Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Phillies and the 4 1/2 Man Rotation

So the Phillies have sewn up the 2011 National League East and the only drama to look forward to will be whether they win 105 or 110 games on their way to the pennant. The answer to that burning question will be in the starting rotation that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel decides to use.

If the Phillies keep fifth starter Joe Blanton and rotate their four aces equally, Manuel may leave a few wins on the table during his team's march to the playoffs. If the Phillies trade Blanton and skip the fifth starter liberally when the schedule allows for it, there will be a few extra wins for the taking.

(The following projection, of course, is based strictly on the notion that Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt are healthy for the entire 2011 season. All four made at least 32 starts last year, so this is not out of the realm of possibility.)

The first step is understanding that the Phillies will NOT be employing a strict four-man rotation next year. Those days are over, especially considering the amount of money Philadelphia has tied up in its front four. Frankly, it would be an unnecessary risk for a team that can afford to give 20+ starts to a fifth starter and still make the playoffs.

However, that doesn't mean the Phillies can't put Lee, Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt on a four-day rotation. Simply put, that means the ace of the rotation gets the ball every fifth day, regardless of how the schedule breaks. Everyone else falls in behind and a starter's spot in the rotation prioritizes how quickly he makes his start. Off-days are no longer seen as an opportunity for an extra day of rest - they are seen as a chance to skip the fifth starter.

In a strict five-man rotation with no interruptions, the first two starters (presumably Lee and Halladay) will get 33 starts and the back of the rotation starters will get 32 starts. However, if you look at the Phillies' schedule and use off-days to skip the fifth starter, you can end up with a breakdown something like this:

Lee: 36
Halladay: 34
Oswalt: 34
Hamels: 32
Fifth Starter: 26

The chance to take six starts out of the hands of an inferior pitcher, while maintaining a traditional rest schedule of at least four days between starts, is something that more teams should consider trying. For a team with four great starters like the Phillies, it's a chance to truly get the most bang for their considerable bucks.

It's also important to note that the Phillies should have a comfortable lead in the N.L. East by September 1, and therefore can consider going to a strict five-man rotation for the final month if they so desire. This will increase the number of appearances for the fifth starter, but it will give the big guys a little extra rest going into the playoffs.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Welcome to Citi Field, Mr. Collins - How Long Will You Be Staying?

(This was originally posted at Mack's Baseball.)

Relax, Mets fans. Terry Collins isn’t going to be here forever.

The Mets’ former minor-league field coordinator was introduced to the media during a morning press conference at Citi Field today, where he undoubtedly received a better reception than he would have had the most vocal components of the team’s fan base been allowed to attend.

What those unhappy fans need to understand is that Collins has been hired as the team’s new manager for reasons that have more to do with his personality than any perception of his managerial acumen. Collins is the new Mets’ manager primarily because General Manager Sandy Alderson believes that he is the best man to completely overhaul a clubhouse that has been described with just about every negative perception you can imagine in recent weeks.

Collins was officially given a two-year contract to manage the Mets, with a club option for 2013. Don’t be surprised if the Mets choose to decline that option when the time comes and reward Collins by putting him in the front office instead. He was not hired to manage the next Mets team that plays in the World Series.

He was hired to manage a team that first needs to be taught how to play winning baseball.

When you read or listen to the words of people in the know, the Mets’ problems go far beyond a top-heavy roster filled with bad contracts and mediocre players. There is a serious culture concern about the Mets’ clubhouse, one that has nothing to do with the “Los Mets” phenomenon observed under former GM Omar Minaya.

The Mets, under the leadership of Minaya and former manager Jerry Manuel, have lost their hunger. They have become comfortable – complacent, even, despite the losing records of the previous two years. The team has been undisciplined, lacking in motivation and has generally behaved as though there would be no consequences to their actions.

Those days are over.

Think of Alderson’s decision to hire Collins as being akin to the attack on Fort Sumter that began the Civil War. Alderson’s front office is sending a clear message to the current roster – “you aren’t going to get away with the unprofessional behavior you’ve gotten away with in the past.”

That’s where Collins comes in. He has previous managerial experience in Houston and Southern California, where he managed the Angels for parts of three seasons before resigning in late 1999 after repeated clashes with his players. Collins hasn’t managed in the big leagues since, although he has managed teams in Japan and an independent league.

Collins was hired for who he is – a baseball lifer and a fiery personality with no tolerance for a bad attitude. Collins is going to set a particular tone from the first day he steps on the field during the Spring Training. A baseball player wearing a New York Mets jersey will play the game hard, will play the game right and will respect the chain off command in the organization.

If he does not, Terry Collins will work with Sandy Alderson to ensure that the player will no longer be a New York Met.

This process was never about hiring the best tactical manager or the brightest up-and-coming star. That’s why Bobby Valentine was never called and Wally Backman is at yet another career crossroads today. Terry Collins has been handed a clean-up job, and every single player in the Mets organization should be on notice.

Get in line with what Terry wants, or get ready to leave town.

Dallas Green was thrust into a similar role when he replaced Jeff Torborg as the Mets manager in 1993. It took Green nearly three years to clean up that mess and doing so completely changed the culture of the organization. Valentine took over in late 1996 and the seeds of a successful four-year run were ready to bloom.

(One could certainly debate that Green’s abrasive demeanor and tactical shortcomings made that process more difficult and confrontational than necessary, but that comes with the territory when you hire Dallas Green.)

Terry Collins is in the same role today as Green was over 15 years ago. Any Mets fan who seriously thinks that this team is one or even two players away from a 90-win season hasn’t been paying attention. The Mets can’t focus on winning games in 2011 – the roster is too thin and too cash-strapped as a result of bad free agent signings for the team to seriously compete with Atlanta or Philadelphia.

No, the Mets have to focus on identifying which players they want on their team for 2012 and beyond. The expiring contracts of Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo alone free up over $30 million. Should the Mets decide to part ways with Jose Reyes and Francisco Rodriguez during or after the 2011 season, nearly $25 million more would become available.

Only then will the Mets be ready to add a starting pitcher to a rotation that could feature Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese behind him. Only then can the team look to add two position players to a lineup featuring David Wright, Jason Bay and Ike Davis.

By then, the Mets hope Collins will have helped integrate young players like Josh Thole, Ruben Tejada and Jenrry Mejia into an environment where winning is the only priority. Collins can then give way to the next Mets manager, the man who will be given the reins of a championship-caliber ballclub.

Terry Collins has a job to do, all right – and it’s a lot more important than winning games in 2011.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Sandy Alderson is an accomplished and competent baseball man. JP Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta are not as accomplished as their new boss, but they are also competent baseball men who will continue to get better. That is three competent baseball men in the Mets front office these days - three more then were there just one year ago.

Now, if Alderson can simply ignore little Jeffy and the president of the Sandy Koufax fan club, this team may be ready to go somewhere.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Winning Back the Hearts of Mets Fans

(This was originally posted at Mack's Mets. I made a few tweaks for my own blog.)

By one measure, the 2010 baseball season ended for me on August 18. That date stands out because it was the last time I updated my blog. But my interest in the Mets really began dwindling at the beginning of June, once the World Cup in South Africa began.

I am a baseball fan first and foremost, but every four years my love and appreciation for soccer increases in conjunction with arrival of the World Cup. The U.S. national team specialized in doling out nervous breakdowns to their supporters this summer, but a moment as special as this made it all worth it.

The reality is that the 2010 season ended much sooner than hoped - for both the Mets and for a lot of their fans. Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but any Met fan who was paying attention should have known from the start that this team was ill-equipped to overtake Philadelphia or Atlanta in the National League East. The pitching was shaky, the lineup was top-heavy and the bench was horrible. It seemed like the only three people who had no idea what was going to happen were Jeff Wilpon, Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel.

I take no great pride in having predicted that the Mets would finish no better than 78-84 back on April 5, but I did so all the same. The sad truth is that the Mets finished only outplayed this prediction is because throughout the season the front office rectified a lot of the mistakes it made with the 25-man roster that broke camp in April.

Mike Jacobs, Frank Catalonotto and Gary Matthews were cut. Jenrry Mejia was mercifully allowed to ditch the relief pitcher experiment and continue the process of transforming into a #1 starter. Oliver Perez was banished to baseball Siberia and John Maine was pulled five pitches into the final start of his season.

But by the time all that had happened, it was already too late. Something happened to Mets fans this summer - a lot of us just stopped caring.

Maybe you fell in love with soccer too. Maybe you rediscovered some other joy in your life that had been neglected during the summer months. Maybe you just decided that you weren't going to spend what little money you still had in your pocket at the end of the week on a team that treated its payroll much the way that The Joker treated the money he took from Gotham City's more unsavory elements.

(By the way, I've been dying to share this thought - how great would it be if a New York-based soccer club took the name "Gotham City SC?" Forget about the return of the New York Cosmos - supporting the Dark Knights would be so much cooler.)

People stopped going to Mets games so often. They stopped updating their fan blogs. They stopped putting their heart and soul into the Mets - and found that a life with their favorite baseball team somewhere in the background wasn't so bad after all.

The front office has to do more than just hire a manager and a general manager this off-season. They have to find a way to make the Mets relevant again.

