Friday, July 22, 2005
Hangin’ in There. . . .
Just when things are getting interesting, Mets Analyst is off for two weeks vacation in a spot where the Mets come in on the radio but internet access is dial-up only on a balky lap top. I’ve made arrangement to have the playoff chart updated daily, but the timing may slip a bit. Hopefully, other posts will remain at two per week. Here’s a long one though, to last a little bit. . .
Whom to Watch
The Nationals appear to be dead-team walking. Indeed, according to Baseball Prospectus, they already have fallen behind the Mets in playoff odds. Unfortunately, the Braves are poised to take off, adding two front-line starters and Chipper Jones (all from the DL) to a team that played to this point as the best in the Division. Sigh. . . What that means, though, is that most likely the Mets are in a Wild Card race with the Astros, Cubs, Phillies and Marlins. Yup, I was actually rooting for the Nats to beat the ‘Stros yesterday. Incredibly, the Mets are actually currently leading this five team race, but it’s time to keep a close eye on our Central Division rivals. Of course, though the most important thing is to keep winning. If they win 6 of every 10 games the rest of the way, they will finish with the 89-90 wins that may be just enough for the Wild Card.
As the trading deadline approaches, I cannot recall a season when Mets fans were so anti-trade. Everywhere all I read is: let’s not blow the future. This is probably a residual feeling from last year’s disaster, and I share the general sentiment, but let’s not get carried away here. The Mets top, signed and healthy pitching prospects — Brian Bannister and Yusmerio Petit — likely project as middle of the rotation starters, several years from now. Petit could turn out to be a right-handed Sid Fernandez, but right now he is a double-A pitcher without dominating stuff who can’t retire 22 and 23 year-old lefties. Bannister is a poor man’s Steve Trachsel. Royce Ring, a back of the bullpen lefty, can’t beat out Mister Koo for a roster spot and Victor Diaz likely will be a major league regular, but has as much chance (maybe more) of a being a bust than an All-Star, as it is not certain he can keep up with major league fastballs. Don’t get me wrong, I like these guys, hope they succeed, and some of them will. But let’s not get carried away. None of them has much chance of being a "foundation" player, like Wright and Beltran, who are, and Reyes, who we're still hoping for. They are expendable and replaceable. Lastings Milledge is our keeper.
First Base/Bullpen — It’s the Scouting
O.K., I’m coming out of the closet and saying that if Omar gets good reports from scouts and doctors (which I assume he would need to pull the trigger), I would be happy to see the Mets make the rumored Mike Sweeney and Jeremy Affeldt for Victor Diaz and either Petit or Bannister trade. If we threw in Ring, fine. If we could get Mike MacDougal so much the better. I know this is a small minority view among bloggers and media types, but Sweeney is only 31, has only two years left on his contract, and it is a below market contract were he healthy. The guy is really raking this year, as he has throughout his career when in the lineup. How would the Mets look with another bat of the Floyd/Wright caliber in place of Minky’s? Affeldt has the stuff of a left-handed Tom Gordon. His injury problems — blisters, rib cage, groin – have not been arm related, and I would love to see Rick Peterson get his hands on him. Ring’s stuff can’t begin to compare. MacDougal is an upper-90's fastball righty with some control issues. The concern here, and it is real, is whether Sweeney’s back will let him play 1st base everyday (instead of DH’ing), and it’s too bad that he’s righty not lefty. If the scouts and the doctors give a green light, though, this is a trade that could make the Mets better in ‘05, ‘06 and ‘07.
The other 1b candidates: Dunn—will cost more in prospects, plus, I like him but question whether he has the right makeup to come into New York in a blockbuster deal. Not a city boy at all. . . . Casey: fun guy to root for, but not a good enough hitter to really advance your team. He leads the league in GIDP while hitting only 4 home runs playing in a launching pad. Overbay. . . won’t be traded. . . Stand Pat. . . . doesn’t cost anything, but hard to win with league bottom production . . .
