Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Anyway, I've been out of the loop for the last few days. I just finished my second piece for Flushing University, which should be appearing tomorrow. The Mets took two of three games from Atlanta this weekend and I'm looking forward to a fun matchup between Johan Santana and Ian Snell tonight. I have a ton of things I want to write about, but the outside world has conspired against me over the last few days.
Let's take a few minutes, though, and talk about Luis Castillo. I am not as down on Castillo as some of my counterparts, but I do think that signing him to a four-year deal was a mistake. However, Castillo's continued presence on the Mets roster should not be seen as catastrophic. It should be seen as an opportunity to revolutionize National League lineup construction and to maximize Castillo's modest talents without doing harm to the rest of the team.
Oh, I know, Willie Randolph is about as likely to revolutionize National League lineup construction as I am likely to pass on an opportunity to disparage Willie Randolph. But there is no harm in taking aim, even if the target is a dream (thank you, Mr. Sheehan) and my dream is to see Luis Castillo permanently entrenched in the #8 spot in the lineup.
I say this not because Castillo is the worst hitter in the Mets lineup. When everyone is healthy, he is actually the second-worst behind any catcher not named Ramon Castro. No, I say this because Castillo has a very distinct skill set - a contact hitter with some patience and some speed and absolutely no power - that lends itself very well to a new way of thinking about the #8 spot in a National League lineup.
The goal of any National League manager should be to minimize the number of meaningful at-bats by their pitcher. 90 percent of the pitchers in baseball can't hit a lick and are basically guaranteed outs at the bottom of the lineup. But go back to the title of this blog - Productive Outs and Crackerjack - and you may starting to see where I'm going with this.
Because while pitchers are generally the worst hitters on any National League team, they are also generally among the best bunters. Bunting is a skill that can be taught, learned and improved upon, but pitchers are generally the only players who actually practice it. Pitchers only get to bunt, however, when there is a man on first base and less than two outs.
Today's #8 hitters, since they are usually the worst hitters on the team, don't get on base all that often. In 2007, National League hitters batting in the #8 spot put up a .255/.325/.379 line. Not surprisingly, it was the worst output among the eight positions in batting order generally reserved for position players. This means the pitchers behind them are forced to swing the bat more often, which nearly always results in a strikeout or a weak ground ball to a middle infielder. By putting the worst hitter on your team in the #8 spot, you're setting yourself up for two outs in rapid succession.
However, if you put a batter with a good patience and a decent hitting eye but no power in the #8 spot, suddenly you increase the number of situations where a pitcher bunts - something he's relatively good at - and decrease the number of situations where he's actually trying to get a hit. Successful sacrifice bunts by pitchers are one of the few things that can truly be considered "productive outs."
Castillo fits this desciption perfectly. He can still put the bat on the ball, so there's no reason to believe he can't produce a line of at least .275/.340/.375 over the next four seasons, barring a major injury. That's a low-end projection, considering Castillo's career numbers, but still represents at least 15 points in on-base percentage over the typical player in that slot. Even if his knee problems turn Castillo into a threat to steal only 20 bases instead of 50, he is still a vast improvement over nearly every other #8 hitter in baseball. Now, every time Castillo walks or strokes a soft single with less than two outs, the pitcher will have a chance to sacrifice instead.
Let's run some more numbers. National League hitters batting in the #9 spot (pitchers, pinch hitters and the occasional position player) put up a .187/.241/.269 line in 2007. This is obviously abysmal - these batters get on base only once for every four official at-bats. That's even scarier when you realize that sacrifices - already a large part of the #9 hitter's arsenal - don't count toward that total. Taking the bat out of the pitcher's hand while simultaneously putting a runner in scoring position for the top of the batting order should lead to more RBI opportunities for the #1 and #2 hitter, more runs and ultimately, more wins.
Contrast that with what's happening in Milwaukee and St. Louis, where the pitcher is batting eighth and a position player is batting ninth. The theory behind this paradigm is that a manager can bat his best hitter second, not only giving him more at-bats but also more RBI opportunities. (Ned Yost claims to be doing it to prevent double plays; I claim that Ned Yost should re-think his career choices if he really believes that.)
There is merit to the theory, but only if you have a relatively thin lineup with one hitter so dominant that the team is overly reliant on his at-bats and RBI opportunities. Think the late '90s Cardinals with Mark McGwire or the recent Giants teams with Barry Bonds. (This would've also been very clever for the 1980's Whitey Herzog Cardinals, who could've batted Vince Coleman ninth, Willie McGee or Tommy Herr leadoff and Jack Clark second.)
However, I think the Brewers have the perfect candidate for the ideal #8 hitter under my system - Jason Kendall. Batting Kendall eighth would take the bat out of the hands of Brewer pitchers more often and put him in scoring position more often than under Ned Yost's experimental batting order. Yost is worrying about double plays, but his #7 hitter in 2008 is JJ Hardy, who has been horrible this year and doesn't exactly clog up the bases when he's going good anyway.
The eighth spot in the National League lineup, when strategically manned by a high-OBP, low power hitter, can minimize pitcher at-bats, increase the number of runners in scoring position and give your best hitters more RBI opportunities. What more could you ask for?
Friday, April 25, 2008
Forgive me for sounding like an excited little fanboy, but one of the biggest thrills of my life was going to Baseball Think Factory today and seeing my
I wrote professionally for over five years and if I had to make a conservative estimate, I’d say I’ve had over 1,000 articles published in newspapers and magazines during that time. None of it has made me as excited as this. If you’ve made it to this blog today because of what you saw at Flushing U or BTF, I hope I can keep your attention a little bit longer.
Back to the “Sunday starter” thing. The concept was used more frequently before 1950, where most teams didn’t have a set rotation in the fashion you see today. The Sunday starter was the guy who usually only started on Sundays (of course) as part of the frequent doubleheader match-ups that day hosted. He was typically someone who was nearing the end of his career and needed a little extra rest to remain effective.
This describes Pedro Martinez perfectly. I would love to see the Mets employ something like this, while taking advantage of off-days to use their best starters more and also using the fifth starter as an extra reliever on occasion. This plan would succeed where the standard six-man rotation would fail, because it’s not taking starts away from Johan Santana, John Maine and Oliver Perez.
Say Martinez is ready to return on May 17 against the Yankees. That would be the 43rd game of the season for the Mets, which means there would be exactly 120 games remaining. In a standard six-man rotation, each starter would get exactly 20 starts, barring injury, skipped starts or doubleheaders. Since Willie Randolph generally doesn’t like to skip starters after mid-April, preferring to give them the benefit of an extra day’s rest, it seems a safe bet that a six-man rotation would lead to an equal number of starts for all its members.
