Thursday, July 31, 2014

Joey's Soapbox: I'm Okay With Sandy Standing Pat

Hello, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran.  Today's trade deadline combined with my Studious Metsimus colleague having a fever has allowed me to get on my soapbox for the first time since Scott Atchison was still a Met.  Needless to say, I've had a lot of things on my mind since my last soapbox rant, but today is not about ranting.  In fact, it's about giving praise to Sandy Alderson.

You see, while teams like the Tigers have been trying to employ every Cy Young Award winner on the planet and the Red Sox have been involved in two blockbuster trades involving all their John/Jons (Beantown says goodbye to Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes and John Lackey, while Yoenis Cespedes, Joe Kelly and Allen Craig are all shipping up to Boston), the Mets decided they're better off not forcing any deals.  And that's just fine with me.

Ten years ago yesterday, then-general manager Jim Duquette pulled the trigger on two ill-advised deals, sending Ty Wigginton and Jose Bautista (yes, THAT Jose Bautista) to the Pirates for Jeff Keppinger, Kris Benson and Anna Benson.  Duquette also sent Jose Diaz and former No. 1 draft pick Scott Kazmir to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato.

Keppinger played just 33 games as a Met before being traded to Kansas City, while the Bensons combined for 14 wins, a 4.23 ERA, a sexy Santa and a whole lot of controversy.  Meanwhile, Wigginton and Bautista have combined to produce 371 homers and 1,098 RBI since removing their "Property of the New York Mets" T-shirts.

Although the loss of Jose Diaz didn't hurt the Mets much, the loss of Scott Kazmir did.  Kazmir has been wobbly at various points of his career, but he has still reached double digits in wins in seven seasons and is currently having the best year of his career, going 12-3 with a 2.37 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in his first year with the Oakland Athletics.  He also earned his third All-Star selection in 2014.  What legacy did Zambrano and Fortunato leave behind?  Well, Zambrano failed to be "fixed in ten minutes" by pitching coach Rick Peterson and posted ten wins and a 4.42 ERA in three mostly uneventful seasons with the Mets.  Meanwhile, Fortunato had a 7.06 ERA in 17 relief appearances, which is the sixth-highest ERA for a Mets pitcher with that many appearances.

Duquette made these deals while the Mets were four games under .500, seven games out of first place in the NL East and seven-and-a-half games out of the wild card spot.  If those numbers look familiar, that's because this year's Mets are four games under .500, seven-and-a-half games out of first place in the division and six games out of the second wild card spot.

The 2004 Mets went 22-38 after their two trade deadline deals, finishing 25 games out of first and costing Jim Duquette his job.  Ten years later, Sandy Alderson has decided to stand pat and continue with his plan, a plan that includes players like Lucas Duda, Jon Niese, Jacob deGrom, et al.  Alderson has also finally handed over the keys to the bullpen to younger players like Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia, a move that has the Mets steering in the right direction.

It is obvious that there are still some positions that could be improved, but there is no need to force anything now.  Deals for a shortstop can be made in the winter, as can an upgrade to the outfield.  After all, anything will be better than the Chris Young Experiment.

The Mets have players to trade.  They just don't need to trade them now.  They most certainly don't need a repeat of the 2004 trade deadline fiasco.  At least the Mets had the funds then to buy their way out of that hole.  They don't have those funds now.  So it is wiser to be prudent now, especially with Matt Harvey coming back next season to bolster an already strong starting rotation.

I probably would have had more to rant about on my soapbox had Alderson pulled the trigger on a deal today.  But he did not.  And I think the Mets are better off because of it.  The future is bright at Citi Field.  It did not to get cloudy with an unnecessary trade.  Bravo to Sandy Alderson for standing pat at this year's trade deadline.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Jacob deGrom and the Mets' Top Rookie of the Year Runners-Up

Jacob deGrom looks at how high his stock has risen since making his Mets debut.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

There are certain years in which a rookie class produces some outstanding first-year players.  Just seven years ago, the National League saw Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Hunter Pence finish 1-2-3 in the Rookie of the Year vote.  All three players have made multiple All-Star teams, combining to make a dozen Midsummer Classic appearances.

But for every 2007 in the National League, there is a 2014 - a year in which no rookie player is having a stellar season.  It is because there are very few standout neophytes in the Senior Circuit this season that a player like Jacob deGrom is being talked about as a viable Rookie of the Year candidate.  Including today's win over the Brewers, deGrom is 5-5 with a 2.79 ERA, allowing just five homers in 14 starts.  He also leads all rookie pitchers in innings pitched (87) and strikeouts (83).  The only players other than deGrom who are legitimate contenders for the Rookie of the Year Award are Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton and San Diego's Jesse Hahn.