That doesn't necessarily mean lavishing millions of dollars on the latest hot free agent, because that strategy has failed time and time again. The Mets always go out and get one big free agent - is this team any better off because of the contracts handed to Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez and Perez over the last three years?

No, free agency is not the way. Free agency is a last resort. The signing of free agents is the act of paying players for what they did in the past, with no reasonable guarantee that they will do so in the future. A team that is one or two players away can take a risk on a free agent - the Mets have many more holes to fill.

The process of making the Mets relevant again is a lot more complicated than that - and it doesn't have a lot to do with the team's performance on the field. The Mets aren't going to win in 2011, either. Johan Santana will miss a large portion of the season and may never be the same after shoulder surgery. Perez and Luis Castillo are still eating up nearly $20 million worth of payroll. Closers are obscene luxuries on 80-win teams, especially when they make $11.5 million a year.

The next general manager needs to have a three-year plan to success, and the first year needs to be dedicated to patiently waiting out Minaya's bad contracts. The next manager needs to have a better tactical grasp of the game and a willingness to blow up conventional notions about strategy and player use.

It would also be nice if the new manager instilled a sense of toughness and accountability in this team. The real problem on this club is a lack of elite talent and I'm not much for intangibles, but the Mets need more guys with attitudes like Chris Carter - guys who genuinely seem to care if they win or lose.

Until all that begins to take shape, the Mets will remain the bad joke they've become yet again. As for me, I'm going out to Harrison to watch the Red Bulls take on Salt Lake today. I'm going to boo Thierry Henry for robbing the Irish and cheer for fellow St. John's graduate Chris Wingert.

Yes, I'm the guy that the Mets have to win back.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bobby Parnell

I have never been a big fan of Bobby Parnell. I know he has a dynamite arm, but he hasn't shown any ability to harness his talent at any level of professional baseball. All I see when I look at Parnell is Kyle Farnsworth, without the propensity to reel off three unhittable months every couple of seasons.

Still, watching Parnell mow down the Astros in the 11th and 12th inning tonight, mixing a triple-digit fastball with a sharp-breaking slider, made me sit up and take notice. The SNY radar gun is obviously too fast - it clocked the fastball used to blow away Chris Johnson at 102 MPH. Even if it was, say, 3 MPH too fast tonight, that means Parnell was still locating a 99 MPH fastball against major league hitters.

You can teach a lot of things, but you cannot teach a 99 MPH fastball.

With Francisco Rodriguez out for the season and the Mets going nowhere fast, lame duck skipper Jerry Manuel might as well install Parnell as the closer for the last 40 games. If he racks up 10 to 15 saves, regardless of how effective he really is, it will only enhance Parnell's trade value this off-season. If he actually takes to the closer's spot well, the Mets may have finally found a role for Parnell to succeed in.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Who's to Blame?

Adam Rubin wrote about the lack of wheeling and dealing at the trade deadline for the Mets yesterday, and offered a reasoned perspective as to what is really wrong with the franchise right now:

You can clumsily cite principal owner Fred Wilpon and his family supposedly being stingy for such a deal not materializing, but that would be misguided -- even if ownership isn't blameless. The bottom line is the payroll is still hovering around $130 million this season.

The better answer: If GM Omar Minaya had shown restraint in his other salary commitments -- say, not giving Luis Castillo four years and $25 million or Oliver Perez three years and $36 million or guaranteeing seven years to Carlos Beltran -- he likely would have had the flexibility to pull off an Oswalt-type trade now.

It's far more about no discipline than no money.

Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo will make $18 million between them both this season and next season. That is nothing less than a fiasco. The Beltran argument is a bit of a reach; he will only be 34 next season and there was no reason to believe he would have a career-threatening knee injury with two years remaining on the contract.

I have been saying all season that Beltran wouldn't play in 2010. I was wrong about that - he definitely came back earlier than expected. I will say that he is clearly not playing at full strength and nothing less than a full offseason of rest will change that. I still think the days of Carlos Beltran as an elite baseball player have come to an end.

It's OK to Trade Bobby Parnell

This I don't like. From MetsBlog:

(Omar) Minaya said the Mets were “close” to making a deal in the final half hour before the deadline, but considering teams were continuing to ask for Ike Davis, Jon Niese, Ruben Tejada and Bobby Parnell, the Mets were unable to find a fit.

Now that is a surprisingly reasonable assessment of the situation by Minaya, except for including Parnell in that mix. It's just silly to include a pitcher who has failed as both a starter and a reliever with three guys who the Mets should legitimately be interested in retaining.

Davis is the starting first baseman and there is no one in the organization ready to play the position competently on the major league level. I've compared him multiple times to Adam LaRoche, since that is the career path I think you can expect from Ike: a .275/.350/.475 line with 20 to 25 homers a year. That's not a superstar, but the Mets won't be paying Davis like a superstar for the next six years.

I'm more much more excited about Niese, who I think has the potential to be a good #3 starter on a playoff team or a #2 starter on an also-ran. There are very few pitchers in baseball I would trade Niese for - Roy Oswalt and Ted Lilly were not among them. I expect both Davis and Niese to be Mets five years from now and for both to be important contributors to a playoff team.

I am more ambivalent about Tejada. His development may have been stunted by the Mets' over-aggressive promotion schemes of the Tony Bernazard regime, but the response to that idea is that Tejada may actually be a guy who really comes into his own in two years. If Tejada had been traded I would not have been heartbroken, but I am happier that he's here. He's still only 20 years old and the Mets really should commit to leaving him in Buffalo until the end of the 2011 season to see what they have in Tejada.

Parnell, though ... Parnell is a different story. He simply has not been very good at any level throughout his professional career; he has consistently put up WHIPS over 1.400 in the minors and was knocked around in whatever role the Mets used him in last year. Parnell is being lit up against lefties this season (a .345/.387/.379 line) and looks to all the world to be a 25-year-old hard-throwing righty specialist with nothing on his resume to make a neutral observer believe he can be more than that.

I don't know what Parnell would have fetched the Mets in a trade. I seriously doubt it would have been enough to make the Mets playoff contenders anyway - were the Marlins offering Josh Johnson and Dan Uggla for Parnell? But my message to Omar Minaya is this - if someone approached you with a trade offer for Bobby Parnell, do not hesitate to pull the trigger.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

MetropoliTONS of Fun

You already know what it is
We the Mets from Queens
We lose a lot ...
but we're going to try to win
We'll see what happens

So Ron Artest has created a Mets anthem for the 21st century. Why is it not surprising that someone as creatively and emotionally ... different as Ron Ron found a way to sum up what it means to be a Mets fan in a two-minute verse?

Win some, lose some
The Mets dun dun
We just tell ourselves
Success is a nuisance

Success must be a nuisance, because Met ownership and the front office seem to have been allergic to it for the better part of 50 years now. The past 15 years have been particularly difficult to bear, since the playing field has been tilted in favor of big-market clubs like at no other time in baseball history.

No matter - as is their custom, the Mets have bungled their way through most of that time period anyway. Three playoff appearances, one National League championship - that's it. Success is apparently such a nuisance for the Wilpon family that, since firing Bobby Valentine eight years ago, they've decided to employ a corporate flunkie as a general manager and a series of stooges as managers. Success has certainly been kept to a minimum around these parts, thanks to the hiring practices of Fred Wilpon.

Today is the trading deadline - which itself has become sort of a black feast day for the Mets fans. Once I'm done here, I'm going to strap on my praying hat and beg the baseball gods to keep the Mets from doing something stupid that will only keep this team further from their third championship. The last time I forgot to do that, Victor Zambrano became a Met.

I got a ring
No need to be cranky
The Mets need 25 more
To tie the Los Los Yankees

Shut up, Ron Ron.

Baseball is not exactly a singing sport, anyway. Everyone knows the words to Take Me Out to the Ballgame, of course, and far too many people drunkenly slobber the lyrics to Sweet Caroline whenever it is foisted upon us. (Can we start a movement to ban Sweet Caroline at sporting events around the country? I am convinced that footage of American baseball fans screaming "so good, so good, so good!" is shown in terrorist training camps around the world on an endless loop to whip would-be jihadists into a lather.)

Mets fans are actually lucky in that we have two incomparable homages to our hometown team. Meet the Mets is still a wonderful sing-along; created in 1962, updated in 1984, it is the first song I plan on teaching my little niece when she's old enough to sing it. (War Eagle will be the second song she learns - she'll be the envy of her pre-school class!)

Then there is Lets Go Mets, the soundtrack to the 1986 championship season. I have a simple request - the Mets should play Meet the Mets before the bottom of the first inning and Lets Go Mets right after the national anthem (minus the Joe Piscopo interlude, of course). Forget Take Me Out to the Ballgame and Lazy Mary -we have our own songs to sing.

Now we have Ron Ron's joint, which belongs up there with the two greatest Mets songs ever written. Embrace the silliness, the ill-placed Jason Bay shout-out, the self-effacing lyrics about the Mets' limited history of success. Ron Ron has captured exactly what it means to be a Mets fan - loyalty in the face of logic, fidelity in the face of reason.

