Sunday, August 31, 2008

Relax, Jerry

Jerry Manuel is managing scared, and in doing so he's only making a bad situation worse.

Look, if there's anything that the first five months of the 2008 season has taught us, it is that the Mets' bullpen isn't very good. Mets fans have gotten spoiled in the last few years, so despite the way they may be feeling about their relievers they really don't remember what it's like to have a truly bad bullpen. But it's safe to say that, as currently constructed, this bullpen is in the lower half of the National League and certainly isn't of a playoff team's caliber.

The bullpen is a weakness, but Manuel isn't helping by showing absolutely no faith in his relievers. He has kicked the mixing and matching into high gear over the last 10 days, even with relievers who are not specialists by nature. It's fine to use pitchers like Scott Schoenweis and Pedro Feliciano as specialists, but at some point you have to show enough faith in your other relievers to get the outs they need to get out of the inning.

It's gotten to the point that every time a reliever comes in, there's another one already in the bullpen warming up. That's no way for a reliever to gain confidence and leads to a natural tendency to press. What's more, it tires out relievers who, even if they don't get into the game, never get a day or two to fully rest their arms.

Today's win was very nice, especially since the bullpen combined to put up four scoreless frames. Even so, with a 6-2 lead in the ninth inning, Manuel had Luis Ayala warming up behind Brian Stokes. All Stokes had done to that point was to allow a leadoff single and then run a 3-1 count on Alfredo Amezaga. It wasn't a great start, but you have to believe that a major league reliever can nevertheless get out of this situation without giving up four runs.

The Mets will begin the month of September with a one-game lead over the Phillies. Help clearly is not on the way, even though it was announced during the game that the Mets were calling up nine more players (including four relievers) when the rosters expand tomorrow. It's hard to imagine Manuel isn't going to look at the new arms as a fresh troop of reinforcements, ready to be plugged right into the situational matchups that call for them. But if Manuel continues to over-manage, he's going to wear out the Mets' bullpen in the same fashion the former manager did last season.

No one wants to see a repeat of that.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

RBI Opportunity Percentage (RBI%)

I was playing around with a new stat in my head the other day, so I thought I'd flesh it out here. I know I've been beating the "RBIs are useless" drum on the Flushing University message board, so I figured I'd try to find a way to contextualize it.

It's not that RBIs themselves are useless - it's that comparing two players with a counting stat that's dependent on so many other variables is not a good measure of offensive ability. I'm calling it "RBI Opportunity Percentage" - or RBI% for short.

Here's my theory - when runners are on base, the ultimate goal of any subsequent at-bat (except in the event of a sacrifice bunt without a man on third base) is to drive those runners in. It's not fair to look solely at RBIs as a measure of effectiveness, because a player with 300 chances to drive in runs is going to have more RBIs than a player with 200 chances.

So here's what I did: I looked at a player's number of plate appearances with runners on base and their RBI totals in those situations. I subtracted the number of home runs from those RBI totals, because it unfairly benefits the home run hitter to leave them in. (Yes, I know that makes this a somewhat flawed stat right off the bat, so feedback is encouraged.)

Then it's simple: take the rest of the RBIs and divide them by plate appearances. Let the result go three decimal places (so it looks like batting average, on base percentage and sluggng percentage) and you have RBI Opportunity Percentage. I think it's a better measure of ability than RBIs, because it puts everyone on a theoretically equal playing field and rewards the hitter who makes the most of his opportunities.

On Restricting Pitcher Workloads

There is a perception among baseball observers that there is empirical evidence that restricting pitcher workloads (through pitch counts, innings pitched caps, days between starts/reliever appearances, etc.) helps to lower injury rates and to increase pitcher effectiveness. The thing is, at least when it comes to injury prevention, the data simply doesn't exist.

BPro's Pitcher Abuse Points system has never been correlated with higher arm injury rates among the annual league leaders. The same thing goes for a simpler correlation between high average pitch counts and arm injuries. There has never also been a correlation shown between high pitch counts and an arm injury occuring one week, one month or even one year from the date of that start. There is no correlation shown between a young pitcher exceeding his innings pitched cap and increasing his liklihood of injury the subsequent season.

In short, there is no evidence suggesting that the modern attempts to restrict pitcher workloads is keeping them healthier. If such evidence does exist and you know of it, please leave a comment and point me in that direction.

Now, when it comes pitcher effectiveness, there is more evidence that restricting workloads can be beneficial. It's easy to look at how a starter performs on four, five or six days rest and see there is a general trend toward increased effectiveness with additional days off. Same goes for reliever use - they generally get less effective the longer they go without a game off in between. That said, there are some other questions to be asked:

* Has baseball created less durable pitchers by restricting their workloads throughout their professional career?
* Could today's starters be effective on three days' rest, if they were trained to do so?
* Could those same starters throw 120 or 130 pitches a game and see no ill effects (injury or ineffectiveness) if they were trained to do so?
* Could today's relievers pitch effectively in multi-inning appearances (even throwing as many as 40 or 50 pitches) if they were trained to do so?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Roster Moves: Playing Catchup Again

OK, here we go again. Roster Moves are probably more important to me than they are to you, which is why I'm annoyed that I seem to keep falling behind on them.

