Mets Merized Online » Mitch Petanick http://metsmerizedonline.com Sun, 07 Feb 2016 21:08:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.13 Pitching Inside: The Lost Art That May Never Return http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/pitching-inside-the-lost-art-that-may-never-return.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/pitching-inside-the-lost-art-that-may-never-return.html/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 13:00:15 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=205614 zack wheeler whiff

“People have gotten away from that, people are getting soft these days. I don’t care, if somebody is showing me up or throwing at one of our guys, you are going to get something inside to let you know I noticed that.” – Zack Wheeler in his recent New York Post interview.

Remember when the pitchers owned the inside of the plate? Hitters didn’t wear helmets, and it was much easier for a pitcher to intimidate a hitter. The inside half of the plate belonged to the pitcher. If you ventured too far into the pitcher’s territory, you more than likely got a nice clean shave from a pitch that was high and tight, reminding you that you crossed the line.

The pitchers used the inside pitch to keep hitters off balance. Hitters that were overly conscious of an inside pitch blazing in at 95mph were left vulnerable to off speed pitches and pitches on the outside part of the plate. Logically speaking, the pitchers that used the inside part of the plate as part of their strategy seemed to be more successful. Bob Gibson used the inside pitch to intimidate hitters. So did Pedro Martinez. Matt Harvey and Wheeler seem to like it. Heck, even a young Roy Oswalt commented on pitching inside in an early ESPN interview:

“It’s fun to see the fear of the hitter — especially if you’ve got a big-name hitter up there, and you throw inside, you can tell it gets under their skin. They want the ball out over the plate. Especially a young guy like me throwing inside, they don’t like that too much. I believe you have to. If you don’t knock ‘em down once in a while, then they get real comfortable. The biggest key to being successful is throwing balls inside for strikes and balls inside to move their feet. You have to throw a pitch to get them out of their stance.”

I always believed that pitchers chose to shy away from pitching inside because of the steroid era freaks being able to turn on the inside pitch consistently, and park it in the bleacher seats. The hitters began to crowd the plate more and more as advanced equipment came out to protect them — remember Barry Bonds‘ robo-arm guard? The hitters had less fear of getting hit by an inside pitch, and had more ability than ever (due to the enhancements from PEDs) to do more damage with the inside pitch.

But the question is, now that game has been cleaned up from rampant PED use, why haven’t the pitchers taken back the area of the plate that was once rightfully theirs?

Since we are in this golden age of advanced statistics, I wondered if there were any that could show that pitchers are more successful if they don’t pitch inside. If that were the case, it would explain why pitchers have all but abandoned pounding the ball in.

The search didn’t take long. Sure enough, I stumbled on to an incredibly detailed article on Fangraphs which tackled this very topic. In the article, they use statistics to either validate or void some comments that Zack Greinke made about pitching inside. I’m not going to get into great detail here (Read article on Fangraphs), but Greinke basically says while he found that hitters made better contact and hit the ball harder when he stayed away, and hitters tend to get on base more on inside pitches.

The first part of the sentence made perfect sense to me, but the second half was hard to believe.

He goes on to add that even though the hitters tend to hit the outside pitch harder, most hitters don’t have the power to hit a ball over the outfielder’s head to the opposite field. If a guy hits a ball 300 feet in the air, it’s more than likely an out. When he came inside to hitters, they had just enough power to get a squib hit that would often drop in.

Very interesting. But did the stats back up what Grienke was saying?

I have to admit, I was skeptical in thinking the stats would back up all of his claims, but they did. In fact, the hitters had a higher batting average and slugging percentage on inside pitches. That means that not only were they getting on base more successfully, but they weren’t exactly squibs either. The data was so convincing, that they go on further in the article to question why any pitcher would pitch inside anymore.

Well that just busted my bubble. I was hoping that with this dominating Mets staff, where the average pitch speed is something like 94mph on the radar gun, we would see some old school pounding of that inside corner. Now I don’t think it’s such a great idea. Wheeler may have been right about people getting soft on pitching inside, but is more than likely the statistics dictating new pitching strategies as everyone is looking for every advantage in their journey to a World Series title.

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The Sixth Tool http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/the-sixth-tool.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2016/02/the-sixth-tool.html/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 14:00:16 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=205546 image

Although it may sound like a M. Night Shyamalan movie, the sixth tool does exist in baseball, and is arguably the most important and yet overlooked tool a player can possess.

We know the traditional five tools are hitting for average, hitting for power, base running (speed + skills), throwing ability and fielding ability. Players are generally rated on a scale which determines where on the spectrum of each tool that they lie. If they excel in all five, that is the coveted five tool player that every scout is trying to find.

As they stand alone, these tools are nothing more than abilities, and make no determination as to whether or not the player will be successful on the field of play. So what determines whether a player with three, four, or even five tools becomes a successful player at the major league level?

This is where the sixth tool comes into play.

The sixth tool has been incorrectly identified by some in the past, as the pitch recognition tool. While this is very important to develop, I would still list that as one of the attributes that fall under one of the traditional five tools — hitting for average. You can’t hit for average if you can’t recognize pitches.

No, the sixth tool is much more than that.

The sixth tool is having an in-depth knowledge of the game, as well as one’s self. It’s primarily mental for the athlete. It gives the player the ability to get a better jump on a ball, or know what pitch is coming next. This is the sort of thing that can’t necessarily be measured, which is why it is often the most underrated and overlooked tool in the player’s tool box.

The sixth tool is not just some way to explain how crazy plays happen — like the iconic Derek JeterFlip Play” during the 2001 ALDS. There is no such thing as “right place at the right time” to explain how a crazy play just took place, it was the player’s innate sixth tool which allowed it to unfold.

The sixth tool is what I would argue gets a promising prospect to the big leagues, and it also transforms good prospects into eventual Hall of Famers. These players are able to read angles, understand strategy so well that they are thinking three steps ahead, and know themselves better than the other players on the field know themselves. They tend to rise to the occasion no matter what you throw at them. When you watch these players, you say they have “it.” I usually say they’re just damn good ball players.

The most recent player that comes to mind that demonstrates the sixth tool is Joe Panik, of the San Francisco Giants. I followed Panik’s career very closely due to the fact that he is the only athlete to ever play professional sports from my alma mater high school. He wasn’t drafted out of high school, but went on to St. John’s University and was one of the top college short stops in the nation back in 2011. He was selected at the end of the first round of the 2011 draft, and the pick immediately drew criticism.

The criticism didn’t stop there. Although Panik was listed as a top prospect in the Giants organization, all you heard was people questioning the guy’s tools, and question if he would be anything more than a fringe platoon player due to his lack of “standout tools.” Unfortunately for them…no…actually, fortunately for them, Panik did have a standout tool — the sixth tool. The kid could just play ball. It more than compensated for his lack of standout tools. And now, the Giants are reaping the benefits of having an All-Star second baseman, just starting to test the limits on what he can accomplish on the field.

Amed Rosario (Photo by Jim Mancari)

Amed Rosario (Photo by Jim Mancari)

When evaluating prospects and players, it is wise to not get too excited when we hear about “toolsy players” that have done little-to-nothing to show they can play the game of baseball. A player that jumps out at me with this distinction is Amed Rosario. Everyone gets googley eyes when someone is rated highly with their tools. They have visions of the next Ken Griffey Jr., or Ozzie Smith in their minds. The reality is the majority of those players are going to wash out, and the players who possess the sixth tool — the players who may have been ranked towards the back end of the prospect list due to their lack of standout tools, are the players that make an impact on a team.

However, when you do find that coveted five tool player that possesses the sixth tool…it’s magic. That’s when you get your Mike Trouts, your Griffeys, and your other iconic players that define generations. But that doesn’t necessarily mean players need all five tools to get to that level either. Larry Bird, the godfather of the sixth tool (applied it to basketball), proved that.

So how do you know when you have a player in front of you that possesses the sixth tool? I said earlier there is no way to measure it — I hate to say it, but you just know it when you see it. After watching the player perform day in and day out it becomes easy to identify. And even though it may be obvious that they have the sixth tool, the players that possess it often take a back seat to players with the standout tools that can be measured on a scale. That is, until you can’t ignore it anymore.

