Why Alex Cora?

November 30th, 2009
A sight Mets fans may be privy to for two more years - a frustrated Alex Cora

A sight Mets fans may be privy to for two more years - a frustrated Alex Cora

According to WEEI, the Mets and Alex Cora are close to a contract similar to last year, for one year and $2 million, although there is also talk of a vesting option for some silly reason.  When I read the news that Omar Minaya values whatever Alex Cora does so well, that he is willing to pay Cora above market value for a backup middle infielder, I have to wonder if there is something I’m missing here that makes Alex Cora so special. Read the rest of this entry »

Where Omar Minaya Hides the Wins

November 27th, 2009

During my bitchfest earlier in the week, I compared the corner outfielders from the best teams in the National League to the hypothetical tandem of Jose Guillen and Jeff Francoeur. While that pairing is highly unlikely, a similarly lackluster combination isn’t out of the question for the 2010 Mets. A look at the corner outfield production (Table 1) over the last five seasons highlights a key failure of Omar Minaya’s tenure.


Table 1

Year

Pos

sOPS+

UZR

2005

LF

106

-2.4

RF

108

-13.1

2006

LF

81

1.8

RF

99

-7

2007

LF

104

0.1

RF

81

-10.4

2008

LF

87

13.6

RF

94

10.6

2009

LF

99

-6.3

RF

92

-6.4

sOPS+ is the adjusted OPS of Mets players relative to left and right fielders throughout baseball (sOPS+ > 100 is above average; sOPS+ < 100 is below average).  UZR represents the cumulative Ultimate Zone Rating of all players manning each COF position.

Table 2

Year

Player

PA

HR

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS+

2005

Cliff Floyd

626

34

.273

.358

.505

126

2005

Mike Cameron

343

12

.273

.342

.477

114

2005

Victor Diaz

313

12

.257

.329

.468

108

2006

Cliff Floyd

376

11

.244

.324

.407

88

2006

Endy Chavez

390

4

.306

.348

.431

101

2007

Moises Alou

360

13

.341

.392

.524

137

2007

Shawn Green

490

10

.291

.352

.431

103

2008

Ryan Church

359

14

.276

.346

.439

106

2008

Fernando Tatis

306

11

.297

.369

.484

123

2009

Jeff Francoeur

308

10

.311

.338

.498

120

It’s as simple as this: most teams have corner outfielders that hit. The Mets, under Omar Minaya, haven’t had left and right fielders that could hit or field well relative to their positions. Only once — and just barely — were they able to get above average output from both production components (2007 in left field). Rarely has one quality been sufficient enough to satisfy a deficiency in the other. For example, the defense in 2008 was truly an asset, but the hitting, especially in left field, wasn’t enough to make the end product a good one.

The Mets had a number of players man left and right field on a semi-regular basis, thus Table 2 is limited to players accruing 300+ plate appearances in a season. When you consider that a 145 game starter collects approximately 600 plate appearances in a season, the lack of playing time accrued by the Mets corner outfielders is startling. Only two corner outfielders in five seasons reached the 400 plate appearance plateau.

The most obvious reason for the dearth of playing time and lack of production among regulars is injury. Mike Cameron (off-season surgery, sick collision), Cliff Floyd (achillies and various ailments), Moises Alou (age, fragility) and Ryan Church (concussions) all missed significant playing time recovering from their respective ailments.  The second and most instructive explanation for this pattern is poor planning and rationale.

2005: Omar inherited Cliff Floyd and Mike Cameron, two established outfielders with multi-year contracts. Undeterred by prior commitments, Minaya signed Carlos Beltran, forcing Cameron to RF, but yielding a good outfield in the process. Kudos to Omar, even though it didn’t work out as planned.
2006: Under budget constraints, Minaya gave Cameron away for thoroughly mediocre replacement Xavier Nady. He trusted that Floyd would return to his 2005 form, despite playing through nagging injuries throughout the previous season.
2007: He expected two players well past their prime — Moises Alou and Shawn Green — to adequately hold the fort in the outfield corners. Alou was fantastic in limited duty; Green was completely atrocious.
2008: Inexplicably, the team retained Alou for left field and by their own admission, didn’t expect him to play more than 100 games. Angel Pagan, a player at the time time without an established level of production, was counted on to fill in for Alou. Ryan Church was expected to start in right field, despite only one full season in the majors and a platoon problem with no suitable right-handed compliment on the roster. (Tatis wouldn’t come along until May.)
2009: The Mets penciled in Daniel Murphy and Ryan Church as their starting corner outfielders, a duo that combined for less than 500 PA’s in 2008.

