Mets Merized Online » Matt Balasis http://metsmerizedonline.com Sat, 06 Feb 2016 23:29:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.13 2015 Mets Contact Rates: A Tale Of Quality vs. Quantity http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/2015-mets-contact-rates-a-tale-of-quality-vs-quantity.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/2015-mets-contact-rates-a-tale-of-quality-vs-quantity.html/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 14:00:45 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=205605

It used to be you could tell when a ball was hit hard because it made a loud noise and it moved quickly through the air. Now, according to Baseball Information Solutions, you need an algorithm

“BIS now records certain hard data (duration of hang time and landing location) with the observed hit type — liner, grounder, etc. — and then an algorithm decides if the ball is hard hit.” Neil Weinberg via Hardball Times.  The actual algorithm is proprietary, so we have to take their word for what constitutes “hard contact,” but, generally speaking, the calculation is based on hang time, location, and trajectory.

I see it playing out something like this, David Wright lines out to Dee Gordon and as he’s taking his batting gloves off in the dugout he complains to Kevin Long, “Dagnabbit Mr. Long, I really thought I tattooed that one,” at which point Kevin Long pulls out a handy printout, “Sorry son, the algorithm says it was medium – see, right there.”

The truth is that the almost infinite diversity of statistics is one of the things that makes baseball so fascinating for so many. There was a time when a kid who saw [∂∂pβ(λ)∂∂λ+2(1−γ(λ))] G(2)(p)=0 in his head, when told to put a bunt down the first base line, would have no place on a baseball diamond. Now, the same kid can turn a soft blooper into a screaming liner with the right algorithm.

It’s amazing what data can tell you. For instance, it was recently discovered that guys like Giancarlo Stanton who routinely hit the ball hard, tend to be good hitters. A shocker, I know – there’s even proof in the form of a correlation study between wOBA and exit velocity.

It’s not the biggest of correlations, but it’s there.

Ultimately BIS modified their approach with hang time and landing to presumably make it less of an abstraction. Previously hard/soft hit% data involved some guy who would watch the games and decide whether balls were hit hard, medium, or soft … I mean, if he drops a melted cheese Dorito on his vintage Jethro Tull jersey, it can skew the results. So the algorithm is a good thing in spite of my incessant persiflage.

But technology is only good if you can use it, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why StatCast exit velocities have yet to be employed quantifying hard and soft hit%. There are limitations (StatCast has trouble with weak contact) but the potential to disambiguate contact rates at the initial judgment level is tremendous. There is in fact some preliminary data showing that StatCast exit velocity correlates closely with hard% contact, which I’m sure brought a sigh of relief from the guy with the stained Jethro Tull shirt — who may want to keep his job options open nonetheless (I hear UZR is hiring).

Over the past few seasons, indications are that soft and medium contact rates have risen in MLB while hard contact has fallen. Teams have increasingly delved into contact rates in an effort to improve, and for good reason. A top 10 leaderboard for hard% contact features dignitaries such as Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, and Miguel Cabrera (by the way Lucas Duda comes in at #11).

The Mets had a 31.5% hard contact rate in 2015, good for best in the game. The Mets are also tied for the fourth lowest hard% contact rate allowed (27.5%). Now there are lots of reasons teams succeed, but you have to think that the ability to make solid contact while preventing the opposition from doing the same gives you quite the advantage.

Sure enough the 2015 Mets made it to the World Series where they faced … the Royals with their 22nd in the league hard% contact rate and their 19th in the league hard% contact allowed … nothing to write Dorothy about. The Royals also had the lowest line drive percentage (19%) in all of baseball, while the Mets were third (22%).

The 2015 Mets hit the ball with authority more than just about anyone, which is very much in line with their selective philosophy – wait for your pitch, square it, clobber it. Yet they were beaten by a team who threw quality contact out the window in favor of plain old ordinary contact. The Royals led the league in contact% with an 81.9% mark.

KC also gave up quite a lot of hard contact (29.3%) but compensated with a top-notch defense. For the Mets, on the other hand, it didn’t make much sense to spend a lot of time or money on defense, given their high-K pitching staff and relatively low hard% contact rate (27.5%). The Mets looked like the better team, yet the Royals, a catch and throw outfit designed to spray the ball around, beat them in 5.

It’s doubtful that Dayton Moore, knowing his Royals were destined to play the Mets in the fall classic, specifically designed a team that would act as their ultimate foil … but it felt that way. The Mets vs. the Royals in the World Series was a tale of quantity trumping quality. In the end, the Royals were able to scrape enough runs together by putting the ball in play, while many a Met line drive ended up in a Royal mitt.

Still, the ability to hit the ball hard has to count for something, and, given the correlations (below) between that skill and other offensive indicators, (not to mention the wOBA / EV chart above), I’d hesitate to scrap the pursuit of quality contact in favor of increasing overall contact.

Correlations:
R2 with ISO: 0.70
R2 with SLG: 0.63
R2 with wRC+: 0.57

(Courtesy of Hardball Times)

From the Mets perspective it’s hard to find fault. Chances are they won’t have to face this same Royals team again in a World Series, and there’s a good chance that if they do, they could just as easily beat them. I’m also not sure there’s an overarching lesson here … for instance, in spite of the fact that the Mets lost to the Royals, I’d take hard contact over more “general” contact, because, again, according to the correlations above, it means you have better hitters. Furthermore, if you’re facing a team that can field, that’s all the more reason to hit the ball hard – anybody can make the routine play.

If there’s a caveat it’s that defense has to be more than an afterthought. The most ambiguous and unwieldy of all the branches of Sabermetrics, defense it turns out was the Mets’ Achilles heel all along. Hard contact will play as will power pitching, but if you are going up against a team who puts the bat to the ball, you’d best be able to field.

The Royals had an insane 59.6 dWAR in 2015, easily tops in the game (26.7 points ahead of the second place team). The Mets? 17th, with a 2.3 dWAR. In 2015, the Royals had 24.4 more defensive wins above replacement than the Mets.

If I’m Sandy Alderson, I am all of a sudden very interested in recalibrating the value of defense in a seven game series and I’m checking to see whether StatCast velocity data comes in a dry aerosol.

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No Ugly Ducklings In This Mets Rotation http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/no-ugly-ducklings-in-this-mets-rotation.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/no-ugly-ducklings-in-this-mets-rotation.html/#comments Thu, 28 Jan 2016 15:37:34 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=205191

I remember watching the Munsters when I was a kid and even then I didn’t understand the whole Marilyn Munster thing. In what world was she more attractive than Lily? I mean I understand Lily is undead and all, but come on. Sometimes I’d see Al Lewis (sad that he passed) sweeping the sidewalk on Bleecker St. and I always wanted to ask him about his car, but I didn’t want to be annoying.

Anyway as anyone who has ever gone out with good looking people can tell you, it’s tough being the ugly step-cousin … In some ways you’re better off finding odd and repulsive friends so you can come off as “normal,” not that I would know.

A unique reversal of this chemistry is precisely what is plaguing the Mets rotation this winter (in terms of of forecasts). Too many Marilyns and not enough monsters. The ugly stepsisters are as gorgeous as Cinderella. Who has the best breaking pitch? Who can throw the hardest fastball? Who has the best hair? Where do you even start?

The Mets rotation is a victim of it’s own remarkably deep make-up – any one of them would feature prominently on 9 out of 10 teams in the league, yet on the Mets they all play second fiddle, to each other. Maybe it’s because they hit the scene at the same time, I don’t know, but you can’t really say deGrom is in Harvey’s shadow or vise versa and I think Thor will slot in soon if he hasn’t already. So how do you look at the Cubs’ or Nationals’ rotations and manage to rank them above the Mets? That’s just crazy talk.

Carson Cistulli had this to say in the preface to his ZIPS 2016 projection:

Much of what Muhammad Ali said regarding his own self applies also to the pitchers at the top of the Mets’ rotation: the triumvirate of Jacob deGromMatt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard are each some combination of young, handsome, and fast. With regard to the possibility that any of them might be beat, it certainly exists, but not in great volume. Among the 17 clubs for whom projections have now been released, the forecasted WAR for the threesome is surpassed (it would appear) only by the Cubs’ top three pitchers — although the third member of the group (John Lackey) receives a lesser projection than the Mets No. 3, Syndergaard.

I don’t think the Cubs rotation beats the Mets, we need only look at the NLCS to see why. The Nats are the real threat. ZIPS manages to project Strasburg, the presumed Nat #2 starter, above deGrom — on FIP and zWAR — which which I find tough to swallow. Stephen Strasburg hasn’t had a sub-3 era since 2010, since before his TJ surgery, yet Steamer thinks he’ll have a 2.94 era in 2016 while deGrom (who has a career 2.61 ERA mind you) is projected at 3.17? Is ZIPS a Bernie Madoff victim or something? 84 wins Steamer? I think you’ve blanched the arugula quite enough! Why, it’s enough to make Bartolo Colon eat salad.

The other issue is depth. Labeling a pitcher a “#1” or a “#2” is nice when you are comparing aces across teams, but on the field the reality is that your #1 is the guy who is pitching that day. If your goal is to convince me that Doug Fister and Tanner Roark are better than Steven Matz and Colon/Wheeler? Fister had a 4.19 era last year and Steamer thinks that will only go up, while Steamer also thinks Matz’s 2.27 era will rise to 3.59 even though he has never had an above 3.00 era at any level (the one exception is his 4.91 era for 3.2 innings rehabbing in A+ last year which I wouldn’t count), no, really.

Matz may regress given his 3.56 xFIP and 2.46 WHIP, but so far he’s been lights out and he can hit. I also remember with Matz that quite a few grounders found holes but there wasn’t much in terms of hard contact with a 21.2% hard hit ball rate (Max Scherzer comes in at 27.7%) which would have been tied for best in the league with Dallas Keuchel if Matz had enough innings … And Matz was gassed when came back from the injury, losing command after 5 innings or so, but they pushed him. So yeah, Matz might regress some, but the hometown kid could just as easily get better.

Anyway I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially if they make predictions for a living or live in Washington and have like access to nuclear codes or zip codes or whatever … but I don’t think the Nats eclipse the Mets in their starting pitching, and honestly, I think it’s because the situation is unprecedented. I can’t remember when a team had this many ace level pitchers in the same clubhouse.

We all know about athletes who played under someone’s shadow, Pippen and Jordan, Koosman and Seaver, A-Rod and Ramiro Pena … but with this Mets rotation their collective shadow is such that they become sort of interchangeable and they get overlooked. They all have this nasty slider, they all throw hard, they all hit and field, and they all order the stuffed mushrooms and linguini white clam sauce at Don Peppe’s, they’re like clones. If you’re playing the Mets you figure you’re going to see beau-coup pitching — so adjust your fantasy rosters!

It’s only slightly outrageous to say that there are five pitchers on the Mets who could potentially win a Cy Young over the course of their careers, five. When has that ever been the case? The 97 Braves? The 2014 Nationals? The 2011 Phillies?

Look, I know calling Matz and Wheeler potential “Cy Youngs” is a stretch, but the stuff is there, and who were the 4th and 5th starters on those other great rotations? Worley? Haren? Ryu? It’s tough to find a starting 5 that match up in terms of raw talent and sheer potential. The only one I can think of is the 1988 Mets because of Cone.

It’s early. This pitching rotation is just starting out … they have a NLCS title and a ROY between them. If they can stay healthy and together, this is going to be fun to watch.

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The Cespedes Shortcut http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/the-cespedes-shortcut.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/the-cespedes-shortcut.html/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2016 15:48:18 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=204944

It’s like a haircut, only with more Cespedes.

In the future, cadets in baseball general manager academies will gather around mock boardrooms and recreate the events of the great Yoenis Cespedes shortcut. They’ll be judged on their ability to focus on the mission while sticking to contractual parameters in a city gripped by panic, and their final grade will be based on their ability to extract a .542 slugging outfielder alive and intact from an exploding volcano.

In the lead-up to the Cespedes signing last week I’d become increasingly skeptical about it. I had my reasons.The Mets were still lurking in the bargain bin, targeting undervalued assets. Cespedes was a flamboyant flirtation, a whimsical interlude, like test driving a Mercedes AMG when you’re on a ’05 Malibu budget. It’s nice, something to dream about, but don’t scratch the leather.

The Mets had their numbers gremlins working overtime digging up market inefficiencies — mining for those discounted wins above replacement — rare jewels purchased at 1 win rates who are often worth considerably more. What’s the inefficiency du jour these days? OBP? Contact? Defense?

The focus lately is on players whose WAR totals skew upwards due to their defense. The perfect example of one such player is Juan Lagares in 2014. Lagares put up a WAR of 4.0 in 2014 with a UZR/150 of 25.3, so a sizable chunk of Lagares’ value is derived from his defense.

In 2014 Lagares was signed for the league minimum (.5 million) and he put up 4 WAR. If you take Matt Swartz’ estimate for \$/fWAR, the value of 1 WAR in 2014 was \$7.6 million … so Lagares secured production worth \$30.4 million dollars (on the FA market) for a half a million bucks. You’d never think of paying a guy like Lagares \$30 million because of his merely adequate 101 wRC+, 117 hits and 47 RBI, but if you believe in value metrics, Lagares was one of the best players on the 2014 Mets.

Now comes 2015 and a new extension, only Lagares reverts to league average defense and 1 WAR. The extension promises to pay him 2.5 million in 2016, 4.5 million in 2017, 6.5 million in 2018, and 9 million in 2019 for a total of \$22.5 million over 4 years. But, regression notwithstanding, this is a major bargain for any 25 year old coming off a 4 WAR season no matter how you slice it.

