Friday, April 29, 2005
Looking for a Bounce Back
No time for much "analysis" today, but the 3-3 homestand was a disappointment. Why, oh why, couldn't we have taken one of those last two games from the Braves? Sigh. . . . Anyway, now they hit the road for about as short a trip as you can have -- three days in D.C.. A business trip many New Yorkers are all too familiar with. Let's hope the Mets can take care of business with at least two wins. The toughest matchup of the three (Seo v. L. Hernandez) comes tonight, right out of the box. I'll say this for the Mets -- they've shown no quit. You keep watching the game, even though they trail by 3 or 4 runs late. When the opposing team's weak link comes to the mound (usually in the 8th), we are ready to strike.
Stat to Watch
The Mets came into this season expected to be an all-time great team as basestealers -- with a chance to approach the all-time percentage base stealing record, and being near the top of the league in number of steals as well. At the same time, the opposing team's running game was bound to be a problem as Piazza continued to age. One stat to watch is whether the Mets "goodness" in base stealing can outweigh their "badness" as stopping it. I certainly thought it would. So far, though, we're losing. The Mets have stolen 13, while being caught 5, for a percentage of .72. In contrast, Mets opponents have stolen 21 bases while being caught only 2 times, for a 91% success rate (putting the Mets 29th of 30 in this category (interestingly, team #30 is the San Diego Padres, whose catcher, Ramon Hernandez -- a free agent at the end of this year -- is rumored to be Mike Piazza's heir apparent)). So Mets opponents are ahead by a net 8 bases and three outs. If I had the time, I'd calculate how much that means in runs, but it has to be few. Of course, our numbers would improve if Reyes or Matsui start to actually get on base. . . .
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
The Good Aaron showed up at just the right time, as the Mets get the jump on the Braves series . . . A split of the next two games makes this a good homestand, a sweep would make it a great one. . . .
More Good Roster Moves
First Heredia was replaced with Heath Bell, and now Matthews has been replaced with Royce Ring. That leaves only one more bullpen shoe to drop: replacing Aybar with the first healthy one from amongst Orber Moreno, Scott Strickland, and Bartolome Fortunato. In the meantime, the Mets could certainly shift to six relievers. . . .
It looks as though the Mets are going to give Seo another start on Friday, even though they could skip him and keep everyone on five days rest, given Thursday's off day. The last time they had a similar choice they made the same decision, and the start-not-skipped turned out to be Heilman's one-hit gem. On the other hand, this will be back-to-back starts for Seo against the Nationals, this time facing their ace, Livan Hernandez (the Nats are skipping their fifth starter, so the matchups shift). When Heilman was forced to face the same team, except on the road, going up against their ace, following his great start, it didn't work out. On the other hand, the Nationals are not the Marlins. . . .
Something happened in Monday night's game to make Mike Piazza really mad. I saw him cursing at 2nd base after one of his doubles, cursing in the dugout after Floyd's home run, and as animated as Mike gets after Wright's blast -- cheering like Derek Jeter. No mention of it in the papers today. . . . What was it -- Furcal's embarrassing him with two steals in the first (making opponents 20 of 21 on the season)? The wind holding up a sure homer over 396 in left? Since Piazza frequently suffers similar indignities stoically, I suspect it was something else. Whatever it was, it provoked him to a rocking 3 for 4, so I wouldn't mind if it happened again. . . .
Friday, April 22, 2005
A Successful Trip . . . Now Business at Home . . . .
The Mets reached the goal of a .500 road trip. A good accomplishment against tough division rivals, particularly after their 1-5 road start. Now they return home to big Shea for their first look at the Nationals and then a return engagement with the Braves and John Smoltz. 4-2 is the goal for this homestand, particularly as they face the two teams that are, for the moment, the weak sisters in the best division in baseball. The Nationals, notwithstanding their 8-7 record, are clearly the worst team in the division and have, in fact, been outscored by their opponents by 11 runs. We do catch their ace, Livan Hernandez, in Sunday's game facing Zambrano. He is 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA against the Mets over the past three seasons (2-0 2.78 at Shea) . I wish he was on our team. . . . The Braves are really going to struggle to score runs with their current team. Mondesi and Jordan are two giant millstones around their offensive neck. These are the Braves though -- a long way from dead, with Andrew Marte on the farm and other players to deal, so Schuerholtz will be well positioned to make moves when he's ready. The Mets need to kick them while their down, because they almost surely will get up. . . .
Welcome Heath Bell
As demanded here and elsewhere, the Mets added Heath Bell to the bullpen and subtracted Felix Heredia. They still have too many men in the bullpen as a general matter, but since it appears tonight's start may have to go to Manny Aybar, that is probably just as well for the moment. . . . Although Mike Cameron's return is not yet imminent, it is perhaps time to start making the following point:
Keep Victor Diaz on the Major League Roster!!
