Monthly Archives: January 2010

>Sunday Stuff You Should Read

>Who’s excited for the Pro Bowl! No one? Really? Okay. If the NFL promised that Chad Ochocinco would be allowed to do all the kicking, then maybe I would watch . . .

Mets organist Jane Jarvis passed away.

Tom Verducci wonders if the forgiveness granted to Doc and Darryl will eventually be given to steroid users.

Some Yankee fan canceled his ticket plan because the Yankees signed Randy Winn instead of Johnny Damon.

The Daily News interviews active minor league home run leader Mike Hessman, who signed a minor league deal with the Mets earlier this month.


Josh Fogg: dragon slayer. I almost hope he makes the team solely because of that nickname. Almost.

Mets Minor League Blog takes a look at the Mets potential F-Bomb.

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>Projecting the 2010 Mets runs scored

>Baseball Prospectus’ fairly preliminary PECOTA projections came out this week, as noted by Amazin’ Avenue and Metsblog. First, remember that there are exceedingly preliminary and iffy projections, especially considering that:

A.)There were way, way, way too many runs in those initial projections: in 2009, just 7 teams scored more than 800 runs, while these first projections had four of the five NL East teams scoring over 800 runs. That’s just not going to happen. The Mets and Phillies might do it, but I don’t think anyone one else will.

B.) Someone noticed, and all runs have already been corrected and lowered. The standings remain the same, but it’s good to just keep in mind how ridiculous these early predictions, even the stats-based ones, can be. 

While predicting the Mets runs allowed is dubious at this point, the Mets lineup seems to be relatively set and projection their runs scored is not so difficult. I took the Mets CHONE projected wOBA, adjusted them roughly based on my blogger “amateur sports-writer”* projected playing time for various players and batting order positions, and came up with a projected Runs Above Average for the Mets lineup. I also threw on the total wOBA and sOPS+ of each position from 2009 for comparison – “split OPS+” measures the Mets OPS relative to the same position in that league – e.g. 100 would be an average hitting group, below 100 would be worse, and above better. You can see that even though the Mets catchers were a poorer hitting group than the first basemen, the Mets first basemen were much worse hitters than the rest of the leagues first basemen.  The Mets outfield wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, but their shortstops were somehow even worse.

*I hate the term blogger. Absolutely hate it. The word blogger makes people think of this. Maybe amateur sports writer is a better way to go with the term? Or, even better, “struggling writer”, which sounds significantly cooler. Like a poet or something. People make movies, or at least pop musicals, about struggling writers. Not so much about bloggers.

A couple of brief explanations about how I guesstimated this stuff. I have the Mets CF performing about the same, under the assumption that Carlos Beltran/Angel Pagan/random scrapeheap-level guys gets a playing time split similar to 2009. As for the rest, I mostly took the regulars wOBA and then lowered the better hitters a few points here and there, assuming that they’ll get an off day now and then in favor of lesser hitters. 

Chart away! (click to see bigger)

The biggest difference maker is, surprise, Jose Reyes. The Mets had an miserable hitting group of SS in 2009, even with Reyes playing 2 months. Reyes alone makes the Mets about +50 weighted runs above average better. A bounce back year from David Wright should help, and Jason Bay upgrades LF offensively. The Mets lineup, even with Omir Santos still in there, is much improved from 2009.

Anyway, with my rough predictions, I have the Mets at around +40 weighted runs above average in 2010. They were a -40 team in 2009, so it’s an 80 fictional runs swing.

But weighted runs aren’t quite the same as real runs. So for an idea about how many real runs the Mets could score, we can compare them to a 2009 teams that was just about 40 wRAA – the Blue Jays – who scored just below 800 runs. Using them as an example I would conservatively guess that the 2010 Mets will score 780+ or so runs – but that’s just based on my guesstimating.

Since I’m not going to try to predict the Mets pitching/defense, if we instead just take last years Mets pitching/defense, which allowed 757 runs, the project-a-Mets would have a winning percentage of .518 – an 84 win team. Again, that’s with the same slightly below average pitching staff and defense the Mets used last year.

But a lot of that relies on Murphy and Francoeur to be average offensive players – which they are projected to be – Wright to bounce back, and Reyes to stay healthy. If all that happens, the Mets lineup might not be as awful as some people think or project it to be.

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>2010 Preview: Oliver Perez

>Welcome to the first edition of the Mets 2010 season previews. Yeah, I know, it’s still January. But soon it will be February, then March, and suddenly it’s opening day, and then before you know it, it’s mid-June and the Mets have been mathematically eliminated – so up until then, I’ll be mixing in some looks at various Mets players and maybe some other teams around the league. Some of them will be more stats-heavy stuff, some won’t be so stats-heavy, and some will be . . . well, whatever this is.

So here’s the first preview, of Ollie Perez:

Full Name: Oliver Martinez Perez

Anagram of his name I used some website to create: Per Zero Evil

Career Line: 58-64, 4.54 ERA

2010 CHONE projection: 6-8, 4.85 ERA

If he were a Muppet, he would be: Lew Zealand. Not sure why, but it feels right with the thrown fish and everything. In a related note, the Muppet wiki is excessively detailed.

Suggested at-bat song for 2010: “Out of Control” – U2

***

During a game in the summer of 2008, Oliver Perez sits next to John Maine on the bench in the Mets’ dugout. Perez has a baseball with a partially torn cover. He mumbles something to Maine and pretends to eat the ball like an apple.

Oliver Perez baffles.

He skips over the foul line every time he crosses it, whether he’s exiting the game up 3-1 in the eighth or down 6-0 in the first. Some leaps are more jovial than others, but he has always made the jump since he was playing Little League in Mexico. It’s his own baseball superstition; every player seems to have at least one. Perez goes about in his own mismatched way. He wears his blue or black socks high. He sometimes sports a mohawk, sometimes sideburns that sharply point towards his mouth, now just a full beard. He has the awkward build of a teenager who still hasn’t quite filled out the right way – he’s got shins that look bowed and a perpetual slouch in his shoulders. Like a surprising number of pitchers, you don’t look at Oliver and immediately think “professional athlete.” But he is – his legs look surprisingly strong, and his long arms contribute to both his lanky appearance and his pitching abilities.

Still, he often looks out of place, like he’s just a visitor. In the past, Ollie would get this lost stare when he was being interviewed, occasionally seeming surprised that reporters are asking him questions about the game he just pitched. His answers rarely match up with the questions he is asked – maybe because of the language barrier, maybe because he’s perpetually zoned out. It’s like he’s never thinking about what happened before or what’s going to happen after, but instead simultaneously about the present and nothing at all. There’s no planning when he’s on the mound. He can never explain why he does what he does, why he dropped down to sidearm, why he threw a 60 MPH slider – it’s not improvisation, like in traditional jazz, because that requires even tiny amounts of planning ahead. The traditional jazz musician knows the chords changes and which scales fit over them, and has a loose idea about what licks he’s going to play. Ollie is more like free jazz, like the horns in Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” – which sounds like a horn section falling down a flight of stairs. He has no idea what he’s going to do next. Oliver Perez pitches and exists in the right now. Oliver Perez just is.

July 25th, 2008: Oliver Perez pitches 7.2 innings against the Phillies, allowing one run, striking out twelve, and issuing just one walk, an intentional pass to Pat Burrell. The Mets win 3-1 and take control of first place in the National League East for the first time in months. Perez pitches to a 0.35 ERA against the Phillies in 2008, allowing a lone run over his four starts, striking out 27 batters. The supposed legend of “big game Ollie” grows.

Oliver Perez baffles.