Hamilton is leading all first-year National League hitters in most categories, including hits (101), doubles (20), triples (6), RBI (40) runs scored (50) and stolen bases (40).  But Hamilton has been slumping, batting .176 since the All-Star break.  Hamilton has also struggled to keep his on-base percentage above .300 all season and is on pace to strike out well over 100 times this year, a double no-no for a leadoff hitter.

Meanwhile, Hahn is 6-2 with a 2.12 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.  He's also leading all rookie pitchers with 9.8 K/9 IP.  Although those numbers are impressive, Hahn is averaging nearly four walks per nine innings and has made just eight starts.  That's barely more than half the number of starts deGrom has for the Mets.

Unless deGrom completely falls apart over the last two months of the season, he stands a good chance to finish in the top three of the National League Rookie of the Year vote.  In addition to the four Mets who won the award (Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden), there have been eight other former Metropolitans who finished in the top three.

Ron Hunt

After making their National League debut in 1962 with a slew of veteran players, the Mets decided they needed to add some fresh faces to their roster in 1963.  One of those faces belonged to 22-year-old rookie Ron Hunt.  Hunt was purchased from the Milwaukee Braves at the conclusion of the 1962 season, but did not get into a game with the Mets until the team's seventh contest in 1963.  But once he got into the lineup at second base, Hunt made it impossible for manager Casey Stengel to take him out.

In the first of his 12 big league seasons, Hunt posted career highs in several offensive categories that he would never surpass.  Among these categories were at-bats (533), hits (145), doubles (28), home runs (10) and RBI (42).  Hunt finished second in the 1963 Rookie of the Year vote to Cincinnati's Pete Rose, even though Hunt had more doubles, homers and RBI than Rose and finished the year with an identical .334 on-base percentage.  It should be noted that Hunt accomplished his numbers while compiling nearly 100 fewer at-bats than Rose and playing in a much weaker lineup that gave him far less protection than Rose enjoyed.

Jerry Koosman

One year after Tom Seaver broke through with the Mets during his Rookie of the Year campaign, Koosman had an even better inaugural season than Seaver did.  Whereas Seaver went 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in his rookie campaign, Koosman was far better in his, going 19-12 with a 2.08 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.  Koosman also recorded eight more strikeouts than Seaver did in his first season and pitched five more shutouts than "The Franchise".

But Seaver didn't have much competition for the 1967 Rookie of the Year Award.  A year later, Koosman faced stiff competition from future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.  Five years after Ron Hunt finished second to a legendary member of the Cincinnati Reds, Koosman did the same, as Bench edged Koosman for the top rookie honor by just one vote.  Jim Enright, a writer for the Chicago American, could not decide between the two candidates, and cast a split ballot for Bench and Koosman, saying, "In all fairness I could not vote for one and not the other."  Had he voted for Koosman instead of splitting his decision, the Mets' southpaw would have shared the 1968 Rookie of the Year Award with Bench.

John Milner

The first ten years of the Mets' existence saw the team produce several good, young players.  Among these players were one Rookie of the Year Award winner (Seaver) and two runners-up (Hunt, Koosman).  But in 1972, New York had its first third-place finisher for top rookie in the league.  And as impressive as a top-three finish is for any rookie, this particular Mets neophyte wasn't even the best rookie on his own team.

Playing in just 117 games in 1972, John Milner showed Mets fans why he would become known as "The Hammer", pounding 17 home runs in his inaugural campaign.  Milner also showed a keen eye at the plate, walking 51 times in just 423 plate appearances.  As Milner showed his prowess at the plate, his teammate, Jon Matlack, topped his performance on the mound.  Matlack's first full season in the majors produced a 15-10 record, 2.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 169 strikeouts, which earned him the 1972 Rookie of the Year Award.  But instead of settling for second place, Milner also finished behind Giants' catcher Dave Rader, whose .640 OPS was dwarfed by Milner's .762 mark.

Steve Henderson

In 1976, Steve Henderson was one of the Reds' top prospects, hitting for average (.312), flashing good power (17 HR) and displaying great speed (44 SB).  Henderson continued to tear it up at the Triple-A level in 1977, batting .326 with seven homers and 19 steals in just 60 games.  But Henderson was an outfielder, and with top slugger George Foster in left, perennial Gold Glove winner Cesar Geronimo in center, and batting title contender Ken Griffey in right, Henderson's chances of making the Reds was slim to none.  With no room on the roster for him, Cincinnati traded Henderson to the Mets for the team's first Rookie of the Year winner, Tom Seaver.