Willie Randolph has hinted and the Beat Writers are assuming that Diaz will be sent down when Cameron comes back. The argument is that he "needs to play everyday." Sending him down would be a big mistake.
As of this writing, Diaz is hitting .325/.460/.675 and leads the team in Runs, RBI's and Home Runs, while batting out of the 8 hole. There are two overwhelming reasons not to send him down. First, I am deeply skeptical that he will learn more as a hitter facing AAA quality pitching daily than he will facing Major League pitching playing sporadically. This is a guy, who, at 23, is clearly ready to be adjusting to the majors; he does not need to learn more against inferior competition. Second, and even more decisively, the Mets are a better team with him RIGHT NOW than they will be if they send him down. Seriously, who would make a bigger contribution to the Mets now: Diaz as the 4th outfielder, or Aybar as the 7th reliever? The Mets are still in this thing. They are supposed to be competing to win. They have to use their best roster! How can they justify holding back their best club?
How will it work? That's Randolph's job to figure out, but it should not be that hard. You know Floyd will have tweaks and bumps, Cameron will be working his way back, and there will be times late in games where you can insert him as just the weapon you need. . . . In 1986 the Mets carried a chunky infielder-turned-outfielder (one year older than Diaz, but less heralded as a prospect) who hit his way onto the club in Spring Training, did not have a position on a very set ball club, but found playing time here and there and made major contributions to the tune of .277/.344/.466 over 108 games and 328 at bats. . . . He also scored the tying run in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the WS that year. . . . Not playing everyday did not stunt the development of future MVP Kevin Mitchell (nor that of 25 year-old Howard Johnson or 23-year 0ld Lenny Dykstra, who also came off the bench for that team). The 1986 Mets put the players who gave them the best chance to win on the roster, and Davey Johnson found ways to use them. That is the model to follow here: Instead of a ticket to Nofolk, someone should get Diaz a first-basemen's glove for occassional starts over there. . . .'
Reyes Watch . . . .
How's he doing? Some say he's been the team catalyst and big man in the clutch, others say he's frequently overmatched, can't bat lead-off and has been unsteady afield. The truth is somewhere in between, but this is a young kid who is key to their future success, so obviously they should, and will, stay with him. The bad news is his .278 OBP, 14 strikeouts in 16 games, 0 walks and .944 fielding pct.. The good news is that he is on pace to score more than 130 runs, is 5th among NL shortstops in overall production, and is clearly outhitting his counterparts on 3 of our four division rivals: Atl. Furcal .229/.260/.371; Fla. Gonzalez .224/.250/.306 and Wash. Guzman .140/.180/.175! So lets just enjoy watching him, appreciate that he is already helping the team and look for improvement.
My next post will be sunday night, hopefully about a first place club ? . . . . Wouldja believe tied for first? . . . How about breathing down their necks . . . .?
Sunday, April 17, 2005
A HAPPY 6-6.
Well, if you had asked any Mets fan one week ago -- when Pedro had just gotten us off the schnide with his complete game and Carlos Beltran had given the Mets their first lead since opening day to bring us to 1-5 -- we all would have taken 6-6 as the record a week later with great joy, and I do. We've had a fun week of baseball and the promise of a season that will remain interesting past April. . . . Here are a number of thoughts. . . .
Most of the significant Mets records are not likely to be touched this season. Mike Piazza would need two pretty good seasons to dethrone all-time Mets Strawberry and Kranepool to lead in HR's, RBI's, Runs, Total Bases, Doubles and Intentional Walks. About all Mike can get this year is Steady Eddie's record for grounding into double plays (it's 138 -- Mike is 13 from taking over as of this writing).
There is one record that must fall this year, though, if the Mets are to do anything, and that record is the Mets single season record for runs scored by a shortstop. Can you guess who holds it? I'll give some clues before the answer at the bottom of this posting. The point, though, is that Jose Reyes must break that record for the Mets to win this year. When he gets on base, he scores, but the single biggest concern from this week is: will he get on base? As of this writing, he has not gotten a single walk and has a putrid .278 OBP. That is terrible in the 8 hole; it's deadly at the top of the order. He must improve in this department for the Mets to go places this season. The current Met record for runs by a shortstop in one season is 89.
Randolph Blunder Count
In my last post, I started a Randolph Blunder count. He had 7 in the first 6 games, but, I have not been able to credit him with a single blunder in the next six. There were two where I was tempted -- where he did things that were clearly wrong, in my view -- but they worked out so well that. . . well, I can't count them.
