Mets Merized Online » Matt Balasis Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:27:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 More Trouble With Hemi-Roiders Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:27:50 +0000 It’s one thing for Jose Canseco to get pulled over with a goat in a diaper riding in his back seat, it’s quite another if he blows one of his fingers off cleaning a handgun.

jose-cansecoUnless he had bag of ice (or even a slushy) handy , the likelihood is that a little piggy is going in the medical waste bin. It’s a shame really, fingers are handy, especially when you get cut off on an on-ramp by a muscle-bound idiot in a jacked up Ford pickup. The whole thing reminds me of a guy I knew in the service.

He was a shitbird. A shitbird is what we called guys who didn’t press their uniforms and didn’t get regular haircuts. Our unit was real big on personal hygiene and polished boots, because, well they wanted us to look neat and clean if we ever had to go kill people. I was introduced to this guy by a friend and I immediately thought “shitbird” when I saw him. A few months later I happened to see him on an operation in the desert. It was our first couple of days out in the field and we were still getting acclimated and I remember it was very hot. I finally understood what it meant when people would say, “it’s like a desert out here today.”

So I see this guy walking not far from a mess tent and he was carrying 6 MRE’s — MRE is an acronym for “meal ready to eat.” They are beyond nasty, they contain stuff like desiccated pork patties that taste how you’d imagine a pig that’s been through a wood chipper with a stack of cardboard boxes might taste after being dehydrated and cut up into patties. So I say “hi” and he stops and looks at me with this wide crazy eyes look like he’s got several lbs. of hashish duct taped to his ribs. He says, “hey what’s up man.” I say, “what’s with the MRE’s dude?” and he launches into an epic diatribe about calorie content and how they are packed with protein and nutrients and they help him gain weight (never mind that they taste like the wrong end of an ostrich).

“Why do you want to gain weight?” I ask. “Oh yeah,” he says, “I did a cycle.” A cycle, I didn’t know what that meant. “Like a bicycle?” I said imagining him trying to pedal a Schwinn over the sand dunes. “No, dude, you know steroids,” said Private Shitbird dropping his voice to a whisper and shifting his eyes back and forth like someone was listening (there was no one within 1,000 feet of us). “Yeah man, I’ve put on blah blah blah …“ he goes into this litany of weights and measurements as my eyes glazed and I began to feel dizzy from the sun. He ended with, “I can get you some.”

I looked at him and thought, some? MRE’s? Oooooh, Steroids, the injectable kind.  “I’m good, I don’t really need to gain weight.” I said, still under the impression you could pop on a urine test for using. “ Aren’t you worried about getting caught?” I said, knowing this guy had already popped on a piss-test for smoking weed. “Nah,” he said. I got a Corpsman buddy at Division, he gives me a heads up, besides they don’t even pick up on that stuff. “Aahh,” I said, thinking that’s what they all say. I’d reached that point in a conversation with someone you don’t really know where you’ve run out of stuff to talk about and then you’re just looking around wondering why you’re standing in the blistering sun. “Ok well, gotta go.”

I saw this guy a couple of times after that, each time he was noticeably bigger. Then I heard about it one day after returning to Garrison, everybody heard about it. He’d rolled over onto another operation (shitbirds spent a lot of time in the desert because no one liked them) and he got bit by a rattlesnake. That wasn’t the end of it. Apparently he went into a rage after the thing bit him and he grabbed it (whereupon it bit him again) and then he tore into the poor animal with his teeth and ripped its head off. Something you might imagine from, oh I don’t know, Ozzy Osbourne on steroids.

roid rage

Needless to say he needed a medevac pronto and legend has it they even punched a breathing hole in his throat because the venom got into his mouth causing his face and throat to swell up to several times their normal size (I would have paid to see that). It was one of these stories that made it’s rounds around the barracks and you ended up hearing several different versions from several different people before the day was over, and every time it got crazier. Eventually you’d have believed he chewed his way out of a pit of vipers and they punched a hole in his throat with a Ka-Bar and a ballpoint pen. What was clear was the guy was an absolute moron, an evolutionary throw-back who should have been tossed out with the discards in boot camp like some sort of mutated trout. How guys like that made it as far as they did always amazed me. Shitbird survived only to get kicked out – bad papers and all – a few months later for failing a third urinalysis, positive for THC.

Anyway, that was my first real experience with steroids. I later actually worked for a platoon sergeant who was juicing. I began to realize that while they did supposedly check for hormone levels we never heard about anyone getting busted for steroids. They called this guy “the Beef” – as in “where’s the Beef?” He would eat like six cans of tuna for lunch, plain, no bread or mayonnaise or olive oil, not even a sprinkling of paprika and dill. Just gross tuna right out of the can. He was also moody like you wouldn’t believe. One day he’d be cool with three of us being so drunk at morning formation we’d literally be falling over each other, another day he’d have the platoon digging ditches because someone got some shaving cream on one of the bathroom sinks. It kind of sucked, in fact the entire steroid thing kind of sucks.

Sure, conceding that many recent lists of potential MLB HOF inductees are speckled with cheaters is upsetting, even though the Hall of Fame’s rolls are littered with drunks and rogues and some not very nice people, but the statistical integrity of the game is another story.

The users have made it really difficult to figure out what’s what. What does 30 homers mean? What does 40 homers mean? How dumb is Manny Ramirez? Would he bite off a rattlesnake’s head? I could totally see that actually. But getting back to statistical continuity, these roiders (incidentally if you drive a Dodge truck while doing “a cycle” does that make you a hemi-roider?) … anyway, Canseco & Co. have made it really difficult to put a finger on a baseline norm for offensive performance over the past 20 years.

Mark McGwireHow many of Mark McGwire’s gargantuan blasts were the result of testosterone? How many were due to improved nutrition and training? Ever look at a suit of armor from the 1500’s? They were tiny back then — like little kid tiny. I mean if I saw one of these munchkins coming at me in a medieval forest seriously I would laugh, thinking, “is this guy for real?” right before he’d run me through with a lance (not so funny now HA!).  But athletes have been getting bigger and stronger and faster with every generation so there are multiple variables at work here when you look at the ebb and flow of offensive production.

I look at my kids sometimes as they hack my wife’s Amazon account and think “evolution” right there, I can barely get into my email. The improvement in training methods and medicine is another variable. A hundred years ago a broken leg was life threatening, you could be put down … like a horse. Now-a-days they’re talking about bionic hands and total knee replacements. So guys are coming back from injuries that would have career ending in the not so distant past. They also get paid a lot more, and don’t think that isn’t a factor, I know people who would do some crazy shit for twenty-grand let alone twenty-million.

The sad truth, however, is that the roiders skewed the statistical integrity of the game. There is simply no way to tease the effects of steroids from whatever natural increases we may have seen due to human progress and improved nutrition and exercise. Professional baseball players (and all of their enablers) who took it upon themselves to use performance enhancing drugs have largely taken something away from the game that we can never get back.

I don’t really care for most of these guys who didn’t make it into the HOF. Bonds was a misanthropic grouch with a persecution complex and a head that eventually generated enough gravitational pull to support small satellites (saltshakers and shot glasses and stuff like that). I know several small furry creatures that I honestly believe are smarter than Sammy Sosa.

Jose Canseco is a parody of himself, an embarrassment in his own time lifted from a really bad Tarantino flick. Clemens is a fat and arrogant bully who appears to be living in a world of his own fabrication where he is and always will be the greatest man ever to breath air and eat pancakes – if he even is a man – there are days when he really wonders if maybe he’s some kind of god??! So yeah, I don’t care for these knuckleheads and generally feel like they had the HOF snub coming. I’m convinced each one of these guys has a rattlesnake somewhere waiting around a bend ready to bite them in the ass.

mike piazzaI do, however, feel bad for Mike Piazza and Craig Biggio. Two stand-up players who seemed to stay clean and never really hurt anyone or said anything terribly stupid. I don’t know for sure whether Piazza used but I doubt it.  He doesn’t fit the “unbelievably self-absorbed and dumb enough to bite a rattlesnake” profile.

When I think of steroid side-effects, the moodiness also comes to mind. I remember “the Beef” and how incredibly different he was when he was in a roid-rage. Piazza as we all know was about as laid back and even keeled as you could be – maybe to a fault. Fans used to lament that he wasn’t enough of a “leader,” that he didn’t “get in people’s faces” and that he didn’t turn the broken bat into a Roger-Popsicle, and that he spent too much time playing air guitar, but Mike just never struck me as a juicer.

Murray Chass may go on his witch-hunt and follow Piazza and his back acne into the very gates of Hades for all I care. Who knows why, maybe a young Piazza snubbed Murray in the locker room because he had to take a leak, maybe Murray’s wife called out “oh yes, MIKE!” during an intimate moment, maybe Chass decided to demonstrate the might of his pen by randomly destroying one of the most prominent talents on the NY sports scene just for the hell of it. I don’t know and I don’t care, I don’t have any Murray Chass journalist cards the last time I checked.

It is nevertheless something of a sad travesty that guys like Biggio and Piazza got lumped in with the swollen boils on baseball’s hindquarters — those who didn’t have the presence and wherewithal not to cheat are and always will be the snake-biter shitbirds who end up blowing off their own body parts and getting holes punched in their necks.


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Mets Are A Bandbox Team Playing In A Pitcher’s Park Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:34:44 +0000 MLB Opening Day at Citi Field

An adaptation is a trait that plays a role in the survival of a given organism. Animals adapt to their surroundings by means of natural selection because those who are not well adapted to their environments die off — like a penguin in the Sahara. Humans adapt as well … my wife tells me I am well adapted to carrying stuff and she insists she’s adapted to telling me to carry stuff. She may have a point. The rule applies to most competitive habitats, even the baseball diamond. Some teams are more adapted to their environments than others.

The mark of any good team, however, is not only how well adapted they are to their surroundings but how well they perform against top teams, and in 2014 The Mets did not do so well. Out of all the playoff teams on the Mets schedule, the only one they had a winning record against was the Cardinals against whom they went 4–3. The Mets split against the A’s, lost season series against the Dodgers and Pirates (2–4 and 3–4 respectively) and lost badly against the Giants and Nationals (1–6 and 3–15). That comes out to a combined 15 wins and 34 losses against playoff bound opponents which is a .306 winning percentage for those of you keeping score at home. While the Mets did beat up on many lesser clubs, you aren’t going to get very far in this league if you do that poorly against the upper echelon … Bottom feeders tend to stay near the bottom.

Below is a breakdown of where the playoff teams on the Mets schedule ranked respectively for ERA, OPS and UZR … As you can see Mets pitching and defense ranked up there with some of the better teams, but the offense was abysmal. Also of note is that arguably the most balanced team in the league in terms of offense and pitching (the Dodgers) was promptly bounced from the playoffs, as were the Pirates and Nationals, with all three sporting bottom third in the league defensive rankings. The Giants, who are looking like they might win the world series, have done it with an average offense, an average defense, and very good pitching.

(3–15)   Nationals 1st 8th 20th
(4–3)   Cardinals 11th 18th 6th
(1–6)    Giants 10th 14th 15th
(2–4)    Dodgers 6th 3rd 23rd
(3–4)    Pirates 8th 5th 27th
(2–2)    A’s 3rd 13th 8th
TOTAL (15–34) Mets 9th 26th 11th

The takeaway here is that with a little improvement to the offense the Mets should be able to keep pace with some of the better teams. As the Cardinals and Giants (and the A’s) showed, the Mets don’t even necessarily need a great offense. The league averaged a .700 OPS in 2014, so for the Mets, who had a .673 OPS, a .027 point bump might just do it.

The Giants and Nationals absolutely killed the Mets to the tune of a combined 4 wins and 21 losses and they did it by matching Mets pitching and outhitting them. Against the Giants it was particularly frustrating because they didn’t outhit the Mets by much, but they didn’t need to, which is an important point.

If the Mets had even a slightly better offense this past year they would have been in a lot more ballgames. Unlike the Giants, the Nats outhit the Mets handily, and they capitalized on all of the Mets’ weaknesses. Not only was their pitching better, they walloped the Mets offensively, and, to rub salt in the wound, it sure felt like they kept Mets contact rates down by striking the hell out of them thereby insulating the problematic Nationals defense. Had the Mets made more (or better) contact against the Nats they may have fared somewhat better … but nope, the Mets couldn’t even take advantage of their one true weakness.

The Mets simply need to make more contact. There is a general sense among fans that the Mets strikeout too much, but is there any truth to that?

The weird thing is that the Mets’ contact rates weren’t all that bad.

Plate Discipline: League Mets
Z Contact % 87.3 87.6
O Contact % 65.8 66.1
Contact % 79.4 80.2
F Strike % 60.6 61.1
Sw Strike % 9.4 8.8
Z Swing % 65.7 64.9
O Swing % 31.2 28.8

According to the above, the Mets made slightly more contact than the rest of the league on pitches inside the zone (z contact) and outside the zone (0 contact), and the Mets also had a lower swinging strike percentage and swung at fewer pitches both in the zone (z swing) but especially out of the zone (o swing), all good things. The league struck out 20.4% of the time while the Mets struck out 21.1% of the time which is less than a 1% difference. The Mets also walked 3.13 times per 9 innings to the league’s 2.89/9, so in general Mets plate discipline was pretty solid.

Mets batting average on the other hand was .239 and as a team they slugged .364 to the league’s .251 BA and .386 SLG — kind of a significant difference. They also had a BABIP of .286 to the league’s .299, so the Mets may have also been slightly unlucky, but I dislike BABIP for one important reason — low BABIP sometimes has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with poor contact (we’ll get back to that later). Additionally, the Mets had a 75.7% left on base percentage to the leagues 73% … they left a lot of guys on base.