Oliver Perez has the “stuff” to baffles hitters, that mythical pitching “stuff” which can make a batter swing out of his shoes on one pitch and swing right back into them the next. Stuff so good it can only be described pejoratively: nasty stuff, filthy stuff, devastating stuff. Most pitcher’s “stuff” comes and goes from game to game, month to month, or within a single start. But not for Oliver Perez – he seemingly always has his “stuff”, the rising low-nineties fastball and a sweeping slider which always seems to break just an inch out of the batter’s reach. He can’t always harness it, but if he’s healthy, the “stuff” is there for him.

And Oliver Perez’s stuff, that elusive stuff, is among the hardest ever to hit – he is seventh all time in strikeouts per nine innings pitched, sandwiched right in between fellow lefties Sandy Koufax and Johan Santana. In his best season, 2004, he struck out 11 batters per nine innings, the record in a single season for a left hander not named Randy Johnson. He has struck out 457 batters in 473.2 innings as a Met, meaning that 22% of the total batters he faced failed to solve him enough to even put the ball into play. You watch the wiffleball slider break and never stop breaking, and you understand why. All you can do is smile, shake your head, and mutter to yourself, “that’s just not fair.”

April 9, 2009: Oliver Perez, freshly signed to a 3 year, $36 million dollar contract in the offseason, makes his first start of the season in Cincinnati. He struggles to make it through just 4.1 innings, throwing exactly 100 pitches, walking five, striking out 7, and allowing 8 runs. The Mets lose 8-6. Less than a week later, Perez is loudly booed during the introductions at the Mets’ Citi Field home opener.

Oliver Perez baffles.

He struggles inordinately to put the ball here he needs to. Rick Peterson tried to stress keeping a consistent release point. Dan Warthen tries to stress maintaining a consistent windup – the bow towards home, a slide step to the far left of the rubber, then a big leg kick, a pause for a beat, and the explosive delivery across his body in a 3/4 arm slot. But his pitches are like Carmen San Diego, somehow winding up in a different location each time. Pitches called for inside are thrown a foot outside, pitches called for outside end up at the backstop, sliders are hung over the plate or buried in the dirt. Brian Schneider would too often have to just set up in the middle of the plate and hope for the pitch to be close. During August of 2008, Ollie could be relied on to throw at least one eephus a game, a sweeping mid-sixties breaking ball, often sidearm and always for a ball. Just because. Dan Warthen could only shake his head. The catcher always looks suprised.

Perez has walked 5.0 batters per nine innings pitched in his career, and has finished in the top ten for walks every year he has qualified, leading the league in 2008. His “index of self destructive acts”, a Bill James statistic that measures the total number of hit batters, wild pitches, balks, and pitcher errors per nine innings, is 0.85 – most of that is from hit batsman and wild pitches. Pitchers with excellent control sit in the .20-.30 range, while the especially wild average between .80 and above. The numbers confirm that Ollie is indeed as wild and self-destructive as he seems. Oliver Perez instability is the biggest obstacle to his own success.

June 16th, 2002: Oliver Perez’s pitches in his first Major League start. Just shy of 21, he is the youngest player in the Major Leagues. He strikes out the first two Mariners he faces, both swinging, and retires the side 1-2-3. However, in his second inning of work, he walks two batters and throws a wild pitch. He recovers to strike out the final two batters of the inning.

Fast forward to January 25, 2010. Oliver Perez, present at the Mets optional mini-camp, claims to be in the best shape of his life. Reports say that his English is much improved, that he is engaging with members of the media. He seems older and more mature, though maybe that’s just the beard. He states that he is ready for 2010, that he’s fired up.

Then, playing long toss with Johan Santana, Perez clears the outfield fence twice on wild overthrows.

Oliver Perez baffles.

He has always baffled everyone. You, me, pitching coaches, managers, hitters, fantasy baseball owners, real baseball owners, his agent, himself. Everyone. He had a brilliant 2004, needed to be sent back to the minors in 2006, and then got it together again for the NLCS. Any predictions about Perez are useless. No one knows what he’s going to do.

He defies prediction. Ollie does have that elusive, quicksilvery, no-hitter stuff every time he takes the mound, but no one has found a way for him to lasso it. The batter has no idea where the pitch is going, but neither does Ollie – he’s just one more passenger along for the ride. It’s always been like this, from his first major league start all the way through this past week. He swerves wildly between brilliant and frustrating from batter to batter, inning to inning, game to game, season to season. He’s maddening to everyone, himself included – he is capable of domination seemingly without any control, so if he could just figure it out . . . but with the slouch and the chewing gum, he appears an apathetic teenager. Like he’s not focused. Like he doesn’t care.

But I don’t think that’s it. He broke his toe in 2005 kicking a laundry cart after a loss. He cares, at the very least because it’s his job. I think it’s that Perez is always tuned into nothing other than right now. He’s the pitching equivalent of a goldfish – he’s got a six-second memory. He never repeats his pitching motion because he doesn’t remember what his last motion was. Why drop down and throw sidearm? Because it felt right in that moment. Why doesn’t he look upset when he’s sitting on the bench after being removed from a miserable start? Because that’s over, it’s in the past, and it’s not what’s happening right now. He’s like a being that’s not fully in this dimension or any other one. He’s in his moment and nothing else.

He can be bad Ollie, good Ollie, ineffective, brilliant, Big Game Ollie, a bum who doesn’t care, the kind of pitcher that gets general mangers fired. Whatever you think of Oliver Perez, you want to see him pitch in 2010 because he’s the second most interesting pitcher on the Mets staff. You missed Oliver in 2009. He’s an oddball on a team with very few distinguishable characters. He’s not always effective, but there’s never an awkward pause with him on the mound. He’s like the anti-Steve Traschel – Traschel chugged along each year racking up 200 or decent if dragging. boring. forgettable. innings. Perez is a fireball who is going to strike out 10 in seven innings or walk 10 in two. Oliver Perez is one of those 1950’s unmanned rocket launches. Maybe he will stream up into the great depths of space, or maybe he will explode on the launch pad. Either way, it’s going to be spectacular.

The early signs are that something in Oliver Perez is finally different in 2010. He spent the winter in Arizona at the API, supposedly getting in shape, maturing, not shaving, having Johnny Depp repeatedly ask him if he’s a Mexican or a Mexican’t. If he wasn’t taking things seriously before, he appears to be now. Perez is getting older; his window to figure this “pitching thing” out is quickly closing. A 27-year-old lefty with talent has time on his side – not so much for the 30-year-old lefty with control issues. This season might be a last shot for Oliver. And maybe, just maybe, this is the season the eternal prospect figures it out. When he find his command and stops f@#$*#g walking so many guys. Perez was awful last year because of injuries, the WBC, indifference, chronic ineffectiveness – blame it on what you will. It’s been the same story his whole career. But I’ve got a good feeling about Oliver Perez in 2010.

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>Shocker: Mets, like every team, need more pitching.

>Saying that the Mets are going to improve their rotation before Opening Day (baseball!) is sort of like saying that the Mets aren’t going to botch a press conference – they should be able to easily do so, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

So the Mets’ puppet GM is giving the same “Oliver Perez and John Maine won 15 games in 2007″ speech that he was giving during the winter of 2007-08. Which was two years ago, when Maine and Perez combined to win 30 games the previous year, and not 10. You could have gone into a coma for all of 2008 and 2009, and there would be nothing in the Mets universe to convince you that it was now 2010 and not 2008. You know, other than the new stadium and maybe Johan Santana.