Does anyone think the Mets would have been able to extend Lagares over 4 years for 22.5 million if that same 4 WAR was a function of his power, like say Conforto? No way. And therein lies the inefficiency if you will. Defensive metrics are problematic in how they factor into the WAR equation. The perception is that there’s a lot if inherent inconsistency in the way WAR incorporates a player’s total UZR. In a way, the market inefficiency may itself be a product of imprecise value metrics.

If Lagares continues to average 1 WAR per season he will still pay for himself by the conclusion of the contract, (this would be true even in 2019 because \$/fWAR per inflation would rise to around 10.6 million). In the event that Lagares has another 2014 showing, he would essentially pay for his entire contract in one season. That, my friends, is a bargain — it is the definition of exploiting a market inefficiency. Lagares is a safe and cheap bet, and when you’re the Mets that’s what you go with, you don’t take \$75 million dollar gambles on smokers with howitzer arms and bats full of moon shots.

The Mets proceeded to secure two up-the-middle switch hitters while simultaneously upgrading their defense — skill sets that register marginal upticks in price for potentially game changing abilities given the recent league-wide deluge of defensive shifts. Prudent and measured moves.

In center the Mets retain Lagares (and his upside), but ideally you want to actually get better, and you certainly want more than 1 WAR from center field. Six million dollars later, say hello to Alejandro De Aza and his not really better 1.2 2015 WAR and 104 wRC+. De Aza was a good candidate to outperform his price tag considering Met independent analyses viewed him as defensively underrated – a plausible victim of the muddled UZR integral inherent in WAR. He also put up 33.1 UZR/150 in 2011 so, he’s got some potential in his own right, but again, that word, potential. At his best De Aza is a .329 hitter with 150 wRC+, but he did that in 2011 through 171 total plate appearances with only 21 of them against lefties. He’s a platoon player, albeit good one … Lagares from the left side.

Still, Lagares represents the largest potential year-to-year bump (in value) of anyone on the Mets roster with the possible exception of David Wright. Juan is still the jewel, make no mistake. In addition to being 5 years younger than De Aza he has demonstrated 4 WAR upside, so it would be huge if he could find his form. But can the Mets afford more disappointments when they could be looking for secure avenues back to the post season? Should they meander on roads lined with underpriced vendibles when they’d be better off finding a shortcut, a bopper to put the fear of god in the opposition?

Cespedes was coming off a superstar-ish 6.7 WAR derived almost exclusively from some gaudy power numbers. He is exactly what the Mets lineup needs, but over a 5 to 7 year term, the presumption that he’d sustain his all-star production is dubious. He’d probably average out to barely 3 WAR a year, if that. Considering the extent to which Mets decision making is informed by value-based market fluctuations, you’d think signing Cespedes had a popsicle’s chance in a pizza oven.

And, like me, you’d be wrong.

Not because Cespedes didn’t want to be in NY, but because his signing went against everything the Mets front office was known for.

The Nationals were offering him \$110 million over 5 years, but Peter Gammons reports that up to a third of it was deferred making that deal’s present day value \$77 million. With the Mets paying him 27.5 million, Cespedes may clear anywhere from 8 and 10 million more as a Met in 2016, and that’s not pocket change folks … 10 million over 5 years is a very big bird in hand. There was also security of year 2 and 3 plus a player opt-out clause, giving Cespedes another shot at a mega-deal next winter when the pickings are slimmer.

The Mets on their end sign a player motivated to repeat his 6-ish 2015 WAR and are as close as they’ve been in a long stretch to playing moneyball with real money. They were faced with choosing between potential and established production and they went with the far more expensive choice — a clear break from recent tightwad tenets.

Perhaps some brilliant accounting wizard in the ticket office came up with the fantastical notion that you can make A LOT of money in NY if you routinely field a contender … What a concept, give that man a 2% raise! The only real concern in all this is Cespedes’ center field play. The hope is that Cespedes’ true defensive ability is somewhere between his decent overall UZR/150 of 14.5 in 2015 and his worrisome -14 in center field. Given that the one redeeming feature of his defense is his arm, which should translate to center, there is some validity in the notion that his defense in center isn’t quite -14 UZR/150 bad. By the way take a look at a top 10 in UZR/150, Cespedes comes in 3rd (number irony I guess) and is in some un-believable company.

The Mets made their offer “known” (saves on paper) and shifted back to their ponderous bargain hunting, when suddenly, BAM, shortcut. An advanced offensive asset circumvents their moneyballing as everyone in NY croons about how much these guys want to play for the Mets … And while there’s truth to that, lets not forget the big ring “and all that that implies” as Kent Mansley might say. Cespedes wants to win a championship, in New York, he wants to finish what he started. It’s a great narrative, perhaps even one for the ages if all the pieces fall into place.

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Mets Offseason Strategy May Be Better Than You Think http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/mets-offseason-strategy-may-be-better-than-you-think.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/01/mets-offseason-strategy-may-be-better-than-you-think.html/#comments Mon, 11 Jan 2016 14:00:14 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=203954

I’ve been accused of having rose colored glasses permanently affixed to my head when it comes to the Mets. When I was a kid I used to pour over potential lineups rationalizing how they could actually win games. Richie Hebner batting third? That could work… Wayne Garrett leading off? Why the hell not? Of course as soon as the season started my hopes would be dashed like a dead seal on a line of jagged boulders off the coast of Vancouver Island. I mean Richie #%\$ing Hebner?

Anyway. My dad would always say stuff like “that’s nice son” when I’d bring up potential lineups while bouncing my Spaldeen #4 … “Montanez could be a pretty good cleanup hitter.” He’d pat me on the head and smile as if trying to hold back the “keep dreaming kiddo” that you’d normally share with anyone but a starry eyed kid with baseball cards in every pocket.

Growing up in the late 70’s you kind of learn to deal with the Mets losing. We just figured it was part of growing up in Corona, like the constant rumble of the 7 train and the wonderful smell of empanadas and tostones. I think that’s why those of us fortunate enough to remember the early days have a tough time complaining about the current state. For me it was always easier to complain about high priced and high expectation disasters like 1992 and 2003.

So I have mixed feelings about 2016 … They certainly lack that high priced “what could possibly go wrong?” composition of early 90’s monstrosities, and, given the Mets placement as runner-up for the World Series, you’ve got to feel pretty good about the Mets getting back into the fray — kind of like how you felt after Rocky lost to Apollo Creed.

On the other hand the expectations are admittedly high and the potential for a letdown is something no Mets fan can really ever dismiss, after all there’ve been so damned many letdowns it’s hard to keep track. It’s in our frigging DNA at this point. There’s also the very worrisome dearth of investment in what was a very successful 2015 squad.

Nevertheless I am pretty sure my glass is half full because, well, just look at it, it’s obviously half full. The Mets have been on something of a roll with their player moves, and one thing I noticed is that they picked up a couple of interesting switch hitters in Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker.

A recent article on fangraphs showed how increasingly, successful hitters are going the other way. On the Mets we need go no further than Curtis Granderson to see the benefit of slapping the ball to the opposite field now and again.

The thing about Walker and Cabrera is that not only are they switch hitters but when you look at their hit spray (I hate that term, it reminds me of feral cats …) they spread the ball around pretty good. Even De Aza (to a lesser degree) can go the other way. This is a trend we shouldn’t ignore, shifts have been roughly doubling across the league every year for the past several seasons and we can be pretty sure there’ll be more of the same in 2016. So, these additions look pretty good in this respect.

The other consideration for next season is the conspicuous absence of a big signing for a big bat. For me, this is definitely the bigger concern.

“Look, we know Cespedes was instrumental to us getting to the World Series, but, I think along the way we learned a few things about ourselves and about the team and I think the way we’ve approached the offseason put some of those lessons in to play.” – Sandy Alderson.

A lot has been made of Cespedes’ contributions and how there was more to the Mets success than Yoenis’ admittedly gaudy numbers, which is true in and of itself, however, what’s been taken for granted is the “tipping point” effect of Cespedes’ presence in the batting order. You have to consider the element of protection both up and down the lineup around him. There’s a reason the Mets hit better after Yoenis was added and it’s hard to fathom how Cespedes’ looming presence was somehow detached from that broader uptick.

The Mets front office is constitutionally disinclined to long, expensive second generation contracts, and so I thought I’d look into it a little bit. I did a quick search of WAR and wRC+ (a scaled rate stat which shows the value of a hitter’s outcomes [hits] while accounting for park effects) from 1980 to the present at 6 different age points to see if there really is a precipitous decline as players age and whether this is worse now than it was during the steroid era.

Strangely, when looking at wRC+ the results can be dramatically skewed by two or three aging but productive players … this can happen when you have Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz in the league. That being said, contributions of older players appear to have been valuable even going back to the 80’s and 90’s … perhaps this is a function of wRC+, which quantifies a player’s value by runs created (Ortiz had a wRC+ of 138 last year), but the chart definitely shows that veteran players can be valuable in their ability to create runs.

This of course may be a simple function of longevity being a byproduct of competence — only a very good player will still be around well into his late 30’s — nevertheless, it’s surprising because the prevailing notion is that players lose their physical abilities as they age, their bat speed, dexterity, strength, what have you. This wRC+ chart seems to imply that good hitters continue to hit well into their late 30’s and that this hasn’t changed much over the years.

### WAR by Age

WAR on the other hand is perhaps a more appropriate measure when considering the contributions of aging players because it takes into account the fact that there are fewer players as you move up in age, reducing their aggregate contribution accordingly.

This is indeed the case with major spikes in value occurring between the ages of 27 and 33 … but again, somewhat curiously (when you consider how well some older players performed in wRC+), with the exception of 1985, players between the ages of 39 and 40 never produced more than a combined 8.3 WAR, and 37 year old players never combined for more than a 30.7 WAR (which they did in 2000).

When you contrast that with 27 year olds in 2010 putting up a 133.5 combined WAR, youth definitely has it’s advantages. Also, there is a pronounced recent spike in the contributions of 24 year olds in 2010 and 2015 as they put up the age bracket’s two highest combined WAR figures (69.5 in 2010 and 70.9 in 2015).

So, younger players are definitely trending up in terms of combined value. This shouldn’t shock anyone when you consider that injuries and attrition deplete the ranks of older players. Are younger players getting better? Perhaps, but the wRC+ chart also shows that those veterans that manage to stick around can sometimes be pretty darned good.

There are two takeaways. Firstly, veteran players retain value into their late 30’s (although there are fewer of them), and that has been true since the early 80’s and it hasn’t really fluctuated much … Secondly, a value driven metric such as WAR really brings out the contributions of players in the 27 – 30 year old bracket, you can’t really ignore that.

If we know anything about Alderson’s approach it’s that he likes to work in the aggregate. This was true in his Oakland days when they spread OBP over a roster (and a system), and it’s true now when they concentrate their focus on younger players who work the count and (at least this off-season) use the whole field.

I think it’s hard to deny that approaching improvement by addressing deficiencies across an entire system has benefits over simply looking for the best guy who can fill a given need at a given time, which seems like a very reactionary after the fact approach.

There isn’t anything revelatory about this … we’ve always known that Baseball is a young man’s game and that great teams tend to have great farm systems. The fact that the Mets are putting this reality into practice is certainly a good thing. The only real surprise with the data above is that steroids over the years didn’t have as big an impact in sheer age related value as you’d think – which might be cause for further review.

In the end I’m keeping my hopes up that this Mets brain-trust knows a thing or two about securing winning “assets” or whatever you want to call them. It’s hard not to feel good about these current Mets because of their unbelievable pitching arsenal. With the exception of 1969 (a terrific omen by the way), I can’t recall a roster as pitching heavy as that of these Mets. But 1969 came and went and those mets were unable to sustain a lasting legacy because they didn’t have the positional depth to support their pitching.

Similarly these 2016 Mets are somewhat lacking on the positional side in terms of major league ready prospects while the organization also seems to lack the resources to purchase quality players on the free agent market, which is certainly foreboding … Still, until I see that dead seal smashed against the rocks I will continue to believe we’re in the midst of something special, something along the lines of a very smartly conceived Mets renaissance.

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The Sustainability Doctrine And The 2016 Mets http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/12/the-sustainability-doctrine-and-the-2016-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/12/the-sustainability-doctrine-and-the-2016-mets.html/#comments Sun, 27 Dec 2015 01:00:30 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=203004

Sustainability.

Wikipedia tells us: In ecology, sustainability is the capacity to endure; it is how biological systems remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes.

It seems like every time a member of the Mets front office is questioned about the possibility of the Mets inking a sizable free agent contract the words “payroll flexibility” come up. It conjures images of a payroll clerk with one of those transparent green hat-visors doing leg stretches … but it’s not that. It’s all about living within one’s means so that your payroll commitments allow for the occasional big splash, provided it falls within a schedule of staggered moderate splashes. What you want to avoid is multiple big splashes at the same time or a really really big splash — that can put you underwater, to coin a phrase … And it’s all about coin, make no mistake.

The Mets of recent years have shed big contracts like a rattlesnake with psoriasis sheds scales. They have been hovering in the bottom third of MLB payroll since 2013 and haven’t made a significant long-term commitment to a player since they signed David Wright in 2012. They seem incapable of going beyond four years in any scenario, and while it was reported they’d go that long for Ben Zobrist, this offer was never a formal paper contract put on a real table in front of the actual Ben Zobrist — it was only an idea, a draft in a cloud, an illusion. Oh sure they ran Zobrist’s price up and yeah maybe they made a token offer over a pay-phone from the hotel parking lot, but the speed with which they went to “plan B” (Neil Walker) made it apparent that Walker may have been plan A all along. Cheaper, shorter term, and younger.