So why is Omar Minaya’s planning so flawed?  If past interviews with Mike Francesa are any indicator, at least part of the reason is the presence of Carlos Beltran. On more than one occasion, Omar Minaya explained that the team could handle less “power production” from left and right field because Beltran was such an outstanding hitter. Such a belief is fine, so long as your corner outfielders are producing suitably in other quantifiable ways, otherwise you’re squandering the advantage of having a great hitter at a premium position.  Unfortunately, Omar’s train of thought here lends us a closer look at his myopia in action. It’s as if there are finite levels of production in his mind that are not to be exceeded: “Power at 100%, must add grission, must add veteran.”  I mean, how else can one rationalize all of those games started by Shawn Green in the 2007 season?

What will the Mets do this offseason?

November 24th, 2009

Earlier, I gave my plan for the 2010 Mets season, and while I’m not crazy about some things (in retrospect, I’d rather sign Matt Holliday rather than John Lackey, and go after another short-term pitcher for one year, like a Ben Sheets) that was what I would do had I been in charge of the Mets.  This is about what I think the Mets will do, more than what I’d like to see them do.  This is based on the Mets’ current needs, plus five years of observing Omar Minaya offseason plans.  This is just a guess of how things will shake out for Omar Minaya this offseason:

Read the rest of this entry »

No News Is Bad News, All News Is Bad News

November 23rd, 2009

Words can’t adequately express the abysmal feeling of impending doom within me when considering the Mets potential off-season transactions.  A look at some recent news stories reveals why.

Milwaukee Brewers claim George Kottaras off waivers from the Boston Red Sox

Kottaras is a 26-year old catcher with a career .269/.367/.444 minor league slash line. He passed through American League waivers and made onto the National League wire. The Mets, with one of the worst records in baseball, had waiver priority over the Milwaukee Brewers. THERE IS NO REASON WHY YOU DON’T CLAIM GEORGE KOTTARAS. The team’s 40-man roster is at 36. Do you need those four spots? Cut Pat Misch, Tim Redding, Arturo Lopez or Cory Sullivan.  They’re a dime a dozen.

The Mets don’t have a viable major league catcher on the roster.  The catching depth in the upper minors behind Josh Thole is thin. Free agent catchers Yorvit Torrealba, Rod Barajas and Bengie Molina are less than desirable. The Brewers needed a catcher and sought an opportunity to upgrade their roster for free, while the Mets were consumed with trotting Wally Backman around New York City.

Also victimized by Omar Minaya’s disdain for false hustle was Adam Bostick. He became a six-year minor league free agent last week. Did I mention Pat Misch still has a job?  Toby Hyde discusses more roster senselessness here.

Omar Minaya plans to scout Carlos Delgado’s rehab in Puerto Rico

There’s nothing wrong with showing Delgado a little courtesy by paying lip service to the idea of retaining him, but to actually consider it is bordering on lunacy. As a matter of fact, it is lunacy. How else would you classify an utter refusal to learn from your past mistakes?

Delgado was with the Mets for four seasons. While two of them were quite good, the other two were completely savaged by injury. The Mets should understand the risk in relying on Delgado intimately. More importantly, Delgado will be 38 in 2010. In the recent past, the Mets have relied on aged veterans Pedro Martinez, Orlando Hernandez, Billy Wagner and Moises Alou only to watch entire seasons blow up in their face because of it.

The Mets are looking to bring back Alex Cora.

Ted Berg broached the topic fabulously. So did Fire Jerry Manuel. And Joe Janish did as well.

Simply put, Alex Cora isn’t good. At this point, he plays shortstop like Luis Castillo plays second base.  He can’t hit — he’s never been able to — and he’s 34 years old. All told, the total package worth $400,000 on the open market cost the team two million dollars last season.

In related news, all-time, all-world defensive shortstop Omar Vizquel signed a one million dollar contract with the Chicago White Sox.

 Jose Guillen.

The shear absurdity of this rumor was thoroughly panned by good friend James Kannengieser at Amazin Avenue. 

There’s not much to add, except this: Adam Rubin, regardless of what anyone thinks of him, generally has good information. The idea of Guillen even being discussed within the organization is an indictment of this team’s decision making process.

Next season, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez will man the corner outfield positions for the Philadelphia Phillies; Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier for the Los Angeles Dodgers; Seth Smith and Carlos Gonzalez for the Colorado Rockies. Try saying “Jose Guillen and Jeff Francoeur” in the same breath without laughing.

And the Mets would fancy themselves a contender too.

Let the free agency bliss begin…

November 20th, 2009
Sign me NY!

Sign me NY!

