Saturday, February 27, 2010

A River in Egypt

The Mets payroll is at approximately $130 million right now, or nearly $20 million less than last season.

Kelvim Escobar may start the season on the disabled list - which makes him the perfect eighth-inning replacement for JJ Putz in more ways than one.

Felipe Lopez just signed with the Cardinals for $2 million this season - the exact same amount as Alex Cora signed for with the Mets, except that Lopez's deal is only for one year. Felipe Lopez is a better baseball player than Alex Cora.

The top four starters from last year's subpar starting rotation hasn't changed. The bullpen may look different, with the off-season influx of Japanese middle relievers, but there's no reason to believe it will not be just as volatile in 2010. Carlos Beltran will be on the shelf for at least a month to start the season - and maybe more. Jeff Francouer, Daniel Murphy and Rod Barajas are the 6-7-8 hitters - and the scary thing is that there's no one in the organization who can reasonably expected to do better.

Yet the talking point from Port St. Lucie is that this is basically the same team picked to win the World Series in Sports Illustrated last year, except now it is miraculously injury-free.

Is anyone really falling for this?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rod Barajas and the Mets' Catching Situation

The Mets signed yet another catcher over the weekend, giving Rod Barajas a one-year deal and the inside track on the starter's job next season. This presumably spells the end of Josh Thole's candidacy for the position - a rare and welcome development from the traveling circus that has become the Mets' front office.

Three good months in Double-A does not make someone ready for the major leagues. Thole has promise - his stint in Venezuela this winter helps to confirm that - but he is nowhere near ready to catch 125 games in the National League. The Barajas signing ensures that Thole will start the season in Buffalo (or perhaps even in Binghamton), so that he can continue to learn and develop as a catcher.

The Barajas signing creates a mildly interesting scenario in that there are now five catchers in camp for four jobs. Barajas and Henry Blanco is the likely catching tandem in New York, leaving Thole, Omir Santos and Chris Coste to battle it out for two spots in Triple-A. (Shawn Riggans is also in the mix, but I just don't see a place for him in this organization.)

Thole has to start wherever he ends up. Santos is a non-prospect, but the Mets would be better off trading him while he has a smidgen of value instead of sending him to Buffalo to back up the starter. If a deal cannot be struck, perhaps Thole could go back to Binghamton to start the season, which clears the way for Santos to start at Buffalo with Coste backing up. I am confident that by July 1, someone is going to be traded, injured or released, allowing Thole to move up and spend the rest of the season in Buffalo. If all goes well, it will be Thole's job to lose in 2011.

None of this is to say that Rod Barajas is a good baseball player. A playoff-caliber team would use someone like Barajas to back up a more talented and capable starting catcher. Barajas is the type of player that a bottom-feeder signs for a $1 million and tries to convince the fan base of how good a signing it was because "he hit 19 home runs last season."

Yeah, Barajas hit 19 home runs last season, but he also had an on-base percentage of .258. Nothing in his past body work suggests that Barajas is a good bet to even get on base at a 30 percent clip in 2010. Barajas can't hit for average and he is an incredibly slow base runner. In short, he's a bad #8 hitter who has enough pop in his bat to masquerade as a bad #7 hitter.

Here's a scary thought: if Barajas bats eighth and has Jeff Francouer and Daniel Murphy in front of him, National League pitchers are looking a run of four players (including the pitcher) who are unlikely to have an on-base percentage over .310 next season. That is a tremendous number of outs from the bottom half of the order.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Batting Reyes Third

Pitchers and catchers only reported to Port St. Lucie yesterday, but the first mini-controversy of the 2010 Mets season has already been stirred up. Mets manager Jerry Manuel, pondering how to fill out the lineup card with Carlos Beltran on the shelf, indicated that he is toying with the idea of batting Jose Reyes third.

"I think Jose has the ability to probably hit anywhere in the lineup, anywhere from first to fifth -- maybe not fourth," Manuel said. "We toyed with that a little bit last year, and the reason is, in his evolution as a player, I think he is ready for that."

Manuel is almost correct. Reyes ideally belongs somewhere in the top three spots of the order (or as the #8 hitter in a All-Star caliber lineup). As a #5 hitter, he probably isn't enough of a home run threat to sufficiently protect the cleanup hitter. Still, I completely understand why Manuel is thinking about trying out Reyes in the third spot in the order. It's really very simple.

Jose Reyes is not an ideal leadoff hitter.