Since then the Mets have signed Bartolo Colon for \$7 million, Jerry Blevins for \$4 million, Asdrubal Cabrera for \$8.25 million, and Alejandro De Aza for \$5.75 million, putting current Mets payroll, after the arbitration dust settles, at somewhere around \$107 million. Adam Rubin believes the Mets are just about done, needing maybe a bullpen arm and a bench piece with De Aza as the lefty hitting complement to Lagares. It occurred to me that if this is the case, De Aza (a fringe 4th outfielder type) complementing a rotation estimated to be worth a billion dollars in future value is like pouring ketchup over braised rack of lamb. It’s like stuffing a Luis Vuitton handbag with mashed potatoes from the casino buffet. Like using regular gasoline in a Bugatti Veyron … I could go on …

The Mets, in adhering to their sustainability doctrine which stipulates avoiding long-term deals like a box in a laboratory marked “plague rats — deceased,” continue to emphasize the import of staggered commitments, effectively conferring the flexibility to secure viable replacements. Only they aren’t really making even moderate commitments.

There’s a problem with this continued Met frugality. At some point you have to bring back the guy with the hat-visor and the half pencil so you can account for increases in spending across MLB. If players make more now than they did when Curtis Granderson signed, it’s going to cost more to replace him when his contract is up. It’s basically a cost of living (in MLB) adjustment. The Mets have barely budged from their 2002-ish payroll in spite of spending increases across the league and in spite of their trip to the World Series. Is this a function of ownership’s debt, or are the Mets genuinely sticking to their austere principles?

While the truth probably involves some viscid slurry of both, it is certainly evident that most long term deals end disastrously. There is also no doubt that the “offense on the fly” S.F. Giant approach works like a charm. But lets not kid ourselves, believing that the Mets’ limited payroll has nothing to do with the Wilpons is like believing It’s A Wonderful Life is about a thrifty handicapped entrepreneur who is thwarted in his attempts to revitalize a stifling ho-hum community by a bunch of lazy “garlic eaters.”

The Mets front office has earned some slack. It is, after all, difficult to predict how a season will unfold … The variables and contingencies are legion in the 162 game slog that is baseball’s regular season. Fortifying a roster with versatile and inexpensive players at the outset gives you a better shot at addressing needs as they arise. Hard to tell what the Mets are going to need in July when the calendar says December. Still, the need for a middle of the order bat seems like a given and Cespedes appeared to fit the bill quite nicely. Emptying the farm in June for the annual slugger du-jour isn’t very sustainable either, especially when you consider that the resurgent farm is perhaps the single biggest reason behind the 2015 Mets’ playoff run

For Mets fans there is a wait and see tautness to this off-season with a bit of guarded optimism. The front office has been on something of a roll with player moves and it’s hard to complain coming off a wildly successful 2015 campaign. There’s a very real possibility that the frugal approach may have less to do with the Wilpons’ debt and more to do with a doctrine that emphasizes controllable pitching assets, youth, complementary short-term pieces, and the absolute avoidance of the mega-deal. You can’t deny it worked in 2015. Will the Mets have the capacity to endure? To be productive indefinitely? To reproduce success through their systems and processes? Will this new Met eco-system succeed with beautiful and diverse species thriving within their means, or will it suffocate from a lack of resources like the greasy surface of a murky Flushing bog mottled with belly-up lab rats?

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Walker for Niese Is A Major Win-Win For Mets http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/12/walker-for-niese-is-a-major-win-win-for-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/12/walker-for-niese-is-a-major-win-win-for-mets.html/#comments Thu, 10 Dec 2015 14:28:38 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=202157

The Mets stay hot in the “sometimes the best deals are the one’s you don’t make” category.

In failing to reach a deal with Ben Zobrist — who opted for the bespectacled weirdness of Joe Maddon over the inscrutable gremlinese of Terry Collins — a chain of events was set in motion that resulted in Jon Niese getting shipped to Pittsburgh for Neil Walker. Neil for Niese not only effectively upends a common “I before E” mnemonic, it fills the Mets’ second base opening with a guy who has a higher OPS+ than Murphy since 2011 (113 to 111), who has averaged 15.5 home runs a season since 2010, who has a .769 OPS, who is a markedly superior fielder, who doesn’t block Dilson Herrera (unless we want him to via QO), and whose name hasn’t become synonymous with a particular variety of late inning brain-cramp … Win

We also lose Jonathan Niese, who is not only known for mysteriously misplacing the feel of his best pitch and for his patented 6th inning slushies, but for doing stuff like swinging away when he should bunt and responding to his elderly manager’s objections with comments like “f@\$# you, take me out.” He’s also yelled at his rookie catcher for “poor pitch calling” after getting lit up, which honestly would be hard to believe if it weren’t for the video. I mean the guy clearly crossed the line from hotheadedness to douche-baggery with that one. Niese is so uptight he hasn’t passed gas since a bullpen session in May of 2011. Adding insult to injury, Niese takes a parting shot at the Mets’ defense after they carry him to the World Series? I won’t miss him much … Win-Win.

Furthermore, this deal means the Mets are spared from four years of Ben Zobrist who is going to be so done by the end of his contract we’d be calling him Ben Zo-brisket. As good a player as he’s been, the Cubs will not be getting Zobrist circa 2011 or his +5 WAR — which we haven’t seen since his Tampa Bay days. By the end of his contract the Ben-Zocaine would need to be shipped in bulk. I’m convinced the signing is a function of teams continuing to fail in adjusting for the absence of more potent age-defying tonics and liniments. It is what it is, youth is wasted on the young, who continue to be better at hitting baseballs … Win-Win-Win.

This very same deal set off yet another tangent of events sending Starlin Castro to the Yankees in a strange “make space for the Zobrist” move, with Adam Warren and a PTBNL going to the Cubs. Warren is a nice piece, but he’s 28, he doesn’t really address Chicago’s not quite good enough front line pitching, and he has never pitched more than 131 innings. Castro on the other hand may just outproduce Zobrist if he reverts to his .753 OPS 2012 self, which he stands a decent chance of doing since he is almost a decade younger than Zobrist. Ten years — that’s roughly equivalent to a 4th grader for those of you needing a visual. So, thank you Yankees.

You get the sense with Theo Epstein that there’s some overkill here in his pursuit of Zobrist when his whole approach has been to draft strong up-the-middle guys. Perhaps it’s an effort to allay his discomfiture over being blasted spectacularly out of the playoffs by a Mets star-destroyer with four very big ion cannons. Epstein’s fellas didn’t fare well in this face-off of philosophies pitting Sandy’s power-pitching against Theo’s position prospects … So Theo goes after a guy with a big top of the order on-base presence after watching him make contact against the very pitchers who struck his Cubs out in droves, and a guy with a 3.39 ERA from the AL East, oh and John Lackey … This may seem like a nifty haul but could just as easily end up an average down-slope utility guy a spot starter with a straight fastball, and … John Lackey.

The Mets? The Mets still have their fearsome foursome with their fifth gun due back around mid-season, and they get Neil Walker who spits in the face of your “i before e” and who is the sort of versatile bat that can conceivably hit almost anywhere in the order. A former first round pick who improves the Mets defense and who doesn’t miss a step on offense? Who comes from one of the best teams in Baseball and who is known for his positive clubhouse presence? What’s not to like? The only real drawback to not signing Zobrist may be losing out on his versatility when it comes to covering third base, but a little (Twitter) bird tells me the Mets may have already addressed that very concern in one Asdrubal CabreraFrankly I am stunned that the Mets were able to get Walker for the same Jonathan Niese they couldn’t unload in virtually any scenario not too long ago. I guess there are some perks to winning the National League Championship after all.

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The 2016 Mets promise to look a lot different from the 2015 Mets, which is something that makes a lot of fans nervous, particularly as this was a team that made it to the World Series. The Mets currently have 18 players reaching free agency, including Bartolo Colon, Daniel Murphy, Yoenis Cespedes, Bobby Parnell, Tyler Clippard, Juan Uribe, Jerry Blevins, Eric O’Flaherty, Kelly Johnson, and Anthony Recker. Sure the starting pitching is set, but on the field, how much turnover is too much?

Lot’s of talk about getting a new shortstop so far this offseason… The Mets have some talent in their infield pipeline with Gavin Cecchini and (further down Amed Rosario, but current options Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada are pretty decent in their own right, making any upgrade through trade problematic.

Whatever talent you’d acquire at shortstop would not only potentially block Rosario/Cecchini, it would more than likely result in a net loss in WAR over time given that the short term gain would be marginal and the loss of quality pitching on the Mets’ end would likely result in a long term deficit. A free agent would be nice in this regard and Ian Desmond has been linked to the Mets. But Desmond comes with question marks of his own and the loss of a draft pick. Desmond is also hardly an upgrade defensively and would likely require a 4 or 5 year deal which would again block our prospects. The Mets might be best served playing some combination of Tejada/Flores/Herrera up the middle with Matt Reynolds on the bench in 2016.

By doing so the Mets could focus on upgrades in center field and the bullpen, but even in center, to what extent did Lagares’ shoulder hurt his play? Tough calls all around … Justin Upton certainly fills the run production void left by Cespedes, but he is expensive, would cost a draft pick, and he isn’t really a center fielder. Dexter Fowler is getting some attention after a career year, but defensively he does not duplicate Lagares’ play, he would also cost a draft pick, and it’s unclear whether his budding power (which is perhaps the most marked development in his free agent profile) would translate to Citi Field.

Ideally, the Mets need someone supremely versatile, who can play the infield or the outfield, and who can hit in a variety of positions in the order. Preferably someone with good instincts and good contact rates and some power. It would also be nice if this player did not have a qualifying offer attached to him – and some playoff experience couldn’t hurt.

Well it just so happens there’s a player out there who fits this profile perfectly. I am of course talking about Ben Zobrist. There’s only one real blemish with this guy, he is 34 years old so you’d be looking at some inevitable decline. The market for his services also promises to be robust. Right now the only real dip in his offensive numbers appears to be in his stolen base output. Everything else looks solid — including his average fly-ball distance. Zobrist posted the best contact rate of his career in 2015, and he produced more walks than strikeouts, which should appeal to the Mets in particular. For a two year \$20 million dollar deal similar to Michael Cuddyer I’d do it in a heartbeat, anything more could be too much, too late for a player who very soon will be on the wrong side of his thirties.

I’d add that should they sign Zobrist it might not be a bad idea to try and land Denard Span as well, another “non QO” guy, thereby preserving the Mets’ top draft pick while addressing some real needs. The bullpen could be retooled and without really clogging up any pipelines, breaking the bank, or giving up quality pitchers, the Mets could easily return to form and compete in 2016.

The only concern in going this rout is the dramatic reduction in power output resulting from the loss of Yoenis Cespedes, who, incidentally, is another “non-QO” guy. Here we have the very real persisting dilemma of cost. The Mets are rumored to have something around \$23 million in spending money this season. Blowing \$17 million of it on one player won’t work. In this sense, the Mets continue to operate like a small market team. A lot of fans were turned off by Cespedes after his poor World Series performance, but you can’t deny the effect he had on the lineup during the regular season. Zobrist and Span would be nice complementary pieces, but without the threat of a Cespedes type bat I’d worry about production tanking.

In a perfect world the Mets could add Span, Zobrist, and Cespedes, toss in Darren O’Day and call it O’day. They could do this while not only retaining their own top draft pick but likely picking one up for the loss of Murphy – making this coming draft an opportunity to really bolster their system. But the above would cost upwards of \$40 million and is beyond unlikely. While I’d settle for Span and Zobrist and two high draft picks next year, counting on making up Cespedes’ production from full years of Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright is a precarious assumption. Truth be told, out of all the players mentioned above, going with Cespedes and O’Day would probably have the biggest impact over 162 games.

In the end, Sandy Alderson has to be worried about disrupting the chemistry that allowed the 2015 Mets to go on their thrilling run. Turnover can be good when you’re struggling, but this is a team that wants to make sure they retain the pieces that brought them success in 2015 — no small task given the scant flexibility afforded to the front office by an ownership whose chief priority is recouping mega-dollars to pay down their enormous debt.

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The Massive Monetary Implications Of A Winning Mets Team http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/the-massive-monetary-implications-of-a-winning-mets-team.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/the-massive-monetary-implications-of-a-winning-mets-team.html/#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2015 14:23:54 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=197736

Regardless of what your thoughts are concerning former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, as a Mets fan you have to consider the fact that he may have had more of an impact on your team’s fortunes than you realize. The Mets in 2010 were a mess with two sub .500 seasons coming on the heels of two gut wrenching late season collapses, all while the Wilpons continued to reel financially from their affiliation with Bernie Madoff and his ponzi scheme. They were probably as close as they’ve ever been to a forced sale at that point, resorting to an emergency 25 million dollar bridge loan from MLB.

Selig was catching heat from both the press and Mets fans over his purported double standard in taking a hard line ousting embattled Dodger’s owner Frank McCourt while he coddled and propped up the Wilpons. His position at the time was that the two situations were fundamentally different and he had the utmost confidence in Mets ownership. All the while the team was searching for a new GM and the name Sandy Alderson came up.

There has been a lot of speculation over just how integral a role Selig played in the Mets hiring of Sandy Alderson, but there are a couple of things that can’t be disputed — Alderson was in Selig’s employ at the time, and Selig did “recommend” Alderson for the job. Steve Kettman in his book Maverick, (and his subsequent interview here on MMO), downplayed Selig’s influence in the hiring, maintaining that the Wilpons insist they were in control of the process the whole time, but you have to wonder. Selig wasn’t exactly known as someone whose recommendation you’d take lightly and Alderson was a high ranking MLB insider with a reputation as a “fix-it” guy. In fact, just prior to the hire, Alderson was in the Dominican Republic as Selig’s point man in MLB’s efforts to correct a host of problems with young developing players — namely predatory agents, PED abuse, and identity  manipulation.