We are all Mets fans, no matter how incompetent ownership is, no matter how embarrassing the on-field product becomes. We stay with this team, year after year, because they are our team and because somehow, in some way, they find little ways to make us happy.

We the MetropoliTONS of Fun
We the MetropoliTONS of Fun
No matter how many games we won
We the MetropoliTONS of Fun

1986, 1969 dot dot dot
C'mon y'all, let's step it up.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Geek Trinity Approved!

As you know, I am awesome. Part of being awesome, of course, is not discriminating against geeks.

So when I found out that the boys from Geek Trinity added me to their Links We Like, I was humbled and honored. (They got the name of the site wrong - it's Productive Outs and Crackerjack! - but the site is still in its infancy and small mistakes can be overlooked for now.) Golden Ratio and the Jersey Pirate (aka Sarcastic Bastard) are two of my favorite people in the world, even if they both live hundreds of miles away. I haven't spent much time with Dez5908, but I imagine I'll be hoisting pints with him two weeks from now when I make my long-awaited return to the Port City. If Golden Ratio and the Jersey Pirate vouch for him, then I know he's a good guy.

I am a little ashamed, though; the link description describes this blog as "where we go for our daily dose of insightful baseball talk from a forlorn Mets fan (emphasis mine)." Productive Outs has barely been able to administer weekly doses of baseball insight this season, although God knows that I certainly am forlorn. I'll try to better, now that I am Geek Trinity Approved!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Brilliant Marketing Strategy

The Cardinals have an interesting and creative ticket promotion that I would jump all over if I was in St. Louis. At 9 am on game day (not sure if this for day games and for night games), the ticket office sells 275 pairs of tickets for $11 each. The catch - you don't know where the seats are until you open the envelope with the tickets inside. You might get a field level seat; you might get an upper deck seat. I'm sure the cheap seats far outnumber the good ones, but using a game day lottery system to sell off unused tickets is a great idea.

As the Mets slip further away from playoff contention, I spend a lot more time thinking about the business behind the game. I'm starting in MPS in Sport Management this fall (as if I needed another distraction from maintaining this blog!) and ideas like the Cardinals' ticket selling scheme is the reason I am so interested in the program. When you root for a team that is so poorly run, it becomes painfully apparent that professional franchises can be run much more intelligently and efficiently.

If there's anyone still reading - what are some of your ideas for running a professional franchise?

Monday, July 12, 2010

All-Star Break

Some thoughts about the Mets as they start a three-day vacation and I get back to work:

* I know I've been telling anyone who will listen that Carlos Beltran was not going to play in 2010, but it looks like he will be activated in time for Thursday night's game. Am I surprised? Absolutely. Am I convinced he will make it through the rest of the season? Not at all.

That's why the news that Angel Pagan is the new starting right fielder and that Jeff Francouer is going to ride the pine may not mean all that much. Beltran is going to need extra rest anyway, so it wouldn't surprise me to see Frenchy start twice a week on a regular basis. If and when Beltran's knee succumbs to everyday abuse, Pagan will just switch back to center field and Francouer will be back in the starting lineup.

Until then, kudos to management for realizing that Pagan is unquestionably the better player and absolutely should be starting over Francouer. They actually make a devastating platoon - Francouer has a .348/.403/.449 line against lefties and Pagan has an .333/.397/.510 line against righties. Maybe Frenchy should also start shagging fly balls in center field and right field. Bay-Beltran-Pagan is surely the best starting outfield we have, but Francouer would be a reasonably valuable fourth outfielder if he played all three positions and could platoon against lefties.

* Ruben Tejada has shown that he has the potential to be a productive major league middle infielder, but it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if he finished the season in Buffalo once Luis Castillo returns. The biggest problem I see is that it will basically ensure that Alex Cora's contract option will vest and Cora will end up blocking Tejada in 2011 if that happens.

Someone will also need to tell Jerry Manuel that, once Castillo returns, he has to bat eighth. Pagan has earned the #2 spot in the lineup and to move him down to accommodate Castillo's Punch-and-Judy act will hurt the team.

The ideal lineup for this team, once Beltran returns, is Reyes-Pagan-Wright-Beltran-Bay-Davis-Barajas-2B-P. I like Ike breaking up the two right-handed bats, especially since he has come back down to earth a bit and may benefit from hitting a little lower down in the lineup.

* If John Maine ever wants to pitch in the major leagues again, it will almost certainly include a stint in Triple-A. I can't see him getting anything more than a minor-league contract in 2011. He would be crazy not to make 10 starts for Buffalo this summer and try to force his way into the September mix for the Mets. Otherwise, you may never see him in a major league uniform again.

Friday, July 9, 2010

World Cup Fever

I have it bad. So bad that I haven't posted in a month. Maybe I'll be back after the All-Star Break.

Quick thoughts:
* Yes, Mack, I am still alive. (Thank you for asking!) Readers, go to Mack's blog and consider purchasing a copy of "The Keepers." I have my copy from the beginning of the season and I know so much more about the Mets farm system because of it.
* I'm more excited about Jon Niese than Mike Pelfrey. All of a sudden, the top three in the Met rotation are good enough to make this an 86- to 89-win team. RA Dickey is the #5 - does this mean the Mets are one good starter away from 90 wins?
* Why are the Mets looking better? Addition by subtraction. No John Maine, Oliver Perez, Mike Jacobs, Luis Castillo and Frank Catalanotto? No problem. Jenrry Mejia is down in Double-A where he should have been all season. The final step? Releasing Fernando Tatis and making sure that Alex Cora's option doesn't vest.
* Cliff Lee to the Yankees? If so, we're all just playing for second place ...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Padres Bullpen

This was going to be part of the earlier entry, but I decided that it deserved stand-alone attention. Have you seen how good the Padres bullpen this year?

Their closer, Heath Bell has a 1.38 ERA - and he may be having the worst season among the primary relievers. Luke Gregerson is simply unhittable - the league is batting .114 off him. Mike Adams and last night's goat Edward Mujica are both striking out more than a batter an inning while also allowing less than one baserunner per frame. Joe Thatcher, Ryan Webb and Tim Stauffer (currently on a rehab assignment after a bout with appendicitis) have combined for over 50 innings of work with an ERA of 0.85 and a WHIP of 0.911. That's from the back of the bullpen, folks.

My favorite part about the Padres' bullpen? Their salaries:

Bell: $4 mill
Adams: $ 1 mill
Mujica: $420K
Gregerson: $416K
Stauffer: $415K
Thatcher: $413K
Webb: $400K

The entire bullpen makes a little more than $7 million this year - which is over $5 million LESS than Francisco Rodriguez alone!

Glimmers of Hope

When a 26-year-old home-grown starting pitcher gives you nine terrific innings and a 23-year-old home-grown first baseman hits a game-winning home run, how can you not feel good about your team?

One could say that last night's win over the Padres was the best win the Mets have had this season. Mike Pelfrey was brilliant, needing just 103 pitches to get through nine innings of five-hit, one-run ball. He deserved a win for his efforts, but Padres starter Clayton Richard combined with two relievers to match Pelfrey's brilliance step-by-step in regulation time.

Could Pelfrey have gone out and pitched the tenth inning, considering the fact that he was due to lead off in the bottom of the tenth? Absolutely. He was pitching on six days' rest and had gotten through the ninth without incident. He was still pitching efficiently, having thrown only 28 pitches across the eighth and ninth innings.

Jerry Manuel, of course, saw differently. Manuel is a very nice man with what apparently passes for a charming wit. His players seem to genuinely like him and like playing for him. He is not a good manager, however; a man far too devoted to the orthodoxy of conventional thought and lacking either the ability or the desire to think outside the very narrow box of baseball dogma. Manuel will not be with the Mets in 2011, not if they harbor any serious championship aspirations.

Pelfrey could have started the tenth inning. Instead, Manuel double-switched after the ninth inning ended and brought in Francisco Rodriguez, who needed only 13 pitches to dispatch of the Padres in the tenth. Then, despite the manuever that should've allowed Rodriguez to stay in the game, K-Rod was gone once the 11th inning began. Sigh.

In the grand scheme of things, Manuel should not be the focus today. Manuel is part of the past, and will one day be spoken of in hazy tones when Mets fans try to bridge the gap between the worst manager in franchise history and future skipper Wally Backman. Ike Davis, however, is very much a part of the future - his heroics last night will be remembered for a long time to come.

Davis stepped to the plate in the 11th inning and put an end to Manuel's usual shenanigans. He took a Mujica pitch deep into the night, finally landing halfway up the Pepsi Porch about 15 minutes after he crossed home plate. It reminded you of some of the majestic home runs Mike Piazza used to hit - crushing blows that seemed to take ages before they fell to earth.

The Mets were winners - a common story when they play at Citi Field these days - and moved four games over .500 for the second time this season. Toward the end of Spring Training, after analyzing the Mets' off-season moves and projecting what the 2010 roster was going to look like as a result, I picked them to finish 78-84 and to finish in fourth place.

Since then, the Mets have replaced Mike Jacobs with Davis. They have released Frank Catalanotto and Gary Matthews. John Maine and Oliver Perez are right where they belong - on the disabled list and out of the rotation. The Mets are still a flawed team, but they are a better team today then they were on Opening Day.

