Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

With a month to go, can this Mets team hold on?

Monday, September 1st, 2008

We’re heading into the home stretch.  Today doubles not only as Labor Day, but the first of September.  The first of September is the day where rosters expand from 25 to 40, and for one month, we are suddenly playing a different game than what we were playing the first five months of the year.  Bullpens are deeper, rotation options are less scarce, benches go a mile long.  It is the same game, but with different ammunition.

Last year at the September 1st call up date, the Mets were 75-60, good for first place by 3 games over the Philadelphia Phillies.  This year, the Mets will be 76-61, and a 1 game lead over the Phillies.  Despite essentially having the same record as last year, and despite being fewer games up on the Phillies, this is actually a better Mets team; this year’s club has scored 22 more runs than last year’s, despite major holes at the outfield corners, second base, and catcher for much of the season.  This year’s club has allowed just five more runs, thanks to a bullpen that ranks among the worst in baseball.

The reason their lead is smaller this year is because the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies have been a little bit better than the 2007 version, thanks to the strongest bullpen in the major leagues.  They have allowed a whopping 130 fewer runs this year than last, thanks in no small part because their bullpen ERA is 1.21 runs lower than last year, and their rotation ERA, which is 0.73 runs lower than last year.  However, their offense has dropped off dramatically; they have scored 81 fewer runs this year than last.

One key difference is that the Mets have played better against the Phillies this year than last.  In 2007, the Mets won 7 games in 18 meetings; this year, they have already won 10 in 15 meetings, with three more games at Shea Stadium, where the Mets have played particularly well this season.  Besides that one meeting, the Mets’ and Phillies’ schedules are pretty similar; both will play Washington, Atlanta, Florida, and Milwaukee in September serieses, with both teams playing Washington and Atlanta twice.  The only real difference is that the Phillies will play the Marlins twice, while the Mets will play the Marlins once and the Cubs once (although by the time the Mets play the Cubs, they may have clinched the NL Central and possibly even home field advantage).  Neither team will be receiving a scheduling benefit this year; it’s all about who is better.

So who is better?  It’s hard to figure out how this Mets team keeps winning.  They platoon in both right and left field.  Their second basemen options are lousy.  Their best hitting catcher is on the DL.  Their bullpen is a disaster, to the point where they are actually bringing up four relief pitchers today, all of whom will probably find their way into games regularly.  Their current best relief pitcher is Jason Stokes, who wasn’t even on the team a month ago.  There is no time table on the return of Billy Wagner, the only relief pitcher on the team who can be trusted at all, and oh yeah, he has seven blown saves this year.

This is a team being held together by the stars; David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana, and now added to the club Mike Pelfrey.  There are other contributors as well, but those are the guys keeping this team afloat; how well they play will carry this team.  To his credit, despite having absolute horseshit in the bullpen, Jerry Manuel has managed to piece together something of a plan, and the team has actually gone 18-9 without their best relief option.

Of course, the bullpen has blown their fair share of games during that time period as well, with seven blown saves in the month of August.  Think about this; the Mets only lost nine games in the entire month.  Seven of those nine losses were blown by the bullpen.  As well as the Mets played in August, a 3.28 ERA by the rotation will be hard to maintain, especially with rookie Jonathan Niese expected to take a few of those starts this month.  The Mets will need for the rotation to continue to be near perfect if they want to withstand the Phillies, and hope Wagner has a return to form in him.

The Mets’ call ups were not surprising.  Joining the beleaguered bullpen cast will be Robert Parnell, Ricardo Rincon, Al Reyes, and Carlos Muniz.  Mets fans know what they are getting with Muniz; he hasn’t pitched particularly well this year, and doesn’t expect to suddenly have major league caliber stuff.  Robert Parnell has shown great stuff in the minors, but has strong walk tendencies too; it will at least be interesting to see if his overpowering fastball can fool hitters once around.  Ricardo Rincon teams with Scott Schoeneweis and Pedro Feliciano to give the Mets an army of LOOGYs; next stop, world domination!  Well, as long as they don’t run into any right handed folks along the way.  Finally, Al Reyes is interesting; he is a high strikeout guy who has “experience in the ninth inning,” albeit for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  He has something in common with every reliever currently in this bullpen; he gets his platoon half out with relative ease, but struggles when forced to face a lefty.

Basically, what these call ups allow Jerry Manuel to do is play match ups constantly; he can keep righties against righties and lefties against lefties as much as possible, because he has the arms to play the match up game, and because numbers suggest that this is the way his bullpen would be best utilized.  The Mets bullpen has now become a war of attrition, and Manuel has some troops.  It will make for some long, ugly Mets games, with pitching changes galore, and if you’re a Mets fan, you best prepare for some 3-3 1/2 hour games this September, but if it keeps the bullpen in order and gets the Mets in the postseason, I think you can deal with it.

I was a little less enamored with the Mets’ bench moves; they added Gustavo Molina as a third catcher, Argenis Reyes is in to spell Damion Easley and Luis Castillo in the late innings of Mets leads, Ramon Martinez gives the Mets flexibility off the bench, and Marlon Anderson was activated from the DL so he can continue to waste precious pinch hitting at-bats.  You will notice a stunning lack of power or general hitting ability from any of these players; maybe if Marlon plays like he has a contract on the line, he will snap out of his season-long slump.  Truthfully, with the team having hit so well this season, I suppose it wasn’t a huge priority to add players to the bench when they likely will only receive pinch hitting opportunities.

There is one player whom I have been championed for here that was not promoted, and that was Val Pascucci.  Now, watching today’s Mets game, something struck me as Daniel Murphy batted in the seventh inning against Scott Olsen.  When the Mets face a left handed pitcher, they lack a real right handed bat off the bench.  Tatis will probably start most games in right against lefties going forward, at least until Ryan Church shows he’s back to form.  Nick Evans starts in left, since he can literally only hit left handed pitching.  Damion Easley will probably start against lefties, since Castillo actually displays even less power from the right than he does from the left (and yes, it is apparently possible for Castillo to show even LESS power).  What happens if the Mets need a right handed bat to face a left handed starter late in a game?

The Mets’ current options are now Argenis Reyes, Ramon Martinez, or one of the two backup catchers.  None of these four options are good hitters.  I know the book on Pascucci is that he is a “4-A” hitter.  However, he TORE up AAA pitching this year; .290/.410/.553/.963 in a tough hitting environment.  I’m not saying he should start, but shouldn’t he at least be rewarded for such a torrid season with a pinch hitting job in September against lefties?  He gives the Mets power and plate discipline off the bench, two things this team currently lacks.  He would only be asked to face tired starters or relievers, two classes of pitchers who aren’t likely to challenge him with much more than fastballs.  Doesn’t he at least deserve the opportunity after playing so well this year?  It is going to annoy me when he winds up on another team next year and plays well when that team gives him a shot, and people say “Where did this guy come from?”  He came from our minor league system, and we wouldn’t even give him a shot.

I digress.  What this team is left with is an eleven-man bullpen, most of whom are roller coaster rides when asked to do anything other than get their like-handed hitter out.  A tough rotation, with a superstar staff ace, a rising up and coming star, a loopy lefty playing better of late heading into a contract push, an aging veteran who has shown serious signs of age this season, a decent mid-rotation guy battling arm troubles, and now they welcome a 21 year old rookie who has never started a major league game.  We know what to expect two out of every five turns, and hope for the best the other three times.

We have a lineup with four stars and four platoons (assuming Castro returns soon).  Our bench is nothing special, though features some good defense and platoon possibilities in the later innings, with the potential to be even better here if they promoted Pascucci.  What is the end result of all of this?  Much like 2007, nothing is going to come easy this month.  They need to take care of business against the lousy teams, they need to take at least two out of three when the Phillies come to Shea this weekend, and they need to hope that their best is just a little bit better than the Phillies’ best.  Is it?  Some nights, I honestly don’t think it is, but something this team has managed to do, despite the turnmoil since the Willie Randolph era ended, is win.  If they can somehow achieve a sum greater than their parts, particularly in the bullpen, this team will play October baseball.  If they cannot, Shea Stadium closes for good September 28th.

Edited to add:  Brandon Knight and Nelson Figueroa were also added to the active roster, bringing the bullpen to 13 deep.  Figueroa is another guy who had a pronounced platoon split during his time with the Mets; .163/.294/.209/503 against righties, .379/.455/.530/.985 against lefties.  There will probably be a temptation to use him for full innings since he has been a starter, but he really struggles against lefties; he is just another ROOGY in this bullpen.  That said, they probably should start him against the Brewers tomorrow instead of Niese and save Niese for another day, since they have so many right handed bats in the lineup.  Brandon Knight pitched OK in his one appearance for the Mets, and probably will also be expected to work full innings, but may not be much better than a ROOGY either.

Not in defense of Luis Castillo, but…

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Luis Castillo comes off of the disabled list today.  Signed to a four-year, $24 million contract during the offseason, it would be wrong to call him a major disappointment to Mets fans this season, but Mets fans came into the season with low expectations for the man anyway.  At the plate, he is hitting .261 with a .365 OBP, which is higher than his .331 slugging percentage (that isn’t supposed to happen).  His offensive value is limited to drawing a walk one out of every 7.4 plate appearances (not an unvaluable skill) and stealing bases at a highly successful clip (13 of 15 on stolen base attempts). He will get on base at a decent clip, but that is about it.

The negatives are he doesn’t get many hits, he doesn’t hit for any power at all, his range at second base has declined in the wake of knee surgery, and he is often guilty of poor body language.  The latter point doesn’t matter, but is worth pointing out, as it is the reason, more than anything, that he has quickly become the least popular Met since Kevin McReynolds.  Looking at how Castillo has played this year, he is declining quickly, and is probably not good enough to play every day anymore.  The good news is, he’s only signed for another three years after this one.  But as this blog has established, nobody dislikes Castillo more than I do, and nobody feels he is a poor choice for starting second baseman more than I do.  However…

In his place, the Mets have started a platoon of Damion Easley and rookie Argenis Reyes at second base.  Easley as a second baseman makes a great pinch hitter; a .272/.329/.361/.690 line isn’t impressing anybody, and on top of that, Easley’s range may be even worse than Castillo’s.  Argenis Reyes has played the best defensive second base of any Met this season, but has also hit the worst; .257/.297/.300/.597.  That’s right, Argenis is slugging worse than Castillo, and Castillo is one of the five worst regulars at slugging in the National League.  Argenis is fine as a defensive replacement, but his bat indicates that he has no business starting more than once a week, at most, and filling in for the Mets’ defensively-challenged second basemen in later innings.  Basically, he is the infield Endy Chavez.

Look, I’m not trying to defend Luis Castillo.  The Castillo signing was terrible.  Indefensible at the time, worse today.  But can we stop pretending that Castillo is replacing the modern version of the Wally Backman/Tim Teufel platoon at second base?  That platoon had a OPS+ of 108; the 2008 Mets pairings at second base have a total OPS+ of 84.  Luis Castillo, believe it or not, is out-OPS’ing both Easley and Reyes, and he is out OPS’ing Reyes by 100 points, thanks to a higher on-base percentage, which is a good thing; it means Castillo is less likely than Easley or Reyes to make an out.  As I have argued before, the best thing a hitter can do at the plate is not make outs.  Easley and Reyes have both proven to be poor at not making outs, and neither of them is considerably out-slugging Castillo.  Even if you’re a fan of good ol’ fashioned batting average, the move makes little sense; Castillo is basically even with Reyes, and 12 points lower than Easley (which over Castillo’s 245 at-bats, is a difference of a whopping three hits).