Second Base — Free Talent
With Cairo and/or Matsui, we’re talking about a real weakness. Don’t kid yourself, Marlon Anderson cannot handle it defensively, Cairo is a nice BENCH player, and even if Matsui magically does get it, he has miles to go before being decent. The answer? To me it is Ray Durham, who supposedly can be had in a salary dump. If his defense is really so bad that his .380, switch-hitting OBP would not help us, even in an offense/defense platoon situation, OK, but I find that hard to believe. He has a salary of about $7 million this year and next. The Giants want to dump it; we can afford it. If we can get him for, essentially, nothing, it is a risk I am very happy to take with the Wilpon’s money. At worst, next year he is an expensive but valuable bat off the bench. That’s what my brain says. My heart says lets take a look at out-of-nowhere defensive wiz Anderson Hernandez, who is still tearing it up with a .916 OPS at Norfolk, and hope for a Timo Perez type boost in the latter half of the season, before the league figures him out. . . .
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Let's take a minute to enjoy the amazing success of Mets pinch hitters this season. Mets pinch-hitters are batting a whopping .352! And remember, pinch-hitters tend to have lower batting averages than normal because (i) they are not as good as regular players; (ii) they tend to face better pitchers than average. For example, the median team, the Reds, has its pinch hitters at .250, and the last place team (Cardinals---featuring Roger Cedeno!) are at .203. A surprising statistic is that the Mets rank 15th of the 16 NL teams in pinch-hit at-bats. Woodward's contribution last night, though, makes it a good time to enjoy their success.
Don't Look Now, but. . .
Jose Reyes has walked in both games after the all-star break. Wow. He pulled that trick right before the All-Star break as well. He's on pace now to score 94 runs, which is plenty to break Frank Taveras' team-record for shortstops of 79. . . . But, if you've been listening, or should I say, hearing, or should I say, enduring, Fran Healy blab endlessly about Reyes' need to "jump at fastballs" and claim that he has lost something trying to be patient, well, um, er, Healy has a point. Reyes' slugging percentages of .413 in April and .406 in May were very good for a shortstop, and made him a decent hitter, if not a leadoff man. His numbers in June (.304) and July (.295) make him Rey Ordonez. Reyes went from June 5 to July 15, an incredible 142 AB without a double or a home run. Yes, his strikeouts dropped too, but he obviously has a ways to go to find the balance between patience and agression--the worst of both worlds will not do. That is why two doubles to go with the two walks in the past three games is especially good to see. . .
You have to respect Randolph's insistence that players do the job they're on the Roster for. Yesterday, he brought his 5th best reliever into a tie game in the 8th inning, but it was 3 out of 4 lefty batters, including the Padres' best hitters. That's what the lefty in the pen is for, after all. Even though Koo retired none, zero, zilch, nada of the lefties, his deceptive delivery and solid move to first was important and they did keep the Pads from scoring. I can't wait for them to have a lefty who can actually retire lefties working out of the pen. Will it be Ishii (lefties batting .161 with .650 OPS), especially with Trachsel making his first rehab start and only being 2-3 weeks away?
Mike Piazza is batting .500 with a 1.000 OPS out of the 6th spot in the lineup, plus he's one for one in catching base stealers from that slot . . . . Ahh, were it really that simple.
Does it feel to you as though Shea is playing as more of a pitcher's park than usual? It may just be from watching Mienkiewicz, who had another awful game last night. When he led off the third trying to bunt for a base hit in front of Cairo, Benson and Reyes (decent bunt, but still thrown out by several strides), you knew he was still struggling, a fact confirmed by a weakly hit, rally killing double play later in the game. (Minky also almost cost the Mets early by kicking a double play ball). Mientkiewicz has the breathtaking home road split of: .165/.261/.216!!! at home, and .270/.349/.532 on the road. I just can't get over that and am starting to take seriously the idea of a home/road platoon for him. Obviously, Omar must be pointing this out in trade talks. . . . He's a good player---for any other team.
With eleven days to go until the trade deadline, guessing what the Mets will do is about as fruitful as guessing about Supreme Court nominees was. I don't know what the right thing is, but here is a very quick take on some of the potential first basemen being discussed (in order of quality, from my view).
Adam Dunn: One of the 10 to 15 best hitters in the league. Still young and likely to improve. Never hits into double plays (twice in 70 chances this year).
Mike Sweeney: Still a very good hitter when healthy, and at 31 and under contract through age 33, not that old, not a Vaughn or Thome situation. Health definitely a gamble though, and bad defensively, particularly at catching errant throws. High upside, but more risk.
Lyle Overbay: Having his second straight solid year with the bat and a good defender. Likely to be overall slightly above league average at first base for a couple of years.