Starting off, John Maine's season may be over due to shoulder soreness; as I mentioned in the Flushing University column, this is a very serious blow to the Mets' playoff chances. If I hear the words "rotator cuff surgery" and "John Maine" anytime between now and January 1, he'll be getting his unconditional release from my Strat-o-Matic baseball team.

Since Maine's next start wouldn't be coming until next Tuesday anyway, Luis Castillo got the initial recall after nearly two months on the shelf for various leg ailments. No one missed him while he was gone. Castillo has been plugged right back into the starting lineup and right back into the #2 spot, and you have to wonder if Jerry Manuel really wants to manage a baseball team in 2009. Decisions like that will doom you to being a bench coach forever.

Blowing a seven-run lead and losing to a division rival is a devastating loss in its own right, but the Mets lost more than a baseball game on Tuesday. They lost their best catcher, Ramon Castro, to a quad injury. Robinson Cancel will take his place on the roster and Brian Schnieder will go back to catching six days a week. Neither of these developments are positive ones. Now that Castillo has been handed the second base job again, the Mets have no need for Argenis Reyes again until Labor Day. They do, however, need another arm, so Nelson Figueroa is back to provide Manuel another one-batter option in the sixth inning of big games.

Let's take a look at the active roster now:

STARTING PITCHERS
Johan Santana
Oliver Perez
Mike Pelfrey
Pedro Martinez
John Maine - DL

RELIEF PITCHERS
Aaron Heilman
Duaner Sanchez
Pedro Feliciano
Scott Schoeneweis
Joe Smith
Brian Stokes
Luis Ayala
Nelson Figueroa
Billy Wagner (closer) - DL

CATCHERS
Brian Schneider
Robinson Cancel
Ramon Castro - DL

INFIELDERS
Carlos Delgado
Luis Castillo
Damion Easley
David Wright
Jose Reyes
Fernando Tatis

OUTFIELDERS
Daniel Murphy
Nick Evans
Carlos Beltran
Ryan Church
Endy Chavez
Marlon Anderson - DL

Good Things Happen in Threes (Flushing University)

Mets fans are naturally going to be hopeful that Jon Niese can successfully replace John Maine in the starting rotation. Jerry Manuel has to be more pragmatic - and he has to find a way to get the most out of his three best starters. Read more here ...

Blame Pedro For This One

Another terrible loss for the Mets last night, and of course the bullpen will be front and center for criticism in this one. Pedro Feliciano in particular has been downright awful this season, after several solid years as an important bullpen contributor for the Mets. Jerry Manuel is simply going to have to stop using Feliciano in important situations for the rest of the season. Of course, Manuel also has to temper his matchup-happy ways; I know Omar Minaya inexplicably decided to pack the bullpen with specialists this year, but there are still a few relievers in the bullpen who can reasonably be asked to get lefties and righties out.

Let's not forget, however, that the bullpen gave up three runs in seven-plus innings of work last night. That's not the stuff of world-beaters, but it's not bad either. Aaron Heilman was heroic in extra innings, and Brian Stokes has been shockingly competent when you consider his professional body of work. The Mets had a 7-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning, but Pedro Martinez was the pitcher most responsible for making it a competitive game again.

Pedro's August resurgence came to an abrupt end last night in a four-run fifth inning that got the Phillies back within shouting distance. Martinez is the nominal #4 starter in this rotation only because of John Maine's injury, and as I wrote for Flushing University this week his starts need to be minimized down the stretch. Any thoughts of re-signing Pedro for next season, even at a "discount" price, should be ignored unless there are four competent starters in front of him in the rotation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Now We're Worrying About Innings Pitched Caps?

I saw Ken Davidoff's column on Mike Pelfrey's complete game today, and he asks the same question that I asked The Franchise while we were eating dinner at Sandro's last night - why is Pelfrey still pitching in a game that the Mets salted away in the bottom of the seventh inning?

Mind you, I wasn't necessarily saying Pelfrey needed to be removed. He was well under 100 pitches as the eighth inning began (he finished the game with 108), so the Pitch Counters couldn't have been too concerned. You know that I like complete games and I'm not a big believer in the theory that the 100-pitch "limit" is a one-size-fits-all approach to managing pitcher fatigue.

Davidoff's focus was on something I mentioned last night - that Pelfrey was on pace to blow past the 183 inning cap that some people believe is necessary for a young pitcher's development. From the article:

Pelfrey, who did dominate the Astros, has now pitched 163 innings this season, after totaling 152 2/3 last year in the minors and majors. Most teams now adhere to the notion that a young pitcher shouldn't exceed his previous year's innings total by more than 30. With 30 games left, Pelfrey's turn is set to come up six more times, which means he's on pace to blow by the recommended 182 2/3 innings. And that's even before we count the postseason. To this, the Mets are essentially saying, "Fuhgeddaboutit."