The Mets opening day rotation is possibly going to look like this, with slightly screwy CHONE innings pitched and ERA projections. I’m going to throw on my own “totally healthy” innings pitched projections, i.e. how many innings I’d guess the pitcher would throw if he was healthy for the entire season. Not that it will happen:

Johan Santana: 3.89, 183 IP, 220 healthy IP
Mike Pelfrey: 4.58, 175 IP, 210 healthy IP
Oliver Perez: 4.85, 128 IP, 180 healthy IP
John Maine: 4.46, 123 IP, 190 healthy IP

plus one of

Fernando Nieve: 4.05, 40 IP
Nelson Figueroa: 4.38, 156 IP
Jon Niese: 4.57, 132 IP
Pat Misch: 4.16, 67 IP

If you add up the CHONE innings pitched for all eight potential starters, it comes out to over 1000, about what you’d expect from a starting rotation . . .

But I wouldn’t put too much into these CHONE projections. Keep in mind that Misch and Nieve are both projected as relievers, and Nelson Figueroa is supposed to be the Mets #3 starter.

However, anyway you look at it, the Mets need more pitching. Of course, every team always needs more pitching, but the Mets especially need more pitching because they don’t even have five major league starters at the moment. The Mets need to get enough water into the pool to cover the bottom before they even start worrying about pitching depth. Now, if you want to talk about backup catchers, that’s another story, because that talent pool is Olympic sized.

Anyway, of the eight pitchers listed here, five are coming off injury plagued 2009 season. The front four each has big questions: Maine has shoulder issues, Johan Santana elbow is now either fully repaired or just temporarily patched together, Mike Pelfrey needs defensive help, and Oliver Perez is – well, Oliver Perez just is.

Plus, even if all four were fully healthy going into the year, at least one of the bunch is going to suffer an injury during 2010. The human body isn’t designed to throw a baseball at maximum effort thousands of times. Pitchers get hurt, and then they get hurt again, they have a Dr. Frankenstein surgery, and then they get hurt once more. Someone in the rotation is going to get hurt, as happens every year. The Mets don’t seem prepared for that reality again.

If you momentarily pretend Omar has just one enormous flaw as GM, it’s his inability to build a rotation with five starters on opening day and adequate depth. Year after year, the Mets go into the season with a maximum of four major league starters and then scrap heap or unknown youth in the fifth spot. So then Jorge Sosa gets to make 14 starts. Or Brian Lawrence pitches. Or Phillip Humber has to make an important September start. Four major league starters isn’t enough. Five really isn’t enough either, but it’s better than four.

But it looks like it’s going to happen again. I think the Mets know this is a bad plan this time around. But it might be too late to do much about it.

But spring training is right around the corner, and thinking like this is about as fun as listening to the audiobook novelization of “Avatar.” So here’s an optimistic projection to make you feel better about the 2010 Mets:

Johan Santana: 1200 IP, 0.00 ERA, 3600 K, 90 wins, saves three fans choking on hot dogs in the stands.

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>Davey Johnson: Retrojections

>Did Doc, did Darryl, so now you get new Mets HOF-er Davey Johnson. I’m probably not going to do Frank Cashen, so this is it for now.

“Being cocky is not a bad attitude”
- Davey Johnson, 1986

Evaluating a baseball manager is a difficult task, involving lots of voodoo and guess-timating, and I’m not going to even try it here. Instead, I went back and looked for every time Davey Johnson was ejected from a Mets game.

I found a total of twelve: three in 1984, five in 1985, two in 1987, and two in 1989. Retrosheet also lists Davey Johnson being ejected twelve times as Mets manager, but they have one more in 1984 than I do and one less in 1985. It’s possible we both missed one, or they mislisted theirs, or I made a mistake somewhere along the way. So while there may be 13 ejections, I’m only going to list the ones that I found.

Here are the twelve times Davey Johnson was ejected as manager of the New York Mets:

June 22, 1984: Expos @ Mets, Mets lose 2-1.
Ejector:
Dave Pallone (1)
Something random from that month: Bruce Springsteen releases his Born in the U.S.A. album on June 4th. No one ever bothers to read the lyrics to the title track.

The Mets scored their lone run on a Keith Hernandez RBI double. Doc Gooden went the distance in the loss, striking out 11 and making one lone mistake that Andre Dawson knocked out to right center for a two-run home run in the top of the fourth. Fans hung K signs for Doc at this game, maybe one of the first times. They also did the wave during the eighth, a move which the beat reporter for the New York Times, William C. Rhoden, had clearly never seen before because he felt the need to mention it: “The crowd swayed in a coordinated wave-like fashion, cheering itself as much as the Mets.”

Davey Johnson was ejected in the bottom of the eighth by home plate umpire Dave Pallone. With Wally Backman on first, Mookie Wilson squared around to bunt. The pitch, a slider, struck some part of Wilson – Johnson thought it struck Mookie’s leg, and Pallone thought it hit Wilson’s bat and ruled it a foul ball. Johnson insisted that Pallone ask for help from another umpire with a better angle on the play. Pallone then insisted that Johnson take the remainder of the night off.

Pete Rose, playing for Montreal, was also ejected in the game.

July 28, 1984: Cubs @ Mets, Cubs win 11-4
Ejector:
Bruce Froeming (1), I think. Maybe Terry Tata.
Something random from that month: the 1984 Summer Olympics began on this day.

Ron Darling goes 7, allowing three runs, before the bullpen let the door explode. Doug Sisk and Brent Gaff combined to allow 8 runs in the eighth.

Davey Johnson was ejected in the first inning this time. With two out, Keith Hernandez had walked, and advanced to second on a Rick Sutcliffe wild pitch to Darryl Strawberry. With two balls and two strikes on Strawberry, Sutcliffe threw another ball wildly that Strawberry check swung at. Third base umpire Froeming signaled a strike without an official appeal being asked for – home plate umpire Terry Tata was apparently so sure of his ruling he had already given the Cubs’ catcher a new baseball. Anyway, after the dropped third strike had been called, the Cubs tagged Strawberry out with the new ball, which wasn’t the same one he had swung at. Johnson was ejected after going understandably ballistic about the ruling. 

August 8, 1984: Mets @ Cubs, Cubs win 7-6
Ejector:
Charlie Williams (1)
Something random from that month: Ronald Reagan jokingly said this in a live mike prior to a radio broadcast: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

This game capped off the Cubs four-game, three-day sweep of the Mets, which included one all-out brawl, multiple ejections on both sides, and a beanball war that saw four players plunked over the course of the final three games along with countless high and tight pitches. The Mets came to Chicago a half game out of first and left four-and-a-half back.

Because of the tension from the previous day, the umpires twice issued blanket warnings during the game, threatening to eject both manager and pitcher if any more pitches came too far inside. Mets reliever Walt Terrell hit Bob Denier in the head with two on and none out in the seventh, thus earning an ejection for Terrell and Davey Johnson. Johnson and Terrell unsuccessfully argued that the pitch was unintentional – Denier, the plunkee, agreed after the game – but regardless, pitcher and manager were tossed. As Johnson and Terrell left the field, fans began tossing beer at the Mets players, some of whom actually had to be restrained from entering the stands, ala Ron Artest, by Wrigley Field security guards. That pretty much sums up the late 80’s Mets.

Cubs pitcher Lee Smith and manager Jim Frey were ejected in the ninth when a fastball came a little too close to George Foster’s head.

May 30th, 1985: Mets @ Giants, Mets win 2 -1
Ejector:
Bob Engel (1)
Something random from that month: New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul is born.

Doc goes the distance, strikes out 14.

Johnson was ejected in the 8th this time, after Mookie Wilson was tagged out on a leadoff bunt attempt. Davey sort of wanted to argue that the ball was foul, but he much more wanted to accuse the umpiring crew of going after Keith Hernandez, who had been tossed the game before. Johnson felt they were still hungry for blood, so he got himself tossed instead.