Alderson was a guy who’d already served as a GM, Chief Executive of a Major League Baseball team, and as Executive Vice President of MLB. As David Waldstein of the NY Times noted, he was in some respects over-qualified for the Mets job. The Wilpons’ financial outlook would soon go from bad to worse with a significant “clawback” lawsuit brought against them by the trustee representing the victims of Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. MLB ownership, with all it’s new-fangled national media and profit sharing deals, was watching one of it’s premier big-market franchises idle in squalor. That wasn’t good for anyone, so it was definitely in MLB’s best interest to “fix the Mets,” and really, Alderson was tremendously qualified for the job on several levels.

Perhaps most importantly, Alderson had something a lot of other candidates for the Mets job did not. He had some serious clout in MLB circles, and he had a reputation as a guy who placed the cold calculating execution of stated initiatives above whatever inherited rancor, emotional or otherwise, may preside over given challenges.

So regardless of how Mets ownership viewed Alderson, it’s not far fetched to regard him as a de-facto MLB operative similar to Tom Scheiffer’s official role overseeing the Dodgers. The fact that this level of influence was strenuously denied by sources close to Mets ownership, in my mind only reinforces the notion that there’s something to it.

In 2010, perhaps the most coined and damaging criticism of the Mets as an organization was that their ownership was meddlesome to a crippling degree. Alderson effectively negated this interference through sheer organizational prowess — quite possibly the single biggest reason why Paul DePodesta and the rest of the Mets baseball operations people were able to operate unencumbered. It speaks volumes, for instance, that in the Cespedes proceedings Alderson was effectively able to confine Jeff Wilpon’s influence to a single board room vote. There is something to be said for an administrator who knows how to administrate.

But no matter what aspect you choose to view this situation from, there is no disputing that fixing the Mets was a big priority not only for Mets ownership and for the fans, but for MLB.

Selig watched as the Dodgers were packaged and sold for a whopping \$2 billion dollars to Magic Johnson and his Guggenheim partnership group. The Dodgers promptly blasted old payroll figures out of the water, becoming the first team to eclipse the Yankees in total payroll since Baltimore in 1998. Now Bud Selig is known for his ability to squeeze money from stones and bramble, so the notion that he did not see the Mets’ situation as a sort of counter-weight to the Dodgers is naive.

Selig has a long history of collusion accusations and crying poverty where there is none (and when it’s convenient) to go along with his personal background as a small market owner. I’m not implying that Selig actively sought to create a small market version of the Mets in New York, I’m saying I don’t see why he’d stand in the way of this happening, perhaps even nudging it along.

The Mets didn’t look like they’d be spending anyhow, why not further whatever corrective actions might be necessary, namely a bridge loan, a vote of confidence, and the installation of a shrewd MLB insider with a reputation as a consummate hatchet man, to ensure that the Mets benefited from their unavoidable austerity?

There’d be no possible way to accuse Selig of conspiring to lower payrolls (as was his wont) because it was clearly established that the Mets were broke. Selig simply facilitated, to the extent his influence allowed, a successful small-market makeover in New York, with the Wilpons’ Madoff debacle providing the perfect cover.

For four years the Mets wallowed in mediocrity and everyone with an interest in spending was unperturbed. 2015 rolls around and just as the Mets appear to be heading towards a playoff berth Scott Boras begins dropping bombs around the issue of Matt Harvey’s arm … Sandy Alderson, MLB, and Scott Boras were never more clearly on opposite ends in terms of their interests.

Was Boras really concerned about his client’s valuable arm, or was he worried about his own bottom line as a player agent whose salary is largely contingent on big free agent contracts? It’s a rhetorical question — the Mets model lays out a virtual blueprint on how to succeed without relying on the very contracts that Boras depends on.

The Dodgers payroll currently sits atop MLB at just under \$273 million. The Mets, who just beat LA in the NLDS, come in 21st at \$101 million. That’s a difference of \$172 million dollars. No matter who makes it to the World Series to op\$pose the Mets, the combined payrolls of both teams will be less than what The Dodgers spent.

Say you own a factory in Los Angeles that makes widgets. It costs you \$50.00 to make a dozen widgets and you sell your widgets for \$100.00 a dozen. Your competitor, Mr. Alderson, also sells them for \$100.00 a dozen, but suddenly he develops a means whereby he can produce widgets for a measly \$10.00 a dozen. You think you wouldn’t be interested in finding out about what those means are? Your business model would depend on it.

This is why the sudden overwhelming success of the small-marketization experiment in N.Y. is kind of a big deal.

Forget about Kansas City and Oakland, big market success on a small market payroll means a staggering, unprecedented, profit margin. With the player’s pool projected to be as high as \$81 million this year, Mets ownership stands to reap anywhere from \$50 to \$60 million for their share of the post season in the event the Mets win the series. Consider that this figure represents more than half of their current payroll and that there is something like \$37 million coming off the books, and you sort of get the picture … that’s not even factoring the \$12-13 additional million in 2015 regular season gate proceeds. Money ball, with money, and lots of it.

The take-away is simple. The Mets are in a remarkably fortuitous position moving forward. Even in the event the Mets decide to keep their payroll close to what it is now they’ll have quite a bit of wiggle room. The Mets are also in perhaps the most lucrative market when it comes to making money off of a winning product. There are more than just gate proceeds to factor in, concessions, merchandise sales, ratings, all stand to see big increases.

And as if that weren’t enough, word broke earlier this week that Jeffrey Picower’s widow (Picower was considered to be one of Madoff’s primary co-conspirators) agreed to release \$7.2 billion to the trustee representing Madoff victims. Its been a pretty damned good month for the Wilpons.

From A Mets fan’s perspective the big question is whether this means the Mets will start spending again. The Mets will have arbitration increases and free agent vacancies to consider this winter, but should they decide to add even a conservative 10% to their current payroll, that would increase their spending money to something around \$47 million. For the short term, that gives them ridiculous flexibility both in terms of adding a big contract as well as filling holes and maybe even offering extensions to some of their young starters. In practice it is precisely the sustainable “cyclical” spending plan that Alderson has been promoting for years.

So, as hard as it may be to fathom at the moment, and as absurd as it may sound, there is more going on here than a trip to the World Series. As fans we can argue until we’re blue in the face over who gets credit for on-field success, but there’s no disputing Sandy Alderson’s impact on the franchise’s finances. He has rebuilt a system which may end up registering record profits over the next few seasons given it’s diminutive payroll, its competitive make up, its rich farm system, and its prime location.

Wait, no, there really isn’t more going on than a trip to the World Series — ultimately that sublime seismic blast is still scattering blue and orange debris in a consciousness where it hasn’t quite registered yet — but you get the idea, a winning NL franchise on a limited payroll in NY, is, financially, kind of a big deal.

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Patience & Diligence: The Not So Sudden Ascent Of The 2015 Mets http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/patience-diligence-the-not-so-sudden-ascent-of-the-2015-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/patience-diligence-the-not-so-sudden-ascent-of-the-2015-mets.html/#comments Wed, 21 Oct 2015 17:11:40 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=197435

The Mets of the past few seasons have been characterized by the steps they’ve taken to improve according to a carefully orchestrated master plan. It’s been lurch and surge all the way, like driving with a bad clutch, and then suddenly around half way through the 2015 season it all seemed to kick into gear.

There were many among us, including our fearless GM Sandy Alderson, who predicted the Mets would come to prominence in 2014. Of course that didn’t happen, primarily due to injuries (Matt Harvey most notably) and some reclamation projects that fell through … but there were signs that the team was on the verge. Their second half record was respectable and their run differential was more like what you’d expect from a .500 team.

It’s always been about pitching. Early on in his tenure Paul DePodesta, cagily shared in one of his rare interviews that the Mets were actively accumulating a volume of pitching assets beyond what might be considered necessary to augment a major league roster.

I have a hunch that initially they were targeting durability (big right handers with repeatable deliveries) as well, but when they determined (correctly I might add) that there was no true “durability profile” with physical specifications that they could effectively exact, they abandoned the approach for another: accumulate enough pitching to compensate for the inevitable attrition of arm and shoulder injuries.

As we speak the Mets feature 4 quality young arms who all in one way or another project as aces, with several other young arms on the way and Zack Wheeler returning from Tommy John surgery sometime next year. It is an embarrassment of riches but it didn’t happen by chance. The Mets neglected to focus on position players, unlike Theo Epstein of the Cubs who focussed almost exclusively on position players, and instead kept adding to an already sizable pitching corps.

The Mets obviously looked at what it takes to win both during the regular season and the post-season, and they appear to have built a team who did just enough during the regular season and who are, remarkably, taking October baseball by storm. It seems these Mets are built for the post-season with their wealth of power arms.

Joe Maddon of the Cubs keeps going on about how his team isn’t hitting like they can which seems rather obtuse — it’s not so much that the Cubs can’t hit like they’re capable of, it’s that they can’t hit Mets pitching.

It’s really about the Cubs (like the Dodgers before them) not being able to pitch with the Mets. It seems almost unfair that the Cubs face DeGrom and Matz in Games 3 and 4 after they burned through Lester and Arrieta in Games 1 and 2 without registering a win. Yet that was precisely the plan on the Mets side, converge a “critical mass” of high end pitching assets on the major league stage all at once and take it from there.

The “take it from there” portion of the plan came at the 2015 trade deadline. The Mets seemed poised to compete on several fronts, they had a mighty arsenal of power arms and a lock down closer, they also had some expendable pitching in the minors. Sandy Alderson settled once and for all the “pitching or position player” argument by transforming a struggling and inconsistent bottom third offense into one of the best in the league with a few careful additions.

Now here’s the thing, it’s certainly conceivable for a team to add a Yoenis Cespedes, a Juan Uribe, and a Kelly Johnson to an offense through a few mid-season moves, but conversely, trying to build a team around position players with an eye on adding pitching through free agency and trades, leaves you at the mercy of the market.

Availability may dictate limited options, and you’d certainly be hard pressed to assemble a rotation of 4 ace level pitchers on the fly … It’s just not realistic, to do so for one would require an exorbitant number of prospects from the receiving team and there simply may not be that many quality pitchers available.

Also, you never know how guys will perform given new surroundings. You look at the Blue Jays for instance and their attempt to basically do the opposite of what the Mets did (accumulate position players and build a rotation on the fly) doesn’t seem to be faring that well.

There’s still some baseball left to play. The Mets could clinch tonight, or not, it remains to be seen. But however things turn out, you have to give credit to the Mets front office for developing a plan, a good plan, and sticking to it. The benefits, which may include a sustained run of teams built around quality pitching, are more than worth the wait.

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Unraveling The Arrieta Enigma http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/unraveling-the-arrieta-enigma.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/unraveling-the-arrieta-enigma.html/#comments Sun, 18 Oct 2015 16:06:12 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=197078

There have been late bloomers before. Jamie Moyer didn’t really see any sustained success until the age of 33. Also at age 33 R.A. Dickey began a fantastic string of three seasons with the NY Mets where he posted a 39 – 28 record with a 2.95 era and a Cy Young in 2012. Hoyt Wilhelm didn’t even make it to the major leagues until the age of 29. And of course there’s Randy Johnson who really was a mediocre pitcher until about the age of 30.

It isn’t unprecedented, but when you consider that Dickey reconfigured himself into a knuckleballer and Wilhelm spent several of those early years in military service, it is exceedingly rare to se a pitcher struggle early in his career only to bloom into an ace level pitcher in his late 20’s, and yet that is precisely what Jake Arrieta has done.

Consider for a moment the following: 4.66, 5.05, 6.20 and 7.23. Those numbers reflect Arrieta’s earned run averages in his years with the Orioles. His command was below league average (he averaged over 4.5 BB/9 in his Oriole years), and while he always had a decent sinker, he never accumulated more than 1.6 WAR in a season and never pitched more than 114 innings. He also averaged under 7 K/9 prior to coming to Chicago.

Eno Saris over at FanGraphs points to his sudden improved command and an even better, more versatile sinker but when you look at his 2015 numbers it is astonishing, a 9.28 K/9 and an insane 56.3% GB rate. Saris believes his sinker has become such a versatile weapon, he not only is able to spot the two seamer on different sides of the plate, he can use it down and in to righthanders as a strikeout pitch.

Arrieta throws a four seamer, his signature sinker, a changeup, a slider, and occasionally a curveball and a cutter. But he is for all intents and purposes a sinkerball pitcher, albeit one who can get more than his share of swings and misses on the pitch. He had a 7.4% swinging strike rate on his two seamer, with, again, that 57.9% ground ball rate. The four seamer is primarily a strikeout pitch high in the zone that Mets hitters should lay off of, but he seems to be using it less and less.

There are a lot of fans out there who believe it’s that sinker that makes him so effective. He is able to power it by hitters and, when they do make contact they drive it into the ground. It sounds a lot like our very own Familia doesn’t it? I differ somewhat on my analysis, yes his sinker is indeed more effective with perhaps an inch more of drop than his already great sinker from last year, but the most striking thing about this new improved Arrieta is his command. His control back in his early years was always a problem, and that is certainly no longer the case with his 1.9 BB/9 rate in 2015.

If the Mets are going to beat this guy they’re going to have to pick their spots and find some holes. Weaknesses? Well his HR/FB rate is somewhat high but that is probably an artifact of playing in Wrigley. He has few weaknesses, but there is perhaps one. While his command has never been as good as it’s been in 2015, he’s also pitched 243 and 2/3 innings this season (73 innings more than his previous high) and he wasn’t sharp in his last outing. Joe Madden even commented that his performance may have been fatigue related … so there’s that, but then he’ll be going on extra rest today. His record this year against the Mets? 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in two starts.

