Saturday, September 28, 2013

If The Mets Win Sunday, Jonathon Niese Is A Goner

The shirt might be coming off Jonathon Niese's back if he wins on Sunday.

Did the title to this post get your attention?  It should.  Because recent history shows that winning a game at home on Closing Day usually leads to a starting pitcher's exit from New York.  Please allow me to expound on that statement.

The Mets moved from Shea Stadium to Citi Field following the 2008 campaign.  Since then, the Mets have won three of their first four Closing Day games at their new digs.  Citi Field's first Closing Day in 2009 saw Nelson Figueroa take the hill against the Houston Astros.  Figueroa pitched the only complete game shutout of his nine-year career on that final Sunday, holding the Astros to four hits in the Mets' 4-0 victory.  Figueroa never pitched another game for the Mets, as he was selected off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010.

After losing their next Closing Day game in 2010, the Mets ended the 2011 season with another complete game shutout.  This time, it was Miguel Batista doing the honors, besting the Cincinnati Reds, 3-0.  By the following July, Batista had been released by the Mets.

Finally, in 2012, R.A. Dickey started for the Mets in their final home game at Citi Field.  Dickey made 13 Pirates walk the plank back to the dugout, striking out a baker's dozen to earn his 20th victory of the season in the Mets' 6-5 win over Pittsburgh.  Dickey made one more start for the Mets in Miami (a no-decision) before being traded during the offseason to the Toronto Blue Jays.

That brings to Sunday's Closing Day game against the Milwaukee Brewers - a game in which Jonathon Niese is scheduled to start.  The Mets have never won a Closing Day at Citi Field and had its starting pitcher in that game make it through the following season as a Met.  And in two of those three wins, that day's starter never threw another pitch for the Mets at Citi Field.

Sure, Jonathon Niese still has three years left on his current contract, but facts are facts.  Mets pitchers who win on Closing Day at Citi Field don't stick around to enjoy their end-of-season victories.  In fact, the last time the Mets won a Closing Day game at home and they kept that day's winning pitcher around was in 2004, when Tom Glavine defeated the Montreal Expos, 8-1 at Shea Stadium.  Of course, Glavine remained with the Mets until 2007 but the Expos didn't stick around in Montreal, moving to their new home in Washington the following season.

If only Glavine's last game had come in 2004 rather than 2007...

It's Not The Same, But...

I promise you won't be seeing this scene at Citi Field today.

Today at Citi Field, the Mets will not be scoreboard-watching.  They also do not have champagne being chilled.  And don't expect the Braves game to be on in the clubhouse.  However, there is a chance the Mets can "clinch" something today.

Should the Mets win their 4 o'clock game today against the Brewers and the Braves defeat the Phillies in their 7 o'clock tilt tonight, the Mets would officially clinch third place in the NL East, which would be their highest finish in the division since 2008, when the team still received its mail at Shea Stadium.

Technically, the Mets could clinch third before the Phillies take the field in Atlanta, as the Mets won their season series against Philadelphia, taking 10 of 19 games from Cole Hamels and the Phunky Bunch.  Therefore, finishing in a tie with Philly at season's end would essentially give the Mets third place anyway.

Of course, finishing in third place with a record that is still well below .500 isn't exactly a great accomplishment.  However, think of the 1968, 1983 and 1995 Mets.  The 1968 squad "improved" from last place to ninth place in the ten-team National League, then won the World Series a year later.  Naturally, no one expects the Mets to win the World Series next year, but many people do think the Mets will improve in 2014, similar to what the 1984 team did following a lackluster 1983 campaign.

In 1983, the Mets won 68 games, which on the surface looks like a bad year.  However, it was the most wins by the team during the seven-year Grant's Tomb era which began when the Mets traded away Tom Seaver in 1977.  One year later, the Mets shocked the baseball world by improving to 90-72.  The Mets were relevant again, and by 1986, they had won their second World Series championship.

But not too many teams win 22 more games from one year to the next as the Mets did in 1984.  If the 2014 Mets improve by 22 wins, they'd have a good chance to finish with the best record in the league.  Again, that might be too much to expect.  And that's why I bring up the 1995 Mets.

In 1995, the Mets finished the strike-shortened season with a 69-75 record.  Although it was a losing record, the team still managed to finish in second place, tied with the Philadelphia Phillies.  It was the fifth consecutive sub-.500 season for the Mets, but it was also their highest finish in the standings in five years (similar to what the 2013 Mets are shooting for).

The following season, in 1996, the Mets struggled, going 71-91.  But there were flashes that the team was about to turn the corner.  And in 1997, that's exactly what they did.

The Mets farm development paid dividends in 1997, with Edgardo Alfonzo (.315, 10 HR, 72 RBI, 11 SB), Butch Huskey (.287, 24 HR, 81 RBI) and Bobby Jones (15-9, 3.63 ERA) posting breakthrough seasons.  The team also made shrewd trades, acquiring John Olerud for Robert Person.  Olerud solidified the infield and gave the team a proven bat.  And don't forget the acquisition of Rick Reed following the 1995 campaign.  The Mets gave him a shot in the starting rotation in 1997 and he became the team's ace (13-9, 2.89 ERA, 1.04 WHIP).