However, if you were willing to skip the fifth starter here and there and pitch the front three in the rotation on the regular four days’ rest, you could probably add two or three starts for your best pitchers, while keeping
For now, this is merely an exercise in speculation, as there is absolutely no way the Mets would actually consider this plan. But it’s my blog and I like the idea, so I’m going to speculate on it. We’ll revisit this topic on May 16, when the rotation is presumably back together, and I’ll actually play with the schedule to see how many more times the Mets could give the ball to
Let's take a look at the active roster now:
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez-DL
Billy Wagner (closer)
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I would actually go for this plan under a specific set of circumstances, none of which are likely to happen in this scenario. If you're telling me that:
* The seventh reliever in the bullpen is going to become the sixth starter (or more appropriately, that Joe Smith or Jorge Sosa will be sent to AAA to make room for Pedro), and
* The fifth and sixth starters (presumably Mike Pelfrey and Nelson Figueroa) will be used as relievers between starts, and
* Santana, Maine and Perez will skip the sixth starter whenever they would have more than five days' rest (because of a scheduled off-day between starts), and
* Resting an extra day means the manager can re-think pitch counts and let each starter go deeper into games (10 pitches? 20 pitches?)
then you may have something intriguing.
But a six-man rotation would presumably still come with a seven-man bullpen. That leaves just four bench players on the roster - and the Mets have a paper-thin bench as it is. This six-man rotation would take appearances away from the three best starters (Santana, Maine and Perez) and give them to inferior pitchers. I don't care if some starters are slightly more effective on five days' rest as oposed to four - there are enough scheduled off-days during the season that it's going to happen from time to time anyway. Finally, there's no reason to believe that extra rest will make any Met starter more efficient, so even with extra rest Willie is still going to pull a guy after 5 2/3 innings and 98 pitches anyway.
It gets bantered about from time to time, but I wonder if bringing back the old "Sunday starter" concept would benefit Pedro. It would only be useful if the Mets employed a six-man regular bullpen while deploying Pelfrey or Figueroa as the occasional long man and if it didn't negatively affect the number of starts from the front three in the rotation. I'll try to expand upon this more later in the week.
In case you missed the announcement, I'll be writing guest columns for Flushing University that will appear every Wednesday on the site. Flushing University has been adding to their stable of writers as part of an effort to increase traffic to the site and I'm excited to be part of something that I think is going to really take off in the coming weeks and months. It took a little longer than anticipated, but the article is finally posted and you can read it here. After you finish reading it, go over the the forums and post your thoughts there.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
The Mets left Chicago battered and bruised, the victims of two late-inning meltdowns by two relievers with entirely too many appearances so far this season. The Cubs are very hot right now, but one has to be objective and simply say that the better team won those two games at Wrigley.
In fact, we’re almost a month into the 2008 season and one thing is clear – the New York Mets are not the class of the National League. The Cubs are a better team, and so are the Arizona Diamondbacks, and there are a few other teams that I could make a case for if I was so inclined – Milwaukee and Los Angeles being chief among them.
The strength of the 2008 team lies in its starting pitching. The front three in the Mets’ rotation is terrific, but the back end is either brittle (Pedro and El Duque) or not very good (Mike Pelfrey and Nelson Figueroa). I think that both Arizona and Chicago have better rotations one through five, and the Brewers and Dodgers can make a case that they have better starters as well. Not a good sign, when you’re forced to look at the Met bullpen and their position players.
The bullpen is bloated with specialists – Scott Schoenweis, Joe Smith and Jorge Sosa have no business facing anyone who bats with the opposite hand. Billy Wagner is still a Top-10 closer, but Aaron Heilman is struggling mightily, Pedro Feliciano doesn’t look much better and Duaner Sanchez is still getting comfortable after his devastating shoulder injury. Matt Wise’s return will help, as it will either lead to the demotion of Smith or the release of Sosa, but if the front four in the pen aren’t dominant, the Mets won’t crack the 90-win mark.
The everyday lineup is good, but it relies so much on the perpetually injured Moises Alou to make it dangerous. Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran are stars – in fact, they are among the best at their position in the league. Ryan Church and Luis Castillo are solid role players and round out a lineup nicely. But Brian Schneider can’t hit a lick (regardless of the superficially hot start he got off to before his injury) and it may be time to seriously consider the possibility that Carlos Delgado is shot.
Alou’s return will send Angel Pagan into the #4 outfielder’s slot, which will improve the bench by forcing the release of Brady Clark. The rest of the reserve corps, however, is embarrassingly bad. Raul Casanova can’t hit. Damion Easley isn’t much better and has no business backing up all four infield positions. Marlon Anderson is the reincarnation of Manny Mota, but the modern game doesn’t allow for a roster spot to be wasted on a pinch-hitting specialist. Only Endy Chavez has multiple tools (defense and base-running), but can’t hit for average or power.
The Mets are still arguably the best team in the National League East and might still be able to fend off the Braves and the Phillies to win the division. Atlanta’s had a lot of pitching injuries already, not to mention an already suspect bullpen. Although the Braves’ everyday lineup is better than New York’s, it won’t look so formidable when the incomparable Chipper Jones comes back to earth. The Phillies can’t match up to either team in the pitching department and their big bats will not be enough to overcome their mound mediocrity.
The Cubs should hold off the Brewers to win the NL Central and the Diamondbacks are likely to cruise to the NL West flag. The Dodgers and the Brew Crew have the inside track on the wild card, although the Braves and the Phillies could make a run. Anything can happen in a short series – and it usually does – but Mets GM Omar Minaya has some work to do if he’s going to put a team on the field in October capable of reaching the World Series.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Met relievers pitched 59.1 innings going into tonight’s game. 12 of those innings have been pitched by Heilman – just over 20 percent of all reliever innings. This is too many innings for a guy with a 5.25 ERA and a 1.333 WHIP.
Heilman is on pace for 108 appearances and 114.3 innings pitched. That is far too much work for a reliever, especially in a seven-man bullpen.
Jorge Sosa has a career WHIP vs. lefties of 1.76. His stat line against lefties are .296/.384/.507. In comparison, those same numbers against righties show a 1.20 WHIP and a .230/.296/.373 stat line. Jorge Sosa should not be allowed to pitch to left-handed batters, especially in important situations.
In the eighth inning of a 2-1 game, Willie Randolph brought in Aaron Heilman to pitch. Again. Heilman was ineffective. Again. The Jose Reyes error was bad luck – hitting a batter and giving up two singles was bad pitching.
With the score now 4-1 and two outs with two runners still on base, Felix Pie came to the plate. He is a left-handed batter. Willie Randolph brought in Jorge Sosa to get the final out of the inning. Sosa got the final out – after giving up a three-run home run to Pie. Sosa failed to get out the left-handed batter. Again.
There’s no point in ranting or raving tonight, dear reader. Either you get it or you do not. Willie Randolph, after over three years of managing this team, still does not get it.
Back in 1996, the Queens Chronicle paid me $25 a story as a contributor. I mostly contributed puff-piece features and the occasional ad copy, but it was the first time I could look myself in the mirror and call myself a professional journalist. When I graduated from St. John’s in 1998, the Chronicle took me on full-time and offered me a salary of $22,100 a year.