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Matt Harvey, The Real Baseball Maverick http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/04/matt-harvey-the-real-baseball-maverick.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/04/matt-harvey-the-real-baseball-maverick.html/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 19:59:23 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=178576 matt harvey 2

The temperature is in the mid-40s. It’s a dreary, early spring day on the east coast. It’s not exactly the type of day you would be running to the ballpark to watch a game. That is, unless, the pitching matchup features Stephen Strasburg and Matt Harvey.

Below, you will find an actual text conversation that took place between Joe. D and myself at about 2:00 pm this afternoon:

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I said “he looks pretty damn good” after he blew a 97mph heater past Bryce Harper to end the third inning. It may only be one game, but if you didn’t know any better, you would think Strasburg was the pitcher that was pitching in his first official game since coming off Tommy John surgery, not Harvey.

We didn’t need to watch an E:60 on ESPN to let us know that Harvey was back. Although, the fact that he agreed to take part in an E:60 shows why Harvey is successful on the mound. How many other players would have the balls to put that type of pressure on themselves? And the fact that ESPN even approached him to do it is equally as telling.

There were a lot of questions as to why ESPN would have run that episode on Harvey when he seemingly has accomplished so little in his short time in the major leagues (dudes were straight sipping haterade on Twitter). The answer is simple for anyone with two eyes to see—he’s a special talent. He has “it,” and every other cliche superlative you want to use to describe him.

On the cover of Baseball Maverick by Steve Kettmann, it states “How Sandy Alderson Revitalized Baseball and Revived the New York Mets.” I didn’t read the book, but the second half of that statement is clearly false—it was Matt Harvey who single-handedly revived the New York Mets and their fan base. Harvey is the type of player that a city and team rally around—the type of player that says get on my back, and everyone else get the eff out of my way.

The fan base had slowly been getting the life sucked out of themselves since 2006 until Harvey arrived on the scene. Now we have #HarveyDay, and all the Mets fans can be found in front of their television sets every fifth day when he pitches.

Much like Batman gave desperate Gothamites the hope of better times, Harvey has done the same for Mets fans. As fans, we felt as if the ground was ripped out from under our feet when we heard Harvey had to undergo TJ surgery. It was a quick reminder of how cruel this game and life could be as we watched a young man who had taken the game by storm, brought to his knees.

I believe everything happens for a reason, and as Thomas Wayne once said “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” Mets fans have certainly learned to pick themselves back up over the years, and after nine strikeouts in his first game back, it seems Matt Harvey has as well.

I’m sorry Mr. Kettmann, but I have to disagree. If anyone revitalized the Mets, it was Matt Harvey, not Sandy Alderson.

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Montero Could Be Best No. 5 Pitcher In League http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/03/montero-could-be-best-no-5-pitcher-in-league.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2015/03/montero-could-be-best-no-5-pitcher-in-league.html/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 14:13:17 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=177275 rafael montero Brad Barr-USA TODAY

It wasn’t long ago that we were referring to Rafael Montero as “The Dominator” here at MMO, as his pitching performances often left us with our mouths hanging open, and each performance seemed to get better and better.

Then he was called up to make a few starts with the Mets last year, and all the hype caught up to him. He didn’t look like the same guy that we watched dominate so many minor league games over the past couple of seasons. Many fans may have started to question what the big deal was about this prospect that had heard so much about.

Let’s face it, Montero wouldn’t have been the first prospect to completely over power minor league competition and then not be able to put it together at the big league level. Whether it be something mental, or the pressure of the big leagues, some players just don’t ever live up to the hype.

However, Montero doesn’t seem like that type of guy. If you read or listen to his interviews, he sounds hungry—he sounds confident.

Say what you will about Terry Collins and his management style, but it was a smart move to start Montero against the Yankees. Like Collins alluded to in post-game interviews, he got a chance to see him against a big-time lineup.

“That is the best I’ve seen him,” Collins said after the Mets 7-2 win. “We’ve heard for two years about what a strike thrower he was, and last year when he came up I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but we didn’t see that.”

If you watched that game, you saw some things that made Montero so great in the minor leagues, and yet you also saw some things that got him into trouble when he was called up last year. His change-up was masterful. Watching him throw that pitch and see the left-handed hitters swing through it as it dove down and away from them was a reminiscent of Montero in Binghamton a couple of seasons ago. His curveball was sharp—but it’s Montero’s fastball that will get him into trouble.

Montero isn’t overpowering—generally sitting in the low 90s. Montero’s fastball also tends to be flat—very little movement that comes in at waist height to the hitter. He has to rely on pinpoint control, moving the ball in and out and working the corners in order to be successful. If the fastball catches too much of the plate, the major league hitters will take advantage of it, as we witnessed this past Tuesday when Chase Headley ripped that double in the gap.

We know that Montero has earned a roster spot for 2015. Whether that is in a relief or starter role remains to be seen. Montero truly has the stuff to be one of the best No. 5 starters in the league. It’s pretty impressive when one of the greatest baseball players of all-time says “He’s got a really good arm and he should be a nice asset for that team for a long time.” You may not like Alex Rodriguez, but the guy knows baseball.

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Steven Matz Makes Grapefruit League Debut http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/03/steven-matz-makes-grapefruit-league-debut.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/03/steven-matz-makes-grapefruit-league-debut.html/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 13:03:28 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=149491 steven matz

Matz displaying the changeup grip.

You’ve heard the name before, but 2013 was the first real look at the Mets’ LHP prospect Steven Matz due to him missing significant time recovering from arm injuries.

I recently named him as my Mets’ pitching prospect to watch in 2014, as he seems to be on a path to be named a top-five prospect very soon. When a scout finds a left-handed pitching prospect that bring an electric 95 mph fastball, it’s like a fisherman landing an 800 pound marlin. It’s easy to see why the Mets protected Matz from the Rule 5 Draft, and added him to the 40-man roster—every angler looking to hook an 800 pound marlin would have cast their line into the water.

Not many Mets fans have gotten a chance to see this young man pitch and see why everyone is so excited. Unless you live in the Savannah area, odds are you are limited to the one video that can be found on YouTube that shows Matz throwing about 15 pitches—some better than others. You may have also seen a Vine of him spinning things on his finger like a Harlem Globetrotter. However, if you hung around long enough in the Mets game yesterday, you would have gotten a chance to see Matz on the bump.

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Matz came in the fourth inning of yesterday’s matchup against the Cardinals, and gave Mets fans another glance of what the future holds. The first batter he faced was Yadier Molina—talk about pressure. He quickly got behind 3-0 in the count, as he couldn’t spot his fastball. But Matz battled back, and struck out Molina on six pitches.

Facing his second batter, he flashed two very good curveballs before giving up a base hit on a fastball.

Here is some further analysis of what we saw in Matz’s appearance yesterday.

Fastball

This is a plus offering for Matz. The command was a little shaky yesterday, but it’s very early in the year. With more innings, the command will come. He wasn’t afraid to come inside on the right-handed hitters, and was very aggressive with his fastball, which was very nice to see from a guy who brings a mid-90s heater.

Curve Ball

I have heard that Matz has scrapped the slider in favor of a more effective curve ball, and yesterday was the first chance I got to see it. His curve didn’t have the 12-to-6 break you normally see, it was more like 11-to-5, but it was extremely effective. However, he stuck to fastballs for the majority of the pitches he threw.

Changeup

Matz throws a very solid changeup that has plus-potential. It has excellent movement—tailing away from the right-handed hitters/in on lefties. He struck out a batter with a changeup to end the fourth inning yesterday and it looked nasty. With his velocity, he can pepper fastballs on the inside half, and changeups on the outside half to keep the hitters off-balance, and be very successful.

In all, Mets fans should definitely look for great things from Matz in 2014. It’s easy to see why he is creating a buzz and there is a ton of excitement building for the young fireballer again. He struck out over 28% of the batters he faced in 2013 and put up a FIP of 2.63, which is excellent. He will probably start the season in St. Lucie and be a nice replacement as the ace of the staff after Noah Syndergaard set St. Lucie ablaze in 2013.