The Mets finished in a lofty position in the division despite a losing record in 1995, then slowly but surely added more pieces to a young team that already had a good nucleus.  That's kind of like what the 2013 Mets are doing.  This year's squad has been about building a nucleus and this year's offseason is about patching up the holes with quality players who will help the team continue its ascent to relevancy and competitiveness.  It may take a few years for the Mets to be a perennial contender, but the pieces are there for it to happen.  They just have to be put together properly by Sandy Alderson and his Merry Men.

Despite a losing record, the 1995 Mets finished in their loftiest division position in five years.  The 2013 Mets are trying to repeat that feat.  It's not the same as clinching a division title, but I'd sure love the Mets to finish ahead of the Phillies for third place in the NL East this year.  History shows that that type of finish leads to better days in the near future.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What Do Michael Wacha and Tom Seaver Have In Common?

On Tuesday night, Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals was one out away from baseball immortality.  He had retired twenty-six Washington Nationals without allowing a hit.  All he had to do was find a way to get Ryan Zimmerman out and he would have completed his first no-hitter in just his ninth major league start.

But Zimmerman had other ideas.  The Nats' third baseman chopped a ball that grazed off the top of Wacha's glove and rolled in the direction of shortstop Pete Kozma.  Kozma's throw pulled first baseman Matt Adams off the bag, who could not apply the tag to a hustling Zimmerman.

The no-hitter was not to be for Wacha, as he fell one out short of immortality on September 24.  That date should bring back memories of a similar circumstance that happened to Tom Seaver in 1975.

Thirty-eight years ago, also on September 24, Tom Seaver took the mound against the Chicago Cubs.  Seaver had already taken two no-hitters into the ninth inning in his career.  But both of those gems were broken up with one out in the ninth.

On July 9, 1969, Chicago's Jimmy Qualls looped a clean single to left after Seaver had retired the first twenty-five Cubs to face him.  Seaver retired the next two batters, then stood on the mound with his hands at his waist wondering what might have been in the Mets' 4-0 victory.

Three years later, Seaver was once again two outs away from pitching the Mets' first no-hitter (although this one was not a perfect game, as Seaver walked four hitters) when he faced the San Diego Padres on July 4, 1972.  But Leron Lee channeled his inner Jimmy Qualls and lined a single to center to break up the no-no.  Seaver then induced the next batter, Nate Colbert, to ground into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play, giving the Mets a 2-0 win over the Padres.

After two near-misses in 1969 and 1972, Seaver took another no-hitter into the ninth inning on September 24, 1975 when he matched up against the Chicago Cubs.  But this time he was able to retire the batter he faced with one out in the ninth, striking out the Cubs' Rick Monday.  Needing one out to pitch nine hitless innings, Seaver allowed a two-out single to rightfielder Joe Wallis to break up the no-hitter.  However, even if Seaver had retired Wallis, he would not have been able to celebrate a no-hitter at that moment because the game would not have ended there.  Neither team had scored through the first eight innings and the scoreless duel continued into extra innings.  The Mets eventally lost the game, 1-0, when closer Skip Lockwood walked Bill Madlock to force in a run in the 11th inning.

Since 1975, when Seaver lost his no-hitter with two outs in the ninth, no Met had even taken a no-hitter into the ninth until Johan Santana did so on June 1, 2012.  But Santana finished what Seaver couldn't, striking out David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals to complete the first no-hitter in franchise history.

Michael Wacha, now Freese's teammate in St. Louis, came within one out of throwing his first career no-hitter on September 24, 2013.  Tom Seaver, on September 24, 1975, also missed his first career no-hitter by one out, becoming the only Met to have a hitless game broken up with two outs in the ninth inning.

What do Michael Wacha and Tom Seaver have in common?  They both share a September 24 heartbreak.  Wacha hopes that's not the only thing he can share with Seaver before his career is over.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

With Pittsburgh In, Who Has The Longest Playoff Drought?

After two decades of futility, the Pittsburgh Pirates have qualified for the postseason for the first time since Barry Bonds' cap was three sizes smaller.  (That's 1992 for all you kids out there.)  In clinching a playoff berth, the Pirates have become the last National League team to qualify for the postseason in the 21st century.  So now that Pittsburgh has ended its drought, which National League squad has gone the longest without appearing in the playoffs?

Well, the Braves, Cardinals, Reds and Dodgers are all joining the Pirates this year.  The Giants and Nationals were playing in October last year.  And in 2011, the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Phillies were competing for the pennant.  That's ten of the fifteen teams in the N.L. qualifying for the playoffs in the last three seasons alone.  So who's left?

