Category Archives: Columns

Live! Blog: Matt Harvey start

I haven’t done one of these in a while — I’ll be watching tonight’s game FROM MY COUCH. Why don’t you join me? Well not on my couch. But on the internet. I’ll be live blogging — live web logging? liwoggin? libogging?– tonight’s Mets-Phillies game starting at 7:05ish. And we’re live! Continue reading

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What’s wrong with the Johan?

So maybe you’ve noticed, dear readers, that Johan Santana hasn’t been all that sharp recently. And maybe this is alarming. But I’m going to posit that maybe it’s not.

See most of you probably know that Johan Santana was one of baseball’s best pitchers in the 2000s and the early 2010s. Over eight seasons with the Twins, Santana posted a 3.22 ERA and a 141 ERA+ — that is, his ERA was 41% better than an average pitcher working in the same home ballpark. He was just about as good during his first three seasons with the Mets, when Santana posted a 2.85 ERA and a 143 ERA+. And then he was even better his first 11 starts this season coming off shoulder surgery. Santana posted a 2.38 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 68 innings, capping that run with a no-hitter June 1. Santana was consistently excellent for about for 10 1/2 years. Continue reading

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2014 Power Rankings: August 2012

Oh how things change. I sort of meant to make this a monthly feature, but every-other-monthly gives us more information to play with. So here we are four months into the season, two months after the last update, with the updated 2014 Mets Power Rankings.

If you’re new, the idea behind the list is this: If you are an expansion team set to play baseball in 2014 with the sole goal of fielding a competitive team in 2014 – that is, you care about 2014 and nothing else – and you can only pick current Mets players, whom would you take and in what order? The only other limitation being that the player must be under team (Mets) control in 2014. (Also, for the sake of the exercise, the dollar value of contracts don’t count.) That’s the idea here. So the list is mostly young players and prospects, though our first old man has snuck in.

That’s the guiding philosophy. Here’s the list: Continue reading

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R.A. Dickey on short rest

So according to the MetsBlog, Terry Collins is once again considering using R.A. Dickey on short rest. This rumor has been floating about for the last two months, and I think it’s finally worth addressing. Because it’s R.A. Dickey. And who doesn’t want to talk about R.A. Dickey? So let’s break the argument down into its component parts.

The case for using R.A. Dickey on short rest:

By ERA and ERA+, Dickey is eighth-best starting pitcher in the National League this season. The Mets could, over the course of a full season, squeeze another eight starts and 45-55 innings out of Dickey by pitching him every fourth day. Those eight starts and 45-55 innings would no longer be thrown by Miguel Batista-type pitchers, and instead would be thrown by one of the league’s best starting pitchers. Getting another eight starts out of Dickey would be equal to the advantage gained from trading for an ace pitcher at the deadline: Either way, it’s another eight starts by an ace. Teams trade top prospects for eight starts down the stretch from CC Sabathia or Zack Greinke. The Mets could get those extra eight starts from Dickey for no prospects and no extra money.

The case against:

The advantage isn’t huge, and the risk outweighs the advantage anyway. If Dickey takes 45-55 innings away from a pitcher who would post a 4.50-5.00 ERA, and Dickey posts a 3.00 ERA in those innings, Dickey’s work saves the Mets 5-10 runs over a Miguel Batista-type. That’s it. It’s one game in the standings, maybe, at the risk of piling another 45-55 innings onto the 38-year-old arm of your best pitcher. And he’ll be on short-rest the entire time. Dickey already gives the Mets 200 innings per season, more than most pitchers. The benefits of pushing him don’t outweigh the meager benefits.

What the Mets should do:

I don’t know if the risk to Dickey’s arm over a full season is worth it, but I’m also not against experimenting here because the Mets could get an extra eight starts from a great pitcher. Here’s my possibly-bad idea for what to do with Dickey: The Mets should let Dickey pitch on three-days rest for a month — say, this August — monitoring him closely throughout. First sign of trouble, shut him down for a week (or the season) and then put him back on regular rest. But otherwise give it a month. At the end, the Mets will have a better idea how to manage a rotation with one pitcher working every three days and the others working every four or so, and Dickey will know how his arm feels working on regular three-days rest. If the Mets and Dickey feel good about the experiment’s results, Dickey pitches every four days in 2013 and the Mets get their extra starts.

