Mets Merized Online » Matt Balasis Mon, 02 Mar 2015 17:57:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How Low Can You Go? Mets Peddling Relevance On A Shoestring… Fri, 20 Feb 2015 19:27:47 +0000 chris-rock

I had some cheap friends when I was younger. Guys who had jobs and money but who didn’t like to spend any of it. I’m sure you all remember the type. The sort who liked to spend other people’s money and never smoked their own cigarettes. Reminds me of the Chris Rock skit from “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” where he walks into a rib joint and asks “how much for one rib?” Trying to buy a single rib for fifty cents and ten cents worth of soda, “pour it into my hand for a dime.” All the while he’s got a roll of $20 dollar bills in his shirt pocket. It’s how I feel about the Wilpons.

I’ve been defending this front office’s decision not to spend on free agents all winter. There’s an argument there. You can pick up any of the NY dailies and there will be at least one article slamming the Mets for not doing more, but it’s self-serving in a way. The quiet hot stove is bad business for the back pages. It’s like “C’mon Mets, I’m trying to make a living here, what the hell am I supposed to write about all winter? The Knicks??!!” That line could be from any number of NY sports journalists. But the truth is there really weren’t many tangible upgrades available which didn’t involve mortgaging the farm.

Sadly I’m afraid that’s been a convenient ruse. The real reason they didn’t spend is the same reason it’s always been, they’re still broke. Some might argue that they’re playing the pauper lest their creditors get the best of them, stashing their assets in equities insulated from their Mets enterprise, like the Chris Rock character with the hidden wad of twenties in his pocket … But I doubt it. Given the unprecedented level of fan discontent, I think the Wilpons would spend if they could.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Minnesota Twins

Yesterday’s news on Everth Cabrera signing with the Orioles for a whopping $2.4 million was the latest indicator. I know a lot of folks out there think Everth is a miscreant and a criminal, and that may be true, but hey, who are we to judge? All I know is I had this Everth kid on my fantasy team a couple of years ago and he killed it for me with hits and steals. Now sure, maybe he was juiced up, but I don’t know that he’s not worth a shot given how perfectly he fits our needs (lead-off and shortstop) … and for 2.4 million? You could probably scrape up 2.4 million searching through A-rod’s couch cushions.

But no. Everth signs with the Orioles. The frigging Orioles of Baltimore.

Here’s the thing. Say Sandy Alderson signs Everth Cabrera to a 1 year deal for $2.4 million. What is the worst that could happen? Cabrera has a minor league option so if he bombs or holds up a liquor store he could still be sent down to work things out. Sure he’d be an expensive minor leaguer but the upside is if he hits he’d be beating out Tejada … Tejada. And therein lies the rub … in Tejada, you have the kid who used to stop at the newsstand on the way home from school to buy a Moon Pie and 6 Swedish Fish with his pocket full of nickels … in Cabrera you have the kid who would mug him before he got there. Which one would you rather have playing for the Mets? Tough question I know.

While his numbers may not jump out at you, Cabrera has one thing Tejada (and the Mets team as a whole) sorely lacks, speed. Cabrera, 28 and a switch hitter, led the National League with 44 stolen bases (on 48 attempts) in 2012. If he regains his form he is a legitimate lead-off option. Now look, I’m not saying he’s this poor man’s Rafael Furcal or anything, but the guy was running a 3.1 WAR in 2013 when he got shut down for his Biogenesis run-in. I don’t think Tejada could touch 3 WAR if he fell into a vat of PED loaded hypodermic needles in an abandoned warehouse during a full moon. He’s just not that dynamic a player.  We’re also down one Eric Young and could use those wheels, but who needs team speed? Certainly not the Mets.

At 2.4 million? I mean, that’s like Pablo Sandoval’s cheesy-snack budget. That’s the 1986 Mets’ in-flight cocaine bill for crying out loud. Pocket change right? Nope. Not when it comes to the Wilpons. Here’s the crazy part. A best case is Cabrera hits around .280 with a .330 or so OBP and around 40 steals with a 2.0 to 3.0 WAR … he essentially replaces Tejada and pushes Flores over to 2B (which makes Murphy available) providing the Mets with a pesky lead-off presence. The Mets would actually save money under said scenario because they could shed Murphy’s salary … the risk? 2.4 million.  Or, Cabrera could just replace Tejada as back-up infielder. With a year of arbitration eligibility left after 2015, if Cabrera proves a capable SS and lead-off hitter the Mets would have solved these two annoying magpies with one well placed stone.

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How cheap are the Mets? The possibility of a bona-fide lead-off option at short is not worth a 2.4 million gamble when they could simply play Flores there and bring up Hererra if and when they trade Murphy. It’s also not worth biting the bullet on Tejada’s salary should Cabrera prove more capable as a switch-hitting infield back-up/pinch runner (which I firmly believe he would). That’s pretty damned cheap folks, especially for a team trying to sell fans on this idea that they’re contenders.

The Orioles have had some success with reclamation projects … They were after all the team that gave Nelson Cruz a shot. It’s not like the Mets haven’t tiptoed into those waters, Marlon Byrd was one such player. It could be that the Wilpons, given their sterling reputation, put the kibosh on signing a guy with a lengthy and colorful rap sheet. That’s what they’ll tell us … too many  “character questions.” Don’t you believe it … this guy would have been a perfect low risk high reward gamble to throw into our middle infield mix were the Mets in a position to scrape together 2.4 million.

They are not.

They are broke.

We’re talking trawling for pennies and dimes at the fountain in the mall broke … picking cigarette butts out of ashtrays in the park broke … the Mets aren’t just “limited,” they are picking pizza crusts out of the trash and living out of a cardboard box broke.

Now Ownership has even taken to peddling relevance as if the pennant is a foregone conclusion … perhaps in the hope that they’ll sell enough tickets to actually increase payroll? Or to pay down debt? I’ll let you decide which.

And all the while they cling feverishly with their greasy fingers to this beleaguered franchise as if it’s some relic from a by-gone life buried under a heap of rags in a shopping cart, without regard to the once in a generation pitching talent whose window will close as quickly as it opened.

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Opinion: Parlaying Pitching Depth For Outfield Depth Tue, 17 Feb 2015 18:42:34 +0000 wheeler harvey

Someone the other day brought up the fact that in a little over a year’s time we could see a rotation of Harvey, Wheeler, deGrom, Syndergaard, and Matz. With that tantalizing projection comes the realization that Colon, Niese, Gee, and Montero, are expendable. That’s three serviceable veteran starters and a top 100 prospect, all essentially excess baggage. When you add all-star second baseman Daniel Murphy to that list, that’s an awful lot of value up for grabs. It occurs to me that there is almost no way to screw this up. Any team that can afford to unload this many pitchers should get something in return, and we don’t need much, one or two decent hitters could put us over the top.

The Mets can’t possibly use all the starters they have and so they will have to find a way to get rid of some of them. They can’t move all of them to the bullpen and they’re not just going to release them. They have to find some trade partners. Other teams know this and the Mets may be at a disadvantage if their potential trade partners know they have to get rid of so and so.

The question becomes who? Who do we target?

I don’t see this front office unloading any prospects for established players. When you look at their history acquiring major leaguers it isn’t pretty. They should stick to what they know. Swapping major league veterans for prospects. We are more likely to see the sort of trade recently completed for Wil Myers, or, an even better example would be the Cubs landing Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner — that rare trade that appears to have helped both clubs.

The Mets will be looking for emerging hitters who are close but but not established. It’s a risk to be sure, but it’s less of a risk if you have the scouting apparatus in place to make informed determinations.

The Mets have an excellent record scouting the minors as demonstrated by the Byrd, Beltran, and Dickey trades.  In fact they’ve done so well over the past few years they’ve all of a sudden found it difficult (as Joe D. pointed out in a couple of pieces a few weeks ago) to unload the likes of Gee and / or Niese or Colon. Teams are hesitant when they look at a roster infused with players like Wheeler and d’Arnaud (products of previous such trades) and are asking for the moon.

Nevertheless, the Mets should stick to their guns. Attrition is our friend, and eventually teams will need pitching and they will trade unproven up and comers to get it. All the Mets need to do is make sure they trade for the right ones, how hard could that be?

The Mets of course on their end need to figure out what their needs are. Flores may very well play a passable shortstop (he was by and large serviceable last year – never mind what the bandwagon “didn’t actually watch the games”  consensus concludes). He had one horrible game and a couple of flubs but was otherwise just fine.