The difference Castillo brings you in not making outs, drawing more than an occasional walk, and as a stolen base threat makes him a better option to start at 2B.  Reyes will be back in about one week, and he will function in much the same way that the team has used Endy Chavez since starting the Evans/Murphy platoon in left; he will come into games late to replace Castillo for defense and rest.  That is the perfect use for Argenis Reyes.  Damion Easley will return to his perfect usage, which is occasional fill-in for Castillo when he needs a day off and pinch hitting duties when Castillo starts.  The ideal usage for Luis Castillo would be “player on another team,” but as long as he remains on the Mets, he is their best option for starting.  He’s not good, he’s not better than the average second baseman, but he is their best option at the moment.  Hopefully, the Reese Havens Era isn’t too far off.

UPDATE:  Apparently, Luis Castillo decided he wasn’t ready to come back to the team yet and will sit another few days.  I am guessing he was “encouraged” by the team to sit out until September 1st, so they don’t have to send Argenis down.  I wish I understood their logic of thinking Argenis is a better option than Castillo despite hard statistical evidence to the contrary, but I don’t run a baseball team, so who knows.

Trying to make sense of the 2008 New York Mets

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

I am sure I am far from the only Mets fan who has had a hard time getting an understanding of this year’s Mets team.  They’re up, they’re down, they’re good, they’re bad.  They’re scoring runs, they’re getting shut out, they pitch dominant, they get beat up.  They win games late, they get destroyed late.  Nobody embodies this more than Carlos Delgado, who for the first few months of the season looked thoroughly washed up, and is now probably one of the five best players on the team, or perhaps Joe Smith, who for two months may have been the Mets’ best relief pitcher, and today he might be their worst.

You could go crazy trying to figure out what this team is all about in the year 2008, but I am going to give it a shot anyway.  What has made this team good?  What has made this team bad?  For people who follow this team every day, there won’t be too many surprises, but taking a look at things, a few things did catch me off-guard.  There are things about this 2008 Mets team that I never would have guessed before the season that have somehow come to light, some good, some bad.  Let’s take a look.

Hitting

If I told you before the season that this team would get forty-nine at-bats from Moises Alou and no second-half production from Ryan Church, and not only that, but would start Fernando Tatis every day in a corner outfield spot, that this team would not only be second in the National League in runs scored, but would also out-score the Philadelphia Phillies, I would have thought you were crazy.  In fact, I still think this is crazy.  Fernando Tatis’ transformation from scrap-heap reclamation project to legitimate everyday corner outfielder remains the most unexpected story of this Mets season or perhaps any other Mets season this decade.  I mean, I was appalled when the Mets let Ruben Gotay go in order to keep a roster spot for Fernando Tatis, and now he is arguably out-hitting Carlos Beltran.  Think about that.  He may not be able to keep it up, but his 2008 Mets season will be one spoken of for years as one of the biggest “WTF?” moments in the history of this franchise.
But for all of the talk about how this Mets team would rely on pitching this year to carry them, it really has been the offense that has kept them in the race this year.  Consider the year Jose Reyes is having, with his line of .305/.363/.492/.855, with 40 steals in 52 attempts on top of that.  The man (undeservedly) wasn’t even an All Star, and yet he could wind up an MVP contender before the season is over (which he can’t win because of the media perception that he is an immature player, but that’s another article).  David Wright is getting hot again in August, and while he probably won’t put up MVP-caliber numbers like he did last year, he remains a top ten hitter in the NL and a top defensive third baseman to boot.

Then there is the month of July that Carlos Delgado put together.  Tatis’ run was more improbable than Delgado’s, simply because Tatis had practically fallen off the face of the Earth, but nobody could have seen what Delgado has done coming either, simply because he had been so dreadful at the start of the season.  At one point, there was talk of a Delgado release, much like what would eventually happen to Richie Sexson (twice, as it turns out).  Now?  He’s earning his keep again, seemingly found some of the plate discipline and bat speed he had lost at the start of the season.

The biggest name missing from all of this is Beltran, who just hasn’t really gotten it going this year.  I’m not sure if it was the knee surgeries or what, but he’s just not driving the ball like he has in years past.  The big drop-off has come in the home run department; he’s on pace to hit roughly as many doubles as he has in years past, maybe a few more, but he has seemingly traded home runs for singles this year, as his batting average is in line with years past, but a steep 70 point decline in slugging from last year alone.  I still feel Carlos is capable of getting really hot and going on a tear much like we saw from Delgado in July, but as the season wears on, and that tear hasn’t happened yet, it looks more and more like we won’t see that tear this year.  He still plays a fantastic defensive center field, but this team will need more out of Beltran at some point because who knows if Tatis and Delgado can keep up what they have done.

There have been offensive problems, to be sure.  Without Church, the Mets have been forced to use an assortment of rookie players, retread veterans, and Endy Chavez in the outfield corner not occupied by Tatis, and the results haven’t been encouraging, outside of some nice play by Daniel Murphy so far.  I for one cannot understand why Nick Evans is involved in the LF platoon these days and not Val Pascucci, when Pascucci continues to destroy lefties in New Orleans.  Second base has been a hazmat site, between no punch Luis Castillo, no plate discipline Damion Easley, and no bat Argenis Reyes.  Only Reyes plays an even passable defensive second base.  Brian Schneider continues to get most of the starts at catcher, despite clearly being a backup catcher in the year 2008.  Robinson Cancel is for some reason still on this team, despite not being particularly good with the bat or good enough behind the plate to spell Schneider or Castro, particularly with Pascucci mauling lefties in New Orleans (he wouldn’t be a better choice off the bench than Cancel?).

Overall, though, it’s been the hitting that has carried the ‘08 Mets.  Nobody could have possibly seen that coming, but it’s true.  Particularly with important hitting contributors such as Alou and Church missing so much time – they have been forced to rely on some guys who would have had Mets fans wincing before the season, yet have turned into valuable contributors.  It is a credit to Omar Minaya that some of these guys have been given the opportunity to prove they can play in the majors and perform well.

Pitching

If you had told me before the season that the Mets would be sixth in runs allowed in 2008, trailing teams such as the Phillies and Brewers (granted, the Brewers didn’t have CC Sabathia before the season), I would probably have laughed at your meager predictions.  Yet here we are, with the Mets having received poorer-than-expected pitching, particularly since it was believed by most that the Mets’ pitching staff would rank among the best in the National League in 2008, perhaps the best.  What has been the problem with the pitching to where it has been a middle-of-the-road staff when so much was expected.

One area of issue has been at fifth starter.  The Mets first were forced to rely on a lot of Nelson Figueroas, Tony Armases, and Claudio Vargases to start the season.  None of these guys pitched particularly well.  Then, the rotation welcomed back Pedro Martinez, and he has not pitched particularly well either.  At this point, his stuff just isn’t fooling anybody; his strikeouts are down and his home runs are way, way up.  Consider this; Johan Santana has thrown 100 more innings than Pedro this season.  Johan has been considered one of the more homer-prone starters in the NL this year.  Pedro has allowed only six fewer home runs than Johan this year, in 100 fewer innings.  He is getting clobbered out there, and while he has had two solid outings against the Pittsburgh Pirates of late, this should in no way be interpreted as Johan having figured anything out, or reasons for the Mets to no longer feel concerned.

On the plus side, the Mets have received above average or better performances from starters 1-4, even if their starts from 2, 3, and 4 have been inconsistent at best.  Enough has been written about Johan Santana already; suffice it to say, the bullpen may have potentially blown the 2008 Cy Young Award for the man (more on that in a bit).  John Maine hasn’t been as dominant as the 2007 version, and has shown a tendency to throw more pitches per inning than a manager would like, but he’s remained above average most of the season.  Mike “Big Pelf” Pelfrey and Oliver Perez have both been wildly inconsistent; you don’t know which pitcher you’re going to get from one start to the next, but both have shown flashes of dominance, which makes Met fans feel optimistic about the future in Big Pelf, and makes Ranger fans feel pessimistic about their future #1 starter in Oliver Perez.

The rotation has been fine; I mean, what team doesn’t have problems at #5 starter?  With the strong contributions from starters 1-4, and at least the promise that Pedro is capable of getting it together maybe for one last strong six week period, the rotation is not the problem with this team.  The real problem, the reason that this team has not run away with the National League this year, has been the bullpen.  This is the one issue that should not shock even one Mets fan who has watched at least half of this team’s games this season.  No lead feels safe, and any lead feels insurmountable.  Ask Johan Santana, who has left games with the lead six times that the bullpen failed to hold.  Ask Pedro Martinez, who left two games against the Pittsburgh Pirates (one of the five worst teams in baseball) with leads of 5-2 and 7-1, and failed to pick up a win in one game, and the other game was far closer than it had any right to be.  Ask any Mets fan, who have had years taken off of their lives watching this team attempt to hold leads.  Consider this; Joeadig and I were at a Mets/Nationals game in Washington on Wednesday along with our friend Travis.  The Mets lead was 12-0.  NONE OF US FELT SAFE.

The Mets starting rotation has posted a 3.92 ERA for the 2008 season, with the bullpen has sported an ERA of 4.31.  Now, considering how strong the rotation has been, while the bullpen has been terrible, you might think “Okay, so what?  A difference of 0.39 isn’t that bad.”  Consider, though, that teams are not supposed to have a higher bullpen ERA than rotation ERA; relievers in the National League, on average, have an ERA 0.5 lower than rotation ERA.  Consider this; only three other teams have reliever ERAs higher than their starter ERAs; San Francisco (reliever ERA is 0.06 higher), Arizona (reliever ERA is 0.13 higher; they also have Haren and Webb pitching MVP caliber seasons), and Cleveland (reliever ERA is a whopping 1.34 higher, in case you were wondering why the Indians went from division champions to dog crap in one season).

Now, I am going to do a science experiment.  Suppose the Mets bullpen had pitched exactly as well as the rotation.  Considering that the bullpen is “supposed” to pitch better, this does not seem like an unrealistic expectation.  How many runs would the Mets have allowed in 2008?  The answer is 529, which is one more run than the Phillies have allowed in 2008.  Combined with the Mets hitting having been so unexpectedly strong this year, it is therefore reasonable to say that the Mets bullpen is the reason that this team is currently up two games instead of about 3-4.

Unfortunately, at this stage in the game, there isn’t much Mets fans can do about this other than hope things bend and don’t break.  Billy Wagner, the only real bright spot to this bullpen, doesn’t look like he is coming back anytime soon.  This means Jerry Manuel will be piecing together the ninth inning on a day by day basis until either Wagner comes back or the season ends.  This means a collection of guys no Mets fan has faith in will be getting the ball in tight situations.  As much credit as Omar Minaya deserves for his bench guys somehow working out this year, the failure to really improve the bullpen is a huge fault of his.

If you look closely at the bullpen, the problem becomes clear; this team lacks a reliever who can pitch to righties and lefties.  Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano were both able to get their opposite platoon out with regularly in 2007; they were better against their platoon half, but could be called upon to pitch an entire inning against lefties and righties if it was required.  This season, that has not been the case.  Joe Smith and Scott Schoeneweis were both seen as situational players, and both have played down to that role.  Strangely, it has been Duaner Sanchez who has shown the most ability to get both lefties and righties out, but his problem is that he has become very hittable in the last month and may not be completely healthy; fastballs that top out at 86 MPH won’t keep you in the majors for very long.