The Rockies made the playoffs in 2009 and the Cubs last qualified in 2008.  Both the Mets and Padres won their respective divisions in 2006.  That's 14 teams.  Which team has the longest playoff drought in the Senior Circuit?

The Florida (now Miami) Marlins.

The Marlins won the World Series in 2003, defeating the Yankees in six games.  They haven't been invited to the postseason party since.  So in the last decade, every National League team has made the playoffs.  But there are two American League teams who haven't sprayed champagne since the 20th century.

The Toronto Blue Jays won their second consecutive World Series championship in 1993, defeating the Atlanta Braves in six games.  Twenty years later, they're still waiting for their next postseason appearance.  The only team with a longer playoff drought than the Blue Jays should never have won a World Series.

In 1985, the year before the Mets won their last title, Kansas City met intrastate rival St. Louis in the I-70 World Series (named because of Interstate 70, which connects the two cities).  The Royals won their lone World Series championship with the aid of first base umpire Don Denkinger's blown call in the ninth inning of the sixth game.  Kansas City won the title the next night.  Nearly three decades later, the Royals have not yet returned to the postseason.

It seems like an eternity since the Mets last qualified for the playoffs.  For many Mets fans, seven years does seem like forever.  But be thankful you're not a Marlins fan.  Or even worse, think about those Blue Jays and Royals fans out there.  It's only been ten years since the Marlins and their dozen fans celebrated a postseason appearance.  Fans in Toronto and Kansas City have been saying "wait 'till next century" for just a little bit longer.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Exit Sandman - Studious Metsimus-Style

Screen shot courtesy of TBS Sports

Today at Yankee Stadium, Mariano Rivera's career was celebrated by the only team he's ever known.  The celebration included all the pomp and circumstance you'd expect for a player of Rivera's caliber, including a live performance by Metallica, whose "Enter Sandman" let opposing hitters know that Mariano was about to send them off to Never-Never Land.

As you all know, Rivera is the greatest closer in the history of the game.  His 652 regular season saves and 42 postseason saves are the most in major league history.  He also has a 2.21 ERA prior to October baseball and a 0.70 ERA during it.  Only 12 pitchers with 1,000 or more innings pitched have a lower regular season ERA than Rivera and no one has a lower postseason ERA.

To put Rivera's records in perspective, John Franco (276 saves) and Armando Benitez (160 saves) have the two highest career save totals as Mets.  The rest of the top ten (Jesse Orosco, Billy Wagner, Tug McGraw, Roger McDowell, Francisco Rodriguez, Neil Allen, Skip Lockwood, Braden Looper) have a combined 652 saves as Mets - the same number of saves Mariano Rivera had on his own as a Yankee.

Mariano has also registered nine seasons of 40 or more saves.  The Mets have had three - ever.  Furthermore, no Met has recorded more than 43 saves in a single season (Benitez saved 43 games in 2001).  Rivera has surpassed that number in six seasons, including this year at the age of 43.

But Rivera hasn't been infallible, especially against the Mets.

In 34 appearances against the Mets, Mariano Rivera has a 3.53 ERA, his highest against any National League team.  The only team in the majors against whom Rivera has a higher ERA is the Los Angeles Angels (3.75 ERA).  Since 2007, Rivera has allowed more earned runs against the Mets (7) than he has saves (4).  His ERA against the Mets since 2007 is 6.10.  And let's not forget his blown save and loss to the Mets this past May, which remains the only time Rivera has blown a save in his career without recording a single out.

The Mets have also defeated Rivera four times over his storied career.  Meanwhile, the rest of the National League has pinned just five losses on No. 42.  The only teams to beat Rivera more times than the Mets are the Orioles (9 times), Red Sox (7 times) and Rays (6 times) - all of whom play in the same division as the Yankees.  But Baltimore has faced Rivera 134 times, while Boston has seen him in 115 games and Tampa Bay has squared off against him 102 times.  That's far more than the 34 times the Mets have faced the Sandman.

Mariano Rivera has had his troubles against the Mets, but most of the time he's come through with the save.  Even with their success against him over the years, there's no question the Mets will not miss Rivera when the ninth inning comes around in future Subway Series matchups.  After all, they and mostly everyone else in baseball have been shipped off to Never-Never Land far too many times.

Where There's A Wil, There's A Way

Earlier today, when the Mets released the starting lineup for their series finale against the Phillies, I posted this tweet on Twitter, in the hopes that Wilfredo Tovar (who was making his major league debut) and Wilmer Flores (who was starting in place of the red-hot David Wright at third base) would have great games against the Phils.  Little did I know how much they'd contribute.

Tovar went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a stolen base, delivering the seventh-inning single that gave the Mets the lead.  Meanwhile, Flores contributed a key double in the fourth inning that helped lead to the Mets' first run of the game, after Phillies' starter Cliff Lee had retired the first nine batters in order.

The Mets defeated the Phillies, 4-3, to sweep the weekend series at Citizens Bank Park.  The one-run victory moved the Mets into a third-place tie with Philadelphia and gave New York the season series as well.  (The Mets won 10 of 19 games from the Phillies this year.)

