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.