Unfortunately, Mets fans, this is the hand we have been dealt.  Our team has a very good rotation, and has some very good hitters, but the bullpen is a disaster.  Unless more than one of these guys can turn things around and put together a strong six week period that goes against what they have done to date, this team will continue to struggle instead of run away.  If this team fails in 2008 as it did in 2007, the main culprit will clearly be the team’s bullpen.  Let’s hope the hitting and the starting pitching can prevent that from happening.

Shameful

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

There is only one word to describe how the Mets chose to handle the situation with Willie Randolph, and that is shameful. This is coming from a guy who was 100% anti-Willie, who wanted him gone after the collapse, who thought that Willie’s management was at least a small part of the reason behind the collapse. I’m not a fan of Willie’s, and I made that clear on this space. Yet here I am, being put in the position of defending a man who I had no love for as manager – because the Mets acted shamefully in the way they handled his dismissal.

Why am I defending Willie? Because the way in which Omar Minaya chose to handle this decision was handled wrong from the get-go. By bringing Willie back after last season’s collapse, the team was essentially saying that they did not hold him responsible for what happened. Yet it was clear by May, with the team struggling to play above .500 baseball, that they did hold him at least partially responsible; why else would a manager who won more than he lost find his job in jeopardy the second this team started slow? By not firing him immediately after the collapse, Minaya allowed the collapse to fester into 2008, because it is clear that the front office had not completely absolved him of the blame. Is he the reason the team started slow? Probably not, but it created a distraction in the first three months of the season.

Then there is the way the team chose to handle the firing. This team had ample opportunity to get this done. They could have fired Willie on Memorial Day, when the team had finished a disastrous road trip and came back to New York three games under .500. Instead, they told him he had the job “for now,” allowing him to keep the job but sharpening the knife behind his back. The dark cloud surrounding him never fully lifted. The team waited three weeks to reach a decision that should have been obvious in October, but continued to make this a distraction for everybody else. As of Memorial Day, they needed to make a commitment to Willie, or go in another direction; by dragging their feet for three weeks, they strung along a proud man and hurt their own team by keeping a manager with whom they clearly lacked confidence.

Then there was the final days of the Willie regime. Look, I will continue to say that I was dissatisfied with Willie and the job he did as manager. But why would they allow Willie to get on an airplane, fly cross-country to California, and manage (and win!) last night’s game against the Angels, only to fire him hours after the game ended? I don’t care how poor of a manager Willie may have been, that’s wrong. That is not the way a professional organization handles a manager firing. I’m not defending Willie, I’m not saying he should have been retained, but they handled this the complete wrong way, and it makes the franchise look second-rate. They knew what they had going into this week, and they should have waited until the team went back to New York, or fired him before the trip. 

It was clear going back to Memorial Day, if not longer, that there was dissatisfaction with the job Willie had been doing as manager, so why pick now?  Why allow him to fly to California, manage one game, and then fire him?  I don’t disagree with the move at all, but I disagree with the way they handled it.  Look at the model franchises around baseball; the Yankees and Red Sox.  Would either of those teams ever handle this situation the same way?  When the Red Sox collapsed in game seven of the ALCS, they fired Grady Little swiftly and shook up the team and the coaching staff before they played another game.  For all the talk of how poorly the Yankees treated Joe Torre, they never fired him in mid-season, or strung him along.  They made it clear at the end of last year that they wanted to make a change, and they made a change.  The Mets, by acting wishy-washy, made themselves look like a Mickey Mouse franchise.  It is situations like this that make Mets ownership look incompetent, and the team look second rate, and why Mets fans shouldn’t hold out any hope of a World Series championship as long as they own the ballclub.

While we’re here, I did want to say something about Rick Peterson – thank goodness he’s gone.  I blame him as much for the bullpen issues as I blame Willie, because he is Willie’s pitching adviser, and he’s the one Willie trusted to help make some really poor decisions with the bullpen the past two seasons.  Mets fans may blame Peterson for the Scott Kazmir trade, but I’ve always felt that Duquette tried to blame that on him after the New York media and Mets fans savaged him over the trade, and he needed a scapegoat.  That said, I do blame him for the Heath Bell trade, because the two of them hated each other.  Heath Bell is kind of indicative of the Rick Peterson reign; if you bought into his system, you might be OK, but if you didn’t, even if you could pitch, he would ostracize you and try to change you as he saw fit.  He didn’t see Bell’s talent, and he went on to become a very good relief pitcher in San Diego.  It may also be true that he didn’t see Kazmir’s talent, or that he saw false talent in Victor Zambrano.  Nevertheless, I’m glad he’s gone, he may have done some good things here and there, but I think he was a net negative in his time with New York.

State of the Mets after 45 games

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

I thought now would be a good time to take a look at this year’s Mets. Why? Because at this point, with the Mets 22-23 after 45 games and in 4th place, 4.5 games out of first place and having been swept by the Braves, I’d like to hope things have just hit rock bottom. Let’s take a look at the team.

Outfielders

Carlos Beltran: We’ll start with Beltran since he’s currently the only Mets’ starting outfielder who is healthy. Beltran is a funny case; it feels like he’s underachieving but it’s hard to say how much. His OBP is fine; .377 is very good. His hitting has started to turn around a little, with .265 lower than you’d like, but not terrible. He’s still playing his usual great center field, so that’s not the problem either.

The issue has been with power; he has struggled to find his power stroke since undergoing double-knee surgery last offseason. Even that hasn’t been terrible; he has 13 doubles and 3 triples, but only 4 homers. I have to think at some point, some of those doubles are going to start going over walls, and he’ll wind up with his usual 30+ homers by the end of the year. He hasn’t been playing bad, but he hasn’t been playing up to expectations yet either; I think he’ll get better.

Ryan Church: He has quickly become a fan favorite in New York, showing great power (9 homers, which leads the team) and a really strong throwing arm in right. His .920 leads the team, thanks in part to his team-leading .537 slugging percentage. With just over a quarter of the season completed, he has been arguably the team’s best hitter.

However, one has to think if Church can sustain this over a whole year. Last year was his first season as a regular in the majors, and he OPS’d .813; he’s hitting over 100 points higher than that right now. He’s not young at 29 years old, either, and he’s hitting out of line with his career levels (he did have a strong year in 2006 in Washington, but he had only 230 PA’s that year, 173 of which were against right handed batters). I am not trying to be a turd in the punch bowl here, and I’m certainly not meaning to dampen one of the few highlights of this year; I do think Church will have a fine year, but he’s going to cool off a little bit. He is hitting just a little bit over his head right now.

Moises Alou: I think if you are expecting much of anything out of Alou this year, you are kidding yourself. He’s just not able to keep himself healthy enough to play every day. He will play well when he is available, but he will not be healthy enough for what this team needs. Left field is going to be a place the Mets will have to address in the off-season, since Fernando Martinez doesn’t look to be ready anytime soon, but it is doubtful there will be many free agent options who will be anything startable available.

Endy Chavez: I would not be upset if I never saw Chavez take another at-bat ever again. Great defensive replacement, but a terrible hitter. I was kind of amused when Keith Hernandez implied that Chavez was a more dangerous hitter than Brian Schneider today; he may be a faster hitter, but the only danger he presents at the plate is danger to any threat the Mets had of scoring runs.

Angel Pagan: He’s currently on the disabled list, and beforehand, it looked as though he had fallen out of favor with manager Willie Randolph, who had taken to platooning Pagan with Chavez for some reason. Regardless, it looked like the rest of the league had caught up with him and it’s questionable that he is even good enough to be a 4th outfielder in the National League.

Marlon Anderson, Fernando Tatis: They are only outfielders under the Willie Randolph/Omar Minaya rule that states that all bench players are considered extra outfielders. Hopefully, the bench will not get thin enough to where we see Ramon Castro shagging down flies in left at some point this year.

Infielders

Carlos Delgado: He’s had himself a roller coaster year; a nice first week, a prolonged slump, a non-controversy started by the New York media over a non-curtain call, and everything in between. What we’re left with is a highly-flawed starting first baseman; he has only 6 doubles to go with his 6 homers, good for a .366 slugging percentage. He’s walking at a decent rate, but still only getting on base at a .303 clip. He is really hurting the team right now, and at 35 years old, you have to wonder if there is anything left. I think there is more than what he’s shown, but not much more, and the Mets should keep their expectations low. The Delgado trade for Mike Jacobs looked good in 2006, but has looked progressively worse since, and while Jacobs’ ceiling may be low, he is a much better hitter than Delgado at this point.

Luis Castillo: Believe it or not, there is some good here; his .370 OBP is actually very good. He also plays a decent defensive second base. That ends the good. He is not a power threat, and his wheels are rapidly declining. This is a bad combination, particularly batting second, because he has become more and more of a DP threat as a result. He would actually make an ideal #9 hitter in the American League, but in the National League, he is being shoehorned into the role of a #2 hitter, and I’m not sure that’s his best slot anymore.

Jose Reyes: After a lost April, Reyes is finally starting to show some signs of life. He seems to be getting fooled more, which is leading to more outs; his walkrate is only down slightly, and his pitches per plate appearance is in line with previous seasons. Normally, I’m not one to dwell on a player’s strikeouts, but Reyes does need to lay off bad pitches, because it will help him draw more walks, and drawing walks should be a big element of his game. Drawing walks helped make Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines two of the best leadoff hitters of all time, and Reyes would be wise to emulate them.

David Wright: Hard to find fault with David Wright; he leads the team in OBP, second in SLG, second in OPS. He’s had his normal issues with throwing, but he still finds his way to a lot of balls that an average 3B wouldn’t. He had that week-plus long slump earlier in the year, but that really just seemed to “correct” him down to his regular levels, since he started the season ridiculously hot. Any Mets fan who speaks ill of David Wright is a crazy person.

Damion Easley: He will get his fair share of at-bats since Castillo seems to have a catcher’s schedule. This is bad, because Easley is 39 years old and probably close to done. I mean…any time you expect 200 at-bats from a player who missed a game to attend his child’s high school reunion (by the way, congrats to Easley the Younger), that’s not a good sign. By the way, Easley is also the Mets’ only backup shortstop currently on the roster, and waiting in the wings in New Orleans should Reyes go down is Anderson Hernandez. That’s what I call, “playing without a net.”

Marlon Anderson: Nominally, the Mets’ backup first baseman and first pinch hitter off the bench. Unfortunately, whatever potion he had been taking to make him an effective pinch hitter has apparently worn off. The Mets are in big trouble if he gets major at-bats this season.

Fernando Tatis: He is considered to be a four corners replacement, though how well he can actually play the outfield is up in the air. One has to wonder if he will still have a job when the Mets’ outfield is completely healthy; I am thinking he just might keep his job if he can hit even a little bit, because of his perceived versatility. I have to admit, it’s a scary thought that Fernando Tatis could possibly see major time for the Mets this year.

Catchers

Brian Schneider: He’s hitting at the high end of what you’d expect out of the Brian Schneider spectrum; good average, good OBP, no XBH’s (1 double and 2 homers). He’s going to need to keep hitting to keep his value, and based on his recent history, it’s dubious he can continue to do that. The strange thing is, his defense, which was supposed to be his calling card, has been suspect, with a lot of passed balls. He’s doing a good enough job throwing runners out, though.

Ramon Castro: Hard to say anything since he’s been hurt. I think he’ll be fine, but he’s started slow.

