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Suckond Base

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

The offensive output from Mets’ second basemen has been pretty dreadful.  This should really come as no surprise to anybody who has watched a Mets game this year.  I’m not really going out on a limb by saying that Luis Castillo, Alex Cora, and Ruben Tejada have been bad hitters, this season.  The question I’m concerned with is, exactly how bad have they been in 2010?  How can we put their poor level of play in perspective?  Here’s an attempt to show just how badly they have hit this season.

After posting one of his best-ever line drive rates in 2009, Luis Castillo has crashed back down to Earth, hitting a career-high percentage of ground balls while hitting a career-low percentage of line drives.  The end result has been a .257 BABIP, which is about what you’d expect out of a player hitting line drives about 14.7% of the time. Castillo’s BABIP doesn’t usually stray too far from his batting average, as he pretty much always puts the ball in play; he rarely strikes out and never homers.  All told, Castillo has “produced” a .242/.336/.284/.620 line on the season.  This makes him the best hitting Mets second baseman by a fair margin this season.  For this production, Castillo will make $6 million this year.

Alex Cora is posting career-low totals in just about everything.  He’s struggling to hit above .200, he has provided no power to speak of (9 extra base hits in 187 PA), and he rarely walks.  This has produced a downright ugly .207/.265/.278/.543 line on the season.  His batted ball numbers are pretty consistent with his career lines, and yet he’s posted a career-low .226 BABIP, which does not vibe well with his line drive percentage, so it’s possible he’s due for an upturn in luck over the last two months. He’s still not going to get a whole lot better, and it’s borderline crazy that the team valued his contributions to be worth $2 million this season, with a vesting option for next season to add insanity on top of crazy.

I don’t want to rip Ruben Tejada, as he had no business being in the major leagues as a 20 year old.  He was overpromoted after injuries to Castillo and Jose Reyes forced the Mets to carry an extra middle infielder while Cora was forced into a starting role, which says more about the Mets’ depth issues in Buffalo than it does about Tejada’s own talents.  Still, it’s worth pointing out that Tejada has outhit Cora on the season with a .211/.297/.250/.547 line, though when there are several pitchers in the National League who have outhit Cora, I’m not sure if that’s anything worth bragging about.  

It is interesting to point out that despite a much better defensive reputation, it’s Tejada who has produced a negative UZR rating at second base this year, with a -1.5 in only 166 innings.  By comparison, Cora and Castillo have been about average defensively, with Cora producing a 1.3 UZR in 344 innings, and Castillo producing a 1.1 UZR in 438 innings.  Judging by my own eyes, though, I would like to see a larger sample size for both before conceding that either Cora or Castillo is a good defender.

Now that we’ve established that Castillo, Cora, and Tejada have been bad this year, let’s try to put thsi in perspective.  They are 26th in the majors in on-base percentage, thanks entirely to Luis Castillo’s batting eye, the one useful hitting skill held by a Mets’ second baseman. They are eleventh in walks, with Castillo leading the way (28 of their 42 walks came from him in roughly half their plate appearances). They are dead last in the majors in slugging percentage, ahead of only the sixth-best organization in baseball Seattle Mariners.  The Mets are the only team in baseball without so much as a single home run by a second baseman this season, and only two teams have fewer doubles this season than the Mets, which goes a long way towards explaining that league-low slugging percentage.

All told, Mets second basemen have produced a .232/.306/.289/.594 line on the season.  That .594 OPS is the worst in the major leagues at second base by over 30 points.  If you prefer more advanced statistics, their .273 wOBA, 8 points behind the 29th ranked Cubs.  That is a truly woeful wOBA.  Your eyes do not deceive you; Mets second basemen have been the worst hitting in the majors this season.  For the privilege, the Mets have paid $8 million, and are scheduled to spend another $8 million on the same cast of characters again next season.

To be fair, this isn’t the worst collective hitting performance by a team at a specific position this season.  The Mariners*, Nationals, Tigers, and Astros have had worse performances out of their catchers, the Mariners*, Astros, and Orioles have had worse performances out of their shortstops, the Mariners* and Angels have had worst performances from their third basemen, the Indians have seen their center fielders perform worse this season, and the Mariners* have gotten worse from their designated hitter spot.

* And you wonder why the #6org tag exists; that’s four separate positions where the Seattle Mariners have had worse offensive performances than 2010 Mets second basemen!