There's always a way to win when the team wills itself to get it done.  Today there were two Wils in the Mets' starting lineup and they both found a way to lead the Mets to a satisfying victory.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dillon Gee Pitches His Way Into Exclusive Company

Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus

Prior to his start on May 30 against the Yankees, Dillon Gee was on the verge of losing his place in the starting rotation.  The Texas native was 2-6 with a 6.34 ERA and was hearing Zack Wheeler's footsteps as the über-prospect was just weeks away from being called up for his first taste of big league action.

But everything changed for Gee with that late-May start at Yankee Stadium.  Gee pitched into the eighth inning, allowing one run on four hits.  He also set a career high by striking out 12 batters without issuing a walk.

After allowing four runs or more in six of his first ten starts, Gee has allowed two runs or less in 14 of his last 21 starts.  His 2-6 record is now just a bad memory, as Gee is leading the team with 12 victories.  Since Matt Harvey's season ended with nine wins and no other pitcher on the Mets has more than seven, it's safe to assume that Gee will remain the team leader in pitching victories.  Therefore, the 2013 campaign will mark the second time in three seasons that Gee has led the team in wins, after finishing first on the Mets with 13 victories in 2011.

In doing so, Gee will become only the 14th pitcher in team history to lead the team or finish tied for the team lead in pitching victories multiple times.  The chart below lists the 14 pitchers who have accomplished this feat.

# of Times as Wins Leader
Years as Team Wins Leader
Tom Seaver
1967, 1969-73, 1975
Al Leiter
Dwight Gooden
1984-85, 1987, 1993
Steve Trachsel
2001, 2003-04, 2006
Al Jackson
Jerry Koosman
1968, 1974, 1976
David Cone
1988-89, 1991
Jack Fisher
Nino Espinosa
Craig Swan
1979, 1982
Sid Fernandez
1989, 1992
Bobby Jones
1995, 1997
Johan Santana
Dillon Gee
2011, 2013

With 33 major league victories under his belt, Dillon Gee has the second-fewest wins of the 14 pitchers who led the team in wins in at least two seasons.  (Nino Espinosa had 25 wins as a Met.)  But there are 30 pitchers in Mets history with more wins than Gee and most of them never led the team in wins more than once.  In fact, two of the top ten winners in franchise history never became two-time team leaders in wins.

Ron Darling had 99 wins as a Met - 4th all-time - but only led the team in wins once.  And when he did so (1989), he shared the team lead with David Cone and Sid Fernandez.  Similarly, Jon Matlack recorded 82 victories for the Mets - 7th all-time - but never led the team in wins.  (He can thank Seaver and Koosman for that.)

Tom Seaver.  Jerry Koosman.  Dwight Gooden.  Sid Fernandez.  David Cone.  Johan Santana.  Those are some of the best pitchers who have ever taken the mound for the Mets over their 50-plus years of existence.  In addition to being six of the finest pitchers to wear the orange and blue, they also have another thing in common.  All six have led or tied for the team lead in wins multiple times.  Their exclusive club now has a new member, and his name is Dillon Gee.

Dillon Gee has come a long way to become a top starter for the Mets.  He was overlooked in the first twenty rounds of the 2007 amateur draft before the Mets selected him in Round 21.  After pitching well in the lower levels of the minor leagues, Gee had an ERA near 5.00 at AAA-Buffalo.  But he never gave up hope.  And now he's accomplished something that Seaver, Koosman, Gooden, Fernandez, Cone, Santana and a small group of others have done.  Not bad for a pitcher who almost lost his spot in the rotation just four months ago.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Gettin' Iggy With It: Mets Kick Ass In Philly

Hi!  This is Iggy Beartran, your expert on all things Cole Hamels.  On Friday, the Mets traveled to Philadelphia to face the richest ass in the world.  Naturally, they were on like Donkey Kong, scoring six runs on ten hits off the smarmy southpaw.  But that's nothing new for the Mets, who can be seen beating up on Hamels almost as often as Mo Vaughn can be seen at the head of the line at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  (Almost.)

Cole Hamels, who was gunning for his 100th career victory on Friday, has lost 13 of 20 decisions to the Mets in his career.  His 13 losses are the second-most defeats by a Phillies pitcher against the Mets.  Meanwhile, sixteen Phillies pitchers have defeated the Mets more often than that smiling ass has.

But wait, there's more.

  • Including Friday's game, Hamels has been touched for ten hits or more in eight of his 243 career starts, meaning that he allows double-digit hits approximately once every 30 starts.  But of those eight games with ten-plus hits allowed, four of them have come against the Mets.
  • Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Hamels has allowed six or more runs in a game half a dozen times.  Three of those six games came against the Mets.
  • David Wright is one of three players with 40 or more career at-bats versus Hamels to have a batting average over .340 against him.  (In 63 at-bats, Wright is hitting .349 against Hamels.)  The other two are Wright's former Mets teammates, Scott Hairston (.395) and Jose Reyes (.393).
  • Cole Hamels has never allowed more than five homers to any one batter.  He has also never allowed any hitter to collect more than 15 RBI off him.  What has Wright done against him in those categories?  Five home runs, 15 RBI.