Hitting Overall

Wright and Church are the only players playing at or above the levels you would expect. Reyes and Beltran have struggled some, but have shown signs within their stats that turnarounds can be expected. Castillo and Schneider are what he thought they were, but we didn’t really think they were that great. Left field has been something of a problem spot filling on a consistent basis since the start of the year, and right now, is a spot that looks like a real problem. Delgado looks to be just about done.

Looking at team stats, the Mets are 10th in the National League in runs scored, which is not particularly good. This is somewhat puzzling at first, because they are 6th in on-base percentage, and you would figure that a team that is in the top half of the league in avoiding outs would score some runs. Unfortunately, they are also 14th in slugging percentage; this is just a team that isn’t hitting the ball for extra bases, exemplified by Delgado, who has a mere 12 XBH’s. The problem would just seem to be “hey guys, hit the ball harder,” but unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

The key is for Beltran to start hitting more balls over walls, to get some sort of production out of left field, and for the team to make a decision on Delgado; at some point, they have to decide if he’s ever going to get his power stroke back, and if he isn’t, what to do about first base. They have some low-regarded prospects raking in Binghamton right now who might deserve a promotion to New Orleans just to see what they can do in preparation for a Delgado release. The trade market is weak, and most teams will require prospects the Mets either don’t have or would be foolish to trade. Same with left field; who knows how often Alou will play. Right now, between first base, second base, left field, and catcher, this team is getting zero power; 29 XBH’s between Alou, Pagan, Delgado, Schneider, and Castillo. That’s half of the team’s starting lineup that isn’t hitting for any power.

Relief Pitching

Aaron Heilman: We’ll start with the bad news. Heilman is awful. His strikeout rate is actually up, but so is everything else; he’s averaging 5 walks per nine innings, almost two homers per nine, and a nice robust 6.35 ERA. He has also inherited 8 runners and allowed 6 to score. Quite simply, he should only be pitching when the Mets are up or down a lot.

Matt Wise: He’s doing his best to make Heilman feel good about his numbers. He’s only pitched 5 innings, so it’s way too early to say he can’t turn it around, but man…he’s a guy who just does not inspire confidence so far.

Duaner Sanchez: At first, he looked strong coming back from injury, but he has pitched poorly of late. He’s not striking guys out and walking too many. It’s early, but you have to wonder if he’s going to return to his early ‘06 form. Mets fans might want to temper some of their earlier enthusiasm. On the plus side, he has not allowed any of the five runners he inherited to score.
Scott Schoeneweis: He has pitched much better than he did last year, but at the same time, he hasn’t been getting strikeouts, only 4 per nine. On the plus side, he’s not allowing walks or hits, but you have to wonder if he’s getting some help from the defense with the hits, and how long that will last. He’s also not much with runners on, having allowed 7 of 16 inherited to score. Expect some fall off.

Pedro Feliciano: He’s been good with keeping runs off the board, but bad with keeping baserunners off of the diamond. A 1.62 WHIP is not very good, but his ERA is only 2.70, and that’s not aided by unearned runs. If he can’t stop allowing baserunners, expect the ERA to balloon, especially if he doesn’t stop walking guys. It would also be nice to see more strikeouts. Also of note; only 2 of 14 inherited runners have scored.
Joe Smith: Quite simply, Joe Smith has been awesome. He’s not walking guys, he’s striking out a batter per inning, his OPS against is .495. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is 4.71, meaning he’s a great guy to bring in when you need a double play. Part of this is usage; he’s only faced 16 left-handed batters, who he has typically struggled against. Still, here’s my favorite Joe Smith stat; he has inherited 16 runners, tied for the most on the club, and only one has scored. Quite simply, Joe Smith rocks.

Billy Wagner: Billy Wagner rocks, too. He’s striking out 10 per nine, has walked only four batters all year, and has not allowed an earned run all year (he does have 4 unearned runs to his credit). You have to expect some drop off at some point, but if the Mets hitters could actually put some leads together for Wagner, you’d have to feel confident about him retaining them.

Starting Rotation

Johan Santana: I won’t speak ill of Santana. He’s allowed a lot of home runs, but has otherwise been very good. Still…I can’t help but feel we haven’t seen THE Santana yet, the best pitcher in baseball Santana. I think we will, especially once the home runs drop.

John Maine: His last start nonwithstanding, Maine has been very good this year. It was a rough start, and he’s walking a bit more than you’d like, but overall, a lot to like. He’s quietly emerging as the #2 on this staff.

Oliver Perez: Typical Ollie season; he has been maddingly inconsistent. Last year, in something like 21 of his 26 starts (I don’t have the exact stat), he gave up either 5 or more runs, or 2 or fewer runs. It’s been par for the course this year; he’s allowed 2 or fewer runs in 4 of his starts, and 5 or more runs in 4 of his starts, and he’s only started 9 games. It is always going to be feast or famine with Ollie, it seems. It would be nice if he kept the walks down, but the high strikeouts are a good sign. Your guess is as good as mine as far as what he does from here on out.

Mike Pelfrey: Another “Your guess is as good as mine” candidate. Big Pelf has made 8 starts: 4 starts went for 2 or fewer runs, and 3 starts went for 5 or more. Unlike Perez, he’s not getting strikeouts (only 4 per 9), which is a discouraging sign for a guy who has really strong stuff. He’s getting more ground balls than flyballs (GB/FB ratio is 1.41), but with that sinker, you’d like to see him get more grounders. He’s had good starts and bad starts, with not a lot in between, and you really get the feeling that he is underachieving. I’m not sure Rick Peterson is the ideal pitching coach for Big Pelf.

Claudio Vargas: He’s only made two starts, and likely isn’t long for the rotation. He’s looked OK so far, and could be a good candidate to replace the departed Jorge Sosa as the new long man after Pedro comes back.

Pedro Martinez: Ah, Pedro. Is he retiring? Is he staying? What can we expect out of him? Who knows. He will have to be monitored carefully when he does come back, but I think he is capable of making some sort of contribution. But he should be considered a Moises Alou-type, where you will only get production in spurts.

Orlando Hernandez: I would be shocked if he pitches at all this year, and if he does, I’d like to see him in the bullpen. But even expecting Alou-like spurts out of El Duque seems far-fetched.

Overall pitching

The overall picture at first glance feels like the pitching has been good this year. Yet the Mets are 11th in the NL in runs allowed. Why is that? They are slightly below average at walking batters and striking batters out, which is not a good start. They are slightly above average at home runs allowed, strange considering the problems that Johan, Heilman, and Jorge Sosa have had with allowing homers. The big problem seems to be their .338 OBP against, 10th in the NL and above the league average.

Some help will come from Pedro Martinez pitching in the 5th spot instead of Nelson Figueroa and Claudio Vargas, assuming he’s relatively close to his old levels. Some help will come from Jorge Sosa no longer polluting the Mets’ bullpen. And some help will come from Aaron Heilman presumably being used in less important situations. Still, look at above; two of the Mets’ starters have been maddeningly inconsistent. Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey need to pitch closer to the high end of their spectrum than the low end if this team is going to prevent runs from scoring. If they can do that, this is a pitching staff that can really get cooking.

Overall

It feels like there is a lot of “ifs” on this team. A lot of players are underachieving. Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey, even Aaron Heilman…these are guys capable of better. Chances are, 1-2 of these guys will never put it together for the Mets this year and will continue to struggle, with another 1-2 turning it around and putting together really strong years. Who gets hot, how hot they get, and who doesn’t get hot, and how cold they get, will determine this team’s future.

Then there is management. Willie Randolph is in some serious trouble. Getting swept in Atlanta this week was disastrous, particularly after the comments he made in the press on Monday. Now the team is under .500, he looked like an absolute raving maniac in the press, and the perception is that he has lost control of the team. I’m not sure how accurate that is, or how much “control” a manager even has on a team, but I do know when a person is losing control of their sanity, and right now, it certainly seems like the pressure is getting to Willie big-time. He may not be the Mets’ manager a week from now, much less a month from now.

I also want to take a moment to talk about “chemistry.” I keep hearing about how the reason this team isn’t playing well is because they lack chemistry. From where I sit, the reason they aren’t playing well is because…they aren’t playing well. They aren’t hitting for power and they aren’t keeping the other team off the board. Chemistry is a product of winning, not the other way around. This team is one 7 game winning streak away from everybody talking about how great these guys play together. Does anybody think that the reason Carlos Beltran isn’t hitting more home runs is because he (hypothetically) doesn’t get along with Marlon Anderson? That the reason Oliver Perez is so feast-or-famine is because of his long-running blood feud with Duaner Sanchez (scheduled to finally end after the season with a duel at the OK Corral)? Of course not, although I could see how the Sanchez/Perez duel may be a bit of a distraction in the locker room.

The point is, there is talent here. A lot of talent. There’s certainly no guarantee that this team will ever play to their level of talent, but there would certainly seem to be a very good chance that at some point, a metaphorical switch is going to go off and this team is going to play to its potential. It’s no longer too early to be a little concerned, but it’s still probably too early to panic, especially with nobody running away with the NL East. Better days are ahead, Mets fans. Let’s hope one day we look back at this day as the lowest point, and are able to laugh about that time in late-May when we had lost hope in our team.  I’ll tell you, with every passing day, it gets harder and harder to believe in this team.  But my hope isn’t gone yet.

It’s time for the Mets to think progressive

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

At the risk of sounding self-important, I like to think of myself as an informed baseball fan.  I like reading whatever I can about baseball, be it about its glorious past, or about the game we watch today.  I try to read whatever I can, digesting as many stats as I can, supplemented by stories of baseball’s rich history, as my work computer’s history bar can attest.  I love baseball, love reading about it, love learning about it.

One aspect that I have particularly embraced is fantasy baseball.  I am in several fantasy baseball leagues, and though I wasn’t very good at fantasy baseball when I first played, I like to think I’m pretty good at it now.  Why?  Because I read whatever I could about statistical analysis done by places like Baseball Prospectus, Hardball Times, and other great websites.  I read up to learn what I could about baseball statistics to enhance my own knowledge of the game to help me win my leagues, and so far, it has been successful.

Why do I bring this up?  Because if I can read up on statistical analysis and use whatever means I can to win a $25 fantasy league, you’d think that major league baseball teams, a multi-billion dollar industry, would be trying to find whatever they could to get an edge in their field to create a first place team.  You’d think that, and you’d be wrong; the Mets have constantly been behind the curve since winning the World Series in 1986, a trend that shows no sign of slowing down.

The Mets’ refusal to break slot demonstrates another example of how this team is constantly behind the times.  We are entering an age where free agency is becoming more and more irrelevant; teams are locking up their good young players through their prime years.  The last few off-seasons have been marked by just how few good young players have reached free agency, a trend that figures to get worse as more teams become smarter about locking up their talent.  Free agency is becoming a fool’s gamble, where mid-level players are rewarded with ridiculous contracts because teams have money to spend, but no players to spend it on.  As a result, Carlos Silva can buy his own Caribbean island today, but the days of free agency being populated by marquee names is fading; the players available are older stars past their prime or mediocre players who have been priced out of mid to small market clubs.

The point of all of this is that the Mets have become an older club, forced to rely on older players because their minor league system has not produced stars to fill into their lineup.  Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo, Moises Alou, even Carlos Beltran, who was signed at the end of his prime, are in Mets uniforms because the Mets needed players at their position, but lacked internal options to fill them.  It has always been better to fill positions on the roster with young talent, but with the free agent pool drying up more and more every year, it has never been more important than it is now.  Relying on free agency for a quick fix will not fill out a roster ably.