In his first season in New York, Henderson blossomed, posting a .297/.372/.480 slash line.  Despite not playing his first game for the Mets until June 16, Henderson led the team in RBI (65) and tied for the team lead in homers (12).  He also finished second to Lenny Randle in both runs scored (67) and triples (6).  Henderson lost the Rookie of the Year Award to Montreal's Andre Dawson, finishing just one vote behind the future Hall of Famer, despite having a higher batting average, OBP and slugging percentage than Dawson.  Henderson also scored more runs, drew more walks and tied Dawson in runs batted in despite playing in 40 fewer games than the Hawk.

Hubie Brooks

In 1980, the Mets marketing campaign tried to convince fans that the magic was back at Shea Stadium.  Sure enough, in September, three promising rookies made their debuts with the team, as Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman and Hubie Brooks all made their first appearances at the major league level during the final month of the 1980 campaign.  Although Backman spent most of the next few seasons in the minors, Wilson and Brooks were with the Mets to stay, and both took advantage of their new everyday player status.

Wilson impressed the Mets with his speed, but Brooks had a better all-around game.  Two weeks before the player's strike began in 1981, Brooks was contending for a batting title.  Once the players came back from their two-month hiatus, Brooks began to drive the ball, collecting ten extra-base hits and driving in 13 runs in his first 19 games after the strike.  For the season, Brooks batted .307 with 21 doubles, four homers and 38 RBI.  That was good enough for third place in the National League Rookie of the Year vote, behind Fernando Valenzuela and Tim Raines.  How impressive was Brooks' rookie season?  To this day, Brooks remains the only Met rookie with at least 350 at-bats to finish his first year with a batting average above .300.

Kevin Mitchell

In 1986, the Mets had several players locked into their defensive positions such as Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry.  Manager Davey Johnson also employed several platoons, making it difficult for a rookie to find his way into the starting lineup.  But one rookie learned how to play many positions in order to make the team.  Contending for a batting title during the first half of the season and lashing extra-base hit after extra-base hit throughout the entire season forced Johnson to put him in the lineup as many times as he could, even if he didn't have a regular position on the field.

After having a cup of coffee with the big club in 1984, Kevin Mitchell made it back to New York in 1986.  By July 6, Mitchell was batting .370 with 16 doubles and five homers, despite starting just 33 games.  But Mitchell had also played six defensive positions by then, playing everywhere but second base, pitcher and catcher.  By season's end, Mitchell's batting average had sunk to .277, but he still managed 22 doubles, 12 homers and 43 RBI in just 328 at-bats, which placed him third in the Rookie of the Year ballot behind Todd Worrell of the St. Louis Cardinals and Robby Thompson of the San Francisco Giants.  Mitchell became the second Met rookie (after Ron Hunt) to record 20 doubles and 10 HR and will always be remembered for his hit that continued the Mets' miraculous tenth-inning rally in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.  Unfortunately, that hit was his last in a Mets uniform, as the versatile slugger was traded to the San Diego Padres during the off-season.

Gregg Jefferies

Not since Darryl Strawberry in 1983 had a Met rookie been promoted to the big leagues with such potential.  But that was a different team in 1983 - a team that was on the rise and destined for greatness.  The 1988 squad had recently won a championship and appeared poised to become a dynasty.  But the team was getting older and needed an infusion of young talent.  Gregg Jefferies had destroyed minor league pitching from 1985 to 1987, recording two 100-RBI campaigns and batting .354 over the three years.  By 1988, the 21-year-old was ready to become a full-time player at the major league level.  Unfortunately, his maturity level hadn't caught up with his talent level.

Jefferies batted .321 after his late-season call-up to the Mets, and despite not playing enough to remove his rookie status for the following season, Jefferies still got enough support from the voters to finish sixth in the 1988 Rookie of the Year vote.  A year later, his production at the plate suffered, as his batting average slumped to .258, although he did record 28 doubles, 12 homers, 21 stolen bases and a clubhouse full of dissenting veteran players.  His attitude notwithstanding, he still finished third in the 1989 Rookie of the Year ballot, trailing Cubs teammates Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith.  At least Jefferies got the last laugh, making multiple All-Star teams (albeit with the St. Louis Cardinals) while Walton and Smith never played in the Midsummer Classic.