The Mets have not performed particularly well over the past five seasons.  But that's just because they haven't been able to face Cole Hamels 162 times a year.  Because of his comments about the Mets being choke artists following the 2008 campaign, Hamels has been viewed as a gigantic ass by Mets fans.  But the Mets have done nothing but knock him around for loss after loss since then.  In essence, they have been quite literally kicking ass every time they face him.

It's enough to make even his identical twin brother smile.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Longest Nine

This afternoon, the Mets completed their 11-game homestand with a 2-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants.  The low-scoring game took a tidy two hours and 37 minutes to complete.  Today's game was an aberration of sorts, as it was one of only 21 games this year to be played to its completion in under two hours and 40 minutes.

If it seems like the Mets are playing more three-hour games than ever before, you're absolutely right.  In fact, 86 of their 152 games have lasted over three hours.  And of those 86 affairs, 69 of them lasted only nine innings.  Incredibly, a dozen of those nine-inning games have lasted 3:30 or more.  Only one other time in Mets history has the team played more than 86 three-hour contests, more than 69 nine-inning games and more than 12 games that lasted three-and-a-half hours or longer.  That occurred in 2000, when the Mets played 87 three-hour games, 70 nine-inning games of three-plus hours and 13 three-and-a-half hour nine-inning games.  And the 2013 Mets still have ten games left on their schedule to pass the 2000 team.

Wake me up for the seventh inning stretch in about two-and-a-half hours or so.

During the Mets' first quarter century in the league, games did not take an obscene amount of time to complete, especially nine-inning games.  In fact, after playing nine games that took three-and-a-half hours to complete in 1962, the Mets played a total of ten such games from 1963 to 1986.

On September 13, 1972, the Mets defeated the Phillies, 11-6, in a nine-inning game that took three hours and 35 minutes to complete.  Incredibly, the Mets did not play another 3½-hour, nine-inning game for nearly 13 years!  When the Mets lost to the Expos, 5-4, on June 14, 1985, it marked the first time in almost 2,000 regular season games that a nine-inning game took at least three-and-a-half hours to complete, and it just barely made it, lasting exactly three hours and 30 minutes.

With the advent of ESPN nationally televised games (more commercials) and specialized relievers (more pitching changes) in the 1990s, the Mets have played in far more long nine-inning games over the years.  After never having played a four-hour nine-inning contest prior to the new millennium, the Mets have played five such games since 2000.  And since 1999, the Mets have played a whopping 104 nine-inning games that took at least three hours and 30 minutes to complete.  In the 37 seasons the Mets played before that, they managed to crack the 3½-hour mark in a nine-inning contest just 66 times.

On Tuesday night, the Mets lost an 8-5 decision to the Giants.  It took three hours and 55 minutes for the final verdict to be handed down in the bottom of the ninth.  Prior to 1999, the Mets had never played in a nine-inning game that needed as much as three hours and 55 minutes to complete.  Less than two weeks ago, the Mets and Indians played a low-scoring, 2-1 game.  You would think that game would have sped right along.  The time of the game was three hours and 43 minutes.

This isn't the type of baseball your parents grew up watching.  And if games continue to drag because of television and the over-managing of the bullpen, your children will find something more exciting to do to pass the time, preferably something that takes less time to complete than a nine-inning baseball game.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Vladimir Guerrero Retires: Is He A Hall of Famer?

Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Vladimir Guerrero quietly announced his retirement from the game via a Spanish language newspaper earlier this month.  Guerrero ended his 16-year career with a .318 batting average, .553 slugging percentage and .931 OPS.  He also collected 2,590 hits, 477 doubles, 449 homers and 1,496 RBI, while scoring 1,328 runs and stealing 181 bases.

In addition to his offensive numbers, which earned him eight Silver Slugger Awards, Guerrero had a cannon for an arm, making him one of the most feared outfielders to run on.  Guerrero was a nine-time All-Star and finished in the top 15 in the MVP vote ten times, winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2004 while with the Anaheim Angels.

Guerrero led the league in hits once (2002), runs scored once (2004) and total bases twice (2002, 2004).  He had four seasons of 200 or more hits, scored 100+ runs in six seasons, had nine campaigns with 30+ doubles, reached 25 homers a dozen times and collected 100+ RBI ten times.  Guerrero even had two 30/30 seasons (30 HR, 30 SB), missing a 40/40 year by one home run in 2002.  So feared was Guerrero at the plate that he led the league in intentional walks five times, including four consecutive seasons from 2005 to 2008.  And for a free-swinging player who didn't walk much unintentionally, Guerrero made excellent contact, striking out 985 times in his 16 seasons and never fanning more than 84 times in any one season.