Second base looks like it will eventually belong to a kid named Herrera … first base is Duda’s to lose and third is locked up by The David. So the infield looks set with a possible exception at shortstop, and even there we’ll know soon enough what we have. I suspect Wilmer will hit and I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes the job and runs with it.

The outfield is a different story. We’ve got Conforto and Nimmo on the way but they may not be ready just yet and they may yet hit snags along the way. Lagares looks like he’s entrenched in center, but our corner outfield spots are manned by aging stopgaps.

By all accounts it would appear that this Mets team would benefit most by trading for corner outfielders … there’s really no question.  Corner outfield is problematic in a more immediate sense because should Granderson or Cuddyer get hurt, the Mets really don’t have a ready replacement. You can’t say that about 3B (Flores – move Tejada to short), shortstop (Tejada), 2B (Herrera/ Flores), 1B (Cuddyer), or CF (den Dekker). Sure some of the replacements aren’t ideal, but injuries at these spots are not insurmountable.

The corner outfield spots on the other hand would present the Mets with legitimate holes in the event of an injury. I like den Dekker and Nieuwenhuis as bench players, but as regulars? I have my doubts. MDD in center is a different proposal because his defense would play well, but the corner outfield spots are worrisome.

So who do we go after given our Gee, Niese, Colon, Montero surplus? Montero is under control for quite a while and his value is yet undetermined. We’d be selling low if we traded Montero as I believe (in a piece I penned a few weeks back) that he was injured for a good part of last year. I’d be hesitant to trade him unless we clearly were to receive fair value.

The other available Mets pitchers are all veterans who promise to be more expensive to the receiving teams and therefore may not land a top organizational prospect, but they could net us a corner outfielder who might be ranked outside an organizational top 10 threshold.  A team with good depth in the outfield might be able to offer us a decent return, especially if they are on the margins of contention and have that need for a starter.

You probably won’t get a player without some blemishes, but if you look hard enough there are diamonds in the rough out there who may warrant a further look. Guys like Steven Moya come to mind … Moya has great power, decent speed, and he’s a good fielder.  He is “on the outside looking in”  as a 23-year old corner outfielder in the Detroit system. His only blemish is his plate discipline which unfortunately runs afoul of our organizational dictum for patience. He strikes out a lot and hardly ever walks … oh well.

Another guy is a 150‘s-ish ranked MiLB Shortstop who is #15 overall in the Mariners system, Ketel Marte. The Mariners have a lot of depth at short and should they find themselves with a need for a starter this is the guy I’d go after. Switch hitter, good contact, potential 2-hole type hitter, who is fairly advanced with his full season debut in AAA at the age of 20.

Teams on the cusp of contention with stacked outfields like the Orioles could very well come into play as a source of MLB ready prospects (Dariel Alvarez would be tremendous although it might take Montero and then some), however their rotation looks deep at the moment so they don’t quite profile as a partner with the Mets. I might have also included a guy like Steven Souza (the other end of the Myers swap) but the Rays already snatched him up. Souza is precisely the sort of player the Mets need to target … in fact that Rays deal is an excellent blueprint in principle for the Mets.

Some other names are Lane Adams of the Royals, James Ramsey of the Indians, Carlos Asuaje of the Red Sox, Peter O’Brien and Nick Ahmed of the Diamondbacks, and Jason Rogers of the Brewers.

Granted some of these guys are risky and might need to be packaged with longer term higher upside prospects, but there’s lots of talent out there and I have a feeling the Mets are going to need to address depth in the outfield if they are truly to have a shot in 2015. There is definitely a class of close to the show prospects that the Mets could exploit if they can ever find a team desperate enough for a starter. It’s a waiting game to some extent. Right now everyone’s rotation is stacked and healthy … that probably won’t be the case come opening day.


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With Declining Scoring Trends, Defense Matters More Than Ever Mon, 19 Jan 2015 16:00:33 +0000 wilmer flores dp

Small ball and pitching. We remember it, It bagged us a championship in 1969. It was a staple of competitive play in the National League in the early 80’s when Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals made all manner of problems for the rest of the league. It’s also a prominent feature of a current Giants dynasty that seems to win a World Series every other year.

People talk about how good the Nationals are but the Nats were beat handily by the Giants in last year’s NLDS three games to one. I shouldn’t say handily (the games were all close), but it felt that way, you saw it coming. The Giants don’t seem to make mistakes when it counts and the Nats do.

In the second inning of Game 4 with two runners on, Ryan Vogelsong tried to bunt them over and the left side of the Nat infield froze, confused over who should field the bunt, allowing Vogelsong to reach. Then Gio Gonzalez walked Gregor Blanco on four pitches to force in the first run. The second run was scored when Joe Panik grounded out. The Giants scored two runs without a ball leaving the infield, small ball indeed. You knew right there it wasn’t meant to be for the Nats. You can’t do stuff like that in the playoffs and expect to win.

The Nationals were 20th in the league in UZR, and 26th in OOZ (out of zone plays), so they don’t move around well in the field. Their defensive miscues also tend to be concentrated in their infield with Ian Desmond accounting for 24 of their 100 team errors while posting a -2.2 ErrR (error runs above average) … he’s a Jeckyl and Hyde defender to be sure. He’ll make an amazing play on one chance then drop an easy flip the following play (his UZR/150 has dropped from 6.0 in 2012 to 0.1 in 2014). It’s fair to say he’s inconsistent, which has proven to be a liability in low scoring playoff contests. Consider for a moment that both teams scored only 9 runs each over the 4 game NLDS, remarkable. The argument can be made that the single greatest factor that sunk the Nats in the playoffs was their sloppy play in the field.

The Nats believe they have offense and pitching to spare, and when you look at their roster it appears they do. Their only real question mark is team defense which has not been a huge consideration in the modern game. But with dwindling offensive output across the league every run matters and defense is again becoming a bigger factor.

Yunel Escobar, a recent addition to the National infield, is generally known as a good fielding shortstop, however, in 2014 with the Rays he put up a -26 UZR/150, this after putting up a 12.6 UZR/150 the previous year, that’s a 38.6 point negative swing, which is alarming for a 32 year old player with character issues in his past. If Escobar’s 2014 is an indication, he’s not the man to shore up the Nationals’ infield. Additionally, losing Adam LaRoche and moving Zimmerman to 1B further weakens them as Zimmerman is not a natural first baseman.

If there is an opening for the Mets, a crack in the Nats’ armor so to speak, it’s team defense. If the Mets could somehow field a solid defensive team it could conceivably do wonders in closing the gap between NY and Washington. The Royals parlayed some timely hitting, killer baserunning, decent pitching, and outstanding defense into a world series appearance last year.

It is a market inefficiency that’s been largely overlooked. The bias against defense suggests it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference – if you pitch well and hit, you’ll win … but this is the steroid era talking. Run production has dropped off the charts in recent years making every miscue, every passed ball, and every botched double play, a potential game changer.

The Mets as presently constituted are not a good defensive team. Their infield defense is less than spectacular at the corners (with David Wright perhaps a bright spot if he can return to form) and beyond worrisome up the middle. In the outfield Michael Cuddyer promises to be a liability and Curtis Granderson can’t throw. Travis d’Arnaud excels at pitch framing but struggles with passed balls and throwing baserunners out. The Mets made 104 errors last year, 4 more than the Nationals.

In an age when good teams are pitching well, fielding well, and finding ways to scrape runs together, the Mets continue to be a mixed bag.

The Mets more than anything need to find an identity, something they’ve struggled with over the past several seasons. They are known as a patient team with some excellent pitching, but they are below average defensively and can’t seem to score when they need to. More than anything the Mets need some additional speed and athleticism.

They clearly haven’t gone in that direction based on the current off-season. Wilmer Flores is slated as the starting shortstop while Murphy looks to be our second baseman. Cuddyer is the team’s new right fielder, Duda will man first, and d’Arnaud will crouch behind the plate. Yes, some of these players may improve defensively and the Mets should hit more, and that may be enough … but this is by no means shaping up to be a speedy, defensively sound team. You could hide a Flores or a Murphy or a Cuddyer if the rest of the team is sound, but all three? You are asking for trouble when you construct a roster with multiple known liabilities … this would not appear to be a team that can find ways to win the close ones — a problem that plagued us all of last season.

