Wednesday, June 30, 2004
OFF TO GREAT AMERICAN
We're making a trip down to Cincinnati to see the Mets play tonight. My second game this year, and we'll have two bobbleheads: Kaz and Sean Casey -- there's a thrill. I'm hoping to see a hall of fame performance from our hall of fame pitcher and see the Mets regain .500. . . . The right-left-right combination of Piazza batting third, Floyd fourth, and Hidalgo fifth is working out well. A good lineup shift by Howe. As a Met so far, Hidalgo is batting .275 with an .818 OPS. That compares to NL averages for Rightfield of .262 and .788, so he's off to a useful start. . . . Also above league average for their position -- without even accounting for park effects (position in parenthesis) are: Piazza (1b), Floyd (LF), Wigginton (3B) and Matsui (ss). The other three, Reyes (2b), Cameron (CF) and Phillips (C) have a lot of work to do to get their numbers up to average. Still an average offense with a league leading ERA would be competitive in the NL east. . . .
Sunday, June 27, 2004
Q: What two things do the Red Sox, Angels, Cubs, Astros and Padres have in common?
A: Each was picked by many to win its division, and, at this writing, each is further from first place than the New York Mets. Meaningful games in June!
Q: Who is the great starting pitcher on a lousy team whose ownership is always eager to shed payroll that nobody is mentioning in trade rumors?
A: He's 4-7 with a 3.37 ERA. He's 29 years old, a World Series winner, and he's been pitching like a true ace in innings and E.R.A. since the middle of last year when he lowered his arm angle to come with a three-quarter motion. He's due another $2 million and change this year and then owed $8 million for '05 and $7 million for '06. He's . . . Livan Hernandez of the Expos. Hernandez was under contract for this year at $6 million, but the Expos extended him two years this spring while reducing his '04 salary to $4 million, so now may be the time for them to dump him. He comes with some risk since he is signed for two more years, was lousy for many before making his adjustment and is one of the most overworked pitchers in the game for his career, but I, for one, would love to see him in a Mets uniform. C'mon Omar, give us one for old times sake. . . .
Friday, June 25, 2004
At the midwestern university where I work, I have a good friend, J.B., who is a big baseball fan. So far, though, this season hasn't had much excitement for him. He's vaguely worried about the depth of his team's pitching staff: how will they handle the postseason? He wanders into my office periodically to ask me when the Mets will trade Al Leiter to his team (the answer, of course, is NEVER). He wonders if the boys from Beantown will pull close enough to collapse against his team, as they have annually for more than a quarter century. Yes, J.B. is a Yankees fan.
Pity him. Even as we Mets fans have suffered two straight painful defeats -- in a style that is all Mets(speedster thrown out at the plate when he was on second and the ball hit the centerfield wall; gold glove centerfielder misses bases loaded two out fly ball), there's been so much great excitement this year. Several do-or-die drives to .500, great comeback seasons by hall of famers, late game comebacks that MATTER, Todd Zeile channeling Barry Bonds for two nights, a phenom making plays (and his two run homer yesterday was great!). . . . The list goes on and on, and as Mets fans, we savor it. Plain old excitement, whether leading to agony or ecstasy has been there day after day for Mets fans this season, and that is, after all, the fun of being a baseball fan.
For J.B., though, its just one long spring training spent waiting to see if Mussina, Brown and Rivera will be healthy come October. I just feel bad for him (but not so bad that I'm not hoping he's the one who has to pay for the beers that pay off our annual Mets/Yankees series bet). . . .
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Art Howe did a nice job managing the game last night. He started with the best hitting lineup the Mets have against a righty starter, and it paid off as having an actual bat in the 8th spot (Valent) led to two key RBI's. He got the best hitter on his bench (Spencer) up at the right moment, and he used his whole bench (except Karim Garcia), to get better defense and avoid injury to Piazza and Floyd after the Mets took the lead.
Best though, was his use of his bullpen. The Reds have three dangerous hitters -- Casey, Griffey and Dunn -- and they all bat left-handed. As a result, the Reds have a .787 OPS against righties, and only .709 against lefties. So, when he had to go to the bullpen in the fifth, rather than calling on a "long" reliever, he went with the lefty, Franco.