The first one came in Friday's amazing, incredible, unbelievable, who-is-that-guy-in Heilman's uniform game. Heilman vs. Beckett, bottom of the 1st, Reyes leads off with his only hit of the Marlin series, a well-struck double. I've seen enough of Randolph to worry that he is going to bunt with Cairo in the first inning, but surely not today, not with Heilman pitching, since one run surely will not be enough. If Beckett isn't his groove yet, surely we will try to pounce rather than give up an out on purpose. Besides, Cairo is the kind of guy who would hit to the right side and move the runner over anyway. So Randolph wont be stupid enough to bunt. . . except he is. . . except Beckett can't field it and Cairo reaches. . . except Heilman does only need one run . . . . The move worked out beautifully. Luck? A vote of confidence to Heilman? A sense of trying to rattle Beckett? Whatever, it worked.
The second one came in Sunday's game. Bottom of the 8th, with two outs Mike Piazza doubles in the go ahead run! Mets on top 3-2! There are now two outs, Piazza on 2nd and Beltran on 3rd. You figure Randolph will replace Piazza behind the plate with Castro in the 9th -- a good defensive-protection-rest-Piazza move he's been making regularly. So, naturally, he'll pinch run for the molasses slow Piazza with the syrup slow Castro, or perhaps with a pitcher such as Heilman. No, no pinch runner appears. Nonetheless, Castro does come in for Piazza. (The point is moot when out #3 comes without a hit). With the pitcher's spot due up 4th and the catcher's spot due up 8th, of course he will put Castro in Piazza's spot in the order and Looper in the pitcher's spot. After all, if Looper struggles and the Mets actually bat in the 9th, we wont want him to pitch a second inning anyway, and Castro is the weakest bat on a bench that has Anderson and others on it -- with a pinch hitter, Randolph can get the match up he wants; with Castro, he would be stuck. Lo and behold, Looper does blow it, and the pitcher's spot comes up with two outs, the winning run on second and the Marlin's right-handed closer on the mound. But Randolph has put Castro in the pitcher's spot! Castro has to hit instead of Marlon the Mangificent! Blunder? ? ? NO! Smack, base hit, Mets Win! ! ! Castro feels a part of the team. Hey, as long as it works. . . I'm keeping the Blunder count at 7.
When the player set the Mets record for runs by a shortstop, Mets Analyst was a senior in high school, and our class anthem was the then current hit We Are Family by Sister Sledge.
Hit the Road, Jacks?
The Mets now embark on a quick 4-game road trip: two in Philly, two in Florida. Realistically, 2-2 would be a good outcome for this team with a 1-5 road mark so far. 3-1 would be great. The game I'm most interested in is Aaron Heilman's Wednesday rematch with Beckett and the Fish. Which Heilman will show up? There was only 1 home run hit during the Mets 6 game home stand. You can be sure there will be more than that in the next 4 games. Shea's April rejection of long balls could not have hurt the usually Gopher happy Heilman. Let's see what he can do on the road (albeit in a pitcher friendly park). Moreover, there is the tendency of hitters to do better against a particular pitcher as they see him more times in the same season, as this baseball prospectus piece recently demonstrated.
The player who holds the Mets record for most runs by a shortstop (call him X) is two degrees of separation from Jose Reyes. X played with Kent Tekulve on the Pirates, who played with John Franco on the Reds, who played with Jose Reyes on the Mets. . .
Two Roster Moves We Would Like to See
Obviously, Heath Bell, who pitched well last year, pitched great in Spring Training, and who now has been dominating with perfection at Tidewater (he's faced 20 batters, struck out 11 and retired the other nine: that's ERA of 0.00, WHIP of 0.00, K/9 of just over 15 and K/BB can't be calculated) in saving 3 games, should be in the Major League bullpen rather than Manny Aybar. Mets bloggers have started a "Free Heath Bell" campaign, and I'm sure we will see him soon. At the same time, it has become clear that we do not presently need to carry seven relievers. The Mets should cut down to six (good bye Felix?) and call up Luis Garcia -- who almost did and arguably should have made the club out of Spring Training. Garcia is hitting .324 with 3 home runs and 9 RBI's as the Tides everyday leftfielder. He would be a useful bat off the bench (and he did have a pinch hit home run (or two) in Spring Training), especially with Cameron on the D.L. . . .
What About Beltran?
Some of you may be thinking. . . well, if we're going by position, its most important that Carlos Beltran set some records. Beltran, of course, must do well, and he is off to a very good start, but the Mets have had some pretty decent offensive seasons from centerfielders over the years. The records (in order of vulnerability to Beltran) for RBI's is 79 (Brian McRae 1998) Home Runs is 30 (Mike Cameron 2004), Stolen Bases is 58 (Mookie Wilson 1982) and Runs is 117 (Lance Johnson 1996). It would be cool to assemble these records under one name.