It took only two months for me to find something better. I was also working weekends for the Irish Echo sports section, writing stories about the weekly Gaelic football and hurling matches for the New York GAA. I got paid $250 a week to watch the Sunday matches and do short game recaps of each. In the process I caught the eye of the rival Irish newspaper in New York City, who I will not link to because they do not deserve the publicity. They saw my work and hired me full-time on the news side, where I eventually morphed into a weekly columnist, the sports editor and a general assignment reporter all in one.
It all ended in 2001. I was burned out, disillusioned and had become a lazy and uninterested reporter. When November 1 of that year rolled around, the financial report for the previous month bore bad news. Ad revenues were in the tank – that was a tough time for newspapers, you may remember – and a small weekly paper had to start trimming fat somewhere. A former colleague’s back-room dealings with the founding publisher led to him offering me a reasonably generous severance package, in the hopes of making me go away quietly. I did just that, but I was never shy about expressing my opinion as to who was behind my firing and why the publisher hoped I would stay quiet.
At that point, I thought my career was over. I had no interest in writing anymore. I do believe that writing is an art and I didn’t believe you could create art on a deadline. I used to explain it this way, “No one ever asked Picasso to give them three paintings each week.” Time passes and here I am, back at my alma mater, working at a job I never thought I’d find myself in. When I started this blog a few weeks ago, it was simply as a creative outlet to get down my thoughts about baseball – one of the few things I’m still passionate enough to argue about.
It’s been a great experience so far, and it’s only about to get better. I’ve been asked to become a weekly contributor to Flushing University, the independent Mets site I wrote about on Saturday. I’m very excited about the opportunity – I’ll still be updating my blog regularly and will simply contribute one or two longer pieces a week directly to Flushing University (with a link on Productive Outs re-directing my current readers). I’m going to try to bang out my first piece tonight or tomorrow – right now it looks like I’ll be featured every Wednesday on the site.
It’s been 6 ½ years, but my writing career has started again, this time in a new and very exciting medium. I’ve often talked about what newspapers need to do to retain readership in the 21st Century; embracing the type of analysis you see on blogs today would be a good start. In the meantime, go on over to Flushing University and register – once my first article hits the site I’ll be sure to let you know.
Met Thoughts: The five-game winning streak came to an end last night. Mike Pelfrey came back down to earth, surrendering 10 hits over five innings and getting ritually abused by Chase Utley. Nothing particularly interesting to report, except that Luis Castillo was back in the #2 spot in the lineup and Ryan Church was dropped back to #6. This might not be a huge deal; I can’t really blame the manager for staring down the barrel of a lineup featuring Raul Casanova, Endy Chavez, Luis Castillo and Mike Pelfrey at the bottom and finding it wanting.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
The slow start has been forgotten with the current five-game winning streak, leaving the Mets atop the NL East at 10-6 with a magic number of just 146. Heilman has been mostly terrible so far, but his 11th appearance in the team's first 16 games was mostly a successful one. Called on to get out of a jam created by Joe Smith and Pedro Feliciano, Heilman gave up an RBI single before striking out Geoff Jenkins and Jayson Werth to end the inning.
And then the lost double-switch. With two outs and two on in the bottom of the sixth inning, Willie yanked Perez for Duaner Sanchez. With the pitcher's spot due up third in that inning, double switching would've given Willie an opportunity to get a little more length out of Sanchez. (But apparently getting length from relievers isn't as important though, eh Willie?) The double switch might've set up a situation where Heilman - who has been used like Mike Marshall so far this season - had a better chance at getting a day off.
Angel Pagan had made the final out of the sixth, setting up the perfect opportunity to put the pitcher in the sixth spot and put Endy Chavez in the #9 hole. Doing so would've improved the outfield defense, for starters, and would've removed the necessity to use a pinch-hitter in the seventh. By the time the sixth spot in the order came around again, it almost certainly would've necessitated a pinch-hitting appearance anyway - it just would've come at a more opportune time for the Mets.
Willie did not double switch, and although the Reyes home run that inning extended the lead to 4-0, the Mets still ended up using five relievers to nail down the final three innings. Perhaps not the most optimal use of bullpen arms?
Anyway, after the Reyes home run T-Bone left me a message, the exact contents of which are too profane for publication in a family blog. (Actually, it was a just a really long message that I don't want to bother transcribing, but the raw emotion was amusing enough to store with my saved messages.) The general message, however, was that Willie's tactical ineptitude was being overcome by the talent of his players once again. The missed opportunity will go down as just one more footnote in a long season, but there are plenty of people still taking notice.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
In the meantime, I want to take a minute to promote Flushing University. an independent Mets site that I've been checking out. I'm adding them to the Recommended Reading section, because independent sites like these don't necessarily fit on the blog roll. They tend to employ a number of contributors, many of whom also have their own blog. Check it out and keep an eye on it over the coming weeks.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Like Blastings, KOYIC is a Lastings Milledge-centric Mets blog. The blog's unique name comes from a Rick Peterson quote; if I didn't know better, I would think Rick had smoked something very potent before coming up with the analogy! MP is defeinitely a Milledge fan, but he adds a lot of sarcasm and wit to his views on the Mets and on other figures around the game of baseball. Anyone who pisses in Phil Mushnick's cornflakes is all right with me!
Thursday, April 17, 2008
RESULT: Figueroa did not reach base, but gave the Mets one more effective inning.
Then, of course, Willie forgot to double-switch after the seventh inning. Luis Castillo left two runners on and Aaron Heilman was set to pitch the eighth. Willie could've double switched by bringing Brian Schneider in to catch or Endy Chavez in to play left field. Carlos Beltran was available as well; as far as I know he's not injured and this is just a routine night off. (EDIT: Beltran has a stiff neck.) Wilie did nothing and simply left Heilman in the #9 spot in the order.
It took Aaron just 11 pitches to go through the eighth and would've been available to at least start the ninth had the Willie double switched and the Mets not scored. But Willie blew it again and Heilman had to be pinch-hit for; Marlon Anderson struck out to make Willie's failure complete.
At this point, I am convinced that Willie Randolph is intentionally refusing to double switch. He is inexplicably ignoring a unique and important National League strategy for maximizing reliever usage, employing pinch hitters at opportune times and for substituting defensive replacements. Marlon Anderson's presence on the roster becomes all the bothersome when you realize it becomes a crutch for Willie to continue to ignore double switching in order to use Anderson strictly as a pinch hitter.
RESULT: Anderson strikes out, but the Mets tie the game on a Carlos Delgado single. Heilman is forced to give way to Billy Wagner, even though three of the next four batters in the Nationals lineup are right-handed. Willie's failure to double-switch forces his closer to pitch to a series of guys who bash lefties:
Zimmerman - 1.103 OPS in 167 PA against lefties
Johnson - .938 OPS in 179 PA against lefties
Milledge - .956 OPS in 70 PA against lefties
Kearns - .883 OPS in 167 PA against lefties
Wagner gets the first two outs and sets up a wonderfully interesting at-bat with his former tormentee Lastings Milledge. I have to admit, I was absolutely rooting for a long, long home run by L-Millz there!! But Wagner gets the out and officially turns Willie's mistake into a mere footnote.