Jay Payton

The Mets did not produce many five-tool players in their minor league system in the 1990s, but one player stood out among all the others.  In the mid-'90s, Jay Payton was recognized by Baseball America as one of the top prospects in the game.  He was never better than he was in 1995, when he batted .307 with 31 doubles, 18 homers and 27 stolen bases, all while playing an above-average center field.  But injuries held Payton to 71 games in 1996 and wiped out his entire 1997 campaign.  Payton split time between the majors and minors in 1998 and 1999, before finally getting his first chance to stick with the Mets in 2000.  He took full advantage of the opportunity.

Payton led all Mets outfielders in games played during their pennant-winning season, batting .291 with 23 doubles, 17 homers, 62 RBI and 63 runs scored.  He also made great contact and had a keen eye at the plate, as evidenced by his low strikeout total.  Payton whiffed just 60 times in 523 plate appearances in 2000.  But the voters were more impressed by Rafael Furcal's speed (40 SB) and Rick Ankiel's arm (194 Ks in 175 IP) than Payton's complete game, dropping Payton to third in the Rookie of the Year vote behind the Braves' speedster and the Cardinals' promising young pitcher.  The Mets haven't had a top-three finisher in the Rookie of the Year vote since.

Tom Glavine and the Hall of Overrated

Tom Glavine went as high as his teammates would take him.  (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Today, Tom Glavine joins his long-time teammate Greg Maddux, as well as Frank Thomas, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa into the Hall of Fame.  Glavine's 305 wins and .600 winning percentage are certainly nothing to scoff at, but those numbers may have been more due to the teams he was on rather than his own talent.

As my Gal For All Seasons so eloquently detailed in her recent post called "The Pity Vote", the former Brave (and I guess you have to call him a former Met as well) wasn't as good as his numbers say he was.

Let's take a look at some of the points she brought up in "The Pity Vote" and add a few of my own.

  • Almost half of Glavine's wins (149 out of 305) came when his teams scored six or more runs.  On 226 occasions, Glavine received that type of run support, or slightly over ten times per season.
  • In 22 seasons in the big leagues, Glavine was pinned with a no-decision or loss a whopping 77 times when his teams scored at least half a dozen runs.  That's three-and-a-half times a season in which he couldn't get a win with excellent run support.
  • Glavine's teams scored two runs or less in 176 of his 682 starts.  The southpaw won just 26 of those games.  By comparison, Curt Schilling won 24 games when he received two runs of support or fewer.  That's just two wins shy of Glavine's total.  However, Schilling did this despite making 246 fewer starts than Glavine.  For the record, Schilling has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for the past two seasons and has yet to receive more than 38.8% of the votes.
  • Speaking of Schilling, the 20-year veteran was one of the best postseason pitchers of all time, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 0.968 WHIP in 19 career starts.  Glavine, on the other hand, went 14-16 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.273 WHIP.  It should also be noted that Glavine's 16 postseason losses are the most by any pitcher in the history of the game.
  • Glavine had five 20-win seasons, going 103-40 in those campaigns.  That means he went 202-163 in his other 17 seasons, which averages to a 12-10 record over those 17 years in which he didn't win 20 games.  That's not exactly what I would call Hall of Fame-caliber for the majority of his career.
  • In the year he set a career high in victories (1993), Glavine posted a 1.365 WHIP.  Glavine and fellow lefty Andy Pettitte are the only pitchers since 1980 to post a WHIP higher than 1.35 in a year they won 20+ games.  In addition, Glavine is the only pitcher since 1950 to win 22 or more games in a single season and have a 1.35 WHIP in the same year.  That's over six decades of baseball, kids.
  • Finally, while we're on the topic of base runners, there are only 14 pitchers in history (since 1900) to allow 6,000 base runners over their careers.  Tom Glavine is one of them, but he pitched the fewest innings of those 14 hurlers, tossing 4413.1 frames.  In fact, the only pitcher on this list within 150 innings of Glavine is Jim Kaat, who, by the way, IS NOT IN THE HALL OF FAME!

"It's okay, Greg.  We were the best pitchers on the Braves.  Tommy just rode our coattails."  (Photo by John Bazemore/AP)

Tom Glavine's high win total was a product of the teams he was on.  They scored lots of runs when he was on the mound, making it so easy to win that even his brother, Mike, could have earned victories in those games.  In the five seasons Glavine won 20 or more games, the Braves' offense ranked in the top four in runs scored every year.  Meanwhile, when he was a Met from 2003 to 2007, the Mets' offense ranked in the top four in runs scored just twice (2006, 2007).  Not surprisingly, Glavine went 28-15 in those two seasons.  Without a good offense behind him in his first three seasons as a Met, his record was just 33-41.