OR

But if the experiment fails, there’s another, possibly safer way to squeeze more out of Dickey: Stick him in the bullpen on his throw day between starts. Terry Collins already does this on occasion, but I’m in favor of this becoming the regular thing. The Mets may only be able to get 15 innings out of Dickey this way, but they can make those 15 innings count. Pitch Dickey in the eighth and ninth innings in close games, let him protect one run leads, etc. If the Mets leverage Dickey’s use correctly, they could make those 15 extra innings in relief count as much as 20-30 extra innings in the rotation, without significantly altering their best pitcher’s routine.

Using Dickey out of the bullpen could also let the Mets carry six relievers for stretches of time, giving them the flexibility to carry six bench players. That has value, or at least makes it easier for the Mets to sit comfortably on wobbly benches that require even weight distribution or otherwise tip over like a see-saw.

Dickey is the Mets’ best pitcher and, dollars and contracts included, probably their most valuable piece. They shouldn’t mess that up. But there is value in experimenting cautiously to see if they can squeeze any more value out of Dickey, be it by pitching him every four days or using him out of the bullpen more often. If the Mets can find extra value in the team and players they already have, that’s a leg up on everyone else.

Also we’d get to see R.A. Dickey pitch more. Why is anyone against this idea?

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What the heck just happened?

Here are some things that have just happened: The Mets have lost 10 of their last 11 games. They have plummeted to 300 games* out of first place in the NL East and six games back in the Wild Card. They demoted Lucas Duda, whom they expected to be a lineup cog this season, to Buffalo on Tuesday. Johan Santana and Dillon Gee are on the disabled list, and the pitching has been six-run-a-thon all July. The Mets are three games below .500 and after making some noise in the first half, look now to be on the fringes of contention at best.

*rounding to the farthest 300.

There’s a lot of unhappiness in Mets-land, so let’s start with the Duda and go from there. Lucas Duda was not playing good baseball. He didn’t hit left-handed pitching this season, batting .225/.275/.324 against lefties in 120 plate appearances. He was also one of the worst — if not the clear worst — defensive players in baseball, ranking by the numbers as the worst right fielder. He just wasn’t helping the Mets win games. Duda could be used as a break-even player against right-handed pitchers, maybe making up for his miserable defense with his bat. (Maybe.) But he was a huge negative against lefties. Position players need to hit or they need to field, and Duda was only doing half of one of those things. And so it goes.

This isn’t entirely Duda’s fault, of course. The Mets played Duda out of position in right field, and he failed. He didn’t appear to handle the transition well, and his defensive struggles perhaps affected his offense. Lucas Duda has a Major League future, but not as a right fielder.

So now the bigger picture. The New York Mets are in the second year of the Sandy Alderson era, and it’s worth looking at the returns for signs of something. What do the Mets have going forward? If we start in the lineup: David Wright has reestablished himself as an elite player. Ruben Tejada is an average to above-average Major League shortstop and only 22. After a slow first half, Daniel Murphy has proven he can fake second base as a real .300 hitter. Josh Thole has improved his defense enough to be an above-average catcher if he can pull his bat back together and just an average one if he can’t.

But then it’s question marks everywhere else. After crawling out of Bane’s giant prison pit to take a step forward in June, Ike Davis decided to jump back in for the month of July. And the Mets’ outfield is a mess: Duda we covered, Kirk Nieuwenhuis can’t hit lefties, Jordany Valdespin isn’t really an outfielder and is a .750 OPS hitter in the Minors, and Andres Torres has disappointed. Outside of Matt Den Dekker, who has struggled with his batting average in Triple-A, no outfield prospects are close.

The pitching staff looks a bit brighter, but perhaps only in comparison. R.A. Dickey is a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, Jon Niese may have taken that elusive step, and the now-injured Dillon Gee can fill out the back end of a Major League rotation. Matt Harvey will debut later this week and Zack Wheeler could be special. But Santana’s health is a question again and Chris Young’s right arm is held together with silly putty and magic from his brother Hagrid’s umbrella. And Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia have had uninspiring seasons in the Minors.

Plus the Mets have one useful reliever pitcher in Bobby Parnell, and Terry Collins may have burnt out their only other, Tim Byrdak. The bullpen isn’t good. Did you guys know that? The Mets bullpen hasn’t been good.

The Mets have pieces though, maybe more pieces than they did two years ago. They have an infield, a decent catcher, a few starting pitchers, and . . . uhhh . . . one relief pitcher. They have a bunch of bench players because enough of their position players have proven themselves fringe bench types. So they need an outfield*, a bullpen and a few more starting pitchers.