EDIT: Willie double-switched! It took waiting until the 11th inning and two unnecessarily short appearances from Heilman and Wagner, but Damion Easley has come on to play left, the pitcher slides into the #5 spot and Joe Smith is on to pitch. Of course, had Heilman pitched the ninth and Wagner the 10th ... oh, forget it, I guess I should be happy Willie even grasps the concept.
I know that Luis Castillo – who has been moved down to the #8 spot – is considered a more prototypical #2 hitter, but I have serious problems with that model. Conventional wisdom places so much emphasis placed on the #2 hitter’s ability to take a pitch, or to make contact with two strikes, or to hit the ball to the right side to advance the lead runner. These are all good qualities to possess, but they are all dwarfed by the ability to smack a double into the gap, whether or not a man is on first.
Each spot in the lineup is worth roughly 20 more plate appearances over the course of the season. The Mets expected to start 2008 with Castillo batting second and Church batting seventh, which over the course of the season would give the second baseman as many as 80 more opportunities to bat. But with Church batting second and Castillo batting eighth, the right fielder could suddenly see as many as 100 more plate appearances this year, just by virtue of being moved up in the lineup.
Since Church is three years younger and not coming off a Spring Training shortened by knee surgery, he’s more likely to improve upon his 2007 performance. Castillo is slightly more likely to regress, given that he's 32 and has always generated hits with his legs. Still, if you ask both players to simply replicate their 2007 numbers, it would mean nearly 100 more plate appearances for a player with a line of .270/.350/.465 and 60 extra-base hits. He would be replacing a player with a line of .300/.360/.360 and 25 extra base hits. The on-base percentage slightly favors Castillo, but the slugging percentage makes Church the far better hitter. General rule of thumb: the better the hitter, the more often he should be given the chance to hit.
Yes, Church strikes out more frequently that Castillo, but that may be the only area where he’s less suited to the #2 spot. Church features “doubles power” as opposed to home run power, another valuable trait for a player in his spot in the lineup. Of course, there’s nothing better than a guy who hits the ball out of the park, but your first two spots are good places for high average, high on-base hitters who lack the ability to routinely swat long balls.
In comparison, Castillo has absolutely no power – he’s never had a slugging percentage over .400 in his career. I find it very ironic that people who decry station-to-station baseball always have an affinity for players who couldn’t hit a double if their life depended on it. I think that Castillo is actually an ideal #8 hitter in the sense that he gets on base well and can sometimes steal a base when he gets there, but possesses absolutely no other offensive talent. As Castillo piles up the walks and singles, it creates more opportunities for Met pitchers to sacrifice instead of swinging away.
Willie may have stumbled upon something here. Church is batting second again tonight; let’s hope it’s a spot he occupies for the rest of the season.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
JP also posts at Mets Geek, which is going to get added to the blogroll just for being a good Mets site. He appears to be a fairly regular contributor there as well, but make sure you bookmark Blastings! Thrilledge first.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
We can all hope that Duaner provides a boost, but it's important to note that his injury was unlike any ever faced by a pitcher in known history. There's absolutely no way of knowing if he's fully recovered and if his arm will hold up. It's obviously worth a shot, and the Mets will benefit immensely if he is able to bounce back. Carlos Muniz was sent to New Orleans to make room in the bullpen.
Let's take a look at the active roster now:
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez-DL
Billy Wagner (closer)
The "Joe Fan" perspective, of course, is the sports equivalent of the "Man on the Street" perspective in news stories, where the hapless reporter is forced to walk among the unwashed masses and ask them about their reaction to the current hot story on the presses. It's the worst cliche in print journalism and the least useful perspective a newspaper could possibly provide its readers. In a world full of experts, learned scholars and paid-by-the-opinion consultants, what the hell do I care about what some mook on the street thinks about the news of the day?
Anyway, each writer taps into the vein of anger surrounding Mets fans and opine about what it means for the season at hand. There are a lot of potential explanations - a hangover from the 2007 collapse, apparent lackadisical play, perhaps even unrealisitc expectations from a fan base that sometimes wonders if a 162-0 record will be enough to win the National League East.
Marchman's take was typically brilliant: "Usually this sort of thing doesn't matter; the diligence and faith mentioned in baseball contracts extend to an expectation that players will do their best regardless of how fans at the home park behave, and they nearly always do. Members of baseball management, though, have no such clauses in their contracts, and those employed by the Mets in fact have a long history of overreaction to displays of fan apoplexy. (Note which jersey L-Millz is wearing tonight if you don't believe this is true.)"
For me, it's really more of a feeling of apathy than anger. Listen, we're still only 11 games into the 2008 campaign and I honestly had to check the standings to see what the Mets' record was going into tonight's game. I'm not worried about Reyes' slow start or Heilman's bullpen follies or El Duque's ongoing rehab problems. The apathy comes from a deep-seated conviction that this team will not, can not, win anything of substance while Willie Randolph is still the manager, no matter what shiny new toys Omar Minaya gives him.
There's always going to be that churning in the gut when Willie mismanages the bullpen, or forgets to double-switch, or publicly calls out his players for nonsensical reasons. Marchman, again: "Manager Willie Randolph, perhaps more importantly, has proved, if he has proved anything during his tenure in Queens, that the greater the pressure gets, the worse he runs a game." It doesn't just question my faith in this team's fortunes; it destroys it.
I wrote this toward the end of the 2007 season, with the Mets still clinging to that slim lead over the Phillies: "I will gladly trade an epic choke that would see the Mets miss the playoffs entirely this season if it came with a cast-iron guarantee that Willie would be fired the next day. He is that much of a detriment to this franchise's ability to win a World Series and I have no doubt that he lacks both the strategic acumen and the motivational tools necessary to win a championship.
"I have not felt this strongly about the necessity to fire a manager since Dallas Green, and even old Dallas knew how to light a fire under a guy's ass once in a while. Willie's players sleepwalk through defeat after late-season defeat and there is no sense of urgency around them, because there are no consequences to their failures."
There were no consequences to anyone's failures after last season. Tom Glavine, Paul Lo Duca and Shawn Green all left, but the Mets had no intention of retaining them even before The Collpase. Guillermo Mota was traded to the Brewers in the first step of a shell game that ended with the exile of Lastings Milledge. Otherwise, the Mets planned to break camp with four of the same five starters, five of the same seven relievers and six of the same eight starting position players - only injuries got in the way of that.
Worst of all, the same man remians in the manager's seat. It's like steering the Titanic into an iceberg and being given the same model boat by the White Star Line to try again with. This, perhaps more than anything, is the source of the fans' discontent. It certainly is the source of mine.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Steve from The Eddie Kranepool Society was nice enough to add me today and so that site gets first mention. I like the clean layout and the banner featuring an imposing view of Shea - the page looks more professional than the typical Blogger layout. I also like that he live-blogged Opening Day; that's something I'm going to try to do in a couple of weeks. Content is added every day - the previous week includes posts about Johan Santana being booed at home, Nelson Figueroa's remarkable debut and mounting concern about Willie Randolph's tenuous grip on the team. Yep, I think we're on the same page!!