Bold Prediction: After watching him pitch in yesterday’s game, he has the stuff to skip to Binghamton. If he doesn’t start there, he should join Binghamton right around the All-Star break. He could be in the mix for a 2015 call-up and possible bullpen option for late 2014 if he doesn’t exceed his innings limit.

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Inside Look: Dead Arm Syndrome http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/inside-look-dead-arm-syndrome.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/inside-look-dead-arm-syndrome.html/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 19:10:09 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=149099 jon nieseHere is a little more information about what Jon Niese thinks he is experiencing, and why the Mets are sending him back to New York for a MRI. The following is taken from Wikipedia:

Dead arm syndrome starts with repetitive motion and forces on the posterior capsule of the shoulder. The posterior capsule is a band of fibrous tissue that interconnects with tendons of the rotator cuff of the shoulder. Four muscles and their tendons make up the rotator cuff. They cover the outside of the shoulder to hold, protect and move the joint.

Overuse can lead to a build up of tissue around the posterior capsule called hypertrophy. The next step is tightness of the posterior capsule called posterior capsular contracture. This type of problem reduces the amount the shoulder can rotate inwardly.

Over time, with enough force, a tear may develop in the labrum. The labrum is a rim of cartilage around the shoulder socket to help hold the head of the humerus (upper arm) in the joint. This condition is called a superior labrum anterior posterior (SLAP) lesion. The final outcome in all these steps is the dead arm phenomenon.

The shoulder is unstable and dislocation may come next. Dead arm syndrome won’t go away on its own with rest—it must be treated. If there’s a SLAP lesion, then surgery is needed to repair the problem. If the injury is caught before a SLAP tear, then physical therapy with stretching and exercise can restore it.

Here is an excerpt from a piece that was on MLB.com, back in 2009, on Dead arm syndrome:

For Seattle starter Ryan Rowland-Smith and many other Major League pitchers, it’s mostly a Spring Training thing.

“You’re coming off an offseason where you have your own throwing program,” Rowland-Smith says.

“All of a sudden you get to camp and you’re throwing to bases, doing extra stuff. You’re on your legs all day, and that’s when you get that dead arm. You’re in the heat, with day games after day games. You’re up early in the morning. All those things factor into it.”

And when the dog days of August hit and teams are plowing ahead in the latter stages of a 162-game regular-season grind, dead arm can resurface and potentially taint a pennant race.

The key, most veterans agree, is to do the only thing you can do to get rid of it.

“Just pitch through it,” C.C. Sabathia says.

Easier said than done for a 6-foot-7, 280-pound perennial Cy Young candidate, but Linebrink says Sabathia’s dead-on about curing dead arm.

“You absolutely have to just keep going and pitching and you know it’ll come back,” Linebrink says.

And here is an excerpt from a piece written in the Wall Street Journal back in 2011:

Still, “dead-arm syndrome” varies so much in its degrees and its causes that even its name “has become sort of a bucket term,” said Dr. Michael Hausman, the vice-chairman of orthopedics at Mount Sinai Hospital. “It’s not a precise diagnosis.”

Usually, Hausman said, a pitcher who has a “dead arm” has a slight injury to his labrum, the rim of cartilage that keeps the shoulder’s ball-and-socket joint stable. The injury and the shoulder’s resulting instability might be so subtle that the pitcher wouldn’t sense any pain at all. “The brain is trying to protect your body,” Hausman said, “and it basically lowers your fastball in order to prevent you from damaging your arm.”

My experiences with pitchers and players experiencing dead arm (it’s not just isolated to pitchers), is that there generally isn’t pain involved with dead arm. As you can see from the Wikipedia description, nowhere is the word pain used in the explanation. Dead arm is simply fatigue—the ball doesn’t come out with the same snap as usual. It’s fairly common in pitchers early in camp as they do extra throwing due to fielding practice and adjust to the Florida heat…

But the pain scares me. Pitching coaches and trainers know the signs of dead arm, so to be sent for a MRI means there may be more to it. Let’s hope that Niese’s dead arm is not a result of an underlying injury, and his body’s way of protecting itself from further injury by lowering his arm strength, as Dr. Michael Hausman pointed out in the WSJ article.

Keep checking back with MMO for updates on the Niese situation.

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Bartolo Colon Held Out Of Workouts Due To Tight Calf http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/bartolo-colon-held-out-of-workouts-due-to-tight-calf.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/bartolo-colon-held-out-of-workouts-due-to-tight-calf.html/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 18:52:56 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=149091 Terry Collins advised the reporters earlier today that Bartolo Colon is experiencing some tightness in his calf.

Colon was held out of team workouts on Wednesday, and instead, rode the stationary bike.

Adam Rubin reported that Collins said ”I just told Bartolo this morning, ‘Hey, look, stay in and get some treatment.’ He rode the bike all morning. He did all the stuff he always does. I just wanted to get him off his feet. And Eric wanted to be out there. I just said, ‘You’re going to play this weekend. Let’s get ready for the weekend.’”

Where Collins mentions Eric, it was in reference to Eric Young Jr who has been experiencing some discomfort in his side.

Neither injury sounds too serious.

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It’s Clear That Ike Davis Is The Best Option At First Base For The Mets http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/its-clear-that-ike-davis-is-the-best-option-at-first-base-for-the-mets.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/its-clear-that-ike-davis-is-the-best-option-at-first-base-for-the-mets.html/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:38:46 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=149049 MLB: New York Mets-WorkoutIke Davis is two seasons removed from his breakout campaign in 2012, where he belted 32 homeruns. It’s such a rare feat in major league baseball to hit 30-plus homeruns that only 5-10% of players do this, on average, any given season. You can’t hit 30 homeruns in a season by accident.

Davis gets a bad rap for his unorthodox swing. You didn’t have to be a hitting coach to see what was wrong with his swing at the beginning of last year—he started with his hands up above his head, then as the pitcher began his motion, he dropped them all the way down to waist level only to have to bring them back up to the hitting zone to take his swing.

Simply stated—Davis’ timing was off. The science of hitting is so precise, that the time that it takes you to blink your eye can turn a would-be homerun, to a weak grounder or even a swing and miss. A millisecond is all it takes to turn a potential All-Star into a player getting run out of town.

He eventually went down to Triple-A to work out the kinks, and came back with a tweaked version of his original swing.

While he still drops his hands, as was evident in the video posted by Adam Rubin of Davis taking batting practice the other day, it’s not as dramatic. He now keeps his hands at about shoulder height in his stance, cutting down the distance he drops his hands. This should allow him to get to the ball quicker.

It’s not the dropping of the hands that is the problem with Davis, it was the distance he was dropping them. Dropping the hands is the way Davis loads his swing, it just looks awkward because most hitters bring their hands straight back. It’s different from the way we were all taught growing up. The only difference is, you and I are sitting on our couch watching him play every week on our television, and he’s a major league baseball player. That means he is in the top five percent of baseball players on the entire planet—that deserves our respect.

Plenty of players have had successful swings with unorthodox swings—Gary Sheffield is the first player that comes to mind, and there are countless others.

After he made the adjustment to his swing down in Triple-A last season, he was hitting much better. Take a look at the splits below:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
1st Half 63 239 212 21 35 3 0 5 18 2 0 25 73 .165 .255 .250 .505 .222
2nd Half 40 138 105 16 30 11 0 4 15 2 0 32 28 .286 .449 .505 .954 .351

After the adjustment, you can see that Davis really became an offensive threat again. Those second-half numbers are outstanding. He increased his walks and batting average while reducing his strikeouts (and I mean, he really reduced his strikeouts). He had almost as many hits, homers and RBI as he did in the first half of the year but with over 100 fewer at-bats. This turn around was all due to the slight tweak in the distance his hands travelled in his swing—he gained back that millisecond he was losing.

If we apply what he did in the second half of 2013, across a hypothetical 500 at-bats, he would have hit in the .280-range, with 20 homeruns, 100+ walks, and about 40 doubles in 2014. If we were in Boston, we would be saying he hit the ball wicked-hard, but in New York, we want to over-analyze his swing and run him out of town because of it.