November 19th is over, November 20th is here. Big time moves! Big time trades! Or just nothing for a long long time as I expect. This year’s class of free agents aren’t great. In fact, its kind of dismal. But as a Mets fan, you want your team’s owner to open his wallet (which is $30 million lighter this off-season so far) and spend some money because no matter what excuses you can make, 70 wins isn’t gonna cut it for a team that should be playoff caliber that played more like the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2009.

 

Read the rest of this entry »

The Steve Phillips Alternate Universe

November 18th, 2009
David Wright, fortunately not wearing a Toronto Blue Jays uniform

David Wright, fortunately not wearing a Toronto Blue Jays uniform

Can you imagine how bad this team might be without Jose Reyes and David Wright?  Because it is by the grace of other baseball general managers that both are still on the New York Mets.  Consider that in 2001, the Mets had originally offered Jose Reyes in the package of players that eventually netted Roberto Alomar.  The Indians insisted on Alex Escobar, at the time the Mets’ top prospect.  That very same offseason, Steve Phillips offered the Toronto Blue Jays David Wright in exchange for Jose Cruz, Jr.  JP Ricciardi turned that one down since at the time, Wright was a 19 year old third baseman in the South Atlantic League.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bengie NO-lina

November 12th, 2009

There’s this ‘idear’ floating around that Bengie Molina is a good player. Adam Rubin and Joel Sherman have indicated that the Mets believe it and have made him a target. Let me break up this brainstorming session with a HELL NO.

Clean Up “Hitting” Catcher

After Barry Bonds’ “retirement”, the Giants installed Bengie as their clean-up hitter for the 2008 (133 games) and 2009 (116) seasons.  He brought average power, managing ISO’s of .153 and .177. Over his three seasons in San Francisco, he posted .266/.308/.418 slash line. At the surface, this is offense you can live with from the catching position. 

But, man, that plate discipline – it’s atrocious.  His career walk rate is 4%, yielding a .308 on-base percentage. Molina’s detailed swing profile (courtesy of FanGraphs) unearths a more troubling trend:

Read the rest of this entry »

2007 & 2008 Mets vs. Phillies

October 26th, 2009

Or  how to fail at roster construction.  I referenced these stats in the previous post.  It looks worse itemized.


Phillies Mets
Core Position Players (FanGraphs WAR)
2007 2008 2007 2008
Utley 8 8.1   Wright 8.4 7.4
Rollins 6.7 5.3   Reyes 5.1 5.9
Howard 4.3 3.3   Beltran 4.9 6.7
Total 19 16.7   Total 18.4 20
             
Non-Core Position Players (FanGraphs WAR)
2007 2008 2007 2008
Rowand 6.2     Alou 2.1  
Werth 3.4 5.3   Delgado 1.5 2.9
Victorino 2.9 4.1   Castro 1.5 0.9
Burrell 2.3 3.2   Lo Duca 1.3  
Ruiz 1.7 0.5   Castillo 1.3 0.6
Iguchi 1.1     Easley 1.3 0.3
Dobbs 1 0.9   Gotay 0.7  
Barajas 0.7     Chavez 0.7 0.9
Bourn 0.7     Green 0.4  
Coste 0.6 1.6   Milledge 0.4  
Nunez 0     Gomez 0.2  
Helms -0.1     Valentin 0  
Feliz   1.5   Schneider   1.6
Jenkins   0.2   Church   1.6
Bruntlett   0   Tatis   1.6
Taguchi   -0.7   Anderson   -0.8
        Murphy   0.9
        A. Reyes   -0.2
        Evans   0.1
        Pagan   0.4
Total 20.5 16.6   Total 11.4 10.8
             
Pitching (pRAA via StatCorner)
2007 2008 2007 2008
Rotation -25 -23.4   Rotation 6.4 5.4
Bullpen -37.2 31.9   Bullpen -12.8 -22.7
Total -62.2 8.5   Total -6.4 -17.3

2009 World Series: Ire & Whine

October 26th, 2009

 Here is a list of questions I’d rather answer than the one I’m going to tackle:

  • Who do you love more – your mom or your dad?
  • How would you prefer to die – by strangulation or gunshot wound?
  • Which of Lady GaGa’s ‘organs’ most attracts you?

An excruciating 2009 Major League Baseball season just got a whole lot tougher for us to deal with. The Hades Series featuring the Mets’ most loathsome rivals – the Yankees and Phillies; or if you prefer, the Stankies and Sillies, the Yank-Me’s and Philthies — is an affair that’ll extract equal parts vomit and ire from yours truly and presumably, most of the fanbase.