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Chien Ming Wang shut down one of the best lineups in baseball on Friday night, needing just 93 pitches to beat the Red Sox at Fenway 4-1. The two-hitter was marred only by the solo home run off the bat of JD Drew and a harmless single from Coco Crisp. There are better pitchers in baseball - the Mets just signed one of them to a $137 million extension two months ago - but Chien Ming Wang is the most important starting pitcher in MLB.
In an era where pitch counts are the dominant measure employed when evaluating starting pitcher usage, I believe that the future lies in the starter who does his job "efficiently." The starting pitcher who can get through the lineup quickly – by avoiding both walks AND strikeouts – will be allowed to pitch deeper into games and therefore will be more valuable to his team in the long run.
Think about the possibilities: a starter out of what I’ll call the “Wang mold” will get outs more quickly – hopefully in just two or three pitches by pitching to contact, instead of four or five it generally takes to record a strikeout. The pitcher who gives up two walks a game instead of three throws approximately five fewer pitches an outing. All of a sudden, with another 15 or 20 pitches to play with, a starter can go an extra inning or two before he’s considered “tired.” This allows a manager to bypass his middle relievers or – under the best of circumstances – give the entire bullpen the night off.
Today, a good start generally looks like this:
6 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 3 BB, 8 K
Using Tangotiger’s Pitch Count Estimator, the line above will generally be earned by throwing approximately 98 to 108 pitches. (Each double play turned takes off approximately 3.3 pitches from the overall total – which places a slightly higher premium on both groundball pitchers and good infield defense.) We know what that means – a pat on the back and an early trip to the showers, with the game left in the hands of the bullpen.
Now, let’s take a look at another hypothetical line:
6 IP, 3 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 2 K
At first glance, the line looks a lot worse. One extra run has been allowed, for starters. This hurler has actually given up more hits than innings pitched and has only struck out two batters, which indicates that he hasn’t been particularly dominant. It would certainly seem that he’s a prime candidate for being taken out and replaced by a middle reliever. But now, when you use the pitch count estimator, you will find that this pitcher probably threw somewhere between 84 and 94 pitches to reach this point.
If you worship at the altar of pitch counts, then you believe that the starter who posted the second line is good to go for one more inning, perhaps even two if he remains effective. You can now bypass one of your mediocre middle relievers and hand the ball to your top set-up man or your closer when you finally decide to remove the starter. In other words, more innings are given to your best pitchers – which should be the goal of any manager.
The key, then, is to fill your starting staff with “efficient” starters who will take you deeper into the game. Pitchers like Wang will get you more innings from your starters, fewer outings from your relievers and – for the truly daring manager – the ability to carry one more bench player at the expense of the generally useless seventh reliever. In the never-ending search for quality pitching, a twist on Earl Weaver's Seventh Law is appropriate - it's certainly easier to find 11 good pitchers than 12.
This requires quite a change in thinking, of course. The strikeout is generally considered a measure of dominance and rightfully so. A strikeout leaves no margin for error and requires no assistance from any field player. The ability to throw three pitches that a batter is unable to put into play suggests an ability to overmatch the hitter – an obvious indicator of success.
But here's the thing – so-called “dominant” pitchers are inefficient. Strikeouts are fun to watch and exciting to tally, but they inevitably lead to higher pitch counts. Those higher pitch counts lead to fewer innings and more dependence on relievers, who by definition are going to be inferior to your high-strikeout dominant starters. To borrow a phrase from Moneyball – efficiency should be the new market inefficiency.
Wang is the new model for a starting pitcher, in that he neither walks nor strikes out a large number of batters but has still found success at the highest level. He is particularly special because he has the ability to strike out more batters than he does – Wang features a plus fastball and a devastating sinker. But he pitches in a way that allows him to go deeper into games at the expense of the sexiest pitcher statistic of all – the strikeout.
The ability to trade strikeouts for innings pitched requires a certain mindset – one almost completely absent in the American-born hurler. Earlier in his career I wondered if Wang’s ability to do so may actually be cultural; perhaps his Taiwanese upbringing did not indoctrinate him into the importance of the strikeout as a measure of individual success. This is pure speculation, of course, but the truth is that a pitcher with Wang’s talent and statistical profile is incredibly rare – so rare that one has to look for alternative explanations to explain it.
Enter Brian Bannister. As we said in the first part, Bannister lacks the stuff Wang possesses. What Bannister has is an understanding of his limitations and the natural intelligence to seek alternative methods of success. Brian Bannister simply isn’t going to be a successful pitcher if he tries to conform to the mold – he’s not going to get a lot of strikeouts and trying to do so will only lead to more walks and more hits. To his credit, Bannister has recognized this and is experimenting with a unique method to continue his success.
The truth is, Bannister isn’t even the first Royals pitcher in recent history to do this. Dan Quisenberry is one of my favorite pitchers in baseball history – at least in part because of his guest spot on The Baseball Bunch many years ago. Quisenberry’s message that day – after Andy gave up a home run to The Incredible Bulk – was for the young closer to trust his stuff and to not be afraid to pitch to contact.
I still remember how Quisenberry described his best pitch – the “at ‘em” ball. When pressed for clarification, he simply explained that his goal was to try to get the batter to hit his pitches “at ‘em” – to the fielders behind him. For 10 years, the plan worked – Quisenberry was perennially one of the most effective relievers in baseball.
Bruce Sutter is remembered today as a pioneer for his success with the split-fingered fastball and parlayed a brilliant career into a deserved spot in the Hall of Fame. I think that Quisenberry is equally deserving of a
Of course, Quisenberry didn’t have the benefit of pitch count analysis and BABIP numbers – he simply had a gut feeling and went with it, to the benefit of his career and to the teams he pitched for. Bannister has those numbers at his disposal and thinks he may have found a pattern for success. Ten years from now, we may look back at Bannister’s discovery as a turning point in the mindset of the major league pitcher.
Bannister would get the credit, but Wang would deserve an equal share – after all, he has found success in a very similar method without the same amount of sabermetric fanfare. Every single successful start that Chien Ming Wang or Brian Bannister makes has the potential to take us one step closer to realizing a new era in starting pitcher evaluation. I’ll be watching them closely.
One final note. I didn’t expect to add a third part to this series, but in doing so I came up with another idea about pitcher evaluation and the best way to deploy a strikeout pitcher. Here’s a hint – strikeout pitchers would be much more useful in situations that require shorter outings. More on that later this week.
UPDATE: Bannister pitched a complete game three-hitter on Sunday, running his record to 3-0 with an 0.86 ERA. It took a whopping 111 pitches to do it, so fair play to Trey Hillman for letting Bannister finish what he started. Of course, Bannister will likely tear his labrum and blow out his elbow in his next start, ruining his career and completely justifying the Chicken Little-approach to starting pitcher usage employed by today's managers.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
The Mets are among the tackiest teams in all of professional sports. Some of it is all right - the Home Run Apple is harmless fun and I still think that Mr. Met takes a back seat only to the Phillie Phanatic in terms of mascot quality. But every time I go to Shea, I find myself holding my head in embarassment or aggravation, wondering what indignity I'll be subjected to next.
