Friday, April 23, 2004
MEANINGFUL GAMES IN MAY?
Mets management's much discussed goal of playing "meaningful games" in September may be put to an earlier test, as the team's early stumbles must make one wonder whether games will be "meaningful" at the end of May. Let's assume that for a game to be "meaningful" on September 1, the Mets must be within 5 games of the Wild Card. We can add one game for each month going backwards, since they would have more time to make up the gap, so 6 games on August 1, 7 games on July 1, 8 on June 1. Right now, they're 2 1/2 games back. . . .
Early Season Grades:
Starting Pitchers: A. The starters have been excellent. Their combined E.R.A. of 3.18 ranks second in the league to the Marlins and, obviously, provides the foundation for winning baseball. They have done it without a fifth starter; the two starts devoted to that slot have produced 10 earned runs in 8 innings. With Scott Erickson unlikely to be able to return until the middle of May, we may see Aaron Heilman or Randy Keisler (yes, the former Yankees farmhand, who has had two great starts at Norfolk) soon if Jae Seo cannot recover his velocity. The amazing thing about the starters is that they have done it without striking anybody out. Their 4.2 K/9 rate is worst in the league and normally impossible to succeed at. Yet, they have allowed only 5 home runs, easily the best in the league, and rank 4th in not walking opponents. . . .
Relief Pitchers: C-. Braden Looper has been excellent (and was great again yesterday, getting five outs in the ninth (thanks to two errors) for the save. Wheeler has been fine. Everyone else has been bad. Two six run leads blown! The bullpen E.R.A. of 5.68 ranks 14th in the 16 team league.
Lineup: C+. With the injuries, they have certainly struggled, ranking 12th in runs scored. Still, when healthy most of the expected regulars have hit pretty well. Wigginton and Phillips have hit below expectations, but Piazza, Floyd, Garcia, Cameron and Matsui have produced.
Free Agent Signings: B+. The Mets major acquisitions, Cameron, Matsui and Looper have all done very well so far. In addition, Spencer and Garcia are producing at or above league average, which is pretty good, considering they've been forced to play beyond a strict platoon. The down side is that the very weak bench of Gutierrez, McEwing and Valent has been exposed by injuries. Signing a better fifth outfielder and utility infielder would certainly have helped.
Errata: With the Mets bringing up Danny Garcia to replace Ty Wigginton, the offense will struggle even more. David Wright is destroying AA pitching, but the decision not to rush his cup of coffee is probably wise. Let's all hope that Ty's problem is not serious. . . . If the Mets can get their starting lineup back while still playing "meaningful games" . . . well, we'll see. . . .
Thursday, April 08, 2004
METS ANALYST OFF-LINE UNTIL APRIL 18.
The author of Mets Analyst will, unfortunately, be away without internet access (probably the only time this season) until April 18. Please check back then. Some predictions for that day:
1) Mike Piazza will have broken Fisk's record.
2) Jose Reyes will not have started a game yet for the Mets.
3) Ty Wigginton will have a hit.
4) Eric Valent will not.
5) The Mets will be 7-4
Happy Passover and Easter to everyone, and Let's Go Mets.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
BREAK UP THE METS!
For one night, it was all perfect. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy the first place Mets. Almost everything went right for the Mets in their home opener, but the highlight was Kazuo Matsui's perfect night. Every one of his at-bats was great. The homer was a bomb, the first double was ripped down the line on an inside pitch, the second took advantage of his speed. His (unintentional) walk, with the bases loaded, was terrific: he swung at the strikes (spoiling one after he reached two strikes) and took every ball to drive in the run. What an auspicious debut. . . . Of all the problems foreseen with the Mets, the only one that arose was the lack of a left-handed hitter on the bench. When they needed one to pinch-hit with men on 2nd and 3rd and only one out, they had to turn to Eric Valent, who satisfies only the "left-handed" part of "left-handed hitter." The runners were stranded. Now reports indicate that when Reyes is activated, pitchers Orber Moreno and Dan Wheeler will stay with the club and Valent will be sent down, leaving the Mets in the absurd position of having no lefty on the bench. Maybe Glavine will pinch-hit? . . . . Anyway, a wonderful start for the Mets.
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
THE PLAY'S THE THING . . . .
Grasping for straws of hope on Opening Day, after the Mets depressing Florida sojurn, my mind turned to a passage from the extraordinary movie Shakespeare in Love. Shakespeare's producer (Henslowe) is violently confronted by a financial backer (Fennyman) as they face financial ruin because the theater has been closed on account of the plague. Nonchalantly, the producer responds:
HENSLOWE: Mr. Fennyman, let me explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. Believe me, to be closed by the plague is a bagatelle in the ups and downs of owning a theatre.
FENNYMAN: So what do we do?
HENSLOWE: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
HENSLOWE: I don't know. It's a mystery.
Mets fans are Fennyman now to Jim Duquette's Henslowe and, for today, we take the leap of faith. Let's hope there's a Shakespeare somewhere on the team to get us through. . . .
Errata: The Mets actually did very well last year against tonight's starter Russ Ortiz. Ortiz went 2-2 against the Amazin's with a 5.96 E.R.A. and in four starts only got through the sixth inning once. The '04 Mets, however, have a completely different line-up from the one he faced, and Burnitz and Cedeno (note: both swinging left-handed) did the most damage against him. . . . SILVER-LINING NOTE: Jimy Williams is NOT the Mets manager. The ex-Red Sox skipper went Grady on his team last night: Starter Roy Oswalt had pitched great but was clearly tiring in the 8th inning. Up 4-1, Oswalt went full on the batter preceding Bonds, before allowing a hit to put two men on and bring Bonds (2 doubles and a walk in three PAs to that point) up as the tying run. Everyone in the country knew the only choice for Williams was whether to bring in a lefty or his ace, Dotel, but, instead, after making a trip to the mound, he left Oswalt in. One pitch, tie game. Giants win in the 9th. . . .