The record for most runs in a season by a Mets shortstop of 89 has been held for 25 years (let us hope no more), by Frank Taveras. . . . I'll be back with another post late Thursday night or early Friday morning.
Friday, April 15, 2005
If the Season Ended Today. . . .
Playoff teams would be the Nationals, Brewers, Dodgers and Diamondbacks in then NL and the Blue Jays, Twins, White Sox and Mariners/Angels (tie). That would be something.
Third Time in History. . . .
The Mets are the third team in history (at least, since 1903) to start the season losing 5 in a row and follow that up by winning 4 in a row. The first such team, the 1960 St. Louis Cardinals, won 5 of their next seven, before dropping 8 in a row. They rerighted the ship, though, and finished 86-68, 9 games back of Mazerowski’s Yankee-slaying Pirates. The other precedent is the 1987 Dodgers, who finished 73 and 89. . .
Extra Start for Heilman. . . .
Both the Marlins and Mets come into tonight’s game with a recent day off, which would allow them to skip their fifth starter. The Marlins chose to do so, and the Mets chose not to, opting to use Heilman and give Martinez, Glavine and Iishi an extra day of rest. The Mets next off day is April 27. Assuming no rainouts and that Benson is able to return in his turn after that date, if the Mets skipped Heilman, they could hold him to two more starts before Benson’s return (Monday at Philadelphia and a home game against the Nationals), instead of three (home and away against the Marlins plus home against the Nationals). The downside of giving Heilman an extra start is so obvious as to be syllogistic: extra start for Heilman IS the downside. On the upside, it’s gentler treatment for our fragile veterans, avoids a cold night start for Pedro, moves left-handed starts (of Ishii and Glavine) from the Marlins (who fared better vs. lefties than righties in ‘04) to the Phillies (who struggled against lefties in ‘04). It’s a close call, but I can live with their decision.
Monday, April 11, 2005
Holding Out Hope
Well, I got too disgusted, depressed and busy to post after the Kasmir/Zambrano trade last year, and as interest started to rekindle after the Martinez signing and was back ablaze after the Beltran signing, I found that the last of these three was still true, and that the Mets Blogger world had greatly expanded (including some excellent work like that of Metsblog, with my old favorite, Flushing Local still going strong), so I've resisted the urge to start posting again.
I went to game's 1 & 2 in Cincinnati, had a great time despite the losses, and still resisted the urge to post. Yesterday's result, though, has me bursting; so I'll use my outlet. I'm not sure whether I'll resume regular posting (once or twice a week). I'll try, and see how it goes. . . .
Anyway, my point is there is some reason for optimism. Although the Mets are 1-5, they are both hitting and pitching well enough to do much better and that should show up on the scoreboard. While the Mets are tied for 11th in Runs Scored in the NL, they are 5th in OPS (and second in HR's). On the pitching side, while they are 13th in ERA, they are 7th in OPS allowed, 2nd in K/BB ratio and 1st in K/9. All those peripheral numbers mean that part of the problem in the runs scored and runs allowed has been plain bad luck, which should start to even out.
It must be said, though, that another problem has been terrible baserunning and coaching (though these should also change, I hope). Here is a Randolph Blunder Count, just off the top of my head, over the first six games. It must go down to below 1 per game for the Mets to win. If he can get this down from 1 blunder/game to, say, one every four games, maybe we can climb back into this thing.
Game 1: no blunders
Game 2: Blunder #1: leaves LOOGY Koo (OPS .600 vs. lefties (only hit a bloop double by Griffey); OPS .933 vs. righties) in to face righty Kearns with Hernandez ready in pen; Blunder #2 messes up double switch; Blunder #3 tried to double-switch Woodard into the game when he wanted Anderson to hit.
Game 3: Blunder #4: Gave Floyd green light to steal when tying run was at plate (or on deck) in latter half of game (this might have been Game 2, I can't remember). Blunder #5: Left Ishii in obviously too long.
Game 4: Blunder #6: Brought Koo into pitch in game situation where Braves could easily pinchhit righthander giving Mets worst possible matchup from those available.
Game 5: Blunder #7: Mets down by 3, one man on, late in game, 3-0 count to Beltran, Beltran gets green light. (He pops out, next batter, Piazza, walks, but Mets don't score (I think this was game 5)). The blunder that Heilman was pitching (instead of Ginter) must be charged to Minaya.
Game 6: I disagreed with bunting Cairo to move Reyes to second with the tying run in the 8th, though it was mooted by Beltran's homer. Right or wrong, though, I wouldn't call that a blunder. The big blunder was Reyes being caught off third following Cairo's double, wrecking a golden opportunity. Blame must go to 3B coach Acta, rather than Randolph. So, no blunders!