There are stupid sound effects between every pitch - every goddamn pitch!! - which make it difficult to carry on a conversation. That goddamn "everybody clap your hands!" bullshit makes me want to strangle every lemming that claps along with it. (I would've used "sheep" instead of "lemming," but that's a term reserved for the Agents of Karl Rove, right Christine?) And don't get me started about the bugle sound effect that is supposed to lead to the lemmings shouting "Charge!!" at the end of it. I've been calling it "the most inappopriate charge horn in the National League" since high school. The idea is supposed to be that you play it during a rally when the Mets are on the verge of a comeback - the Mets tend to use it with one out and nobody on in the second inning of a scoreless game or with two outs in the eighth inning of a game that they're losing 9-2.
The most infuriating wrinkle the Mets recently added to the "Shea Experience" was the 8th Inning Sing-A-Long, where the fans got up and belted out Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" togehter. Sound familiar? It should - the song became associated with the Boston Red Sox and their fans several years back. The Mets, for reasons entirely beyond my comprehension, decided to take one of the most cliched sing-along pub ditties in American history and present it as the team's new "special song." Stomach-churning.
Well apparently, someone at Shea finally got the memo that "Sweet Caroline" had become associated with the Sox and that the Mets looked like first-degree biters by trying to co-opt it. The team recently ran an contest from their website allowing fans to choose from a pool of 10 songs - the winner would become the new 8th Inning Sing-A-Long and would mercifully replace the current Red Sox Anthem.
Of course, "Sweet Caroline" was one of the 10 choices, but there were some other decent options that I could've lived with. (I personally voted for Billy Joel's "Movin' Out.") The Mets made one mistake, though - they allowed voters the chance to make their own suggestion in the form of a write-in vote.
Enter Fark.com. God bless the little scamps, they decided to have some fun with the competition - directing their readers to vote for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." You can guess what happened next.
I don't know who will win the run-off, but I have to say, I have always loved "Never Gonna Give You Up." I can sing the entire song in my sleep, and may try to do so at the wedding next year! It would be an incredibly cool move on the part of the Mets to acknowledge that they were had and to play along with the joke, even for just one season.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Oliver Perez was doing fine through five innings yesterday - having given up just three hits and a walk and keeping the Phillies off the scoreboard. Perez wasn't quite dominant, having also plunked Chase Utley twice, but his pitch count was only at 75 and there was no reason in the world to think about taking him out.
Perez got the first two outs in the sixth, getting Utley and Ryan Howard to pop up. An eight-pitch walk to Pat Burrell was followed by a balk, a wild pitch and a walk to Jayson Werth. Perez was frustrated at this point, and it was clear he needed to calm himself down and take control of the situation, or else he was going to squander the 2-0 lead the Mets had built for him.
Luckily, Pedro Feliz - one of the worst hitters in baseball - was striding to the plate. Feliz has spent parts of seven seasons in the majors and has only put up an OBP over .300 once. He has been slightly more successful against lefties throughout his career, but that's like saying I'm better when I arm-wrestle with my left arm instead of my right. Either way, I'm probably going to lose.
Unluckily, Willie Randolph was managing the Mets yesterday. Willie took the ball from Perez, robbing him of the chance to work out of adversity and continue in the game, and turned it over to Joe Smith, who walked Feliz (!) before retiring Carlos Ruiz to end the threat. Shenanigans ensued in the seventh and eighth inning, and the Mets were losers again.
I was already annoyed that Willie pulled Perez from the game in that spot. A free swinger like Feliz is an easy mark - this was a perfect opportunity to test Perez to see if he could overcome an adverse situation and take the next step in his professional development. Ollie is going to be a free agent after this season and is looking for a big multi-year deal; I would like to see if he has the potential to be a staff ace or if he's always going to be an erratic #3 starter who can't be counted on after the fifth inning. The only way to find that out is to let a starter pitch out of his own jams once in a while, instead of babying him and sending him to the clubhouse at the first sign of late-inning trouble.
But Willie Randolph has made it painfully clear to even the most casual observer that he is not a very creative manager. Perez had thrown 20 pitches that inning and was therefore nearing the dreaded 100-pitch mark - also known as the point where "conventional wisdom" dictates that any additional pitches thrown will cause a starting pitcher's arm to explode like an M-80 inside a watermelon. Willie also had seven options in the bullpen and he likes to keep them from getting rusty. So instead of using fewer relievers more often (a six-man bullpen), he opts to choose more relievers less often (a seven-man bullpen), even if it makes more sense to leave the starter in.
The result? Out comes Perez, in comes the bullpen, good-bye goes the game.
This would've been the end of it; just one more mistake by one of the worst tactical managers I've ever seen. But then Willie decided to pop off about his starters not going deep enough into games and infuriated me all over again.
From the article: "(Perez) got his pitch count up, he was a little erratic," Willie Randolph said. "All our starters are going to have to give us a little more length than that."
Earth to Willie - YOU'RE the manager!! YOU decide how much "length" a starting pitcher gives you!! If you had left Perez in the game, there was still a good chance that he would've gotten the third out and been ready to pitch in seventh. Even if he started the next inning with 100 pitches under his belt, the Phillies had the bottom of the order coming up. Let Perez pitch to Carlos Ruiz and take him out after the Phillies announce a pinch-hitter.
If all goes well, Perez exits with 6 1/3 innings under his belt, only 105 pitches or so thrown and the satisfaction of knowing he got himself out of the biggest jam of the game at that point. Worst case scenario - Feliz hits a three-run homer, the Mets are down a run with four more chances to tie the game and you're going to the bullpen anyway. You also learn something about Perez - that he still hasn't shown a propensity to control his emotions and to get a critical out in a big situation. That's the kind of thing you want to know about a guy before investing 5 years and $75 million in him.
But no. Willie saw the looming 100-pitch mark and decided he had to take out his starter - because every single starting pitcher in baseball reaches the limit of their endurance AT THE EXACT SAME POINT. Then he actually has the nerve to take a shot at his starter - who hasn't given up a run in either of his two outings this season - and complains that he didn't pitch deep enough into the game.
When Willie has to make a managerial decision, it's a lot like the old joke about flipping a coin - if it's heads, then Willie was right. If it's tails, then you were wrong. Personal accountability never even enters the equation.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Wise has gotten off to a bad start, but I'm still confident he can come back to have a good season. Muniz is a space filler. Let's take a look at the active roster now:
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez-DL
Billy Wagner (closer)
One is a Yankee, the other is a former Met. Both are right-handed starting pitchers who are succeeding in the American League despite being unique statistical outliers. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find more than a handful of pitchers with a similar profile that have had long-term success on the major league level.
They are Chien Ming Wang and Brian Bannister, and every start they make has the potential to change the way pitchers are evaluated in the future.
