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!