The front office simply cannot afford this type of production at second base again next season.  Most enlightened baseball fans felt that giving Luis Castillo $24 million over four seasons after the 2007 season was an unwise decision, as he was a no-power second baseman whose only skills at the time were legging out ground balls for base hits and batting eye, and he was gradually starting to lose his legs.  Today, his legs are gone and all that remains is the batting eye.  Whether it be Omar Minaya or (hopefully) somebody else, the team cannot afford to punt an entire position this badly next season.

Tangents

Monday, July 26th, 2010

I have no coherent thoughts about the team these days, so here is a collection of incoherent thoughts.

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The next Mets’ manager

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Jerry Manuel got the dreaded “vote of confidence” from Omar Minaya yesterday, surely a sign that any day now, he will be relieved of his duties as Mets manager.  We will remember Jerry because of his love of the sacrifice bunt, his inability to properly handle a bullpen, his attack on sabermetric principles, and his ability to laugh his way through press conferences without being called out by Alex Cora.  Personally, I will remember Jerry because I can’t remember a manager I’ve ever disliked more, including Willie Randolph.

With Jerry Manuel almost out the door, it’s time to start looking for the next man to lead the Mets.  Bob Melvin seems to be getting the most pub out of the mainstream writers like Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal, but Melvin is a guy who has already failed in two other stops; what makes the Mets think he’s going to be any better the third time around?  Isn’t it time the Mets stopped hiring retreads?  Isn’t it time the Mets looked to their past?  Isn’t it time the Mets hired an ‘86 Met to manage the team?  In fact, right now managing in their minor league system, the Mets have a former 1986 Met, their second baseman from that team, so they wouldn’t even have to look very far to hire their next manager.

That’s right, the Mets should name Tim Teufel their interim manager through the end of the season.

Granted, the Binghamton Mets aren’t exactly setting the world on fire this season.  They are 51-48, good for third place in the Eastern League North.  Still, Teufel has done a good job helping along the minor league careers of Nick Evans, Reese Havens, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis and he has a good reputation in the game for helping to develop young players.  That could be a key skill as the Mets’ minor league system continues to graduate players, with Ike Davis already on the team and young stars like Ruben Tejada and Fernando Martinez in the pipeline.

Here are some other qualifications that I think make Teufel a quality candidate:

Perhaps you are thinking “Since when is ‘not acting like a total sociopath’ an acceptable qualification for becoming a major league manager?  Millions of people every day manage to avoid acting like total sociopaths and are not qualified to be major league managers.  Heck, even Jerry Manuel manages to avoid acting like a sociopath, and he’s blatantly and unequivocally unqualified to manage in the major leagues.”

I don’t have a good answer for these hypothetical questions.  I merely support Tim Teufel’s candidacy as the next Mets manager because he’s not Jerry Manuel, and he’s not crazy.  I guess I could support Ken Oberkfell based on those grounds as well, but he never played for the Mets, and dammit, we need some history on this team.  Where else could the Mets find a former second baseman from their last championship team who manages in the system and isn’t crazy?  The answer is clear: Teufel.

First Half Mets Grades – Pitchers

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Yesterday I looked at the Mets hitters and how they’ve performed in 2010, today let’s take a look at the pitchers. 

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First Half Mets Grades: Hitters

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Yes, we’re still here.  Sorry it’s been so long between posts here at Blue and Orange, but quite frankly, it’s been kind of a boring season.  The Mets are good, but not THAT good.  Jerry Manuel continues to defy logic left and right, but it’s no longer a story when he does something dumb; it’s a headline that he’s doing the right thing by starting Angel Pagan over Jeff Francoeur in right field, which makes me think he didn’t make that decision.  David Wright has returned to greatness, but that was generally expected, as was Jose Reyes eventually righting the ship.  Really, the only real surprises of 2010 have been the emergence of Angel Pagan as one of the best players in baseball and the front office cutting bait on retreads like Mike Jacobs, Frank Catalanotto, and Gary Matthews Jr sooner than most pessimistic Mets fans expected.

So what have we not written about during the first half?  Here’s a look at the hitters today, the pitchers tomorrow, and a look into the crystal ball on Thursday as I try to predict what we might see from this team in the second half.

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End of the road

Monday, April 12th, 2010
The patron saint of washed up Mets.

The patron saint of washed up Mets.