Sean Casey: Loves to hit into double plays 23! in 85 chances this year. Accounting for that, his lack of power and his ballpark, about an average offensive first baseman. Solid defender, also 31 years old. Less risk, but less potential. Beloved in Cincinatti; I can't see them trading him this year.
Monday, July 18, 2005
GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS
Inspired by the Mets .500 Record and a Favorite Childhood Book. . . .
Fortunately, Beltran (.375 BA, .790 OPS), a notorious second half hitter, and Mientkiewicz (.500/1.000) both looked pretty good in the Braves series; we need them to play better than before the break. Unfortunately, the sample size is meaninglessly small. . . . Fortunately, the starting pitching continued to do very well (the starters 3.84 ERA is fifth in the league, behind three teams in playoff position and Roger Clemens), unfortunately, the defense still is "maturing," (with better glovework, and 1 run on Saturday), the Mets actually could have swept the Braves. . . . Fortunately, the Mets pinch hitters can get you a single whenever you need one (a Major League leading .350 B.A. coming off the bench), unfortunately, that’s about all they do (towards the bottom of the league in pinch XBH and pinch BB/K). . . . Fortunately, they’re the best base-stealing team in the league (69 SB, (2nd), .76; SB%, (3rd))), unfortunately, they’re still even worse at stopping the running game (68 SB (last), 13% (CS) last). . . . Fortunately, this difference has shrunk steadily from the start of the year, so that now its probably cost the Mets only a couple of runs, almost a complete wash; unfortunately, Piazza’s hitting (.148 BA in July) has tailed off after improving steadily through the first three months. . . . Fortunately, I could spend all day studying the Mets; unfortunately, I can’t spend all day studying the Mets. . .
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Shoulder to Shoulder and Backs to the Wall. . .
I hope everyone had a nice break, because, emotionally, we're starting up with a bang, not a whimper. The Mets are hanging on to the precipice of contention by their fingertips, and here come the Braves, intent on grinding those fingers under their shoe. Good News: Ishii isn't pitching in the series. . . It's time for Carlos Beltran, the most disappointing Met of the first half (unless your Matsui/Mientkiewicz expectations were too high), to start doing his thing. . . .
The Mets used the break to move up most of their top prospects, so it is no longer the case that their best prospects are all in the low minors. Brian Bannister, surprise candidate for the 2006 rotation---the new Steve Trachsel (how's that for damning with faint praise?)---moves up to AAA Norfolk, and blue chip prospects Lastings Milledge and Phillip Humber move up to AA, suggesting major league arrival in 2007 for Milledge and '06 or '07 for front of the rotation hope Humber. Meanwhile, Mets minor league pitcher of the year to-date, Gabby Hernandez, moves up to the High A Florida State league. Watching prospects is the last refuge for fans of 90 loss teams. Let's hope that need not be our second half focus.
Monday, July 11, 2005
My son and I made our road trip to Pittsburgh Friday night. What a perfect night for a game. PNC Park is beautiful . . . Everything you've heard, and better. Out of the "new" parks I've been to, Pac Bell, Jacobs Field, Great American Ballpark and Camden Yards, and now PNC, I would probably put PNC first. Great views of the river, bridges and city, no bad seats, only two levels with an intimate feel, cool bleachers, nooks and crannies all over the outfield, good food variety, great walking areas . . . Just a wonderful place for a game. Plus, we each got free Willie Stargell Replica Statues, which are now selling for $10 on e-bay (on the way out, someone was paying $3 for them and had a collection of a few dozen when we walked by. . . ).
Worst Collapse Ever
If you're reading this, you probably know what happened. The Mets managed to lose, even though they were leading by four runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Not unprecedented to lose from there, but pretty rare. What was unprecedented, at least for me, was the way they did it. Three plays that, individually, were about as bad as you would see in an entire season --- the runner getting thrown out at the plate "scoring" from second on a long double in the top of the ninth, Cliff Floyd not only failing to catch a straightforward fly to end the game, but letting it get past him so that the tying run scored from first, Cairo spiking the ball on his "throw" to first in the 10th to turn a routine out into the winning run on second --- each was necessary for them to lose. It really felt like they were being paid to throw the game. Watching at home on TV, I shudder to think what I would have done, or how much time I would have lost off my life. At the ballpark, on a beautiful night, with my son, I was able to be philosophical, shake my head with a rueful grin, note that "you don't see that everyday," reflect that this is not really a playoff team anyway, and sigh. . . . We still had a great time. Good seats at PNC park, $40; nice downtown hotel, $114 dollars; hot dogs, Pizza and beer at the game $16; building Mets karma with your son . . . priceless.