Pitchers who earn enshrinement in the Hall of Fame should be the dominant pitchers of their era.  No one who allows as many base runners as Glavine did in as few innings as he pitched should get his ticket punched to Cooperstown.  Jim Kaat and his 1.259 career WHIP is still waiting for his plaque.  So is Tommy John, who allowed 6,479 base runners in 4710.1 innings for a 1.283 WHIP.  But Tom Glavine, with his 1.314 lifetime WHIP, has his Hall of Fame plaque ready to be put on display.

Likewise, Hall of Fame pitchers should have been clutch performers in the postseason.  It's true that Glavine was the winning pitcher in Atlanta's only World Series-clinching victory in 1995.  However, it's also true that no pitcher in postseason history has been saddled with an "L" more than Glavine has.  But don't tell that to the people ogling at Glavine's newly installed plaque, one of whom might be Curt Schilling, who was a far better pitcher when the games mattered the most but still needs to buy his own ticket to get into Cooperstown.

Tom Glavine was never the best pitcher on the Braves (Maddux and Smoltz outperformed him in the '90s) and quite possibly wasn't the best pitcher on the Mets when he toiled in Flushing (Steve Trachsel was 44-35 as Glavine's teammate from 2003 to 2006, while Glavine was just 48-48 during those seasons).  But none of that mattered to the baseball writers who voted him into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

For 22 seasons, Tom Glavine was a very good pitcher.  Now, he will forever be known as a Hall of Fame pitcher.  It's just too bad there isn't a Hall of Overrated in baseball.  Glavine would have been a first-ballot inductee there as well.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Broken News: Jonathon Niese Speaks!

Did Jon Niese's mouth turn him into a Royal pain?  Did he make a Giant mistake?  I say no!  (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Welcome to the latest edition of Broken News, where someone else breaks the news and then we break it some more.  In today's segment, we'll discuss Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese, who shared a few interesting thoughts about Mets fans with Andrew Marchand of

In the article, Niese claimed Mets fans really want their team to win, but also questioned their loyalty.  The 27-year-old southpaw noted that Mets fans showed up when the team played well at Shea Stadium, but have largely been absent at Citi Field, where the team has mostly struggled since the park opened in 2009.

Many fans didn't know what to make of Niese's statement.  My opinion on the matter can be stated in three words:  GOOD FOR HIM!!

Niese is the third longest-tenured player on the Mets behind David Wright and Daniel Murphy.  And no pitcher on the roster has toiled longer for the Mets than Niese.  That, my friends, makes him a veteran.  And that also gives him the right to speak his mind if he sees something that bothers him.  Niese has been there, seen that.  And he's just stating what everyone else has already seen with their own eyes.

Attendance at Citi Field has dropped steadily since the park opened its doors for the first time five years ago.  Half a decade of less-than-mediocre baseball will do that to a fanbase.  Sandy Alderson said earlier this year that if the fans come to the park, the team can generate more revenue which can then be reinvested in the team.

But what is Alderson giving the team right now?  Why should fans come out to see a team that is not good right now?  Would you pay top dollar for a Broadway show in 2014 if you knew that the best actors weren't going to appear on stage until 2015?  Of course not.  But that's what our general manager wants us to do.  Jon Niese knows we're not dummies.  And he knows fans will not come out to see a struggling team.

Sandy Alderson is a patient man, and wants Mets fans to follow his lead.  Jonathon Niese is more of a realist, and knows that fans in general - not just Mets fans - don't have the same type of patience his general manager has.

I have no problem with anything Jonathon Niese said.  He spoke from the heart and he spoke the truth.  And that's what veteran players are supposed to do.  But now it's up to him and his teammates to make sure the fans eventually come back to cheer them on.  A little more winning will make Mets fans, true or otherwise, make their way back through the turnstiles.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lucas Duda Could Make First-Half History For The Mets

Lucas Duda and David Wright might share more than a high-five if Duda's power surge continues. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Lucas Duda has come a long way since making his major league debut under the tutelage of Jerry Manuel in 2010.  He's been a beleaguered outfielder that was sent down to the minors after every extended slump and he's also been a first baseman caught in a platoon with a player struggling to keep his batting average above the Mendoza Line.

But through it all, Duda has persevered.  Now, as the Mets' everyday first baseman, Duda has quietly put up some of the best first-half power numbers in franchise history.

You can laugh all you want at the statement in the previous paragraph, but it's true.  Let's take a look at all the players in Mets history who have produced 20 doubles, 15 homers and 50 RBI prior to the All-Star break.  As you can see from the chart below, there aren't many of them.