Mike Pelfrey has blossomed into a staff ace. Ike Davis is a middle-of-the-pack National League first baseman right now, with room to grow into one of the better ones in the league. Jon Niese is the #3 starter, not the #5, and showing signs that he could fill that role for years to come. Sure, there are still holes on this team. Pelfrey, Davis and Niese are filling three holes that were there when Spring Training ended.

There is hope.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Matt Harvey

The Mets went for a college starter with their first pick in the amateur draft last night, grabbing Matt Harvey from UNC with the seventh overall pick. I hadn't heard very much about the Mets coveting Harvey with their pick so I was a little surprised when they selected him over Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal, who was unexpectedly still on the board.

Grandal was picked by some to go as high as fourth overall and there were rumors that the Royals had already agreed to a deal with Grandal even before the draft began. The Royals went with Christian Colon instead and I expected the Mets to react by scooping Grandal up and thanking the amateur baseball gods for their good fortune.

Grandal would've made me happier than Harvey, but I am far from disappointed with the pick. I happen to favor stockpiling big college right-handed starters when it comes to the draft. Starting pitching is still the coin of the realm and Harvey has a few things I like about him besides the major-college pedigree. He throws hard and already has a decent feel for two breaking pitches. Harvey was very highly regarded going into college and was a great college starter during his freshman and junior years.

The red flag for Harvey is his sophomore year performance, apparently because of mechanical issues that remain his biggest concern. I was surprised and a little disheartened when John Sickels panned the pick, because John Sickels knows a hell of a lot more than I do.

A brief digression: when baseball observers speak broadly about "mechanics," I am never sure if they mean that a pitcher's mechanics make him susceptible to injury or if he simply has problems repeating his motion. If it's the first concern, I don't worry about it. Mark Prior had flawless mechanics and his arm blew up on him. The second concern is a bigger issue. I don't really care HOW a guy throws, as long as he's comfortable and can repeat it. Someone like Luis Tiant wouldn't even be drafted today because of his unique mechanics, or he would have been ruined in the minors because some Single-A pitching coach would've completely change the dynamics of it.

A smaller red flag, depending on how you look at it, is the news that Harvey had a 156-pitch outing for the Tarheels earlier this year. It was mentioned during last night's draft show and one of the analysts claim that his final pitch of the night was still 95 MPH. If you read my infrequent postings then you know I'm no pitch-count watcher, but an outing like that is what you makes you worry about college starters. Some college managers are known for shredding the arms of their starters in the annual quest to get to Omaha.

If Harvey signs quickly enough, he'll be on the mound in Brooklyn this summer. I say "if," because Harvey is a Scot Boras client who can go back to UNC for his senior year if the Mets do not meet his asking price. I will be very interested to see if the Mets, who have slavishly adhered to slot recommendations for several years now, meet Harvey's salary demands. Boras certainly won't be worrying about slot recommendations!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

State of The Mets Debate

I'm cheating a little bit here, because I'm recopying an email that the Flushing Flash sent earlier this week to the rest of the UBS Alumni Email Chain. Here are his thoughts on the state of the Mets and my response:

FF: The reality is that the Mets are not contenders this year. They shouldn’t be looking for the quick fix but rather looking at 2011 (or maybe even 2012). The best way to do this is to look at it position by position …

General Manager – Omar Minaya must go and the sooner the better. The new GM should be given the reins to rebuild this club with a two-year window. Boston fans are calling for Theo Epstein’s head on a platter after he choose to go to a concert rather than the recent Yankees-Sox game. I would take him in a heartbeat.

Manager – Bye Bye Jerry. Manuel has had almost two years to produce and has done nothing. Hiding behind Omar’s inability to put a squad together is no longer an excuse. Bobby V would be the ideal candidate but anyone not named Art Howe would be an improvement (Lou Pinella???). In typical Mets fashion, we probably end up with Howard Johnson and Wally Backman somewhere in the mix.

Catcher – There is nothing available in the 2010 free agent class that would be an improvement over Rod Barajas. Bring Josh Thole up after the All-Star Break and let him split time behind the plate with Rod. It will give us an idea whether he is ready for the bigs or whether we need to resign Barajas to an extension.

First Base – Lots of big names may be on the market but the Mets should focus their $$$ elsewhere. A combination of Ike Davis and Danny Murphy won’t hurt us here.

Second Base – Trade Luis Castillo now for whatever you can get for him. The Mets will need to fill this hole internally or accept another Alex Cora-type player going forward.

Shortstop – I know the consensus is to dump Jose Reyes, but he is the best option available. Take some of the pressure off him to carry the team and he will respond with an above-average glove and a spark at the top of the order. There are no better options available.

Third Base – David Wright needs to spend the offseason shackled to Lenny Dykstra. You're arguably the best player on the team … start acting like it and grow a pair.

Outfield – Give Carlos Beltran the rest of the season off to fully recover. Carl Crawford should be the Mets number one target during the offseason. Crawford, Beltran and Bay would be a nice outfield with Angel Pagan filling in where needed.

Starting Rotation – Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey stay. Bring up some of the younger arms to compete with Jon Niese down the stretch. There is a strong free agent class and the Mets need to land at least two stars regardless of the cost. John Maine will be gone after the season and Oliver Perez should be cut outright, regardless of what remains on his contract.

Bullpen – The one part of the team I wouldn’t change. Can it be improved? Yes, but the focus should be elsewhere unless something falls into our lap.

The Fans – The Wilpons should take out full page adds in every local paper apologizing to the Mets fan base, acknowledging that they have made mistakes and that the fans have been the biggest victim. They should do away with the current pricing plans, offer free parking days, and institute multiple fan appreciation days throughout the rest of the season. Season ticket holders should receive free seat upgrades to fill all those empty seats behind home plate that they could not sell because they were priced too high.

My response:

Omar's not going anywhere, especially with the draft coming up. He has until August 15 to make signings. By that time, the first trade deadline will have come and gone and the Mets should be far enough out of first place that the Wilpons will handcuff Minaya. Jerry will be fired mid-season, Bob Melvin will take over for the rest of the year and then there will be an open casting call in the off-season.

Thole is being exposed in Buffalo (.250/.312/.411). Barajas is the starter the rest of the season unless someone overpays. If he plays for $2 million next year, he's the 2011 starter as well. Davis and Wright aren't going anywhere and will remain the corner infielders. Reyes is your shortstop this year and next - if he doesn't produce then you look to trade him in July 2011. Second base is a black hole in the organization - trade Castillo yesterday and get a scrap heap veteran next year.

I'll say it again - Carlos Beltran's career is basically over. Bay is stuck in left field, so Crawford is not a viable option. The Mets need a CF and an RF (release Frenchie) so that Angel Pagan can go back to being a fourth outfielder. If Martinez ever learns to stay healthy, he'll be your right fielder.

Everyone knows what to do with the starters - let two journeymen fill it out after Santana-Pelfrey-Niese this season, sign someone else next season, have Mejia ready to be a starter in 2012. Send him down right now so he can work on secondary stuff.

As for Roy Oswalt (whose trade demand sparked the whole conversation): his contract is basically 2 years, $31 million, with a 2012 option for $16 million. The first major stumbling block is that the Mets simply will not take on that entire salary. My guess? The Astros would have to send the Mets at least $15 million in any deal. The Wilpons will pay for Oswalt at Joel Pineiro prices, but not at full price.

So now, you have to entice the Astros to move Oswalt AND $15 million. You have to start with Reyes now, add Niese, then add two cost-controlled, high ceiling minor league players. Would Houston consider Reyes, Niese, Jenrry Mejia and Fernando Martinez? I think so. I don't think the Mets can get Oswalt for anything less.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Ideal #2 Hitter

If I could choose one player as the embodiment of the ideal #2 hitter, it would be Bobby Abreu.

I've been arguing with T-Bone in the comments section about the nature of #2 hitters recently, and that debate dovetails nicely with the back-and-forth I've been having with Fish about the merits of Bobby Abreu. Fish is - to put it charitably - not a numbers guy. He dismisses Abreu as "soft," a ridiculous rap considering that Abreu has played in at least 150 games in each of the last 12 seasons.

I consider Abreu a borderline Hall of Famer, who has probably reached the stage of his career where he simply needs 3 or 4 average seasons to place himself squarely in the argument. Consider this - if Abreu plays three more seasons and his numbers do not plummet, he will finish with an approximate line of .290/.395/.480 with over 2,500 hits, close to 1,500 runs scored and RBI and nearly 400 stolen bases. (I don't care much about runs scored and the RBI, but Hall of Fame voters tend to consider them.)

In this jacked-up era of huge home run hitters (Fish's words), Bobby Abreu has done everything else offensively at a very high level for well over a decade. He hits for average. He steals bases. He piles up walks. He hits 35-40 doubles a year like clockwork. He is Paul O'Neill with speed and without the maturity issues.

The attributes I've listed above are almost exactly the attributes that the ideal #2 hitter should have. Forget this garbage about guys who "put the ball in play" or "know how to move the runner over." That's a nice way of saying, "he makes a lot of outs, but at least he does it in a way that the casual fan can be deluded into thinking is meaningful."