The Mets will certainly have their work cut out for them. They have to believe that Syndergaard can pitch with him, and that’s certainly possible, but the Mets will have to hope his command is still somewhat off, that fatigue may still be an issue, and that some of their grounders find holes. No matter how it goes, tonight promises to be another great pitching match-up.

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It took MLB years of wrangling to institute a policy for home plate collisions after Buster Posey was sidelined by a particularly brutal one in May of 2011. The rule states:

A runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, or any player, covering the plate. If he does, the umpire can call him out even if the player taking the throw loses possession of the ball.

In addition, Umpires retain the right to eject a player from a game if the rule is violated blatantly and the runner would be called out.

It occurred to me as I was watching Game 2 of the Mets vs Dodgers NLDS that if Ruben Tejada had been standing at home plate Utley would have probably gotten ejected and (more importantly) he’d have been called out for his slide. The Umpires essentially took the route of deciding this was a clean “hard nosed” play … playoff baseball. But the Mets lost their shortstop to a broken leg following an extremely late slide that wasn’t really a slide at all (more of a leg tackle) … Perpetrated by a player who has done this sort of thing since the day he first broke into the league.

After the fact, Joe Torre, MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, ruled that Utley’s slide was in violation of Official Baseball Rule 5.09 (a)(13), designed to protect fielders from precisely the kind of rolling away from the bag block that Utley hit Tejada with.

Wonderful. As soon as this came out Twitter and every major Mets outlet lit up with the collective outrage inherent in the following premise: If the play violated an MLB rule, why was Utley safe? The inning should have been over.

You’ve got to wonder what was going on with this umpiring crew. I understand the play was perhaps a throwback to a time when this was more commonplace, but here in 2015 it sure seems like there’s been a rash of old school knockdowns and bench clearing fracases this fall. You have to wonder whether MLB is sitting idly by while ratings balloon and venues fill to the rafters. It’s like Hockey fights — if the NHL really wanted to be rid of them they would have, a while ago. For a Mets team that has seen these sort of cheap shots before … from the Phillies oddly enough, it can be frustrating.

The average take-home payout for a player on this year’s World Series winner may swell to as much as \$400,000 dollars. For a guy like Michael Conforto that’s almost a year’s salary. When you consider that players earn this over a period of a month, that’s an awful lot of pocket money.

Wendy Thurman at FanGraphs estimates that the 2015 players’ pool could be as high as \$81.4 million dollars. The hefty payout itself inflames the already ultra-competitive dynamic of MLB’s playoffs, increasing the likelihood that players will try some dangerous and desperate crap — precisely the kind of crap that gets people hurt. It’s a problem in the NFL playoffs as well. But when Umpires fail to enforce flagrant violations that result in injuries, you’ve got to wonder what is going on.

It’s like having a traffic cop who will every so often, for no apparent reason, wave a speeding truck by into oncoming traffic because “it was a playoff truck.” If a supervisor in a factory fails to enforce violations in safety protocol he gets fired right?

You know it’s bad when Chipper Jones tweets: “That was not a slide and that is NOT how you go in hard!”

It doesn’t help sooth any Met Fan’s lingering disgust when you put the 7th inning play in the context of some head-scratching, one-sided umpiring in the first two games of this series. I mean I get the home team bias thing and I understand Chavez Ravine has a reputation for social injustice, but damn.

Still, I keep finding myself circling back to the Umpires who made it infinitely worse by not ruling against the slide. By neglecting to do so they create a dangerous precedent because, ultimately, who cares if MLB suspends Utley a couple of games? The Dodgers sure don’t. What matters is they won a game that had they lost, would have put them in a precarious 0-2 hole going into N.Y. to face Matt Harvey, a very angry Matt Harvey.

Perhaps it has more to do with money than we realize. The player pool and MLB’s slice of the proceeds get bigger as series go deep. Specifically, in the Division Series, gate proceeds from the first four games count toward the player pool — this was instituted to discourage interested parties from taking steps to lengthen a given series for monetary gain, so clearly there’s some precedent here. Sweeps are bad for business and the Mets definitely had a sweep in play until the infamous 7th inning.

In retrospect Utley would probably do precisely the same thing again if he had the chance, and that is really the issue here. In other sports you get a game misconduct for crap like that. He wasn’t anywhere near the bag, he didn’t even try to slide! So the Umpires continue to encourage, by their own wonton negligence, an act that violates MLB’s rules? I guess my next question is, why aren’t the Umpires being reprimanded?

No matter how you look at this it’s bad for MLB. Joe Torre may come out a day late (literally) and assure us he is working with the Player’s Association on rule changes but in the end you have to question whether MLB really wants to put this sort of vicious play in its past, or is it a harbinger to a more brutal time, kept around because it happens to sell tickets and it raises interest — in a Roman Coliseum sort of way — everybody loves a good brawl right?  But the combination of the increasing amounts reflected in playoff shares and the failure on the part of the Umpires to enforce the rules is making for some decidedly vicious and dangerous developments on the field.

Too bad Tejada won’t get any of the added proceeds from the additional ratings Monday night’s game is sure to garner. There’s only one real way to restore justice to these playoff proceedings, by beating the Dodgers … for Ruben if you will. It appears that’s the only real way to make sure this sort of thing backfires on the Dodgers.

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The Inherent Chaos Of MLB’s Playoff Structure http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/the-inherent-chaos-of-mlbs-playoff-structure.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/10/the-inherent-chaos-of-mlbs-playoff-structure.html/#comments Wed, 07 Oct 2015 19:26:04 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=195553

There are no guarantees in baseball, no sure things. Of the eight teams left in the playoffs after tonight, there’s no telling who might win it. While it’s true that someone has to take the title, betting on baseball’s post-season results is a blind shot in the dark no matter how much you think you know. Chris Moore from the sadly defunct Baseball Analysts breaks it down nicely.

Vegas will eventually roll you in a back alley and take your wallet leaving you with some loose teeth and a really bad hangover. The Mets probably aren’t the best team in the playoffs — that honor might be bestowed on the Cardinals or really any of the NL Central teams — but it doesn’t mean the Mets can’t win it all. It’s just that who is “better” doesn’t make nearly as much of a difference as you think. Randomness rules when it comes to MLB’s playoffs… it just does.

It’s like trying to predict when and where your car will get splattered with bird droppings. Sure you could track migratory patterns and feeding cycles and study pigeon congregations and such, but that won’t stop a wayward gull from leaving a nice bit of artwork on your just washed and waxed baby. Baseball is probably even more random than bird droppings. It’s like trying to predict a drunk’s footsteps. Here is a quote from a wonderful book by Leonard Mlodinow called The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives.

“If one team is good enough to warrant beating another in 55% of its games, the weaker team will nevertheless win a seven-game series about four times out of 10.  And if the superior team could beat its opponent, on average, two out of three times they meet, the inferior team will still win a seven-game series about once every five match-ups.  There is really no way for a sports league to change this.”

“In the lopsided 2/3 probability case, for example, you’d have to play a series consisting of at minimum the best of 23 games to determine the winner with what is called statistical significance, meaning the weaker team would be crowned champion 5 percent or less of the time.  And in the case of one team’s having only a 55-45 edge, the shortest significant “world series” would be the best of 269 games, a tedious endeavor indeed!”

“So sports playoff series can be fun and exciting, but being crowned world champion is not a reliable indication that a team is actually the best one.”

This explains a lot. In baseball you have an initial set of variables — namely a team’s composite statistical projections based on the aggregate contributions of said team’s member players. So in this sense, baseball is deterministic – your roster on opening day should more or less determine how your team will perform over the course of the season – a talented team should win more.

However, according to the above, a team who is 10 games (or less) better than another team (55-45 in the win column), would have to play a 269 game series in order to determine with certainty who is better. Now to be clear,162 games is still a lot, and as you go beyond that 10 game advantage the better team does in fact become better, but not by as much as you might think.

Life itself is a fairly random occurrence. They say that the odds of a DNA molecule spontaneously forming on it’s own are so astronomically unlikely, chances of it happening by chance, even when you have the right ingredients in some sort of primordial soup, are effectively nil. This sprouts some very entertaining analogies: the monkeys with typewriters theorem stipulates that no matter how many monkeys with typewriters you sit down in a room you aren’t going to get a word for word Hamlet manuscript, just as a tornado passing through a junkyard isn’t going to leave a ready to fly Boeing 747 in its wake (even though all the constituent elements might be present).

As DNA based lifeforms you never can predict what ballplayers will do either. Pat Borders could hit .450 and Brian Doyle could hit .478 in the fall classic, Don Larson could pitch a perfect game, and Al Weis could tie a deciding game 5 with a home run … What are the odds? Not much better than a monkey typing Hamlet I’d wager. And therein lies the remarkable beauty of the game, brought out in the very randomness that makes it so unpredictable — at any time, on any play, something could happen that has never happened before.

Good teams should win more games than poor teams, but over a 7 game series that doesn’t always happen. In a 7 game series, the weaker team will still beat the stronger team 4 out of ten times if there is less than a 10 game difference in their regular season records. Even a team with a 2/3 advantage (a team who has historically beaten another team 2 out of 3 meetings) would have to play a 23 game series to determine with certainty who is better. Now this doesn’t mean that the “better” team doesn’t stand a better chance of winning, It’s always preferable to be on the winning end, but the margin of difference is small, and in a short series — 7 games is short (compared to 23 or 269) by comparison and 5 games is a random blip in a windstorm –anything can happen and it very often does. Since 1998, 5 wild card teams have won the World Series, including two in the last 5 years.

In spite of the fact that baseball is roughly deterministic in a broad (162 game) sense, its playoff structure is not, it is highly randomized within the select upper echelon teams that make it into the tournament. So, initial conditions notwithstanding, outcomes diverge widely in MLB’s post-season if you look at it as a dynamic system. This renders prediction impracticable, and, it is, incidentally, the definition of chaos theory — marginal differences in initial conditions that yield widely unpredictable outcomes (sometimes called the butterfly effect).

When Bryce Harper asked for his ring in spring training it reminded me of LeBron James in 2010 openly wondering how many titles the Heat would win (5? 6? 7?) after adding LeBron and Chris Bosh to Dwayne Wade. As Mets fans we all remember the debacle of 1992 – not to mention 2006. In recent years more dollars have not translated into more wins with any reliability.

Over 162 games you can make reasonable predictions based on talent and prior performance (the Mets did finally meet Sandy Alderson’s 90 win projection) but in 5 or 7 games? Not so much … especially if two teams are separated by less than 10 games.

Mathematically speaking, the best (and perhaps only) thing a General Manager can do is get his team into the playoffs … from there, it’s anyone’s guess. If you make enough appearances you should win one at some point, but there are no guarantees. The Braves were in the post season a solid decade and came away with one World Title.

I do believe these Mets are dangerous. Their big three starters give them as good a shot as anyone because power pitching does seem to matter more in the post-season. On any given day any one of our starters can strangle an opposing lineup like a Roman concubine … But as much as I might be tempted to bet my kids’ college fund on the 2015 Mets, MLB’s playoffs remain remarkably difficult to predict.

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Our NY Mets broadcast team is, in my estimation, by far the most interesting and engaging television crew in the majors. On any given night you may receive a clinic on the splitter from Ron Darling, incredible tidbits of trivia from Gary, and the always unique and entertaining perspective of the incorrigible Keith Hernandez. During the first game of the Braves series for instance the conversation inevitably turned to Matt Harvey’s shortened but brilliant start against the Yankees who mounted a disastrous comeback against the Mets bullpen. Darling went on to reference a fascinating article by Dirk Hayhurst – an ex player turned author and broadcaster — on the Matt Harvey innings limit situation. Hayhurst brought up a really interesting question that a reporter had once asked him when he was a player,

“Would you rather have a three-year-long career in the big leagues, breaking records and leaving your mark on the game, only for your arm to explode and never play again at the end of it? Or would you take an average career lasting ten healthy but yawningly mediocre years, which would undoubtedly disappear into the annals of history?”

He considered his answer a no-brainer, he’d opt for the 10 years. This surprised the reporter who responded with disgust and told him he was playing for the wrong reasons. Hayhurst put the question to his teammates and according to him, to a man, every one of them opted for the longer unspectacular career.

Hayhurst makes some good points. 10 years puts you on 10 teams with ten shots at a post season bonus, but more importantly it gets you a full pension and at least one “life changing” contract. Basically it sets you up for life.

Hayhurst elaborates: “Ten years of living the dream you hatched when you were a kid. Best of all, when you retire—in your thirties—you’re set for life and you can still shampoo your head with your throwing arm!”

When Keith and Ron got hold of this they were clearly perturbed. Both quickly articulated that in their time just about every player would have opted for the brief but glorious career, reminding me, somewhat morbidly, of Kurt Cobain’s Neil Young inspired suicide note, “better to burn out, than fade away.”

It makes you wonder, Is Harvey playing for the right reasons? Is the media focus on one player distracting from the accomplishments of the team as a whole? Is Harvey’s ostensible turn towards self-preservation eroding the team’s rolling playoffs-or-bust momentum? It isn’t lost on Mets fans that the team has appeared lethargic and uninspired since the Yankee series. Hayhurst concludes the piece with the following:

“For every Derek Jeter this game creates, there are dozens of players who through no fault of their own are disliked and reviled simply because they failed to live up to unrealistic expectations they had no part in creating. Fans are selfish, the media is fickle, and reputations come and go.”

It’s a strong argument to be sure. If Harvey blows his elbow out in some selfless act of heroic over-the-limit sacrifice for the sake of a championship or a playoff push, the fans would forever be grateful, but Harvey would have pitched himself out of a “set for life” payday. We all have fond memories of Mike Baxter but I don’t think any of us are willing to put his kids through college.