July 4, 1985: Mets @ Braves, Mets win 16-13 in 19 innings.
Ejector:
Terry Tata (1)
Something random from that month: George H. W. Bush gets to practice being president for a couple of hours as Ronald Reagan undergoes colon cancer surgery.

Yup – this game. Ending at 3:55 in the morning with the post-game fireworks kicking off at 4:01, the game didn’t begin until 9:04 because of rain and was delayed by the weather another 41 minutes in the third inning. Davey Johnson and Darryl Strawberry had enough of this epic by the 17th, both being ejected after arguing a called strike 3 on Straw. At the time, Howard Johnson had called it the greatest game he had ever played in . . .

This game deserves it’s own post, or entire book even, so I won’t write any more about it here. Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez inevitably end up reminiscing about it on air around Independence Day each year anyhow.

July 13, 1985: Mets @ Astros, Mets win 10-1.
Ejector:
Bob Engel (2)
Something random from that month: The Live Aid concerts took place this day. Bono was still cool.

The Mets had 14 hits, scored 10 runs, and Ed Lynch went the distance, allowing a lone run on six hits. George Foster went 0-1, but his “Shaft” sideburns went 4-4, for a combined total of 4-5 with 4 RBI.

Davey Johnson got himself tossed in the fifth inning when Darryl Strawberry took issue with a 2-0 strike call. Johnson, probably protecting Straw, came out to argue, and home plate ump Bob Engel ejected Johnson for the second time that year. It was a standard arguing balls and strike ejection, the “Bobby Cox special.”

August 24, 1985: Padres @ Mets, Game 1, Mets lose 6-1.
Ejector:
Bruce Froemming (2)
Something random from that month: Robert Ballard and friends find the Titanic, leading to the most successful chick flick ever.

Mets were swept in a double header, falling out of first place, with Davey Johnson missing most of the first game. Rick Aguilera, who walked Tony Gywnn and Greg Nettles in the top of the first inning on some close pitches, took lo
ng looks in at home plate umpire Bruce Froemming, who would shout back at Aguilera. Davey Johnson came out of the dugout and told Froemming to not yell at his pitcher. Johnson then received special permission from Froemming to watch the rest of his game on TV from his cozy Shea Stadium office.

The Mets were held to six hits in the first game, and lost the second game 6-1, with seven hits, for a total of thirteen hits in eighteen innings.

September 28, 1985: Mets @ Pirates, Mets win 3-1
Ejector:
Joe West (1)
Something random from that month: Michael Jackson outbids Paul McCartney for publishing rights to the Beatles catalog.

Augilera, Roger McDowell, and Jesse Orosco combined on a six hitter, and the Mets kept hope alive in the pennant race, at least for a while longer.

Johnson was run by second base umpire Joe West in the fourth, after Pirates catcher Tony Pena grounded into what appeared to be a 5-4-3 double play. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I think West must have ruled that Larry Bowa, playing second base for the Mets, failed to step on the bag when turning the double play and declared the runner at second safe. Johnson thought otherwise and expressed his opinion as such. After Johnson was ejected, the Mets escaped the inning with no damage – Aguilera got Pirates third baseman and lizard king, Jim Morrison, to ground out to short for the third out.

April 27, 1987: Astros @ Mets, Mets lose 11-1
Ejector:
Joe West (2)
Something random from that month: The yellow Simpsons family shows up on the Tracy Ullman show for the first time.

The first, disastrous major league start for a 23-year-old David Cone. He lasted five innings, surrendering 10 runs, 7 earned, walked 6, allowed 2 HR, threw 2 wild pitches, and balked twice.

Johnson was thrown out for arguing a balk during the particularly miserable third inning, which featured three hits, one walk, one error, one wild pitch, and both balks. With Brian Doran at the plate and runners at the corners, Cone balked, driving in a run. Johnson came out to defend his young pitcher, arguing that Cone had been making the same motion to the plate all night and that West was going after Cone when he was already on the ropes. He was run for that. With Johnson gone and Doran still up, Cone was immediately called for another balk by West, moving the baserunner to third – perhaps just to make a point.

September 20, 1987: Mets @ Pirates, Mets lose 9-8 in 14 innings.
Ejector:
Charlie Williams (1) or Bruce Froemming (3), not sure. 
Something random from that month: Pat Robertson announces that he is running for President.

Sid Fernandez went six innings, allowing 3 home runs and 6 total runs. Howard Johnson hit a line drive that skipped past a left fielder Barry Bonds, allowing Johnson to score an inside-the-park home run in the the fifth. The Mets out-hit the Pirates 15-9, but left 12 men on base.

Davey Johnson was run arguing a bunt in the bottom of the seventh. The newspaper account is not detailed on the ejection – the Pirates U L* Washington was tagged out by Gary Carter on a sac bunt in the seventh, but I guess there was something to argue about anyway. I think there was a throw to second and a questionable call at the base, but that’s just an educated guess. I don’t know who actually tossed him, though my money’s on Froemming, who was the second base umpire during the game and frequent ejector of Davey Johnson.

*That is his legal first name – U L, no periods. It apparently doesn’t stand for anything.

The Giants won when then-lead off hitter and speedster Barry Bonds tripled to right in the bottom of the 14th and scored on a walk-off sac fly by Andy Van Slyke.

May 4, 1989: Reds @ Mets. Mets win 3-2.
Ejector:
Bruce Froemming (3 or 4)
Something random from that month: The Tianamen Square protests are going on. The Chinese Army ends the protest during the beginning of June.

Ron Darling pitched 8 and 1/3 innings of 2 run ball, bringing his early season ERA down to 5.03. The Mets didn’t break the ice against Red pitcher Danny Jackson until the sixth, when three hits and walk netted them two runs. Howard Johnson hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the tenth, trade rumors and all. He shouldn’t have worried – he didn’t end up going anywhere.

Davey got an early night off after shortstop Kevin Elster, who struck out in the bottom of the fifth, shared some choice words with home plate umpire Froemming running back out to his position in the sixth. Froemming told Elster to hit the showers, then threw Johnson out as well when he came out to defend his player.

August 25, 1989: Mets @ Padres, Mets lose 5-3 in 10 innings.
Ejector:
Bill Hohn (1)
Something random from that month: Pete Rose is banned from baseball for life.

This game happened twenty years too early.

The Mets scored their runs on a Howard Johnson two-run home run and a Kevin Elster sac fly, but the Padres scored all of their five runs on four home runs, including a two-run Chris James walk-off in the bottom of the tenth.

That’s not why this game has backwards echoes of 2009, though. This is: with the Mets leading 1-0 going into the bottom of the sixth, Padres pitcher Ed Whitson led off with a double against Sid Fernandez. The Mets thought Whitson had missed first base in his excitement and decided to appeal – but Fernandez managed to balk on the appeal throw, sending Whitson to third instead of back to the dugout. I don’t know if this is the only appeal-throw balk in history, but I can’t imagine there are many and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all committed by Mets pitchers.

Davey Johnson heatedly argued the balk, went back to dugout, and watched an now-imploding Fernandez give up back-to-back home runs, and the lead, to Bip Roberts and Roberto Alomar. Howard Johnson tried to approach the mound before Alomar’s at-bat in an attempt to calm down Sid, but was halted and sent back to his position by third base umpire Bill Hohn. That, combined with the home runs, was all Davey wanted to see; he got himself tossed by Hohn and then declared that the Mets were playing the rest of the game under protest.