From the park, we walked back to our downtown hotel and hung out for a while in the Lobby hotel/bar. He had pasta and milk. I had scotch. There must have been 50 Mets fans, aged 6 to 60 staying at our hotel. We commiserated, shook our heads, shared our brotherhood. Next time, next game, next year. . .
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Right Side for the 2nd Half?
Checkout this excerpt from the Norfolk Tides website about last night's AAA game:
. . . . [Victor] Diaz hit a three-run home run in the first inning and added a two-run shot in the 8th, as the Tides (48-40) pounded out a season-high 19 hits. The 23-year-old, who was playing just his third game all year at first base, also made several nice plays in the field, including scooping balls in the dirt on back-to-back double plays in the 7th and 8th innings. . . . and Anderson Hernandez continued his hot hitting with three hits and an RBI in three at-bats. Hernandez is now hitting .404 in 13 games since being promoted from Double-A Binghamton. . . .
Mets Analyst has been urging Diaz at first since late April, and started suggesting a role at 2b for defensive wiz Hernandez this season a couple of weeks ago. Wouldn't that be something: an infield with an average age of 22 and actual talent!
Key Game Today
Well, in the first three games against the Nationals, everything has gone the opposite of form. The Mets won the two games they were supposed to lose (behind Ishii and Glavine) and lost the game they were supposed to win (behind Martinez). Last night's game was actually pretty amazing. If you didn't see it, the Mets gave the Nats 6(!) extra outs (Wright missed grounder scored hit, Beltran missed bloop scored hit, Anderson missed grounder scored hit, Wright error, Reyes bobble where runner would have been caught stealing, Reyes error) and gave up two outs of their own on the bases (Castro and Anderson), but still won.
I shouldn't get my hopes up, but, with Benson today and then three games against Pittsburgh (sans Glavine), I'm holding out for 4 games over .500 at the break, which would have us in this thing. My son and I are going to Pittsburgh for Friday night's game, though, and we'll have fun no matter what!
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
|SLIP SLIDIN’ AWAY|
They Kept Fighting. . .
A tough loss on Tuesday night, especially because a win would have been so sweet against the first place team and was expected with Martinez on the mound. Loaiza was great though, and the Mets did fight till the end, getting the tying run to second with one out. They had their chance, which for me, makes it a little easier to take.
As the Mets playoff chances gradually fade away, they have reached the stage, really for the first time this year, where their chances of making the playoffs lie much more with the Wild Card than with division title. Right now, it looks like it will take about 94 wins to take the division and about 90 wins for the Wild Card. That means other teams will have to disappoint or the Mets will have to play after the break with the success that the Nationals had before it.
Things We Would Like to See
Even if the postseason does go gently into that good night for the Mets (and we’re not dead yet!), there are certain things Mets Analyst will be hoping to see as the season progress:
1) The Emergence of Carlos Beltran: Beltran needs to be a star for the Mets to have a future. So far, he’s been a below average hitter for a centerfielder. How about at least 15 runs above his position the rest of the way, about what Ken Griffey has done so far this year. NL centerfielders have averaged a .339 OBP and a .442 SLG. Beltran is at .319/.425. A target to shoot for is to finish the year with an OPS over 800 and more than 20 steals.
2) Progress from Jose Reyes: Jose has really tailed off offensively, coinciding with the Mets hitting dormancy. Right now, his offensive contributions, even accounting for his great baserunning, are way below average even for a shortstop. The offensive numbers for NL shortstops this year are weak: .306 OBP and .371 Slg. (that’s why Eckstein is an All-Star). Jose Reyes is at .278 and .371. I would like to see him finish the year as at least an NL average offensive shortstop (ML average and a .700 OPS would be even better).
3) A Winning Team: Will the Mets at least bear watching and provide moments of joy the rest of the way? A .500 team is a lot better to watch than a 90+ loss bunch. Can Randolph keep them motivated? Is the latent talent we believe is there going to emerge? The Mets have been a .500 team so far, let’s at least not move backwards from there.