Ron and Keith’s dismay at players looking out for themselves is somewhat disingenuous. Both were paid rather well in their time and both had long productive careers, which begs the question, had they lacked the top-shelf talent to rest comfortably on the assumption that they could make a lengthy go of it, would they have thought differently? Would they have thought differently if more money was involved? Keith made just over \$15 million dollars and Ron made just under \$18 million over the course of their careers respectively. Harvey stands to make more than either of those figures in a single season once his arbitration years run out.

It’s easy to alter perceptions after the fact, framing yourself as a seeker of glory, an athlete dying young with laurels and whatnot, but if Ron and Keith really had to decide back when they were first or second year players I wonder whether they’d really choose the shorter career … on the other hand there is the indisputable fact that both Keith and Ron were ferocious competitors who appeared to embody the win at all costs mentality. One could just as easily argue that it was precisely their hell or high water attitude that allowed them to be integral members of the last Mets team to bring home a world title.

The notion that there are “winning players” who make invaluable contributions to winning clubs is a popular adage — players who leave it all on the field sacrificing body and mind for the sake of winning. As fans we cheer these selfless combatants who don’t shy from walls and barrel head first into the fray. We look at guys like Mike Trout admiring his abandon, all the while wondering whether he’ll be around in a few years. A body can only run into so many walls and arms have only so many bullets … in the end every player has to confront his mortality, some sooner, some later.

Harvey is a competitor, he has a fearsome will on the mound that allows him to dominate and which compels him to push harder and longer, but he’s not stupid. Nobody’s going to pass a hat around Citi Field in the event his elbow explodes, and unlike the young and the reckless likes of Harper (who himself was advised to tone it down) and Trout, Harvey has already experienced a major health setback early in his career. In addition, pitchers walk a far more precarious line when it comes to career ending injuries, always one awkward pitch from a catastrophic end.

Sure the whole innings limit fiasco could have been handled differently, the participants could have hammered out a plan in a back room early in the season without so much as a whisper of controversy. The Mets contend their due diligence on the matter is unassailable, that they made every attempt to safeguard Harvey’s well-being, and the at times profanity laden veracity of these claims from the Mets GM himself (not to mention the forays into a six man rotation) only adds credence to this. So maybe Matt was yanked around a bit by an agent who has always been too quick to resort to the media splash, maybe there were “hard and soft” layers of interpretation that were never rendered concrete because Boras and Alderson detest each other’s company … But lets hold off on putting Matt Harvey on the wrong side of some sort of Mets code of honor because he did some soul searching and realized he could lose everything.

If the team mistook his actions for selfishness it’s their own fault and it’s hypocritical as well because I am all but certain just about every player in that clubhouse would make the same decision. Ron and Keith can have their glory after the fact — they deserve it, they brought home the very biggest of prizes. Maybe they didn’t care as much about long careers back then, maybe they hearken to a devil-may-care youth when they felt invulnerable, who knows … but for every player who enjoyed a long prosperous career there are countless who lit up the baseball skies for a moment only to end up back in Dad’s hardware store in Topeka.

Lets not begrudge Matt Harvey for being mindful of this sobering baseball reality.

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Cespedes Will Seek Six-Year Deal, But Will It Be With Mets? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/cespedes-will-seek-six-year-deal-but-will-it-be-with-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/cespedes-will-seek-six-year-deal-but-will-it-be-with-mets.html/#comments Sat, 19 Sep 2015 12:42:36 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=193548

Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes told Marly Rivera of ESPN Deportes  that he will be seeking at least a six-year deal this Winter when he becomes a free agent.

“My only hope is to stay healthy,” Cespedes said. “I’m not thinking about a contract, but I do know that I will be looking for a contract that is six years or more, has to be six years or more. We’ll see what happens.”

Cespedes, 29, is hitting .295 with 17 homers and 42 RBIs in 43 games since being acquired from the Detroit Tigers on July 31 for pitching prospects Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa.

Cespedes has made it no secret that he loves playing in New York and that he enjoys the passion that Mets fans have for their team. He recently told the New York Post that these last six weeks with the Mets have been the best time of his four year career in major-league baseball.

It was also Cespedes himself, who called his agent and told him to get rid of the clause that would’ve limited the Mets to an exclusive five day window to sign him. He said he enjoys playing for the Mets and he wanted to be sure that they had as much time as they needed to decide whether or not they wanted to bring him back.

It will be interesting to see how the Mets handle this after the season. Will the Wilpons give Sandy Alderson the go-ahead if he decides that he wants Cespedes back?

More importantly, with attendance and revenue reportedly up over 50 percent this year, will the Wilpons increase payroll accordingly as they’ve been promising once fans flocked back to Citi Field? Or will they continue to operate right under their \$100 million Mendoza Line?

Joe D.

September 18

On Monday night, Yoenis Cespedes hit his 35th home run of the season and 17th since being acquired by the Mets. After not homering in his first 10 games with the Mets, all 17 of Cespedes home runs have come since August 12, which is the most in the majors since that date.

Jeff Passan put up a wordy treatise yesterday on why the Mets won’t sign Cespedes, while a chorus of others continue to harp on how Yoenis won’t be worth what he gets because he’s never played like this before.

This is true in a sense, he’s never been a 6+ WAR player before, but he’s also never really had a real chance to stick anywhere. So before you go wagering against Cespedes at a sportsbook online betting site, hear me out.

His first year with Oakland he was new not just to MLB but to the U.S. Given the circumstances I think he did great as a rookie. Then came 2013, his sophomore campaign, which was an off-year of sorts but even then there were two (one .800+ and one 900+) high OPS months sandwiched around a hamstring injury and a wrist issue. The first half of 2014 saw him hit 14 homers, 21 doubles, 53 runs, 57 RBI, and even 27 walks thrown in for good measure — starting to sound more like the Cespedes we know?

Then came the 2014 trade deadline with one of the biggest examples in recent memory of a trade that somehow managed to hurt both teams. Cespedes gets traded to Boston for Jon Lester, where Yoenis never quite gains his footing in the logjam of Boston’s outfield. Now as this was his third year, I think you have to cut the guy some slack. Boston, like New York, can be a notoriously fickle landing spot … full of oddities and idiosyncrasies, some players do well while others struggle. A lot of people out there saw a right-handed power hitter who would thrive at Fenway when in actuality many a Cespedes frozen-rope that would have gone out in just about any other park bounced off the Green Monster.

So he gets traded again before the start of the 2015 season, this time to Detroit for Rick Porcello where he crushes it to the tune of 13 homers, 27 doubles and an .821 OPS in the first half (remember, he also had an .861 OPS in 2012).

Cespedes has only been in major league baseball for four years having arrived relatively late as a Cuban defector. In 2013 after only one year some wondered whether he’d already peaked — they saw a nice player with a great arm, some pop and some speed, but not the beast that many had projected given his tools.

But the monstrous power, the bat speed, the decent contact rate, it was all still present (still is) … and there was that first half in 2014 as well which landed him third in All-Star voting behind Jose Bautista and Mike Trout.

Cespedes not only made the leap from Cuba to the U.S. successfully, he managed to put up decent (if not occasionally gaudy) numbers over the course of a four year stretch that saw him play for four different teams. It should be no surprise that Yoenis wants to stay with the Mets. Perhaps it’s comfort level, perhaps he really loves the city, or perhaps he’s just tired of bouncing around. Whatever the case, he is obviously a good fit.

In an article by Tim Rohan of the New York TimesAriel Prieto, Cespedes’s interpreter in Oakland said:

“A team like the Mets, if they give him a good offer, he’s going to stay,” Prieto said . “He wants to compete; that’s what’s most important to this kid. He wants to be a part of that. That’s why he’s doing good over there, because he knows they have a good chance to go to the playoffs or even go all the way through.”

The notion that his current two month stretch is a total aberration is problematic on several levels. He was having a tremendous season even before he came to NY, and he’s had torrid streaks before. To imply that this is somehow an outlier because his career numbers don’t support it is disingenuous given the fact that he’s had stretches of doing pretty close to what we’re seeing, not to mention the dampening impact of his tumultuous history.

This isn’t a flash in the pan “out of nowhere” hot streak. This is a sustained six week bombardment of National League pitching the likes of which hasn’t been seen in quite some time, by a guy who many felt would be just this sort of player when he first came on the scene.

You either have the ability to do this or you don’t. You can count the players with the ability to do what Cespedes is doing on one hand. Even if this is an anomaly, the fact that Cespedes is even capable of this sort of thing makes him immensely valuable — clearly there’s some off the charts God-given talent here.

At worst Cespedes might be a .260 – .270 hitting, 20 something home run, 70-80 RBI guy … in other words Curtis Granderson without the walks.  But in my estimation that is Cespedes’ baseline (the numbers support this) … So he is at least this sort of player with some very potent indicators that he might be something quite a bit more.

Signing Cespedes is simply a risk the Mets have to take. Sure they might get Curtis Granderson 2.0, or, they might get a .900 – 1.000 OPS monster who can readily put a team on his shoulders and carry them into the playoffs year after year … hard to put a price tag on that.

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MMO Original: Pay The Man http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/mmo-original-pay-the-man.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/mmo-original-pay-the-man.html/#comments Sat, 12 Sep 2015 10:51:49 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=193340

A lot of Mets fans are asking the same question these days, what will it take to sign Yoenis Cespedes to a long term deal? Well, lets look at some dollar numbers.

\$1.5 Billion per year through 2021 … That’s what MLB has coming through national television deals. There are also local television deals, which have also increased.

\$99,663,329 … The current Mets payroll. Twentieth in baseball, right behind the Minnesota Twins.

4,689 … That’s the average increase at Citi Field in number of fans per game compared to last year.

The increase in attendance, when multiplied by 81, and again by \$25.30 (average Citi Field ticket price), gives you more or less a \$10 million dollar bump in revenue over the course of the season. That doesn’t count things like parking – even 1000 extra cars per game at \$22.00 a car generate another \$1.7 million. Then there are concessions, SNY profits, national television dollars, merchandise and other miscellaneous money makers. Projecting a \$15 million dollar boost in proceeds is not a stretch. That doesn’t even count what the team stands to make should they make it into the post-season, which is looking more likely every day with their magic number down to 14.

It’s a nice little bonus for the Wilpons, who incidentally have already restructured much of their debt.

Here’s another number: \$37.6 million … That’s how much salary is coming off the books this off-season. Colon, Murphy, Cespedes, Parnell, Clippard, Uribe, Blevins, O’Flaherty, Johnson, and others, are all reaching free agency. The Mets will have flexibility. If you add revenue increases to salary relief you are looking at over \$50 million in potential spending money.

A few years ago many of you may recall how Sandy Alderson explained how payroll was contingent on gate proceeds and that as revenues went up, so would payroll. Fans should not forget that, a deal is a deal — we show up, Sandy spends … no backsies.

The notion that the Mets might not be able to afford Cespedes is absurd. The Mets have the money, and for the first time in his career Cespedes is at the center of a baseball phenomenon and an astonishing offensive turn-around. New York is the place to be right now, and Cespedes is the star attraction. It’s a marriage made in Mets heaven.

I don’t know where the Wilpons are financially, I don’t know that anyone but the Wilpons and their accountants do, but I do know that the Mets not only will enjoy additional revenue this season, they will in all likelihood benefit from even larger increases next season. The Mets currently possess the third largest year to year increase in attendance in baseball, behind only Kansas City and Houston.

I also don’t know whether the Wilpons’ Willets Point Development will ever get off the ground having just received a standing eight count in court. Apparently De Blasio is no Bloomberg and there is a standoff over just how much affordable housing will go into the deal. But the real stumbling block is the “eminent domain” claim over park land slated to be developed. It’s one thing to build a ballpark on park space, quite another to build some sort of monstrosity shopping mall half a century after the original ballpark opened.

Nevertheless, the Mets, as a financial entity, are doing just fine these days. Oh we can write letters to Mayor De Blasio telling him to please rubber stamp the development contingent on the Mets signing Cespedes, but lets not get desperate just yet.

If the Mets really had \$160 million on the table for Robinson Cano, they can scrape together \$180 million over 7 years for Cespedes. It wouldn’t make business sense not to sign him … and in the end, it’s probably not even the Wilpons’ call. Oh sure they have to approve the expense, but Sandy Alderson has the flexibility to fit Cespedes into the budget without increasing payroll. Playoff teams generate, on average, \$20 – 30 million more in revenue than non playoff teams, so if Cespedes leads the Mets to the promised land and helps us contend for the next few seasons, he will in a very real sense be paying for himself.

Sandy Aldersons oft-touted “sustainable flexibility,” staggering larger contracts so you can make big moves when you have to, appears to be in full swing. It is remarkable that in spite of the Mets’ post-season trajectory, they are looking at substantial salary relief. Think about that for a second, on a year when they look to be headed to the playoffs they will see almost half their payroll come off the books! You couldn’t have planned it better, unless you were Sandy Alderson and you actually did plan it.

The Mets will retain their 5 day negotiating window at the conclusion of the World Series when they can make an exclusive pitch. Cespedes will probably see what the rest of baseball has to offer and make his decision, but the Mets, given their revenue increases and payroll relief have as good a shot as anyone to sign Yoenis.

And we absolutely have to sign this guy. As I write this he’s gone 3-for-5 with a homerun and 3 RBI – just another night at the office. Yoenis Cespedes has been the perfect addition to the 2015 Mets, and no crowing about his one misstep in the outfield or whether he’ll be worth it at 34 will take away from that. When Cespedes is 34 he may have already taken us to the post-season several times with perhaps even a world title in the mix. I’ll take a couple of off-seasons with that in a heartbeat.