Yes, I know that Reyes runs very fast and can steal a lot of bases if given the opportunity. That only makes him a prototypical leadoff hitter, not an ideal one. Reyes, at his best, is a threat to join the 70-70-70 club every season (as in walks, stolen bases and extra-base hits). That type of production is actually more useful further down the lineup, where those extra-base hits can drive in more runs.

The ideal leadoff hitter, by contrast, can steal 50 bases, but he can also walk 100 times. It's nice to be able to hit .300, but it's nicer to have an on-base percentage of .400. Reyes is just not that type of player. At best, Reyes might get on base at a .375 clip in 2010. That's nothing to sneeze at, of course, but Reyes is more likely to post an OBP between .350 and .365 if he stays healthy this year.

The notion of speed being essential for a leadoff hitter has been ingrained into the minds of baseball fans since childhood. Speed is a wonderful asset, but it's a wonderful asset from any spot in the lineup. It is essential to have players who can get on base at the top of the order, to give your best hitters the opportunity to drive in more runs. It's always nice if they happen to be fast base runners, but it simply is not essential.

In short, if given the choice between Willy Taveras and JD Drew as your leadoff hitter, put Drew at the top of the lineup every single time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I'm Back!

The day that pitchers and catchers report is one of the five best days of the year, right up there with Christmas, my birthday, the NYLISL draft and the day that the Strat ratings come out.

Even potentially disastrous baseball seasons begin with at least a hint of optimism. Maybe that aging workshorse starter has 30 good appearances left in his arm. Maybe your organization's flavor-of-the-month prospect will put it all together and have a standout rookie season. The other teams in the division could have injuries, your team could stay healthy and all of a sudden, you're playing meaningful games in September.

Even after an unproductive season that failed to address numerous critical needs, that optimism can be felt in the hearts of Mets fans today.

Maybe Oliver Perez is ready to turn the corner.

Maybe Mike Pelfrey and John Maine will have their most consistent seasons to date.

Maybe the bullpen will be healthy and effective.

Maybe Daniel Murphy will have a Dave Magadan-like season at first base.

Maybe David Wright will hit 30 home runs again.

Maybe Jeff Francouer will have an on-base percentage over .300.

Maybe the Phillies aren't as good as they look.

Maybe the Marlins are too young.

Maybe the Braves are too old.


As for me, I continue plugging away at this blog, which is nearly two years old now. My schedule has been spotty, to say the least, and I'd be lying if I said that it probably isn't going to remain that way. I'm hopeful, though - I'm trying to balance my work/life schedule in a way that will allow me to do some writing most weekdays before 8 pm. (I think the creative part of my brain just shuts down at that point and I'm just unable to muster up the energy or the enthusiasm to write anything intelligent.)

I am also considering a move to a different site host - Blogger's layouts are just too mundane and this blog really needs a more visually appealing look. This year, I'm going to be more intentional about cross-posting my work. Mack from Mack's Mets has been kind enough to give me a standing invitation to write for his blog, which has significantly more readership than this one does. I'd also like to start posting at Flushing University again, which went through a redesign of its own in the off-season.

There's always a hint of optimism the day that pitchers and catchers report. I'm feeling that optimism today - both for the Mets and for the future of Productive Outs and Crackerjack.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Small Sample Sizes

Stolen from "Jose Can You Seabiscuit" from this thread at Baseball Think Factory, while discussing how small sample sizes are manipulated when making arguments:

For example, Jack Morris was a great postseason pitcher because he threw a 10-inning shutout in the (1991) World Series. What about the 1992 World Series? Doesn't count.

As for what to do with Joba Chamberlain (the focus of the thread, if you didn't click through) - starters are simply more valuable than relievers. That's why the best starter on the market gets five to seven-year deals at over $20 million a year, and the best reliever on the market* is lucky to get a three-year deal at half the AAV. If you have a young player who has the potential to be an ace starter or a shut-down closer, you try to make him into a starter first.

* Mariano Rivera doesn't count, because he is in a class by himself. Perhaps the single most misguided piece of conventional wisdom of the last 15 years is the notion that any other reliever on earth could provide the same results for their team as Mariano Rivera has done for the Yankees. The man is inhuman, and mere mortals cannot replicate his results.

The Yankees should give Joba a chance to be a starter for a full season, with no restrictions and no manipulation of his pitch count or his spot in the rotation and see what happens. If he flops after 30 starts, then you consider making him a set-up man again.

Putting Chamberlain in the bullpen now is a quick fix, one that will certainly yield a measure of success, but will prevent the Yankees from ever finding out his full potential. There may be a #1 starter inside Joba that will never emerge if he spends two or three years bridging the gap to Rivera and another 10 years protecting three-run leads in the ninth inning.