Only Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza and Barry Larkin won more Silver Slugger Awards than the eight earned by Vlad the Impaler.  (Bonds won 12, Piazza took home ten and Larkin earned nine.)  Of the 58 players with a higher career batting average than Guerrero's .318 mark, 42 of them are in the Hall of Fame.  Several of the 16 players who aren't in the Hall are either still active (Joe Mauer, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Ichiro Suzuki) or ineligible (Shoeless Joe Jackson).  Of the 24 players with a higher career slugging percentage than Guerrero, half of them have plaques in Cooperstown.  Five of the other 12 are still active, two are not yet eligible for enshrinement (Jim Thome, Frank Thomas) and three are still on the Hall of Fame ballot (Bonds, Mark McGwire, Larry Walker).  And of the 34 players ahead of Guerrero in OPS, 16 are already in the Hall, while another 16 are either active, still on the ballot, not yet eligible, or ineligible due to banishment (Shoeless Joe, once again).

So does Vladimir Guerrero belong in the Hall of Fame?  Let's put it this way.  Does Roberto Clemente belong in the Hall?  Of course he does.  And Guerrero's numbers were superior to Clemente, the player who he most resembles both at the plate and with his arm in right.  Clemente hit .317 and produced a .475 slugging percentage and .834 OPS.  He also collected 440 doubles, 240 homers and 1,305 RBI.  Guerrero surpassed Clemente in all of those percentages and cumulative numbers.  Clemente also struck out more (1,230 Ks) and walked fewer times (621 BB) than Guerrero.  Although Clemente had more hits (3,000) and scored more runs (1,416) than Guerrero, he accomplished those lofty totals in almost 1,300 more at-bats than Guerrero compiled.  Surely, Guerrero would have surpassed Clemente in both hits and runs scored had he remained in the game past his age 36 season.  And that means Guerrero would have reached the 3,000 hit plateau, which all but guarantees Hall of Fame enshrinement.

When Guerrero left the National League following the 2003 season, Mets fans breathed a sigh of relief.  Although many of them wanted to see Guerrero in Flushing, at least they knew that his defection to the American League meant they would no longer have to see him as a division rival at Shea Stadium, as Guerrero had a career .311/.402/.578 slash line against the Mets, with 21 doubles, 23 homers, 17 stolen bases, 58 RBI and 70 runs scored in only 98 starts.  The 17 steals were the most he had against any team in the majors, while his doubles, homers and runs scored were his second-highest total against any team in the Senior Circuit.

Mets fans rarely saw Guerrero after 2003, but they should be able to see him in Cooperstown when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2017.  The only question left about Guerrero when it comes to the Hall is not whether he will make it, but what cap he will be wearing on his plaque.  Will he go in as an Angel or an Expo?  If he goes in as an Angel, he'd be the first to wear their cap on his plaque.  If he goes in as an Expo, he'd be the second to go in as an Expo after the team ceased to exist.

Vladimir Guerrero is most certainly a Hall of Famer.  Other than the cap on his plaque, there should be no other questions asked.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

An Unusual Stat Regarding Dave Kingman

Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus (although technically it was taken by the security dude)

Back in July, I had the pleasure of meeting former Met first baseman/outfielder Dave Kingman.  Although Kingman was sometimes unapproachable as a player, I found him to be quite affable and a pleasure to talk to.  And after taking a few photos and having a short conversation about his two stints as a Met, I realized that I had rarely written anything on Kingman.  I had also rarely done any research on the player known as Sky King during his time with the Mets.  So today I'm going to kill two birds with one Kong blast.

I was looking at Kingman's career and found something very unusual about his 1982 season.  Besides hitting 37 home runs on a team in which there were no other hitters who managed more than 13 homers, Kingman also "slugged" only nine doubles.  That's 37 homers, nine doubles.

For someone known to hit the ball a long way, I found it odd that Kingman managed to hit so few doubles in 1982, especially when he played so many road games in the cavernous Busch Stadium and Astrodome.  I also wondered just how rare it was for someone to finish a season with 30 or more homers and fewer than 10 doubles.  The answer?  Let's just say Ike Davis has more stolen bases this year than there are players with that homer/double combo.

In 1955, Gus Zernial of the Kansas City Athletics became the first player in major league history to collect 30 homers in a season where he failed to hit 10 doubles.  Zernial hit 30 HR for the A's while managing to collect only nine two-base hits.  Forty-five years later, Mark McGwire joined Zernial on this list when he swatted 32 homers for the St. Louis Cardinals.  McGwire hit only eight doubles for the Cards in 2000.  McGwire came close to repeating the feat in 2001, but fell one homer short.  Big Mac hit 29 HR in his final season in the majors, while clubbing a mere four doubles.