There is really no argument here. Yoenis is still technically 29, he is built like a tank, Greek God or beast (take your pick), has great speed, can play all the outfield spots, solidifies the middle of the order, and he does it in New York.

I could see being tentative if the Mets were broke, they’re not, they’re reeling in at least \$25 million in additional revenue through gate proceeds alone over the next two years and enough payroll flexibility to easily add a big contract. The Mets should even have room to spare should the Wilpon’s decide they want to use a portion of their new proceeds to pay down debt … but a promise is a promise Sandy. We showed up … now it’s your turn.

Pay the man.

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Featured Post: The Great Boras vs. Alderson Divide http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/featured-post-the-great-boras-vs-alderson-divide.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/09/featured-post-the-great-boras-vs-alderson-divide.html/#comments Tue, 08 Sep 2015 13:21:32 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=192601 I’m a fan of some things and not others, for instance, I’m a big fan of smoothies. They are nutritious and they keep things moving along as they say. On the other hand, Grape Nuts, not a fan… I mean there’s crunchy and then there’s the sawdust bin at Home Depot, doesn’t matter how much milk you soak it in.

Now I’m a fan of the New York Mets. I believe the Mets should win every single frigging game, 162 – 0. Not everyone feels that way. It has occurred to me that other people may not even like the Mets… I know I know, unfathomable, but hear me out – these are often fans of other baseball teams.

Some people may be incapable of being fans at all because they are too busy with the pursuit of money and power — but this deliberation is about how sometimes these other non-Mets fans end up in positions of influence over the Mets.

Scott Boras is not a fan of the Mets, and that puts him in an awkward spot given his relationship with the ace of the Mets pitching staff. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Lets define our premise. How do we know that Boras is not a fan of the Mets?

Well, for one we are already familiar with how difficult it is for Scott Boras to be a fan of anything that does not involve … Scott Boras … But beyond his physical parameters, Scott Boras is a card carrying member of the money and power club. I don’t think you can be Scott Boras without being that.

Lets look at the context of this Matt Harvey fiasco if only to gain some perspective. Scott Boras and Sandy Alderson have had a sometimes snarky, sometimes hostile, tit-for-tat thing going on for years now. Stuff about NASA rockets, shopping in the frozen food aisle, and feeding on  bargain bin cantaloupe. I don’t quite recall the sordid specifics, but it’s clear the two don’t like each other.

We need to remember that Alderson, between GM stints, was an MLB guy, while Boras is of course a Player Agent. On the Serengeti they’d be like a lion and a hyena fighting over a carcass. If it effects his bottom line Boras becomes a very unhappy camper — Boras is decidedly not a fan of things that effect his bottom line.

Here’s the kicker … Sandy Alderson’s downsized farm-leaning cheapo Mets affect Boras’ bottom line, and so … not a fan. The small-marketization of a big-city franchise poses a unique threat to a tried and true dollars paradigm — that you can succeed with less, particularly if you rely on a stocked to the rafters farm system with young controllable assets.

The scary part? Boras is kind of like the Borg. He won’t attack unless he sees you as a threat. So you can walk by him in the  hallway on the way to the water cooler and he won’t even notice you with his laser eye and his robot arm. But then say there was a nickel on the floor between you and Scott-Borg and you were silly enough to try and scoop it up, you’d probably be eyeball drilled and assimilated before you could say “hey, what the …” Resistance is futile!

As Mets fans we need to understand there are some alarming developments here. Boras was fine with these new bottom-third-in-payroll Mets as long as they were also bottom dwellers, but now that they appear to be on the brink of the Playoffs suddenly they are a threat.

Why? Because baseball, is one of the most cut-throat imitative, downright theft of intellectual property (see Cards-Astros information breach) businesses out there. And if Alderson shows that you can succeed with less even in a big market … well, that’s an awful lot of pocketed cash for ownership.

That would almost be too tempting for any profit driven organization. If the Mets make it to the postseason you can bet your bottom dollar other teams will be looking at their approach, and that’s not good for Mr. Boras and his money-searching Borg-eye. His business, after all, is built on lucrative free agent contract fees.

So, while not a full blown conflict of interest, there is certainly motive here for Boras to, well, stick it to a Mets team that’s bucking his right to suckle on MLB’s free agent money teat … and with more than just a clever tweet.

This never had to go public. Boras has masterfully played the clock and the media pitting Doctors against Ownership while he sits back and claims to be doing his job just looking out for his player. Lets not forget he has a horse in this race … In “the year of the prospect” when farm hands have had a bigger impact on the game than at any other time in recent memory, you wonder whether this is this really about Matt Harvey’s arm or the long term viability of his future big free agent contract.

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MMO Original: It Was The Summer Of ’69 http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/mmo-original-it-was-the-summer-of-69.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/08/mmo-original-it-was-the-summer-of-69.html/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 14:30:45 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=191109

I was 5 years old. My days were spent riding up and down the sidewalk on my bike, the same couple of hundred feet or so, over and over. I knew every crack and bump. I’d ride around until my sister would come out and yell for me to come up for dinner. She was 10, and on this particular day she was very excited, there was this food she wanted us to try that she saw at her friend’s house. American food. She described it to me. She said it was not really solid and not really liquid, kind of rubbery. It came in all sorts of flavors and it was transparent. I couldn’t wait to see.

So we had dinner and she made this stuff, this hot red liquid that she was pouring into a bowl to cool when we first heard it. It was coming from the alley and it wasn’t a particularly threatening sound. It sounded like applause, a small crowd clapping loudly. We couldn’t see what it was because of the high window over the kitchen sink (strangely the kitchen is the only room in that house I can still remember), so we called my dad in who stuck his head out and looked. My dad had dark skin but when he looked back at us his face was as white as a sheet. He mumbled something to my mother as he reached across the table, grabbed my shirt and lifted me up and over the table and onto his shoulder. He hauled me down the stairs with my mother dragging my sister behind us who was still fretting about her rubber food.

Out the door and down to the sidewalk we went just as the fire department was arriving. My grandfather, who’d gone to the store on Junction Blvd., was walking towards us when he saw it all. He dropped his bag of groceries and ran towards the house as the firemen immediately grabbed him. Through the deepening dusk and the haze of smoke I could see the two neighboring duplexes completely engulfed in flame with ours well on its way, all on account of a few discarded propane canisters and a cigarette.

My mother and sister were frantically explaining to them that my grandmother, who couldn’t walk, was still inside, when Grandfather broke free and ran up to the front door punching his hands through the door’s glass panes just as a policeman and fireman got to him and dragged him away.  More and more engines arrived (three alarms) as the fire intensified. We watched our home and everything in it go up in flames, as I lost my dinner all over the back of my dad’s red flannel shirt.

I don’t remember much else except the highlight of the evening, a picture of which made the morning papers … A firemen brought my diabetic grandmother, still in her ripped nightgown, through the smoke and flame and down on the engine-ladder. I kind of fell asleep after that, still on my Dad’s shoulder.

Grandmother and Grandfather were whisked away in an ambulance as the four of us were questioned by the paramedics with my sister acting as translator. We were told we could go with the Red Cross or spend the night at a neighbor’s house. The only family who volunteered to take us in was an African American family from down the block on 98th Street who had a boy about my age also named Matthew.

My dad never failed to point out to my mom whenever the story came up that of all the Greek families on our block, none so much as lifted a finger to help us.  We were renters and had only been there a year or so, but still. The family gave us some Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup and some blankets. I remember eating a few spoonfuls of soup while the other little boy sat across the table staring at me. We slept on the couch that night with my dad on the floor beside us. My mom had gone off to the hospital and didn’t get home until after we were asleep.

The next morning the Red Cross was back with a weird station wagon to take us somewhere. We drove down Northern Boulevard stopping off at a warehouse where we were given several large boxes of clothing. Then we continued on … to Willets Point. We were led to a 6th floor apartment with a balcony and two bedrooms in the projects. Across the Boulevard was a huge mass of concrete shaped like a giant bowl with orange and blue specks all over it. It was August 24th, 1969.

My grandfather joined us that day with stitches all over his hands that looked like thick unruly hairs. He had this big crazy moustache and this escaped convict look in his eyes and when I think about this now I wonder how he wasn’t committed. My grandmother joined us a few days later. Everyone was fine. The apartment was nice. It was new, the whole building was new. I liked it there because it wasn’t made of wood — it couldn’t possibly burn, and I liked our balcony where I could stand and watch the crowds filling the stadium. I think we were the only white family in the building but I felt welcome and happy.

I became fast friends with a 6-year old boy from upstairs. He was older and had the run of the hallways and stairs and eventually I did too, although I still wasn’t allowed to leave our floor. We mostly played on the stairwell near our apartment. This boy told me about what was going on in the stadium across the boulevard. He told me all about the Mets. He had baseball cards and I had a little red matchbox car that I managed to hold onto through everything. That summer my dad took my sister and me to our first ballgame.

My dad was an interesting guy. He’d fought with the British 8th army in WWII on the Adriatic Coast, he made the best mousaka in the Western Hemisphere, could make you laugh just by giving you a look, and rather than stand around with his cronies in front of the newsstand drinking coffee and arguing about Greek soccer and politics, he’d buy the paper and quickly turn to the baseball standings. He’d sit around in the evenings chain-smoking and cursing like a maniac, slamming the coffee table if Donn Clendenon struck out on a slider off the plate. It was the one purely American diversion he’d managed to integrate into an otherwise completely transplanted existence.

The game was on a Saturday, Sept. 6th. We walked of course. The Mets beat the Phillies 3-0. My sister remembers it better than I do. I mostly remember the roaring crowds. The Mets were 4 and 1/2 games out.

I remember the parades that summer. The Met caravan would sometimes drive right in front of our apartment building. I remember the players sitting in big Cadillac convertibles with their wives and girlfriends. I remember running back and forth from the balcony to the TV when there was a game on … and I stopped throwing up every time I’d hear a siren.

The Mets won 21 games that August and did the impossible. They went on to win another 24 games before the end of the season finishing with a record of 100 – 62, eight games ahead of the Cubs. They swept the Braves to get to the World Series, lost the opener to the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles then won 4 straight to capture the title. The final out coming when Davey Johnson hit a fly ball off Jerry Koosman that settled into Cleon Jones’ glove as all pandemonium broke loose.

That December, against my wishes, we moved back to Corona. One might think the calamity of the fire and it’s aftermath might induce nightmares and anguish for years to come, but it didn’t. The magical ending and the victory parades and our wonderful place on the balcony seemed to wash all the bad stuff away, until the only thing that comes to mind when I think back on that summer is the cheering that I can still hear from both the TV and from across the boulevard, and my dad, who has since passed away, taking us to the game, holding our hands.

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Piggy-Backing Niese and Gee Could Be Solution To Mets Rotation http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/05/piggy-backing-niese-and-gee-could-be-solution-to-mets-rotation.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/05/piggy-backing-niese-and-gee-could-be-solution-to-mets-rotation.html/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 13:23:49 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=182336

Piggy-backing is a practice employed primarily in the low minors where teams will pair 8 starting pitchers into 4 tandems that alternate starting and relieving duties from one start to the next. The games are usually split into 5 and 4 inning increments.

The idea behind it involves limiting pitch counts while helping to gradually stretch out innings limits without putting an inordinate amount of stress on arms and shoulders. More and more research is showing that most of what damage an arm incurs seems to happen in the late innings when pitchers are already tired. Piggy-backing limits how often pitchers reach dangerous 90 and 100 pitch exhaustion thresholds.

Jon Niese and Dillon Gee aren’t young or inexperienced, but both have significant injury histories, and both have struggled in the late innings in 2015, particularly the third time through an opposing lineup. I can’t think of a better way to keep both these guys in the rotation while improving their performance and preserving their arms.

Jon Niese will often seem to cruise through 4 or 5 innings and then out of the blue he implodes with a runner or two on base. His batting average against (BAA) in the 6th inning is .433.  Simply put, piggy-backing him with Gee would allow the Mets to avoid a situation where the opposition is hitting .433. You’d bring Gee in for innings 6 through 9. On the following week, flip-flop start assignments and let Gee begin the game.

And it’s not like Dillon Gee has been great in the late innings either. Innings 1 through 3 the opposition has hit .200 against Gee, while in innings 4 – 6 they’ve hit him at .365. Gee has been hit to the tune of .409 and .400 in innings 5 and 6 respectively, so he’s good for about 4 innings but when that third time in the order comes around he tends to fall apart. Also, Gee has pitched past the sixth inning twice this year and only once has he pitched past the 7th. His 8th inning ERA is 13.50.

Opponents are hitting .390 against Niese on their 3rd PA in game, .364 on their 4th (with a 1.189 OPS!). On pitches 1 – 25 Niese’s BAA is .234, on pitches 25 – 50 it rises to .276, on pitches 51 – 75 it jumps to .339 and on pitches 76 – 100 it is .343. Opponents are hitting .500 against Niese when he is over 100 pitches.

Dillon Gee also struggles the more times a batter sees him, with batters hitting .367 against him their third in-game PA, and a whopping .667 on their 4th. His BAA through about 4 innings isn’t bad, but after about the 50 pitch mark he struggles. His BAA for pitches 50 – 75 is .368, for pitches 76 – 100 the opposition is hitting .462 against him.

Now you do have to also consider that moving from 4 days rest to 5 will be an adjustment, and pitchers tend to be creatures of habit. Matt Harvey’s ERA goes from a really good 2.33 on 4 days rest to an unreal .115 on 5 days, and back to a a still tremendous .225 on 6 or more days rest. Which tells me he’s simply great all the time and was only slightly off with his fastball command on one of his starts where he had that extra day (his Yankee stadium start I believe), but you wouldn’t know it from looking at his stat line. deGrom on the other hand has a 1.39 ERA on 4 days rest and a 5.19 ERA on 5 days. deGrom does seem to do better with 4 days rest.