*This is actually a huge problem. The Mets outfield has pieces – Baxter, Duda, Nieuwenhuis, Valdespin — but it doesn’t look like any of the pieces are everyday pieces. The Mets don’t have an everyday Major League outfielder in their organization.** Terry Collins can and does platoon like crazy, but the front office might need to bring in two everyday types this winter.

**For anyone curious: Fernando Martinez has destroyed the PCL with the Astros’ Triple-A affliate this season. The Astros did call up Martinez up last month. He went 1-15 before diving for a ball, hitting his head, and going to the DL for a concussion. He’s back playing in the Minors again. Some things never change? I don’t know. I think the Mets are going to regret this one.

The big question is this one: How far away are the Mets from contending for real? Although they managed to undo all the goodwill they built over the season’s first half in only 11 games, the answer seems to be: Not far. Strong first halves from David Wright, Johan Santana, and R.A. Dickey carried the Mets and made them seem serious contenders for the postseason through three months. With a not-terrible supporting cast, three or four players can make things happen. (See: The Wright-Reyes-Beltran 2006-2008 Mets) The Mets have at least one great player in Wright and maybe another in R.A. Dickey. They have enough elsewhere to make a not-terrible supporting cast. If one of the young pitchers or position players can take the step forward, or the supporting cast moves from not-terrible to decent, the Mets are right there.

Also a bullpen. The Mets need a real bullpen. There’s like seven relievers down there at a time, and another three shuffling between the Majors and Minors. That’s ten guys. How are all ten bad? How does that happen? How do the Mets keep finding ten guys who are all bad? What’s going on out there in the Mets’ actual, physical bullpen? That has to be the answer, right? Maybe the relievers play really competitive Jenga in the bullpen during the early innings and just don’t have the adrenaline left for relief pitching later.

Anyway. The past two weeks have been a pretty obvious low-point for the Mets. They suffered injuries, a team-wide pitching collapse, and knocked themselves nearly out of the playoff race in only 11 games. The Mets got everyone to believe just enough to make this part hurt. But if it hurts, it’s because you did believe. That’s nice in its own way. The Mets may not be there yet, but they’re getting closer.

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Matt Harvey or Miguel Batista?

Before we get into Matt Harvey vs. Miguel Batista, let’s briefly review the work of recent Mets making the jump from Triple-A to the Major Leagues midseason. The list is incomplete and short. But whatever, here’s some guys who did what Matt Harvey may soon do:

Chris Schwinden –
Triple-A: 26 starts, 3.95 ERA, 3.80 FIP
Majors: four starts, 4.71 ERA, 3.03 FIP

Schwinden pitched decently in his four-game showcase last September, and did not during his 8.2 innings with the Major League version Mets this season. Those three 2012 games aside, Schwinden has been an effective pitcher for the past two seasons. So if the Mets are unsold on Batista and don’t want to rush Harvey, Schwinden might be the unsatisfying, disappointing middle ground.

Jeremy Hefner –
Triple-A: eight starts, 2.96 ERA, 3.44 FIP
Majors: three starts, 6.89 ERA, 3.64 FIP

Hefner walked only two batters in his 30.1 innings pitched, but he also struck out only 17 and allowed 38 hits. So he may have pitched too much in the zone. Or whatever. I don’t know. You come up with something!

Dillon Gee –
Triple-A: 28 starts, 4.96 ERA, 4.01 FIP
Majors: five starts, 2.18 ERA, 4.20 FIP

Gee’s the strange case here, because his Major League ERA improved over his Minor League numbers in his first few starts. Out of the (small sample of) five pitchers here, Gee was the only one to post a better ERA in the Majors than the Minors. And Gee and Schwinden are the only two to be not-terrible their first few Major League starts.

Jon Niese –
Triple-A: seven starts, 3.40 ERA, 4.11 FIP
Majors: three starts, 7.07 ERA, 5.13 FIP

Remember Jon Niese’s first three starts? He was bad. Niese is a good pitcher now and was a decent prospect at the time, but the Major Leagues are scary and hard the first time through, even for ready-ish prospects who do eventually figure it out.

Mike Pelfrey — (2007 stats)
Triple-A: 14 starts, 4.01 ERA, 4.04 FIP
Majors: 13 starts, 5.57 ERA, 5.06 FIP

Yeah, same thing. Pelfrey actually debuted in 2006, but he’s got more Triple-A and Major League stats from 2007, so we’ll look at those.