Building roster that clogs the bases and hits home runs is a bygone blueprint. We’re looking at offensive trends that mirror what we saw prior to the steroid era in the 70’s, increasing the value of speed and defense. For all our statistical savvy, it surprises me that this Mets front office has neglected to address league trends that run contrary to their current approach to the roster.

Defense may in fact become the market inefficiency that so many GM’s are searching for as most teams (like the Nationals) continue to consider it an afterthought even though declining scoring trends will inevitably boost the intrinsic value of defensive runs saved. Defense should not be an afterthought … you need look no further than last year’s Royals to see that.


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The Low-Down On Ian Desmond Sat, 17 Jan 2015 13:46:22 +0000 Ian+Desmond+Colorado+Rockies+v+Washington+TEJL3z-_klul

Ian Desmond is probably available for the right package, but the Mets won’t be signing him. If the Nationals were willing to discount him given he is a one year rental there might be a possibility, however, they’re not, in fact they appear more likely to stick with him through 2015 rather than offer him at a discount.

They will at the very least recoup a first round compensatory draft pick in the event of his departure, so whoever wishes to start discussions on Ian Desmond better be willing to offer not only what Desmond would represent in WAR for his 2015 season, but at least one top prospect given he will at least be bringing back a top pick for the Nats. That’s a steep price right off the bat … now if you add an extension contingency, then you are talking possibly a major leaguer and multiple prospects. Ideally this would work out best for both the Nats and the receiving team, but this hinges to some extent on whether Desmond is willing to talk.

So lets consider the first contingency. Desmond isn’t willing to negotiate an extension and / or the Mets are incapable (or unwilling) to offer a multi-year contract. Under this scenario his value is greatly diminished and you are looking at trading for a year’s worth of Desmond in addition to the prospect he’d bring back by means of qualifying offer.

Desmond (per steamer) is projected to hit 18 HR, 73 RBI with a .258 AVG and 2.9 WAR. His defense has dipped of late, with a drop from a 6.0 UZR/150 in 2012 to a 0.1 in 2014. He is notoriously inconsistent in the field and appears to already be in some decline defensively. If you are looking for replacement value, Daniel Murphy put up 2.8 WAR in 2014 and would be a good start, you’d also probably need to throw in a top prospect and maybe a lesser prospect as well. So you’re looking at maybe Murphy or Gee, a top 15 guy like Matz or Conforto, and a top 30ish guy, someone like Robert Whalen. I doubt the Nationals would go for that but given you are essentially renting Desmond for 6 months it just isn’t worth giving up more.

Now if Desmond agrees to an extension, then you are conceivably looking at a major leaguer and a couple of top prospects and maybe a throw in. So something like Murphy, Montero, Herrera (or Plawecki), and maybe someone like Jack Leathersich or Wilfredo Tovar. You might be able to avoid sending Herrera or Plawecki with Murphy in the deal depending (on how they value Murphy) but either way the price in prospects would be considerable. I just don’t see this happening … not only would a deal like this take a significant chunk out of the Mets’ prospect stockpile, the likelihood of the Mets signing a $150 million dollar extension with Desmond is virtually nil given current financial parameters.

Is Desmond even worth an outlay like this? The Nationals offered him $100 million last April and he turned it down. Do they see him as a $150 million dollar player? Probably not. Is he a $150 million dollar player? Well, if he’s the 5 WAR player he was in 2012 and 2013 than you could argue yes, but he’ll be turning 30 this year and his defense has already declined with 44 errors over the last two seasons. More likely he’ll be a good 2 to 3 WAR player for the majority of his contract.

For the record, steamer projects Wilmer Flores to hit 15 HR with 56 RBI and a .248 AVG … no one is saying Flores will outperform Desmond, but when you realize the upgrade per steamer amounts to 3 HR, 16 RBI and 10 BA points you have to ask yourself, is that worth giving up Montero, Plawecki, Murphy (or Gee) and a throw in? Probably not. Sure, Flores is a big question mark at shortstop, but it’s no secret that the Nationals weren’t pleased with the performance of their infield defense in last year’s NLDS. It’s not like Desmond is going to win a Gold Glove, and Flores may very well be passable at short with a bat could evolve into something special.

Given all of the above I think it extremely unlikely that the Mets somehow work out a deal for Ian Desmond, I actually think it’s next to impossible.

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Don’t Count Out Rafael Montero Wed, 14 Jan 2015 16:15:31 +0000 rafael montero

I remember the game because it was on my birthday, September 27. A meaningless game but as the season was almost over I felt the need to absorb what precious little baseball was left. I wanted to watch Rafael Montero’s outing because I’d noticed a change in him over his previous few starts. He was challenging hitters more and looking like the prospect we were led to believe was (as recently as May of 2014) ahead of Jacob deGrom.

I missed the first inning because my wife took me out to an all you can eat sushi place, which is a sort of a culinary oxymoron — sushi is neat and diminutive by nature, not something to gorge on. I mean if you’re going to eat wheelbarrow amounts of food why make it tiny? It would make more sense to serve one giant sushi slab, like an entire 34 inch side of salmon slapped over a three pound mound of rice, it would save on labor. Anyway, Montero had a shutout going and seemed in complete control. Unfortunately the Mets offense had yet again dematerialized into a barely audible entity like little Heather O’Rourke in Poltergeist, mustering only two disembodied hits over the first eight innings off of ex-Twin Sam Deduno.

I’d been following Montero’s progress for a while because he’s kind of an oddball case. Signed as a 19 year old out of the Dominican, he was not really a late bloomer as he hadn’t played much at all until his late teens. Montero came to the Mets about as raw as a chunk of yellowfin tuna but with some exceptional condiments nevertheless, namely a live arm and otherworldly command. The thing that has always impressed me about Montero is the zip he gets on his fastball from a windup that looks like a dad tossing a ball with his kid in the park. People talk about his meh fastball but that lazy delivery allows it to creep up on you quicker than you expect. His two seamer in particular has some heavy and late sink, and 92 – 94 is plenty of mustard if you ask me.

Montero is a work in progress for sure but there is certainly plenty to work with. His slider has some major break  (although he appears to telegraph it a tad) and for the life of me I can’t figure out why he doesn’t use his changeup more, a weird pitch coming in at around 87 mph that thinks it’s a splitter. Montero has a decent arsenal but in his first few starts he was locked into straight as hell four seamers with an occasional off the plate slider worked in for good measure, not a good recipe for getting major league hitters out.

In the sixth, Dexter Fowler hit an infield single and scored on a double by Jason Castro as I started to feel the effects of way too much raw fish while thoughts of another wasted starting pitching performance flashed through my mind. Against the blech Astros no less.  It would take 10 innings, an Eric Young triple and walk off blast by Duda to put this one in the books.

Lost in the walk-off festivities, however, was Montero’s performance. It made me wonder why he struggled so uncharacteristically with his command in his previous stint? You look back at his numbers and it gets even more puzzling. He had 88 innings in the PCL in 2013 where he featured a sub-3 FIP. This is a league that eats pitchers alive from the inside as if by parasitic alien larvae. Consider for a moment that per, through 140 games last season the PCL averaged 10.2 runs per game compared to MLB’s 8.4, now add to that a 15% bump in runs allowed particular to Cashman field in Las Vegas and you have the makings of many a pitching horror show. That didn’t seem to trouble Montero in the least as he torched the PCL in 2013 featuring a respectable 2.5 BB/9. His first few starts in 2014 in Vegas were more of the same … Then, something happened. Montero’s walks jumped dramatically. Now you’ll remember this was the kid with the insane 1.9 BB/9 in A+ ball, a kid who had already established his command in AAA. What happened?

On June 15th after just 5 pitches he was pulled from his AAA game with a strained left oblique. This after posting a 5.40 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP in the majors prior to being sent down. How long was the oblique bothering him? Was he trying to pitch through it with deGrom breathing down his neck and the understanding that 2014 was his big chance coursing through his mind? Rafael just didn’t look right in that first stint with the parent club.

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Oblique injuries are notorious for their tendency to linger, and as a control artist Montero could have conceivably been hobbled by an initial minor strain well before the injury that put him on the DL, hampering him enough to throw his command off but not enough to keep him out of games. The fact that it was his left oblique only increases the possibility that Montero may have tried to pitch through some discomfort as he is right handed. As a righty he may have also sustained the initial injury swinging the bat. The reason we all felt like the Montero we saw in his first stint in 2014 was not as advertised is because he may very well have been hurt. Was he better in his second stint because of improved confidence and exposure, or was it because the oblique injury was behind him?