Player Split Year G PA GS 2B HR RBI
David Wright 1st Half 2008 94 432 94 24 17 70
Carlos Beltran 1st Half 2008 94 411 92 23 15 66
David Wright 1st Half 2006 87 386 87 22 20 74
David Wright 1st Half 2007 86 378 85 21 16 51
Bernard Gilkey 1st Half 1996 84 358 84 21 16 62
Robin Ventura 1st Half 1999 87 357 85 21 15 66
Howard Johnson 1st Half 1989 79 336 78 22 22 57
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/12/2014.

Only five players in club annals have managed to reach 20 doubles, 15 HR and 50 RBI before the midsummer hiatus, with David Wright producing three such seasons.  All five players went on to post incredible full seasons.

In Wright's three years achieving these first half numbers, he ended up averaging 41 doubles, 30 HR and 116 RBI per season.  The other four players also had productive full seasons, as Johnson (41 doubles, 36 HR, 101 RBI), Gilkey (44 doubles, 30 HR, 117 RBI), Ventura (38 doubles, 32 HR, 120 RBI) and Beltran (40 doubles, 27 HR, 112 RBI) put up some of the best full season extra-base hit and RBI totals in franchise history.

It should be noted that with two games to go before the 2014 All-Star break, Lucas Duda has amassed 20 doubles, 14 HR and 48 RBI.  That's right, Mets fans.  Duda is only a two-run blast away from joining this exclusive club.

When I first pondered this amazing feat immediately after Duda launched his 14th homer of the year last night, I was shot down by a gentleman on Twitter with the following tweet.

While it is true the Mets will have played 95 games by this year's All-Star break, allowing for players to pile up on cumulative stats, Duda began the season as a part-timer, sharing first base duties with the now-departed Ike Davis.  And since Davis' trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Duda has sacrificed occasional playing time to two first basemen who swing the bat from the right side of the plate.

Before his demotion to AAA-Las Vegas, Josh Satin was given seven starts at first base.  In addition, Eric Campbell has been penciled into the starting lineup ten times since his call-up from Vegas in early May.  Between Davis, Satin and Campbell, Duda has started 22 games on the Mets bench.  That's nearly 100 plate appearances Duda hasn't gotten this season.

Looking at the chart above, all five players in the 20 double, 15 HR, 50 RBI club stepped up to the plate at least 336 times before the All-Star break.  With two games left before this year's break, Duda has just 315 plate appearances.  Unless the Mets have a few 20-inning marathons against the Marlins this weekend, Duda will have come to bat fewer times than any of the members of the 20/15/50 club did in their historic campaigns, even with the All-Star Game being played later in the season than it has in the past.  All Duda needs is one homer and two RBI and he will have joined Johnson, Gilkey, Ventura, Beltran and Wright, despite the Fab Five needing more plate appearances to earn a spot in this exclusive club.

Say what you want about Lucas Duda.  He's a clumsy oaf.  He's a lousy interview.  He's never produced over a full season.  Depending on who you ask, all of those things might be true.  But with just one well-timed blast (and a teammate on the bases when said blast occurs), it will also be true that Lucas Duda will have engineered one of the most productive first halves with the bat in franchise history.

All this from a player who wasn't even guaranteed an everyday job at the beginning of the season.  History has a strange way of finding Mets players when they least expect it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

4,000 Wins: A Brief History of Mets Milestone Victories

Jacob deGrom's second major league win was the franchise's 4,000th victory. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It took the Mets 8,020 games to record their first no-hitter.  It took them a little longer to record their 4,000th regular season victory.  With tonight's 8-3 decision over the Atlanta Braves, the Mets have now won 4,000 times in 8,382 regular season games, becoming the ninth National League team to reach that milestone.  (Houston won 3,999 games as a National League franchise before moving to the AL West in 2013.)

In honor of this historic victory, let's look back at the other games in which the Mets clicked the thousands digit up by one.  Unlike tonight's victory, all three landmark wins came during seasons in which the Mets finished above .500 and all three occurred on the road.

Win No. 1,000:  May 22, 1976 @ Montreal

Under first-year manager Joe Frazier, the Mets got off to a quick start in 1976.  New York was 19-11 and in a first place tie with the Philadelphia Phillies through 30 games.  But the Phillies then reeled off 16 wins in their next 19 games and were well on their way to their first postseason appearance in 26 years.  During the Phillies' hot stretch in late May, the Mets struggled, embarking on four separate losing streaks of three games or more.  But on May 22, the Mets did manage to come from behind to post a rare victory at a time when wins were becoming scarce.