Yes, the Mets did strikeout slightly more than the rest of the league (especially at home where they struck out 2.6% more than they did on the road), but they walked a lot more too, and, while their plate discipline was decent, they left a ton of guys on base. The Mets clearly got on base at a healthy clip, but they stalled far too frequently.

Why? What killed the offense? Was it the Mets’ marginally higher tendency to strike out? Was it a lack of aggressiveness? (I don’t think their plate discipline metrics support that at all). Was it bad luck? Turns out it wasn’t any of those things. The Mets didn’t strike out that much more than the rest of the league but they made outs a lot more on balls in play … which brings us back to BABIP and the real culprit.

The Mets had the 4th highest flyball percentage in baseball at 36.7%, and even more astonishing, they had the second lowest ground ball rate at 42%. The Mets are essentially a team built for a band-box playing in a pitcher’s park (which explains why they did so well against the Phillies). Now, I get the whole “chicks digging the long ball” thing, but the Mets are not really well adapted to Citi Field’s expansive dimensions … their flyball rates are way too high and they hardly ever hit the ball on the ground. Hopefully the Mets front office will address this disparity this off-season by signing a hitter or two with a knack for line drives and ground balls through the hole.

Will the fly ball problem be somewhat mitigated by bringing in the fences? Maybe … it doesn’t help that the Mets are an extreme flyball team playing in an extreme flyball park. What the Mets don’t need are more all-or-nothing flyball hitters.

The Mets clearly need to do a better job of adapting their roster to their home confines or they will suffer the fate of the dodo and the triceratops.


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Talent vs. Development: Are Mets Exploiting A New Market Inefficiency? Sat, 25 Oct 2014 11:17:45 +0000 sandy alderson

When Sandy Alderson was hired by the Mets as their new GM in 2010 there was a flurry of conjecture about what sort of effect he would have on the team. Words like “Moneyball with money” were being thrown around by Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, and everyone started speculating about what exactly this new version of moneyball would look like. Would it be high OBP guys like in Oakland? Would it be right-handed pitchers with durability profiles? Would it be defense up the middle and power from unlikely sources? Would it be outfielders with allergies to cat dander?

Since that time, most of us have settled into the realization that Alderson and his brain brigade didn’t really unveil anything unique in their approach to player acquisition. With the exception of a tendency towards high schoolers with good eyes at the plate (an eye for an eye!), there was little to satiate the masses who were waiting impatiently for Moneyball 2.0. It never materialized.

What I think many of us failed to appreciate, however, was that exploiting market inefficiencies was nothing new in MLB. Ever since the 90’s when Oakland managed to piece together a winning amalgamate from overlooked and undervalued spare parts, teams all across the league hired numbers-crunchers in an attempt to find other players possessing favorable and overlooked competitive adaptations. Funny thing is that with the exception of OBP, not much else had been overlooked … Oh sure, some teams went after character guys while others tried to secure command and control pitching while still other teams went for power arms, but that had all been done before in the hundred-plus year history of the game.

But there was definitely something different at work with these guys. Sandy DePo and Ricciardi are not the sort to sit back and follow tried and true paradigms. They were advertised as innovators and the more I observed their often secretive machinations (especially on the part of DePodesta who I imagine still lives in his underground numbers bunker deep beneath Citi Field, coming out every few days to test new Frisbee designs and shake hands with his children), the more I felt they were up to something, I was certain of it.

I don’t think DePo would have been coy and evasive early on when questioned about what sort of organizational innovations he had in store if he wasn’t actually hiding something. He openly stated that he wouldn’t share his angle even if he had one … but the way he said it made me wonder.

Now I’m a words guy, language is my thing … I pride myself on my ability to read between the lines and derive whatever hidden connotation an inconspicuous comment may yield. The phrase that stood out for me when Collins first hit the scene was “muscle memory.” I swear that first spring I remember at least 4 or 5 players using the term “muscle memory” during interviews. That smacked heavily of an organizational initiative, a mantra.

At the same time Sandy Alderson was spouting loquacious on his desire to streamline the organization from top to bottom with an emphasis on adapting every level to a uniform set of principles. A complete overhaul of our player development program.

Lots of GM’s try to leave their mark by establishing a distinct organizational ethos … nothing new about that right? Only Sandy Alderson and his minions referred to this organizational cohesion as if it were the thing. Almost as if cohesion of purpose across levels was in fact their angle, as if it was the innovation that would somehow create that elusive “unfair advantage.” No, it couldn’t be, I thought. How boring would that be? The organizational stuff is simply a byproduct of Sandy’s military days. He knows how important uniformity and cohesion are for any successful organization … there had to be something else.

nimmo reynolds sand gnats

But as the years progressed this mantra persisted, and the minors saw a distinct resurgence with more wins from more of our minor league affiliates, fueled by the persistent drone of the same principles across every level. Muscle memory over and over and over.

Then there were the drafts … one high school player after another. Over and over the Mets drafted teenagers who were years and years away.

When you put all this together I think what you have is something akin to our
“new moneyball.” The Mets have designed what they feel is a system that will take raw youngsters with the right physical and intellectual temperaments and graduate them successfully to the majors by means of immersion in a uniform set of principles that they believe will give them a competitive advantage. Those principles of course involve getting on base, plate discipline, attacking the zone, all invoked with thousands of hours of mind numbing repetition.

Now it is certainly true that with younger players you have greater control over whatever developmental trajectory they happen to be on. Older players are what they are, they don’t have much time to put it all together before their bodies hit their physical prime years of 27, 28, and 29 (and for some reason 31) … With a high school player you have 8 to 10 years to make sure they get the reps they need before they hit their physical prime … which comes out to right around 10,000 hours of “practice.” With college players you have about half that time.

And that’s where the innovation comes in. The notion that talent isn’t some magical gift bestowed upon us by the gods or heredity, that given comparable physical attributes the more “talented” individual is almost always the one with the most hours of practice.

As Malcolm Gladwell in his groundbreaking book Outliers pointed out, the 10,000 hour rule is the single greatest predictor of “elite” performance, whether it’s playing a violin or striking out major league batters. On the Mets, “muscle memory” has become a catch phrase for expert status, and it takes 10,000 hours of practice (around 10 years) to achieve elite performance levels. It is a remarkable predictor with the highest levels of performance coming at right around the 10,000 hour mark across a wide variety of disciplines.

What Alderson and his assistants are attempting is a shift away from a scouting/talent paradigm to a tools/development paradigm … and Brandon Nimmo is their poster child. Now I’m not saying they’re actively seeking out blank-slate 18-year olds with solid physical attributes and little else. Naturally you’re going to draft the more talented player when available. But I think what’s interesting is the notion that the Mets might be inclined to draft a raw but physically gifted younger player over a perhaps more “talented” older player because by acquiring the younger player they control the trajectory and the progress, while “talent” at lower levels doesn’t always translate to higher levels.

The approach reminds me a little of the rifle range in boot camp. Our instructors loved guys who’d never fired a weapon because although they were raw, they didn’t have any bad habits, they were able to train us the correct way. I’d never touched a firearm in my life yet I shot high expert my very first try. Similarly this Met front office believes they are more likely to succeed by promoting a system that will produce elite performers from the scratch of raw physical aptitude rather than relying on occasionally finding the lightning in a bottle that is what we sometimes describe as “a natural.”

In the end the proof is in the pudding as they say, and the first batch of this particular confection will hit the stage late next summer barring some cataclysmic barrage of injuries or misfortune. It will be immensely interesting to see whether it was all worth the wait.


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Pitching and Defense Is In Our DNA Fri, 24 Oct 2014 19:55:18 +0000 Seaver-Koosman-Matlack - Copy

Baseball is loaded with tradition, perhaps more than any other sport, and for good reason. The Mets have their own traditions, their own uniforms and stories passed down to them, their own sacred relics.

Mets tradition is rooted in the Miracle of 1969, and to a lesser degree the 1986 Championship season. Mets tradition is entrenched in the successes of the past, and that success has been, and more than likely will be (should we ever be treated to it again), grounded in lights-out, shutdown, overpowering pitching. Tom SeaverJerry KoosmanDwight Gooden and many other greats led our pitching heavy success stories. The lessons learned? We live and die by our pitching.

Building on previous success emboldens and prepares current generations with winning strategies, confidence, and important lessons. Traditions teach us who we are based on and who we’ve been. They teach us how to conduct ourselves based on how we’ve conducted ourselves in the past. They are an integral part of organizational success and as such should never ever be ignored. To do so is to invite failure.

The Mets of course play in the National League, and have always played their home games in pitchers’ havens. They were conceived during a pitching dominated NL “small ball” era and when you add Shea’s dimensions to their humble origins, you can see the where and why of our fine Mets pitching tradition.

The current generation of Mets is tasked with a monumental task — learning to win. What better way to do that than by looking at what has worked in the past? It’s a hard lesson, particularly after the horrendous failures of our recent history.

Pitching and defense are in our blood… 2–0 games should be ingrained in the DNA of every Met prospect in every Met franchise throughout the minors. This is our template, our formula, our recipe. Embrace the stinginess and the tension Met fans, I’ll take a traditional 2–0 win any day over a 7–3 slugfest.

Traditions are resilient, and I have to say there may even be something magical about them. There is a painful irony to the fact that 2006 ended tragically at the hands of a defense first backstop whose only home run vs. the Mets came in the postseason, against a power laden Met team lacking its traditional pitching first make-up.

Personally, I’ll take deGrom, Wheeler, Harvey, Syndergaard and Montero going forward over any host of boppers and mashers. Just get some great defense and a decent offense to support them. It doesn’t have to be a Murderer’s Row. Embrace the stinginess Met fans, embrace the tension!


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Money Alone Won’t Buy Us Wins… Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:08:41 +0000 rice krispies treats

Money can buy you a lot of stuff but they say money can’t buy the really important things like love and happiness. Still it’s nice to think about what you might do if you had unlimited cash reserves.

I would get my dog his own live-in dog groomer for instance … tired of him stinking up my furniture … in fact I’m tired of him even looking at my furniture. It’s just as well though, if I had a ton of money I’d probably do really silly things with it like fortify my backyard bunker with a 50 year supply of Rice Krispies treats (they can double as soundproofing) and outfit my attack-pigeon training facility with state of the art equipment.

A lot of Met fans gripe about how the Mets are broke. The Mets are broke on account of a low-down-dirty weasel named Madoff who snookered our owners into his Ponzi scheme … for a really long time … this after they’d already been snookered into another Ponzi scheme by a different guy previously … I know, it’s funny how some guys get to be rich in spite of not being very bright.

It used to be that money could buy you wins in baseball. The Yankees and Red Sox have left a trail of success and championships over the past 20 years that is a testament to this. Earlier this season Brian MacPherson wrote a piece in the Providence Journal about the correlation between money and success in MLB, and he demonstrated, convincingly, that money no longer guarantees much.

MacPherson showed how 10 years ago a team’s payroll accounted for around 25% of its success. Since that time a lot has changed, namely revenue – its volume and dispersal. If there’s one aspect to Bud Selig’s legacy that stands out, it’s revenue. Baseball’s revenues have risen each year since 2003, surging from less than $4 billion in 2003 to more than $7 billion in 2011.

bud seligBud Selig has carefully navigated MLB into waters that are bubbling with cash. It reminds me of that H&R Block commercial where there’s an aircraft carrier with pallets of money on it. That’s pretty much MLB.

Through Selig’s deft undermining of free agency via subtle and not so subtle rule changes in the new CBA — allowing for instance the retention of coveted free agents through qualifying offers by handicapping the receiving team with a lost draft pick, and by instituting significant penalties in the draft for paying over slot which for years and years allowed teams with deeper pockets to continue to fortify their farm systems, from revenue sharing to the additional wild card, baseball has done everything in its power to establish greater parity and invigorate smaller markets.

Even the international talent pool has been regulated with predetermined pools of money that teams can use to acquire talent. Smaller market teams are allowed to spend more in addition (as of 2014) to being allowed to trade up to half of that money, which could leave the international talent pool as a kind of last refuge of big spenders.

What we have today is a situation where teams like the Royals and the Orioles and (gasp) the Pirates have as decent a shot as the Red Sox and the Dodgers. Each sporting a cadre of home grown talent and young, cheap, under control stars. Consider for a moment that Baltimore, Kansas City, and Oakland, all playoff teams, were 15th, 19th, and 25th respectively in payroll, and two of those teams are still in the hunt. As MacPherson pointed out, the correlation coefficient between payroll and wins this season is 0.202, which is about like saying there is a correlation between monarch butterfly migration patterns and the consumption of pilsner type lagers in Saskatchewan … I mean, there could be.

Selig has taken a lot of heat over the years for his exploits and oversights, from collusion to contraction to steroids, he’s had his share of ethical quandaries. He has however hoisted upon our Mets a General Manager who is uniquely tailored to the task of adapting a team to the dynamics of baseball in this day and age. From his stockpiling to his sustainability doctrine to his disdain for free agency, Sandy Alderson has positioned the Mets to flourish in an aggregate economy driven by controllable farm-raised assets. He has accumulated a projectable surplus in value irrespective of the negligible contributions (to the parent club) of this surplus, because it can be traded — the value is intrinsic and was developed for nickles on the dollar when you consider what free agents go for.