If I were an opposing GM Montero is the guy I’d go after. Syndergaard is untouchable, and the Mets may very well be convinced to part with Montero given a fan base clamoring for a big trade. He’s also undervalued given his up and down performance in 2014.  But trading Montero would be a huge mistake. Unlike the slew of power guys in the system, Montero is capable of dialing his velocity back and working off of his command and control. Montero is seen by the organization as an innings eater and as such they feel he needs to be better about pitching to contact, but Montero’s K rates don’t support that and the conclusion that he’s a middle of the rotation contact guy appeared to grow out of his struggles at the major league level. For the record, steamer projects significant corrections in 2015 with a K/BB ratio rising from 1.83 in 2014 to 2.85 in 2015 and his walks per 9 dropping from 4.67 in 2014 to 2.99 in 2015. Zips projects him to pitch 144 innings at a 3.61 era and a 22.6 K% … all marked improvements over his 2014. There is absolutely nothing in this kid’s history to support the sudden loss of perhaps his most prominent asset, his control, without some underlying cause. Until his 2014 season he never in his career had a BB/9 over 3.00 … which included his initial stint in AAA in 2013 where he put up a 2.54 BB/9. Same league, same home park, one year later his BB/9 balloons to 3.83? Makes no sense.

There is another consideration with Montero. Unlike many other pitching prospects he is something of a novelty in that there is very little mileage on his arm. Most young prospects, even those signed out of high school, come with many hundreds if not thousands of innings on their arms. An often cited study by the American Sports Medicine Institute found that young pitchers between the age or 9 and 14 who threw more than 100 innings in a season were 3.5 times more likely to be injured than those who threw less than 100 innings. Montero’s odometer at 19 was zero, yet he rocketed through the system and was on the brink of a major league starter’s job 4 years later. In this age where TJ surgeries are a virtual given, the projected longevity of that elbow has to be taken into account.

Montero’s upside is as high as it’s ever been in my estimation. His arsenal is outstanding, he has 4 legitimate major league offerings and impeccable, albeit unrealized (at the major league level) command. Unlike so many other young power arms he also doesn’t need to torque up every muscle and tendon in his shoulder to maximum output in order to get hitters out.

I’m convinced the oblique injury pre-dated that June 15th game when he was finally pulled, and the numbers in Vegas support this … again, Montero had already established success in one of toughest places for pitchers in the minors prior to his struggles in 2014 … and predictably we all saw a different pitcher later in the season when he’d presumably recovered. Trading him now with his value low, without giving him a chance to show what he can do, would be a risk whose rewards would be far outweighed by the potential loss of watching him revert to the control freak he’s been throughout his career, only with a different team.


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Featured Post: Terry Collins, The Sum Of All Fears Tue, 16 Dec 2014 20:25:30 +0000 bartolo colon terry collins

Pythagorean Win Percentage is an interesting formula. It’s transparent and supremely logical as metrics go. A close cousin to the Pythagorean Theorem, it is essentially a means to predict how many wins a team should accumulate by calculating runs scored squared over runs scored squared plus runs allowed squared.

In 2014 the Mets’ Pythagorean Win% was .5088. When multiplied by 162 you get the number of games the Mets should have won, 82.4. Last year’s Mets should have had a winning record if you go by how many runs they scored and how many they allowed. They were in fact the only team with a positive run differential (+11) that did not have a winning record. They fell just behind the Cardinals in win% and were 14th in baseball in runs allowed per game (right behind the Dodgers) at 3.81. The only teams with positive run differentials who did not make the playoffs were Toronto, Cleveland, and Seattle, who were a combined 24 games over .500. The Mets were the only team in the National League with a positive run differential who did not make the playoffs.

According to these measures the Mets should have been on the cusp of contention, especially considering that most basic of performance indicators, runs scored vs. runs allowed. And yet they weren’t, they finished 17 games back and 4 games under .500. They were, in a sense, the opposite of the 2013 Orioles who won a ton of one-run games while occasionally getting blown out. The Mets lost a bunch of close contests while winning their share of blow-outs. In 2014, the Mets scored 3.88 runs per game while allowing 3.81 runs, that is a recipe for a winning record, or, it should be … only it wasn’t.


If you look at BaseRuns, which is the number of runs a team should have scored given their component offensive statistics, the Mets in 2014 should have scored 3.77 runs per game while allowing 4.03 runs with a -43 RDif, which is pretty awful. So you can certainly put some of the blame for the Mets record on the offense, but in the end, there’s no way around that bottom line +11 run differential which unlike numerical hypotheticals, actually occurred.

The Mets were not very good in one run games at 26 W and 29 L. Both the Mets and the Braves had similar difficulties in this sense, both plagued by ineffective offensive output, both struggled in 1 run games … But the picture that emerges for the Mets is that of a team that couldn’t consistently win the close ones and which featured a “feast or famine” attack.

Why were the Mets able to score on some nights and not on others? You’d presume that at some point an objective analysis of matchups would have taken place by our sabermetrically gifted front office right? Lineups that sometimes clicked and sometimes did not would certainly be suspect. Lineups that flew in the face of the notion that you play the hot hand were the norm more often than not. All the while the Mets were routinely stifled in the late innings, only occasionally mounting a come-from-behind victory. Surely some of this has to fall on the shoulders of the manager does it not? He does make up the lineup card? He decides who will pinch-hit? It was Terry Collins who managed the bullpen and decided who to bring in as a late inning replacement with one of his patented clockwork double switches?

terry collins tossed

The Mets’ performance in the late innings and in close contests essentially negated a formula that should have produced a winning record, yet Terry Collins eludes any responsibility for his peculiar brand of late inning permutations and his oddly predictable substitutions.

You might say the Mets were bad in the clutch but you’d be wrong … the Mets actually had pretty decent clutch metrics. All signs point to a poorly managed club that should have won a bunch more games given their talent and performance levels … and, sadly, those of us who followed the team closely know the frustration of this failure well.

The good news is that the Mets, with even marginal improvements in their ability to score runs, should win more games. Wright and Granderson are almost bound to improve on their 2014 numbers given career norms, and the addition of Cuddyer should bring up run totals in the aggregate.

It shouldn’t take much to vault this team into contention. But when you consider how last year’s team was arguably on the cusp of contention itself, sunk by suspect managerial choices and poorly conceived lineups, you have to wonder how much these less than overwhelming improvements will factor in the grand scheme. At times it was hard to watch the workings of a manager who went beyond the ineffectual and actually appeared to inhibit any kind of rhythm or momentum with his mind boggling playing time allocations.

In Scott Gray’s biography, The Mind of Bill James, How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball, Gray notes that there are two recurring motifs in James’ abstracts:

“That poorly run organizations leave promising young players on the bench in favor of established mediocrities and, ‘tend to project their weaknesses onto their best players, and ultimately will dwell not on what the player can do, but on what he can’t.’”

I haven’t come across a quote that better illustrates the failure and frustration of a 2014 Mets team that could have been, should have been, more than the sum of its weaknesses.

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Mariners Lockup One Of Their Own, Will Mets Be Ready To Do Likewise When Time Comes? Wed, 26 Nov 2014 14:25:12 +0000 kyle seager

Kyle Seager signed a $100 million dollar 7-year extension with the Mariners on Monday. The deal absorbs his final two years of salary arbitration and tacks on five more years and a team option, keeping him in a Mariners uniform until 2022 (his 34th birthday).

Seager is something of an oddity. He was drafted out of the University of North Carolina in 2009 at 22 and was never a highly ranked prospect. He has nevertheless established himself as a power threat at the hot corner, albeit a modest one — dampened by Safeco Field. He is also the first player to sign a nine-figure deal without at least one .800 OPS season.

Younger exceptional players like Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria, and (yes) Ryan Braun, and even somewhat less exceptional players like Seager are increasingly signing extensions that swallow up their prime years, while on the other end of the “team control” spectrum you have older but still productive players getting qualifying offers. The combined effect of this pinching severely attenuates the free agency talent pool at its margins.