Ken, you said it yourself - teams adhere to a "notion" that a young pitcher shouldn't exceed his innings pitched total by more than 30 from the previous year. There is absolutely no evidence that this notion is actually effective in preventing pitcher injuries - or even reducing the likelihood than an injury might take place. In an age where we monitor pitch counts and now we monitor innings pitched from the year before, pitchers still seem to find a way to blow out their arms. Perhaps these "notions" should be sent back to the trash bin and new theories for preventing pitcher injuries should be explored.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pelfrey Keeps Rolling Along

Is there anything more exciting than a Mike Pelfrey start these days? The big right-hander is 11-6 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.246 WHIP in the 21 starts since this column appeared. There's a reason why I don't get paid for what I do.

Pelfrey's emergence into a frontline starter has been the most exciting development of the 2008 season and one that bodes very well for the Mets' future. With John Maine on the shelf, possibly for the rest of the season, the Mets will be need Pelfrey to continue these dominating performances if they have any hopes of winning the National League East. (More on the Maine injury in the Roster Move post I'll be making tomorrow.)

Pelfrey is up to 163 innings now, after having thrown 152 2/3 innings across three different levels in 2007. There is a school of thought today that young starting pitchers should avoid adding more than 30 innings to their innings pitched total from the previous season, or else their risk for an arm injury increases. As far as I can tell, there is only anecdotal evidence that this practice actually reduces a starter's injury risk (has anyone seen a study that shows a statistical correlation?). However, Pelfrey's two straight complete games certainly suggests that the Mets are skeptical that this theory holds water.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Postgame Festivities

After the game on Friday night, I hit the links at the Pitch and Putt course in Flushing Meadow Park. T-Bone is getting very serious about golf, while The Franchise usually just swings the club a few times and gives up by the eighth hole. I am somewhere in the middle, but probably closer to T-Bone's zeal for the game. I never liked golf and I don't know if I would enjoy playing an entire 18 holes on a real course, but Pitch and Putt is perfect for me. There's only two clubs to use, no hole is further than 80 yards away and a kid barrels across the course throughout the night bringing me beer at eminently reasonable prices.

The problem is that I am 6' 4", I am left-handed and I don't own a set of clubs. You can rent clubs, of course, but even the longest clubs available are way too short for me to use comfortably. As a result, my swing looks absolutely comical - all arms and legs from a hunched over position. Take a look for yourself; I badly hooked this particular drive.

video

Link Review: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly ... The Mets!

I haven't done a Link Review in a while and I really should be adding more, but I want to add Deb's site to the blogroll. One of my friends from Flushing University, she's been showing up more and more lately in the comments section here, which I certainly appreciate. We usually "agree to disagree" over the FU Forum, but Deb 's unique perspective on baseball and the Mets is always a must-read.

GBU Mets! (because I cant keep writing that out) is an irreverent look at our favorite team's daily doings, but Deb is always on top of things and brings plenty of insight into what's going on with the Mets. In between taunting the Yankees and verbally castrating the weaker figures in the baseball world (go to the site, you'll figure it out!), GBU Mets! adds healthy doses of sharp analysis and keen insight into the baseball world.

Roster Move: Church is Back, Castillo Delayed, El Duque Out for Season

The Franchise, T-Bone and I went to the game on Friday night - I'll try to do a recap later today. In the meantime, let's do some updates.

Ryan Church is back again, hopefully for good this time. The post-concussion symptoms seem to have abated and he's gotten off to a good start, going 3 for 7 in his first two games since returning. I would like to see Jerry Manuel be cautious with Church over the next few weeks - Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis are still hot, so you can get away with sitting Church every three or four games, especially against tougher lefties. Church's emergence this season has been nothing less than a revelation - even as Lastings Milledge continues to improve in Washington, the sting of that trade has begun to abate. Robinson Cancel was sent back to New Orleans to make room for Church - that's exactly where he belongs.

It looks like Luis Castillo's return has been delayed again; something tells me that he will "magically" be ready to play again on August 31. I want to write more about this soon, but Castillo can still be a very valuable player for this team if he's used effectively down the stretch. That means batting him eighth in the lineup and giving him plenty of rest, allowing Argenis Reyes and even Murphy to spot start once or twice a week. I know Mets fans have hated watching Castillo play this summer, but he's better than A. Reyes both offensively and defensively and will make the lineup better when he returns.

Finally, say goodbye to El Duque, whose career is almost surely over after opting to finally undergo bunion surgery this week. It's a shame - he has always been a wonderfully entertaining player to watch and he is still an effective major league starter when he's healthy. Who knew that bunions could be so debilitating?

One last thing: this roster is finally beginning to resemble exactly what a major league roster should look like. Gone are the days of three catchers, seven infielders and three outfielders - there is depth and flexibility all over the diamond and I think the Mets finally have the right mix of position players available to them. Once Castillo returns, he will need to replace Argenis Reyes or Damion Easley on the 25-man roster to make it perfect. I would send A. Reyes down and then call him back up on September 1 - the Mets can survive for a few days without a utility infielder.