This brings us to the draft.  Is the draft a sure thing?  Of course not.  But a team like the Mets has resources that few teams in baseball possess.  The Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers are the teams in their tax bracket, and all of them have rebuilt their farm systems in part by ignoring slot and using their resources to repopulate their farm system; all three teams are brimming with good young players ready to contribute in the majors.  Even a team like the Tigers, considered a mid market team, has found great success ignoring slot, using high draft picks to draft Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, then flipping them to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

If the Mets have the money to pay for these high draft picks and develop them, why won’t they do so?  The Wilpons are allies of Bud Selig, who has been a staunch supporter of the slotting system in the draft.  The problem with following slot is that when other teams aren’t, it means that the Mets are putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage; not following slot at this point would only help the Mets keep up with the upper tier teams in the league.  This is a team with money to spend, and a team that is doing a good job of not spending superstar money on mid-level talent; instead of throwing big dollars at a 35 year old player who is not likely to repeat his last good season, spending a fraction of that money to draft and develop even a starting major league first baseman would bring back better returns at a smaller dollar figure.  With good young players reaching free agency less and less, the draft has never been more important than it is today, yet the team refuses to acknowledge this by devoting the proper resources towards a successful draft.
Unfortunately, this is the Mets, who have constantly been behind the curve.  Willie Randolph is a throwback manager with throwback tendencies in an age where teams are thinking smarter and smarter (although it could be worse; he could be Dusty Baker).  During the past few years, when the Yankees and Red Sox have smartly stockpiled draft picks by allowing players to leave as free agents (to be replaced by younger, better internal options), and by avoiding expensive free agent signings that cost them draft picks, the Mets were signing veterans and giving their first round picks to other teams.  Their first round picks have tended to go towards pitchers, particularly college relievers, who can be promoted aggressively but do not have a high ceiling.  They have not drafted a position player in the first two rounds since Omar Minaya took over the team, and it shows.
Their current system is bare, and while you can partially credit that towards the Johan Santana trade, even before that, this was a team that had exactly two hitting prospects in the system, and there is nobody in the wings ready to replace Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo, Brian Schneider, and even Ryan Church (who is 29 and does not figure to sustain his current levels for 2-3 years, much less the rest of the 2008 season).  It may be premature to say that the Mets are in danger of wasting the primes of David Wright and Jose Reyes, but it’s not as far off the mark as you’d think.

I mentioned being a fan of baseball analysis not to brag about my fantasy baseball exploits, but because it is often frustrating to be a Mets fan and a fan of baseball analysis.  This is a team that too often relies on old players and does not often enough explore smarter, creative ways to spend their money.  This should be a model franchise.  Next year, they will move into a brand new, state of the art ballpark that will open up many revenue resources not currently available to them.  They own their own regional sports network, and all signs point that this network has been a success.  So why does this team insist on following a business model of the late 90’s Yankees, when the current day Yankees no longer follow this model, and are still successful?  I’m not asking the Mets to be ahead of everybody else, though that would be nice.  I’m just asking them not to be behind everybody else, and when they insist on continuing with the slotting system, that is exactly what they are doing.  If I can devote time and money towards finding the best ways for me to win my fantasy baseball leagues, surely the Mets can do the same to move this team towards a World Series.

Mets fans need to stop crying!

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

I have all I can stands and I can stands no more. I am sick and tired of watching Mets home games where the story of the game becomes “Hey, listen to Mets fans boo (so-and-so).” This has become an on-going storyline in 2008, and I’m tired of it. As a Mets fan, I am becoming embarrassed by our home crowds. They are booing good players, they are booing bad players, there are stories as to which players “deserve” booing (as if any home player truly deserves to be booed unless they are showing a noticeable lack of effort). I’m tired of it – it needs to stop.

Every time a Mets fan boos a Mets player heavily, you know what they are really doing? They are crying over the failures of 2006 and 2007. Well, get over it! Yes, a vastly superior Mets team lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS. Yes, the 2007 Mets suffered the worst regular season collapse in the history of baseball. You know what, though? That’s in the past; it’s now 2008, and while this year’s Mets team is far from off to a sizzling start, it’s not like they are tanking, either. They are treading water in a competitive division; you know, exactly what a lot of people expected from this year’s team, and they are treading water having played without some key players in the lineup and the rotation.

I’m not defending Aaron Heilman’s performance, either tonight or this season. No question, it has been dreadful. But what good is accomplished by heavily booing Heilman every time he takes the mound? Do you think he is unaware that he has been pitching poorly? Do you think he’s not showing a strong effort? No, he’s just not pitching well; blame the manager for putting him in tough spots when he has not proven to be a good tough spot pitcher in the past, having allowed 6 of 8 inherited runners to score. By contrast, Joe Smith has allowed 1 of 17 runners to score. Joe Smith is the “inherited runners” guy, not Aaron Heilman. Pedro Feliciano has allowed only 1 of 12 inherited runners to score. That was a bad job by the manager not knowing who to use there.

Still, what does booing Heilman accomplish? How exactly does making it so Aaron Heilman doesn’t want to pitch before his home crowd achieve anything? What about booing Johan Santana because of one poor performance? Or David Wright for a mini-slump that will be forgotten by the end of the year? Or the ridiculous Carlos Delgado nonsense over the curtain call? Why do any of these things matter? Why are Mets fans looking for reasons to hate their own team? What happened to the positivity that highlighted every single good Mets season anybody can ever remember?

With every boo, you’re letting the rest of baseball know that we’re still not over the last two years.  Why give other teams that satisfaction?  Why give other fans that satisfaction?  It’s time to move on, time to let other fans know that we’re over what’s happened in the past and ready to move on – with a better team, to boot.  This booing business…it just seems so whiny to me.  It actually makes me ashamed to be a Mets fan, moreso than anything this team has ever done, and that includes “Timo Perez, starting center fielder,” or “Mark Clark, team ace.”   We are better than this, people.
I’m just sick of the negativity. Yes, this team is underachieving. Yes, many Mets fans had higher expectations than what has been achieved. You know what? It’s May. Remember last May, when the Phillies were far from first place? Remember how the Rockies were an afterthought in the NL West race? Remember when the Brewers were 7 games up on the Cubs last May? Things have a way of turning around. The Mets are currently two games behind the Marlins, who are going to fall off (their pitching has been horrible). The Phillies and Braves aren’t wowing anybody either. Meanwhile, the Mets are still in third place, still over .500, still very much capable of putting together a 5-7 game winning streak behind this pitching and hitting…yet, Mets fans seem incapable of enjoying this season.

Well, I have had enough. I don’t want to criticize all Mets fans, but judging by tonight’s game, it seems to be a growing majority of fans who won’t let the past be the past and worry about the here and the now. Last year sucked. The end of 2006 sucked. We’re not even a quarter of the way through 2008 yet; let’s hold off assuming this year will suck, too. Hopefully, the manager will start to settle into better bullpen roles as the players who can contribute are identified and those that aren’t are pushed into the background or released (Jorge Sosa being DFA’d was a nice first step here). In the meantime, can we at least try to enjoy 2008? Can we make an effort to enjoy this year and positively motivate our Mets? Is that too much to ask? Because I still see a LOT to be excited about on this team, and I’d like to share my excitement with others if possible.

Luis Castillo and the Mets’ love of veterans

Monday, April 7th, 2008

The Mets went into this offseason believing that they needed to make changes from the 2007 roster to the 2008 roster.  Last year’s roster failed to live up to the team’s lofty expectations of making the playoffs, and in fact collapsed in memorable fashion by blowing a 7 game lead with 17 to play.  The team’s starting catcher, second baseman, and right fielder were all free agents to be, as well as their de-facto ace.  Clearly, some or all of these players would not be welcomed back, and new players would be required to take their place.

The one player that they did bring back from among those free agents was starting second baseman Luis Castillo.  Castillo turned 32 during the collapse, now past his prime, and was facing knee surgery during the off-season.  This would not seemingly bode well for a player known primarily for his speed, his ability to beat out ground balls and bunts for infield hits.  Castillo has just 24 career home runs, including one during the 2007 season.  With knee surgery on the horizon, one could easily see a future where Castillo would no longer be able to beat out these infield hits, which drive both his batting average and his on-base percentage, and since Castillo has never been known as a player who could drive the ball even in his prime, it is easy to see a day, perhaps only a year or two in the future, where Luis Castillo would no longer hit well enough to remain a major league regular.

The Mets chose to ignore this information, signing Castillo to a four-year, $24 million contract in the off-season, out-bidding, among others, the Houston Astros for his services (the Astros would instead turn to former Met Kaz Matsui to play second base, an option that Omar Minaya, understandly, was not eager to investigate).  The big problem with the Castillo signing, though, is that the team had a player who was arguably even better than Castillo already under contract at the major-league minimum, and a player who certainly figures to still hit well enough to remain a major league regular four years from now.  That player is Ruben Gotay, who is now a member of the Atlanta Braves, because the Mets did not feel Gotay was good enough to equal the production of Luis Castillo.  It is that mentality which may ultimately doom a franchise with four legitimate stars to remain also-rans in the National League.

The Castillo signing was not an aberration; since Omar Minaya took over the reigns in late 2004, the Mets have shown a reluctance to trust young players to hold major league jobs, turning instead to “name brands” at their expense.  The problem with these name brands is that they tend to be old; usually in their early to mid 30’s, these players do not figure to age well, considering that a player’s prime is usually from ages 27-30.  This would not be a problem if the Mets did not have internal options who could fill these roles as ably as the free agents and trade acquisitions they have brought in, but a closer look shows that they have had players who could at least be expected to equal this production, if not surpass it, but at a much lower cost.  Consider:

  • After the 2005 season, the Mets traded Mike Jacobs, Grant Psomas, and Yusmeiro Petit to the Florida Marlins for Carlos Delgado.  In two seasons in Florida, Jacobs has hit .264/.321/.466/.787.  Delgado has hit .262/.347/.497/.844 in that same time frame.  Has Delgado been better?  Yes, no question.  Has he been $27 million better than Jacobs (the difference in the two’s salaries over that time span)?  Well, that’s harder to say.  Will he be $20 million better this year?  Even harder to say.  I’d suspect no.  Jacobs isn’t a star, but Delgado hasn’t been either, and he’s being paid like one.
  • Also after the 2005 season, the Mets needed a catcher to replace Mike Piazza.  Ramon Castro, who received a good chunk of time behind the plate, looked like an intriguing option, between his good receiver skills and his ability to mash at the plate (8 home runs in 209 at-bats in 2005).  However, Castro was never considered a real candidate for the starting job, which went to Paul Lo Duca after another Mets’ trade with the Marlins.  In two years on the Mets, Castro arguably out-performed Lo Duca at the plate (he actually had one more home run in 655 fewer plate appearances), and was better defensively too.  Yet, when the time came to replace Lo Duca after the collapse, Castro again was not considered for the starter’s job, which ultimately went to Brian Schneider.
  • Continuing the catcher theme, Jesus Flores was left unprotected in the 2006 Rule V draft and taken by the Washington Nationals.  At the time, he was the only thing resembling a catching prospect in the system, and acquitted himself nicely at the major league level last year.  He could have been a real solution to the catching problem that will await them in either 2009 or 2010, but instead he will be a Washington National.
  • Schneider was acquired in part because the Mets felt Lastings Milledge was unable to acquit himself in right field.  Over two seasons, Milledge had shown steady improvement with the bat over two seasons, particularly against left handed pitchers.  By the time 2007 ended, it looked like he was ready to assume an everyday role in right field, but the team had become suspicious of his antics and instead cut bait, getting older in the process.