So now getting into the actual point of the post, here are Batista’s and Harvey’s numbers this season:

Miguel Batista — (as a starter)
Majors: four starts, 4.00 ERA, 5.28 FIP

Matt Harvey
Triple-A: 19 starts, 3.34 ERA, 3.50 FIP

So the Mets’ decision here rides on two questions:

1. Will Matt Harvey pitch better than Miguel Batista over 10 or so starts for the remainder of this season?
2. Will Matt Harvey’s long-term development be positively or negatively affected by a promotion now?

I see the answers as:

1. I’m not sure Harvey will be better than Batista over 10 starts. If you look at other Mets pitching callups from recent seasons, most of these young pitchers struggled in their first few Major League starts; some struggled to ERAs in the 5.00-7.00 range. The following statement is obvious but stands to repetition: The Major Leagues are much harder than Triple-A. The adjustment is probably a little scary and intimidating for even the toughest young pitchers, and good Triple-A pitchers can and often do get rocked in the Majors. There’s no guarantee that Harvey will come up and pitch anything but terribly in his first three or four starts, or in his first ten starts for that matter. Harvey is pitching well in Triple-A, but he’s not dominating. And even young pitchers who dominate the Minors can struggle (see the Rays’ Matt Moore this season).

On the other hand: Miguel Batista, who is probably good for a 4.50-5.00 ERA for the remainder of the season, isn’t an inspiring alternative. I think Harvey will be better than Batista for 15-20 starts, but the two’s performances will be closer over the 10 or so remaining starts the Mets need to fill. But Harvey is not a clear upgrade for 10 starts in 2012; I’m not sure the argument for Harvey holds up from that angle, at least not yet. Which leads into our second answer, regarding Harvey’s development:

2. So the (realistic) best-case scenario is that Harvey is ready and pitches to a 3.50-4.00 ERA with the Mets for 10 starts. The worst-case is that Harvey struggles and descends into an existential crisis, leaves pitching to join a ninja monastery, and emerges years later as a crime-fighting vigilante. Which really isn’t that bad, all things considered. But a more realistic worst-case is that Harvey is rushed, struggles, and figures out a way to merely get by instead of truly succeed, i.e., throw nothing but fastballs low in the zone. That’s the risk that comes with any promotion: The player could improve, or implode or figure out how to just get by.

Do the benefits of Harvey-over-Batista outweigh the risk of screwing up a pitching prospect? It’s close. I’m not sure the benefits do outweigh the risks yet. Harvey’s performance would need to be a clear, clear upgrade over Batista’s performance to justify maybe-rushing him. And it’s not yet. Young pitchers struggle transitioning to the Majors, and I’d bet Harvey does the same.

But two weeks from now, things may look much clearer. Especially if Harvey throws up a few gems and Miguel Batista throws up some lumps of coal. But should the Mets hold off on Harvey until August, I think they’re making a smart, if boring, call.

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Playing the UZR guessing game

As inspired by this post on Amazin’ Avenue, I avoided defensive statistics for 2012 until this week. I haven’t looked at Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), or Total Zone. I averted my eyes on Fangraphs, didn’t look upon WAR on Baseball-Reference. One of ya’ll mentioned David Wright’s UZR in a tweet at me in mid-May, this I believe the only slip up. But otherwise I haven’t seen any advanced defensive statistics for this season. I have no idea what anyone’s UZR is.

But I have watched the Mets, and I have tried to pay extra attention to their fielding with this experiment in mind. So here’s what I’ve got: I have my own notes about the Mets fielders below. I’ve also made a guess at how many runs each one has cost or saved the Mets defensively in 2012. Then I looked up each player’s actual defensive numbers to see how close my eyes and the numbers agree. So here we go: Continue reading

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Let’s Talk about Terry Collins

Terry Collins’ Mets are 43-37 as of right now, in second place in the NL East and would play the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card play in game if the season ended today. (It doesn’t.) So that’s all good. Let’s give Terry Collins a report card/review of sorts:  Continue reading

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Knuckleballer in Full Ascendancy

“You get the call,” says Dan Warthen. “Strike two. One-two count. High knuckleball for a strike.”

This is Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets’ strigiform pitching coach stands in the righthanded batter’s box. Mike Nickeas crouches behind him. The pair are at one of the six home plates in the six-pack, a row of pitching mounds behind the third-base line of the Digital Domain Park. The six-pack is busy during morning workouts: Two other pairs of pitchers and catchers work alongside Warthen and Nickeas, baseballs pounding catcher’s mitts in an unsteady staccato rhythm. Uniformed coaches and other Mets pitchers stand in small groups behind the mounds.