Last year, lefties hit Franco pretty hard. But now, fully recovered from his surgery, he has become the lefty killer. After last night's game, he has retired 25 lefties in a row. They're batting .081 against him with a pitiful .309 OPS in 46 at-bats this year(compared to the .302 avg., .763 OPS righties have managed). Those are outstanding numbers and are worthy of a roster spot on a contender. Howe was smart enough to take advantage and give Franco his longest outing of the year (and then follow him with another lefty). Result: Mets win.
Worried about tonight? Have Hope. Our worst starter on the mound and the lefties in the pen worn out from each throwing two innings last night? There's hope! Jae Seo has actually been much more effective against lefties in his career than against righties. Last year he allowed only a .648 OPS to lefties (.803 to righties), and this year is giving up .658 to lefties (.935 to righties). He's never started against the Reds in his career, but he should match up well. (If he does get in trouble, look for Howe to go to Parra before Wheeler. The latter has allowed a truly scary 1.246 OPS to lefties (compared to .531 for righties).)
Monday, June 21, 2004
RESULTS FROM THE FREE TALENT POOL
One of the areas that differentiates the better G.M.'s is how they do in the free talent pool. There always seems to be a significant number of players who can be had for nothing -- traded for a nonprospect, picked up as a minor league free agent, given a spring training invite, etc. -- who can make real contributions to a 25-man roster. You need your stars, of course, but how you fill in with free talent can be critical.
Steve Phillips got some real mileage out of the free talent department -- Glendon Rusch, Melvin Mora and Timo Perez were among those he picked off the scrap heap who helped the team in their day. This was an area in which Phillips did a decent job.
How about Jim Duquette? The early signs were very poor, as he threw significant Mets talent away for nothing . . . and heard about it from analysts. Marco Scutaro, Jamie Cerda and Lenny DiNardo were all pointlessly and needlessly lost and, predictably, the first two could have really helped the team. Scutaro (.712 OPS in a pitcher's park)would have provided the necessary insurance against David Wright flopping or Reyes getting hurt again to allow them to trade Wigginton now -- and been a useful guy off the bench. Cerda, 2.66 E.R.A. in a hitter's haven, has pitched better than any lefty in the Mets pen.
The ledger, however, has been balanced. The Mets have picked up more free talent than they have given away. Here's a list of the players the Mets have thrown in the trash that have contributed to other teams this year. Contribution is measured by VORP, a useful statistic from Baseball Prospectus that allows comparisons across positions and accounts for park effects. It measures the value a player has contributed above what one would get from a "replacement level" player in the same playing time.
Given Away -- VORP
Marco Scutaro -- 9.3
Jamie Cerda -- 7.7
Roger Cedeno -- 2.8
Lenny DiNardo -- 2.3
Timo Perez -- .4
That's a total of 22.5, but only two guys who really contributed (Raul Gonzalez and his negative VORP are not counted).
Ah, but what have the Mets, in turn, picked up off the scrap heap?
Picked Up -- VORP
Matt Ginter -- 9.5
Ricky Bottalico -- 7.0
Shane Spencer -- 6.7
Gerald Williams -- 2.2
Eric Valent -- 1.1
That's a total of 26.5 (a little bit more than they gave away) and three players who have made real contributions.
So Duquette started out with a couple of genuine blunders, but starting just before Spring Training started in the right direction with the net effect of a positive current balance. Here's hoping he can keep it going that way.
Sunday, June 20, 2004
METS ANALYST HOSPITALIZED FOR PSYCH. EVALUATION!
The family of NY Mets Analyst had him hospitalized for psychological testing today in response to his recent insistence that "The Mets are going to win this thing!"
"I think it was the Hildago deal that pushed him over the edge," his teenage daughter told concerned friends and family. "He started calling for that move as the obvious one for the team -- and one that could put them in contention -- last December. When it actually happened, I guess he just couldn't handle it." "He just started running around the house yelling 'check my archives, check my archives'" added his son.
Reached for comment, NY Mets Analyst's wife tearfully told reporters: "We had to do it; he really thinks the Mets are going to win the division. Apparently, seeing Hidalgo and Reyes both in the starting lineup was just too much for him."