 “Who to root for?” has been something of a moral dilemma for fellow Mets fans. For others, the answer is unequivocal. I’m rooting for the Phillies and I’d like to tell you why, in personal and unadulterated fashion.

It’s Visceral

Rewind the tape to 1996. The thirteen year old version of me sat in eighth grade home room the morning of World Series Game 1. I was born a Mets fan, allegedly watching games on my father’s lap at age two, reciting the roster on command for friends and family at age four and watching every game of the baseball season from age six and on. I loved baseball and especially loved the Mets.  Throughout my childhood, however, none of my classmates shared either of those loves. I could not so much as mention the sport without being reminded that it was boring and not as entertaining as basketball or football.

With shock and awe, I watched four of my classmates walk in with Yankees caps on. When the visual set in, I became livid. I yelled at them in my pubescent teen girly voice. I told them they didn’t know a thing about baseball. I told them the Yankees were going to lose and that I would laugh in their faces when they did. I rooted against the Yankees for the first time. And I loved it. 

This Phillies hate is just too new. Victorino, Rollins, Brett Myers: all contemptible, but it’s just not deep-seeded enough. This rivalry really began in 2007. Personally, the last three years doesn’t outweigh the last thirteen, even if there are extra hate points for recent scarring.

“Jim E. Dimoni”

I’m not one to get bent out of shape about the Yankees payroll. As I covered last week with the Mets, a large payroll doesn’t guarantee anything. The real reasons why the Yankees have been more or less indomitable for the last decade-plus are that they have three freakish cornerstone players in Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Two of the three have been elite at the toughest positions on the diamond and the other is the best relief pitcher of all time.  They’ve been great for so long and would be irreplaceable in the free agent market.

With that said, it’s a little tough to stomach the likes of Jon Heyman calling Brian Cashman the Executive of the Year. He signed the top two free agent pitchers and the best position player on the market to deals that exceeded the rate at which free agents were signing last off-season. Spending at or above-market rate in a buyer’s market is neither novel nor shrewd. Cashman did the job he had to do and just call it that. Remember, this is the same guy who traded good prospects for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.

Hate Thy Neighbor

Philadelphia fans are generally difficult to deal with, boorish louts that behave badly and violently. For the purpose of this exercise, the most critical word in that last sentence is “Philadelphia”, as in that’s where they’re located.  They’re not in New York and you rarely have to deal with them – except for those of you in South Jersey. 

Yankees fans are entitled and arrogant, pompous and insufferable, trollish and annoying. It’d be somewhat – I stress, somewhat — gratifying to see the Yanks lose at the hands of a team that’s nettled the Mets for the last three seasons. Part of this is Schadenfreude. I want Yankees fans to hurt like we’ve hurt. Mainly, I’d just like them to shut up.

Maybe the Mets Could Learn Something*

Consider this: according to FanGraphs, the Mets’ core (Beltran, Reyes and Wright) was worth +18 and +20 wins above replacement (WAR) in the “collapse years” of 2007 and 2008 respectively; the Phillies’ core (Howard, Rollins and Utley) posted +19 and +16.7 in that same span. The two groups performed similarly; however, the Phillies fortified their stars with legitimate talent. The Phillies non-core players (not including pitchers) tallied +20 and +16.6 WAR in the “collapse years”, where the Mets non-complimentary talent was worth +11.4 and +10.8. That chasm more than bridged the nearly six win pitching edge (as per StatCorner) the Mets held in 2007 and cushioned the Phillies slight pitching advantage in 2008.

Maybe, just maybe, the Phillies rubbing a second consecutive World Series in the Mets’ faces will force the organization to reconsider their baseball operations. I realize that this sounds delusional, but it’s the only direct benefit either of these teams winning could have on the Mets.  A Yankees win would just be chalked up to a large payroll, but the similarities between the Phillies and Mets are real – same division, similar core, similar payroll. This team must realize the opportunities they’ve squandered over the last few years.

[*I must be fair and acknowledge that there’s a real possibility of the Mets learning the wrong thing from a Phillies win. That is, they’ll look to acquire “grit” instead of talent.] 

One Last Thing

I’m getting slightly annoyed with the way people are addressing this Yankees or Phillies conundrum. Who to root for is a matter of heart, so there’s no right or wrong answer. This doesn’t call for a movement or rally and nobody is “crazy” for thinking one way or another.  Simply put, it’s the worst possible outcome of a long, troublesome season.