In the past, players like Seager were more likely to hold out until their six year team commitment expired, entering free agency with their prime still in the offing … these days that doesn’t happen. From the player’s standpoint the incentive is twofold, they’d prefer to have the money now rather than later (a bird in hand), and they’re lured by the promise of long term security, mitigating the risk of injury or decline. Most players like Seager would be foolish not to sign these extensions. If you look at dollars per WAR it is also precisely in these types (and even pre-arbitration) players that teams are relying on for wins.

Seager is sort of a template on how to maximize team control over a player’s prime – eerily reminiscent of reserve clause “fruits of development” labor arguments. You draft a promising older player out of college, delay his start time, let him play out his first couple of pre-arbitration years at the major league level, and then, provided he performs at a high level, you sign him to a “fan friendly” extension absorbing his prime production seasons.

One benefit of these retention tactics is that teams get to keep homegrown stars — which is good for the fans, but a disemboweled free agent talent pool will eventually bring salaries down — which is good for MLB. Now it’s usually at this point in the discussion when I get some push-back. In spite of all the wasted sunken dollars, free agent compensation has not decreased. Matt Swartz in The Hardball Times, looked at Dollars/WAR in 2013 and it increased slightly.

I find this almost as mind boggling as the Pablo Sandoval contract. I mean I know pandas are endangered but five years and $95 million?

So what gives? Shin-Soo Choo got $18 million last year for .2 WAR, then there’s B.J. Upton, Brian McCann, Josh Hamilton … the “unmitigated contract disaster” list gets longer every year. Why do teams continue to spend lavishly on free agents? Why would the Red Sox spend $183 million on two free agents a year removed from a purge that saw them unload a slew of cumbersome contracts? MLB’s unprecedented media cash flow may have something to do with it, but still.

It could also be that teams still believe in having a strong mix of veterans and youth and that the Red Sox simply feel they had the wrong veteran presence before (Hanley in left? Really?). Perhaps, like the Mets and Michael Cuddyer, they feel having the right veteran influence can mean all the difference. Even so, I seriously doubt a savvy organization like the Red Sox doesn’t understand the inherent risks in giving out long FA contracts given the data. It’s almost like some teams impulsively throw money around just for the heck of it … perhaps it’s a “use it or lose it” dynamic with spending allocations. Sadly the Mets are not in a position to take these kinds of risks, by necessity they are betting on their own generation of young controllable stars, and that’s really where the smart money is.

Players like Michael Conforto could (contractually) take a very similar path to Kyle Seager. Like Seager, Conforto was drafted as a college player and will probably not see his major league clock start for another couple of years. Conforto would then be around 27 or 28 before the Mets are pressed into deciding whether to offer him a pre-arbitration extension which would give them control over him until around his 33rd birthday … right around the average point of decline. If he is still playing at a high level? You Q.O. him, bam, done.

brandon nimmo

The earliest Brandon Nimmo will see the major leagues is late in 2015 by which time he’ll be 22. If he proves to be all-star caliber then an extension would take him through his 30th birthday … not quite optimal but between an option year and the Q.O. the Mets would still get him for most of his prime. People keep praising the Mets for being patient, but I wonder how much of this patience is an economic consideration orchestrated to ensure control of players through their most valuable seasons.

Now Dilson Herrera was brought up at the age of 20, and, like Reyes, could see his clock run out during his prime … why? Your guess is as good as mine on that one. Maybe it was organizational need, or maybe they see Herrera as the sort of complimentary impact player who is worth the gamble. The Mets seem to be taking “a little of everything” approach. They have the long developing High School draftees as well as the fast track college players, they have players who have stepped on all the rungs as well as players who have skipped levels, they have phenoms and dark horses alike in their pitching ranks. The Mets minor leagues are an exercise in overkill … which is as it should be when you consider failure rates.

One thing is clear, there will be a point in the next few seasons when the Mets will be faced with some tough decisions on whether to extend a growing list of high performing youngsters. Between Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Travis d’Arnaud, followed by Syndergaard, Nimmo and Conforto, it amounts to a $100 million (or more) extension being doled out every year or two starting at around 2016 … that’s an awful lot of spending from an organization that appears to have completely forgotten how that works.

It’s worrisome from a fan’s perspective … especially when you consider that the only thing worse than this recent stretch of losing would be to let all the fruits of our suffering walk away one by one. All we can do is hope Sandy Alderson has his $100 million dollar extension checkbook at the ready.


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Pitching Or Hitting? Assigning Post-Steroid Era Value Fri, 21 Nov 2014 16:41:39 +0000 jacob degrom

There’s been a lot of talk these days about value. Many Mets fans wonder whether stockpiling valuable pitching assets will prove advantageous in an era when scarcity dictates that quality hitters possess the most value.

Value metrics have become the go-to statistic among many fans in this discussion as they provide a practical tool for defining a player’s contribution. But it’s hard to assign a win-value to a player completely exclusive of contextual influences such as lineup, quality of competition, difficulty of position, and even effectiveness of coaching … to assign a definitive value judgment when comparing similar players based on WAR is dubious. WAR is a broad stroke metric. On any given leader-board you can find multiple instances of  players falling behind clearly less valuable counterparts. Jhonny Peralta is not more valuable than Miguel Cabrera, likewise Josh Donaldson is not more valuable than Giancarlo Stanton.

WAR is more useful in grouping players. You can, for instance, be confident that a 4 WAR player will be categorically superior to a 2 WAR player. WAR only becomes problematic when comparing players separated by smaller increments.

Now if we want to assign a relative value to offense in today’s game we can look at WAR over time. In the charts below you can see that there is a spike of 6+ WAR players right around 1998 (24) with a spike in 8+ WAR players occurring in 2004.


8 war

Interestingly, in 1994, at the height of the steroid era, there were only five 6+ WAR players and no 8+ WAR players. There is definitely a dip in number of high value players in recent years, but there have been other dips over the years and the correlation between the steroid era and numerous high WAR players isn’t as strong as you might think. Part of this might be whatever value is placed on a player’s defense and the possibility that steroids didn’t factor in as much on the defensive side of the game.

A statistic that I do like is OPS. It is the sum of a player’s on-base percentage and their slugging percentage. OPS is the only widely used statistic that incorporates all the elements of offense: patience, power, and contact.  It is a relatively simple stat that gives us a good solid offensive performance indicator. OPS over time yields a much more pronounced pattern as you can see below (I also included a wOBA comparison for good measure).

ops by year



As you can see, the spike at right around 1998 in both OPS and wOBA is significant and the decline from about 2002 on is steep. This correlates heavily with increases in numerous other offensive categories during the steroid era. The subsequent decline is considerable and in many ways trends all the way back to standards set back in the early 60’s.

The question nevertheless remains … how does this precipitous decline in offense translate in terms of here-and-now value? Clearly there are fewer high level offensive players than there were only a few years ago … scarcity dictates that their monetary value should increase accordingly. Why have good hitters become so hard to come by? Steroids certainly had something to do with the insane number of 900 and 1000 OPS players in the late 90’s, but as the wave of PED’s subsided, like water finding its level, pitching has slowly begun to ascend to pre-steroid norms. The reason why hitters have become so scarce is because they are increasingly overmatched by pitching, which may have benefited less from steroids than hitting did.

So where do you assign greater baseball value in today’s market, hitting or pitching? 900 OPS players are fewer and further between … so from a monetary standpoint elite hitters will be expensive, probably more expensive than pitching. On the other hand, in this great contest of pitchers vs. batters, the pitchers have been absolutely destroying the batters. Good pitching is in fact beating good hitting all over the place. Tough question.

If you have the money and resources, securing an elite hitter or two will give you a rare advantage because there are so few of them available. I took the top three salaries from every team in the league and split the money between pitching and hitting and sure enough in 2014, teams spent $520,008,647 on “top 3 in salary” pitchers, while they spent a whopping $818,182,379 on “top 3” team hitting. So there is quite a difference.

If you are on a tight budget it becomes difficult to field a balanced team when you apportion a huge percentage of your payroll to 1 or 2 hitters (availability is also a major consideration), and you may be better off cultivating a pitching heavy system (since it’s clearly pitching that is carrying the day anyhow). Ideally you’d want to augment with a host of young cost-controlled home grown offensive players as well … Sound familiar?