From a business standpoint the approach is undeniable, if you grow your own you don’t have to pay a premium, and if you have enough of a surplus you can sell at a premium (don’t ask me how I know that!) … So basically, if you grow and train your own attack pigeons for instance you don’t have to worry about having a “critical mass” of birds on hand when religious zealots on bikes or Amway salespeople come knocking. Those of you who laugh I’m guessing never had a pigeon crash into your face … it is not pleasant. You still have to secure the right pigeons and train them — preferably with life-size cardboard cut-outs of Jeff Wilpon and Sean Hannity (I have my reasons!), but this only points to why it is so important to have great scouts and a good development program. In the end, if you can avoid having to rely on free agency in conditions that make it prohibitive, you place yourself at a competitive advantage, it’s that simple.

Money can only go so far. Looking back at the past few off-seasons free agency has not provided the broad selection of elite talent as in years past. Teams are finding creative ways to retain valuable players well into their prime years. We may bemoan a past that afforded us the flexibility to spend, but that past is gone in more ways than one. Baseball, is, was, and will always be, a young man’s game, and those organizations who covet the development of up-and-coming generations of players will continue to thrive.


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Puppets, Puppeteers and Pedagogy, Why Managers Matter Fri, 10 Oct 2014 13:00:36 +0000 terry collins 2

Pedagogy: the method and practice of teaching. From the Greek “ped” (child) and “agogi” (a place where you undergo a test or “trial by suffering” that you learn from – as in “agony”).

We all teach and we all learn throughout our lives. Some of us are better at it than others. There is a misconception in many circles that teaching (and learning) are exclusive to academic settings, and that once a person reaches a level of mastery they graduate to some sort of real world where they no longer stand to benefit from the acquisition of new information. This is of course absurd. I cannot think of a single occupation outside of perhaps the most banal and menial where you would not benefit from continued learning and growth. Those of us who open our minds continue to grow, while those us us who resist the novel and the new, do not.

There is a bias in baseball, one that implies that a player’s physical skills are all that matters. That once a player learns the essentials of the game, he is ready for the big leagues provided he has the physical talent to compete.  And yet this is clearly not the case as nearly half of all high draft picks never make it to the show. You cannot in good conscience say that they didn’t have the tools because they are drafted almost entirely on the merits of their physical gifts. Clearly there is something else at work, clearly there is a psychological, cognitive, and perhaps even emotional aspect to the game that isn’t quite understood in a world of how high can you jump how fast is your bat and how hard can you throw? Consider for a moment what life is like for a kid far from home, cast into a world of “b” list cities, vending machine fare, crummy hotels, and endless grueling bus rides. It’s not for everyone.

A great mystery of Major League Baseball is why the jump to the majors is so difficult for so many. Is it the level of skill? The increased speed and strength and agility required to compete against the best of the best? Or is it something else?

Many have argued that what makes Major League Baseball so difficult is the pressure of the big stage itself. The bright lights and the unforgiving lens of the media and the fans can make the mental aspect of the game overwhelming. In reality it is of course some combination of both, but fans of this great game have often wondered why some organizations, the Cardinals and Braves for instance (Minnesota and Oakland are up there also), seem to routinely produce more viable major league players?

Scouting certainly may have something to do with it, but how often have we seen two players with comparable physical gifts take different paths? One succeeds while the other ends up back in San Antonio working in the old man’s furniture shop. The fact of the matter is that the more time and money an organization invests in a prospect, the greater the chances that prospect will succeed. Mike Piazza was a 62nd round draft pick, but he had a godfather in the organization looking after his needs and he was of a mindset that allowed him to take batting practice for hours on end until his hands bled.

Player development may play a greater role than we think. The pedagogy of preparing young athletes for the rigors and challenges of major league baseball is no small undertaking. It takes a certain kind of person … patient, intelligent, creative, experienced, with impeccable communication skills. They need to be part teacher, part parent, part psychiatrist. Coaches in the minor leagues have a uniquely challenging job. You have to believe that organizations that devote exceptional resources to their player development programs do a better job of producing major league players, and this does in fact appear to be true. The Braves for instance actually employ a mental skills coach who conducts psychological evaluations of potential draft selections for the Scouting Department – his name is Geoff Miller. Mr. Miller has even written a book on “Intangibles.”

terry collins

But this story isn’t about intangibles or even player development. This story is about pedagogy, the teaching and learning involved in competitive baseball. Sandy Alderson came to us with his own set of beliefs and inclinations. His doctrine involves securing young controllable pitching assets, managing the strike-zone, clogging the basepaths — we’ve been over Mr. Alderson’s tenets ad nauseam … But one of his long held beliefs is that the coaching staff  at the major league level shouldn’t be working on teaching a whole lot … they’re maybe tweaking a thing here or there and providing lots of incidental support but not much else.

For this reason Mr. Alderson has always taken a watered down approach to selecting his major league coaching staff … as if his manager is a token figurehead with little impact or influence who more or less goes through the motions of creating a lineup and making fairly cut and dry in-game moves that don’t require a lot of sophistication and don’t amount to much anyway. This goes against virtually everything that Alderson the man represents … from his military background to his experience in academia, he more than anyone should know that leadership and teaching are indispensable.

His approach is one of there only being one leader, one clear chain of command, and field managers who usurp this chain with their own ideas are dangerous because they may deviate from organizational tenets thereby interfering with their integrity and application … But If there’s one thing we know about our species it’s that we’re all different and the best teachers have always been those most tuned into those differences, able to tailor learning tasks to individual needs, able to work around a particular learner’s blocks and shortcomings by being creative, by thinking outside the box, by taking alternate perspectives.

A debate has raged in education in recent years as standardized testing and common core curricula have blanketed the profession making many tenured experienced teachers feel like mindless automatons forced to teach to faulty tests in a system that deprives them of the ingenuity, flexibility, and creativity that was once the driving force of that all important student-teacher bond … teachers know their students better than administrators, test developers, and politicians … managers and coaches know their players better than general managers (and owners).

It’s an odd and peculiar irony that the same micromanaging and standardization plaguing our educational system also presents as quite possibly the biggest impediment that our Mets are facing in their attempt to take the next step. Terry Collins is a veteran’s coach. He’s a guy who says the right things to the media, does what he’s told, and doesn’t make waves, but he is also very, very old. He’s not the motivator, the inspirational leader, the win at all costs find a way to succeed pioneering thinker that this very young team needs.

Terry Collins is not that teacher or coach that we all remember got in our faces and forced us to become better, to look at ourselves, to believe in ourselves and to push through doubt. He just isn’t. It’s not a knock on Collins … I’m sure he is a good person with deep knowledge of the game that might be perfectly suited to any number of other baseball scenarios, but he isn’t a teacher, he is more of a caretaker. This team needs someone who will get personal, who will find ways of helping players solve their issues, be they psychological, physical, or emotional.


A figurehead placeholder, a puppet if you will, cannot do that. No one wants Pinocchio for a boss – as the recent Geico “did you know” commercial points out. Pinocchio doesn’t make for a good inspirational speaker. Puppets aren’t very good listeners either, and if there’s one thing I’ve discovered over the years, it’s that you can’t teach if you can’t listen.

Sometimes refusing to admit you are wrong precludes learning. We’ve all had those moments in our lives when we’ve had to come to terms with our mistakes, and for this front office, they need to confront the possibility that they’ve been fabulously amiss in their approach to selecting a manager for their major league club.

Until that time when the Mets front office recognizes that you can only pull the strings so far and you need someone on the ground who is uniquely involved with his players and who can teach and motivate and solve complex problems, this team will be mired much more in the agony part of pedagogy, than the learning part.

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The Importance Of Securing An Elite Catcher Mon, 06 Oct 2014 14:00:12 +0000 johnny bench

Scarcity: the state of being scarce or in short supply. Scarcity is when you don’t have enough of something you really need, like clean socks and pomegranates – there never seem to be enough pomegranates around when you need them. Pomegranates are a damned delicious fruit … especially if you don’t mind seeds stuck in your teeth.

Anyway, if you are like me and you have just won your MMO Fantasy Baseball League (obligatory fist-pump), you are all about scarcity. There are lots of ways to get production from the outfield — productive outfielders are like the apples of the baseball world. If you shake a stick at a baseball tree a .900 OPS outfielder falls out. Guys like J.D. Martinez and Steve Pearce put out top-tier production for extended stretches at a bargain rate in 2014 and there always seem to be a bunch of hot hitting outfielders that come up late in the season. No, if you want to separate yourself from the competition you’ve got to get production from positions not typically known for offense, you need to find that rare scrumptious Saskatoon blueberry!

Catcher, shortstop, second base and center Field.

When Sandy Alderson and his brainy triumvirate undertook a Mets rebuilding phase in 2010, one of the critical areas they looked at was catcher. They held to the notion that elite catchers in baseball are like great drummers in the rock world – you can’t have a super-group without a great drummer — and you can’t have a playoff team without an outstanding backstop. When you look across the league at the distribution of elite catchers over the past 20 seasons, they seem to appear with inordinate frequency on playoff teams. From Joe Mauer, to Buster Posey, to Yadier Molina, to Victor Martinez, and (more recently) Salvador Perez, an argument can be made that perhaps more than any other position, securing an elite catcher may have the biggest impact on a team’s fortunes.

Now if you want to set the bar high, look no further than Johnny Bench. The Reds’ hall of Fame catcher was like the John Bonham of catchers, no one even came close.  Johnny Bench, who was also the backbone of one of the greatest baseball dynasties in the modern era. And it wasn’t just his offense, he was a tremendous presence defensively. You got the feeling that it would be hard NOT to win with a guy like this on your team.

gary carter out at home

Gary Carter was another example of a player who seemed to direct his teams to the win column by sheer force of will … but an odd thing happens when you look at their production, particularly in terms of WAR. Gary Carter, and Johnny Bench for that matter, don’t rank as high as you’d think. Per Dave Fleming of Bill James Online, Bench’s 5.6/162 WAR ranks most closely with guys like Dick Allen, Larry Walker, and Scott Rolen … All good players but not the earth-shakers in whose elite company you’d expect to see someone like Bench.

And what about Gary Carter? A guy who dominated his position and whose unbelievably positive influence propelled the Mets over the top and right into the history books. He averaged 5.9 WAR from 1977 to 1987, which is certainly good, but it isn’t “elite” good when you look across positions. Carter did have three elite type seasons from 1982 to 1984 where he averaged 7.4 WAR, but when you look at his numbers it does appear that he was already in decline by the time he got to the Mets. What we know of The Kid bears this out – he was famously banged up in 86 but he iced and ace-bandaged himself onto the field and willed his team to victory night after night. His influence on the field remains impossible to quantify; he simply did not allow the Mets to lose. The fact that his decline also coincided with several close-but-not-quite seasons after 1986 should not go unnoticed. The Mets were not quite the same without Gary Carter at the top of his game.

WAR is clearly flawed when it comes to elite catchers. It fails to accurately measure the effect of Gary Carter’s incessant positive coaxing directed at his pitchers, his fearsome competitiveness, his unbelievable energy and interminable tenacity. The fact that It took six years for the BBWAA to vote Gary Carter into the Hall of Fame may unfortunately speak to this numbers bias. Personally I don’t know of anyone who watched Gary Carter play in the early 80′s who wouldn’t consider him a first ballot Hall of Famer. Mike Piazza, another elite Met catcher, has yet to be elected in spite of his career 5.4/162 WAR and gaudy power numbers (or, sadly, perhaps because of them).

The problem with WAR, as Fleming pointed out, becomes apparent not when comparing catchers to catchers, but when comparing catchers to other position players. It’s just not a fair comparison, it’s like saying grapefruits are better than pears because they keep longer and don’t bruise … Catchers have, by far, the most bruising job on the field not to mention the shortest average career span (around five and a half years), A catcher’s production should be looked at through the lens of that hardship if you will — it is precious in a sense because it comes from such a uniquely challenging and unlikely source.

The take away? Elite catchers can improve your team’s chances in a big way, but their performance continues to be maddeningly difficult to assess, with particular caution against comparing production from the catcher’s position to that of other positions. Larry Walker and Scott Rolen were good players, but I would never in a million years put them in the same company as Johnny Bench.

New York Mets v Minnesota Twins

More recently many teams (the Mets and Yankees most prominently) have taken to using extensive statistics on pitch framing. Our very own Travis d’Arnaud, who has been called, among other things, a butcher behind the plate because of his poor throwing and numerous passed balls, nevertheless put together a 1.6 WAR season mostly on the merits of his hitting. Is that accurate? I don’t think so. WAR paints a very narrow picture for catchers, and the absence of pitch framing from these value appraisals is certainly one reason.

Stat Corner ranks TDA as 14th in MLB at the art of pitch framing. The Mets apparently have been meticulously working on improving pitch framing organizationally, (you can read more hereand they appear to have manufactured a good one in d’Arnaud.

Travis has a knack for snatching borderline pitches (especially low balls) back into the strike zone in one fluid twist of the wrist, getting more called strikes on these offerings than just about anyone I can think of in recent memory. Also, among qualified catchers in the second half, d’Arnaud ranks fourth in ISO, tied for fourth in home runs, fifth in wRC+ and sixth in wOBA. Added to his offense and the possibility that his throwing issues were injury related, Travis d’Arnaud may be an elite catcher in the making, if (and that’s a big “if” for any catcher) he can stay on the field.

Between Kevin Plawecki and d’Arnaud the odds are pretty good that we’re going to have decent production from our catchers over the next few seasons. This should, at least in theory, significantly bolster our playoff hopes given the relative scarcity of this type of production. It shouldn’t be lost on us that Gary Carter’s final few elite seasons coincided with a run that bagged us our last world championship.