If Davis can stay focused, there is enough here to think he can get his career back on track. He shouldn’t be concerned with what the newspaper writers, or anyone else for that matter, thinks about 2013. He has to put 2013 behind him for good, or he will never be able to move on with his career. I will leave you with a quote, from Keven Holmes, which summarizes the mindset hitters have to have at the plate…

“If you live in the past, you have no future. Forget what you did yesterday, and achieve your goal for today.”

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Mets Still Unimpressed With Ruben Tejada http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/mets-still-unimpressed-with-ruben-tejada.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/mets-still-unimpressed-with-ruben-tejada.html/#comments Tue, 25 Feb 2014 14:32:48 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=148999 Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 9.23.54 AMThe Ruben Tejada saga won’t go away. The Mets have been linked to free-agent Stephen Drew, and now to Nick Franklin, evidentally because they are not convinced that Ruben Tejada is the everyday shortstop. We know this because if they were convinced Tejada was their man, we still wouldn’t be having these discussions.

Early news in camp seemed to be positive, but now it’s starting to look as if that may just have been a smoke screen, as the Mets and Drew’s agent seem to be in a standoff regarding his services. The latest story in the NY Post states:

Even though Tejada attended an offseason strength/conditioning and nutrition camp in Michigan, Mets management has not been overwhelmed by the shortstop’s “new’’ body.

“He looks pretty much the same,’’ one source told The Post on Monday.

Frustrated with Tejada, the Mets still have a strong interest in signing free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, two sources have told The Post. They also have shown interest in Seattle’s Nick Franklin.

Another anonymous source leaking a story…what a surprise. But it all makes sense.

Sandy Alderson may have been trying to leverage the positivity around Tejada early in camp, and Franklin’s trade availability in his game of cat and mouse with Scott Boras. Boras has said that Drew is willing to wait until June to sign. I find that hard to believe. Unfortunately, the fact that we are even discussing Franklin and Drew, and the Mets willingness to give Wilmer Flores burn at shortstop shows that the Mets have no intention of starting the season with Tejada as their starter. That puts Boras and Drew in the driver’s seat.

Now they just sit back and wait for the Mets to cave. They know that the Mets would be wise to get a deal done before any games are played this spring, because every poor performance by Tejada gives Boras and Drew more leverage. Now we are hearing that the Mets are willing to discuss a trade with the Mariners involving their shortstop/second baseman, Nick Franklin.

Let’s take a look at this scenario.

The Mets have stated that the trade talks could heat up later this spring. Later this spring—meaning we will try to sign Drew before giving away an established major leaguer or top prospect for a second year player that hasn’t accomplished more than Tejada at this point.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 9.25.07 AMThe Mets can sign Drew and sacrifice a draft pick. For this, it will cost them a little extra (money wise) but they will get an established major leaguer to man the shortstop position. The draft pick is unknown, so they would not be losing much.

The Mets can also trade for Franklin. This will give them a potential 20/20 player that is under team control for the next six years—but it will probably cost them a Rafael Montero-like prospect. Many don’t think Franklin has the range to play shortstop at the major league level—the guy can steal 20 bases in a season but has poor range? When was the last time Jhonny Peralta stole 20 bases in a season? I’ll give you a hint: NEVER. Not even close.

Decisions, decisions.

Many baseball experts have Drew pegged as a future New York Met. Whether that happens is yet to be seen.

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Featured Post: Can Eric Young Have a .350 OBP If He Bunts More? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/featured-post-can-eric-young-have-a-350-obp-if-he-bunts-more.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/featured-post-can-eric-young-have-a-350-obp-if-he-bunts-more.html/#comments Fri, 21 Feb 2014 14:54:47 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=148521 eric young

“Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – a gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.” Crash Davis, Bull Durham

That’s all it takes. One hit per week to turn a .250 hitter into a .300 hitter. It just so happens that Eric Young Jr. hit .249 last year. That would mean that if he could manage one more hit per week…just one more ground ball with eyes…just one more bunt base hit…he could be a .300 hitter and probably get his OBP up in the .350 range.

Terry Collins advised the media yesterday that Young could have a .350 OBP if he bunted more. It sounds like they want Young to play more of a Willie Mays Hayes style of baseball in 2014.

Here is what Metsblog contributor, Maggie Wiggin, tweeted in response to the Collins quote yesterday:

This tweet is accurate. Gaining an additional 20 bunt hits seems highly unlikely, but it leaves out one important fact—Young’s speed puts added pressure on the defense. That means if he bunts, the defense has to field the ball cleanly, and make a strong accurate throw in order to get the speedy Young out. Odds are, while he may not be able to accumulate 22-25 extra hits from bunts, he may be able to accumulate 10-15 more hits and get on base an additional 5-10 times due to errors made.

That’s hypothetical, but possible.

If Young added 15 more hits (less than one per week), that’s a .276 average and .330 OBP (based on his 539 at-bats in 2013). That is more realistic than saying Young can have a .350 OBP simply by bunting more.

While reaching base on an error is helping the team, it isn’t factored into OBP because it is looked at as luck. However, when your speed is causing fielders to rush, that isn’t luck, it’s skill. Even if it’s not reflected in his actual OBP, Young is impacting the offense by getting on base more often where the Mets can take advantage of his speed. So if he bunts more, hypothetically he will get on base more, even if it’s not reflected in his stats.

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Noah Syndergaard and the “Hook from Hell” http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/noah-syndergaard-and-the-hook-from-hell.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/noah-syndergaard-and-the-hook-from-hell.html/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 17:41:27 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=148367 HOWARD SIMMONS NEW YORK DAILY NEWSIf you read some of the reports coming out of Port St. Lucie yesterday, you would think everyone just crawled out from under a rock. I can’t remember the last time a bullpen session caused so much buzz. Noah Syndergaard, the Mets’ No. 1 prospect, put on an incredible show yesterday.

What was everyone expecting?

You can rewind to about 25 different articles on MMO covering his dominating performances in 2013. On April 1, 2013, I wrote a piece entitled Syndergaard Could Be Mets No. 1 Prospect By All-Star Break. Here is what I said about Syndergaard after seeing some bullpen video from 2013 spring training:

Syndergaard is a tall and imposing figure on the mound, and standing in at 6-feet 6-inches is an intimidating presence. I had the chance to watch a bullpen session on Syndergaard and love what I see. His mechanics are effortless and the ball explodes out of his hand (High-90s fastball). His changeup is great, and while there have been some knocks on his curveball in the past, it looks like it is developing nicely. This kid is the goods.

Sound familiar? The only difference is that his curveball is no longer getting knocks, it is being called the “hook from hell” by Mets’ manager Terry Collins.

Everyone was gathered around to get a glimpse of the pitching phenom yesterday. He did everything he could to back up his outstanding 2013—he was bringing the cheese, the knee-buckling curve, and showing to everyone that his stuff is for real.

Syndergaard’s first bullpen was an awesome display—even more impressive due to the fact that everyone was watching—coaches, media, owners, and other players. A pitcher can’t have more pressure for his first 40-pitch bullpen session of the season. But that’s what comes with the territory of being crowned the organizations’ top prospect.

While there was no hitter opposing him, Syndergaard rose to the occasion. His impressive bullpen session validated his outstanding on-field performance in 2013—and as Collins alluded, it’s what he does on the field that counts.

Photo by Howard Simmons, Daily News

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Mets Camp Almost At Full Attendance Already http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/mets-camp-almost-at-full-attendance-already.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/mets-camp-almost-at-full-attendance-already.html/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 15:21:14 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=148394 wilmer floresAccording to Adam Rubin of ESPN.com, “the Mets have pretty much everyone in camp, including position players, even though those players are not required to report until Thursday.”

The two players that were invited and still weren’t in camp are Omar Quintanilla and Wilmer Flores. Flores was due to arrive this morning, after finishing his second stint at the fitness camp in Michigan.

I’m sure the buzz surrounding Flores, when he finally arrives, will be as intense as it was around Noah Syndergaard yesterday. Everyone seems excited to see if the camp has helped Flores’ speed and agility—both of which have been question marks for years.