***

So those are the twelve ejections of Davey Johnson. There may be another one in there somewhere, but I’m 95% certain that’s all of them. Johnson got along with Bruce Froemming the worst, being ejected by him either 3 or 4 separate times. Joe West was also a multiple ejector of Johnson.

I know that I promised no manager evaluations, but here’s this quickly: Met teams Davey Johnson managed for a full season outperformed their Pythagorean win-loss record by a total of 14 games – they overachieved by 19 games in his first three seasons, but then underachieved by five games over the next three years. The 1984 club, outscored by a margin of 24 runs, was still able to win 90 games, good for 12 wins above their expected win-loss record. Johnson got as much as he could out of his early Met teams, but didn’t do the same with the later ones. Of course, I don’t know of any evidence that managers actually affect how much a team over or underachieves it’s pythag win-loss, so take from this what you will.

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>The 2010 Mets Projected Lineup.

>Short little exercise on a rainy day while I’m working on some other, longer things. Briefly, the 2010 Mets opening day lineup as it now stands with CHONE projected wOBA. This isn’t the way I think it should look, but rather the way I suspect Jerry Manuel will organize the lineup. An average wOBA is somewhere in the range between .330-.340, For more on wOBA click here:

SS Jose Reyes .366
2B Luis Castillo .329
3B David Wright .393
LF Jason Bay .388
RF Jeff Francoeur .327
1B Daniel Murphy .330
CF Angel Pagan .334 or Gary Matthews Jr. .309
C Omir Santos .289
P Johan Santana .infinity

Don’t worry, it looks worse than it actually is. It’s an average lineup, and a slightly below average group defensively, though that changes based on how the left side of the infield performs. Beltran makes the offensive better, though I’m not sure if post-op Beltran is a defensive upgrade over Pagan. The 2010 Mets appear to be a middle of the pack team as currently constructed.

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>Sunday Stuff You Should Read

>Some reading on Conference Championship Sunday. I’m not a Jets fan, but I’ll proudly root for the New York team today, unlike when the Yankees play. For whatever reason, the animosity I feel towards the team in the Bronx is non-existent towards the Jets.

Peyton Manning occasionally cusses on live TV.

Fantastic picture gallery of Rex Ryan.

Some Manning Faces.

Now baseball stuff . . . 

Joe Posnanski’s piece on the six stages of Royals grief could effortlessly be rewritten about the Mets. Effortlessly. Replace “Rick Ankiel” with “Gary Matthews Jr.” and so on.

Goodbye Amazin Avenue’s version of Paul Bunyan, Brian Stokes.

The Angels almost were able to dump GMJ on the Red Sox for Mike Lowell. The Mets somehow failed to get rid of Luis Castillo.

Doc and Darryl.

***
 Mick. Keith. 1971. Go.

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>Retaking the GMAT Jr.

>So the Mets traded for Gary Matthews Jr., who is 35-years-old and no longer particularly talented at doing anything on the baseball field. Meanwhile, Brian Stokes got to join the illustrious likes of Ramon Castro and Ryan Church as a one of Jerry Manuel’s “lost boys” that has been shipped off in exchange for a slightly worse player.

This hopefully won’t turn into anything more than a meaningless deal. Gary Matthews Jr. is 35-years-old and will likely only continue to decline. Brian Stokes throws 97 MPH, which is flashy, but he didn’t really do anything else well, such as “getting hitters out” or “not walking everyone”. As many others have already noted, it’s a nothing for nothing deal, only the Mets end up paying 2.5 million over two years for their nothing. The trade itself isn’t troubling – the methodology behind it is. The Mets apparently think Matthews is a buy-low candidate, and while he was cheap, something becoming cheap is not necessarily a good reason to aquire that thing. If someone you know bought a Ferrari for $50,000 dollars* and it turned out to be a unfixable lemon that doesn’t start, would you buy it off them for $2,500? I hope not. Gary Matthews Jr. at $2.5 million/2 years is just as useless as Gary Matthews Jr. at $50 million/5 years. It’s just a reduced cost for uselessness.

*Is this even close to how much a Ferrari costs? I have no idea.

Supposedly, Matthews is just Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan insurance anyway, which is almost fine. Almost. If the Met wanted to buy low on a third string CF, that was good idea. But it’s like they acquired Gary Matthews Jr. just because he was once an All-Star and another time he made a fancy catch. It’s the exact kind of poorly thought out move an ESPN-obsessed twelve-year-old makes for his fantasy baseball team. It almost makes me wonder if Gary Matthews Jr. is now a Met solely because someone in the organization recognized the name. I going to presume there actually was some more logic behind the move, so let’s take a look.

Here are some Omar Minaya quotes from the conference call, which I think reflect some of the Mets stated logic behind the deal:

“It an opportunity to get a guy that’s versatile, that in our ballpark can play all outfield positions.”

“He’s had some very good years, and some other years there’s been some drop off.”

“Change of scenery guy”

“Close to fifty RBI’s last year”

Fair enough. Here are some responses:

1. Gary Matthews Jr. can play all the outfield positions in Citi Field.

Gary Matthews Jr.’s outfield defense the past three years by plus/minus and UZR:

According to these metrics, Gary Matthews is not a good defensive outfielder. He has consistently costs his team about 10 runs a year as outfielder for the past three seasons, even though his playing time has diminished each season.

Breaking it down further, plus/minus says that almost all of Matthews’ diminishing range comes from his inability to go get balls hit over his head. His cumulative plus/minus for balls hit in front of him, at him, and over his head from 2007-2009 are as follows:

You can see that Matthews is just below average for balls in front of him and those hit at him, and then is tremendously awful at going back. He just doesn’t cover ground behind him anymore. 2009 Fan Scouting Reports agree that Matthews is a poor defender, specifically that he has a poor reaction time, which may be reflected in his struggles to go back on balls. Another outfielder who struggles getting to balls hit over his head and has a poor reaction time? Mets LF Jason Bay. They’ll make a fun defensive pair.

So the Mets plan as stated is to take someone who can’t get to balls hit over his head and let him play centerfield in the great plains of Citi Field, where there will be a multitude of catchable balls hit over his head. GMJ will not catch most of those balls. Hopefully the Mets’ scouts see something the numbers don’t show, or there’s going to be a lot of doubles hit into the left-center gap.

2. “He’s had some good years, and some bad years.”

Yeah. This claim is technically true in a vague way, but misleading. If you go by WAR since 2002, GMJ has had four above-average years and four-below average years. But three of those four below-average years were 2007, 2008, and 2009, when he was worth a cumulative -1.1 WAR. He’s been declining with his age and wasn’t very good to begin with. So while he has had good years and bad years, he has had only bad years for the past three years. My guess is that the decline is probably a sign that he will continue to not be productive, and not that he will suddenly again become productive at 35.

3. “Change of scenery”

That’s vaguely, sort-of, not really possible. It’s probably even less possible because he’s 35, but that’s almost a passable-ish claim.

4. “Close to 50 RBI last year.”

Gary Matthews Jr. had exactly 50 RBI last year in just 360 plate appearances. To be fair, GMJ excelled at driving in runs, hitting for an OPS of 1.031 with runners in scoring position and an OPS of 1.137 in high leverage situations. Despite being worth negative WAR in 2009, he was actually worth +1.75 WPA because he was ridiculously clutch. So there you go: Gary Matthews Jr. was a fantastic clutch hitter in 2009, the fourth best clutch hitter in the majors. That’s how he was able to drive in 50 runs.