Met management has done well to fortify our catching ranks with a couple of extremely talented athletes and I very much doubt they will trade either of them … it’s all about supply and demand. Plawecki and d’Arnaud should continue playing for the Mets until two questions can be answered: 1. Can d’Arnaud be counted on to stay on the field? And 2. Will Plawecki’s eye popping numbers translate to the majors? Until then, trading one of two potentially elite difference makers is just too much of a risk.

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In “Defense” Of Fan Generated Statistics Wed, 24 Sep 2014 12:00:40 +0000 Scouts don’t have it easy. They have to sort through thousands of pages of stats and hundreds of prospect profiles every year trying to somehow find the next great talent, picking the ones that maybe have a chance along the road. A road that consists of b-list cities and cut-rate motels.

juan lagares catch

They look for shortcuts, perhaps rely on radar guns too much, recycle existing scouting reports without the opportunity to make their own revisions because, well, it isn’t always possible to be in Wichita and Fresno at the same time. Sometimes a player gets saddled with a label early in their career that may be less and less accurate as the player develops, and sometimes the label sticks … It’s a daunting task procuring the raw material of major league baseball’s talent pool, but by and large, one of the most difficult things a scout has to do is somehow rate and quantify a player’s defense.

It’s difficult not to look at defense through the lens of previous scouting reports. Even as a fan you hear that an infielder has trouble going to his backhand and you end up overly scrutinizing that very skill. Early write-ups often get picked up and spread around by countless media and the description becomes the player’s calling card whether it continues to fit or not, and the proliferation of cut-and-paste second rate outlets hasn’t helped.

Jacob deGrom for instance was picked in the 9th round, and only a year or so ago was ranked below the likes of both Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero. I think it fair to say that is no longer the case. Wilmer Flores is the latest to be pigeon-holed in this manner. The book on Flores was that he couldn’t play shortstop, but outside of the fact that he is unusually slow of foot for a player of his build, there was little else offered in support of this premise. His hands were never the problem, his instincts were adequate, his throwing arm was never really mentioned at all. Most accounts simply dismissed him as incapable of playing shortstop at the major league level and the tale grew in its telling.

Remember as kids when teachers would have us do the experiment where we’d sit in a circle and a message would be passed around and by the time it got to the last person the message would be totally altered and exaggerated? In much the same way it seems one or two initial, and perhaps hasty judgments, were mirrored with a few additional embellishments, until the notion that Flores could play shortstop became a virtual absurdity.

wilmer flores ss

Then we actually got to see Flores play, and what we saw with our own eyes was an infielder without a lot of speed and with (at times) awkward footwork, but his range given his tall lanky frame wan’t that bad, and his arm was very strong and accurate.

His instincts aren’t just ok, they are a strength for a kid of his age and experience. His hands are soft and fluid and he’s got some confidence. Bottom line, he makes the plays and I for one have seen worse. Flores can indeed play major league shortstop.

Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook included this excerpt about Flores in 2012:

“As he fills out his lean frame he could develop 20-homer power, which would be special for a shortstop — but scouts give Flores no chance to stay up the middle. He’s a well below-average runner with heavy feet and substandard range.”

Carson Cistulli added this in a report for Fangraphs, reacting to Baseball America’s analysis: “Not a glowing report, that. And yet, one finds that, in nearly 50 starts at shortstop this year, that Flores has produced commendably average — or at least not disastrously below-average — defensive figures, according both to UZR (+3) and DRS (-2).“

The unfortunate consequence of this propagation of sometimes dated and sometimes less than accurate scouting reports, is that the fans start to take these assessments with a grain of salt. Misinformation weakens the medium until we determine to see for ourselves.

Some sites have recently pioneered stats based on fan perception, particularly in support of defensive metrics which can be flawed and subjective. The idea behind it is that the eyeball test for many is still the best evaluation of a player’s defense. These metrics have proven to be remarkably true indicators, provided enough fan input is garnered. Interestingly enough, Flores’ FSR (Fan Scouting Report) is a -1 overall, which is only slightly below average. I think even Flores’ biggest skeptics have to admit that he is passable as a defender.

Does the eyeball test pass muster? Tom Tango put together a nifty little survey any of us can take, asking only that we be honest and that we evaluate players we are truly familiar with. You can add your input here.

It’s an interesting experiment. Defensive metrics have always been problematic, overly subjective, and difficult to quantify because better defenders naturally take more chances. It stands to reason that fan perception, in this instance, may be at least part of the answer to scouting a player’s defense.

Consider three charts below that look at FSR (fan scouting report), DRS (defensive runs saved) and UZR (ultimate zone rating) … you can see that each line more or less mirrors the others and when you crunch the numbers sure enough UZR correlates positively to FSR at a modest .76 while DRS correlates with FSR at a strong .83.

This makes sense when you think about it as zone rating shouldn’t overlap as evenly with fan ratings (which are the product of a broad set of questions) as defensive runs saved.

drs fsr

All Data Combined


I wouldn’t be surprised to eventually see more fan input used in generating statistics that interpret what are ultimately subjective analyses. No matter how much math you throw at a guy tracking down a fly ball or an infielder going deep in the hole to make a play, there are elements of grace and instinct and intuition that are impossible to quantify.

Our very own Juan Lagares is a virtual personification of this almost magical ability to get to the ball. Interestingly enough Flores’ FSR, while below average, is not abysmal and does reflect an arm with good strength and accuracy. His FSR is also a bit lower than both his UZR and his DRS … His own fans were actually slightly harder on him than those two well established metrics, which in my mind only adds to the measure’s authenticity.

I know a lot of fans out there aren’t keen on sabermetrics and fancy diagrams and using stats to interpret everything from balls in play to downward tilt on a slider, but I think it’s nevertheless exciting to witness the evolution of what has become a spectacular array of analytic options … kind of makes you wish you’d paid more attention in algebra …

*Couple of brief footnotes: The FSR ratings were not complete for the current year so I used the “in progress” ratings which were on a 0 – 100 scale. Secondly I could not include catchers because of UZR … Finally one issue I have with FSR is how some teams garner a lot more input than others, such as the Red Sox with 93 entries and the Mets with 98 … one concern is this may skew the results making them more valid for the teams with more entries.

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Featured Post: It’s Your Move Sandy Sat, 20 Sep 2014 17:17:23 +0000 Sandy Alderson

The other night Gary Cohen mentioned that the Mets currently have the highest winning percentage across their minor league affiliates in all of professional baseball. At some point the hope is it will all translate to the major league level, however, those of us who’ve studied this game for any length of time know that championship teams don’t come pre-assembled off a minor league conveyor belt. There will always be areas of need and holes to fill and without the resources to fill these holes you end up, at best, with good but not great teams.

It’s been an often heard criticism of the Atlanta Braves teams of the 90′s that while they had magnificent pitching they never spent lavishly on top-tier position players, which might be why they only came away with one world title.

Mets fans these days would be thrilled with just a playoff berth, and while we are all excited about the quality of our pitching, we are also concerned about our shortcomings. We have been conditioned to believe we’re going to be better next year, possibly even compete for a wild card or even the division. What we haven’t heard is how we’re going to plug some sizable holes.

As always, and particularly since we are Mets fans, there is a worst case scenario (WCS). In this instance the WCS is that the Wilpons’ financial woes continue to hamstring the team’s ability to secure free agent talent in perpetuity (or until their Willets Point Development gets up and running), which would mean continued frustration and more of these tantalizingly talented but flawed rosters. The prospect of seeing all this promising pitching talent wasted would be beyond nightmarish for most of us. It simply must not be allowed to happen.

The team clearly needs additional power. The lament about Citi Field’s walls and dimensions falls flat when you consider how adept the Nationals are at hitting the ball out of our park – or any other team for that matter.

We need to upgrade several key positions. Presumably we are set at first base, third base, catcher, center field and right. We would benefit mightily from an outfielder with a propensity to hit the ball out of the park, and a SS with some lead-off skills, someone along the lines of Alcides Escobar. Second base is in flux and whether we’ll find a trade partner for Daniel Murphy remains to be seen, but I actually think Wilmer Flores is our second baseman of the future with Dilson Herrera making for an awfully potent trade chip. I like Herrera, and I think he’ll be a great player in time, however, I’m not sure he will ever have the offensive ceiling Flores does. Ideally we’d secure a middle infielder with a lead-off skill set.

It would be nice if we could address power at both SS and OF by signing J.J. Hardy … but that seems like a long shot given our financial constraints and it also fails to address our table-setting problem. We desperately need a lead-off hitter.

There is one player who fits the bill, he is coming off of a poor season and a recent DUI, but he would be about as cheap as they come, especially given his 50 game Biogenesis related suspension last year. We could probably have him for a decent B level prospect or two. I’m thinking of Everth Cabrera. It wouldn’t hurt to bring this guy into the mix given his talent and his ability to hit leadoff. He’s been hurt quite a bit this year but he has shown flashes of being an outstanding player at the top of the order. Jed Lowrie would be nice as well, but again, the table-setting issue.

The combination of not having a true leadoff hitter while also lacking that additional RBI bat has been stifling to the offense. My preference to fill the outfield opening is Michael Cuddyer (who can also play 1B) if we can somehow find a way to afford him. Barring that, we’re in something of a bind. I don’t like Melky Cabrera for a couple of reasons. Word has it he’ll be looking for a “Granderson” type contract, and that makes me cringe as I think of all the flawed outfielders who have crashed and burned in Flushing, but there aren’t a whole lot of hitters on the market that inspire confidence. Part of the problem is Citi Field itself, a difficult landing for any outfielder let alone one with blemishes.

The other option is to unload a truckload of prospects for an established player which is probably even riskier given how many outfielders have come to the Mets only to flop like a stickleback choking on battery acid in Flushing Creek. So, if we can’t sign a big ticket free agent and we can’t trade for a major player because of the inherent risk, what then?

We could go for a “buy low” candidate with the right tools presumably at a reasonable price. Wil Myers is coming off a horrendous season and is, unfortunately, one of the reasons why the Rays sit at 74-78. Whether they are ready to turn the page is another question. Their asking price would likely involve something like Nimmo and Montero or maybe one or two players off the major league roster — with them sending us a pitcher in return, as is their M.O., but the likelihood of a trade like this is slim at best because although Myers is a huge question he nevertheless continues to be immensely talented. He is also under team control until his 2020 season, something the Rays covet. Corey Dickerson might also be a good fit for Citi Field, but again, he wouldn’t be cheap in terms of prospects and you have to wonder how much of his power will transfer. The nice thing about Dickerson is that his speed will play well in Queens.

There are others but most are flawed and/or marginally better than what we might garner from our own ranks. While the likes of CarGo, Kemp, and Ethier are too rich for our blood, Jorge Soler of the Cubs and Oswaldo Arcia of the Twins are both (relatively) cheap and both come from teams with crowded outfields who are short on pitching.

Then there’s Jay Bruce, a guy coming off a career worst season with tremendous power and a track record of producing. Shades of Jeromy Burnitz for sure, but you have to wonder what the Reds would demand and whether something like Niese, Montero, and Herrera would do the trick. Bruce would also involve a spending increase but he’s not outrageous at $12 and $12.5 million owed over the next two seasons with a $13 million option for 2017.

With $7.25 million coming off the books from  Chris Young you’d think Sandy could scrounge together a few million more, but hey lets not get delirious. A guy like Arcia, who is cheaper (not arbitration eligible until 2017), can play a decent OF, and who has some pretty good pop, might be the more likely (and logical) target. Soler would be nice, especially as he is right-handed, but I just don’t see the Cubs moving a guy as talented as Soler who is signed to a 9 year, $30 million dollar contract that may end up being the bargain of the century down the road.

Whatever direction we take, it is clear our options are limited given current financial constraints and Alderson’s reticence on the trade front. This is immensely worrisome given the dreaded and looming “WCS.” A glaring organizational shortcoming has been major league scouting, which does not inspire a lot of faith in the Mets’ ability to improve the team through trade. If I had to chose? Knowing how cheap we are I’d probably trade for Arcia and roll the dice on Everth Cabrera, but that’s just me.

Sandy Alderson and his brainy minions need to earn their keep this off-season, because they cannot, under any circumstances allow the worst case scenario to become reality. They simply must have the presence of mind to understand where the organization is in the here and now, and they need to find a way to take advantage of this wealth of pitching talent while they have it. Additionally, Wright and Granderson are not getting any younger. It’s now or never. Opportunity is knocking, pitching like ours doesn’t come around very often … the Mets front office needs to respond whether they have money to spend or not. To fail in this regard would be a crime against baseball and would put the finishing touches on a lost decade, a “Madoff” decade.

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The Seligification Of MLB Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:00:27 +0000 bud-selig 2

When Bud Selig came through town the other day backfiring like a rusty old Buick though a quiet neighborhood, I braced myself for what he might say half hoping he’d signal some disquiet over the recent discrimination lawsuit filed against our excellent COO Jeffrey Scott Wilpon, but there was nothing of the sort. No reservations, no concern, nothing.

“I monitor everything closely, but that’s employment litigation.” Selig croaked. “There were a lot of charges there. Jeff denies them vigorously. I think in this particular case, they’re going to court, and we’re just going to have to see how it plays out. “

I was going to respond initially with some choice barbs for Mr. Bud but I decided to spare my audience the profanity laden vituperation … Sometimes it’s better to let things settle a while.