It seems that Mets analyst was babbling about the Mets being almost in first in so-called "adjusted standings" (which account for things like quality of opponent and freakishly bad hitting with the bases loaded) and kept repeating "we've got the chips for Garcia," by which he apparently meant the Mets could land Freddy Garcia, who is one of the top starters in the AL this year thanks to a reduced home run rate, and who could be had for Seo and a minor good prospect, or perhaps Wigginton could be used in the deal. This guy is really good, only 28, a power arm. The Mets can really do it. CHECK MY ARCHIVES! CHECK MY ARCHIVES! HEY, LET ME GO. . . . .
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
MY TRIP TO SHEA . . .
I got back to New York this past weekend, and my son and I got out to Shea to enjoy the Mets 5-2 win over the Marlins to return to .500. Some observations:
1) The Mets are certainly the "other" team in town. The silver lining though was that my nephew was able to get us excellent seats in the Mezzanine box right behind home plate on a give-away day (a "gold" game) shortly before game day. . . .
2) Mike Piazza is (still) an amazing player. The wind was blowing strong, from left to right, somewhat in, in typical Shea fashion, so anything hit to left or left center was dying. Anything, that is, except a Piazza laser. On a day when only a few players could have hit it out to left, Piazza creamed a pitch from a righthander who was third in the league in E.R.A. into the corner of the bleachers in left-center, well above and to the right of the 396 sign. He still hits the ball so much harder than just about anybody else; it really looks different. Piazza the 1B, in the early going, is turning into a big plus for the team as his bat is in the lineup and fresh everyday. Right now his offense places him in the elite second tier of NL first basemen with Helton and Thome, trailing only Casey and Pujols in '04 production.
3) Since coming off the D.L., Leiter has walked 10 in 10 2/3 IP, but has not allowed a run. Its not just luck though. In his 5 2/3, we counted four broken bats, and there were hardly any hard hit balls. It was vintage Leiter: lots of action for the 3rd baseman, some foul liners, no runs but gone before the end of the 6th (only Livan Hernandez threw more than Leiter's 114 pitches in all of MLB that day).
4) Speaking of pitching, I asked Michael Wolverton of Baseball Prospectus about whether any team had ever led its league in E.R.A. while finishing last in strikeouts (a position the Mets still hold). His answer:
Believe it or not, it's been accomplished three time since 1900,
the last time by the 1956 Milwaukee Braves. The Braves were led by
Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, neither of whom was a great strikeout
pitcher. In fact, all their ERA-title-qualifying pitchers that year
finished in the bottom half of the league in strikeout rate. The other two teams to accomplish the feat were the 1937 Boston
Braves and the 1908 Cleveland Indians.
Thanks Michael for checking that for us. So the Mets are on course for a feat not accomplished in more than 50 years and only 3 times in history, but it is not unprecedented. By the way, though none of those teams won the pennant, Milwaukee and Cleveland would have been the "wild card" or better today, finishing in second place 1 game and 1/2 game back, respectively. Boston finished fifth, 16 games back, but did end up 6 games over .500. . . .
5) While listening to WFAN after this exciting win by our surprisingly resilient and surprisingly decent team, I was appalled by the number of Mets fans who called in to moan about Guerrero and Soriano not being on the Mets and other various complaints. Why are you people Mets fans? A Mets fan is supposed to be somebody who loves the underdog, has patience, can withstand adversity and lives for the magical moments of success that only that sort of team can provide. Check out this article in the Times from a recent convert who gets it. These people phoning in reminded me of the kind of person who gets married just so that they can complain about their spouse. Go root for the other team in town.
6) Speaking of fans, it was nice to see that the faces in the crowd, like the faces on the field, seemed more racially diverse than Met crowds (and teams) of old.