In between Zernial and McGwire, there was Dave Kingman.  In 1982, the Mets' first baseman launched a then-franchise record 37 home runs, but only managed to hit nine doubles.  A flurry of two-baggers in September almost prevented Kingman from joining this exclusive club, as Kong collected four of his nine doubles in the season's final month.  From June 23 to August 28 - a span of over two months - Kingman played in 54 games and had 213 plate appearances.  He hit 14 homers in that time period but did not have a single double.  That's zero in the 2B column.

2B or not 2B.  That was the question with Dave Kingman in 1982, and more often than not, it was not 2B for Kingman in the doubles department.  Kingman is one of only three players in major league history to amass 30 or more home runs in a season he failed to reach 10 doubles.  Furthermore, Kingman's 37 HR are the most of any player on this short list, five more than the amount hit by Mark McGwire in 2000.

Dave Kingman truly had one of the most unusual offensive seasons in 1982, not just for the Mets, but for any hitter in baseball history.

There's A Dimensional Problem At Citi Field

Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

When Citi Field first opened in 2009, the baseball cognoscenti deemed it a pitchers' park.  With the high walls in left field and the deep power alleys (it was 415 feet to one spot just to the right of straightaway center field), fly ball pitchers would not have to worry about opposing hitters taking them deep as often as they would at various other ballparks around the league.

But after two seasons of the pitcher-friendly dimensions, it was decided by the Mets' brass that the heights of the walls should be lowered and those walls should also be moved closer to home plate.  The Mets had averaged 56 home runs per season in 2009 and 2010 and the team felt the more fair dimensions would help its players produce more long balls.  Since the walls were moved in, they've certainly seen more balls leave the yard.  They're just seeing them come off their opponents' bats.

Let's look at the home run production by the Mets and their opponents compiled over the last two seasons of Citi Field's old dimensions and compare that to the power production for the first two seasons of the new, more fair dimensions of the park.

Mets HR (Citi Field)
Mets HR (Road)
Opponents HR (Citi Field)
Opponents HR (Road)

During the last two seasons of the old dimensions (2010 and 2011), both the Mets and their opponents hit more home runs away from Citi Field than they did in Flushing.  In fact, Mets pitchers allowed 70 more home on the road than they did at Citi Field in 2010 and 2011.  But once the fences were lowered and moved in, the opposition took full advantage of the change while Mets' hitters barely noticed the dimensional differences.

In 2010 and 2011, the Mets hit 12 more home runs on the road than they did at home.  In the two years since the dimensional switch at Citi Field, the difference in home runs on the road versus home runs at home has actually increased to 15, meaning the Mets' home run production has remained virtually unchanged since the walls were lowered and moved in.  That's not the case with the Mets' opponents.

After holding opponents to 105 home runs at Citi Field in 2010 and 2011, Mets' pitchers have allowed a whopping 170 homers in Flushing in 2012 and 2013.  Meanwhile, they've only given up 135 home runs on the road over the same time period.

Jonathon Niese, who has pitched at Citi Field under both dimensional conditions, allowed 15 home runs at Citi Field in 2010 and 2011.  He coughed up 19 gopher balls on the road during that time.  Since the fences were moved in, Niese has allowed 18 long balls at Citi Field and 14 on the road.

Dillon Gee allowed two more home runs on the road than he did at home in 2010 and 2011.  As soon as the dimensions were changed in 2012, he allowed ten homers at Citi Field compared to only two on the road.

Clearly, the change in dimensions was made to help the Mets score more runs via the long ball.  But all it has done so far is make opposing hitters salivate every time they come to the plate.  After allowing 70 more home runs on the road than at home in 2010 and 2011, Mets' pitchers have given up 35 fewer homers away from Citi Field than they have in their home ballpark.  That's an alarming difference.

The Mets need to improve their offense in 2014.  They also need their pitchers to stay healthy next season.  But perhaps they should also reconsider what they thought was a good plan going into the 2012 campaign.  The new dimensions have only been advantageous to hitters wearing road grays.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Davey Johnson Should Be A Lock For The Hall of Fame

When Davey Johnson was hired to be the manager of the New York Mets prior to the 1984 season, no one expected much from the former major leaguer.  Although he had had some managerial success in the Mets' minor league system, he had never held a job as a skipper in the major leagues.  In fact, the only thing many Mets fans knew about him was that he made the final out of the 1969 World Series, lifting a long fly ball into that settled gently into the glove of a genuflecting Cleon Jones.

But Davey Johnson had a plan.  And his plan helped turn a moribund franchise around.  After a 1983 season in which the Mets finished with 68 wins under managers George Bamberger and Frank Howard, Johnson insisted on Wally Backman becoming his everyday second baseman.  He also convinced the front office that a raw, but über-talented 19-year-old pitcher was ready for the big show.  Johnson got his wish when Dwight Gooden became one of his five starters.

Behind the leadership skills of Johnson and the perfect combination of talented youth and grizzled veterans, the Mets won 90 games for only the second time in franchise history in 1984.  That number increased to 98 in 1985 and 108 in 1986, when the Mets won their first World Series title since Johnson flied out to Jones seventeen years earlier.