Unfortunately, all that doesn’t indicate much about Gary Matthews Jr.’s offensive capabilities in the future. The problem with clutch hitting is that it’s much more a reflection of luck than anything else. A player being clutch one year doesn’t tell you much about how he’ll perform the next season in similar situations because it wildly fluctuates from year to year. Mr. Clutch himself, Big Papi, has WPA clutch scores* from 2004 through 2009 of -0.15, 3.31, 1.50, -1.71, -0.73, 0.26 – I certainly don’t see a pattern there, if one exists. Some years Ortiz appears clutch, some years he looks useless in big spots. We should expect the same random clutch up and down from G-Mat Jr.

*A score of 0 means a player did the same in clutch situation as he did in other situations, a negative number means he did worse, and a positive number means he did better.

Gary Matthews Jr. has a career OPS with runners in scoring position of .764, and a career OPS of .786 in high leverage situations, well below what he did in 2009. So while overall he does hit slightly better in important spots, he’s not a good hitter to begin with. A poor hitter who hits better in clutch situations becomes, at best, a slightly-less poor hitter in those clutch situations. A better hitter would still be better hitting in those spots, despite Matthews clutchness.

Gary Matthews Jr. drove 50 runs in because he had men getting on base in front of him and a lot of his balls fell in for hits in those situations. That doesn’t mean the same thing will happen again in 2010. It could, but no one should be counting on it.

***

The only vaguely valid reason for acquiring G-Mat Jr. I heard in Omar’s conference call is the change of scenery idea, and only if
you buy into cliches. Someone could claim that it worked for Jeff Francoeur for a half-season in 2009, so maybe a move to the East Coast will help Matthews out. But it’s a weak reason for a 35-year-old.

I don’t like that GMJ came at the cost of a bullpen arm and a roster spot for two years, and I don’t think the Mets reasoning behind the move makes any sense. The Mets bought an old lemon, and just by paying anything, they paid too much.

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>Nuthin’ but a “K” Thang: Doc Gooden’s 1985

>Since I refuse to be bothered by thinking about the present-day Mets, instead a look at Mets’ HOF-er Doc Gooden’s 1985.

With the Mets starting pitching options dwindling, especially with my favorite, Joel Pineiro, signing with the L.A. Angels*, I think it’s more calming to look back at the past, to simpler times, back when men were men, the Great Plains were just being settled, when moose and squirrel united to fight communism, when George Washington was in his first term, and when it would have been laughable to suggest the George Lucas would slowly destroy his movie legacy one sequel at a time. Way back in 1985, when the Mets saw Doc Gooden pitch the single greatest season ever thrown by a Met pitcher. 

*The Angels are like that kid you knew in school who always pulled straight A’s, but you could never decide if they were actually smart or just sort-of lucky. The Angels win division title after division title, but then you look at some of the decisions that they make – 5 years/$50mil for Gary Matthews Jr. EDIT: speak of the devil and Omar Minaya will trade for him . . .  – and the number of outs Mike Scioscia runs them into on the bases, and it makes you wonder how they’re pulling all that off. Well, I mean, I do know how – good pitching and they only have to beat out three other teams in their division. But when they had five outfielders signed to multi-year deals in 2008, it made you wonder how they’re pulling it off.
 

Mets-Angels-Yankees comparison fact for no reason at all: According to Cots Baseball Contracts, the Mets have $44 million dollars committed to their 2013 payroll. The Angels have just $1 million dollars committed to 2013. The Yankees lead with $94.5 million already committed for a season four years in the future.

Today’s blast from the past honors another new Met HOF-er, Dwight Gooden, MD, for his brilliant surgical removal of hitters during the 1985 season. Baseball-projection.com lists Gooden as a 11.7 WAR pitcher that year, ranking his work among the greatest single season performances by a pitcher of all time – of the top 20 pitchers by career WAR, 14 of them never had a season as good as Doc’s ’85, and 2 that did pitched in the 1880’s. The great Tom Seaver never broke 10 WAR in a season.

Gooden went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, and an ERA+ of 228. He led the league in wins, ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts, FIP, WPA, “clutch” WPA, and complete games. He was second in win-loss percentage, WHIP, H/9, K/9, and shutouts. He made the top eight in BB/9, K/BB, and HR/9. The league OPS+ against Gooden was 48. His ERA in 6 September/October starts was 0.34, giving up 2 earned runs over his final 53 innings. He had an ERA of 2.89 in his four losses. He even got the running game under control. Sort of. Base-stealers stole 47 bases off Gooden in ’84, being caught just 5 times. They were 22 for 32 in 1985 – you can’t do everything well I guess.

I ranked Gooden’s five best games from ’85 by something I’m going to call “leveraged game score”, which is exactly what it sounds like – technical notes follow. Skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t care. You don’t miss much – I took the Bill James “Game Score”* and multiplied it by the average leverage index next to it on the BR page. In less geek terms for those readers that like to “spend time outside” or “interact with other members of the human race”, I’m taking a rating of Gooden’s performance in each game and raising or lowering it based on how close the game was. For example, a 2-0, complete game shutout will be rated higher than a 10-0 complete game shutout. Gooden gets a higher score for pitching well in tighter games – it sort of gives credit to the pitcher for “keeping the game close.” In addition, I figure that someone pitching with a 10-run lead has an easier job to do because they can attack the zone with fastballs more and they’re less inclined to pitch around anyone, among other things. Blowouts can sort of artifically raise one’s game scores, so I’m trying to account for that. I haven’t played around with this enough to decide if it’s a more or less valid way to look at a pitcher’s performance, but at least it’s another way.

*To calculate a starter’s game score, start with 50 points, add 1 point for each out, 2 points for each inning completed after the fourth, 1 point for each strikeout, then subtract 2 points for each hit, 4 points for each earned run, 2 points for each unearned run, and 1 point for each walk. 

I think it’s useful for evaluating well-pitched, tight games – for example, Johan Santana’s performance in the second-to-last game of 2008 has a game score of 87, which is good-but-not-great. If you watched that game, you know that Johan pitched an absolute gem in a nail-biter – Cody Ross still wakes up at night in a cold sweat thinking about those changeups. If Santana gets credit for the closeness of the score, his “leveraged game score” jumps up to 102. 102 is a great leveraged game score – but Doc Gooden broke 100 ten times in 1985. He was ridiculous. Here are his five best:

5. September 6, Mets @ Dodgers. Mets win 2-0 in 13 innings.

Gooden – 9 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 10 K, 0 BB, Leveraged Game Score (LGS) 124

Something unrelated about 1985: Tetris is released. No one ever does work again.

No decision for Gooden here because he matched up against Fernando Valenzuela, who pitched 11 shutout innings himself. Gooden retired the first four batters he faced, allowed a single, and then retired the next eight batters, striking out the side in the fourth. He allowed a single to start the fifth and then immediately eliminated the runner with a double play on his way to retiring another seven consecutive batters. The game was sent into extra innings on a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play to end the Dodgers ninth inning, and Gooden was removed for a pinch hitter in the top of the next inning. The Mets would take the lead on a 2 out, 2-RBI double by Darryl Strawberry in the top of the 13th and Jesse Orosco stayed in to lock it down in the bottom of the inning. Keith Hernandez, who scored the go-ahead run in the 13th, didn’t arrive at Dodger Stadium until the fifth inning. He had testified in the cocaine trials in Pittsburgh earlier in the day. Thankfully, that was the last time baseball would ever have a controversy about drugs . . .

4. September 11, Cardinals @ Mets. Cardinals win 1-0 in 10 innings.

Gooden – 9 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 9 K, 3 BB, LGS 130

Something unrelated about 1985: The world’s most philosophical cartoon six-year-old, Calvin of the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes”, makes his first appearance when the strip debuts in 35 newspapers.