Trailing 1-0 at Parc Jarry in Montreal, the Mets appeared to have wasted a solid effort by Jerry Koosman.  The veteran southpaw pitched seven solid innings, scattering four hits, but left for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning down by a single run.  New York then tallied four runs in the eighth - all with two outs - to take a 4-1 lead.  Skip Lockwood tossed two perfect innings in relief of Koosman to give the lefty his 113th career win and the team its 1,000th regular season victory.

The all-time winningest lefty in Mets history led the team right to its 1,000th victory.  (Getty Images)

Win No. 2,000: May 2, 1989 @ Atlanta

In 1989, Davey Johnson's team was coming off its second division crown in three seasons.  But the Mets struggled early, losing eight of their first 12 games to find themselves in last place in the NL East after the season's first two weeks.  The team then embarked on its hottest streak of the season, winning 12 of their next 14 games.  The final win in that torrid stretch occurred on May 2, and it gave the Mets their 2,000 victory.

After defeating Zane Smith the night before, the Mets beat up on another Smith.  New York knocked Braves starter Pete Smith out of the game in the fourth inning, scoring six runs against him.  Darryl Strawberry kicked off the scoring party with a two-run homer in the first inning and Smith was sent to the showers after a single by Keith Hernandez in the fourth inning plated Mets starting pitcher Bob Ojeda, who had singled earlier in the inning.  Ojeda was brilliant for the Mets, allowing just one unearned run in eight innings.  The Mets claimed a 7-1 victory over the Braves, and in doing so, also claimed the 2,000th win in franchise history.

Before taking this winning photo, Bob Ojeda got a "W" in the Mets' 2,000th victory.  (Photo by Sharon Chapman)

Win No. 3,000: Sept. 3, 2001 @ Philadelphia

The Mets' resurgence during the final month of the 2001 season gave the city hope following the tragic events of 9/11, but New York actually began their charge back into contention two weeks before that horrific day.

On the morning of August 18, the Mets had a lowly 54-68 record and were 13½ games out of first place.  But New York won 10 of its next 14 games to cut the deficit to 8½ games as the team traveled to Philadelphia to take on the Phillies on September 3.  The Mets looked as if they were going to drop the opener of the series, as they trailed the Phillies by two runs going into the ninth inning.  But before you could say "Ya Gotta Believe", the Mets exploded for five runs in the final frame, turning a 7-5 deficit into a 10-7 lead.  Armando Benitez pitched a scoreless inning in the bottom of the ninth to save what became the Mets' 3,000th victory.  Ironically, the pitcher who got credit for the team's 3,000th win, C.J. Nitkowski, was making his first appearance in a Mets uniform in that game.  It would be his only win as a New York Met.

Why isn't C.J. Nitkowski in a Mets uniform?  Because he only wore it for win No. 3,000 and four other games. (CNN photo)

The Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves tonight to secure their 4,000th regular season win.  But everything about this win was different from the team's three previous milestone wins.  The Mets won their 1,000th, 2,000th and 3,000th games on the road.  Win No. 4,000 came at home.  Also, the winning pitcher in all three historic wins was left-handed (Koosman, Ojeda, Nitkowski).  Tonight's lucky winner was Jacob deGrom, a righty.  Furthermore, all three milestone victories came in a season that ended with the Mets having more wins than losses.  This year's milestone?  Well, let's just say the Mets have some work to do to before they can reach the break-even point.

It's been a long and crazy ride for the Mets since their first season in 1962.  After a slow start (to say the least), it took the team until its 15th season to claim its 1,000th win.  Since then, the Mets have won 1,000 games every 12 or 13 seasons.  If the current trend continues, the team will be gunning for its 5,000th regular season win sometime around the year 2027.  (They will probably fall for the 5,000th time approximately four or five years before that.)

When and where will that 5,000th win occur?  And what will the circumstances be surrounding that milestone victory?  There's no way to know for sure.  But one thing is certain.  If you consider yourself to be a long-time Mets fan, you know there's bound to be an Amazin' story behind it. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Lucas Duda Is Finally Looking Like An Everyday Player

Duda may lumber around the bases, but it's his other lumber we care most about.  (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Coming into the season, Lucas Duda found himself in the awkward position of being in a platoon at first base with a player who, like him, batted from the left side of the plate.  Over the first two-plus weeks of the season, Duda and Ike Davis shared starting duties at first base, with Duda penciled into the starting lineup eight times and Davis five.

Davis accomplished little during the first two weeks of the season.  Other than a walk-off grand slam he hit as a pinch-hitter on April 5, Davis managed to go 4-for-23 with no homers and one RBI.  Meanwhile, Duda managed a two-homer game on April 4, driving all four runs scored by the Mets in a one-run victory.  Eleven days later, Duda collected four hits and drove in two runs in another Mets victory.  It was clear that Duda was flourishing as a run producer during the first few weeks of the season, while Davis was not.  Before one-tenth of the season had been completed, Ike Davis was a former Met and Lucas Duda was the team's everyday first baseman.