This goes back to an earlier discussion that compared Sandy Alderson’s approach with the Mets to Theo Epstein’s strategy with the Cubs. The Mets are going to have a lot of pitching coming up in the next few seasons and the Cubs are brimming with young position players. Theo’s premise goes something like, “Since hitters are so scarce, teams will trade more than their pitching equivalent in value to obtain them.”  According to Theo (and a lot of Cubs fans) because there are so few quality hitters Sandy Alderson should be willing to part with deGrom or Syndergaard and Herrera and Plawecki for a single Starlin Castro … but that’s money talking, and increasingly expensive hitters haven’t been winning on the field, cheap young pitching has.

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Minnesota Snow Storms and New York Media Maelstroms Tue, 18 Nov 2014 11:45:22 +0000 mets twins target field

Target Field covered in ice and snow a day before Twins host the Mets.

The bleak Minnesota landscape can really get to you, especially when you’re experiencing mid-January weather in November. I tend to be cranky when it’s so cold your nose hairs crackle. As a New Yorker who likes to complain I’ve run into problems confronting my neighbors with questions like “what the hell was wrong with your ancestors that made them want to live here?” They politely chuckle failing to appreciate the seriousness of my query and go back to their jovial salting and shoveling.

See I possess kind of a trifecta of tribulation that has often caused me to run afoul of the stoic and obdurate happy people … I’ve got the New York disposition, the Mediterranean blood, and worst of all I’m a Mets fan, which pretty much seals the fist-shaking “F.U. polar vortex” deal. This triad of ill-temper limits my patience for whatever annoyances may cross my path, like a dog hair on my couch, or a cap left off the toothpaste…

So the other day when I read John Harper’s article about Jon Niese in the Daily News, I found myself looking for a snow bank to swing a shovel at.  It sounds like Niese was upset after being “top-stepped” by Terry Collins because he didn’t bunt after being given a bunt sign. Now here’s the thing … you can’t expect me to believe that casual fans can point out a poo-poo platter of bizarre late inning permutations orchestrated by our cantankerous white haired gnome of a manager, and that the players who are actually following his orders don’t notice …

Unfortunately, the team, as constituted, is an odd assemblage wide-eyed rookies who don’t have the service time to question anything, and veterans who either tend to be reclamation projects or who have one foot in the proverbial grave – either way there are few viable mid-career veterans with backbone on this team and, oddly enough, it sounds like Jon Niese is one of them. The other veteran in this category is of course David Wright and boy it sure seemed like there were times Collins got under his skin as well.

It kind of reminds me of when I first moved to Minnesota. I was a winter rookie back then. I did stupid stuff like wearing wire-rimmed glasses on a bike ride to the good old U of M in January. Nothing like having a nice chunk of skin torn off the bridge of your nose as you walk into class screaming, the whole room turning and wondering what is wrong with that guy? See I didn’t complain much those first couple of winters … I figured I was the problem. Now-a-days having been here 19 years, I push back. Sure I’ve got my 800 gram Thinsulate Red Wings and my arctic parka, but still I complain … especially to some of my more docious neighbors. I will routinely accost them as they shovel a particularly chunky snow-plow drift blocking their driveway with questions like, “Did you know, home prices in Florida are at all time lows?” It’s a rhetorical question of course.

Anyway, the Mets by and large lack the sort of player who might push back when Collins emerges from his mushroom forest to manage the team and proceeds to throw wrenches out of his penny-arcade bag of tricks. Maybe the team was purposely constructed to conform and obey, but if that’s the case, someone should let management know that this docile persona runs categorically at odds with a fiery and temperamental fan base. Not to mention the fact that they’re going to have to somehow manufacture a backbone if they ever want to win. So the Niese story is really not a story at all, it’s more like growing pains.


Nevertheless John Harper gets wind of this tidbit about how Jon Niese lost his temper last season (I especially liked the “F#%& You … Take me out if you don’t like it” part – which is pretty much how I feel about the weather) … and he holds onto this little nugget, keeping it in his pocket protector like a chunk of beef jerky he found under his car seat that still looks maybe good enough to eat. Harper then decides to feed us this rotten little morsel, but not just any time … noooo … he waits until worst possible moment, the day the Mets made some positive headlines with the signing of Michael Cuddyer. How dare the Mets try to energize their fan base…

I don’t know if it’s like this with other major league teams, but I doubt it. Maybe the press corps in New York have this dog-eat-dog mentality because they work in the media capital of the world. They are presumably the best at their trade in spite of their tasseled penny loafers and weird hats. It’s a tough gig in a tough town … I get that. I might even excuse a haughty air in press boxes across Midwestern cities that barely rival Staten Island … what I don’t excuse is the old guard’s “kingmaker” mantle and the wrecking ball approach to covering a young team struggling to find its identity.

It isn’t all of them. Mark Carig is a throwback in his honesty and he genuinely seems to take his role as a journalist seriously. Ackert and Rubin are articulate and exacting respectively… Diamond, DiComo and Vorkunov are young, refreshing and insightful…

I think there was a day when a journalist would have taken Neise’s little explosion and kept it to himself if he ever wanted to interview Jonathan again. What purpose does the story serve? It undermines the player’s value at a time when the team’s GM is actively shopping him, it damages the player’s reputation, it harms the relationship between the press and the team… and for what? A few thousand additional hits on a web page and a nascent twitter storm?

The team is young and maturing and as it does it will outgrow not only some of its rookie errors but its complacency and acquiescence too. At some point they will discover they can in fact swim … even in the shark infested waters of the New York media landscape. It’s a shame that one of the lessons young athletes have to learn in NY is to be wary and guarded towards the press, their comments scripted, generic, Jeteresque

We already know what most players are going to say, so why bother with a quote? Why bother trying to cultivate the sort of rapport with your host-team that might make for interesting insightful journalism if they know full well you will throw them under a bus the first chance you get? All for the instant gratification of kicking up a shit-storm in next morning’s sports pages. And they wonder why the print media is going the way of Polariods and the fax machine.


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Don’t Sell Michael Cuddyer’s Impact Short Thu, 13 Nov 2014 22:30:17 +0000 Michael-Cuddyer-Colorado-Rockies

Before we go any further let’s be clear, I like the Michael Cuddyer signing. Some of you may raise an eyebrow because I recently wrote a piece about the correlation between spending, value and performance, however, we need to consider this particular signing in the context of the 2015 Mets.

I’ve been following Cuddyer since he came up with the Twins. He’s always been one of these more than the sum of his parts type guys. He struck me initially as being very well coached and his approach at the plate was refined. He was another in a long line of young productive players churned out by an outstanding Twins player development program.

He was sort of a third baseman back then but he ended up splitting his time all over the place — 3B, 2B, 1B, OF and DH. Over the course of his career, he has spent the most time in the outfield where he sports a .986 fielding percentage. He also has a -15.6 defensive WAR, not the greatest. He seems to get decent jumps and he can handle what he gets to but his range is an issue. Over the past five seasons Cuddyer is next to last in UZR for right fielders.

You also have to factor in the value of the number 15 pick in next year’s draft which is probably somewhere between 10 and 15 million. That pushes the real cost of the Cuddyer contract north of $30 million (a conservative estimate). Cuddy will be 36 before opening day and he only played 49 games last year … there’s that as well. Wait, did I say I liked the Cuddyer signing? I did didn’t I … hmm.

The thing about Cuddyer is he always seems to be in the middle of things offensively.  He has a lifetime .813 OPS, a .347 OBP and a 114 OPS+.

He also has six seasons of 235 or more total bases and five years of 80 or more RBI. Those are some pretty decent figures folks, so there is definitely an argument for this guy … but wait, there’s more.

Since signing Cuddyer, there’s been a lot of talk about park factors and home/away splits, well, consider that from 2005 to 2011, Cuddyer batted .292 at home (at the Metrodome mind you, which most consider a pitcher’s park in it’s later years) and .250 on the road before he arrived to Coors. He has always performed much better at home, and lets face it, couldn’t the Mets use someone like that?

Not counting 2014, Cuddyer averaged 32 doubles a season from 2009 to 2013 — that’s five straight seasons of 30+ doubles (three of them in Minnesota). Since the beginning of 2013 he also has a wRC+ of 142.  He’s got 1,366 hits over his last 10 seasons, and 732 hits over that same recent five year stretch.

He’s getting better as he gets older. You may scoff and point out he spent two thirds of his season on the DL last year, but lets look at the one third he did play. In 49 games he had 63 hits, 32 runs, 15 doubles, 10 home runs, a .579 SLG, and a .955 OPS. Extrapolated over a whole season those are MVP numbers. He’s the kind of player that can carry a team. During one game last September, he had a three hit, one homer, two double, seven RBI game.