I want a #2 hitter who can give me a .300/.400/.500 season. I want a #2 hitter who hits 40 doubles and steals 30 bases. I want a #2 hitter who walks 100 times a year. Those guys are stars - and I want to bat those guys as high in the order as possible.

EDIT: I sometimes re-write my posts for Mack's Mets, especially if I can find a slightly different twist for his much, much larger audience to enjoy. (I average about 15 visits a day at the blog; Mack gets over 1,100). You can find Version 2.0 of this post here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A New Look Lineup

Oliver Perez is out of the rotation? Check. Jose Reyes is back in the leadoff spot? Check. Angel Pagan is batting third tonight? Now, hold on for just a minute ...

This really shouldn't be so difficult. You have to make the best of a bad situation, and only one lineup really makes sense for the Mets, considering that Carlos Beltran is never coming back, the right fielder and the catcher cannot hit and the second baseman has less punch than a flyweight.


That's it. Jose likes hitting leadoff? Fine, leave him there. The problem is the complete lack of understanding that Luis Castillo's skill set best suits him for the #8 spot, not the #2 spot. He has a .290 slugging percentage, for God's sake. I don't have a problem with station-to-station baseball, as long as the batter in question will hit 20 to 30 home runs a year. I do have a problem with station-to-station baseball when the best the batter can do is slap singles or hope that the pitcher throws four balls out of strike zone.

I want fewer at-bats for Luis Castillo, not more. Castillo can serve as a "lead-off hitter" from the #8 spot and let the pitchers work on getting him in scoring position via the sacrifice. If you think that's a stupid idea, ask yourself why you think it's a good idea for #2 hitters to be "contact hitters" who "get the runner over." An out is an out, my friends - best to purposely commit one as few times as possible.

Pagan can bat second; he may get on base a little less often than Castillo, but will hit the ball harder and advance Reyes further when he does. I know David Wright is striking out too often, but he's also leading the league in walks and is on pace for a 30-30 season despite his struggles. The Mets got Jason Bay to hit like a cleanup hitter - the back of his baseball card says he'll start doing so before the end of the season.

After that, you fill the 5-6-7 holes in order of quality remaining. Ike Davis is clearly better than Francouer and Barajas and you need a left-handed bat to break up the string of righties. It is a testament to how bad a hitter Rod Barajas is that I think Jeff Francouer should be batting ahead of him in an ideal lineup. If Gary Matthews was a competent baseball player, I'd bat him sixth and use Frenchie as a defensive replacement. He isn't, so I won't.

Oliver Perez

Oliver Perez has made 21 starts over two seasons since signing a 3-year, $36 million free agent contract with the Mets. There's no point in going over old ground in detail, other than to say that at the time Perez had no other suitors willing to meet the price tag that Perez's agent Scott Boras had put on him. The Mets surely overpaid to get him, because Omar Minaya had no one in the minor leagues ready to take a regular turn in the rotation and he did not see another alternative in the free agent starting pitching market.

Here are the results:
21 starts, 99.3 innings (less than 5 innings per start), 105 hits, 86 walks (1.923 WHIP), 6.53 ERA

The Mets made a terrible mistake with Oliver Perez. The money is guaranteed, so it's as good as spent. Release him today, and when he clears waivers send him down to Buffalo and give him a regular turn in the rotation. When he gets there, just leave him alone - Perez will never succeed if you try to alter his pitching motion or if you try to convince him to repeat the same motion over and over again.

Perez is a rare breed of pitcher, one who simply cannot pitch like everyone else. He wants to use multiple arm angles and multiple pitching motions on the mound, however foolish that may be. He will always be inconsistent because of it, but he will be downright terrible if you don't let him do it this way.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jeff Francouer

Frenchie's stat line on April 12 (6 games): .476/.538/1.000
Frenchie's stat line since (28 games): .184/.245/.276

How many more times are baseball fans going to be fooled by Jeff Francouer?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chris Carter is Coming!

Chris Carter has finally been liberated from the shackles of the International League. The Mets pulled the plug on Frank Catalanotto last night, releasing the veteran pinch-hitter and calling up Carter to take his spot on the roster.

Carter had been tattooing Triple-A pitching, putting up a .336/.390/.611 line with 17 extra-base hits (including 6 home runs) in 29 games. Cats had been terrible in New York; he was sent up as a pinch-hitter in 24 of the 25 games he made an appearance in and went just 3 for 22 with one extra-base hit in that role. Pinch-hitters who can't hit, can't run and can't play the field are about as useless as one can get.

For now, one would presume that Carter will also primarily be limited to pinch-hitting duty, as his defense can only charitably be described as terrible. West Side Ed puts Carter squarely in the Adam Dunn realm of awfulness on the field; I'm hoping he will merely be bad during the occasional starts he gets at first base or the corner outfield positions.

This is another positive sign from a franchise that has always been far too reliant on veteran influence, even when the on-field production is lacking. Carter is a finished product - he has spent parts of the last five seasons in Triple-A - so there was no reason to hold him back any longer. Cats has been useless, and his presence on the roster at the expense of Jacobs was starting to become embarrassing.

The Mets mercifully put an end to the Mike Jacobs fiasco after two weeks and have been rewarded by the play of Ike Davis, who has certainly held his own so far. I don't think Carter will have quite the same impact, but I can see him providing a decent bat at the league minimum and playing his way into trade bait for an American League team looking for a cheap DH.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dallas Braden

Hats off to Dallas Braden, who pitched a perfect game yesterday. Braden, you may remember, is the Oakland A's starter who got all huffy because Alex Rodriguez walked across the pitcher's mound while returning to first base after a foul ball earlier this season. Frankly, I thought his reaction was immature and childish, so 27 up and 27 down is certainly a better way to be remembered.

Angst and I had a debate about this via text message yesterday, but for the record I will say that I've been watching baseball for 30 years and never heard a word about runners having to avoid the pitcher's mound at all times. Baseball, it sometimes seems, has more unwritten rules than written ones. But this one struck me as a stretch right from the beginning, the kind of thing a prickly kid with limited major league success should probably just shut his yap about.

Braden did not, yelling at A-Rod after he walked by and adding plenty of pointed comments in post-game interviews. I know it's good sport to mock Alex Rodriguez and to blame him for just about everything except the Chicago fire. Something tells me that if it had been Derek Jeter running across the mound instead, the press would be hailing the wily veteran for trying to get the immature hot-head off his game and for doing whatever it takes to win. Perception breeds reality, I guess.

Anyway, what struck me today as I looked at the boxscore for Braden's perfecto is that his WPA for the game was only 0.36. I will say that I am only passingly familiar with advanced baseball metrics, so it is entirely possible that I do not understand how Win Probability Added works. Wikipedia defined the stat as an attempt to measure a player's contribution to a win by figuring the factor by which each specific play made by that player has altered the outcome of a game.

WPA appears to work in whole numbers, so it would seem that a 0.36 WPA means that Braden contributed to 36 percent of Oakland's win yesterday. This seems rather low, considering that Braden retired all 27 batters that faced him.

I assume that WPA takes into account that Braden only struck out six batters, which means the other 21 outs were recorded by fielders on ground balls or fly outs. It must also take into account that Braden, as an American League pitcher, did not bat and therefore was not responsible for any of the team's offense that day.

It's just interesting to see that, according to WPA, even pitching a perfect game won't earn a pitcher "credit" for even half of his team's victory that day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Another Feather in Omar's Cap

From MetsBlog: According to the Mets, Kelvim Escobar will undergo surgery to repair a torn capsule in the front of his right shoulder, and is expected to miss the rest of this season.

Who would have seen that coming? Hmmm ...

Yesterday I wrote about the bench, and how the Mets could've saved approximately $2.3 million by simply replacing Alex Cora, Fernando Tatis and Frank Catalanotto with three players making the league minimum. (I suggest Russ Adams/Andy Green, Mike Hessman and Chris Carter, in that order.) Add the $1.25 million in guaranteed money for Escobar and the tally of completely wasted salary exceeds $3.5 million.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Worst Bench in Baseball

Alex Cora (34): .162/.262/.243
Fernando Tatis (35): .212/.257/.364
Henry Blanco (38): .227/.296/.318
Gary Matthews (35): .139/.244/1.94
Frank Catalanotto (36): .143/.182/.190

Blanco gets a pass, because he's a defensive catcher and is nearly out-hitting Rod Barajas anyway. The other four guys are a dismal combination of age and incompetence; if any of the four were released today, I find it hard to believe that any other team would pick them up.

Catalanotto is the easiest to replace - just release him and call up Chris Carter from Buffalo right now. Cats never gets in the field anyway; he's been a pinch-hitter in 19 of the 20 games he's appeared in this season. If the Mets are that worried about Carter's defense, just give him the Rusty Staub role and let him pinch-hit.

Matthews is signed for next year at a cost of $1 million; his production could easily be replaced by a Rule V-caliber defensive outfielder/pinch-runner. Cora has a vesting option that just about everyone in the Mets organization (except maybe Omar Minaya!) is hoping will not be exercised. Release him now, before Jose Reyes or Luis Castillo gets injured and Cora plays his way onto the 2011 team.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Where Has Jack Been?