Let's take a look at the active roster now:

STARTING PITCHERS
Johan Santana
Oliver Perez
Mike Pelfrey
Pedro Martinez
John Maine

RELIEF PITCHERS
Aaron Heilman
Duaner Sanchez
Pedro Feliciano
Scott Schoeneweis
Joe Smith
Brian Stokes
Luis Ayala
Billy Wagner (closer) - DL

CATCHERS
Brian Schneider
Ramon Castro

INFIELDERS
Carlos Delgado
Damion Easley
David Wright
Jose Reyes
Argenis Reyes
Fernando Tatis
Luis Castillo-DL

OUTFIELDERS
Daniel Murphy
Nick Evans
Carlos Beltran
Ryan Church
Endy Chavez
Marlon Anderson - DL

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sosa Gets 50-Game Greenie Ban; Greenies Apparently Do Not Make You a Good Pitcher

Former Met punching bag Jorge Sosa is out for the rest of the season and will also be missing some time in 2009, after getting caught with amphetamines in his system this week.

Former Mets manager Willie Randolph announced that he will continue sending Sosa to the mound five times a week anyway, even though the Dominican hurler admitted he was only popping greenies to muster up enough energy to warm up and pitch every single game. Randolph also bristled at the notion that Sosa couldn't get lefties out and insisted that he had to stick with "his guy" until he "finds a way to get outs."

Mets general manager Omar Minaya announced his intention to sign Sosa to a two-year deal in the off-season, as you can never lock up too many Latino relievers with performance enhancing drug violations on their record.

Milwaukee Brewers middle reliever Guillermo Mota said nothing and began backpedaling when he saw a reporter sporting a mustache that reminded him of Mike Piazza.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Roster Move: Mets Add Reliever

I know I've been a little behind in posting, but late August is a terribly busy time for me. It's worth going back and speaking a little bit about the Luis Ayala acquisition, which Omar Minaya has been trying to pull off for much of the summer.

Ayala, you may remember, is the pitcher who ruined his elbow at the World Baseball Classic and ended up missing the entire 2006 season. At the time he was making a name for himself as an inning-eating middle reliever who was routinely racking up 20 holds a year for the Montreal/Washington franchise. (Yes, I know holds are a stupid statistic, but it's hard to find good ones for middle relievers and it gives you a description of how Ayala was being used.)

He returned to the mound last June and pitched reasonably well, but the wheels have fallen off in 2008. Earlier in his career Ayala could not get lefties out, but as he has evolved as a pitcher he has become equally effetive (or ineffective) regardless of what side of the plate the batter stands on.

The Mets are betting that a change of scenery will do the trick. It's good that he is not a specialist, because the Mets' bullpen has too many of those, but it's unrealistic to expect him to step in and be an effective set-up man or closer down the stretch. It's a good low-risk move, especially since Minaya can non-tender Ayala after the season if he proves to be a bust.

The deal was meant to be Ayala for a "player to be named later," but for some reason the Nationals decided to name him sooner. Anderson Hernandez is a name that should be vaguely familiar to Mets fans; he has made brief appearances with the big club in each of the three previous seasons. This year has been atrocious at Triple-A New Orleans and has been passed on the mythical depth chart by any number of players, including Dan Murphy and Argenis Reyes. There's little reason to believe Hernandez will become anything more than a slick fielding, no-hit middle infield backup.

Eddie Kunz was demoted to make room on the major league roster for Ayala. No shame in that - he's young and although he's not ready to pitch in the majors yet, he should be down in the minor leagues working on an out pitch to lefties. With any luck he can turn in a Joe Smith-like performance in 2009.

(Oh, and Billy Wagner is on the DL, Carlos Muniz was sent to the minors when John Maine returned from the DL last week and Brian Stokes made a spot start and then moved into the long man role in the bullpen. That should get us all caught up.)

Let's take a look at the active roster now:

STARTING PITCHERS
Johan Santana
Oliver Perez
Mike Pelfrey
Pedro Martinez
John Maine

RELIEF PITCHERS
Aaron Heilman
Duaner Sanchez
Pedro Feliciano
Scott Schoeneweis
Joe Smith
Brian Stokes
Luis Ayala
Billy Wagner (closer) - DL

CATCHERS
Brian Schneider
Ramon Castro
Robinson Cancel

INFIELDERS
Carlos Delgado
Damion Easley
David Wright
Jose Reyes
Argenis Reyes
Luis Castillo-DL

OUTFIELDERS
Daniel Murphy
Nick Evans
Carlos Beltran
Fernando Tatis
Endy Chavez
Marlon Anderson - DL
Ryan Church - DL

Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! (Flushing University)

The Mets have turned their season around, thanks in no small part to the leadership of Jerry Manuel. No matter how the season plays out, Manuel has earned the right to run the team next season. Read more here ...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Quotable Quotes - 8/19/08

"The only reason I'm a closer is because I sucked as a starter." - Billy Wagner, in the middle of a crybaby rant about media scrutiny in New York.

Hey, has this guy been reading Productive Outs recently?

Update

The Mets traded for Luis Ayala, sent down Eddie Kunz to make room on the roster for him and I have to write a Flushing University column for tomorrow. Work is picking up, since the school year is about to begin, and I've been relaxing on Long Beach Island for the last few days to mentally prepare myself for the upcoming academic year.

So that's why I haven't posted since Thursday.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Next Stop, Syracuse?