It’s no secret that Omar Minaya has preferred to acquire older players during his tenure as GM.  The Mets have spent many of the past few seasons with one of the oldest roster in the major leagues, despite the primes of relatively young superstars such as David Wright and Jose Reyes.  However, I noticed a trend with many of Minaya’s acquisitions. A good number of players acquired by Minaya were not only old, but were also completely washed up.  So washed up, in fact, that these players have never played another game of baseball at the major league level .  A high enough number that when I instant messaged Will last week with my idea for this item, he immediately reeled off three different names than I had in mind.

Here is a list of players whose careers have ended wearing the blue and orange.  I did set some criteria; players must have held a full-time job in the majors at some point in their career, or at least a long career as a part-time player (eight seasons or more) before coming to the Mets, and then never played in the majors again.  I’m not counting spring training retirees like Andres Galarraga or Bret Boone since they never took the field during the regular season as Mets.  Finally, I’m not including Julio Franco* because of his 45 plate appearances with the Braves after being dropped by the Mets, even if he belongs on this list in spirit.

* – I was originally going to include Livan Hernandez as “belonging on this list in spirit,” but after he completely shut down the Mets throwing absolute slop Sunday afternoon, that probably isn’t completely fair.  Fun season so far.

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Why is Gary Matthews Jr playing over Angel Pagan?

Friday, April 9th, 2010

I have made no secret of my dislike of the current Mets management team.  Omar Minaya and his front office did not make the necessary bright moves to make this team better for the upcoming season.  By giving an epic dumbass like Jerry Manuel so little help before the season starts, Omar is basically daring Jerry to make horrible decisions that result in poor results.  In order for Jerry to be good at his job, he needs stability; open competitions in spring training will almost guarantee that Jerry makes the worst possible decision that negatively affects the Mets’ short-term and long-term goals of playing meaningful games in September.  It’s like giving a monkey a gun; sure, you blame the monkey when he kills innocent bystanders, but the man who gave the monkey the gun deserves some blame too, right?

Much has been said about the Mets’ opening day lineup.  Here is a table of the top 10 worst position players in baseball last season by WAR, minimum 300 plate appearances:

Player WAR
Yuniesky Betancourt -2.2
Jose Guillen -1.9
Delmon Young -1.3
Aubrey Huff -1.0
Garrett Anderson -0.9
Gary Matthews Jr -0.8
Alfonso Soriano -0.7
Ronny Cedeno -0.6
Chris Davis -0.6
Mike Jacobs -0.6

Yes, two of the top ten worst players in baseball last year were players identified by Omar Minaya as players he should acquire to help bolster the 2010 New York Mets.  That’s pretty remarkable.  Even on a scouting level, I can’t imagine anybody watched Jacobs and Matthews last year and identified them as players worth acquiring, let alone starting, for the 2010 season.  Give Omar some sort anti-award for blatantly ignoring even the most basic of statistics and going with his gut and acquiring two of the very worst players in baseball from last season anyway.

It’s bad enough to acquire these guys; it’s another matter all together to be starting them over players who out-performed them last year.  Let’s focus on Gary Matthews Jr. for now, I’ll get to the Mike Jacobs/Chris Carter disaster another time.  Angel Pagan threw up a .306/.350/.487/.837 slash line last year, good for 2.8 WAR, or 3.7 more WAR than Gary Matthews Jr produced last season.  Is Pagan likely to repeat that sort of production?  Probably not, but he would have to regress pretty heavily to come close to being as bad as Matthews was last year.  Add in that he’s a younger player, and a much better defensive player, and the choice should be pretty obvious; Pagan should be starting, Matthews should be on the bench.

Yet after three games, Matthews has earned two starts and will likely earn more in the future.  The reasoning is stupid; Jerry believes Pagan is a top of the order player, and thus is utterly incapable of batting lower in the lineup when Alex Cora bats leadoff*.  Of course, Angel Pagan’s isolated slugging last year was .181, and Gary Matthews Jr’s was .111, and Pagan had two more homers, three more doubles, and eight more triples than Matthews last year, so I’m not really sure what Manuel’s point is here, other than “I don’t understand the game of baseball or how to identify a good player from a very, very bad one.”

* Which is crazy enough as it is; Cora’s career OBP is .313, his OBP last year was .320, and he’s not typically known as a fast player, so by any reasonable idea of what a leadoff hitter should be, Cora fails .