Nickeas crouches behind Warthen, setting a target in the middle of the strike zone with his oversized catcher’s mitt. Warthen pretends to hold a bat, elbows pulled up and his hands behind his right ear.

R. A. Dickey nods at the pitch selection. He stands on the second-farthest mound, his shoulders slumped and his body turned 25 degrees from the rubber. Just before Dickey begins his windup, he almost looks weary, as if he’s already exhausted and needs to mentally prepare before this one final push. He seems to sigh just before he steps back to begin his motion.

He rocks back and turns his right foot parallel to the plate, brings his left knee and hands way up and then pushes each limb towards the plate one by one, left leg, left arm, right leg pushing off before Dickey’s right arm comes through last. His wrist and fingers flick in unison as he delivers a pitch that rotates maybe once across 60 feet, six inches. (The pitching motion is simple but distinct: Earlier that morning, two other Mets pitchers had warmed up by imitating the deliveries of the other pitchers on the team. Most were cheap, unidentifiable imitations, but Dillon Gee’s performance of Dickey was genius and unmistakable.) The knuckleball moves out and then in and then down over its half-second flight, crossing the inner half of the plate before Nickeas catches the pitch by stabbing with his glove.

Warthen says nothing, but turns, bows, and doffs his cap to Dickey. Continue reading

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Please don’t kick the dog

So let’s just say this first: Jason Bay has been a bad baseball player with the New York Met. Very bad. He’s hit .246 and slugged .385 as a questionable-defending left fielder. He somehow has more steals (23) than home runs (22), which brings up the next and biggest point: He’s hit only 22 home runs in three seasons. Bay’s performance can be described accurately with a half-dozen words beginning with the letter “s.” And let’s throw in that Bay has been paid some unimaginably large sum of money so far, and he’ll be paid another unimaginably large sum of money for the next 15 months. The contract the Mets and Bay agreed on seemed like a bad idea at the time, and it’s worked out much worse than expected. I don’t imagine anyone arguing against any of the above, other than to suggest that the already mentioned “s” words be modified with English’s most versatile expletive. Let’s leave it as such: Bay has been bad.

On Friday, Bay ran into a wall, hit his head with potential-concussion-force as Jay Bruce circled the bases and scored. A particularly-woozy looking Bay was booed as he was walked off the field by the medical staff.

Now I support the U.S. American right to boo things, persons, events, whatever, though I’m unsure about booing itself. And I’ll add that watching Jason Bay play baseball for the past two-and-a-half seasons has been about as much fun as watching a dog get put to sleep.

But come on.

The excuse in these situations – and MetsBlog suggested as much this morning – is that fans are booing the contract and not the player. Which may be true, in the same way someone kicking his dog after work is kicking his frustrations and not the dog. Maybe that sentiment is true. Maybe those kicks are aimed at the abstract feeling and not the mutt. But that dog’s still getting beat.

I also realize New York is probably the most difficult place in the country to remember that the warm, smelly mass surrounding you on the subway and sucking the air is made up of other persons. That each of those cars spewing smoke and droning endlessly contain at least one person. That this perspiring thing sticking her oversized backpack in directly into your face as the subway shutters along or that unpleasant vehicle cutting you off or this one shining his brights directly into you rearview for mile after mile – that person is indeed another being with her own interior life, and not just one more obstacle. It’s hard. It’s really, really hard. And it’s probably hardest in New York, because there are just so many breathing obstacles encountered day after day.

And it’s also hard to remember that baseball players, unlike most things on television, are also human beings. That Jason Bay is a human being with his own interior life, just as much alive as you or me. And he is a human being who, by all appearances, has tried very hard these past three seasons and failed very often. It is hard to remember those things. It does take effort.

But Bay did try, enough to give himself at least one concussion, perhaps two, partially for our entertainment. And yes he’s been paid millions of dollars to do so, but that doesn’t make him less deserving of sympathy or less of a human being. It only makes him a rich one.

The general point being: Friday was probably a perfect storm of a particular city, player and injury, leading to one ugly moment of a player leaving the game with an injury while being booed by his hometown fans. It was not the sort of moment that makes me proud to root for the Mets.

Bay has given everything he had. It turns out he didn’t have very much left. Just, you know, please don’t kick any dogs because of it.

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