Flores is one of the players that Mets fans should keep a very close eye on this spring.

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The Mets May Look Great in Their Uniforms, But Can They Play? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/the-mets-may-look-great-in-their-uniforms-but-can-they-play.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/the-mets-may-look-great-in-their-uniforms-but-can-they-play.html/#comments Tue, 18 Feb 2014 14:49:28 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=148385  (Photo by Anthony J. Causi)

(Photo by Anthony J. Causi)

If the way the Mets look in their uniforms this spring is any indication of how well they will play, the Mets may be on pace for a playoff run this season.

The problem is, the correlation of a player’s waist size and the ability to hit a major league fastball…or curveball…or slider…or changeup, is minimal. In fact, it’s probably non-existent aside from a slight boost in power that comes from putting on muscle.

So why all the hype surrounding the Mets players attending a fitness camp this winter? This is what major leaguers are supposed to do. Being a professional athlete entails keeping your body in top physical condition—it’s part of the job description. Excuse me if I don’t get all excited because players are in great shape, because they’re supposed to be in great shape.

Does anyone think that Ruben Tejada couldn’t hit in 2013 because he was out of shape? Does anyone really think that because he seems to be the best shape of his life, he’s going to return to his 2012 form? It doesn’t. If you can hit, you will hit…period. Being in poor physical condition may alter his range at shortstop, or his speed around the base path, or even his likelihood of being injured during a grueling season, but it won’t affect his ability to hit.

The same goes for Lucas Duda. How good of shape does a player have to be in to walk from home plate to first base?

The player I’m most excited to see how this fitness camp impacted him is Wilmer Flores. Here is a kid that has never had time to dedicate to improving his speed and agility because he played baseball all year-round. A dedicated program for him could have worked wonders for him on the defensive side of the ball (where all of his question marks are). Offensively, the Mets have to find a way to get Flores in the lineup which is why it was critical for him to dedicate time this winter to developing his speed and agility.

The Mets look like they’re in great physical condition so far this spring. They’re getting rave reviews from the media for looking so trim. However, that is no indication of how they will play on the field…and that’s all that really matters.

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Can The Mets Win 85-90 Games In 2014? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/can-the-mets-win-85-90-games-in-2014.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/can-the-mets-win-85-90-games-in-2014.html/#comments Fri, 07 Feb 2014 16:02:33 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=147228 mets spring training 2013 Wally Backman leads workout

Most analysts have the Mets already penciled into third or fourth place in the NL East for 2014. They are looking up and down at team rosters, giving their projections based on the players on those rosters. A roster is simply a list of names. It can’t tell you if a player is going to have an up year or a down year. It can’t tell you if a player is going to get injured or not. It can’t tell you if the guys on that roster have the heart and determination it takes to win a championship.

So while the analysts make their predictions based on names on a roster because those names are associated with “better” baseball ability, there is really no telling what can happen over the course of a 162 game season. 

With the loss of Matt Harvey for 2014, and the amount of question marks on the Mets roster, ESPN recently predicted the Mets to have one fewer win in 2014. It seems that many have less faith in the 2014 Mets than they did in the 2013 Mets.

How can that be?

Heading into 2013, the outfield was in dire straights and the Mets were entering the season on the heels of trading away 20-game winner, R.A. Dickey. Nobody projected Harvey to have the type of season he did, so how can anyone think that the Mets are just as bad or even worse off heading into 2014? It just isn’t true.

How can the Mets win 85-90 games in 2014 and quiet the doubters?

The same way teams have been winning games for over a century: with solid pitching, getting on base, and timely hitting. It doesn’t matter who is on the roster if the team can’t accomplish those things.

The Mets have to break the game down incrementally into it’s simplest form: innings. They have to treat each inning as if it is a mini-game. The goal is to win more innings than your opponent. Many think the Mets are obsessed with on base percentage—well, they are, but it’s for good reason. If nobody gets on base, how can a team score runs? The most fundamental aspect of scoring runs is first getting on base.

All but one team that made the playoffs was ranked in the top ten for on base percentage in 2013—the one team that wasn’t in the top ten was the Pittsburgh Pirates. Also, keep in mind that seven out of the top ten teams in the league in walks made the postseason in 2013. While the Mets’ team philosophy may not be seem like the best fit for the current players on the roster, they are right with regard to walks and on base percentage contributing to overall team success.

The Mets were tied for third in the major leagues with strike outs in 2013—1384 total. That number was good for one in every four at-bats. The Mets also had the sixth-lowest on base percentage in baseball last season (.306). If they are to be competitive in 2014, they have to turn this around.

Halfway through 2012, the Mets found themselves ranked in the top ten of the MLB Power Rankings.

Halfway through 2012, the Mets found themselves ranked in the top ten of the MLB Power Rankings.

How easily we forget that in 2012, the Mets were on pace at one point in the season to win over 80 games. They were winning games with solid pitching and timely hitting. That’s the classic recipe for winning baseball games. The Mets were ranked as high as ninth in the MLB Power Rankings and Mets fans started to believe that there could be a playoff run in the future. However, after the All-Star break, the team never did get back on track. I’m sure one of Terry Collins‘ goals in 2014 will be to get off to a hot start like the Mets did in 2012, but keep his team motivated and finish the season just as strong as it starts.

The Mets also received virtually no offensive output from the catcher position in 2013. In 2014, this trend should change. Travis d’Arnaud should be the starting catcher out of camp, and should easily be able to out-perform the Mets catchers from 2013. He will inject at least fifteen home runs into the lineup over the course of the season, and the healing process for the fans that were heart-broken after another disappointing 2013 season will begin.

If the Mets players play to their potential, they can be a very dangerous team. Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of question marks around this team. But if these guys come together, and we see Curtis Granderson and Chris Young return to form, Ike Davis get back to hitting bombs, David Wright and Daniel Murphy keep doing what they’re doing, Zack Wheeler and d’Arnaud take a step forward, and if the pitching staff can keep the Mets in games, we may have something special.

If the analysts projections were correct every year, then what would be the point of playing the season out? They could all save us a lot of time and hand out trophies based on rosters. However, this is not a contest for putting together the best roster on paper, this is about winning ball games. The Mets can win over 85 games in 2014 if they stick to the winning formula: solid pitching, getting on base, and timely hitting…oh, and stay healthy.

There is a lot to look forward to in 2014 as Mets fans. There are some exciting young prospects on the way and if the Mets stay healthy, they are going to sneak up on a lot of teams this year. This is going to be an exciting season of Mets baseball.

2014 New York Mets Prediction:

86-76, 2nd Place N.L. East

Presented By Diehards

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The Mets Can’t Be Done Spending…Can They? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/the-mets-cant-be-done-can-they.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/the-mets-cant-be-done-can-they.html/#comments Fri, 07 Feb 2014 14:23:34 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=147465 wilpon alderson sandy

I called Joe D. shortly after I heard the news that Sandy Alderson told the Mets’ season ticket holders that he wasn’t against giving Stephen Drew a contract with a third year. There is no secret about it, I am for the Mets going after Drew.

Joe, on the other hand, wants to give Ruben Tejada one more chance. The conversation was passionate, and I wish I could have transcribed it because I’m sure it would have made for a good read. I keep telling Joe we should do a podcast, so maybe after that conversation he will finally give in.  :-)

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. In my conversation with Joe, I went on about a 45 second tirade that sounded a little like this:

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 9.21.13 AMThe Mets can’t be done (spending). I really think they are going to grab a couple more free agents this winter. They can’t be done. They are a couple of players away from being legit contenders, so why stop now? Why half-ass it? Why would they spend on Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon if they weren’t going to compete this year? They can’t stop now and use Matt Harvey‘s injury as an excuse. The payroll is under $90 million and that’s disgraceful for a New York team. Are you telling me that a New York team can’t afford a $110 million payroll? If they add two more players, that’s what the payroll would be…and they would be legit contenders. That doesn’t even seem logical. Why go half way? At this point, go for it. If they stop now, they have wasted another year of David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Granderson and Colon. They can’t just go half way and stop! It makes no sense.