Then there is the Castillo signing.  As mentioned, Castillo has never shown much pop at the plate.  Gotay hit 4 home runs in 190 at-bats last year, or 1/6 of Castillo’s career total in 5300 fewer at-bats.  Gotay also hit .295 last year, 6 points lower than Castillo’s .301, with a .352 OBP, 9 points lower than Castillo’s .361.  Throw in the added power, and Gotay could easily out-perform that over a full season, right?  Especially after you factor in Castillo’s loss of speed.  The other problem with Gotay was his defense, but his biggest defensive issue was Gotay has issues turning the double play; his range at second is fine.  Surely the team could have addressed this issue in spring training, with repeated double play drills to improve Gotay’s handling of the double play to at least average; plus, on this Mets team, which allows a lot of fly balls, turning the double play isn’t as big of an issue as it would be on some teams.

The problem is, Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya simply are not into giving young players a shot.  For all of the issues the media has raised about the Latino influence Minaya has brought to the Mets, the real issue to me is his over-reliance on older veterans.  Last year’s team was the oldest in the National League.  The team did get younger this off-season when Tom Glavine, Paul Lo Duca, and Shawn Green were allowed to leave, but this is still a very old team.  Thirty-eight year old Damion Easley is the team’s utility infielder.  Retreads and major league washouts like Brady Clark and Fernando Tatis were considered ahead of Gotay for the team’s last spot on the bench.  Hell, Julio Franco was only finally released last year when it became painfully obvious that he could no longer hit at the major league level, and the man is so old, carbon dating wouldn’t be able to determine his real age.

We can’t even give this administration credit for Reyes and Wright; they were promoted to the majors in 2004, before Minaya and Randolph were hired, and had established themselves for better or for worse as major leaguers before they took over the reigns.  The only young players who have been promoted to the majors and stuck since Minaya and Randolph have taken over are Aaron Heilman (who found his niche in the bullpen, much to his chagrin) and John Maine.  Time and time again, good young players have established that they deserve at least a shot at an everyday job, only to be rebuffed by Minaya and Randolph in favor of veterans; essentially, we are rooting for the 1999-2006 Yankees right now, whether we want to admit it or not.

Look, I understand the importance of spending money.  I should feel grateful; the team I root for is willing to spend the extra dollar to make whatever improvements need to be made to put this team ahead.  The problem becomes when the team is spending money for marginal upgrades, at best.  A little creativity here and a little creativity there would open up money to be spent on good young players entering their prime when they enter their free agent years.  Look at the Red Sox, who have augmented a high payroll by scouring the waiver wire for good cheap pickups, and by trusting their youngsters to come in and play over established major league veterans.  If we want to end our admittedly less lamentable drought of 22 years without a World Series championship, at some point we will have to learn to trust our kids.  A high payroll for itself does not win a World Series; management needs to find smarter ways to spend the Wilpon’s money.

Miracle Mets 2008 Predictions

Monday, March 31st, 2008

From the staff at MiracleMets.net

CW = Chris Wilcox

JD =  Joeadig

METS PREDICTIONS 

How great will Johan Santana really be?
CW: Johan Santana will be the best pitcher in the National League in 2008 and will cruise to his third Cy Young Award.  The impact he will bring to this Mets team will be enormous; last year’s team tended to run hot and cold a lot, with really bad months in June and (obviously) September.  With a stopper like Santana, plus Pedro Martinez around more often than not to be the Robin to his Batman, long losing streaks will be fewer and far between for the 2008 Mets.
JD:  Santana will be rockin’.  He’s got that Howard Johnson every-other-season greatness thing going for him and he’s due in 2008.  I think 20 wins will be a reasonable goal and I think that, as long as Billy Wagner doesn’t blow it for him, he could get to 22 or 23 wins.

Will we see Fernando Martinez in the major leagues in 2008?
CW:  Called up in September, not before.  This is a big year for F-Mart, he needs a good year in Binghamton to keep his status as the Mets’ #1 prospect after a disappointing injury-plagued year last year.  I think he’s going to do it, and will be rewarded with a major league promotion when rosters expand, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he started a few games to rest Moises Alou and/or Carlos Beltran before the playoffs.
JD:  Personally, I hope that Martinez doesn’t see the show at all in 2008.  Think about it: if he does, that means that whatever combination of Church, Alou, Chavez, Fernando Tatis, Marlon Anderson, and Angel Pagan hasn’t worked.  And if those guys don’t work out, that probably means that the team is not dominating like we all hope/expect. Martinez is young and hasn’t spend much time in the minors yet, especially with that injury-plagued 2007.  Let’s not rush him at all.

Who will start more games in the 5 hole:  Mike Pelfrey, Orlando Hernandez, Jorge Sosa, or somebody else?
CW:  Orlando Hernandez will start the most games, but he will miss extended periods of time throughout the year.  Sosa might start the year as the #5, but it won’t take the team long to remember why he was banished to the bullpen last year.  Pelfrey will be called back up at some point, but he will spend most of his year in New Orleans as the team tries to figure out what’s wrong with him and how they can try to fix him to get him ready for a full-time shot at the roster in 2009.
JD:  I have absolutely NO faith that Hernandez will be making the majority of the starts in the 5 hole; I just think that he’s going to break apart or something.  I believe whole-heartedly that Mike Pelfrey will grab the spot and run with it all year.  I like the kid.  I think what he did last year took a lot of guts: how many guys could start the season 0-7, go back and forth to the minors, and then end the year with three very strong performances?  I like him and I really want him to succeed.  Let’s just hope the rumor of Claudio Vargas coming on stays a rumor.

Will Pedro Martinez stay healthy?
CW:  Pedro Martinez will stay healthy for most of 2008; he might miss a start here and there or get pushed back in the rotation, and he won’t pitch more than 5-6 innings too often, but I don’t think he will spend any time on the disabled list.
JD:  I believe that Pedro will be great this year.  I think he’s going to be very well-rested and fresh, he’s going to be motivated since he’s in the walk year of his contract, and he’s going to be excited to prove that he can still be the top-dog in a rotation with the young stud Santana.  I expect him to not only stay healthy, but to finish in the top 10 in Cy Young voting. 

Will the bullpen take a step forward from last season?
CW:  Yes – I like the moves the Mets made this year as opposed to last year.  They were low risk moves like signing Matt Wise and avoiding long-term contracts, that more resemble the way the 2006 Mets bullpen was constructed than the 2007 Mets bullpen.  Plus, Willie Randolph won’t be able to keep bringing Guillermo Mota in for big spots, which is always a plus.  Overall, I think we will see an improvement this year, and while the 2008 bullpen won’t quite reach the heights of 2006, it won’t be nearly as bad as it was in 2007, either.
JD:  God I hope so.  I just had to chuckle when I read that espn.com named Billy Wagner as their “All-NL Closer.”  Are they drunk?  I know that the boys in Bristol all love their Mets and Red Sox, but Wagner is NOT the stud he used to be.  I really hope that I’m wrong, but I think that Wags will be booed an awful lot at Shea this season.  As for the rest of the pen, I don’t think that Heilman will make it through another season as a Met.  He’s just too valuable as trade bait for other teams who want him as a starter, and since he’s made it clear (again) that he wants to start, I expect him to be traded for whatever type of help is needed come July.

Will the following Mets repeat or exceed their play of last year, or will they regress a little bit?

Jose Reyes
CW:  I am excited for Reyes’ 2008, because I think this is going to be a huge year for him.  Lost in all of the hype about his final two months is the fact that he’s still a player who is young and has made enormous strides since coming to the big leagues.  I think he will have something to prove after last season ended so poorly for him, and with a renewed focus and a little more maturity, he’s going to have a big year for the Mets in the leadoff position.
JD:  I get the feeling that his ego is a very big part of his game, and he’s had a number of things go against him lately: 1. Hanley Ramirez is seen as the best shortstop in the NL; 2. Reyes has said he’ll “tone down” the antics/handshakes because he’s tired of being asked if they’re a distraction, and 3. he’s constantly being reminded of the slump he had at the end of last season.  All of this adds up to a big crash in 2008.  I REALLY WANT TO BE WRONG.
David Wright
CW:  But Reyes won’t be the Mets’ best hitter, because that’s going to be David Wright.  It’s scary that Wright keeps getting a little bit better every year, and he came into the league pretty damned good.  Last year, he lost out on some hardware because the Mets’ pitching staff folded down the stretch.  This year, with the rotation solidified with a true ace for the first time since Mike Hampton’s one-and-done season, and with some further small improvements, Wright won’t be denied his first MVP.
JD:  He lost out to Jimmy Rollins for MVP last season, but I don’t see any reason why he won’t put up even better numbers and be as much of a leader this year, and make an even-better case to be the 2008 MVP. 

Carlos Beltran
CW:  I’m expecting a little decline from Beltran this year – his offseason knee surgery will sap him of some of his great range in center field, and perhaps some of his power as well.  He will be moved to a corner sooner rather than later, and will evolve into something of an all-or-nothing power hitter – but not right away.  He’ll be good, but he won’t be as good, and by the end of the season, he will be the Mets’ third-best hitter.
JD:  He’s gotten better in each season as a Met and I think that’ll continue.  He’s going to be a top five MVP finisher and lead the team in HRs and RBI.

Carlos Delgado
CW:  I am coming in with low expectations this year – something around a .260/.330/.480, which would be better than last year, but still not exactly what the Mets were hoping for when they traded for him.  I’m also expecting at least one stint on the DL.  I hope I am proven wrong.
JD:  Delgado will be close to the Toronto Delgado this year.  Huge RBI and HR numbers and a key leadership role will make him a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year in 2008.

Luis Castillo
CW:  I am predicting that by the end of 2008, Omar Minaya may already regret signing Luis Castillo to a four year deal.  He underwent double knee surgery over the offseason, and he’s a player primarily known for is speed – if he can’t beat out infield hits to keep his batting average up, he isn’t going to get on base, and it’s not like he’s going to hit for anything resembling power to make up for it.  I believe this offseason, the Mets will once again be on the look out for a new second baseman.
JD:  When the Yankees signed Jorge Posada to a 12-year, $8.4 billion extension back in November, I was convinced that that would be the worst long-term deal issued this off-season.  And then the Mets went and gave an older-than-his-age, busted-knee speedster a four-year deal.  I fully expect the badness of deal to materialize in front of us by mid-season.  I predict that Fernando Tatis will be getting a lot of time at 2nd base.

Moises Alou
CW:  He will be similar to last year – he won’t hit .341 again, but he will give the Mets good production when he’s in the lineup, which unfortunately won’t be often enough.
JD:  All I’m going to say is “thank god this was a one-year extension.”  I love the guy but I don’t see this going well at all.  He was magical last year, but so was Cliff Floyd right before he had to shut it down at the end of his Mets career.  That’s the thing about magic: it’s great when you see it but it just doesn’t last.

John Maine
CW:  Maine has a chance to be a real unsung hero for this team – he won’t be as flashy as Pedro or Santana, but he will be a solid, consistent #3.  If he can avoid wearing down like he did last year (and I suspect that Peterson and Willie will more closely monitor his innings this year), he could be a sleeper Cy Young candidate.
JD:  This year will only piss of Baltimore fans even more.  I would like to point out to all Mets fans who are still bitter about losing Scott Kazmir for a barrel of crap that “we” basically did the same thing to the Orioles when we stole John Maine. 