The merry-go-round is in motion.

The Columbus Clippers announced last week that they will be seeking a new major league team to affiliate with in 2009. The Triple-A franchise's contract to be a feeder team for the Washington Nationals is expiring at the end of the season and it's an open secret they are hoping to link up with the Cleveland Indians next year. As it turns out, the Indians' contract with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons is also expiring all part of a shell game that could end with a handful of MLB teams featuring new minor league affiliates next season.

According to the Dispatch article there are several teams with affiliation contracts expiring, but the most important may be in Syracuse, where the Blue Jays' longtime partnership with the Chiefs is up for renewal. There is some speculation that Columbus could partner with the Indians, Buffalo could partner with the Blue Jays and the Mets could partner with the Chiefs - an ideal geographical for for all three clubs.

This, of course, fails to answer one question - will the Nationals then end up being stuck with a Triple-A team in New Orleans? I mean no disrespect to the fine city of New Orleans or to the Zephyrs franchise, but the franchise has been a poor fit for the Mets since their shotgun marriage was consummated two years ago.

The Mets only ended up in New Orleans because longtime Triple-A affiliate Norfolk dropped the club after the 2006 season in an ultimately successful attempt to partner with Baltimore. (Ever wonder how David Wright grew up a Mets fan? That's how.) That put the wheels in motion for several affiliation shifts and left the Mets and New Orleans as the last two teams without partners. It's a marriage of convenience and it's unlikely to have a long shelf life. There is simply too much distance between the two cities to make for a logical fit.

On the rare occasions that the Mets have a Triple-A prospect worthy of a promotion, the player has to fly halfway across the country to make it from Zephyr Field to Shea Stadium. It affects scouting trips and outreach efforts as well; for example, rehabbing Mets always skip New Orleans and end up playing at Single-A Brooklyn or Double-A Binghamton instead. Having a Triple-A team in Syracuse would give the Mets two top farm clubs in central New York - certainly more appealing than the current set-up.

The problem is that New Orleans is a tough city to partner with because its location makes it a logical fit for only a handful of teams. Either of the Texas franchises would work well, but the Rangers (Oklahoma Redhawks) and the Astros (Round Rock Express) seem very happy with their affiliates. The Rangers have been in Oklahoma for 25 years and the Astros enjoy having their Triple-A affiliate (that includes an ownership group headed by former Houston great Nolan Ryan) in the same state.

The Florida Marlins might consider to New Orleans from a geographic standpoint, since their Triple-A team is the Albuquerque Isotopes. But the city of Albuquerque built an entirely new stadium to lure the Isotopes from Calgary five years ago and that relationship seems stable. (Perhaps the best Mets blogger in New Mexico would care to comment on this further?)

You could play this game all day. Maybe Los Angeles goes back to its longtime Triple-A home in Albuquerque? Then the Padres go back to Las Vegas, where they had a team for 18 years in the 80s and 90s? You can shuffle teams all over the place and never come up with an ideal fit. There is only one geographic solution that I can think of, and it involves the New Orleans franchise picking up stakes and moving out of town.

Since the Braves are moving their Triple-A franchise from Richmond to Gwinnett County, GA in 2009, the city being left behind would be an ideal place for the Nationals to put their top farm club. Could the Nationals sign a two-year deal with New Orleans (the shortest allowable length of time for an affiliation contract), buy the club and move it to Richmond for the 2011 season? It's certainly possible, even though there are rumors that a Single-A club could be in Richmond by that time.

It's a complicated process, one that the Mets were unexpectedly sucked into when Norfolk ended the friendship in 2006. It seems a good bet that they will do whatever they can to get themselves out of it before the end of this season.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some Relief For The Bullpen (Flushing University)

Jerry Manuel has openly admitted that he will consider trying some different things with his beleaguered bullpen. Two small changes will increase the Mets' chances of winning the National League East. Read more here ...

Double Standards

I've spent entirely too much time today defending Mike Piazza and Adam Dunn on the Flushing University message boards (enjoy the insanity here and here). After re-directing countless shallow arguments which seem to revolve almost entirely around the over-reliance on RBIs as a measure of offensive production, I found myself defending Piazza's reluctance to move to first base toward the end of his Mets' career. I may decide to cobble together an entire post on this topic from the arguments I made today, but this final thought put so much into perspective for me.

To this day Derek Jeter refuses to move away from shortstop - a position he can no longer play effectively - even though he is an obvious detriment to his team defensively. Yankees fans and the mainstream media still worship him.

Mike Piazza refused to move to first base - a position he knew he couldn't play effectively - because he would've been an obvious detriment to his team defensively. Some Mets fans chastise him for it.

I don't know which group is more oblivious to reality.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Reliever Performance is Volatile

If relief pitchers were any damn good, they'd be starters.

That's a bit of an exaggeration, of course; these days some relievers are groomed to be short men even in high school. They pitch short outings throughout their minor league career and by the time they reach the majors, asking them to throw two or three innings would be a reach.