Eventually, the '80s ended and so did general manager Frank Cashen's patience with Johnson.  After the 42nd game of the 1990 season, Davey Johnson was relieved of his managerial duties, but not before leaving a legacy that has yet to be surpassed in Flushing.

Many people said that Johnson only did well as manager of the Mets because of the players he was given.  It's true that Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson, Ron Darling, Jesse Orosco and others were already wearing the orange and blue before Johnson managed them for the first time.  But it took a players' manager like Johnson to get them to become a team, something that hadn't been seen in New York since George Frazier was the Mets' manager in 1976.  The Mets were better because of Johnson.  And since he left New York, other teams have seen just how good a manager Johnson can be.

Following the exodus of Reds legend Tony Perez from the manager's seat nearly two months into the 1993 season, Johnson was hired to be the skipper in Cincinnati.  In his first full season as Reds manager in 1994, Johnson had the Reds in first place in the NL Central, but the players' strike wiped away any postseason dreams for the Queen City.  The following season, Johnson did lead the Reds into the playoffs, directing Cincinnati to its first postseason appearance since winning the World Series in 1990.  But alas, Johnson wore out his welcome once again and he was let go by Reds owner Marge Schott following the 1995 season.  The Reds would not return to the playoffs again for 15 seasons.

Although he was run out of two cities, Johnson did not have to wait long to find another managerial position in the major leagues.  Soon after his release from Cincinnati, he was scooped up by the Baltimore Orioles, who had not made the playoffs since 1983, when they won the World Series.  That all changed once Johnson arrived.  Baltimore made the playoffs in both seasons Johnson was at the helm, winning the wild card in 1996 and the AL East division title in 1997.  But once again, Johnson and ownership (in this case, Peter Angelos) did not see eye-to-eye on many fronts and Johnson resigned as Orioles manager following the 1997 season, a year in which he won the Manager of the Year Award, an honor never bestowed upon him prior to 1997 despite numerous postseason appearances.  Not coincidentally, the Orioles did not finish with a winning record for one and a half decades after Johnson's resignation.

After a year off in 1998, Johnson returned to a big league dugout in 1999, managing the Los Angeles Dodgers.  But for the first time in a full 162-game season, a Davey Johnson-led team finished with a losing record, going 77-85 in 1999.  The Dodgers did recover to win 86 games in 2000, but finished eight games behind the Mets for the National League wild card.  That was it for Davey Johnson as a major league manager, or so we thought.  It took him 11 years, but Johnson finally returned to the big leagues in 2011 as the manager the Washington Nationals.

His hair may be grayer, but his managing style isn't.  Davey Johnson has been a winner wherever he's managed.

The Nationals had never finished with a winning record since moving to Washington in 2005.  The Expos/Nationals franchise had also never finished a full 162-game season in first place in their first 43 seasons.  (The Expos made their sole playoff appearance in 1981, winning a split division title during the strike-shortened campaign.  They were also in first place in 1994, but a season-ending strike ended any chances of the Expos returning to the playoff stage.)  That all changed during Johnson's first full season in Washington, when he led the Nats to a franchise-record 98 victories and their first full-season division title.  It also gave Johnson his fifth division title as a manager and made Washington the fourth team Johnson had led to the playoffs.  For his efforts, Johnson won his second Manager of the Year Award.
Let's review.

The Mets had finished with seven consecutive losing seasons from 1977 to 1983.  Davey Johnson took over in 1984 and led them to six consecutive winning seasons, including two division titles and one World Series championship.  The Mets have not won a World Series since Johnson left town.

The Reds had made one playoff appearance since the end of the 1970s before Johnson took over during the 1994 season.  Their playoff drought ended in 1995, when Johnson led them to a division title.  It was one of only two postseason appearances the Reds made in a 30-year span.

The Orioles went 13 seasons without making the playoffs before Johnson came aboard.  They crashed the postseason party in each of Johnson's two seasons at the helm.  They didn't sniff October again until 2012.

The Expos/Nationals had never completed a 162-game schedule atop the NL East during their first four-plus decades of existence.  But they did last year.  And it was Davey Johnson who took them to those unprecedented heights.

Only 27 managers have won more games than the 1,363 won by Davey Johnson.  Furthermore, only 19 managers have a higher career winning percentage than Davey Johnson's .562 mark.

Ten managers have won 1,000 or more games and had a winning percentage of at least .560.  Nine of them are in the Hall of Fame.  The only one who isn't is Davey Johnson.  But the way things are going for the man who started his major league managerial career with the Mets, that should eventually change once he hangs up his uniform for good at the end of the 2013 season.

Davey Johnson has taken teams to places they've never been or places they hadn't been in years.  When Johnson leaves those teams, they tend to suffer in the standings.  That's not a coincidence.  That's a testament to his skill as a leader, motivator and manager.  Simply stated, Davey Johnson belongs in the Hall of Fame.  His ticket is as good as punched.