Here's the obvious question - why haven't I been posting more?

The Mets have won eight straight games since The Franchise and I sat in box seats* and watched the Cubbies deal the home team their only loss in a 10-game swing at New Shea. (Yes, I called it New Shea. I will never refer to the corporate sellout name if there is an alternative. When I'm angry at the Mets, it's Ebbets Field North. When I'm happy with the Mets, it's New Shea.)

* I'm biting** Joe Posnanski's style here, but do baseball fans really know what "box seats" are? I've always used the term to refer to any seats in the Field Level, but I suspect that there is a more specific meaning that I am unaware of.

** When you were a kid, did you use the term "biting" when you thought someone else was being a copycat? (The asterisks could go on all day, but I'm pretty sure everyone used the term "copycat" in their lives.) I remember that in Broad Channel, it was thrown around very loosely - to the point that if you were wearing a blue shirt and someone else was wearing a blue shirt, you may find yourself accused of biting off them.

My new favorite term for that behavior is "swagger jacking." As in, "Did you see how Tim Walsh started posting content at Flushing University after I did? That boy is nothing but a swagger jacker."

So why haven't I been posting more? Mack called me out at Mack's Mets the other day and I immediately started a "State of the Mets" piece so I that could have some new content, but I ran out of material before I got through the relievers. I just lost the patience to get through another long-form post and abandoned the project.

The Mets are in first place, they beat up on the Phillies last night and they are turning heads in the National League. So why am I not posting more?

Complacency, I guess. It's hard to rail against a team that's won 10 of 11 games. I think that I've set myself up as a contrarian voice against what remains a wildly mismanaged franchise, but that voice rings hollow when the team is winning.

As a writer, I have become a pathological second-guesser. Too much time is spent focusing on what is wrong and not enough on what is right. And right now, the Mets are right.

Of course Jenrry Mejia should be in Double-A and working on secondary pitches. But he dominated the eighth inning last night even if the Mets already had an seven-run lead. It's obvious that Frank Catalanotto should be unemployed right now instead of doing his worst Marlon Anderson imitation. It's clear that Carlos Beltran's career may be over and the team's mismanagement of a very serious injury may have contributed to that.

But, Mets fan, what do you care? The Mets are in first place. Ike Davis looks like a keeper. Mike Pelfrey looks like a #2 starter. Jon Niese looks like he will be a legitimate #3 starter once he gains a little more experience. Jeff Francouer, God save us all, is hitting.

The shrill voice of logic and reason can always be drowned out when, in the moment, it *looks* like everything is going right. I've been drowning that voice out myself - and that's why I've had very little to say.

EDIT: I have to give credit to Greg Prince at Faith and Fear in Flushing, whose own experience I swagger jacked to write this post. His piece about finding his religion in the Arctic cold of Tuesday's doubleheader spurred me to write this one.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Cots Contracts is one of the most important baseball sites on the Internet, because it charts the contracts of every player on a team's 40-man roster as well as select minor-league contracts. Cots has the Mets' Opening Day payroll at $126,498,096 in 2010 - a reduction of nearly $23 million from last season.

Not much has been made of the actual numbers, which I find curious. This is the same organization getting $20 million a year in found money from Citi to put its name on the marquee at Ebbets Field North, which only opened last year. One would think that there would've been enough money to increase payroll from 2009, and certainly no reason to reduce it.

That's where Forbes comes in. Forbes does an annual "Business of Baseball" study on franchise values and revenue. (The great Joe Posnanski has a wonderful article about this on his blog.) The authors of the Forbes article pulled no punches when it comes to the state of the Mets.

[T]ake a look at the Mets, the Yankees' cross-town rivals, who also moved into a new ballpark last season. The Mets fell 6% in value and are now worth $858 million, third on our list. The Mets saw a big jump in stadium sponsorships and premium seating revenue at Citi Field, but all is not well in the borough of Queens.

We lowered our valuation of the franchise because the team has stumbled badly on the field, and rank-and-file fans are disgusted with management. The Mets won only 70 games last season, their worst showing since 2003. In response the Mets cut the average ticket price more than 10% for the 2010 season. Even with the cuts the Mets will not match last season's attendance of 3.2 million fans. Stadium revenues are likely to decline more than $20 million in 2010.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jacobs Out, Davis In?

Mike Jacobs was designated for assignment before Sunday's game against the Cardinals, probably putting an end to his second go-round as a Met. How many teams wind up releasing their Opening Day cleanup hitter just two weeks into the season? Only the Mets.

It was never going to work here with Jacobs, a left-handed slugger who has never walked enough or made enough contact to justify his power potential. Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore is no genius, but the general rule of thumb is that when you are released by the Royals, you don't belong in someone else's starting lineup!

The Mets already had two better options in Triple-A (Chris Carter and Ike Davis) and both players out-hit Jacobs in Spring Training. The fact that Jacobs got the job anyway is just one more reminder that the Little Jeffy-Omar-Jerry brain trust does nothing to inspire confidence in this team's present or future.

The buzz about Davis's promotion is already well underway, although nothing official has been announced yet. I am a little concerned that Davis is being rushed - he's off to a great start in Buffalo, but has only had 42 at-bats at Triple-A. Carter is off to a good start as well and would be a better place-holder until Dan Murphy comes off the disabled list

If Davis struggles, he's going back to Buffalo when Murphy returns and some of that "top prospect" shine will be off him. If he holds his own, it may push Murphy into the utility player role he is destined for. Murphy would be a logical replacement for Frank Catalonotto, who brings nothing useful to this team.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

One More Thing ...

Ubaldo Jimenez pitched a no-hitter tonight. If you didn't know who he was before tonight, you should know that Colorado has a burgeoning star in Jimenez. He should be a top of the rotation workhorse for years to come.

It wasn't the most beautiful of performances - Jimenez walked six batters and threw 129 pitches to finally complete the first no-hitter in Rockies' history. Hopefully he will make it through his next start without his arm falling off. (/sarcasm)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bullpen Mismanagement

(This is the post I started writing in the 10th inning of tonight's game and gave up on once the 17th inning rolled around. I cleaned it up a bit, just to make it flow logically.)

My complaint about tonight's game is only an indirect knock at Jerry Manuel, who can't entirely be blamed for his startling inability to understand leverage and how to properly use a bullpen. The fact is, no manager in modern baseball has been able to break away from the established orthodoxy of how to deploy their relief corps.

The sheer lunacy of bullpen mismanagement at baseball's highest level was on display again today, starting in the 10th inning of a scoreless game in St. Louis. The Cardinals had two base runners with two outs and the incomparable Albert Pujols coming to bat. Manuel was not going to let Pujols face the lefty Pedro Feliciano, so he had a choice to make - which right-handed reliever to use?

Francisco Rodriguez is considered the best right-handed reliever on the team, both in terms of reputation and contract. He was rested, having last pitched the meaningless final inning in the Mets' 5-0 win on Thursday night. K-Rod (despite having a declining K rate every year since 2004) is still a strikeout pitcher, and the Mets absolutely needed a pitcher who could limit Pujols's ability to make contact.

Jerry Manuel chose Fernando Nieve instead. Nieve had already pitched in seven of the Mets' first 10 games, including two batters during a disastrous seventh inning the previous night. He is not nearly as good as K-Rod, even if Rodriguez is one of the more overrated relievers in professional baseball.

The difference, of course, is that K-Rod is the "closer." The closer is that rare breed of reliever - the man who can only pitch when the conditions are just right for him. He is supposed to be the best pitcher in the bullpen, even if he is only used in the most specialized of situations that do not always coincide with the most important ones.

Rodriguez's odds of getting Pujols out were significantly higher that Nieve's odds. Once Pujols was semi-intentionally walked, K-Rod's chances of getting Matt Holliday out were significantly higher than Nieve's. Manuel still chose Nieve. Holliday ended up popping out to first, ending the tenth inning and staving off defeat.

Incredibly, the same situation came up again in the 12th inning - two on, two out, and Pujols coming to the plate. Even more incredibly, Nieve was still in the game, having faced nine batters to that point. Perhaps even more incredibly, Nieve stayed in the game to walk Pujols and to face Jason Motte, the St. Louis pitcher.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, apparently uninterested in taking advantage of the situation, inexplicably allowed his pitcher to bat even though he had a pinch-hitter left on the bench and two relievers left in his bullpen. Motte struck out on four pitches, ending the threat and Nieve's day at the same time.

Implausibly, nearly the exact same situation came up in the 14th inning! With second and third and nobody out, Hisanori Takahashi (who was called upon to replace Nieve instead of K-Rod) struck out the left-handed Skip Schumaker. Ryan Ludwick and Albert Pujols beckoned - would Manuel have K-Rod ready to replace Takahashi now?

He would not. Takahashi struck out Ludwick, intentionally walked Pujols and struck out reliever Blake Hawksworth. This decision defied all logic, as LaRussa STILL had a pinch-hitter on the bench and Ryan Franklin available in the bullpen. Why he still let Hawksworth walk to the plate in that situation is incomprehensible.