The majority of pitchers in the seven-man major league bullpen, however, were starters at one point in their career. Some lacked the stamina to pitch deep into ballgames, others failed to master a third pitch that would get batters out the second and third time through the order. A few others (Kerry Wood springs to mind) simply couldn't stay healthy as a starter and found success in more limited roles.

Therefore, it isn't really fair to expect relievers to be, well, as good as starting pitchers. They are going to have bad outings, bad months, sometimes bad seasons. Closer performance, especially among the elite members of that fraternity, tends to be consistent. Other than closers, you can probably count the number of consistently effective middle relievers in MLB on two hands. Those few relievers who can put together solid years over and over again throughout the course of their career generally "graduate" to closer status anyway.

On a day like today, it's easy to be angry. Joe Smith, Pedro Feliciano and Aaron Heilman spit the bit against a second-division team and it costs the Mets a badly-needed victory. It's almost unfair to be angry at them, however; if Smith, Feliciano and Heilman were so good that they could consistently put up scoreless innings in big situations, they'd be closers (or in Heilman's case, a starter). Consistently putting middle relievers into high-leverage situations is a recipe for disaster.

The answer, however, is not for Omar Minaya to run out and sign a bunch of middle relievers who were effective in 2008 to three or four-year deals. That's how you end up with pitchers like Scott Schoeneweis taking up space in the back of your bullpen. The Orioles were the latest team to try this short-sighted strategy after the 2006 season; since then Danys Baez has blown out his elbow, Jamie Walker has missed significant time this season to injury and Chad Bradford has already been traded. Baez and Walker will cost the O's $10 million in 2009, regardless of whether or not they actually pitch.

Reliever performance is volatile and will generally fluctuate from year to year. The good general manager knows this, and constructs his bullpen with a series of pitchers he has no long-term commitment to. Every year, the best bullpens are generally those that catch lightning in a bottle with three or four guys, not those featuring three or four relievers on multi-year deals based on the work they've done in the past.

The 2008 Mets, poorly constructed in so many areas, do not have a poorly constructed bullpen. Only Schoeneweis and closer Billy Wagner are blessed with multi-year deals; everyone else is singing for their supper in 2009. Heilman in particular is costing himself a lot of money. Duaner Sanchez, after such a wonderful start to his season, may be doing the same. Only Schoeneweis is basically impervious to all of this - he has a guaranteed deal in 2009 and will be run out there 65 times no matter what happens.

So deal with it, Mets fans. If your starters only go five or six innings a night, your relievers are going to get three or four opportunities to blow the game. Don't be so surprised when it happens - just be happy that these guys won't necessarily be here forever.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Roster Move: Stokes Replaces Lugo, Who Got Here Billy Wagner Went on the 15-Day DL

OK, let's try to catch up: Brian Stokes starts today. He's the guy taking John Maine's start and will probably get blasted, because Brian Stokes is not a good pitcher. He's replacing Ruddy Lugo, who was on the roster because Billy Wagner went on the DL earlier this week. As the Mets' bullpen has proven this week, anyone can blow saves, so you'll forgive me if I don't give a damn about losing Billy Wagner.

I loved seeing Aaron Heilman go two innings last night to get the save. That's what a closer does - gets all the outs his team needs and puts the game away. Wagner is an overpaid relief specialist who has already blown seven saves this season. If Jerry Manuel does a better job mixing and matching his bullpen and ignoring conventional wisdom (like he did with Heilman last night) the Mets will be fine without him.

Let's take a look at the active roster now:

STARTING PITCHERS
Johan Santana
Oliver Perez
Mike Pelfrey
Pedro Martinez
Brian Stokes
John Maine - DL

RELIEF PITCHERS
Aaron Heilman
Duaner Sanchez
Pedro Feliciano
Scott Schoeneweis
Joe Smith
Carlos Muniz
Eddie Kunz
Billy Wagner (closer) - DL

CATCHERS
Brian Schneider
Ramon Castro
Robinson Cancel

INFIELDERS
Carlos Delgado
Damion Easley
David Wright
Jose Reyes
Argenis Reyes
Luis Castillo-DL

OUTFIELDERS
Dan Murphy
Nick Evans
Carlos Beltran
Fernando Tatis
Endy Chavez
Marlon Anderson - DL
Ryan Church - DL

Friday, August 8, 2008

Two Walk-Offs on Thursday

I saw two walk-offs yesterday - David Wright's game winner off Heath Bell and Angst/Joey Walnuts's bush league tantrum in the top of the ninth.

First, some background. I put the word out earlier this week that I was planning to skip work on Thursday to catch the last "businessman's special" in Shea Stadium history. (Not realizing, of course, that the Mets were shoehorning a make-up game with the Pirates in on Monday afternoon.) Invites went out to a bunch of people I like going to games with, but only AJW (because initials are easier) and T-Bone were smart enough to take me up on the offer.

AJW and I set up shop in the parking lot around 10:30 am with two chairs, a bag of pretzels and a 12-pack in an ice-filled cooler - all courtesy of AJW's forward thinking. By the time T-Bone showed up, about 20 minutes before first pitch, we were down to the last two beers and congratulating ourselves for coming up with such a brilliant idea.