My feelings on the subject ranged from irritation to rage to disbelief. The scene from the Lord of the Rings where Treebeard discovers that Saruman has been cutting his trees comes to mind. “A wizard should know better!” Indeed.

An 80 year old father and grandfather of two daughters and five granddaughters should know better. He could have at least thrown in, “we are very concerned about these serious allegations,” just for good merit, but no, nothing. You hope the subject doesn’t come up at the Selig Thanksgiving Day table for Bud’s sake … might get awkward … particularly as one of his daughters, Wendy Selig-Prieb,  was a baseball executive herself with the Brewers.

Fred Wilpon bud seligSome of us are lucky, lucky enough to be in professions where we work more or less unencumbered by the meddling interference of antediluvian dolts. Unfortunately blockheads and imbeciles abound in our society and the hope is that organizations serving the public interest, organizations purporting to be “social institutions,” set appropriate standards to eliminate or at least mitigate the reach and influence of said dullards. That’s the hope. Doesn’t always turn out that way though. Sometimes you are confronted with rampant nepotism and institutional bias. Sometimes you have to deal with overt discrimination, ignorance, and hostility. Sometimes you have to deal with the boss’s nitwit son.

Believe it or not I’m a fairly optimistic person. I like to try and look for the good in people even when I might be upset with them. It probably stems from my work in education. I’ve learned over the years that people, particularly kids, do so much better when you engage their kinder, gentler, positive sides, with praise and encouragement. What bothers me when I read about stories such as the one involving Jeff’s wrongdoings is the revelation that there were others present.

jeff wilponIf any of these allegations are true, it boggles the mind that the token assemblage of yes-men in the room failed to raise a single perfunctory objection. Was there a brother, a father, a husband in the room who took exception to Jeff’s antics? And please, spare me the “none of this has been proven” retort, Jeff has enough of a track record to warrant skepticism even among his most strident supporters …. All three of them.

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe it all comes down to money. Maybe my inclination to close my briefcase walk out of the boardroom and turn in my resignation should such events confront me is why I’ve never been part of such a boardroom in the first place. No one wants to risk their livelihood or their salary – honor and integrity be damned.

And that’s where we come back full circle to Mr. Selig.  I imagine Bud to be the sort of guy who would sell you a 2002 Crown Vic with a bad transmission, and then, if you tried to return it he’d point out that you purchased the vehicle “as is” …

“See,” he’d say looking down his spectacles. “Right there in the fine print.”

bud-selig 1The Mets, according to Bud, “are doing things the right way.” They are building from within. They’re fortifying their farm, undermining the salary structure, driving costs down, and showing that you can in fact run a big market team on a shoestring budget and minimize losses (or widen your profit margin). The Mets have been exhibit A in Selig’s small-marketization campaign — the Seligification of MLB …

The Mets have also shown that even when your team’s owners become embroiled in the biggest Ponzi scheme in the nation’s history they will somehow come out of it with their ownership intact if they know the right people. Yippee! You’re out of luck Mets fans. You’re stuck with crappy owners and unfortunately there’s no lemon law in baseball.

What I think most Mets fans fail to grasp is that like the dynamic in any boardroom dominated by a powerful nincompoop, there are far too many among us who will sit idly by and compromise their integrity for a bigger bonus or a fatter check.

MLB owners love Selig in spite of his enabling during the steroid era, in spite of his double standard treatment of Frank McCourt relative to the Wilpons, in spite of his blatant misrepresentation “crying poverty” during contraction talks involving the Twins and Expos, in spite of his heavy handed and manipulative treatment of the Astros… In spite of all that, the owners sit around the boardroom in adoration of their glorious pockmarked monarch. Why? Because he’s helped them make obscene amounts of cash … and, I guess, that’s all that matters?

Honor and integrity be damned.

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The Outrage Of It All: Another Violation Of Public Trust Fri, 12 Sep 2014 18:10:06 +0000 Queens Flushing Meadows

My parents did a lot of embarrassing stuff when I was a kid. As immigrants who spoke very little English, they faced their share of challenges adapting to life in the big city.They once walked into a dry-cleaners thinking it was a clothing store with my mom looking at the receipts, amazed at how inexpensive the dresses were. On another occasion, having clarified the meaning of the word “boiled,” she ended up boiling already boiled lunch meat … that was some chewy ham right there.

The most embarrassing thing of all was how she’d occasionally venture out into the park spaces around our neighborhood, in search of dandelions. My friends, genuinely curious, would ask, “Hey man, why was your mom digging up the grass in the park?”  My responses would vary from, “Oh that wasn’t my mom,” to, “Our chinchilla will only eat fresh greens,” to “I think she lost her wedding ring or something.”

What I didn’t want them to know was that after she’d gathered a good shopping bag full of dandelion leaves, she’d boil them in a pot, douse them in olive oil and lemon juice and serve them to us as a side with broiled porgies from the fish store. Of course the greens were delicious and we never complained — least not as long as she promised to stay away from places where people would, you know, walk their dogs.

Little did I know then that my mother was violating the public trust. She was never cited. The Bureau of Land Management didn’t slap the cuffs on her or take away her trowel. You might recall how only a few months ago, a certain cowboy situated only a hundred miles or so from where our Las Vegas 51’s play their home games, brought about an armed confrontation with the feds over whether his cattle could graze on public land. It occurred to me that my family had grazed on public land my whole childhood and no one even noticed. Of course we didn’t eat as much as several hundred head of cattle, but still, the principle … anyway, as I continued to peruse the myriad of anti-Wilpon rants and diatribes the other day, I came across a couple of interesting pieces.

The New York Law Journal published an article on August 21st by Joel Stashenko reporting on Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Manuel Mendez’ dismissal of a claim against, you guessed it, Sterling Equities and Related Companies.

Sen. Tony Avella and a consortium of neighborhood businesses brought a claim against the Willets Point Development asserting it violates the public trust doctrine which prohibits “non-park” projects from being built on top of parkland without approval of New York State Legislature.

A 1961 law permitted owners of the NY Mets to use a portion of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in constructing Shea Stadium, but it was understood that this law did not apply to new construction. Citi Field, it could be argued was new construction, but in so far as it effectively replaced the old outdated venue, it was deemed permissible, however, it also opened the door to broader revitalization efforts. Mendez argued,

“The public trust doctrine does not apply,” Mendez wrote in Avella v. City of New York, 100161/14. “Administrative Code §18-118[b] applies to the use of the property for a shopping mall, because it will serve the public purpose of improving trade or commerce. The legislature in designating other purposes for the use of the property has already resolved the issues related to the public trust doctrine.”

willets point

So as I understand it, parkland adjacent to Citi Field would no longer be available for the pilfering of dandelion greens or any other public use because the 27 acre site would be paved over and turned into, among other things, a hotel, an apartment complex, a movie multiplex, and a $3 billion, 1.4 million square foot mall. So you can forget about getting that discounted alternator for your 2001 Galant from your favorite chop shop.

Now you may ask, what does this have to do with baseball and the New York Mets? You can barely tolerate arugula, you say? You couldn’t care less about dandelions and the Wilpons’ behemoth development? Well, Michael Geus over at 2 Guys Talking Mets put it all together in a brilliant piece on September 8th where he in essence argued that the Mets are a toxic asset and that the Wilpons or any sane owner would cash out and settle their debts were it not for some ulterior motive.

Now I always thought the Wilpons clung to the Mets for the prestige and honor inherent in owning a baseball franchise in baseball’s biggest market, because they saw it as a family heirloom, yada yada. Geus argues it isn’t that at all, that the real reason they hold onto the team is because owning the Mets offers the WIlpons unique rights to to their little corner of WIllets Point, a.k.a. Flushing Meadows-Corona Park … our Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

So which is it? I’ve argued ad nauseam that the Mets are all the WIlpons have, a blue and orange badge of respectability, an honor like no other that gains them access to circles and country clubs and the back pages. In the grand hierarchy of New York royalty, the Wilpons would be a footnote in a real estate magazine without the Mets. On the other hand, you have this prospect that the Wilpons are really holding onto the Mets because team ownership offers them the opportunity to develop a sizable chunk of NYC park space for considerable personal gain.

jeff wilpon

The bitter irony in all of this is that Justice Mendez’ controversial decision (which is being appealed by the way), not only violates land use regulations for property held in public trust, but the Wilpons continue to violate the public’s trust as irresponsible stewards of a major baseball entity.

They stubbornly maintain control of our beloved franchise, in spite of their sweeping incompetence and staggering ambivalence to the public’s needs. Insult, say hello to injury.

It is probably some combination of the Wilpons’ desire to redeem their family’s sports legacy and the potential windfall from the massive WIllets Point development that pushes them to sustain their hold on the Mets.

My mom did eventually refrain from her old-world habit of collecting greens from the park, if only to spare us the embarrassment. It’s a shame our ownership group lacks the decency to spare us all the embarrassment of their flawed and crippling hegemony.

Sadly, no amount of embarrassment, not involvement in two Ponzi schemes, not a reputation for being one of the most ineffectual ownership groups in the game, not a sexual discrimination lawsuit, nothing short of MLB intervention or outright default will prompt the WIlpons to sell. It isn’t a matter of dignity. If there were any shred of that left they’d sell for the good of a game they purport to love. No, it is a tragic confluence of pride, hubris, and greed, that keeps our Mets tethered indelibly to their folly.

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Featured Post: Wilpon’s Legacy And A Fool’s Hope Tue, 09 Sep 2014 15:24:02 +0000 The 2015 schedule is hot off the presses as the Mets wrap up their sixth losing season in a row. Please try to contain your excitement.

The latest hot potato is whether or not the Mets should bring back manager Terry Collins next season… As if that will make one hell of a difference… You know what the real problem is with this team… Don’t you?

How did we get into this mess?  

Let’s face it, the Mets are really all the Wilpons have. No one cares about office buildings or investment securities, but the Mets, well, the Mets have a mascot with a giant head who lacks vocal cords — the Mets get airtime on Letterman and the Daily Show and TMZ. It is thus perhaps as good a time as any to consider how Fred Wilpon came to own our Mets in the first place and what this ownership group continues to represent for fans who desperately want to believe there is yet hope for our franchise.

nelson doubleday

Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz have always appeared vulnerable to the perception that they burst onto the scene as Johnny-come-lately’s (compared to old money blue-bloods like Nelson Doubleday), ascending to ownership on the wave of a real-estate boom as a couple of tenement flipping nouveau riche guys from Bensonhurst (no, not the fat bus driver and the sewer worker). Wilpon was a West Egger to Doubleday’s East Egg (if I may cite Gatsby), and Katz’ giant brass balls (of note in a notable New Yorker piece) notwithstanding, Doubleday made no qualms about his disdain for Fred.

You see Doubleday never forgave Fred for the manner in which he took over half ownership. Nelson Doubleday had even more to say about the way he was low-balled during his buy-out proceedings. N.D. considered the “first refusal” clause that Wilpon used to match Doubleday’s ownership percentage (after the sale of Doubleday & Co.) underhanded because Doubleday never intended that the Mets be part of the deal. The clause was nevertheless present in the fine print as a standard if not forthright real estate maneuver.

Down the road the two sides would end up in some nasty litigation when Doubleday balked at Robert Starkey’s appraisal of the franchise’s value after Doubleday and Wilpon finally agreed to part ways. Doubleday may have had a point as Starkey was a crony of Selig’s dating back to Bud’s Brewer days. But in the end you get the sense that Doubleday had had enough and wanted to be done with his marriage to the Wilpons.

Early in the dissolution negotiations Richard Sandomir of the NY Times reported that Doubleday openly doubted Wilpon’s ability to come up with the kind of money he’d need to buy him out and implied he’d be more than willing to purchase Fred’s share. I believe Doubleday would have bought Wilpon out in a heartbeat if he had the opportunity as he never really intended to share the Mets with Fred.

nelson doubleday fred wilpon

Doubleday knew you don’t just wake up one day hundreds of millions of dollars richer unless your dear old dad leaves it to you in a trust fund, and Wilpon’s father was just an undertaker from Brooklyn.

These comments by N.D., when looked at through the lens of the Madoff debacle (it is speculated that Wilpon’s involvement with Madoff dates back to around 1986), make one wonder what percentage of Wilpon’s new-found financing power wasn’t perhaps leveraged by artificial means.

Of course the case for Doubleday wasn’t helped by the fact that he was a pompous and obscenely wealthy eccentric who occasionally let slide anti-Semitic slurs (detailed in “Lords of the Realm” by John Helyar), but he had a knack for knowing when to splurge on the fans and when to spoil his grandchildren. Doubleday also didn’t endear himself to Commissioner Selig as a long time supporter of Selig’s predecessor, Fay Vincent.

Nelson Doubleday ran further afoul of MLB when quotes were leaked from his lawsuit against Wilpon implying the following against Major League Baseball:

“In a desperate attempt to reverse decades of losses to the MLB Players Association – MLB was determined to manufacture phantom operating losses and depress franchise values.”

If Selig wasn’t on Doubleday’s side before those comments you have to believe he didn’t have a lot of warm feelings for him afterwards.

The wording in the lawsuit specifically struck a chord that Donald Fehr and the Players Association were harping on. Selig threatened Doubleday with a million dollar lawsuit and soon afterwards T.J. Quinn of the New York Daily News reported that the quote “was not written by Doubleday or his associates, according to sources.”

Doubleday eventually apologized to MLB and the commissioner’s office for questioning Selig’s integrity and for any controversial comments in light of ongoing collective bargaining negotiations. Doubleday went on to say that his lawyers worded and filed the lawsuit without specifically informing him of the implication that MLB was making attempts at systematically devaluing franchise values by drumming up artificial losses (accusations that in retrospect seem almost prophetic given Selig’s now notorious devices in this regard). Needless to say, Doubleday all but sealed his exit from the owner’s club with these actions and the Wilpon Era began in earnest.