Takahashi had performed a minor miracle, getting out of the jam. He was pinch-hit for by Jon Niese in the top of the 15th - surely K-Rod would be coming in now, right? Wrong. Jenrry Mejia, a 20-year-old Double-A starter masquerading as a reliever, was called upon in the bottom the 15th inning of a scoreless game.

Let that one sink in for a minute. After 14 1/2 innings of scoreless baseball, the youngest player in the major leagues was being asked to keep the Mets alive instead of one of the highest-paid relievers in baseball.

Mejia pitched two scoreless innings, giving way to Mexican League graduate Raul Valdes in the 17th inning. By now, even La Russa had gotten around to using his closer; one wondered if perhaps the sight of Franklin might have reminded Manuel that it was appropriate to use K-Rod even if the save wasn't in order.

Instead, it was Valdes, who had given up a grand slam to Felipe Lopez the night before in his fifth MLB appearance. This was the man that Manuel entrusted with a game, more than five hours after the first pitch was thrown.

K-Rod stayed in the bullpen until the 19th inning, waiting for the all-important "save situation" to arrive so that he could finally come into the game. The closer makes $11.5 million a year, but the manager would not ask him to pitch unless the Mets took the lead.

Rodriguez promptly rewarded Manuel's "patience" by blowing the save and nearly blowing the game. If nothing else, it was just one more reminder that the closer "myth" is just that - a myth. Manuel's reluctance to pitch Rodriguez without the lead may have cost the Mets the game, all because modern managers still do not understand that if you hold back your best reliever for the save situation, you do nothing but increase your chances of losing the game.

Will anyone question Jerry Manuel as to why he chose to use four inferior relievers at the most critical junctures of the game? Doesn't anyone wonder why the back of the bullpen is entrusted with critical at-bats in extra innings, while the closer is pitching mop-up duty in 5-0 games?

No one will ask, because Jerry Manuel went by "the book" today. He's been going by the book all season, just like everyone else. And when you go by the book, you are immune from criticism, even if the book is just as wrong as it can be.

One For The Ages

This was one of those games that you will talk about for years to come. Still, I can't help but come away thinking that this was the most poorly-managed game I have ever had the misfortune of watching.

Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa managed as though he had absolutely no intention of winning the game. He failed to pinch-hit for the pitcher in both the 12th and the 14th inning and he used two different position players for three innings of relief instead of using an off-day starter. St. Louis battled for 20 innings to overcome the mismanagement and the indifference of their field general, but in the end it was too much to overcome.

When I started writing approximately three hours ago, it was centered around Jerry Manuel's refusal to bring in Francisco Rodriguez sooner. Yes, conventional wisdom says to hold your closer back unless it's a save situation. Conventional wisdom is nothing more than the safe way to lose a baseball game.

K-Rod should've come in to pitch in the 10th, when Fernando Nieve found a way to escape the mess left for him by Pedro Feliciano. He should've come in to pitch in the 12th, when Nieve needed rescuing of his own. He should've come in to pitch in the 14th, when Hisanori Takahashi needed to be picked up.

Manuel stubbornly refused to use his best reliever time and time again, leaving the game in the hands of middle relievers who pitched heroically when put to the test. Finally, K-Rod was allowed to pitch in the 19th, when the Mets pushed a run across against Cardinals outfielder Joe Mather.

The top of the 19th also bore witness to the second-dumbest decision I've ever seen a manager make. Manuel actually asked Luis Castillo to sacrifice Jose Reyes into scoring position. A sacrifice bunt in the 19th inning with an outfielder on the mound and David Wright on deck is an unforgivably stupid play. The Cardinals, thankful for the gift of an easy out recorded by a pitcher who had never pitched professionally, promptly walked the Mets' best hitter and set up a double play against the struggling Jason Bay.

The Mets only ended up getting one run of the inning and would have lost in the bottom of the 19th if La Russa hadn't trumped Manuel and made the single dumbest decision I've ever seen any manager make. How on Earth can Ryan Ludwick be allowed to steal with Albert Pujols at the plate?

It was a miracle that Pujols didn't homer off K-Rod later in the at-bat; was there any doubt he was going to hit the ball a mile in that situation? Ludwick should have still been on base to score off the Pujols double. Pujols then would've scored the winning run on the Yadier Molina single with two outs.

Once the maddening hysteria of seeing K-Rod fail to close out the game after being held back for 18 innings wore off, I realized one essential truth. I cannot allow my beautiful little niece, just 16 months old, to grow up a Mets fan.

Seriously. Look at that face. How can I subject her to the torture that would come with life as a Mets fan?

Then it was the bottom of the 20th, and the Mets had pushed across one more run against Mather. K-Rod's arm and his ego were apparently too fragile to pitch a second inning, even though the six previous Met relievers had recorded at least four outs in this epic. Enter Mike Pelfrey, who had pitched seven dominant innings in Colorado on Thursday and was being asked to hold the Cardinals at bay one final time.

He didn't make it easy, putting two men on base after dispatching of the first two batters of the inning, but he did it. One wonders if La Russa slapped his head in amazement - who knew that a starting pitcher could take the mound on his throw day and pitch more effectively than two position players?

The Mets are 4-7 now, having wrested away what will likely be the signature win of the season for them. They didn't win this game, so much as La Russa and the Cardinals lost it. Nevertheless, it will take its place in the annals of Mets history, a game sure to be referenced in future extra-inning epics and laughingly recalled in those moments where it appears the game at hand may never end.

What will hopefully be forgotten is just how much the poor decisions of both managers contributed to the incredible length of the game.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thought of the Day

I am 33 years old. Since I have been walking the planet, there have already been four distinct periods where the New York Mets have arguably been the biggest laughingstock of baseball.

*1977-83, a seven-year period where the Mets never finished higher than fifth place in a six-team National League East
* 1992-1993, The Worst Team Money Could Buy.
* 2003-04, also known as the Art Howe years
* September 2007 to right now and the foreseeable future


No knock on Jenrry Mejia here, because he doesn't belong in the big leagues anyway. At what point will Omar Minaya admit it was stupid to listen to Jerry Manuel on this one and send Mejia back to Binghamton? Apparently, stupid is as stupid does.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Collateral Danage

At around this time last season, Omar Minaya's poor roster management skills led the Mets to designate Darren O'Day for assignment in order to make room for a spot start from Nelson Figueroa. (Remember him?) O'Day quickly signed with the Texas Rangers and pitched over 50 high-quality innings out of their bullpen. The Mets ... well, let's just say the Mets could've used someone pitching as well as O'Day in the bullpen last year.

This year, Omar Minaya's poor roster management skills led the Mets to give Kelvim Escobar a guaranteed $1.25 million and a spot on the 40-man roster. Unfortunately, most baseball people already knew that Escobar's arm was completely shot and that he may never pitch another inning in Major League Baseball. Some people have been quick to dismiss the Escobar fiasco as a worthwhile risk, one that has only cost the Mets some money.

That's not entirely true, of course. Escobar's roster spot has already come at the expense of a promising young reliever with an arm that actually works. Once Sean Green was placed on the disabled list yesterday, the Mets were forced to designate Clint Everts for assignment in order to make room for Raul Valdes.

Everts, you may remember, is a former first-round draft pick that was drafted by Minaya when he was mismanaging the dearly departed Montreal Expos in 2002. The high-school fireballer never worked out as a professional starter, but was dominant across three levels in the Washington minor-league system in 2009.

Still only 25, Everts has enough time to produce a few effective seasons out of a major league bullpen if given the chance to do so. That chance may not be available in Queens now. Everts will have to pass through waivers before the Mets can give him the ball again at Double-A Binghamton, where he was assigned out of Spring Training.

Will the decision to release Clint Everts turn out as poorly as the decision to release Darren O'Day? It's obviously too soon to tell. But I would rather have a 25-year-old reliever with a live arm and success in the minors last season over a 34-year-old reliever who has thrown 26 professional innings in the last two years and may never pitch again.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jenrry Mejia

From MetsBlog, talking about Josh Beckett's contract extension: "…it’s pretty clear, if you want an ace, or a ‘legit No. 2,’ a team must either trade top prospects to bring him in, or develop him on their own…"

At a time when Jenrry Mejia should be donning a Binghamton Mets jersey and preparing for his Opening Day assignment against Akron on Thursday, he is instead in the back of Jerry Manuel's bullpen having his development stunted.

Relievers are made, not born. It's an old-school way of thinking, but I truly believe that every pitcher should be given an opportunity to fail as a starter before being converted into a reliever. By pre-emptively putting Mejia in the bullpen based on 15 Spring Training innings, the Mets are crippling his potential to develop secondary pitches and to blossom into a top-flight starter.

Opening Day Review

First and foremost, I didn't actually go to the game. I spent it at McFadden's with Rockstar, Dr. S. and a guy who apparently stapled his own ear at some point in the evening. (I was not there to confirm this, but Rockstar's word is good and so I say "bravo" to you, John.)