If you ask me, there is no argument … Cuddyer is in the midst of a phenomenal six year stretch and over the past year and a half he has been putting up MVP numbers. It reminds me a little of Chipper Jones the way he seemed to get better and better as he got older, eventually wearing down from injuries that in no way seemed to impact his hyper-refined ability to hit. When he played, he was incredibly dangerous.

Most would say we overpaid for Cuddy, especially if you look at his career stats and tack on any kind of dollar value to the draft pick … but when you look at his last six seasons it’s not quite the overpay you’d think. Cuddyer right now (and by right now I mean as recently as last September) is playing at an extremely high level. He’s one of these guys whose intellect and experience appear to be enhancing his approach and making him remarkably productive in spite of his age

If, and it is a HUGE, tremendous, gargantuan if, he can stay on the field. Is it worth the risk? No doubt about it. We have a shot in 2015 if we can muster even a minimal uptick in offense … If Cuddyer can keep himself relatively healthy he will almost single-handedly give us that.

Oh, one other thing, Cuddy has a .338 batting average over the course of six series in the playoffs, including a .348 batting average in the ALCS.


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Mad Money, Bad Returns, Sad Outcomes Sat, 08 Nov 2014 18:37:37 +0000 adam laroche

Adam LaRoche killed a huge Elk this past week for his hunting show Buck Commander. LaRoche (who I’ve never liked much — not sure why) posted a picture of it on Twitter and my first thought was damn that is one big ass elk …

Dan Haren had this to say: “Poor elk, just minding his own business eating some leaves and boom, dead. At least you’re having fun.”

LaRoche is puzzling to me for reasons that have nothing to do with his elk. One reason why he may have felt the urge to go out and shoot stuff was because his team declined his $15 million dollar option. If my employer declined to pay me fifteen hundred I’d be bummed. I tend to blow my stack every time my health care premium goes up. Now what might be especially annoying to LaRoche is that another first baseman in the same league got $15.3 million after hitting .332 with 10 homers and 31 RBI to his .259 average, 26 homers and 92 RBI. That other first baseman is Michael Cuddyer and his qualifying offer will actually pay him more than LaRoche stood to make in Washington.

Confusing isn’t it?

You might point out that one team is a contender and may be inclined to spend more, but It is in fact the contender who discarded LaRoche and his gold glove caliber defense. The Nationals have a glut of infielders and wish to move Ryan Zimmerman to first (who by the way hit .280 with 5 homers and 38 RBI last year), thereby weakening a defense already ranked 20th in baseball. Make sense yet?

The Rockies, who saw an awful lot of money go to their disabled list last season, are offering $15.3 million to a guy who only played 49 games and will be 36 on opening day. In virtually the same breath they let it be known they are willing to part with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez who are due to make $36 million combined next year, and who together played just 161 games in 2014.

If that doesn’t make your head spin, how about the guy who was saddened about the Elk … Dan Haren had a $10 million option kick in for 2015 even though he had an ERA over 4.00 and got shelled in the playoffs. I wouldn’t be so sad.

On the Mets, Jacob deGrom and Juan Lagares made just under $1 million and combined for a WAR of 4.2, while Curtis Granderson and David Wright made $33 million and combined for a WAR of 2.9.  Weird enough?

At some point, no matter how dense some of these front offices are, no matter how determined they are to throw money around, it has to occur to them that players are aging faster and that big free agent contracts are becoming albatrosses more often than not. The free agent mega-deal may soon become a thing of the past. Nevertheless, in the here and now many teams continue to spend.

jay bruce

Pick a team, any team … what the hell lets go with the Reds. Their top four players by salary were Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Homer Bailey, and Jay Bruce, who earned $42 million in 2014. Those four had a combined 1.8 WAR. Now lets take the top 4 players on the Reds for WAR. They would be Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco, Billy Hamilton, and Kristopher Negron, who combined for a 14.5 WAR and earned $2 million … that’s right two million between the four of them.

How about a team with a bigger payroll and a winning record, the Angels. Their top four players combined for 20.1 WAR. Those players were Mike Trout, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Kole Calhoun. They earned a combined $19.3 million ($24.2 million if you count Trout’s signing bonus). Their four highest paid players (Pujols, Hamilton, Wilson, and Weaver) earned $70 million dollars and had a combined 4.4 WAR. Yikes!

The Giants? Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and Brandon Crawford led the team with a 16.1 combined WAR, earning $35.2 million. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Pence, and Posey led in salary at $63.5 million with a 10.3 WAR. The world champs had the lowest salary / WAR differential of all the teams I looked at. Incidentally, Madison Bumgarner made $3.5 million in 2014.

You wonder why any team would offer a long term deal to anyone over the age of 29? Post steroids, players are falling off sooner and declines are much steeper than they were even as recently as 6 or 7 years ago.

The Nationals probably did the right thing declining LaRoche’s option, but they replaced him with someone just as brittle and even more expensive, while the Dodgers are on the hook for $10 million for Haren and his over 4.00 ERA. The Mets better hope against hope that Wright ages well, and the Rockies? The Rockies have lost their minds. Maybe it’s the thin air.

The more I look at these salary numbers vs. performance value the more I become mortified at the thought of the Mets trading any of our prized youngsters away for anyone over the age of 29. Now more than ever, baseball is a young man’s game, and crazy amounts of money thrown at over the hill players with declining skills isn’t going to change that.


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Featured Post: Assigning Market Value To Mets Prospects Fri, 07 Nov 2014 20:19:09 +0000 zack wheeler

I was an overprotected child growing up … a lot like our current batch of Mets pitching prospects. I was sheltered, coddled … had strict limits on my bathroom minutes …

My mom bundled me up in way more layers than I needed and I had a daylight curfew, yet somehow all her caution couldn’t shield me from the effects of growing up on 98th Street in Corona. Like inmates in a prison, the neighborhood kids found a way to get to me. All it takes is one friendly kid that your parents approve of (every neighborhood has them — they look clean and polite on the outside), and all of a sudden your house is at the center of a dirt-bomb war with the 99th Street goons and your flustered mother is pulling you by the ear wondering where you learned such language.

We didn’t like cowards on my block. If you had a beef with someone you stood up and took your licks. The older kids made sure of it — sometimes they’d even break out boxing gloves and make a main event of it. What we didn’t tolerate was guys who’d run away. We made a point of making it worse for them. We used to play this game called “Hunter” where we’d count off by age (younger kids first – easier to catch) and take turns being hunted down and roughed up by the rest of the mob. Kind of like an all-against-one Ringolario only way more violent.

Rules were you had to stay in a two block radius (backyards and fence jumping were permitted), you could not go inside, nothing permanent or “in the face” and … no other rules. Well this one kid would always duck into his house before we’d get to him.

Eventually we got tired of it and three of the biggest kids walked right into his house and dragged him out while that same nice kid tried to explain to this boy’s mom how he’d cheated because he participated in beating everybody else up. Eventually she tired of our diplomat and chased us away swinging her apron, whereupon she commenced to beating him way worse than we would have.

The lesson? Nature abhors a coward, especially in New York … which brings us to the subject at hand. The Mets operate in baseball’s largest market the last time I checked. They are sitting on this stockpile of pitching and have hesitated to pull the trigger on a trade. They’ve been assailed as overly cautious and hesitant, cowardly even. We could use outfield help, maybe a shortstop, yet it almost feels as if our front office is afraid to take a shot. Are they yella? This sort of thing doesn’t fly in New York — apparently these guys didn’t get the memo.

Then again, the last time they traded a pitcher for a position player they sent Collin McHugh to the Rockies for Eric Young Jr., not so good … so maybe they have good reason to be reluctant. But somehow I don’t think the reason behind Alderson’s aversion to trading from his stockpile is fear of failure or the affection he feels for his prospects, although I can picture him following Brandon Nimmo around wiping his nose and bundling him up on chilly mornings. Brandon has that effect on people — he’s got a face you want to make hot cocoa for.

Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta visited MCU Park Wednesday night, likely to check out first-round pick Michael Conforto. (Photo by Jim Mancari)

Anyway, it is well known that this front office ascribes to methodologies that rely on tons of data. For this reason I think chalking up their reluctance to an overly cautious disposition makes no sense. I doubt Alderson is afraid of a little trade-market roughhousing, and he doesn’t seem too worried about fan backlash neither.