The plan was to buy the cheapest seats in the stadium and sit in the top row of the Upper Deck, to fully enjoy the Shea Experience to stay the hell away from all the camp kids. A random passer-by was nice enough to drop an extra ticket in my hands at no charge - I hope the karma gods shone brightly on you yesterday, buddy. My free ticket was Upper Deck section 31, but AJW and T-Bone each bought a $20 ticket in the upper reaches of Section 44. ($20 for a mid-week day game in the Upper Deck!? Disgusting!!) We all went in together and settled in the third-highest row of Section 40, which was sufficiently child-free. Check out the view (that's T-Bone walking up the aisle, beer in hand):


The game was enjoyable - Johan Santana pitched well and the Mets led most of the way. I only had two beers, because they are outrageously expensive and since I was pacing myself for the Pitch and Putt course that T-Bone and I were going to conquer after the game.

Then came the ninth inning. The three of us were lamenting Jerry Manuel's Randolph-esque bullpen management in the eighth - I know the relievers are struggling, but you're really going to pull Duaner Sanchez after one pitch? Scott Schoeneweis inexplicably started the ninth inning, even though it took Joe Smith four pitches to get out of the eighth inning and Chase Headley was leading off. Yes, Headley is a switch hitter, but he is tattooing lefties this season and struggling mightily against righties.

Scott retired Headley to get the first out before giving up the majestic blast to Jody Gerut to tie the game. What more can be said about Scott Schoeneweis that hasn't been said already? Aaron Heilman came in to get the last two outs and the game went to the bottom of the ninth.

By this time, AJW was already smoking a cigarette in front of the press gate. He threw a hissy fit after the Gerut homer and stormed out of the stadium without so much as a goodbye to me or T-Bone. Lame! I didn't find this out until the middle of the ninth, when I called his cell to find out where the hell he went. After much yelling and several reminders that he wasn't going anywhere with T-Bone's clubs in his trunk, I hung up to focus on the bottom of the ninth.

From our vantage point, I didn't think Wright's blast was a home run. I wasn't sure if it was fair or foul, but it seemed to be too much of a line drive to go over the fence. The replays I saw later that evening made it clear how wrong I was, but hey, you try accurately predicting home runs down the left-field line from Section 40 of the Upper Deck!

So there it was, the most exciting of plays, and AJW missed it all because he acted like a nine-year-old girl. T-Bone stayed until the end but deserves a bit of a reprimand as well; he openly stated that he was going to leave if the Mets didn't score and would've skipped extra innings entirely. What is wrong with my friends?

A good day at the park was made better by 18 holes in Flushing Meadow and a big dinner at 5 Burros with T-Bone. The combination of beer and sunshine finally took its toll; I got home at 8:30 pm and promptly passed out until almost midnight. By that time, CC has called and texted me a bunch of times wondering where on Earth I was. When I told her about the day's events and my alcohol-fueled power nap, she was less than impressed. Hey, days like this are few and far between!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More on Piazza

The Piazza column at Flushing University today generated some conversation, mainly because not everyone believes he deserves to have his number retired. I think I'm generally pretty picky when it comes to retiring numbers. It's not something that I would suggest lightly, but I truly believe that Piazza stands out in a way no Met position player has ever done and deserves special recognition for it. Even though she disagreed with my column, I thought one poster put it very well when she listed her criteria for a retired number:

* IF Piazza had been a longer-term Met;
* IF they had won a championship with him;
* IF Piazza hadn't been such an insular and basically one-dimensional player;
* IF Piazza had done something more to win the heart of the greater New York community than hit that post-9/11 home run.

I agree that eight years is not a particularly long time to play with one team, but the Mets have a history of shuttling players in and out of uniform. That's part of the reason why more managers have had their numbers retired than players. (Neither Stengel nor Hodges should've had their number retired, by the way. It's almost insulting to see their numbers hang on the wall and not see #31.)

I'm not a big believer in the "championship" argument, because a championship is never about one player. It's a team accomplishment, not an individual one, and it should have neither a positive nor a negative effect on a player's fitness for a retired number. Mariano Rivera deserves to have his number retired for being the greatest closer in baseball history. Derek Jeter deserves it for being Paul Molitor while successfully duping the New York press and Yankee fans into believing he's some kind of clutch god, someone who's really half-man and half-Ultimate Winner. I wouldn't retire either of their numbers for being on the Yankees when they won a bunch of championships.

It's a little unfair to call Piazza "one-dimensional" when an argument can be made that the one dimension made him one of the five best right-handed hitters in baseball history. (Shocking? Try naming four better, then consider he played the most physically demanding position in the game.) His one dimension made him a baseball immortal, so I can really complain that he didn't ALSO steal 20 bases a year or through out 40 percent of base stealers.

The last point is the one that's most open to interpretation. Some would argue (like me) that Piazza had won the city's heart long before the post-9/11 home run and that simply became the defining moment of his career. Others would say he never lived up to expectations and deserves no special merit. That's a subjective argument, so all I can say is that in my mind, Piazza has done more than enough to get his number retired.