Oliver Perez
CW:  Can you really predict what Oliver Perez will do from week to week, much less season to season?  Since the answer is no, I’ll just predict that he gives the team exactly what he gave them last year, and hope it comes to pass, because it’s sure better than him being worse.
JD:  I think this is a make-or-break year for him.  He’ll either step up and become a front of the rotation guy, or he’ll forever be a back-end pitcher.  I think he’s going to do well.

Billy Wagner
CW:  I feel an injury to Wagner coming – he’s been “unavailable” for games here and there the past two years, but he’s been lucky to avoid the DL, and he’s been a guy who has battled injuries in the past.  He’s not getting any younger, and I feel as though we Mets fans may feel almost too “safe,” for lack of a better term, so I think he’ll miss around a month somewhere in the middle of the year.
JD:  As mentioned above, I think Billy is going to tank this season.  Again, I really hope I’m wrong.

Aaron Heilman
CW:  He’ll close for a little while when Wagner is out and will perform well – enough to where the Mets can add “potential closer” to the list of other things Heilman does well should they try to trade him this off-season.  But he will stay with the Mets at least through this year.
JD:  I think he’ll have a great season, but only a couple months as a Met.  See above.

Pedro Feliciano
CW:  He’ll give the Mets a solid year of relief – hopefully they’ll monitor his innings too, because he’s another guy who wore down in September.
JD:  He’ll have another effective, under-the-radar year.

Jorge Sosa
CW:  He’ll split time between the rotation and bullpen without doing either particularly well.
JD:  He’ll be in the minors before May is out.

Scott Schoeneweis
CW:  Scott Schoeneweis will not finish the year in a Mets uniform – he’ll get traded for something before the year is out.
JD:  He’s going to do his best to make sure that Luis Castillo isn’t the only player on the team with a laughable long-term contract.

Who will be the Mets’ best hitter and best pitcher in 2008?
CW:  Pretty easy question for me:  David Wright will not only be the Mets’ best hitter, but the best hitter in the National League, and Johan Santana will not only be the Mets’ best pitcher, but the best pitcher in the National League.
JD:  I’m going to go with Beltran and Santana, with Wright and Martinez close on their respective heels.
THE REST OF BASEBALL*:

Home Run leaders
CW:
AL:  Alex Rodriguez (45)
NL:  Ryan Braun (50)
JD:
AL:  Alex Rodriguez (59)
NL:  Ryan Howard (49)

Batting champs
CW:
AL:  Ichiro Suzuki (.340)
NL:  Hanley Ramirez (.332)
JD:
AL:  Jose Reyes (56)
NL:  Bobby Abreu (40)

Teams that will surprise
CW: 
AL:  I like the Devil Rays to contend, but not make the playoffs.  But they will be a hard team to play and none of the contenders will want to play them in September, and they have an outside shot at a Rockies-type season.
NL:  They won’t be taking anybody by surprise after a .500 year last year, but I think the Brewers can make the playoffs in the NL Central.
JD:
AL:  Chicago White Sox
NL:  Houston Astros

Teams that will disappoint
CW:
AL:  The Yankees may fail to make the playoffs (which by their definition, is a disappointment), but if they do, it will only be a one year aberration, and I can see them rolling off another title within five years.
NL:  The Dodgers have the talent to win the NL West, but going with Juan Pierre in left field, among other roster goofs, will help them underachieve for a second straight season.
JD:
AL:  Boston Red Sox
NL:  Chicago Cubs

MVP
CW:
AL:  Picking A-Rod is too easy given last year; I’ll go with Miguel Cabrera
NL:  How can I not pick David Wright after I devoted 5,000 words to why he deserved it last year?
JD: 
AL:  Alex Rodriguez
NL:  Carlos Lee

Cy Young
CW:
AL:  This is a lot more open without Santana in the league.  I’ll take Beckett over Sabathia, since I see the two of them being close, and voters may feel obligated to reward Beckett after giving Sabathia the award last year.
NL:  Johan Santana might put up PlayStation numbers this year in the NL.
JD:
AL:  B.J. Ryan
NL:  Jose Valverde

Rookie of the Year
CW:
AL:  I was going to pick Evan Longoria until he got sent down, so I’ll give it to Ellsbury over Longoria, but I do think Longoria could make a Ryan Braun-like run at this award if he gets called up soon enough.
NL:  I don’t feel great about this pick, but I think Johnny Cueto could grab this.
JD:
AL:  Jacoby Ellsbury
NL:  Cameron Maybin
TEAM RECORDS AND PLAYOFF PICKS:

CW:
NL East:
Mets – 93-69
Phillies – 85-77
Braves – 84-78
Nationals – 74-88
Marlins – 68-94

NL Central:
Brewers – 87-75
Cubs – 87-75*
Reds – 82-80
Cardinals – 78-84
Pirates – 74-88
Astros – 70-92

NL West:
Diamondbacks – 88-74
Dodgers – 86-76
Rockies – 84-78
Padres – 80-82
Giants – 64-98

AL East:
Red Sox – 98-64
Yankees – 90-72
Blue Jays – 83-79
Devil Rays – 82-80
Orioles – 64-98

AL Central:
Tigers – 93-69
Indians – 91-71*
Royals – 75-87
White Sox – 75-87
Twins – 74-88

AL West:
Angels – 90-72
A’s – 80-82
Mariners – 79-83
Rangers – 72-90

* – Wild Card

PLAYOFFS:

Divisional Series
Mets over Brewers in 3 games
Cubs over Diamondbacks in 5 games
Indians over Red Sox in 5 games
Tigers over Angels in 3 games

League Championship Series
Mets over Cubs in 7 games
Tigers over Indians in 7 games

World Series
Mets over Tigers in 6 games

JD:
NL East:
Mets: 95-67
Braves: 87-75*
Philadelphia 83-79
Washington 79-83
Florida 78-84

NL Central:
Houston 89-73
Chicago 85-77
Milwaukee 85-77
Pittsburgh 73-89
St. Louis 72-90
Cincinnati 67-95

NL West:
San Diego 91-71
San Francisco 82-80
Arizona 75-87
Los Angeles 75-87
Colorado 70-92

AL East:
New York Y 100-62
Boston 87-75
Toronto 87-75
Tampa Bay 76-86
Baltimore 68-94

AL Central:
Chicago WS 90-72
Detroit 85-77
Cleveland 78-84
Minnesota 70-92
Kansas City 64-98

AL West:
Los Angeles AofA 91-71
Seattle 89-73
Texas 83-79
Oakland 76-86

PLAYOFFS:

Divisional Series
Mets over Astros 3-1
Padres over Braves 3-0
Yankees over Mariners 3-1
Angels over White Sox 3-0

League Championship Series
Mets over Padres 4-1
Yankees over Angels 4-1

World Series
Mets over Yankees 4-1

* – NOTE FROM JOEADIG:  Okay, I was having a real hard time with this.  I couldn’t make myself believe in any of my own predictions.  So I did something that I think is very scientific: I let MLB 2K8 decide for me.  I simulated an entire season and wrote down all the results.

Barry Bonds

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Life of a don
Lights keep glowin
Comin in the club with that fresh shit on
With somethin crazy on my arm
Uh huh
And heres another hit
Barry Bonds
–Kanye West, “Barry Bonds”

When talking about famous baseball players of the last 50 years, you can’t even really call Barry Bonds “divisive.”  Most baseball fans are squarely in one camp when it comes to Bonds – quite simply, he is just not a fan favorite.  With the exception of Giants fans and fans in the stathead community, the almost universal reaction to the mere mention of Bonds’ name is derision.  His quest for 70 home runs just wasn’t seen in the same light as Mark McGwire’s, and it was barely a blip on the radar when he broke Hank Aaron’s record for most home runs all-time, a mark which is simply the most hallowed record in all of pro sports.  The reason that these momentous events failed to capture the public’s imagination is because most baseball fans simply don’t like the man.

I started thinking about Bonds about two weeks ago at a fantasy draft.  Our own Joeadig and I were discussing Bonds potentially becoming a Met, and when he heard I was not necessarily against this, he was somewhat incredulous.  “You’re not a real Mets fan!”, he said.  Joeadig’s brother, Johnadig (you may recall he and I had a few words regarding Jimmy Rollins’ MVP candidacy) stated that Barry Bonds was his least favorite baseball player of all time, and the worst human being ever.  Pretty strong words there, and I think this illustrates the kind of hatred people hold for Barry Bonds.

The thing I wonder, though, is why do people hate Bonds?  While granting that he has found himself in the center of controversy the past several years, I really have to wonder why exactly people just hold this immense hatred for a man whom most baseball fans don’t know, and in fact will probably never know.  He is controversial, he is a powder-keg for vitriol, he is the man the media takes glee in covering as his career becomes more and more tainted…but why?

Steroids

Thanks to BALCO and subsequently the Mitchell Report, Barry Bonds has become the poster child (or subsequently, the co-poster child with Roger Clemens) for the steroid era in baseball.  For good reason – Barry Bonds did steroids.  Books have been written about his steroid use, which go into great detail about the schedules he set up, the different drugs he was doing, the improvement to his weight training, all of these things.  Believe me, I’m not going to use this space to deny or defend Barry Bonds in that regard – the man used steroids, and his statistics noticeably improved around the time he began using them.

However, one thing the Mitchell Report illustrated to me is the breadth and depth of which players in major league baseball were using PED’s – everybody from the best players in the majors to scrubs struggling to maintain a bench spot.  And truthfully, if you really read the report, you would find that most of the findings used in the Mitchell Report came from Kirk Radomski, Brian McNamee, and the book “Game of Shadows.”  The only reason Mitchell was able to get Radomski and McNamee to talk is because they were both busted by the federal government and were facing jail time.

How many “personal trainers” out there in baseball weren’t busted, and were supplying other players steroids who were able to avoid the Mitchell Report as a result?  As time goes on, how many more trainers are we going to see busted by the federal government, and their client lists made public?  Anybody who thinks that the Mitchell Report was a final and complete listing of baseball players who used steroids from 1990 until 2007 are sadly mistaken; more likely, it was the tip of the iceberg.  There is a good chance that, no matter who your favorite baseball player was between 1990 and 2007, that player at least dabbled in steroid use.  It’s not necessarily 100% the case, and of course there are exceptions, but the fact remains, a lot of baseball players used steroids.

Therefore, isn’t it a bit unfair to single out Barry Bonds for being a cheater?  For the same reasons I have defended Mark McGwire here on MiracleMets, I will defend Barry Bonds; baseball chose to turn a blind eye to steroid use in the late 90’s and early 00’s, and only when it became a public relations issue because several players were listed on BALCO records and in Jose Canseco’s book did baseball finally determine that this was an issue worth investigating (and initially, only half-assed, and even today, at best you could say they are three-quarters-assing it).  The man made a choice; it may not have been the most ethical choice, but in the baseball environment of the time, it was either make that choice or be left behind.  You don’t have to agree with his decision or like his decision, but he was hardly alone in making that particular decision either.

That being said, I don’t believe people hate Barry Bonds because he used steroids; I believe people hate Barry Bonds because he used steroids and then broke the two most famous records in all of professional sports, the single season and all time records for home runs.  I suppose this is somewhat justified, as fans will believe he cheated through the use of performance enhancing drugs, whereas players like Roger Maris, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth broke these records based on hard work, sweat, and determination. 