So what is it? Why so gun shy? Well, first off, lets consider who we’re dealing with. In Paul DePodesta and Alderson we have an economist and a corporate lawyer who have a penchant for data. My sense is there has to be some sort of measured rationale behind the reticence.

As before, we need look no further than Sandy’s copious rhetoric. The phrase that stands out is “cost-control,” I keep hearing it referencing their stockpile, its inflection conspicuous and loaded. There appears to be something special about cost controlled players as it were, in contemporary baseball vernacular … Something intrinsically exceptional about them beyond their understood affordability.

You hear a lot about how it’s tough to part with a cost controlled player if you aren’t getting one in return (Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner in 2012 was just such an example). So, the notion that you could trade someone like Montero and maybe another equally cost efficient prospect for Alex Gordon or Jose Bautista becomes unlikely because you would not only have to pay Gordon (or Bautista), but you would also lose a cheap controllable asset in Montero — the expense becomes twofold, thus prohibitive.

Another hang-up when it comes to trading from the Mets surplus is assigning a market value to it. I mean if someone asks me how much I want for my corn cob Elvis sculpture, it helps if I have an answer. So what are these prospects actually worth?

The current free agent pool is remarkable in its dearth of top-shelf options. Whether it’s due to qualifying offers or creative ways of signing promising youngsters to long term deals, there appear to be fewer and fewer elite talents hitting free agency. How does that reflect on this discussion? Well, if a spigot runs dry because water is being diverted upstream, you’ve got to go upstream to get the water. If free agency is offering fewer options, then sources further up the pipeline become more lucrative, more valuable. It speaks to supply and demand.

It is difficult, however, to accurately appraise prospects on one end of the pipeline when the drop in volume (and quality) of talent trickling out the the free agent end hasn’t quite triggered a market reflex yet.

This uncertainty is why the Mets have been so reluctant to trade from their surplus. The hope for Alderson and his accomplices is that one more winter of buyers scouring a depleted free agent pool will bring shoppers back to his stockpile at a sizable markup. It’s a waiting game.

So it has nothing whatsoever to do with reticence. Like everything involving the Mets these days this is all about money and assigning value to controllable assets.

Both Epstein and Alderson covet cost controlled young players in a landscape where free agency has become unreliable and prohibitive. One GM is stockpiling position players while the other is stockpiling frontline pitching. Personally I’d go with pitching but it will be interesting to see how this little staring contest plays out. Another game we used to play on my block was flinch


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Featured Post: Enemy At The Gates Wed, 05 Nov 2014 17:04:10 +0000 My family was kind of a Mets microcosm when I was growing up. My father and I were the die-hards with my sister offering casual support, while my mother was the long suffering enabler … Sister and Mom tolerated our tendency to hog the TV when a game was televised, but when the games ended my sister and I would battle it out over Three’s Company vs. The 6 Million Dollar Man.

robots_cartoons_gigantorIt got pretty ugly … I’m talking Comet to the eyes and throwing kitchen utensils ugly. And it was always lose / lose for me. She’d usually get the best of me because she was six years older and on the occasions when I did manage to strike a blow (like the time I threw a jar of Ponds cold cream at her) she would pull the “he hit me in my uterus now I won’t be able to have children” card, which was a Pavlov’s whistle for my parents to intervene and beat the tar out of me while she’d watch Dynasty in peace.

And after all those beatings I took she still ended up having kids … but I still love her in spite of her failure to appreciate Gigantor. I don’t get it. Giant robot fighting other giant robots, push button controller, and the most excellent theme music… What’s not to like?

When the Mets were on, my Dad and I only argued about one thing, the Mets, and we did it a lot. We loved to argue, (a staple in Greek discourse since 553 B.C.). Arguing was an art form for us replete with biting sarcasm, crescendos of volume and pitch, fist-pounding emphasis and flippant hand waving … we had it all. There was my eternal obnoxiously confident optimism vs. my dad’s curt reasoned and dismissive pessimism. This dichotomy persists in Mets fans to this day. We are of two minds, those who enjoy their Gatorade bottle half full and those who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid.

Spock-star-trekThen, as soon as the game was over it would start again, Star Trek or Dallas?… I mean COME ON … Interestingly, one of my favorite Science Fiction writers, Theodore Sturgeon, spoke to this optimistic/pessimistic Mets dichotomy in one of my favorite episodes … Amok Time – the one where Kirk and Spock fight to the death! Spock, after seemingly killing Kirk, says to this younger more handsome bigger eared Vulcan dude (who happens to be bopping his wife):

“Stonn, she is yours, after a time, you may find, that having is not so pleasing a thing after all, as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

Kind of like Henny Youngman’s line, “Take my wife … please.” The Mets are a lot like an abusive spouse when you think about it, they insult your intelligence, take all your disposable income, belittle your dreams and ambitions and demean you in front of your friends.

The line by Spock, however, relates to Mets fans like myself who for years and years were pessimistic about our inability to build from the farm, who complained about our tendency to trade away our prospects for aging stars, and now that we have what we’ve clamored for we don’t like it so much! We find flaws in the approach, we complain about how long it’s taking, demand rash trades and bold moves! Believe me, I feel all these things myself  — you see in every Mets fan there is an optimist and pessimist struggling for mastery of our eternal Mets soul.

the birdsEven I feel doubt creeping over me these days like some sort of arctic duck covered in crude oil. It’s been too damned long, this can’t go on, there has to be an end to the hardship I tell myself.

The universe would be thrown off balance if an injustice as destabilizing as this suffering were to continue for much longer. Birds would start attacking, the ice caps would melt, the earth would be thrown off its axis, the Corona Ice King would stop serving pistachio flavor!

Fortunately things have a way of balancing out. Like the Yin and Yang, for every darkness there’s a light … Our suffering not only builds character, it creates a kind of Karmic surplus only with draft picks. Eventually all the heartache translates into Noah Syndergaard and Brandon Nimmo and Kevin Plawecki… Conforto, Montero, Matz, Herrera and Reynolds too… The list goes on and on.

Pipeline lists have become a kind of salve for our collective Mets wounds. Baseball Prospectus ranked the Mets farm system at number eight, describing it as “A Solid blend of pitching and positional talent, ranging from high-risk/high-reward types at the lower levels to safer high-floor prospects nearing the major-league level.“ Feels good reading that doesn’t it? It’s like baseball balm.

Now Sandy Alderson came into his New York GM gig knowing payroll would be limited with ownership desperately reallocating a massive debt. He knew two of the toughest challenges would be the impatient fan base and the Sharknado media. He also knew that the Wilpons’ financial distress might be a blessing in disguise, giving him the opportunity to work with impunity. Here was this window, this unique chance to take a failing big market franchise and perform a small-market rebuild, restocking the organization at it’s roots. What we’ve always wanted right? Four years later, is having not so pleasing a thing as wanting?

If you ask me, the front office has done its job. They promised to rebuild the farm system and they did. Glass half full right? Wrong! Since 2011, Mets payroll has been reduced by 58 million dollars. The greatest farm system in the world won’t help you if you are reducing payroll by an average of $14 million dollars per season for four years running.

Mets CubsAnd that, my friends, is on ownership.

My Dad has passed away but I still argue with Mets fans when I can. These days it is more a blame game. Who is responsible for our losing? Alderson? The Wilpons? Collins?

The informed reply suggests some combination of the three but composite reasoning doesn’t do it for me. While I would certainly agree that Collins helps in the winning department about as much as a blow torch at a three alarm fire … this team is tantalizingly close and would hurdle right over the top with just a little boost, just a few dollars more.

But no … if you weren’t feeling dejected enough, just wait for it … like Jacob Marley in rattling chains we now have the specter of wasted once-in-a-generation talent at the foot of our beds — the notion that Harvey and Wheeler and deGrom could see their efforts evaporate on account of an ownership group that is incapable of even that drop that would fix the roster.

This my fellow fans is a crime against the game and an insult to the baseball gods, which might just wipe out whatever positive Karma our suffering has accrued by pissing them off all over again. The enemies at the gate of a bright future are, alas, the same ones charged with delivering on that future. The enemy lies within.

mmo footer

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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 this little piggy is going in the medical waste bin. What a shame, 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 been 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. Mike also never tested positive.

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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