This problem figures to be worsened by the return of Jose Reyes in the lineup.  Reyes is, of course, a much, much, much better player than Alex Cora (who would rank 26th on that list above of “Worst Players in Baseball by WAR in 2009″), so overall, the lineup itself will be better.  But it will still be far from optimal, as Pagan will be sitting in favor of Matthews, with Reyes and Castillo holding down the top of the order.  Without an open position at the top of the lineup, Manuel will likely continue to sit Pagan, and the team will suffer for it.

This is why Jerry Manuel cannot be trusted to make any decisions.  This isn’t even a tough decision; Pagan was one of the Mets’ pleasant surprises last season, a player who by the end of the season, was one of the team’s most valuable position players.  Gary Matthews Jr was one of the worst players in all of baseball.  Yet Matthews has a name, and he was good enough at one point in his career to become grossly, grossly overpaid, and he made that one catch at an All Star Game, so he must be better than ordinary ol’ Angel Pagan!  It’s this type of decision-making, that starts at the front office level and permeates into the field manager level, that will doom Mets fans from seeing playoff calibre baseball in Queens as long as guys like Minaya and Manuel run the ballclub.

Blue and Orange 2010 Season Preview

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Welcome to this year’s Blue and Orange Mets season preview!  We have a few different perspectives on the site, and the following tries to give time to different sides of the coin, to give you an idea where Mets fans expectations are going into this season.  Not surprisingly, all perspectives point towards another down year for the Mets.  Here now is the season preview; for ease of reading, the black text is Chris Wilcox, the blue text is Will Davidian, and the red text is Joeadig.

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Jerry Manuel’s short-term future should not outweigh the Mets’ long-term future

Friday, March 19th, 2010

In a word: desperation.  We are seeing it right now.  Both of them know that the Mets can’t have another year like they had last year, or else they are both gone.  At the same time, ownership did not give Minaya the keys to go out and drastically overspend on the free agent market.  In many ways, that was a good thing; it prevented the team from signing Bengie Molina, for one, and the team did not go crazy trading prospects for short-term solutions.  In many ways, it was also a bad thing; the starting rotation is perilously thin, and it led to the team bringing back Alex Cora as “the devil they know” rather than pursuing a better middle infield reserve like Felipe Lopez and Adam Everett, both of whom signed with teams for less money than the Mets will pay Cora.  It seems silly that the team would not pursue a better reserve shortstop with Jose Reyes coming off of injury, but that’s the New York Mets for you; such incompetence is sadly expected at this point, and will remain that way until Minaya and Manuel are gone.

Ironically, one area of the team where the Mets are not particularly undermanned is the bullpen.  Between Frankie, Feliciano, Igarashi, Calero, Parnell, Green, Nieve (assuming Niese wins the 5th starter job), Takahashi, and Figueroa, somewhere in there is a pretty good seven man bullpen.  They have enough internal candidates already to where a young, promising arm like Jenrry Mejia should only be concerned with going to Double-A (not even Triple-A) to master control of his secondary pitches, work on command, and keep stretched out as a starter to hopefully benefit the big league Mets, at the earliest, in the second half of 2011.

The middle infield is an area of a little bit more concern, though no thanks to the fools in charge.  Thanks to Alex Cora being retained as the middle infield reserve due to his great leadership abilities, (another good reason to fire Manuel; they value his leadership so little that they employ a player to help lead the team) the team doesn’t have a backup shortstop that they actually trust to start everyday should their starter, the great Jose Reyes, find himself injured.  Considering that Reyes was coming off of a severe hamstring injury in 2009, you would think that they would make it a priority to have a middle infield reserve that they trust should he miss time.  As it turns out, the hamstring isn’t a problem, but Reyes is suffering from a thyroid condition that will keep him out of action for the first month or two of the season. 

Since the team doesn’t actually trust Alex Cora, 20 year old prospect Ruben Tejada now seems likely to make the team.  While Tejada will almost surely be a huge defensive improvement over Alex Cora at shortstop, he will give a lot of that improvement back with his inability to handle major league pitching.  This is a guy who is only a year removed from a .229/.293/.296 line in Single-A, and while that may be an improvement over some of the reserve shortstops we saw with Reyes out last year, that is still in no way major league-ready.  It would be nice to see Tejada master the International League before being promoted to the major leagues, just to make sure that 2009 wasn’t a BABIP-inflated fluke.