Oh, you haven't heard of McFadden's yet? My first inclination is to say "good - let's keep it that way." The bar was crowded enough once the game ended, a sign that it is going to be a very popular venue for Mets fans. During the game itself the place was only about half-full, which only means that there were still a good 200 people on the premises. McFadden's only got their liquor license at 9 am that morning, so it was all beer until about the sixth inning when the booze truck rolled in. You would've thought David Wright had just hit a second opposite-field home run, such was the roar that came up from the crowd.

The bar is still undecorated, which I imagine will change in the very near future. The bartenders and the waitresses were rather scantily clad, which judging by the reaction of the overwhelmingly male crowd, is unlikely to change anytime soon. Perhaps the highlight of the day came when we were able to take advantage of one staffer's ignorance regarding Mets' history to cajole four Field Level tickets to the April 21 tilt against the Cubs.

The bar was giving away tickets every couple of innings to people who could answer ridiculously easy questions about Mets history. We were among four people who, when standing by the DJ booth, shouted out "1962" when asked the year that the Mets first joined the National League. The tiebreaker was this question - "who pitched the last perfect game in Mets history."

Rockstar and I looked at each other in amazement - could this guy really not know that the Mets have never even had a no-hitter, let alone a perfect game? One of the other vultures shouted out something unintelligible, which the DJ apparently took to be Mets knowledge unposessed by the rest of us. He gave the guy two tickets and tried to go back to his laptop. Once we pointed out the error in his ways, the DJ had no choice but to hand us each a ticket to the Cubs game. Two hours later, Rockstar successfully shamed him into giving us two more.

All in all, it was a good day - one that also included a Miss Met sighting and a surprising encounter with a guy I haven't seen since we graduated from St. Virgilius in 1990. I expect that I'll be visiting McFadden's again soon. (Perhaps as soon as this Friday, when I watch the Mets and the Nationals from the Promenade Club seats.)

Failing grades go to Angst, T-Bone and the Jersey Pirate, all of whom declined to hang out with the boys and either stayed home or stayed at work instead. You are all lame and none of you are invited to see the Cubs on April 21.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day!!

Yes, I know I've been the voice of doom and gloom on the infrequent occasions I've posted this off-season. Yes, the Mets are AT BEST a 78-win team even if everyone stays healthy - and they have the potential to be much, much worse if Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, David Wright or Jose Reyes miss any time with injuries.

That doesn't matter today. Today is one of the best days of the year, and perhaps the last time in 2010 that the Mets won't be below .500. Put on your favorite jersey, grab a beer and root, root, root for the home team. There will be 161 more chances to weep at the futility on the field and the stupidity in the front office.

Final thoughts on the 25-man roster:

* Starting pitching: a potential disaster area. Santana will be fine, although I think his days of true dominance are over. Oliver Perez and John Maine are both a mess. Mike Pelfrey is the second coming of Jon Rauch - put him in the bullpen and he'll be reliably mediocre for another 10 years. A good season from Jon Niese would put some lipstick on this pig - I happen to think that he can be a reliable #4 starter at the MLB level.

* Relief pitching: The Mets' handling of Jenrry Mejia has been borderline criminal. He belongs in Binghamton learning how to be a top-of-the rotation starter. The Mets are stunting his development in every way imaginable - and there's simply no reason for it to happen. I weep for the future of this franchise. The rest of the pen is mediocre - including the closer, whose peripherals have been in a steady decline for several years now. One smart move - Pedro Feliciano as the "eighth-inning guy." He's been miscast as a specialist.

* Catching: Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco. Sigh.

* Infield: David Wright and Jose Reyes are still superstars (as long as they are healthy). Castillo would be a very good #8 hitter on a good team. He's tolerable as a #2 hitter on this team for as long as he keeps his walk rate up. Mike Jacobs at first base is simply embarrassing. Chris Carter should've gotten the nod while Daniel Murphy was on the DL, but I guess an .893 SLG in Spring Training wasn't good enough to unseat a "veteran" with two straight years with a sub-.300 OBP. Why isn't Ruben Tejada starting at shortstop while Reyes is on the DL?

* Outfield: Beltran's absence is crushing. Jason Bay will be fine - he's no great shakes defensively, but he has power and patience at the plate, with just enough speed to sneak a base when the pitcher isn't paying attention. Jeff Francouer will fit right in with the bottom half of this lineup - another guy swinging for the fences and grounding out weakly to shortstop when he makes contact. The Angel Pagan vs. Gary Matthews debate is hilarious - Pagan is a fourth outfielder and Matthews is a fifth outfielder. Both belong on the bench.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Another Vote for a Three-League Realignment

Evan Weiner over at the Daily Caller also ponders a realignment plan involving three divisions. His perspective is somewhat different than mine - an 8-8-14 split instead of 10-10-10 and no promotion/relegation aspect, but it's good to see someone else thinking along the same lines.

I will have three more parts to my realignment plan in the coming days. Opening Day is about two weeks away, so I'll try to get back into writing more.

EDIT: Didn't read closely enough. He does suggest some promotion/relegation aspects. Just read the whole article more closely than I did.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Realignment, Part 2

OK, so the Mets have been relegated and now they are the front-runners for the Federal League East division title in 2010. They'll make the playoffs if they finish ahead of the other also-rans, and they'll earn themselves a trip back to the National League in the process. First things first - who are they going to be playing this season?

As it turns out, the schedule for teams in the American League, the National League and the Federal League would all be the same. Get ready for multiple visits from Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Washington - you'll be seeing a lot of them at Citi Field this season. Teams would play 16 games against the teams in their own division (64 games) and 6 games against teams from the other division in their league (30 games).

Interleague play has become a staple of the modern game, so we are going to have to keep it on our schedule. The Mets will play 6 games against the National League East this year, and round out the schedule with 6 games against the American League West. The sad sacks in the Federal League West will play a reverse schedule, with 6 against the AL East and 6 against the NL West. The divisions will swap back and forth each year, ensuring that the Mets will play every team in baseball on at least a bi-annual basis.

16 games against Federal League East: 64 games
6 games against Federal League West: 30 games
6 games against National League East: 30 games
6 games against American League West: 30 games = 154 games

Yes, we're going back to the 154-game schedule, to make room for three full playoff series. (More on that next time.) The owners will have to give up four home dates and that silly rivalry series that unbalances the schedule each year. The payback will be in the modified revenue sharing plan that will keep the lion's share of money between the teams in the American and National League. The teams in the two top flights will stay richer and won't be sharing as much money with the weak sisters of the Federal League.

On October 4, 2010, eight teams will be left standing. These teams - three from the American League, three from the National League and two from the Federal League - will compete for the right to go to the World Series.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Realignment, Part 1

Angst turned me on to Tom Verducci's article about a radical realignment plan allegedly being considered by Major League Baseball to address some of the financial imbalances between the richest and poorest clubs.

"Floating realignment," as Verducci dubbed it, is a ridiculous idea. I am glad that MLB is thinking outside the box to address the current set-up, in part because it means that the commissioner's office isn't hellbent on instituting a salary cap. That said, floating realignment strikes me as a half-assed way of instituting a promotion/relegation system similar to professional soccer leagues around the world.

Promotion and relegation is simple in that it rewards the best teams and punishes the worst ones. In the current economic climate, where the richest clubs dwarf the earning power of nearly everyone else, it serves to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

The top league generally houses the richest clubs and a few plucky underdogs who work their way up from a lower division to take on the big boys. Sometimes, those underdogs find sustained success against the big boys and turn into a giant themselves. (Pittsburgh Pirates fans, pick up a copy of Soccernomics and dream of the day where your club becomes the next Olympique Lyon or Nottingham Forest.)

Of course, you simply cannot faithfully replicate the soccer system in MLB, because minor league teams are feeder clubs and not aspiring top-level baseball organizations. However, if you can create a plan to shuffle the 30 clubs in a way that separates the most successful teams from the minnows - while still giving the poorest clubs a chance to make the playoffs every season - you can address the current imbalance without overly compromising traditional structures.

My basic plan: three 10-team leagues, separated into two divisions each, initially stocked based on regular-season records from the previous season. Both the American League and the National League would still exist and would consist of 10 "traditional" clubs, split into two five-team divisions with geographical considerations. (I am somewhat arbitrarily defining "traditional" as any team created before 1977 or any team that hasn't re-located since 1969.) The 10 highest finishers from the previous season get to start the subsequent season in the same league.

The third league (I like calling it the Federal League in honor of the short-lived circuit from approximately 100 years ago), would initially be populated by the worst 10 records in the league from the previous season. They, too, what be split into two five-team geographical divisions, without regard to their previous league affiliations.

If this plan were to be implemented in time for the 2010 season, this is what the leagues would look like:

American League East
Red Sox
White Sox
Blue Jays

American League West

National League East

National League West

Federal League East

Federal League West

That's right, fellow Mets fans - our team would be competing for the Federal League East title in 2010!

I expect that, after 5 to 10 years, the lower-revenue teams and the perennial losers would find themselves spending most of their time in the Federal League. They would be joined by a few big clubs stumbling on hard times or with incompetent ownership groups (read: the Mets).

The difference between this structure and a traditional promotion/relegation set-up is that two Federal League teams would make the playoffs every season and have a puncher's chance at winning the World Series. I don't know of any other system out there that gives the likes of the Pirates and the Royals a legitimate playoff shot every season.