What do you guys think? Am I wrong for thinking this way? I mean, are they trying to win a championship or saving their money for a rainy day? I’m not for frivolous spending, but I am starting to see an opening…a light at the end of the tunnel. Wouldn’t now be the time to punch the gas and go for it? Why go half way? It just doesn’t make sense. I would think the added revenue from putting a winning team on the field would offset some of that extra payroll (not that a $110 million payroll for a New York team is high!).

The draft pick compensation for some of the players with qualifying offers is not that big of a deal. The Mets have one of the higher rated farm systems in baseball. One season of sacrificing a second, third and even fourth round pick isn’t going to change that. And even if it did, it’s a sacrifice you make for being a contender again.

I wrote a piece the other day predicting the Mets would win 80-plus games. I stand by that, but admit that it would take the Mets being very lucky and having no injuries and every player on the field play the best baseball they ever played. For the Mets to rely on luck and everything coming together doesn’t make sense if they have the means to add a couple of more pieces. They need to add a couple of more pieces if they really want to make a push in the division.

The next week is going to get interesting as there are still a bunch of free agents still available that can help teams win, and spring training is right around the corner.

Presented By Diehards

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Should The Best Hitter In The Lineup Bat Leadoff? http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/should-the-best-hitter-in-the-lineup-bat-leadoff.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/should-the-best-hitter-in-the-lineup-bat-leadoff.html/#comments Fri, 07 Feb 2014 01:32:47 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=147405 david wright

The question posed in the title has been a hot topic in the MMO comment thread lately. I decided to take a look at this idea from a little different perspective and compare two players — Mike Trout and David Wright.

I remember the first time I heard about this idea of the best hitter in the lineup batting leadoff. The year was 1988, and I was 10 years old when one of my Little League coaches explained to us how the lineups worked in Japan. He explained that they bat their best hitter (the hitter we would consider a No. 3 hitter in America) in the leadoff spot. We asked him why, since it made zero sense to us. He said it was because they want their best hitter in the lineup getting up the most times in the game.

We were only 10 years old, so that was about as deep as the conversation went. But I always remembered it. I don’t remember where I was exactly, or the people that were with me, but I remember not knowing anything about Japanese baseball and taking it at face value. I never found out if what that coach told us was true, but with the rise of advanced statistics, there is tons of evidence that now backs this up as a feasible option.

It goes against everything we have grown up learning, but the fundamental reasoning behind it makes perfect sense. The leadoff hitter gets the most plate appearances in a game and is only guaranteed to hit leadoff once in a game, so why not have my best hitter there? The more opportunities my best player has to hit, the better the team’s chances of winning — seems simple enough.

I mentioned earlier I was going to compare two hitters — Trout and Wright. Wright has been the Mets No. 3 hitter for the majority of his nine year career. Trout spent most of his time in the two-hole last year, but has been one of the best leadoff hitters (when used in that capacity) in baseball over the past two seasons. The question is why is Trout sometimes used as the leadoff hitter when he puts up numbers that are better than most three-hole hitters? Wouldn’t he be better served in the three-hole? If he were on a different team, would he be the best option to hit third, or would that team have him hit leadoff? And one more question — if Trout can hit leadoff, why not Wright?

Let’s look at some statistics. Here are Trout’s career numbers when he leads off a game and when he leads off an inning:

I Split G PA AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1st Batter G 157 157 143 35 40 9 5 5 10 40 .280 .344 .476 .819
Leadoff Inn. 252 403 355 88 120 25 14 14 44 84 .338 .417 .544 .961

When Trout leads off a game his numbers drop way below his career marks. However, when he leads off an inning, all of his statistics are on par with his career numbers. About one-third of his homeruns have come when he led off an inning. The majority of his homeruns have come in the leadoff hole, but oddly enough, his highest OPS comes out of the two-hole.

In fact, one can argue that Trout is a better hitter when he hits second. By the way, Trout has zero career stolen bases after leading off the game or an inning and getting on base.

Now let’s look at Wright’s statistics. Here are Wright’s career numbers when he leads of an inning:

I Split G PA AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Leadoff Inn. 847 1153 1033 229 307 64 48 48 114 207 .297 .370 .512 .882

When leading off an inning, Wright has hit .297 with a .370 on base percentage. His career OBP is .382, so it’s slightly lower when he leads off an inning. His power numbers also drop off drastically. Could this be because he is being pitched differently when he is leading off an inning? Is it a comfort level? Whatever it is, Wright’s numbers are much better when he hits out of the three-hole.

Is it worth it to get Wright approximately 100 more plate appearances in a season if his production will drop off?

Here’s a brief story about my experience of hitting leadoff. I was finishing up an outstanding freshman year of college where I spent most of the time hitting out of the 3-4-5 hole in the lineup. Going into my sophomore year, the team lacked a leadoff hitter. I volunteered to move out of the middle of the order and hit leadoff — the coach agreed it was a great idea. Unfortunately things didn’t go as smoothly as we planned. I started the season in a 1-for-20 slump, and it wasn’t long before I was moved back to the middle of the lineup.

Obviously, it was all mental for me. Hitting leadoff should have given me more fastballs, and there is nothing I liked more than seeing fastballs. My numbers should have improved hitting leadoff, but they didn’t improve until the coach moved me back to the middle of the lineup.

Oddly enough, when I was looking up Trout’s numbers on BaseballReference.com for this piece, I stumbled onto a post on Peter Gammons’ blog. In this post he covers a sabermetric book entitled The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball. This book highlights the optimal lineup and states the best hitters should be in the one, two and four-hole. Wait, what happened to the three-hitter? I’m not sure because I haven’t read the book yet. But here is a brief breakdown of the book from Gammons:

Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin analyze the data and conclude that the optimal lineup has a team’s three best hitters in the #1, #2, and #4 slots in the batting order. They outline the skill set that determines how these players are positioned. The leadoff hitter should reach base most often and less home run power is preferred. Meanwhile, the #2 hitter should walk more than the #4 hitter, who ideally has the most extra-base hits.
The number two batter comes to the plate more frequently than any batter other than the leadoff batter, often with the bases empty, so think of him as having the characteristics of a second number one in the lineup.

Again, the logic behind having your best hitters hitting as high in the order to get them more plate appearances is sound. Unfortunately, this is looking at it based on their performance of where they currently hit in the lineup. A large chunk of baseball, and hitting especially, is mental.

The stats won’t reflect the change that can happen to a hitter similar to what happened to me when I was moved to the leadoff spot. There is just no telling what can happen when a player is taken out of their comfort zone. There is a better chance that a player who is considered your best hitter hits just as good out of the leadoff spot, but there is also a chance it turns out to be the worst decision you ever made.

Long story short, you cannot assume your best hitter will still be your best hitter if you start putting them into positions they are not comfortable in.

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The Mets’ First Base Competition http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/the-mets-first-base-competition.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/the-mets-first-base-competition.html/#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2014 16:00:35 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=147332 Who's on first?

Who’s on first?

Rewind to about a month ago — The Mets seemed fully prepared to head into the 2014 with Lucas Duda at first base, and possibly a platoon situation where Josh Satin would be in the lineup against left-handed pitchers. Ike Davis was on the trading block, and the Mets weren’t actually keeping it a secret. 

Here we are, about a week away from the official start of spring training, and it seems as if we are going to have an old-fashioned slober knocker to see who the starting first baseman for the Mets will be in 2014.

Mets fans will be divided…get the popcorn ready and enjoy the show.

It’s really anyone’s guess who will be starting at first base. Duda seems to have the inside edge because the Mets already seemed committed to making him the first baseman, but Davis’ power potential may be enough to earn him the job. If Davis gets off to a slow start, Duda may win the job by default. If Davis gets off to a hot start, I’m still not convinced that the Mets won’t use that success to try and get a buyer in the trade market for him.

Only time will tell, but let’s take a look at Duda’s and Davis’ performance at the plate the past couple of years to see if anyone has an inside edge.