7) Finally, a thought as we head into DH play. The Mets can use the DH to add starting time for Spencer (Piazza at first, Floyd at DH), Valent (Floyd or Piazza at DH), D. Garcia (Wigginton at 3rd, Zeile at 1st), or Wilson (Phillips at first, Piazza at DH). Tonight, with groundball pitcher Glavine on the mound facing Radke, I would get Valent's bat in the lineup, and catch Piazza with Phillips at first, Valent in left and Floyd at DH. With Trachsel facing a lefty on Thursday, I would DH Piazza and give Garcia a start. On Friday, with fly ball Ginter against a righty, I would put Floyd at DH again, and start Spencer or Valent in left. Knowing Howe, we may see Spencer, Wilson, Spencer, which I could live with, as long as there are NO STARTS for McEwing!
Friday, June 04, 2004
TEAM M.V.P. TO DATE? Tom Glavine has been the best pitcher, Mike Piazza has been the best everyday player and of the two, considering Piazza has been mostly a first baseman (and not a very good one), Glavine has probably contributed the most to the Mets positive run differential of any person who has taken the field. In another view,though one might go for Rick Peterson. The Mets pitching staff enters the weekend ranked first in the Major Leagues in E.R.A.. Again, first in the majors in E.R.A.. The Mets. Not the sexy rotations in Houston, Chicago, Boston, Oakland, Florida or the Bronx. Not the vaunted bullpen in Anaheim, nor the pitcher's havens in L.A. and (again)Florida. Its the Mets. What a glorious feeling. Indeed, the three "famous" pitching coaches: Peterson, Joe Kerrigan in Philadelphia and Leo Mazzone in Atlanta have three of the top four teams in E.R.A. (the 4th being Peterson's former club, the A's). Maybe pitching coaches should get bigger salaries!
In honesty, though, Shea is probably a big part of the explanation (not even getting to Mike Cameron). The Mets rank only 9th in Road E.R.A., where they are almost a run higher than their superb 3.29 figure at home. Shea is especially tough on righthanded sluggers (and thus helps lefthanded pitchers), so maybe it is Piazza after all. . . . Other Pitching Notes: The Mets have done it by limiting opponents hits to singles. They have allowed the fewest home runs and the fewest doubles and have allowed, by far the lowest slugging percentage. Amazingly, they are LAST in the league in strikeouts (Leiter's scoreless walked 4 struck out 0 performance the other night being representative). I don't know if any team has ever pulled off the double of first in ERA and last in K's, but I doubt it. That statistic may suggest that something's gotta give, but so far, it hasn't. The other striking point is the Mets' bullpen depth. These guys aren't really great, but lots of them are pretty good. With the starters out of the game Thursday night by the middle of the 6th, and the outcome still in doubt with the Mets ahead only 2-1, the edge the Mets had on the Marlins was clear in the quality of who they could bring in to bridge them to the end of the game. . . .
Thursday, June 03, 2004
FREE ERIC VALENT AND OTHER THOUGHTS . . .
I'm giddy. There is no other way to describe it. Forget about analysis (for today), I'm just plain rooting. It's fun!! This team is not bad and, if they finish within 0.02 of the league lead in ERA (where they stand now), would have a legitimate shot at the postseason. In that spirit of rooting not thinking, how about more starts for Valent in place of Garcia. That is a total flip for me who urged the Garcia signing and scoffed at Valent, but this is CHEERING day, and the cold facts are that Valent has hit like a major league average rightfielder, while Garcia has not even hit like an average shortstop. True, Garcia has hit in the past and, still in his prime, is likely to hit again, but now is the time for FUN. . . . Howe's That? At the end of Wednesday night's game, only three players (Phillips, Cameron and Matsui) had been in the same position throughout the game. While I was too frustrated to write up the Horrible Howemoves during the Florida series, you have to give him credit for getting the right matchups against the Phillies and manipulating the Mets various offensive, defensive and bullpen vulnerabilities very, very well in the most recent sweep. . . . The 3rd Pick: It appears that the Padres are going to draft Stephen Drew with the first pick. That will leave 4 closely matched college righthanded pitchers for the next picks. Detroit goes first, then the Mets. Much of the talk has focused on the Mets snaring Jered Weaver, but while we're looking for excitement and fun, I'm hoping the Mets get Rice pitcher Jeff Neimann, who has a nasty slider and the best stuff of anyone in the draft. Now: let's pay back the Marlins!