Sunday, April 04, 2004
BRADLEY IS A DODGER
Well, the Mets lost out on Milton Bradley, as the Indians have traded him to the Dodgers for Franklin Gutierrez and a player to be named later. Gutierrez is a serious prospect -- age and hitting record similar to Victor Diaz, but able to play centerfield. Baseball Prospectus ranked him the #22 prospect in baseball and Baseball America ranked him #31. He's expected to reach the majors next year.
It's understandable that the Mets did not put together a better offer, and there is no question that Bradley is a gamble, though one with a high upside. Bradley also is more valuable for the Dodgers because they, unlike the Mets, can take advantage of his ability to play centerfield. Two complaints: First, Jim Duquette should just stop commenting on who the Mets are and are not interested in trading for -- and that means cutting down the off-the-record leaks as well. Rather than making the Mets look like "players," these rumors simply demoralize their fans and, one must think, their players (particularly those almost replaced). Second, it appears that the belated trade of Cedeno came not because the Mets got a better offer (they apparently will salvage less than $1 million of the $10 million they owe him), but rather that the Wilpons finally acceded to reality. By failing to bite the bullet earlier, however, they robbed Duquette of time and opportunity he would have had to get the correct left-handed bat for the bench. Heck, Timo Perez makes more sense as the fifth outfielder than Eric Valent. The absence of a left-handed bat on the bench will be keenly and quickly felt. One hopes Duquette has another trick up his sleeve, but now is rarely the time when teams move players who are better than replacement level (and Valent may be below it). That's what made Bradley so interesting. . . .
Saturday, April 03, 2004
Good news on the last day of Spring Training. Jim Duquette finally achieved what Mets Analyst and many others have long considered an off-seaon imperative: Roger Cedeno is traded to the Cardinals. By all reports, Cedeno is a great guy, and we wish him the best in his new digs, but what a relief that he is not on the Mets. The two guys the Mets got in return, Chris Widger (a poor man's Vance Wilson) and Wilson Delgado (a poor man's Joe McEwing, if you can imagine that) are unlikely to ever register a major league at-bat with the Mets; this is pure addition by subtraction.
As of this writing, it has not been reported how much of the $10 million dollars remianing on Cedeno's contract the Cardinals have picked up. By waiting until now to dump him, however, the Mets have left themselves in a very awkard spot: they have do not have a single left-handed hitter on the bench. The Mets web site indicates that Eric Valent will take over the role of fifth outfielder.
Valent does "bat" left-handed, but since looking like a decent prospect through the middle of 2001, the one-time first round draftee has shown nothing, in the minors or the majors. Now 26 years-old, he came to the Mets as a nonroster invitee, having been dumped by the Phillies and the Reds. He has compiled an absolutely horrible lifetime OPS of .403 (not a typo) in 93 major league at-bats over three seasons. (He has hit .300 this Spring -- in 30 at-bats and with no power (but apparently is great in BP)). This strongly suggests that another shoe is going drop; heck, the Mets would be better off bringing old friend Matt Franco back from Japan.
Perhaps that shoe will turn out to be Milton Bradley. Bradley a long-disappointing prospect, was great in the 2/3's of a season he was healthy last year, performing at an All-Star level. He had an awful spring, but his addition (he switch hits) would have great upside potential and would give the Mets a much better chance of solid production both from rightfield and the bench, with Garcia and Spencer also in the mix. But that analysis is for another today. For today, let's celebrate that the Mets have achieved one imperative: moving Cedeno (and, with the bullpen being filled out by Moreno (hooray) and Wheeler, the Mets payroll stands at only about $67 million).
Friday, April 02, 2004
IT'S YATES AND ERICKSON. . .
Apparently, Tyler Yates is the Mets fourth starter and Grant Roberts will be in the bullpen. (This from the caption to two photos in the ESPN scoreboard, which you can link to from here). That would appear to mean that Scott Erickson (yuck!) will be the fifth starter and Jae Seo will be at Norfolk. Wow. The Yates move is exciting, but I really can't understand bumping Seo and Roberts for Erickson. Seo's agent claims that Seo's poor spring performance was because he was working on some new pitches, based on the Mets assurances that he had a spot in the rotation. I take that with a grain of salt, but still. . . . he was a very solid starter last year. Well, we will learn more in the papers tomorrow (and Roberts in the pen puts Orber Moreno in jeopardy as well). Hey, Norfolk will have a pretty good staff! . . . .
Thursday, April 01, 2004
ANYONE BUT ERICKSON
Incredibly, with about 24 hours to go until the Mets must make final roster decisions, the starting rotation seems less settled than when camp started. Reports are now widespread that Jae Seo's place as the fourth starter is in jeopardy, so there are now two rotation spots up in the air. Baseball Prospectus figures Aaron Heilman as the top choice, with Grant Roberts as "the only one of the other four who makes sense." Frankly, I can't pretend to know who should get the last two rotation spots. My head says Seo and Heilman/Roberts, and my heart says Roberts and Yates. I do believe that expert talent evaluators watching their performances ought to be able to make the right call, and I'm still giving the Mets' decision-makers (assuming that will NOT be Jeff Wilpon in this case) the benefit of the doubt on that expertise (and they did succeed in inviting two veterans to camp who likely will make major league rosters this year). The one guy I do not want to see is Scott Erickson. Even if he makes it "back," which it is far from clear that he has, "back" is still not very good. He has the least upside of all the candidates, is the least likely to contribute to the next Mets team to play "meaningful games in September," and would be the least fun/exciting to watch as the season kicks off.