Since that time, Doubleday has come to be seen as the magnanimous and colorful figure who presided over one World Series title and another World Series appearance. Fairly or not, he’s accepted as largely orchestrating the triumph of 1986 by hiring Frank Cashen.

From the time of purchase in 1980 when he bought the Mets from the Payson family for $21.1 million, Doubleday was warmly received as a kind of rescuer. Doubleday fulfilled that promise in 1986, and furthered his rapport with the fans by openly pushing for the Mike Piazza deal over Fred’s balmy reservations.

Nelson was well-liked by the fans and his absence left an image vacuum in the owner’s box that Wilpon never really seemed comfortable filling. Fred, on the other hand, got off to a bad start with the fans by being the thin dour-faced fellow with way too much hair gel who elbowed his way into the partnership that eventually pushed Doubleday out of the picture. Doubleday became a kind of betrayed would-be savior in hindsight, whether that designation was deserved or not.

fred wilponFred Wilpon’s efforts in filling the ownership vacuum became an exercise in how NOT to conduct a public relations campaign. Doubleday wore bright outfits and had a big personality while Wilpon’s sullen and reserved demeanor and ridiculous paranoia over his own public image led to some awkward missteps both with the press and the fans.

Wilpon seemed to become obsessed with cultivating and maintaining a sterling reputation, as he and Katz seemed to be caught in a perpetual public relations struggle against the perceived notion that there was little separating them from run-of-the-mill, moneybag slum-lords.

You can imagine Fred perhaps even feeling ostracized as a new-money “East Egger” (the Madoff proceedings might have all but cemented that perception for some), but in the end they did still own the Mets, and that was their great redeemer. The Mets are their legacy, their badge of honor, their Plaza Hotel, their claim to elite standing. If the Wilpons had a family coat of arms the Met “NY” would be at its center.

Owning the Mets gained admission for them to all sorts of exclusive circles and country clubs that only the likes of Doubleday were formerly privy to. For these reasons (among others) there is not a snowball’s chance in hell the Wilpons are going to give up the Mets unless they absolutely have no choice, unless the team is pried from their cold… Well you get the picture.

Sadly, Fred’s desire to keep the Mets “in the family” speaks to an identity driven disregard for the “public domain” component of a Major League baseball club and its loyal fan base. His own dream of bringing the Dodgers back and filling the abdicated longings of a failed baseball career and a childhood marred by the loss of his beloved team not only hints at his own self aggrandizement, but points to a profound misunderstanding of the true Met ethos. Our unique identity — born from the modernist intonations of the 1964 Worlds Fair — not only stands apart from old New York baseball culture, it is in many ways diametrically opposed to it. The Mets are all that is new and different, quirky and inventive, and of course, charming.

The Mets are lovable in losing, and occasionally boisterous and unstoppable. They are Tom Seaver and Cleon Jones and Tug McGraw and Lee Mazzilli and Strawberry and Doc Gooden and many other wildly talented players. Wilpon believed he could superimpose his own perceptions on the franchise rather than allow the fans to drive the team’s culture and heritage.

wilponThe Dodger inspired edifices and rotundas of Citi Field may seem like passing slights to the team’s true character, but they point to an owner who is hopelessly out of touch. It is difficult to envision how these owners, given their history, could possibly prevail upon whatever faculties are available to them to bring about a Met renaissance. Much like Gatsby, no amount of lavish parties or helicopter rides during spring training will convince anyone that they are legitimate to their ambitions.

Like Pandora, Wilpon has let loose all manner of calamities on our Mets, while making every attempt to shut the door on our last remaining hope; a forced sale.

But we should not begrudge Fred Wilpon’s unwavering determination to hold onto our team. He is resolute even if unable to apportion sufficient resources to effect success while standing in the way of letting another buyer do so.

For Fred, the Mets are all he has separating him from all the other filthy rich West Eggers. Citi Field is the one deed he can hold up to the snooty Doubledays of this world to show that he has something they don’t.

No, Fred’s not giving up this team, not any time soon. We’re pretty much stuck with these guys unless the team continues to crap itself for several more seasons or things take another dramatic turn for the worse. Our only real hope is that Sandy Alderson is all that he’s cracked up to be, and it’s a fool’s hope at that.

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Finding Hope In A Homegrown Outfielder Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:00:25 +0000 Chris+Young

My daughter and I have this running joke involving the Mets… I tell her they’re going to be great next year and when next year comes around she makes fun of me and the Mets. You see she’s not a huge baseball fan, but by extension she probably knows more than most Midwestern 17 year old girls, and she’s acutely aware of me and her brother’s pipe dreams of the Mets in the post season, which doesn’t help.

Every year she points out how bad they are and every year it’s the same refrain, “just wait, you’ll see.” Sadly, the “better days are just around the corner” mantra has gotten so stale it’s begun to reek like a forgotten take-out carton that has developed a life of its own in the back of your fridge.

The other day she pointed out that the Mets have a losing record and are mired in 4th place. I immediately retorted with several handy tidbits about our rejuvenated farm system. Now for those of you who have raised teenage girls, there’s this thing they do where they roll their eyes and dismiss you with a wave of their hand… she’s got that thing down pat.

“But, but, you don’t understand. This time they really do have a shot at being competitive … they’re getting  Matt Harvey back next year.”

“Uh huh … whatever dad.”

Not much you can say to that. It occurred to me after this exchange that it is starting to get old. She was like 9 the last time the Mets made it to the post season. In kid time that’s like a thousand years ago. But honestly, there comes a point when you simply have to cash out whether you are ahead or not and admit that it isn’t happening.

I’ve been a staunch supporter of Sandy Alderson throughout this rebuilding or restructuring or whatever you want to call it. As a fellow jarhead I thought it my moral obligation to support him, “esprit de corps, Semper Fi, oooh rah.”  But at the end of the day when it comes to my Mets I feel like I’d like to know whether there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. I really, really need to know.

Our farm system has been overhauled to be sure. Our minor league affiliates are thriving and are loaded with talent, particularly on the pitching end. We have a budding crop of position players with real promise nearing their harvest dates and everyone loves Nimmo (I have rights to the sitcom). The farm isn’t the problem.  Paul DePodesta isn’t the problem — as the man in charge of amateur and minor league scouting he’s done an outstanding job and deserves a ton of credit.

On the major league side the track record isn’t as promising. This past winter we signed two outfielders, Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. Our return on the $22 million those two made this year has been a combined .2 WAR (!), with Chris Young coming in dead last on the team (-0.6). That’s not good, in fact it’s about as nauseating as a whiff of that take-out carton.

In 2013 we signed a kid named Cowgill who was tabbed as our starting center fielder only to flame out faster than the human torch doing the ice bucket challenge. Later that season we traded for Eric Young, a move that was roundly praised at the time, only a year later what we’ve learned is that Eric Young is indeed the 4th outfielder/pinch runner type everyone said he was, and the guy we gave up? He is pitching to a 2.89 era with a 1.09 whip with well over a strikeout per inning. Collin McHugh has been lighting up the American League West while Eric Young rides the pine.

So, the question remains, where is the accountability when it comes to scouting the majors? With the exception of Marlon Byrd, who was (at the time) a wild coin toss if ever there was one, our track record for scouting outfielders has been abysmal. The fascinating thing is that it doesn’t end with Sandy Alderson’s tenure. The Mets as an organization have always struggled to find outfielders. Oh there’ve been a few notable good ones. Straw and Mookie and Dykstra, and Omar Minaya did sign Carlos Beltran, the best of the lot. But as an organization the Mets have struggled to consistently draft, develop, sign, or even trade for outfielders.

george foster

Not counting the 2014 draft, the Mets have drafted 72 outfielders in the first 5 rounds during the 49 year history of the MLB draft. Of those 72, 18 made it to the majors. Of those 18, only five have become major league regulars. That’s roughly one every 10 years or so.  You can read more about that here.

When we have made attempts at filling holes with reclamation projects or less than complete yet serviceable major league free agents, the results have been disastrous almost across the board. From George Foster to Bobby Bonilla, and Chris Young to Gary Mathews Jr, and Jason Bay to Curtis Granderson, Flushing is the place where once-excellent outfielders come to die.

Now clearly you’ve got to have an outfield if you want to compete … there’s no doubt about that. Sandy Alderson needs to address the issue of his coin toss track record signing free agents (actually he’d probably have landed better players over the past few years had he actually tossed coins). You can’t expect to win if you are categorically incapable of signing a decent major league free agent.

Then again …

juan lagares scores b&w

As my daughter was about to walk away I said,

“Wait wait, hold on a second … take a look at this.” I pulled out my handy new iPad and clicked on a Juan Lagares highlight reel.  She couln’t help glance at it (the resolution is amazing) … After pretending to sort of watch the first catch her attention was fixed.

“Wow … who is that?” She said.

“That my dear is Juan Lagares,” I said my chest swelling with pride … “The best center fielder in baseball.”

“You see,” I said. “He is a product of our farm system.”

“Hmm … “ she said and walked away without her customary disparaging zinger (which incidentally gave me an immeasurable dose of hope — again you have to know teenagers to understand  why).

Free agents? Eh, who needs them.

Now if we could only land a halfway decent free agent (or two) this off-season, well, maybe… maybe we’d have something.

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You Gotta Have Heart, And A Little Crazy Helps Too Thu, 21 Aug 2014 12:00:28 +0000 MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets

David Wright is sounding like a desperate man these days. He’s seeing his power numbers evaporate and he’s had to bear another year entrenched in a mediocre lineup on a mediocre team.

He’s got everything a man could wish for. A great apartment, buckets of money, a gorgeous wife and a great job … but his dream of a world series eludes him. David is a good guy, by all accounts he’s liked and respected by just about everyone. He signs autographs, visits children in hospitals, and does his best to put a happy face on a beleaguered franchise.

I’d wager that if David got a visit from “Mr. Applegate” (A.K.A. the Devil) offering to return him to his former slugging form he’d be mightily tempted. The reference is of course to the musical Damn Yankees, where a poor long suffering fan of the Washington Senators is lured into offering up his soul to secure that slugger his team desperately needs. Mr. Applegate turns poor Joe Boyd into Joe Hardy, the power hitter the team requires. David Wright would probably have to leave his wife, sharpen his spikes and charge the mound now and then … I doubt he could continue to be Mr. nice-guy … not with his soul in hock.

I could see the plot of Damn Yankees played out in our own backyard. A young ambitious Fred Wilpon approached by Mr. Applegate (as Bernie Madoff) in the lead up to 1986, promising him untold riches, a World Series and sole ownership of the Mets … for a price of course. After a dark and tense negotiation and a brief moment when it’s almost called off (after Wilpon tries to throw in his first born) it’s done.

Of course things didn’t turn out the way Wilpon wanted … that’s usually how these Faustian things go. In the play, Mr. Applegate was defeated by Joe Boyd’s true love for his wife Meg, but in real life Fred WIlpon’s only true love (the Dodgers) could never love him back, and so he is hung out to dry, bamboozled, hoodwinked … and as soon as the ink dries on the contract the ball gets through Buckner and his fate is sealed.

It’s a cautionary tale. Be careful what you wish for, don’t sell out, never give up on your convictions or your integrity for the sake of worldly success … but those words begin to ring hollow when you’re mired in a historic stretch of offensive futility.

The Mets win when they’re mean, when they’re a nasty dirty bunch of brawlers, when they routinely knock you down and punch you in the face if you make a run at them anywhere near the third base line. The Mets have sold out their roots and heritage by promising to be good. In the immortal words of Patches O’Houlihan, sometimes “You have to get angry, you have to be MEAN!”

But it’s not easy to be mean when you are constantly taking the high road and your captain reminds people of Spongebob’s kinder gentler nephew. You might get into heaven, but you probably won’t win a pennant.

Tom Seaver on many occasions reminisced about his days as a young ballplayer in California and often pointed to his time in the Marine Corps as a turning point. While many athletes in his position would have hesitated to devote that much time from their budding careers to the military, Tom Terrific attributed much of his toughness and strength to his service time, training with an organization designed to destroy and annihilate … an organization designed primarily for killing and maiming.

The venerable Gil Hodges shared this background with Seaver and between the two of them you had a couple of tough S.O.B’s anchoring that 1969 championship team … Then, again in 1986 you had perhaps one of the most sordid and undesirable (albeit talented) collection of deviants you could put into a single uniform take the field in Flushing, and they too proceeded to handily stomp nicer teams across the league.

It’s a cruel irony that in the years since (the Wilpon years), the team has become as straight laced and goody-two-shoes as the Waldo rich kid character in The little Rascals … I remember Darla pining “Oh Waldo!” But Waldo always lost in the end, beaten by low down dirty tricks and sneaky contraptions … a fire engine with a spring loaded boxing mitt or a speed boat with ducks harnessed to a wagon wheel as an engine. The little rascals didn’t fight fair, and they always ended up getting the girl in the end.

These 2014 Mets are nothing like Spanky and Alfalfa and Buckwheat, but they are a lot like other Mets teams of the past 20 years. They play fair, they don’t retaliate, they offer friendly smiles to the other team and routinely exchange pleasantries with opposing first basemen. Prior to Sandy Alderson and the rule changes, they adhered to slot recommendations religiously in the draft, draining their farm of talent at a time when every other big market team was stocking up. You have to go back to Ty Wiggington if you wonder when the last time a Met bowled over a catcher was. It makes one question why this Met organization is so inclined to the high road, the gentler more polite road, the losing road.