Duda’s Pitch Types

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 12.40.10 PMIn 2011, Duda saw the highest percentage of fastballs that he has seen over the past three years. As you can see from the graphic, his fastball percentage (FA%) has dropped off by about four percent, while the amount of curveball (CU%) and sliders (SL%) he has seen has increased.

This is not uncommon. As scouting reports start circulating about hitters, the pitchers will adjust the way they pitch to certain hitters. A major increase came with the amount of curveballs that Duda is now seeing with compared to his 2011 season. Once the pitchers start changing the way they pitch to the hitter, the hitter has to also adjust. These adjustments will ultimately determine success of a player at the major league level.

Duda’s Aggressiveness

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 12.50.37 PMFor those who are upset with Duda’s approach, and his lack of aggressiveness at the plate, you’re right. Not only is Duda swinging a pitches out of the zone at a lower rate (O-Swing%), but he is also swinging at pitches in the strike zone at a lower rate (Z-Swing%). While it’s impressive to see him laying off pitches out of the strike zone, it’s disappointing to see that he is letting strikes go by, which has become somewhat of a pet peeve amongst Mets fans.

Another alarming stat is that his contact rate has dropped dramatically—by nearly ten percentage points. He was making contact with 90.1% of the pitches thrown in the strike zone in 2011 when he compiled a .292 batting average, and only 80.6% in 2013 where his batting average was .223.

Putting It All Together

After looking at both of the charts above, it’s easy to see what is going on with Duda. All of the information is tied together. Duda is, in fact, less aggressive at the plate. He is swinging less because he is seeing fewer fastballs. He is also making less contact with pitches in the strike-zone because he is seeing more off-speed pitches. Rather than adjusting, he is opting to wait for fastballs, and he is getting himself deep into counts. When he’s deep in the count, he is forced to swing at the off-speed pitches which causes more swings and misses than in 2011 (lower overall contact percentage).

This combination drives up his strike out rate, and decreases his batting average and the amount of damage he can ultimately do with the bat. While Duda’s walk rate has increased, that increase means nothing if it comes with a decrease in almost every other offensive category. What would be impressive is seeing his walk rate increase, while he also improved his other statistics.

When Duda makes contact, and puts the ball in play, good things happen. For how low his batting average was in 2013, his BABIP was .276—in 2011, it was .326. But for Duda to regain his 2011 form, he will have to adjust his hitting approach. The pitchers have adjusted to him, and rather than adjust, Duda seems to be going ahead with the same approach which is crippling him offensively.

I’m reminded of this quote from CBS.com back in 2012, and wondering if Duda has progressed at all since then:

What Collins does know without a doubt is that Duda isn’t the same timid hitter that originally arrived in the clubhouse last year.

“He now believes in himself,” Collins said. “Where he came up with some doubts last summer, in the beginning he talked about it and vocalized it: `I’m not sure I belong here.’ Well I just think now he believes he belongs here.”

We can break baseball down to it’s simplest form and what you have is Darwinism—like animals striving for survival in the wild, players have to adapt or die. Some of them will do whatever it takes to survive, which is evident from them opting to use Performance Enhancing Drugs. While I’m not saying Duda should use PEDs, he does have to adapt.

If Duda can adapt, he could be the one standing victorious in this game of Survivor to see who is on first base for the Mets in 2014.

Davis’ Pitch Types

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 9.56.58 AMDavis’ best season as a major leaguer came in 2012, when he hit 32 homeruns and had 90 RBI. The power was there, but he didn’t hit for high average and his walk rate was the lowest it has been in his professional career. The odd thing is, the pitch types Davis saw between 2012 and 2013 didn’t change much. The major change seemed to be the amount of fastballs he saw increased, while the amount of curveballs decreased. Pitchers threw Davis more fastballs in 2013. Why wouldn’t they after looking at his swing? With all those moving parts, Davis became highly vulnerable to the fastball in 2013.

Davis’ Aggressiveness

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 9.56.29 AM

By taking a look at the graphic above, there isn’t much that would make us think that Davis should have had a major drop-off in production from 2012 to 2013. In fact, there is evidence here that should suggest the opposite. Davis reduced the amount of pitches he swung at outside the strike zone in 2013 (O-Swing%). Davis made the same amount of contact in 2013 as he did in 2013 (74.7%). Davis’ walk rate increased in 2013, which correlates with him swinging at pitches out of the strike zone less, but what can explain the drop off in performance?

The answer is in the types of swings he is taking which are changing the type of contact he is making. Check out this graphic below:

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 9.58.08 AM

In 2012, Davis hit the ball in the air much more than any other season. He hit 152 fly balls and 80 line drives. I didn’t show his infield fly balls, but in total, he hit the ball in the air a total of 250 times, 32 of which were homeruns. That means 12.8% of his balls hit in the air were dingers in 2012. In 2013, he hit the ball in the air 129 times and nine of those went for homeruns. His homerun percentage on balls hit in the air dropped to 7% in 2013.

Putting It All Together

While Davis made the same amount of contact in 2013 as he did in 2012, it was less authoritative. He also hit a higher percentage of ground balls in 2013, more than any other season. This is all due to mechanical flaws in his swing. He isn’t getting around on the fastballs, which was the pitch of choice for pitchers when facing Davis in 2013. By over-compensating for the fastball, he becomes more susceptible to the off-speed pitches, and he will make weaker contact as he takes defensive swings off his back foot. A more simplified swing could make Davis a lethal power hitter again.

Davis did a better job with plate discipline in 2013, as he swung at pitches out of the strike zone less often in 2013 which directly impacted his walk rate and on base percentage. His issue is with his swing. By limiting what he is doing before the pitch arrives, he will be able to trust his hands more and adjust to whatever pitch he sees. By keeping his hands between his shoulder and ear, he already has them in a good hitting position, and doesn’t have to make three movements before the pitch arrives to get them there. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

If Davis spent the winter working on his swing, there is no doubt in my mind that he will be a 30-plus homerun hitter again, and the Mets first baseman in 2014.

(Charts from Fangraphs.com)

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Mets One Of Three Teams In On Fernando Rodney http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/mets-one-of-three-teams-in-on-fernando-rodney.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/mets-one-of-three-teams-in-on-fernando-rodney.html/#comments Tue, 04 Feb 2014 22:01:31 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=147117 fernando rodney

February 4, 2014

Free agent closer Fernando Rodney now has three teams who are expressing strong interest in his services according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports. Those teams are the Mariners, Orioles and Mets.

You always have to be wary whenever Sandy Alderson downplays interest in someone. It almost always seems like he’s doing the exact opposite of what he says he is.

Sneaky guy…

February 3, 2014

As first reported by Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, the Mets have signed right-hander Kyle Farnsworth to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training.

Sandy Alderson has recently said the Mets were in the market for a low-cost, veteran relief pitcher, and Farnsworth fills that need.

Farnsworth had a 4.70 ERA in 48 appearances for the Tampa Bay Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates last season.

He also has experience pitching in New York after spending 2006-2008 with the cross-town Yankees.

Rubin also notes that according to an unaffiliated source with the club, the Mets have allotted some money to finding a closer-type relief pitcher to a big league deal.

The source believes that Fernando Rodney is high on the Mets list and the team’s favorite, but Kevin GreggRyan Madson or Joel Hanrahan could also be in the mix.

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Eric Young Says His Favorite Position To Play Is Leadoff http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/eric-young-says-his-favorite-position-to-play-is-leadoff.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/eric-young-says-his-favorite-position-to-play-is-leadoff.html/#comments Tue, 04 Feb 2014 19:33:39 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=146870 Eric Young Jr. has helped solidify this outfield and provided a spark offensively

The Mets posted a short video of Eric Young, Jr today who said that his favorite position to play is leadoff.

While not exactly a position, his point was that he’ll play wherever the Mets ask him to as long as it’s everyday and he’s batting first in the batting order.

Terry Collins said Monday that if Young shows in camp that he get on base more frequently, the team will have to find a spot for him in the lineup because he has the ability to change their offense (Kernan, Feb. 3).

In the event Young does not hit leadoff, Chris Young or Ruben Tejada could end up in the top spot. Juan Lagares’ name was not mentioned as a possible leadoff hitter.