The Imaginary Rise and Fall of Nick Evans

October 22nd, 2009

Sometime during the 2008 season, I recall Omar Minaya gushing to the media about Nick Evans. I can’t find a quote, or recall enough to paraphrase, so I’ll just make something up within reason:

“We feel very strongly that Nick Evans could be a very good hitter for our club. With that said, it takes right-handed hitters a long time to develop than left handed hitters you know what I’m saying?”

Omar Minaya’s kinda-statement was likely after a game where Nick Evans had a few hits, or perhaps, after the team announced that he’d platoon with Daniel Murphy in left field. Regardless, Minaya and the Mets organization thought highly of the then-22 year old Evans coming off a .386 wOBA in the notoriously pitcher friendly Florida State League and followed it up with a .403 effort in the Eastern League. He hit a modest .252/.303/.404  in 199 major league PA’s, but mashed lefties to an .894 OPS.

The Mets’ optimism continued into spring training when “Nasty” Nick slugged .488 in 80 spring training at-bats. Originally the team’s plans were to carry Evans on the roster until a fifth starter was needed. Gary Sheffield’s signing put the kibosh on that and instead, Evans went to Buffalo to start his season.

Nick struggled to begin the season hitting .093/.206/.226 in April and early May. On the surface, his slash stats are incredibly bad, but let’s take a closer look at the numbers:

87 plate appearances, 3 1B, 1 2B, 3 HR, 11 BB, 27 K, .089 BABIP (!)

That BABIP is just impossible to ignore. Of the 45 balls Evans put in play, only four fell for hits. A player trying to make weak contact couldn’t sustain that kind of BABIP over a larger sampling.  His real problem over this stretch was contact, striking out over 30% of his plate appearances, or nearly 10% higher than 2008. On the plus side, his walk rate jumped a few percentage points. As a whole, Evans was mired in a slump and a terribly unlucky streak over less than a fifth of season’s worth of plate appearances.

Unfortunately, support from the Mets began to waver. The organization felt, as expressed through whispers from choice media outlets, that Evans couldn’t handle his abrupt demotion to Buffalo. This tough guy — annoyed all season that the Indians left for Columbus — dubbed Evans ‘Ol 7-for-75′. He was eventually sent to to extended spring training to “get righted”. There he saw a sports psychologist and was eventually dispatched to Binghamton, the level he dominated last season.

Unsurprisingly, Evans hit immediately upon his return posting a .376 wOBA in his 80 plate apperances. The Mets, running short on healthy bodies, were forced to call Evans up in late June. He started eleven games and was returned to Buffalo once Angel Pagan returned.

Through the summer, however, it became clear his stock diminished with the organization.  Once he was called up for good in late August, Evans started only four games, receiving 22 total plate appearances and losing time to the 34 year old Fernando Tatis and 30 year old Cory Sullivan. Jerry Manuel explained his absence from the lineup as such, “I still have to be sure defensively how he fits.” Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post reiterated the Mets’ nascent lack of confidence in the 23 year old, Tweeting that the organization was down on him and felt he didn’t have a position.

What?  This player was going to make the team out of spring training, less than a year after Omar said right-handed hitters needed longer to develop! He’s 23 years old! He started Game 162 of the 2008 season in left field! Apparently, in the world of the New York Mets, 87 bad turns at the plate means a player can no longer hit or field competently.

Nick Evans’ Minor League Splits Total Zone Defense at First Base

Season League TZ TZ/150
2005 Kingsport (R-APP) +4  
2005 Brooklyn (SS-NYP) +6 +16
2006 Hagerstown (A-SAL) +9 +9
2007 St. Lucie (A+-FSL) -3 -4
2008 Binghamton (AA-EL) +5 +13
2009 Binghamton (AA-EL) -3  
2009 Buffalo (AAA – IL) +2  

Total Zone is the only objective measure of minor league defense available and it says Nick Evans can play some first base. His Major League UZR, in an extremely limited and insignificant sample, agrees with Total Zone.

Evans’ ability to play the outfield is more an unknown. He doesn’t have much MiLB experience there, but he’s tall, lean and athletic and possesses a strong enough arm to make good throws. According to UZR, Nick’s defense in left field rated very well in 2008 (+19.7 UZR/150 in 186 innings) and quite poorly in 2009 (-35.3 in 74 innings); however, the sample sizes are miniscule.

Abominably, it’s those small sample sizes that the Mets believe in. Daniel Murphy’s hot 130 PA’s in 2008 earned him the 2009 starting left fielder’s job. Jeff Francoeur’s goofy smile and ten post-trade home runs is enough to erase full seasons of suck. A couple of “clutch” hits in late September beget a lifetime of Ramon Martinez.

I just wish the Mets believed in this small sample:

 

Nick Evans Running Catch