Retire Mike Piazza's Number Right Now (Flushing University)

Mike Piazza was the greatest position player in Mets' history. It won't be enough to just retire his number - the Mets have an obligation to hold the ceremony in the stadium that Piazza gave Mets fans so many wonderful memories. Read more here ...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Roster Move: Maine Placed on 15-Day DL, Kunz Recalled

Since some members of the peanut gallery started barking that I didn't get a chance to mention this, I offer you my admittedly late perspective on John Maine's injury and Eddie Kunz's major league debut.

Rotator cuff injuries = very, very, very bad
Eddie Kunz = not ready

Happy?

I have to assume Kunz will only be here temporarily, as the Mets will need a starter for Maine's turn in the rotation and no one in the bullpen is capable of making a spot start. There are whispers that Jon Niese will get the assignment, making Omar Minaya's transparent attempts to make his prospects look like major-league caliber players in in full swing. No one is buying it. The only people he's fooling are wildly optimistic Mets fans.

Let's take a look at the active roster now:

STARTING PITCHERS
Johan Santana
Oliver Perez
Mike Pelfrey
Pedro Martinez
John Maine - DL

RELIEF PITCHERS
Billy Wagner (closer)
Aaron Heilman
Duaner Sanchez
Pedro Feliciano
Scott Schoeneweis
Joe Smith
Carlos Muniz
Eddie Kunz

CATCHERS
Brian Schneider
Ramon Castro
Robinson Cancel

INFIELDERS
Carlos Delgado
Damion Easley
David Wright
Jose Reyes
Argenis Reyes
Luis Castillo-DL

OUTFIELDERS
Dan Murphy
Nick Evans
Carlos Beltran
Fernando Tatis
Endy Chavez
Marlon Anderson - DL
Ryan Church - DL

Roster Move: De Los Santos DFAd; Register Recalled

The Rockies have given up on Valerio de los Santos, who probably didn't belong anywhere near a major league roster anyway. It was a surprising return for de los Santos, who last pitched for Florida in 2005, but he walked the ballpark in each of his two starts with the Rockies and is now unlikely to ever make it back to The Show. He's been milking this left-handed thing for 10 years now, which is making me feel very old.

Young Steven Register took de los Santos's place on the 25-man roster and made his major league debut on Monday night, striking out Lastings Milledge to end the sixth inning. Register won't be in Colorado for long, as he is the most likely candidate to be farmed back out when Jeff Francis returns later this week, but for now Register fans can be forgiven if they are just enjoying the ride. The New York Mets will live to regret returning Register to the Rockies, you can bet on that.

In other news, a Queens Village man was taken to an area hospital tonight, as his unbridled enthusiasm toward Register's promotion prompted him to ride his new bike up and down Jamaica Avenue clad only in blue and purple underwear with "Register #1" printed across the back.

Let's take a look at the active roster now:

STARTING PITCHERS
Aaron Cook
Jorge de la Rosa
Ubaldo Jiminez
Glendon Rusch (just 36 wins to go!)
Kip Wells
Jeff Francis-DL

RELIEF PITCHERS
Brian Fuentes
Manny Corpas
Taylor Buchholz
Jason Grilli
Matt Herges
Luis Vizcaino
Steven Register (aka Supa Best #1 Awesomest Reliever Ever Who Pwn3d Every1)

CATCHERS
Chris Iannetta
Yorvit Torrealba

INFIELDERS
Garrett Atkins
Jeff Baker
Clint Barmes
Omar Quintanilla
Ian Stewart
Troy Tulowitzki
Todd Helton-DL

OUTFIELDERS
Brad Hawpe
Matt Holliday
Seth Smith
Cory Sullivan
Willy Taveras (Lives!)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Roster Move: Anderson Placed on 15-Day DL, Murphy Recalled

This Dan Murphy, if you were wondering, although Dropkick Murphy would've been an improvement over Marlon Anderson. Murphy has been moving through the farm system quickly this year and will be in uniform for the Mets tonight.

Minor-league callups are always exciting, especially for players of some promise like Murphy, but I think that he will likely end up like Nick Evans and prove to be overmatched at this level. This doesn't mean I'm not a long-term believer in Murphy (or Evans, for that matter); I just think they both belong in New Orleans right now. Both guys play several positions (although Murphy just started taking grounders at second base last month) and have hit well in their minor-league careers, so I'm hoping that they'll be filling the Anderson/Damion Easley roles in 2009.

Let's take a look at the active roster now:

STARTING PITCHERS
Johan Santana
John Maine
Oliver Perez
Mike Pelfrey
Pedro Martinez
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez - DL

RELIEF PITCHERS
Billy Wagner (closer)
Aaron Heilman
Duaner Sanchez
Pedro Feliciano
Scott Schoeneweis
Joe Smith
Carlos Muniz
Tony Armas - DL
Matt Wise - DL

CATCHERS
Brian Schneider
Ramon Castro
Robinson Cancel

INFIELDERS
Carlos Delgado
Damion Easley
David Wright
Jose Reyes
Argenis Reyes
Dan Murphy
Luis Castillo-DL

OUTFIELDERS
Fernando Tatis
Carlos Beltran
Endy Chavez
Nick Evans
Marlon Anderson - DL
Ryan Church - DL
Trot Nixon - DL