Wang is more familiar to casual baseball fans - he has won 19 games in each of the last two seasons and is generally considered the ace of the Yankee pitching staff. One of only five major leaguers in the game's history to hail from Taiwan, he features a mid-90s fastball and a devastating sinker that's very hard to elevate. Incredibly, in this age of smaller ballparks and bigger sluggers, Wang has given up only 21 home runs in the last two years - in a span of over 400 innings.
Bannister is less recognizable, but has become a darling of the sabermetric circle for some of his thoughts on pitching and his success. His breakout season was in 2007, when he won 12 games for a bad Royals team and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. The son of former major leaguer Floyd Bannister, Brian does not have the same pure stuff as Wang. He relies on locatiing a high 80s fastball and pitching to contact - generally considered a disatrous game plan for right-handed pitchers.
In fact, both Wang and Bannister share a statistical trait that often spells doom for pitchers - a low strikeout rate. Strikeouts - especially in terms of rate statistics like K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings and K/BB (strikeout to walk ratio) - are considered by some to be the gold standard for measuring a pitcher's success. Wins and losses are almost completely dependent on run support and are notoriously poor indicators of quality. ERA and WHIP are much more useful, but both are influenced by the fielding ability of the players behind the pitcher and even the ballpark the games are played in.
For a pitcher, the ability to get an out without involving your fielders means that you are leaving nothing to chance. Poor fielding range, errors, even freak occurences - they are all neutralized by the K. For this reason, advanced statistical analysis has placed a great deal of value on the strikeout - and rightfully so. Strikeouts are not only a measure of success, but they are also a measure of dominance.
Which brings us back to Wang and Bannister. Generally, successful pitchers strike out at least six batters per nine innings (the elite pitchers usually get closer to seven in nine) and have a K/BB ratio of at least 2 to 1.
In 2006, a season in which he finished second in Cy Young Award voting, Wang had a K/9 ratio of 3.14. Last year he improved that number somewhat - all the way to 4.69. In each of the last two seasons, Wang's K/BB ratio was less than 2 to 1 (although 2007 was again better than 2006). Now unfortunately, I don't subscribe to Baseball Reference's Play Index - only the single most amazing statistical analysis tool on the Internet - but I can tell you that Wang's previous two seasons are nearly unprecedented, in the sense that he won so many games and had such a good ERA despite his incredibly low strikeout rate.
Bannister is in a similar boat. In 2007, his K/9 ratio was just 4.2 and his K/BB ratio was 1.75. The are generally harbingers of doom, especially for a pitcher whose "stuff" is considered not nearly as good as Wang's.
So how do we explain these anomalies? The simplest answer is luck. Bannister got lucky last year and Wang has been lucky the last two seasons, and any day now they will both end up in the crushing grip of reality, relegated to the back of their respective rotations and muddling along with 5.00 ERAs. A terrific statistic called BABIP (batting average on balls in play) certainly supports this theory.
Last season, both Bannister (.262 BABIP - third lowest in baseball) and Wang (.296 BABIP) had "below average" numbers in this category. Generally, a BABIP under .300 has come to be considered a somewhat "lucky" performance and one can generally expect an increase in ERA and WHIP the next season. Wang has already beaten the system once - his .267 BABIP in 2005 has only risen into the .290 range in each of the last two years while actually reducing his ERA.
If Bannister's BABIP rises from the seemingly unsustainable level he achieved last season, the results could be troublesome to Royals fans. However, in a series of interviews this off-season, Bannister postulated that he could sustain his BABIP levels by following a specific game plan of pitching to contact and controlling the count. This embrace of sabermetrics is incredibly interesting and has the power to sustain Bannister's career, if he sticks to this plan and the rest of the league refuses to adjust accordingly.
Even as late as last season, I would've told you that Chien Ming Wang was destined to be a fourth starter and that Brian Bannister will never pitch regularly on the major league level. Today, I look forward to each time one of them takes the mound and I've changed my thinking on the importance of strikeout rate statistics. More on that tomorrow.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
From the column: "Forget Scott Kazmir. Mets general manager Omar Minaya isn't the one who traded him for Victor Zambrano. But Brian Bannister, who shut out the mighty Tigers for seven innings on Wednesday? Minaya dealt him for reliever Ambiorix Burgos, who likely will miss the entire season while recovering from elbow-ligament transplant surgery. Kyle Lohse, who shut out the defending NL-champion Rockies for five innings on Tuesday night? The Mets passed as he lingered on the free-agent market, allowing the Cardinals to grab him for $4.25 million. Rich Harden, who has allowed one run in 11 innings in two starts against the defending World Series champion Red Sox? The A's would ask a high-prospect price for either him or Joe Blanton — starting with prized outfielder Fernando Martinez — and the Mets depleted their farm system when they acquired Johan Santana."
It's a bit of a stretch to blame Minaya for not bringing Lohse or Harden into the fold. Lohse was adamant about wanting a multi-year deal well into spring training, at a price not nearly justified by his career record. With Santana, Maine and Perez firmly entrenched in the rotation, the Mets would've had to bank on both Pedro AND El Duque being injured at some point during the year and that their DL stints wouldn't overlap. Otherwise, the odd man out would've been Lohse - and you don't pay a guy $4.25 million (the price the Cardinals eventually paid for one year of his services) to form the best one-two punch in Pacific Coast League with Mike Pelfrey.
The Harden complaint is simply laughable. If Minaya was going to deplete his farm system for a starter, should he have chosen to do so for the consumnate best pitcher in the American League over the last five seasons, or a guy with incredible talent but has spent most of his career on the shelf? Oakland GM Billy Beane was asking a lot for Harden and rightfully so - if the kid ever stays healthy he might be replacing Santana as the best starter in the AL. Look, I was a big fan of Philip Humber, but that deal for Santana was a no-brainer. I'm not going to blame for Minaya for then not having enough prospects to go out and trade for Harden too.
Now Bannister is a different story. In the 2006 off-season, Minaya decided to shuffle young pitchers all over the league, ostensibly in the hopes that he would find a hidden gem. Instead, he gave away Bannister, Heath Bell, Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens in three separate trades and came away with absolutely nothing of substance in return. Ambiorix Burgos and Jason Vargas are out for the season with injuries, while Ben Johnson and Adam Bostick appear to be career minor leaguers. Imagine a Mets rotation with Bannister instead of Pelfrey (and now Pelfrey instead of Nelson Figueroa). Imagine a bullpen with Heath Bell and Matt Lindstrom instead of Joe Smith and Jorge Sosa. It changes your perspective on this team's future, does it not?
Rosenthal adds three reasons why he believes the Mets are in their current predicament:
"An over-reliance on Martinez: The Mets' signing of Martinez to a four-year, $53 million contract helped transform the team's culture, persuading free agents such as Carlos Beltran and Billy Wagner to follow suit. But Martinez has made only 60 starts in those four seasons, justifying the Red Sox's decision to let him depart after the 2004 season.