I’ll tell you why, it is Fred Wilpon’s penance on this great green earth that he be foiled by the very principles that were routinely urinated on by the 86 squad … Wilpon sold out to a criminal mastermind who orchestrated the financial backing necessary for him to secure ownership, and as punishment the Mets are now doomed, cursed … too nice to win, too gentlemanly to retaliate, too kind to knock a batter down — even when their own nicest of fellows is plunked perilously close to his noggin by a lowly Cubs team with nothing to play for. It’s like the plot of Damned Yankees without the happy ending.

Now I’m not saying Terry Collins should seek out the Devil and make a deal, these things have a way of backfiring, and besides, finding old scratch might not be easy in light of Bud Selig’s imminent retirement … but this too kind to let the other team lose gentleman’s game has no place in Queens. This is New York for crying out loud. Maybe this nauseating institutionalized tenet towards niceness was implemented in response to the ruinous amoral disintegration of their would-be dynasty, but surely, 28 failed seasons later the Wilpons must realize that good guys finish last, right? They must on some level understand that the bad guys won the last time their organization took it all?

Matt Harvey gave us a little taste last year of what it’s like to pour gasoline over a duct-taped opponent and threaten them with a Zippo lighter, while Zack Wheeler is showing signs of breaking this benevolent buffoonery with his fondness for kneecaps … but around the diamond we continue to be hamstrung by a sad and lugubrious shortness of crazy. You gotta have heart as the song goes, you have to have the courage to occasionally go off the high road and do something really really stupid.

Like John Blutarski famously said, “What the f#@& happened to the (Mets) I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you’re gonna let it be the worst. “Ooh, we’re afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble.” Well just kiss my @$ from now on! Not me! I’m not gonna take this. Harper, he’s a dead man! Freddie Freeman, dead! Strasburg … “

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Mets Are More ‘Clutch’ Than The Nats, Statistically Speaking Sat, 16 Aug 2014 16:16:33 +0000 eric campbell homers

Judging from comments on my twitter feed, I’d venture to guess that the prevailing emotion among Mets fans out there for this season is abject frustration. While there are times when we are offered glimmers of hope and slivers of consistency, they tend to be quickly snuffed out. The team itself is probably more likeable than it has been in a while, but the constant RISP and LOB trends tend to put a proverbial damper on these good feelings like a wet wool blanket tossed on uncle Jimmy after his little bbq accident at the 4th Of July get together. We’re left with that nasty smell of burnt forearm hair and losses that should have been wins.

I can’t remember a season so full of “could have beens.” I honestly believe we might have easily been 8 or 10 wins up in the win column if only we’d had a few things break our way, if only we had a few more clutch hits. The Mets, post 2006, have been plagued with the worst label you can have as a team, they are perceived as unclutch. More recently they seem capable of pitching well enough, they’ve repaired a chronically leaky pen, but the team as a whole continues to struggle with scoring runs in high leverage situations. Is this apparent perception borne out statistically?

The world of sabermetrics seems to put out a new stat every week, and each one more complex than the last. I actually read an article a couple of days ago that asked you to refer back to first year calculus, that’s like asking me to refer back to my time in the birth canal. There are some things I’d rather not remember. There is actually a stat now called “clutch.” Clutch = (WPA / pLI) – WPA/LI. It is a measure loosely based on something called sequencing and “performance bunching.” In a nutshell, clutch measures a team’s ability to group fortuitous events together with productive results.

Take the Nats series for instance, the Mets left a bunch of runners on base, and inning after inning seemed to string hits together only after getting two outs, which resulted in being repeatedly turned away without scoring — they had a clutch score of -0.07 (0 = average). The Mets, ostensibly, appear to be extremely unclutch, however, when you take a closer look, the numbers don’t exactly bear this out. They have a whopping -44 rdif and according to fangraphs, offensively are the tenth most “clutch” team in baseball with a rating of -0.20. Are you kidding me?

Mets hitters are actually more “clutch” than the Nationals (the Nats have a clutch rating of -0.44) … Why?? I don’t know … THIRD BASE! But before I add another “and I don’t give a damn,” Lou Costelloism, I should mention that given what the Mets have accomplished statistically, they have won more games than they should have. Wonderful, so the Mets are actually pretty clutch given how bad they are. That makes about as much sense as saying a pig can fly fairly well considering he’s a pig … but I get it.

This my friends is why we may be stuck with Terry Collins. The numbers gurus are quick to dump out buckets of stats showing that given what the Mets have produced, they’ve actually won more games than they should have. Right now the most clutch teams in baseball are the Royals, the Orioles, the Red Sox (really?), the Yankees, and the Braves, the least clutch teams are the Twins, the Rockies, the Angels, the Rays, and the Cubs. The Mets currently have a .471 winning percentage, however, BaseRuns a statistic that strips away variation from performance and tells you in a sense what a team should have done were it not for sequencing and “clutch events,” says the Mets should have a .458 winning percentage.

Statisticians are also quick to point out that clutch is meaningless, primarily due to the inordinately high probability of regression. According to their theory, the Giants were never really better than the Dodgers, they have simply been extremely clutch, similarly they cite the Orioles and the Royals as examples of teams that are currently running ahead of their competition contrary to actual on field performance … again mostly because they’ve been lucky enough to group or sequence productive events (they’ve been clutch). Regression, however, is unavoidable. Jeff Sullivan of fangraphs recently showed in convincing detail that there is no such thing as clutch … clutch is simply a grouping of productive events that happens to coincide with high leverage situations, it is random and thus highly vulnerable to regression. Which means the Mets, given their production, may end up losing at an even higher rate than they have thus far.

Now I am not familiar enough with what goes into these statistics to comment on whether clutch performances are anomalies on a team level and whether regression is inevitable. If it is then the Royals will not win their division and the Rays will make a run at some point, but some teams, the Orioles and Giants come to mind, appear to be consistently “clutch” which runs contrary to league regression trends. There are outlying examples of teams that do not regress. In these instances there may be opportunities for determining whether there are in fact occasional examples of teams that have been for whatever reason capable of bunching improbable productive events together consistently. We saw this first hand with the Giants. An error here, a passed ball there, and poof, they snatch a win from the jaws of defeat. Maybe clutch has something to do with not being bright enough to be nervous in a situation where you should be nervous … Hunter Pence, that poor man’s wanna-be Brandon Nimmo, comes to mind. Who knows. I sure don’t.

If I had to guess I would say that clutch hitting does not correspond accordingly with clutch pitching, if it did I’m sure the Nats with their 17 WAR for pitching would have a higher overall clutch rating. While the Mets have failed to produce on par with a .471 winning percentage, their pitching has been stifling at times and I think clutch pitching performances are more difficult to qualify than clutch hitting performances because of all the myriad situational nuances that go into a pitcher’s mound presence and execution. Tom Seaver by most accounts would be considered a clutch pitcher, but he was also really really good. I would wager the 1969 Mets were an extremely clutch team if you go off of their production, but I’d also wager the teams who faced the Mets down the stretch and in the playoffs in 1969 didn’t think clutchness had anything to do with it … they simply overwhelmed you with pitching.

What worries me in light of all this is that our current front office’s adherence to sabermetrics dictates that the team is performing above it’s capabilities, which would imply their coaching staff and manager are doing a great job. The problem with this approach is it is an after the fact analysis. The Mets have not produced but have somehow won more than they should have given their production … unfortunately one of the reasons they’ve failed to produce is a problematic roster and an even more problematic allocation of playing time from said roster. It is akin to a baker using the wrong ingredients in a cake that ends up tasting terrible and giving him a pass because, well it isn’t fair to expect a cake with the wrong ingredients to taste good.

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Quality vs. Quantity: Can The Mets Sustain Their Pitching Dominance? Wed, 13 Aug 2014 14:07:39 +0000 In what is becoming an ongoing commentary on the effectiveness of the Mets braintrust’s primary approach to returning the organization to relevance, namely their institutional focus on pitching, we are poised for yet another test. Over the past few days the Mets have been hit with a mixed bag of essentially bad news on the pitching front with their ROY candidate Jacob deGrom going down with elbow tendinitis, their closer Jenrry Mejia disclosing a sports hernia, and Jeremy Hefner looking like he’s headed for another TJ surgery.

How well the Mets weather this incursion into their vaunted pitching depth will go a long way in revealing whether our arms stockpile is in fact paying off. The Mets, who continue to be one sweep of the Nats (granted easier said than done) from climbing into the thick of it, already have their pitching to thank for this hanging around consolation, but whether Montero can step into deGrom’s rotation spot and tread water will be a considerable measure of the quality of our development programs.

rafael montero throws

Montero is an interesting case in his own right. This time last year Montero was a far greater subject of major league projections than deGrom — a converted infielder with elbow surgery in his past. Montero’s performance in spring training was, to me, eye opening because as with any young control pitcher you worry about major league hitters clobbering him, but Montero showed persistence and resilience, bending but not breaking, (much like early Wheeler — before his transformation into a different animal).

Then came his stint in the majors, which was, in a word, puzzling. He appeared to be avoiding the inside part of the plate, was missing the corners, getting behind hitters. It was … like nothing we’d been led to expect from this kid. And now he’s back after a string of masterful Triple-A starts, another potential testament to this organization’s ability to develop major league starters, if he can stick. The question now being asked after last night’s homer-fest is whether Montero was tipping his pitches.

At a time in the season when attrition rears its ugly head, like ruts in a muddy road pulling a bus full of nuns this way and that, some teams will be able to stay on track while others will end up in a ditch, all depending on the quality of their replacement tires and how well they’ve plugged their holes.

The Mets have some arms, clearly, and, clearly, the organization’s reluctance to trade from strength is looking like a sound decision, but a team that can absorb the loss of a player performing at a level as high as deGrom should open some eyes at the very least, boosting said team’s pitching stock. Or, the team could falter, Montero could revert to his nibbling, timid, earlier performance … our replacements could struggle, a blowout here, a cracked radiator there, the dream of a pennant race could careen precariously off a bridge and tip slowly into the churning waters of insignificance.

It’s not enough to have lots of arms. You have to have lots of really good arms. Pitchers not throwers as the old adage goes. deGrom, Gee, Wheeler all show the ability to mix their pitches, and in the end, that’s how you get major league hitters out. Is that a reflection of a revamped system, or simply a case of amassing some talented hurlers on one rotation? You show a major league hitter the same thing over and over, they’ll eventually figure out how to hit it … you learn how to spot a changeup and when to drop a breaking pitch and when to come up and in, you’ll have hitters off balance more often than not. It’s all about development at this stage of the great Mets pitching endeavor … the arms are there, will they continue to perform at this ridiculously high level?

We’ll know soon enough.

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Mets Have Reached Critical Mass Fri, 01 Aug 2014 17:43:22 +0000 MattHarvey1When Matt Harvey was diagnosed with his UCL tear my initial reaction was the sad resignation to an even longer wait for relevance. I wondered, with all our pitching depth, whether any rotation could absorb the loss of Harvey. Oddly enough, the Mets as currently constituted are in perhaps one of the best positions in baseball when it comes to absorbing the loss of a starter, even, apparently, a front of the rotation starter.

I was watching Zack Wheeler the other day … it’s funny because we think of Harvey as this bulldog competitor, but I swear if I were a member of an opposing fanbase Wheeler is the guy who’d tick me off. He is nasty and he appears to have a thing for kneecaps … the hitters were not comfortable. I actually think his wildness works in his favor. You have to love it as a Met fan. The Mets, wins and losses be damned, have nevertheless been able to employ a two and sometimes three starter combination pitching at an ace or close to ace level for much of this season, and, are well-positioned to absorb the loss of Bartolo Colon.

Are we there yet? Have we reached the promised land, that “critical mass” that triggers a tipping point, a steel ball rolling down a chute? The short answer is that, yes, we may in fact be seeing the early returns on the strategy as articulated by Paul DePodesta — namely stockpiling starters of all sorts and sizes system wide.

jacob deGromJacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz, yes Matz! The bottom line is that the NY Mets have a ton of pitching and are deep at every level in their minor leagues at a time when pitching is at an even greater premium. You couldn’t have scripted it any better if you tried.

Sandy Alderson stockpiles a commodity that a rash of elbow injuries makes even shorter … Aren’t there laws about that sort of thing? I mean, was it arranged? You know, like how you might take out your competition’s supply so that you can boost your prices on the street … isn’t that how the drug cartels do it in the movies? But then that would imply that Sandy Alderson is behind this rash of TJ injuries which I’m afraid might be beyond even his own substantial powers.

If my calculations are correct, my friends, and if the stars align and the ashes fall as I believe they will. We are, by several indicators, poised for a bit of a run. It’s this idea that good second half teams (the Cardinals come to mind but the Mets last year weren’t bad either) resist the natural attrition of a 162 game slog with good organizational pitching depth. The deeper the team’s pitching, the greater the likelihood that team will outperform it’s competition in the second half.

At a time when most teams are scrambling to fill rotation spots, we have two of our converted starters setting up and closing games, while another is being shopped. The bullpen, in line with the notion that organizational depth and bullpen effectiveness tend to be convergent, is yet another indicator that we may have in fact reached “critical mass.” Our bullpen with a lead has been a death knell to opposing offenses from the 7th inning on. It’s been one Mejia hulk stomp after another lately. And the arms just keep coming.