And to be fair, most starters are used to 4 days of rest because they’ve been doing it throughout their careers. It’s hard enough to know you can only effect the outcome of a game every 5 days, let alone every 6, especially for a competitor like Harvey. The team would also lose quite a few quality starts from its better pitchers if they’re stretched out in a 6 man rotation.

Ultimately this may have less to do with keeping Gee and Niese in the rotation (to boost trade value) and more to do with limiting Harvey’s innings. He is currently on pace to pitch somewhere north of 220 innings and that’s not going to fly in his post-Tommy John year.

If the Mets are dead set on limiting Harvey’s innings by going to a 6 man rotation, then bring up Matz, but they should nevertheless move ahead with piggy-backing Gee and Niese based on the merits of limiting their late inning exposure, preserving the bullpen every fifth day, and reducing injury risk … It’s a no-brainer.

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The Mets Need To Diversify Their Hitting Approach http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/05/the-mets-need-to-diversify-their-hitting-approach.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/05/the-mets-need-to-diversify-their-hitting-approach.html/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 16:36:50 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=181992

Exit velocity reminds me of a roommate I had who once decided to chase a full turkey dinner with a Domino’s Hawaiian and a six-pack. He was in a recliner across the room making gurgling noises. I look up and realize the noises were coming from his belly, which was moving — on it’s own, like an alien was trying to claw it’s way out. He tried to sit up but nope, not happening. So he pulls the little upright lever and bah-whoosh a stream of stomach contents unfolds like a giant colorful gravity-defying umbrella and floats in mid-air for a split second, descending slowly onto a static unsuspecting room. The exit velocity of the pizza chunks had to be between 60 and 70 mph easy.

Exit velocity is now apparently a thing in baseball and it doesn’t have anything to do with that third chili slathered jalapeno-cheddar bratwurst you had at the ballpark last weekend. It also shouldn’t be confused with escape velocity, which is a threshold reached by rockets escaping earth’s gravitational pull and audiences at Adam Sandler movies. As I understand it, some magnificent numbers bastard decided to turn a radar gun on balls coming off of bats and voila a new statistical category is born … because really, we don’t have enough of those.

That’s right baseball fans, we’ve reached a gasping summit in the marriage of technology and numbers which allows us to draw breathtaking conclusions. For instance, the increased probability of a hit when exit velocity is higher. Apparently hitting a ball hard results in more hits not less … It’s like listening to a radar Tim McCarver …

“To induce ground balls, throw the ball outside, not inside.”

“Higher exit velocity results in a greater likelihood of producing a hit, particularly if the ball isn’t hit right at someone.”

“The way to avoid hitting the ball to the left is to go right! Or up the middle! You could also strike out and thus not hit the ball in any direction!”

(By the way two of the above three are actual T. McCarver quotes …)

Clearly, modern technology and modern statistics have changed the game. Used to be teams were built on scouting, word of mouth, even news clippings … Bobby can get on base and Jack’s got terrific command and Freddy’s got prodigious power, so on and so forth. You had to have the right mix in a winning locker room, maybe a bunch of raw kids and some solid veterans, maybe an elder-statesman and a couple of loonies to break the tension – and you needed power, speed, the ability to catch and throw … with make-up always a consideration.

You hear a lot of talk about how it’s talent that wins, but I’ll take tough talented any day over genteel talented and It’s not just the 86 Mets that left me with that impression. The Reds were tough as hell when I was a kid, and how about the Pirates of the early 70’s? Remember Doc Ellis beaning 3, 4 guys in a row? Throwing a no-hitter on LSD? It’s like the movie Major League where you had this baseball melting-pot … some grit, some voodoo, speed and power, some sage leadership, and a healthy dose of crazy. These days, sadly, I almost get the feeling teams are assembled strictly by the numbers.

The Nats and the Mets, two of the better teams in their division, are both weirdly unbalanced. The Mets are ridiculously lopsided on the pitching end and conspicuously lacking in team speed, while the Nats (as well as the Mets really) have a glaring Achilles heel in team defense and not much speed themselves. In years past both teams would have taken steps to address these shortcomings in an effort to be “balanced,” but balance is out the window these days in favor of power, power pitching, and getting on base. Why? Because the numbers say so.

Monday night’s 2–1 Mets Cardinals contest offered a fascinating treatise on league trends. The Cards stick to what’s always worked for them — a gritty hard-scrabble pitch well, run the bases, steal, hit-and-run, move-em-over-and-get-em-in philosophy, small ball … The 2015 Mets on the other hand are almost machine like. They beat you … because the numbers dictate they should beat you.

So you can hit-and-run and bunt to your heart’s content with your gritty characters, but against these Mets none of that matters. You punch in a slew of pitching and hitting metrics and the computer spits out a score in your favor. Isn’t that how it works?

All that matters is that these Mets have the right x-FIP and just enough OPS+ to scrape enough runs together relative to how many they allow. Inspiring isn’t it?  It’s like communism, like getting beaten by the Borg collective. Players are drones, interchangeable, representing little more than their numerical contributions to this grand Aldersonian amalgam. In the end, if your Pythagorean run-differential is in your favor you’ve won, or you should have won, which is just as good. Individual stats be damned … Personalities? Pfffft … Wins? Insignificant artifacts of a winning formula. In the end all that matters is how much grain the collective can harvest …

The preponderance of insane shifts are the latest wrinkle in our pastime proliferating from this sabermetric cacophony. Presumably if you run enough simulations and analyze enough spray-charts your fielders will hardly have to move at all. Then you can just focus on finding big lumbering traffic cones who can hit the ball 500 feet.

In the 9th inning on Monday with Familia on the mound the Cards employed the quintessential small-ball play … a perfectly executed hit and run. On the next play the game was tied. Earlier in the 4th Lucas Duda drove in Curtis Granderson on a ground ball that just slipped by to the left of the Cardinal shift. I was thrilled to see him take advantage it, I even re-tweeted it:

… But then in the 7th and again in the 12th Duda played right into the shift grounding out to the right side. I don’t know, somehow it bothers me when the computers win … makes me want to blow pineapple chunks into the mainframe. But it doesn’t matter … so what if Duda hit a few to the left side, these days all that matters is what the numbers tell us matters …

If I were managing the Mets I’d equip a batting cage with a big chain link barrier about 15 feet or so from the plate blocking the entire right side of the infield, and I’d fire inside fastballs at Granderson and Duda while blasting Rage Against The Machine … Want a hit? Slap it to the opposite field DUDA. If a guy named Moustakas can do it I’m sure these guys can.

I looked at a stat the other day that showed how Mets pitching had the 4th lowest hard hit ball rate in the league. Turns out when a pitcher induces weak contact (low exit velocity) the chances of registering an out go up. That coupled with a very low walk rate kept Mets starters’ ERA at under 3.00 (prior to last night) which was good for best in the majors. It’s so good in fact, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to conclude that 3 runs or more should bag you a win more often than not. Now I also saw on twitter the other morning that we “out-hard-hit” (I guess that’s also a thing now?) the Cubs during our 4 game set in Chicago, and that, again, we should presumably win more often than not when that happens.

But here’s the thing, Baseball isn’t played by computers or Borg hybrids … it’s played by humans, and humans don’t always follow the printout. Sometimes even Pavlov’s dogs don’t drool, sometimes Duda will slap one to the left side, and sometimes the 2014 Nats will lose to the 2014 Giants because the Giants play better baseball.

In the end we might want to consider Bernoulli’s principle — that broadening the walls of a fluid channel reduces pressure at it’s widened boundaries thereby increasing the fluid’s velocity at the opening. So a river that broadens will experience an acceleration at the widening — a rush to the path of least resistance. It’s similar to how the relatively higher pressure inside my friend’s stomach compelled its contents through his esophagus to the lower resistance of all over the carpet and coffee table.

It’s not easy to hit a ball 470 feet into a camera well. There are two or three guys on the planet who can do that sort of thing. On the other hand I know some 12 year olds who might be able to put a bat in front of a ball and bunt to the left side of an infield … path of least resistance.

The Nats in last years NLCS (and the Mets in 2006) were beaten by teams with better fundamentals. Baseball has reverted to a level where offense is so scarce, every run matters. Alderson broke into the game at a time when .900 OPS players were becoming commonplace and .800 OPS players were a dime a dozen. No one had time for this boring hit-and-run nonsense when you could just wait for a 3-run blast and enjoy watching your girlfriend jump around. Those days are gone.

Alderson got part of it right. He built a beastly monster mash of pitching depth … but the other part, the small ball part, not so much.

The Mets didn’t win on Monday because they had a better stats team, they won because a guy with a big heart and a big arm shut down the opposition. On Tuesday, however, the Cards won because in addition to out-pitching the Mets, they scored 10 runs in what seemed like 10 different ways.

The Mets would do well to look into diversifying their own portfolio … securing some athleticism, some speed, and a few more ways of manufacturing runs, because clearly putting all their eggs into the bring-the-fences-in-and-wait-for-the-3-run-blast basket isn’t working.

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Some More Managerial Options For The Mets http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/05/some-more-managerial-options-for-the-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/05/some-more-managerial-options-for-the-mets.html/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 14:00:29 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=181621

Couple of years back I wrote a piece where I detailed several alternatives to Terry Collins as Manager of the NY Mets. You can read it here if you are so inclined. Well, here we are two years later and wouldn’t you know it, Terry is still our manager. I guess none of the options I so graciously put forward were considered. I especially thought the sign-language speaking gorilla would have done well, but you never know with these things. Some people just don’t appreciate the value of a gorilla in the dugout.

Anyway I thought I’d give it another shot. Maybe broaden the candidate pool … why limit ourselves to higher primates? I think a pigeon would do nicely, one of those messenger pigeons. We could name him Lefty.

You could outfit it with a little Mets cap and maybe some tiny cleats, this way Lefty can truly take the role of “middle management” and fly directly from the front office to home plate with the lineup card rolled up and stuffed in a little pill bottle around its neck …

Afterwards Lefty can waddle into the dugout and munch on sunflower seeds, giving funny sideways glances that the camera can zoom in on every time the ump misses a call. If we need to challenge a play? Lefty can fly right out to the ump with a red flag in its beak and sit on the Ump’s shoulder while they look at the video … if he doesn’t like the results Lefty can leave a little present on the Ump’s shoulder!

Or how about an unused Mars Rover prototype? NASA is practically giving those things away! I know, I know this is kind of like the robot suggestion from the earlier piece, but the Mars Rover isn’t your run of the mill robot. It’s solar powered for one so you wouldn’t need an extension cord all the way back to the clubhouse. It can take earth samples as well, so it could give a detailed reading when the grounds are getting too wet for continued play.

While we’re at it, with an inconspicuous little poke in the buttocks of opposing batters as they walk out of the dugout, Mars Rover could get an instant steroid reading — how useful would that be?

Mars Rover has all kinds of flashing lights and whistles and camera-sensors so it could speed up turn-around time on reviews.

The all terrain capabilities are nice too … and, as always Mars Rover would feel right at home in Terry’s office as a fellow deep space traveler. Also, instead of kicking dust at an umpire, Mars Rover could simply put its tracks in reverse and literally bury the Ump in dirt in a matter of seconds!

We could try and sign one of those creepy gremlins from the original “Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark” movie. Someone (perhaps Bob Geren?) would have to carry around an umbrella to shield the spooky nether-worlder from the sun’s rays.

These particular gremlins are unusually persistent and are very good at setting booby traps. The official word in the paper the next day might read “opposing player tripped and fell into a bottomless abyss while entering the visiting clubhouse.”

The nice thing with one of these guys is you wouldn’t need to pay for new uniforms as Collins is pretty much the same size. Creepy “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” gremlin could also scare the hell out of the opposition with its weird whispered-tone taunting.

And finally, unlike Collins, creepy nether-world gremlin is clearly capable of forethought — showing the capacity to lure women named Sally to their inevitable demise in a chimney shaft — so he’d probably be good at figuring out ways to get Bryce Harper to slip on banana peels and stuff, just sayin’.

There’s also the gopher from Caddyshack. Again, pretty much the same size as Collins so Jeffie could use those extra bucks on fender-bender bumper-cars at Six Flags. Gopher could create an underground network of tunnels at Citi Field and scamper out to tell Granderson to play Markakis more to pull, delivering the message himself. Of course the team would have to learn Gopher’s strange scratch & snort language but we could easily hire a linguist. Money is no object here.

Gopher Manager could scoot right out to the bullpen and see with his own beady eyes that maybe Torres doesn’t have it tonight … So he could go with, oh I don’t know, pretty much anybody else. This particular candidate has mad people skills as well, and he sports an impressive resume listing Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray, and Punxsutawney Phil as references. Gopher Manager is also good for lots of laughs (he is a much better dancer than Collins), and I have it on good authority that Gopher Manager would work for a salary of peanuts and small shiny objects.

Finally we could just hire a pastrami on rye sandwich to manage the Mets. As the diametric inverse of a ruben (on whole wheat), there is little to no chance Pastrami Sandwich Manager would pencil Tejada in at shortstop, second base, or even third base.

Pastrami Sandwich would not only rival and perhaps surpass Terry Collins intellectually, those little toothpicks that keep Pastrami Sandwich together could also be used to pin down a lineup card – a lineup card, mind you, conspicuously lacking in feather-brained permutations passed off as “unorthodox new-ageisms.”

Also Pastrami sandwich could act as quite the distraction were it conveniently placed slightly off the third base line as a runner were rounding third — they’d go right for the sandwich and totally miss home plate just as Tim Teufel pulls Pastrami Manager away with a string.

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