Another brilliantly pitched no decision for Gooden in another duel that went into extra innings. It’s stunning that Doc won 24 games and still had two consecutive games where nine shutout innings netted him a no decision in each. He was better than his 24-4 record indicated, if that’s even possible. Gooden would throw a shutout victory in his next start, part of a 31 inning scoreless streak during which he went 1-1 with two no-decisions. 

Gooden retired the first ten batters to face him and fought his way into and out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth. Jesse Orosco allowed the games only run on a lead-off home run in the tenth to Cesar Cedeno. John Tudor pitched all 10 innings for the Cardinals and got the win. I believe there is now a Showtime series based on the pitching Tudor and his family, though I’ve never seen it.

3. May 30, Mets @ Giants, Mets win 2-1

Gooden – 9 IP, 1 ER, 6 H, 14 K, 1 BB, LGS 130

Something unrelated about 1985: The “Unabomber” was keeping busy in 1985, sending out multiple explosive packages.

Doc finally gets a win. His one walk was surrendered to the game’s leadoff hitter, but he finished in style, striking out the side in order in the
ninth, and in between surrender a lone solo shot. The Mets scored their runs on a George Foster home run and a Gary Carter RBI single.

Davey Johnson missed the end of the game – he was ejected in the eighth after accusing the umpires of trying to bait Keith Hernandez, who had himself been ejected the game prior.

2. July 14, Mets @ Astros, Mets win 1-0

Gooden – 9 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 11 K, 2 BB, LGS 138

Something unrelated about 1985: The Discovery Channel launches on July 17th. Sadly, Shark Week doesn’t debut until two years later. David Wright Week doesn’t debut for another 25 years.

This was the final game of an eleven game road trip during which the Mets went 10-1. The Mets scored their one run in the eighth, when Astros second baseman Bill Doran threw the ball away on what should have been an inning-ending double play – a hard Lenny Dykstra slide ruined Doran’s throw. The ball rolled into right field, allowing Ronn Reynolds to score from third. Kelvin Chapman, the batter who grounded into the potential double play, tried for a little league home run but was thrown out at the plate by Astros’ RF Jerry Mumphrey.

No RBI or earned runs for either team in this game.

1. June 19, Cubs @ Mets, Mets win 1-0

Gooden – 9 IP, 0 ER, 6 H, 9 K, 2 BB, 154 LGS

Something unrelated about 1985: The first “Back to the Future” movie is released. Audiences wonder why that one kid in Biff’s crew is always wearing 3-D glasses.

Mets scored the game’s lone run on a fourth inning Howard Johnson groundout. 51,778 people poured into Shea to watch Gooden pitch that night, the largest crowd the Mets had in eight years. It had become clear by June that the 20-year-old Gooden was doing something special in 1985, and Gooden pleased the packed audience by going the distance and shutting down the Cubs. Gooden did cause a little drama in the ninth when he allowed back-to-back pinch hit singles to start the ninth, but induced two popups and struck out Thad Bosley to end the game.

***

Every game reaction quote of Gooden’s I could dig up from 1985 is some dull variation of “I felt great out there”, “I felt I pitched great”, “my fastball felt good” – not particularly interesting or informative stuff. All of the useful insight into Gooden’s performances came from Davey Johnson or Gary Carter. A September NY Times article written about Gooden’s phenomenal season contains only quotes from Carter and not a single word from the Doctor himself. I don’t know if it’s that because Gooden didn’t have anything interesting to say about himself, or rather because he may have been uncomfortable saying anything at all. Things like his “oversleeping” for the parade in 1986 and not showing up to pick up his Cy Young Award are often attributed to his drug troubles, though I wonder if maybe both his flakiness, the drugs, and the dull quotes could all be related to the shyness and not just the drugs alone.

Of course, now he just signs his name wherever he pleases, so maybe he’s over the shyness.

Whatever you want to think about Doc Gooden, these two things are true:

A. His story is a sad one thus far.

B. Doc’s 1985 was the greatest single season performance by a Mets player.
  
Hopefully his induction into the Mets HOF is a signal that he finally has everything turned around.

***

Two final things:

According to Gooden’s father, “Doc D” was Gooden’s nickname since childhood, and it was changed to “Doctor K” when he joined the Mets. I have no idea if that’s true.

Finally, real quickly, and for no reason at all, five random pitching “Docs” who do not hold medical degrees, at least when they were playing. Actually, it’s entirely possible the last two were actually turn-of-the-last-century doctors and got their nickname from that:

1. Dwight “Doc” Gooden
2. Roy “Doc” Halladay – he’s going to pass Gooden this season to become the all-time leader in doc WAR    
3. Dock “I threw a no-hitter on” Ellis “D”
4. Doc Ayers
5. Doc Newton

EDIT: Commentor below let me know about Doc Medich, who was an actual doctor. According to his BR Bullpen page, he once went into the stands to perform CPR on a fan. Wikipedia says he actually performed CPR on fans twice.

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>Dar-ryl. Dar-ryl. Dar-ryl.

>I asked for, and received much Mets news yesterday, and no Bengie Molina to boot. Thanks to the powers that be.

The New York Mets elected (selected?) four to their Hall of Fame: Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, Frank Cashen, and Davey Johnson. I’m hoping they’ll also get around to retiring Mike Piazza’s number sometime soon – the franchise is coming up on it’s 50th anniversary in two years, and they’ve only retired the number of really one player, Tom Seaver.* That might reflect the overall quality of the players on Mets teams over those 50 years more than anything else, but if there is another one worthy, it’s Piazza. However, this Hall of Fame induction is a great, non-bumbling start by the Mets.

*I’m sure someone else has noticed this: Tom Seaver has aged in an eerily similar fashion to William Shatner. They’ve both become bloated, red, suit-with-no-tie, still-awesome versions of their younger selves. Maybe that’s what happens when you retire to California.

I thought I’d take this space here to honor one new inductee, one Mr. Darryl Strawberry, by asking and answering an question: What was Darryl Strawberry’s most valuable season as a batter for the Mets?

Straw played 8 seasons for the Mets, and it’s easy to narrow the field down to three candidates:

A. 1987 – 640 PA, .284/.398/.583, 39 HR, 32 2B, 104 RBI, 108 R, 36 SB

B. 1988 – 640 PA, .269/.366/.545, 39 HR, 27 2B, 101 RBI, 101 R, 29 SB

C. 1990 – 621 PA, .277/.361/.518, 37 HR, 18 2B, 108 RBI, 92 R, 15 SB

It seems simple enough right away, and it doesn’t even look that close – in 1987, Strawberry hit for the best average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage of career, tied for the most home runs of his career, hit the most doubles, most runs scored, second-most RBI, most steals, most walks, most hit by pitch. That’s clearly his best offensive season, at least in a vacuum.

But baseball seasons aren’t played in vacuums – context is necessary. 1987 and 1990 were significantly more favorable offensive environment than 1988 was for Darryl. That changes the context of all these numbers – and Nic Cage taught us that “numbers are the secret to everything.”*

*I didn’t even see “KNOW1NG”, but I found that one line in the previews hilarious  – “numbers are the secret to everything”, said in the Nicholas Cage side-of-the-mouth fashion. At this point, I find every Nicholas Cage preview amusing. No idea why. I enjoy his previews so much that I’ll go so far as to propose that Nic Cage should stop making entire movies and instead just focus on making 2-3 minute previews, because the previews are always more entertaining. Then, if a particular preview tests well with audiences, he can go ahead and make an entire movie out of it. In fact, I would probably pay to see just 90 minutes of Nicholas Cage previews instead of an actual movie.