Yet because Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel need to save their jobs, they need a success story or two, to hide their many failures.  That is what Mejia and Tejada represent; a chance for them to show that the farm system is producing players, that they can work within the restrictions that the Wilpon family has put on them.  They have nothing to lose; if Mejia and Tejada succeed, Minaya and Manuel look like geniuses for a minute or two.  If they fail, hey, Minaya and Manuel are likely getting fired at some point before October of 2010 anyway, so what do they lose?

It’s not as grievous a mistake with Tejada as it is with Mejia.  At least with Tejada, we can assume his stay in the majors will be short, only long enough for Reyes to return from the disabled list, assuming Cora doesn’t suffer some grizzly thumb-related injury before that can happen.  Whenever Reyes is back from injury, Tejada will be sent back to Buffalo after finding himself completely and totally overmatched offensively in the majors, even if he represents a huge upgrade defensively from Cora.  It’s still an ill-advised decision, and proof that this team has absolutely no idea how to build organizational depth (Russ Adams is 4th on the organizational depth chart solely as a token ex-major leaguer to appease the Bisons front office, not because he’s somebody the major league team would ever consider bringing up), but somewhat justifiable.  Playing in the majors for 2-4 weeks shouldn’t hinder his development.

Bringing Mejia to the majors as a reliever this soon, however, that is borderline malpractice.  Mejia can probably hold his own for a little while in the majors.  He may even be preferable to keep around over players like Bobby Parnell or Sean Green.  I don’t need to go into too much detail as to why, as dozens have done so before me.  The key point is, Mejia’s ceiling is too high to waste in a role where he won’t be forced to work on his secondary offerings, and he should only be used in the bullpen when he proves completely incapable of becoming a starting pitcher.  We may not know what he will become, but limiting his ceiling this early in his development is the work of desperate men.

And that’s the problem with keeping Manuel and Minaya around when management has a pretty good idea that they probably aren’t long-term solutions for the role.  Much like Omar Minaya has proven unable to handle sunk costs like Luis Castillo, so too have the Wilpons shown an inability to handle sunk costs like Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya.  Clearly, by the restrictions Omar had in free agency this offseason, they don’t view him as a long-term solution, so limiting his ability to do long-term harm in free agency was a wise move.  But he can still do long-term harm without making a single move by being trusted with minor league promotions when, in reality, the progression of minor leaguers are only important to him if the team wins and he can retain his job. 

The problem is even worse with Manuel; he keeps pushing for the team to promote Mejia because if Mejia’s ETA isn’t until mid-2011 at the earliest, Mejia can’t help him if the team sucks again this year.  But he sees that electric fastball, which is definitely major league ready, and that he can get batters out in a relief role once or twice around the league.  Considering that the bullpen has remained an issue for this team dating back to before Manuel was even the manager, Manuel needs every advantage he can find to retain his job.  The problem has become that, in the case of Mejia, Manuel’s short-term job security should not outweigh Mejia’s long-term potential, without even factoring in how much better this team would be if Manuel did get fired.  Yet that seems to be what’s happening.

The outside forces, the same outside forces that told Omar Minaya “Thou shalt not offer Bengie Molina a two year contract” need to step in here.  They need to recognize that Mejia is not ready for the majors, and that he needs far more developmental time than he is being given.  They need to see that Minaya and Manuel are only promoting him in a last-ditch effort to save their jobs, that the team’s future outweighs theirs, and they need to put a halt to the overpromotion game.  Supposedly, Tony Bernazard’s firing meant the end of prospects being promoted well before they were ready, but clearly, that’s not the case.  The 2010 Mets are a team built on desperation, but for once, can they show some caution here?

Go read the Amazin Avenue Annual

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Things have been quiet around here for the past two weeks, mostly because there is little inspiring about the team right now.  If you are looking for something to inspire you beyond “Why the hell is Jerry Manuel batting Jose Reyes third?” (and if Jose Reyes’ thyroid issue hadn’t become the Mets injury du jour, I’m sure you would have read something from me decrying this), I’d suggest checking out the Amazin Avenue Annual, available here.  I am about halfway through an advanced copy I received this week, and it is really terrific, there is a lot of great information from respected Mets bloggers that any Mets fan is sure to enjoy, plus a lot of pretty pictures and graphs.  It’s available for free in PDF format, with Kindle and print versions to be available soon, so go check that out and enjoy!