It’s early and wildly presumptuous but I’m calling it …

Hold onto your seats folks, it’s about to get interesting in Flushing.

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Fishing For Hope In A Resurgent Bullpen Sun, 29 Jun 2014 13:41:09 +0000 jenrry mejia anthony recker

I was fishing up in northern MN a few years back and I caught a big large mouth bass along with a number of other keepers. It was a good 22 inches and four pounds. I had the damned thing on a stringer. I’d never worked with a stringer, always used a bucket catching porgies out by Greenpoint … So anyway I unlatched the stringer and reached over to grab my bucket (the irony!) and in that moment my toe came off the line and … whoosh, goodbye. My magnificent bass friend wasn’t about to give his life up to this amateur, he and the others were gone. In that moment, what I felt, I realize, is the closest I can get to how I feel about this Mets season. So many “could-a beens” so many babbling slapped to your senses moments … at the end of the day more often than not you are left with a tipped canoe and a tangled line and nothing to show for it.

There is no sense trying to explain how this Mets team could actually be competitive if only certain things were to happen. For years we struggle with non-existent bullpens and now, we finally get a decent pen, and the rest of the team forgets how to hit.

Bullpens play a huge role in today’s game. The good ones tend to keep their teams in contention, with a few exceptions, one being the Mets. The top ten ranked bullpens generally belong to contenders. The Mets currently rank 9th in bullpen ERA. Can you believe it? Can you dig it? It’s true man, the Mets can throw some serious heat at you in the late innings … and see, here’s the thing … wait for it … there is a positive correlation between organizational depth and bullpen effectiveness, highlighted almost perfectly in the farm fueled rise of our current relief corps as the Mets also have a consensus top ten farm system. The premise was discussed ad nauseam here, and it continues to be true today as the Astros top both lists (bullpen ERA ranking and many farm system rankings) … In fact, if you go by WAR, the correlation is even more pronounced with top Bullpen WAR rankings populated by a virtual who’s-who of top ten farm system ranking lists. It’s no big insight, the flexibility to add quality arms from the farm, especially down the stretch, is a huge advantage, research supporting this is akin to shooting the proverbial fish in it’s bucket, no pun intended.

Now you’d think, maybe, by assembling multiple lockdown end-game scenarios you might also have the presence to support it with a table scrap lineup that can put up a few runs here and there? Nope. What makes matters worse is that the one hope of a team such as ours is impeccable fundamentals, or “fundies” as Keith would say, at which we are anything but passable — the team continues to throw the ball around routinely giving the opposition extra outs. My friends, there are real questions with this team, but you still end up wondering how much better they could be. If only the Mets insisted on more production from both corners … if only I’d tied the stringer down!

Sadly the problem with a good bullpen on a team that can’t produce enough offense is you get into these grueling extra-innings marathons against other decent bullpens and you are burnt out by July 1st. fssst caput, dead.

It’s not rocket science, it’s basically the NL blueprint with Whitey Herzog and the bunting and the hit and run … doesn’t anyone with the Mets know how to play that game? We couldn’t find someone who knows a thing or two about NL style play? I believe our current manager thinks it has something to do with making a daily double switch…

The good news is we’ve fixed the bullpen (for now), but, like whack-a-mole every time you plug one hole, three other holes pop up. But heck either way the lack of fielding and fundamentals will always hamstring this team and is inexcusable from a planning aspect, that’s one for the reticent gray matter gurus in our front office. Solid defense up the middle is huge. Defense is not a secondary or “supporting” skill set. Not in the NL I remember, good fielding and solid pitching can put a strangle hold on many a 1-0 Tom Seaver victory… don’t they know this? Didn’t Sandy get the memo? No memo?

You want to feel good about the bullpen, and the improvement is huge no doubt, but, particularly with a pitching first approach, until the Mets can figure out how to put fundamentally sound ballplayers on their major league field we’re more likely in for that standing drenched on a pier having just lost your fish feeling.

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I Not Robot Fri, 20 Jun 2014 17:30:51 +0000 terry collins

Watching the game on Thursday night, I was struck by a couple of things. The home plate umpire’s strike zone, and the accuracy of calls at first. I didn’t think initially there was a connection but I was wrong! You see the home plate umpire’s strike zone was large and low, but remarkably consistent, so accurate, it was almost robotic.

Close calls at first? No problem, break it down so you see every grain of sand and send the video to a panel of experts in NY. Only there is no “panel” there is only a giant computer. Eventually there will be a pressure plate at first and wireless psi sensors stitched into first base mitts … maybe even have a red light and green light nearby. It’s all part of the robot plot to takeover baseball.

Terry Collins the whitehaired wizard warned of these robots when he lamented their calculated unemotional responses to, well, lets call them “the incredible things that should not happen, happening”  moments, Terry knew a team of robots would be immune to the emotional effects of his cacophony of confusion.

You see, in a world ruled by logic and symmetry, Terry Collins’ potpourri of the perplex is brushed aside as illogical, it is ignored. Robots don’t slam bats into the ground, they don’t punch water coolers or drunk dial their exe’s either. They swing or they don’t, they run, catch and throw– that’s it.

Now, what most people think when they think baseball and robots it’s a bunch of Jetson’s era mechanical players whirring around making beeping noises … I remember those days … but it’s not like that at all. See the robots are really a cybernetic organism hiding as a form of electricity in computer mainframes everywhere … they have figured out how to control actual humans. They walk and talk just like us but they are under robot control. Lucas Duda is their prototype. It is rumored that the Nats are already two thirds under robot control …

We must listen to Terry Collins the Whitehaired and embrace indifference (bemused smirk at most) when cataclysmic events unfold. You see, after a while Terry lures his opponents in with his bizarre brew of buffoonery and then, when you least expect it, he does something right, like letting Zack Wheeler complete his shut-out. The swirling powers in the universe stop and scratch their heads, “wait, what, did he just make the right move?” And it is precisely at that moment when he pounces!

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The Mets At A West Coast Crossroads Thu, 19 Jun 2014 14:28:13 +0000 MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Mets

Go west young man! Horace Greely, manifest destiny and all that. I remember it from Mr. Fabricant’s history class at Bryant H.S. Look west for opportunity and inspiration! And so it was, the Mets looked to a west coast paradigm manifested in two executive runs first in Oakland then in San Diego for our current leadership team. A “west coast” approach if you will. Even now with the Mets at a crossroads we look at their former exploits for answers.

Early in the off-season of 2005 Omar Minaya was in the midst of turning the Mets into a kind of “Angels East,” spending big to draw enough fans and revenue to ensure even more freedom to operate with the other big markets, and like the Mets, sharing their market with an even bigger neighbor. The Angels were, and arguably still are, on the cusp of establishing themselves as perennial big market big spending contenders. While Minaya’s ability to function was compromised, never completing his spend first and let everything else fall into place plan, a dramatic restructuring was embraced on account of ownership’s association with Bernie Madoff. Minaya’s services were no longer needed (attempts to retain him notwithstanding). The team was moving in another direction.

South, to San Diego. Pertinent to the Mets in that the Padres are a living artifact of Sandy Alderson’s most recent efforts. Padres fans, in spite of a couple of early division titles,  generally consider Alderson an axe man, he came in, put a stranglehold on every aspect of the organization, turned over baseball operations to Kevin Towers and sliced the team’s talent up for parts with cold, calculating, impunity … like the Doomsday Machine slicing up Rigel-IV for fuel. (incidentally, the similarities between the Trevor Hoffman and the Jose Reyes situations are uncanny).

Much like the Mets, the Padres have seen improved minor league systems, consistently ranking in the top 10 (if not the top 5). Yet, much like the Mets, they have struggled to perform in their offensively challenged home confines.

One major difference between the Padres and the Mets has been lip service. In San Diego Alderson couldn’t be bothered about fan backlash, he simply ignored the public. In NY, probably having been counseled against such an approach, Sandy and his spokespeople pushed the “don’t be fooled, we’re here to win” narrative, which was disingenuous at best and patronizing at worst. Not a good initial salvo in the all important “win the crowd” battle. Alderson proceeded to do precisely what he had done in San Diego, with one notable exception, David Wright. I’d wager David Wright would have been traded in a heartbeat had he been on the Padres only a few years earlier.

From San Diego you can take I5 north back to Los Angeles and the contents of Chavez Ravine where the Los Angeles Dodgers reside. The sight of perhaps one of the greatest violations of public trust, look no further than the history of Chavez Ravine for the whole sad story, “the poor man’s shangri-la.”

It certainly is no poor man’s recourse as the present day home of the Dodgers who have finally managed to outspend the Yankees, the first time anyone’s done that in 15 years.  But you can’t really talk about the Dodgers without talking about the Red Sox. The Dodgers were the willing recipient of one of the largest cash-dump trades in MLB history. About $270 million dollars in salary freed up by the Red Sox, but even more astonishing was that the Dodgers absorbed it. Remarkably, both Boston and L.A. seemed to benefit from this trade. The Dodgers were propelled to a 92 win NL west title in 2013 while the Red Sox did even better with mid-level replacement players racking up 97 wins. The lesson here? If you are paying for wins there really isn’t an argument, the Red Sox paid their players a lot less and ended up with 5 more wins. But the Dodgers won also, and winning means money, especially in a market that is even bigger than Boston. So there are no losers here, simply a case of big markets operating like only big markets can, consolidating and moving around staggering amounts of money and talent … must be nice if you are a member.

If you look at another trade, the Marlins and Blue Jays 2012 trade, it’s not only maybe even more interesting, the outcome seems similar. A trade that initially looked absolutely awful for the Blue Jays, is suddenly looking fantastic. Welcome to 2014 … One thing is certain, both of these supposed “salary dump” trades have thrown giant wrenches at the money won’t buy you pennants argument.

If you get back on I5 and continue north you end up in San Francisco where you can drive over to ATT Park, home of the Giants. The team our current brain trust has openly tried to emulate. A franchise built on a marvelous pitching tradition with two recent world titles in tow, another successful spare parts and scotch tape offense, and with no signs of slowing down.

The Giants are scary, they draft, develop, and spend … they can shut you down with their pitching and bullpen, but they also seem to know when to capitalize on mistakes. In our recent series against them, it felt like the Mets actually played well, and yet, one little mistake and forget it, the Giants snatch the win in a blink. it may actually be too early to judge whether our efforts to be like the Giants bear fruit. A tradition isn’t built overnight. Part of the strategy involves more than just putting great pitchers on the mound in the majors, it also involves accumulating the “collateral” to make trades, allowing you to pursue players like Carlos Beltran. The Mets have not exactly established pitching dominance at the major league level — although they are trending in that direction — but they also haven’t moved into the “trade for bats” phase. For all of Alderson’s talk about accumulating collateral, they have been sitting on that collateral since they came to town. Even the one piece they did trade (Colin McHough) is starting to look questionable.

Finally there’s the team across the bay. Oakland, the team that gave Sandy Alderson his start, with his disciple, ex-Met farm hand Billy Bean running the show (although I am sure there was a “Ha HA! Who is the Master now old man??!” moment at some point). The A’s, really since Sandy Alderson’s pivotal run as GM, have enjoyed perhaps the most sustained stretch of success, contending at times out of nowhere, season after season with an off-year here and there. They scout the high minors’ “almost ML ready” players aggressively and trade for those players aggressively. They also keep their minors stocked with pitching at the lower levels, developing a steady stream of ace caliber pitchers. Their prospects aren’t too shabby for 2014 either.

The Mets have reached a watershed moment in the context of their current approach. They are primed for trades having established a strong minor league pitching base but have not pursued any significant talent acquisitions, their payroll has been overhauled following the expiration of numerous cumbersome contracts but the team continues to spend less and showed mixed (at best) results with their recent foray into free agency.

It doesn’t look like the Mets will be spending any time soon, so they basically have a choice, they can either be like the A’s or the Padres. On one end of the spectrum you have the masterful wheeling and dealing on a shoestring of the Oakland A’s, on the other end you have the Padres, overly dependent on fragile prospects who more often than not aren’t good fits in their home ballpark … sound familiar?

The Padres, the A’s, and the Mets are all in the bottom third for spending. Unlike the A’s the Padres have not really been able to find a successful formula. The Mets, as currently constructed, are more like the Padres than the A’s because, like the Padres, we’ve been conservative in dealing talent from our minor league systems. It’s almost like this Mets front office is afraid of turning in a stinker, so they stand pat. I hope that’s not the case, because it would essentially neutralize one of the most important parts of the A’s (and to a lesser degree the Giants) formula … what good is all the pitching if you never trade for bats?

Something has to give. The Mets are loaded with pitchers, and are at (hopefully) a low point in their payroll, our GM’s contract is expiring soon. This is NY, we all know the deal, you want more fans? Win. Alderson and the NY Media have been running with a “now is the time” storyline for the Mets in 2014 but the results haven’t been there. We can add talent, we can add offense but the prospect of doing so without adding even a smidgen of payroll is unlikely, so, again welcome to San Diego east.

In the end, the Mets front office is going to wallow perpetually in a sort of almost there but not quite place until one of two things happen, they add a reasonable 10 – 15 million to their current payroll, allowing them to add a couple more decent free agents to the mix or perhaps one more big one, or they can loosen the purse strings on that minor league collateral and start making some trades. Whatever happens has to happen soon because for Sandy, his time is just about up, and the remarkable patience of a remarkable NY fanbase that has already been lied to and placated too often, is fed up enough to stay home.

Spend or Trade… Do something.

Don’t just stand there staring down the middle at a 3-1 fastball. Please, we don’t want to be the Padres…

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