sinker and occasionally throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes. It’s almost enough to make you forget that he was 2-6 with a 5.33 ERA near the end of May.

John Maine – Grade B- – Maine is tied with Santana and Pelfrey for the team lead with eight wins. He’s generally pitched well this year but has one big split. The Mets should juggle their rotation to make sure that Maine only pitches night games. He is 5-2 with a 3.52 ERA under the lights compared to 3-4 with a 4.67 ERA in the sunshine. It’s probably not significant, but fantasy owners might want to yank him from the lineup for his next day game.

Oliver Perez – Grade C – When Oliver Perez is on he has some of the best stuff in the game. The problem is you never know from start to start if you’re getting “Good Ollie” or “Bad Ollie”. In his last three starts, it’s been the former. He’s pitched 20 innings and has allowed just nine hits and two runs, with both runs coming on solo homers. But he’s also given up five or more runs seven times in 19 starts this year. Control is still an issue, as he’s third in the league with 60 walks in 103.1 innings. This grade may be a tad generous but the hope is that Perez has responded to new pitching coach Dan Warthen, who instituted a new delivery which has given great results in the few games he’s used it.

Pedro Martinez – Grade C- – Reality has finally caught up to perception. Pedro Martinez can now be accurately described as fragile. A hamstring injury sent him to the disabled list following his first start of the year and he left his last start early due to a tweaked groin. And the shoulder can go on any pitch. The good news is that Pedro is throwing harder than at any point in his career with the Mets. The question for the second half of the season is if Martinez can stay healthy long enough to harness his once pinpoint control. His 3.63 BB/9 IP and 1.61 HR/9 IP are easily the worst marks of his career.

Relief Pitchers
Billy Wagner – Grade B – Wagner got off to a great start to the season but has already blown more saves (6) than he did all of last year, including racking up a blown save in three straight appearances in mid-June. He blew his sixth save in the opening game of the key series against the Phillies and barely held on for the save the following night when he allowed two runs in a 10-9 Mets victory. But the bottom line is he has 22 saves, a 2.31 ERA, a .193 average against and has 5:1 SO/BB ratio with more strikeouts than innings pitched.

Aaron Heilman – Grade C+ – Heilman was overused early in the season and it caught up with him. After allowing four runs without retiring a batter on the last day of May, Heilman’s ERA sat at 6.67 after 26 games. But he’s been a different pitcher in the last month and a half and Mets fans no longer cringe when he comes into the game. He’s murder on RHB, who’ve hit just .198 against him in 116 at-bats. But the changeup no longer is an effective weapon against LHB, who are batting .315 with a .603 slugging mark versus Heilman.

Duaner Sanchez – Grade B- – Sanchez suffered the same May swoon that Heilman did but like his bullpen mate, has been much better the last 20 appearances. He has not been as dominating as he was in 2006, but he has been very effective and unlike Heilman he handles both righty and lefty batters.

Joe Smith – Grade B – Sanchez has been a better overall pitcher but Smith has been more effective in his role. After a dreadful season in 2007 versus lefties, the Mets basically made Smith a ROOGY, a pitcher used mainly to face righty batters. Smith has faced three times as many righties as lefties this year, compared to Heilman who has faced lefties nearly 40 percent of the time. And righties are batting just .190 in 105 at-bats against Smith this year.

Scott Schoeneweis – Grade B – And on the other side of things we have Scott Schoeneweis (SS). Last year, Willie Randolph used SS as a regular reliever and that was a big mistake. Righty batters pasted him to the tune of a .316 average while lefties hit just .204 against him. The problem was that SS faced more righties than lefties. This year the team has been more careful in his exposure to RHB and the results have been noticeable. SS has a 2.65 ERA even with RHB batting .292 with a .465 slugging mark against him.

Pedro Feliciano – Grade B- – Southpaw Feliciano had great success against righties last year but has been unable to duplicate that in 2008. Still, he has a fine ERA of 2.86 and as the fifth or sixth reliever in the pen, that’s a great number.

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What’s Gone Right – The offense has been a pleasant surprise, especially with the injuries to Moises Alou and Ryan Church and the slow starts by Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes… The Mets are fifth in the league with a 4.84 runs per game mark and are just 0.06 runs away from third place… Mike Pelfrey has established himself as a Major League pitcher… The bullpen has received strong work from its top six performers… Team finished the first half with a nine-game winning streak… Mets have gone 7-3 so far against the Phillies, the team that beat them eight straight times down the stretch in 2007… Willie Randolph got fired.

What’s Gone Wrong – The Mets have an old team and injuries have hit them hard… As productive as the offense has been, it has been dreadful with the bases loaded. The Mets have a .223 average with the bases loaded and have scored just 77 runs in 120 plate appearances with the bases juiced… The infield defense has been below average… Starting pitchers have yet to throw a complete game and have averaged just 5.84 innings per appearance… Mets are just 2-7 versus the Braves and one of those wins came in the game that John Smoltz imploded.

What’s to Come – The Mets have more home games than road games in the second half and they are done with West Coast road trips… The furthest the Mets have to travel after the All-Star break is to Houston to face the last-place Astros… The Mets have 29 games against the Phillies, Marlins and Braves remaining with 18 of those at home, where they have a .609 winning percentage… 37 of their final 67 games come against teams with sub-.500 records.

Prediction – 40-27 after the break for a final record of 91-71, which is good for the NL East crown.

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