It is perfectly justifiable to hold Bonds in a negative light for this.  I can’t dispute it; there is at least a little bit of a taint to his records, and there will be until somebody breaks them.  Personally, it’s not as big a deal to me that he used performance-enhancing drugs to break the record, but I can see where others may hold this against him, and it seems fair to hold him in ill regard as a result, even if I don’t choose to do so.  I’m not sure if it’s justifiable to consider Barry Bonds to be the worst person to have ever lived as a result of cheating to break these records, but we all have our own opinions, right?  I respect other people’s beliefs that he is a cheater, just as I expect others to respect my beliefs that it doesn’t necessarily detract from the greatness of Barry Bonds.

However, I don’t believe it is steroids alone why people choose to dislike Barry Bonds.  There are other factors at work here.  Barry Bonds is not hated simply because he did what a great many other players in baseball did over a 20 year or so period, or because he broke professional sports’ two most hallowed records as a result.  There is another element at work here that cannot be ignored, and is the true reason why Barry Bonds isn’t likely to win a popularity contest in his lifetime.

The Media

Ah, the media.  The true reason why most baseball fans don’t like Barry Bonds.

“Hey Cox,” you might be saying to yourself.  “Go screw.  I don’t dislike Barry Bonds because of the media.  I dislike Barry Bonds because he’s an asshole and a cheater.  How dare you tell me why I hate this man when you don’t even know.”  I suppose that is a valid point; I guess I don’t truly know the specific reasons why you, the reader, dislikes Barry Bonds.  However, I can probably guess that your opinion of Barry Bonds was framed by the media’s portrayal of Barry Bonds, which is that of a brooding, arrogant superstar who holds his teammates with nothing but contempt and who is a miserable bastard of a man who would set fire to a litter of puppies just because he could.

Well, I can’t speak of Barry Bonds’ opinions of puppies, or whether or not he’d ever set fire to a litter of them, but I can say that I know why Barry Bonds is portrayed in the media as a heartless, angry, brooding man – because Barry Bonds holds the media with nothing but contempt and is a miserable bastard of a man towards them.  And truthfully, why shouldn’t he be?  For most of his career, he hasn’t needed the media to talk up his game; he’s been a great player in his own right to the point where it was indisputable.  He doesn’t need the media to get the word out about Barry Bonds; Barry Bonds’ actions get the word out about Barry Bonds just fine.

Frankly, the media in the United States these days exists to tear down those who the American public holds in some esteem, because Americans love to see famous people self-destruct.  It makes Americans feel a little bit better about their own miserable station in life.  It is considered acceptable journalism in the United States to take a small fragment of a sentence out of context and blow it out of proportion to make a person look like a damned fool.  Why should Barry Bonds form relationships with these jackals, when they exist solely to tear him down?  A reporter who is friendly with you today will have no problem ruining your reputation tomorrow.  Why should anybody be friendly with these people?

Through the media, we have heard that Barry Bonds is also not a great teammate.  As long as I have been a baseball fan, I can only remember Bonds feuding with one teammate, that player being Jeff Kent.  The same Jeff Kent, it should be noted, who has feuded with, among others, Milton Bradley and Matt Kemp.  First of all, I will point out that Bonds, Bradley, and Kemp have one thing in common, and that Bradley was the one who once accused Kent of being a racist.  I don’t know if Jeff Kent is a racist or not, but the fact that he seems to only feud with black teammates is enough to at least make me think that there might be something to it.

Second, while there has always been talk of how Bonds is hated by his teammates, isn’t it funny how the only one to ever really talk on the record about this is Jeff Kent?  Re-read this Rick Reilly column from 2001.  Who’s the only teammate talking on the record about how much Barry Bonds is disliked by teammates?  Jeff Kent!  Whenever you hear about how teammates hate Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent is all-too-willing to be the one to talk on the record about this.  Given Kent’s track record with other teammates, and the fact that nobody else really talks about Bonds like this, isn’t it fair to say that Jeff Kent might be the bad teammate, not Bonds?  He’s the one airing grievances through the media instead of being a man and confronting them in the locker room.

The media loves to talk about how Barry Bonds has his own personal space in the Giants’ locker room, an area bigger than what other players receive, that is not welcome for other players.  My question is, why don’t we hear about this with other athletes?  Do you think that Michael Jordan was just one of the boys in the Bulls’ locker room?  Do you think Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are dressing with the guards and tackles?  It is naive to think Barry Bonds is alone in receiving special perks in regards to extra locker room space and other ballpark amenities; these are only emphasized by the press trying to frame their story of Barry Bonds as an isolated loner, because Barry Bonds elects to isolate himself from the media.

Even if we are to believe that Barry Bonds is an arrogant player who demands his own space not afforded to anybody else in the sports world, who are we to blame for this arrogance?  Who has told Barry Bonds since he was a kid that he is special, that he is better than everybody else because of his athletic gifts?  We as a society help nurture this arrogance in baseball players, and then when it no longer fits our needs, we hold it against them.  Arrogance develops from a belief that one is better than everybody else at what they do.  Well, has Barry Bonds not been the best baseball player on the planet?  Are we to hold it against him that he is aware of exactly how great he is?  Do we not appreciate the arrogance of players like Larry Bird, who knew he could make the big shot from wherever on the floor?  Isn’t that what we want from our athletes – the belief that they are the best player on their field, and that they can come through where mere mortals could not?  So why hold this against Bonds?

The truth is, the media picks and chooses what aspects of athletes they wish to spotlight or ignore depending on how they feel that athlete is treating them.  It is, after all, harder to write a scathing piece about a player who continuously gives you good copy, whereas it is surely a lot easier when that player won’t help you by giving you a money quote as your deadline approaches.  Jeff Kent will give you a colorful quote or two for your game recap, whereas Barry Bonds will do as little as he possibly can to acknowledge your existance, so Kent wore the white hat and Bonds the black hat in their public feud.

This isn’t limited to Bonds; look at what happened in Los Angeles a few years ago.  Paul DePodesta was named general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, fresh off of his appearance in the book Moneyball, where he was often portrayed as something of a stat geek.  Immediately, local newspaper writers (led by Bill Plaschke) led the charge against DePodesta, who didn’t help matters by proving to be a much better talent evaluator than orator, choosing to run the Dodgers from his office instead of in the media. DePodesta, a Billy Beane disciple, didn’t believe in making himself a public figure with the Dodgers, and while Beane could get away with that in Oakland, a more savage press corps in Los Angeles ate him alive for daring to use statistics to augment the team’s scouting department.

When the Dodgers traded their most popular player, Paul Lo Duca (by the way, when the media calls a player a team’s most popular player or its “heart and soul,” this is usually code for “most willing to talk to the media”), the outcry was enormous.  Never mind that the past two seasons, Brad Penny has been the Dodgers’ best pitcher, and that Paul Lo Duca has regressed to the point where he is now on his third team since the trade, and within a season or two of being out of baseball.  When the Dodgers failed to make the playoffs in 2005, the media witch hunt intensified, and DePodesta was eventually run out of town.  It’s not that he failed to do his job; indeed, the 2006 Dodgers, spurred on by many DePodesta hires, once again made the playoffs.  DePodesta was run out of town because the media didn’t like him.  Bill Plaschke, to this day, can barely write about the Dodgers without bringing him up, never mind that his successor, Ned Coletti, has done a terrible job since coming over.

Hey, I know where a lot of people are coming from on Bonds.  I once disliked the guy myself.  Then I asked myself one day, why do I hate this man?  I don’t know him.  I’ve never met him, and I never will.  Did he use steroids?  Sure, but so did a lot of folks, including players that I liked.  Why hold that against him?  He may be a miserable human being, or he may not be; I don’t know, all I know is what the media tells me about him, because we have never been introduced.  By choosing to dislike this man, I kept myself from enjoying his talents as a ballplayer, and for no good reason.

When I realized this, I realized I can only like or dislike players based on what I know – what is objective, because I cannot really trust what is subjective.  Objectively, Barry Bonds is one of the finest players that has ever played the game.  This goes for some Mets too; Carlos Beltran has not always been a favorite of some, but the fact remains, the guy can really hit, and he covers a lot of ground in center, but he is far from a strong media presence, at least until he started throwing challenges towards Jimmy Rollins.  I still wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s completely comfortable, but he even seemed overshadowed when he put up his great 2006 season, like fans just don’t

By comparison, Jose Reyes, who struggled mightily his first two years in the majors, escaped criticism because of a happy demeanor on the field, and it wasn’t until last year, when he not always portrayed as a energetic, smiling guy, did Reyes start to take some criticism (even though he was a much better player in 2007 than he was in 2004-2005).  Heck, two years ago, I wrote on this very site that the Mets should trade Jose Reyes.  The most vehement dissenter for that column?  Our own Joeadig.  Here we are two years later, and I’m the one saying the team needs to keep Reyes, while Joeadig is the one thinking that we should trade him.  Why is that?  Because I believe in an objective approach to judging ballplayers, and Joeadig does not. 

This doesn’t make either of us wrong or right but me, I’d rather have good players who are assholes than bad players who aren’t, because I want to win a title.  That’s my expectation for the Mets year in and year out – that they are good enough to compete for a championship.  I don’t have to hang out with these guys, I don’t have to get to know them or their families – I just watch them play ball.  Is it fair for me to judge what kind of human beings they are when I have no way of really knowing?  As a fan, my only expectations of players is that they do what they can to help bring a championship to our team, and that they don’t completely shame the organization by acting like an animal (murder, rape, etc).  Your moral compass may differ, but that’s where I stand.

Thus, we have the perception that Barry Bonds is a miserable human being – because Barry Bonds is a miserable human being to the media.  Is Barry Bonds a miserable human being?  I don’t know – I can’t judge him on this.  I don’t know the man, and I never will.  Our gateway to Barry Bonds is the media, and he is miserable to them, but truthfully, I can’t blame him for this.  But you have to love that the perception is that any team that signs Bonds will be bringing “a circus” to that team’s locker room.  This perception comes directly from the media, the very people who would be bringing the circus to that team!  It is almost like the media is making threats; if you sign Barry Bonds, we’re going to camp reporters out in your locker rooms, in front of your stadiums, everywhere he goes, and we’re going to follow him from town to town making him the story whether he plays or sits.  Nothing would make Barry Bonds happier than to be left alone to play the game, and the very people who could make that happen are the ones pouncing on every little thing he does.

The decision on whether or not to sign Barry Bonds should be a baseball decision; will signing Barry Bonds help your team’s chances of making the playoffs, of winning the World Series.  Unfortunately, that is not what is keeping Barry Bonds out of a baseball uniform right now, because the man can still hit.  How many AL teams would benefit tremendously from slotting him at DH?  How many NL teams would benefit from putting him out in left field for 120-130 games, with that bat?  I’m not exactly sure he would be a great help for the 2008 Mets; it would require Carlos Beltran having to cover a lot of ground in center field, and coming off of knee surgery, I’m not sure that’s the best thing for him.

Still, the question should at least be asked without the threat of a media circus hovering around Bonds.  I won’t deny that part of that media circus is from his own doing; his involvement with steroids and subsequent Grand Jury contoversy was brought on by himself and himself alone.  But there is definitely a certain schedenfraude by the media when talking about Barry Bonds, almost like they are taking glee with how far he’s fallen, and thus he likely will not be able to help another team this year.  It’s a shame that we as baseball fans can’t overlook things about Bonds’ personality, or what we judge as his personality,