In 2013, Young batted .251 with a .318 OBP in 91 games with the Mets. Lagares, over 121 games, hit .242 with a .281 OBP in his first taste of the majors.

When batting leadoff last season, in 122 games between the Rockies and Mets, Young hit .254 with a .318 OBP.

The Mets really haven’t had a solid leadoff hitter since Jose Reyes left town. The latest news is that Collins has stated on multiple occasions that Eric Young Jr is his preference out of the leadoff spot in 2014. Not many fans were enamored with this news when it broke, mainly because it seems like this choice would come at the expense of current defensive dynamo and fan favorite, Juan Lagares.

Speed is extremely overrated when it comes to the leadoff hitter, and although it helps, is not necessary. The most important thing the leadoff hitter has to do is get on base so that the better hitters in the middle of the lineup can drive them home. Speed should be reserved for the areas of the lineup where manufacturing of runs is necessary (the back end).

Let’s remember that a leadoff hitter is only guaranteed to hit leadoff one time in a game, but will also see the most plate appearances, so you want a solid offensive player in that spot. The more successful they are, the more times your better hitters in the middle of the order will get to the plate.

After reading the previous two paragraphs, is Young really the best man for the job? If not Young, then who? The two names that come up the most are Daniel Murphy, and oddly enough, Lucas Duda.

When it comes to Murphy, he seems like a great option, but when you look at his on base percentage from last season, he was only one point ahead of Young (Murphy .319 and Young .318). If you give me the Murphy from 2012, when his OBP was .332, I would agree that Murphy should be leadoff over Young. But based on 2013, I would say Young’s speed gives him an edge when the OBP is that close. Murphy is also one of the Mets better hitters, so keeping him in the two-hole would be the best move.

Now let’s look at Duda. Duda is a leadoff hitter in a cleanup hitter’s body. There is just no other way to put it. Duda has the best OBP out of the three candidates listed in this post, and he had 55 walks in 384 plate appearances. To put that into perspective, Murphy and Young combined only had 67 walks between the two of them. If Duda were to hit leadoff for the Mets, he would be the largest leadoff hitter in history, by a hefty 35 pounds. The move would also bring tons of scrutiny from the media as they would be sure to complain about Duda’s speed every time he comes to the plate.

Please don’t take any of this as me saying I think Duda should be the leadoff hitter. I am truly perplexed, and I’m sure the Mets coaching staff is as well. It’s much easier to make a decision writing comfortably from my couch with my kids sitting here watching Dora the Explorer. Let’s call a spade a spade—the Mets don’t have a prototypical leadoff hitter. Everyone mentioned in this discussion has their flaws.

If you asked Bill James, he may say Duda is the best option. If you ask the fans, they might tell you Murphy is the best option. If you ask the manager, he says Young is the best option, and that’s really all that matters. Collins gets paid the big bucks to make these decisions, but I wouldn’t be totally against him thinking outside of the box and having Duda in the leadoff spot at this point.

Sometimes it takes thinking outside of the box and doing something completely out of the ordinary, like having Wilmer Flores at shortstop, or Duda hitting leadoff, to get to the next level.

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The Mets’ Offensive Philosophy: Discipline vs Patience http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/the-mets-offensive-philosophy-discipline-vs-patience.html/ http://metsmerizedonline.com/2014/02/the-mets-offensive-philosophy-discipline-vs-patience.html/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 17:03:23 +0000 http://metsmerizedonline.com/?p=147090 wright murphy

There was a nice Q&A over on Metsblog with Mets’ hitting coach Dave Hudgens, who gave a little insight into what the Mets’ hitting philosophy is. Hudgens also spends a little time talking about Ike Davis and his recent woes, and seems pretty confident that he can turn things around.

Matt Cerrone highlights one quote in particular from Hudgens: “We want hitters to look for their strength, especially early in the count, from the first pitch to the fifth pitch, to the sixth pitch, when we’re in hitters counts we want to be aggressive on our pitch,” he said. “I mean, obviously, I’d rather see a double in the gap with two guys on than a walk. But, there’s sometimes during the game, David Wright‘s not going to get his pitch. I would rather him take the walk as opposed to swing at a marginal pitch and hit into a double play.”

I have one main concern with this quote—the player who qualified with the most pitches per plate appearance (P/PA), in 2013, was Mike Napoli, with 4.59. So nobody averaged five pitches per plate appearance last year. I was surprised to see that Eric Young Jr was the Mets’ player with the fourth-highest P/PA (minimum 100 games played). Young saw 3.74 pitches per plate appearance in 2013, which ranked him behind only Wright, Ike Davis, and Lucas Duda. I am starting to see why the Mets are enamored with him hitting leadoff—but he has to show me he can get on base more before I jump on board.

Here is my major issue with what Hudgens said—why is Hudgens talking about the fifth and sixth pitch in an at-bat? Simple math tells you that by the time a hitter see five or six pitches, they will have two strikes and naturally be more defensive, not aggressive. It’s impossible to get to the sixth pitch in a count without two strikes on the hitter.

Pitches seen and success varies greatly. Curtis Granderson saw just under four pitches per plate appearance in 2013 (3.99). Chris Young, Davis and Duda also averaged over four pitches per plate appearance. What do these four guys have in common? All four of them have a tendency to strike out.

lucas duda homersThe terms “discipline at the plate” and “patience at the plate” come up quite often when discussing hitters’ approaches at the plate—especially if you are a Mets fan. This notion that the organization is teaching their hitters to be more patient is a questionable one to say the least.

The two terms sound like they mean the same thing, but actually are quite different.

Patience refers to working a pitcher, seeing all his pitches, and waiting for the right pitch to jump on. The hitter basically is waiting for the pitcher to make a mistake. Some hitters excel using this strategy, while others flop. Patience naturally leads to a higher propensity to strike out, since you are taking at-bats into deep counts. The count itself is in the pitcher’s favor—three strikes versus four balls—which is more likely to occur?

You have to have an incredible amount of skill and mental toughness to hit using the strategy of patience. I would argue that this skill cannot even be taught. Being patient forces hitters to hit from behind in the count often, which also contributes to higher strikeout rates for patient hitters. So while patient hitters tend to pile up the walks, they also pile up the strikeouts. You either have what it takes to hit using this strategy, or you don’t.

Patience should be reserved for top-of-the-order hitters. The batting lineup is designed the way it is for a reason and is technically a division of labor. The top two hitters’ jobs are to work the pitchers and get on base. The middle-of-the-order hitters’ jobs are to drive in the top-of-the-order guys. The tail end of the lineup is generally reserved for defensive minded players, so not much is expected.

You cannot force your 3-4-5 hitter to be patient at the plate. Patience is not a strategy that can be forced on every player and that is why speed is not the only determining factor for guys hitting at the top of the order. Those middle-order hitters should show good plate discipline, but not be patient.

Discipline at the plate is the ability of the hitter to lay off pitches that are close, only swinging at pitches in the strike zone. This can be taught to hitters, and as they gain more experience at the plate, their plate discipline will improve. Of course, as with everything else, some hitters are better than others in this area.

So which is better to have, strike-zone discipline or patience at the plate?

The answer is that it depends on what slot in the batting order the hitter is in. For my one and two hitters, I would prefer them to be more patient. I want them to get on base as much as possible, see as many pitches as possible so the heart of my order gets a good look at what the pitcher is bringing. This also gets the pitcher tired. We know being patient comes with a higher propensity to strike out, but it’s a necessary evil.

The rest of the guys in the batting order should have good plate discipline. This means that they aren’t swinging at pitches out of the strike-zone, and not giving away at-bats.

The Mets were tied for third in the major leagues with strike outs in 2013—1384 total. That number was good for one in every four at-bats. The Mets also had the sixth-lowest OBP in baseball last season (.306). They gave away a ton of at-bats.

One could argue that the Mets are being overly patient, which is not attributing to the team getting on base more, or scoring more runs. They should focus on being more disciplined, which means not chasing balls out of the zone, and not patience, which has attributed to higher strike out rates and lower on base percentage.

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