Ill-advised trades: The Santana deal was a winner, even if it cost the Mets their Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 7 prospects — three pitchers plus outfielder Carlos Gomez — in Baseball America's rankings. Bannister-for-Burgos, however, looks like a major mistake. And rather than acquire a pitcher for outfielder Lastings Milledge, the Mets settled for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church.
Questionable draft strategy: The Mets spend heavily in the international market for amateurs, but curiously adhere to Major League Baseball's recommended signing bonuses in the draft. The Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers routinely flex their revenue muscles by exceeding "slot" and signing elite young talent — without fear of reprisal from MLB."
I have to believe that the Mets signed Pedro Martinez knowing full well the injury risks involved. There were whispers that Pedro was pitching with a partially torn labrum for years and my father can tell you that torn labrums don't just heal by themselves. It was a calculated risk, by a team that could not only afford the financial hit, but also needed the credibility boost by signing a pitcher still considered among the very best in baseball. You will never hear me argue against the decision to sign Pedro, no matter how the rest of his Mets career turns out.
That said, the mindset all along is that Pedro was still the titular ace of the staff, relegated only to the #2 spot in the rotation when Santana came along. That's just ridiculous. Here's what we know about shoulder injuries to pitchers - almost NONE of them return to anything resembling their previous form. Before Tommy John surgery was conceived in the 1970s, elbow injuries of that nature were considered career-enders. There is no "Tommy John surgery" for labrum and rotator cuff injuries - and thus are still considered career enders.
Rosenthal's point is correct, though - the Mets have never properly planned for the possibility that Pedro may never give them 30 starts in a season. The reality is that Pedro Martinez (regardless of his salary) was no more than the fourth starter on the Mets going into this season - but by luck, not by design. Minaya absolutely pilfered John Maine and Oliver Perez and in the process stole his true #2 and #3 starters from other hapless teams. I find it hard to believe he could've known both would turn out to be this good, but it is this happy accident that has prevented Pedro's injury from becoming disatrous.
I mentioned some of the ill-advised trades earlier, but suffice it to say I do not believe the Mets received true value for Lastings Milledge. As for the Mets' amateur draft strategy, I wholeheartedly agree with Rosenthal. The slotting system is a joke and any team that adheres to it is simply engaging in collusion for the sake of holding down salaries. Minaya has hinted that the Mets will no longer play along, starting as soon as the June 2008 draft. It remains to be seen if he will be true to his word, but it's an encouraging development.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
This move is, to put it mildly, asinine. Willie has only five bench players at his disposal, but now he has eight relievers to under-utilize for the next 10 days. There's a crying need for a sixth infielder - I never thought I'd be pining for Fernando Tatis! - but that need is seemingly being ignored. I guess I should take comfort in the idea that Pedro's spot in the rotation is being skipped this time around, because at least someone recognizes that off-days can be used to your advantage when setting a pitching rotation. But as usual, I find myself questioning the logic of the decision-makers in charge of this team.
Let's take a look at the active roster now:
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez-DL
Billy Wagner (closer)
I'm a big proponent of limiting the amount of appearances the fifth starter makes throughout the season by making more judicious use of off-days. I'd go so far as to advocate that teams building their roster each season should be more concerned with locking in the first four guys in the rotation and allowing for an annual open competition for the fifth starter's role. Then, until the winner of the competition proves that he belongs in the "real" rotation, he can shuttle between a starter and a long reliever role.
Anyway, if they wanted to, the Mets could go without a fifth starter until April 12 while keeping everyone on "full" rest (four days between starts).
4/3: OFF DAY
4/7: OFF DAY
However, if the Mets stay creative, they can instead give a spot start to Jorge Sosa and turn the rotation over for another seven days. Sosa would likely need to be kept out of action after April 8 to prepare for the start, leaving the Mets with a *gasp!* six man bullpen for a few days. Yes. he'd probably limited to 5 innings or 75-85 pitches, whatever comes first. But by spot-starting Sosa, look at the way the rest of the rotation falls in line:
4/14: OFF DAY
This gets us all the way to April 19 against the Phillies, at which point the Mets would need to begin employing another starter to round out the rotation - the next off-day isn't until May 1. Like I said, Sosa could just step into the breach for a couple of weeks, but most teams aren't willing to employ a six-man bullpen for any length of time anymore.
This scenario allows the Mets to avoid calling up a starter and instead allows them the opportunity to add a badly-needed sixth infielder to the roster. Right now, Damion Easley is the backup at four positions - which is more than just a little silly. Recalling Fernando Tatis adds a corner infielder to back up Wright and a platoon partner for Delgado.
Now I am admittedly ignorant of DL rules, so I'm not sure if the Mets would have to keep Tatis on the roster until Pedro returns. However, I believe he could be sent back to New Orleans on April 19 and Figueroa could be recalled to begin making starts in Pedro's spot in the rotation. If not, the Mets could simply option/release Brady Clark to make room for the replacement starter. Keeping Tatis on the roster at the expense of Clark makes perfect sense - right now the Mets are suffering from an unusual alignment of five infielders and six outfielders.
We'll see how it all works out. I do hope the Mets will be creative here and find a way to make this injury work to their advantage.
UPDATE: Creativity is in short supply around Shea Stadium.
From the article: "While manager Willie Randolph didn't say who might start in Martinez's stead, he did say who wouldn't -- Jorge Sosa. A person in the organization had characterized Sosa as the most logical choice Wednesday morning because he is a considerably stronger and more competitive pitcher than Figueroa and because he was ideally placed to take Martinez's spot ...
But Randolph indicated he preferred not to upset the balance in the bullpen personnel by removing Sosa. Now, of the eight pitchers not in the rotation, Figueroa is the most likely to start. But Randolph said he had no person in mind because a need for the starter doesn't arise until April 12."So if you don't need a starter for another ten days, why is Nelson Figueroa here?
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
* In the season opener, Willie used three pitchers to get through the eighth and failed to double switch at any point, forcing him to use a fourth reliever in the ninth inning of a 7-2 game. Tonight, he uses Marlon Anderson to pinch-hit in the eighth inning against a left-handed pitcher. One night he shows an inability to manage basic National League strategy; the next night he shows a fundamental lack of understanding of lefty-lefty matchups. Say this for Willie - he never gives you a reason to change your opinion of him ...
* Who had April 1 in the Pedro Martinez injury pool? If this hamstring pull is as bad as Endy Chavez's was last season, Pedro won't be back until the All-Star Break.
That all changed yesterday, when my birthday gift from Joe finally arrived. As soon as I saw it, I realized the name of my blog was staring me right in the face.
Yep, it's a replica brick from the Fanwalk at the new Citi Field. I only believe in one type of Productive Out - the type that specifically drives in a run with less than two outs. I often bemoan my Strat-o-Matic team's inability to create productive outs, especially in games that I lose by one run. The "Crackerjack" thing was an inside joke between me, Joe and Adam - I still don't think there was anything particularly memorable about my request!
So please change your bookmarks from ihmfly.blogspot.com to productiveouts.blogspot.com. And for Christ's sake, if you're actually reading this, let me know I really do have an audience!!