Throughout the 1980’s, home runs per game slowly climbed up to 1.81 in 1986, and then jumped up to a then-all-time-high of 2.12 per game in 1987 – I don’t know why that big jump happened, but it did. The entire National League slugged .410 in 1987. The league OBP remained around the all time average of .330, but home runs had gotten out of control. You know, relatively speaking that is – things would get much crazier in the mid-1990’s if you so recall. Supposedly the strike zone was slowly shrank during much of the 1980’s, until it finally got so small in ’87 that essentially every pitch became crankable – Andre Dawson unexpectedly and famously hit 49 home runs in 1987. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the power went out in 1988 and 1989. The end of the 80’s was a strange time. Context is needed, and Baseball Reference comes to the rescue as always.

Baseball Reference has a number, called “AIR”, that measures how favorable conditions were to hitters or pitchers for a particular year. It works similar to park factors, with 100 representing an average run scoring environment, below 100 favoring pitchers, and above 100 favoring batters. For example, the “AIR” of 1968 Dodger’s Stadium was 75, heavily favoring pitchers, while the “AIR” of 1999 Coors Field was 138, indicating that it was a hitter-happy theme park. BR lists an AIR number for each year of a player’s career based on the league and park played in. Strawberry’s AIR fluctuated between 90 and 96 for most of the 1980’s, until 1987 when it finally jumped to 102, favoring Straw over the pitcher for the first time in his career. The baseball powers that be changed something in between the 1987 and 1988 seasons – I’m guessing that they opened up the strike zone again. Whatever they did, Strawberry played in overwhelmingly pitcher friendly environments for 1988 and 1989, with an AIR of 85 in 1988 and 86 in 1989 – which was about as lopsided as things were for hitters in the 1960’s – before everything bounced back to normal levels for 1990, with an AIR of 98.

Now you can see that comparing 1987 to 1988 directly is problematic, and also that Strawberry’s 1990 season is no longer a real candidate for his best offensive year. The 1990 version of the NL is similar to the 1987 one, and Strawberry’s 1987 was stronger in all areas than 1990. We can throw 1990 away, leaving the candidates as ’87 and ’88. But now knowing about the change between ’87 and ’88, we still need a better way to compare those two seasons.

We can first simplify things by just looking at Starwberry’s “runs created” for the two years, using runs created because runs are the primary currency of baseball. Straw created 132 runs in 1987, compared to 111 in 1988. But, again, that’s in two different environments. It’s like comparing apples and oranges, or Bengies and Yadiers. The problem remains that we are trying to compare performances from two drastically different seasons, even though they happen to be consecutive ones.

Baseball Reference has another useful tool that you can use to “neutralize” a player’s statistics. It adjusts for things like the home park of the player, the offensive levels of the time and the league, things like that. If we take Darryl Strawberry’s 1987 and 1988 seasons and neutralize them to average environments, i.e. change everything to average run levels, and take him out of Shea and stick him in an average park, we get something that looks like this:

1987 – 656 PA, .297/.413/.611, 42 HR, 34 2B, 107 RBI, 111 R, 38 SB, 136 runs created

1988 – 672 PA, .295/.396/.595, 44 HR, 31 2B, 121 RBI, 121 R, 33 SB, 134 runs created

The twenty run gap tightens up to a two run gap, but the nod still goes to 1987, even with these adjustments. It’s close, but 1987, even with all kinds of adjustments, is still Darryl’s best season in terms of runs created.   

However, I said we’re looking for Strawberry’s most valuable Mets season, not the one in which he created the most runs. There is a difference. Though runs are the currency of baseball, they are only good for buying wins, and the price of a win – like milk and gasoline – changes from year to year. If every team is playing 4-3 games, runs become more valuable than if everyone is playing 7-5 games. So, 100 runs created in homer-happy 1987 buys fewer wins than 100 runs created in 1988, because the runs created in 1988 had more value in the low scoring environment. Baseball Reference has one final stat to help us out: batting wins, which converts Strawberry’s adjusted batting runs into wins.

1987: 4.8 batting wins
1988: 4.9 batting wins

So, even though Darryl Strawberry created less runs in 1988 than he did in 1987, the runs he created were of greater value. 1988 was Strawberry’s most valuable season with the bat, although it’s so close that one probably wouldn’t be wrong either way.

You probably noticed that all was much more an exercise in, “things in baseball can sometimes change dramatically” than about Darryl Strawberry, so here’s a few more things about Darryl:

If yo
u want to know Strawberry’s most valuable seasons overall, now including defense, baserunning, ect. the historical WAR list looks like this:

1987 – 6.7 WAR
1990 – 6.5 WAR (most of this comes from defense. Historical WAR has Straw as a poor fielder for every year in his career except for 89 and 90, where he is rated as a spectacular defender. That seems a little odd to me. I think ’88 was probably a better year than this, but I’ll keep the list in WAR order.)
1988 – 5.9 WAR

MVP voters disagreed, saying that 1988 was Straws most valuable season, the year he finished highest in MVP voting. Strawberry finished second behind Kirk Gibson in ’88, while teammate Kevin McReynolds finished third. Andrew Galaraga, who that year quietly finished first in hits, total bases, doubles, wOBA, second in slugging and VORP, and third in batting wins, came in seventh because he played for a .500 team in Canada.

A couple of newspaper articles from 1988 mention how there was no run away candidate for the MVP, like there was the year before when Andre Dawson hit 49 home runs. Looking back now, I’d guess that there was no such obvious candidate because offensive levels had dropped off so much between 1987 and 1988 that a great year in ’88 looked nothing like a great year the season prior. Actually, the 1-2 finishers in the 1987 voting, Dawson and Ozzie Smith, finished with 2.4 and 7.1 WAR respectively – Smith got absolutely robbed, but plenty of other people can and have told you that already. Dawson got the majority of votes for the home runs, which are shiny and impressive.

If you go back and use historical WAR for 1988, Gibson and Will Clark tie for first with 7.1 WAR in ’88, the same as Ozzie Smith’s WAR in ’87 – Clark also finished first in VORP. Of course, the Gibson choice wasn’t made based on yet-to-be-invented WAR or VORP or even a statistic at all, but for things like perceived gut, hustle, being a good cheerleader and so forth. Strawberry was hurt by not exactly being a model citizen, first getting fined by Davey Johnson in spring training and later being investigated for collusion in the fall because he reportedly told a friend he would sign with the Dodgers when his contract ran out, among other things. And then he did sign with the Dodgers when his Mets contract ran out in 1990. So there’s that. WAR says Gibson had a better year than Strawberry, and they both played on good teams that year – it’s hard to argue against him. The Gibson choice was probably correct, even if it was made for the wrong reasons.

Now that I’m thinking about things, Strawberry was treated a lot like Jose Reyes is now, wasn’t he – a great young player that fans always wanted more from. Reyes “never does enough, never gets on base enough, never hits in the clutch, is injury prone, never steals a base in an important spot, he has terrible baseball instincts” – you’ve heard it all before. Reyes has ridiculously been booed, and Straw was booed for most of August during his fantastic ’88, though Strawberry got it much worse than Reyes did because he didn’t have the infectious smile and was — surly, is maybe the way to put it? A lot of Reyes’ and Strawberry’s value come from quieter things – Strawberry got on-base plenty despite his low batting average, Reyes is a good defensive shortstop on top of “being the igniter.” Fernando Martinez is my pick for the next “never-good-enough” player to be under-appreciated by fans.

Now though, all is forgiven on both sides. Strawberry shows up on SNY on occasion and is a member of the Mets Hall of Fame. Sometimes you do find your way back home.

Oh yeah. He was on the Simpsons, too.

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