Duda is now thriving at the position.  In Friday night's game, his two-run opposite-field homer off All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish gave the Mets a two-run lead over the Rangers.  It also gave him the team lead in home runs (13) and RBI (43).  Duda also leads the team in slugging percentage (.472) and OPS (.817).  Since taking over the position for himself in mid-April, Duda has not just become one of the Mets' top offensive threats, he's also become one of the top run-producing first basemen in the entire National League.

Through Friday's games, Duda's 13 homers and 43 RBI rank highly among NL first basemen.  The only players at the position with more home runs and RBI than Duda are Anthony Rizzo (17 HR, 45 RBI), Paul Goldschmidt (15 HR, 55 RBI), Adrian Gonzalez (14 HR, 53 RBI) and Ryan Howard (14 HR, 51 RBI).  Duda's slugging percentage and OPS (.472/.817) are higher than Gonzalez (.447/.769) and Howard (.398/.708) and he compares favorably to young sluggers Rizzo (.493/.880) and Freddie Freeman (.497/.883).  And in case you were wondering, Duda's former platoon partner in New York, Ike Davis, falls outside the league's top ten in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS for first basemen.

Ike Davis started out well in Pittsburgh, but has fallen off over the past five weeks.  Since June 2, Davis is batting .197 with just four extra-base hits in 27 games (21 starts).  In addition, Davis has put up a pedestrian .276 slugging percentage and .602 OPS since the beginning of June.  Davis has fallen so quickly that he is now part of another first base platoon, this time with the right-handed hitting Gaby Sanchez.  As Davis has struggled in Pittsburgh, Duda has been a bright star in the Mets' lineup.

Since June 13, Duda has batted .313 with seven doubles, five homers and 12 RBI in 18 games (17 starts).  Duda is also the proud owner of a .656 slugging percentage and a whopping 1.045 OPS over that time period.  In addition, Duda has been one of the team's best clutch hitters this season, producing a .609 slugging percentage and 1.036 OPS with runners in scoring position, unlike Davis, whose numbers in those situations (.420/.877) aren't even close to what Duda has produced.

(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Finally, of Duda's 13 HR this year, five have either tied the game or given the Mets the lead.  Why is five so important?  Because that number represents the total number of home runs hit by Ike Davis all season.  In other words, Davis has as many home runs this season as Duda has clutch homers.

There's a difference between hitting a home run and hitting a key home run.  Since April 21, Ike Davis has hit three homers - all of them have been solo shots and none of them tied the game or gave his team the lead.  Over the same time period, Duda has hit ten home runs, with six of them coming with men on base and three of them tying the game or giving the Mets the lead.

Simply stated, the Mets traded the right player when they dealt Ike Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In doing so, they finally removed the chains that had shackled Lucas Duda since he arrived at the big league level for the first time in 2010.  This is Duda's fifth season with the Mets, but it appears that this will be the first year he doesn't get sent back to the minor leagues for extra seasoning.  (Playing out of position in the outfield had a lot to do with that "extra minor league seasoning" as well.)  Duda has proven he belongs at the big league level and is quietly establishing himself as one of the top run-producing first basemen in the league.  All Ike Davis has done is become part of yet another platoon in Pittsburgh.

It may have taken him a while, but Lucas Duda looks like he's finally here to stay.  Opposing pitchers in the National League are going to wish he wasn't.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Just How Bad Are The Mets At Turner Field?

This has been a familiar scene at Turner Field over the years, especially when the Mets are in town.

The Mets are back at Citi Field on Friday after a 1-6 road trip in Pittsburgh and Atlanta.  But at least they won a game in Pittsburgh.  The team was swept at Turner Field, something that's become far too common since the Braves moved into their new digs in 1997.

Just how much of a house of horrors has Turner Field has been to the Mets in the 18 seasons it's been open?  The numbers are alarming.

The Mets won their first series at the House That Ted Built, taking three of four from the Braves in July 1997.  They were then swept in each of their next three series at the Ted before winning the first game they played in Atlanta in 1999.  How did they celebrate that rare win at Turner Field?  By dropping 12 of their next 13 games there, including losing all three games played in Atlanta during the 1999 National League Championship Series.

From 1991 to 1996, the Mets finished with a losing record each year.  Meanwhile, the Braves won their division in each of those campaigns (not including the strike-shortened 1994 season).  But despite Atlanta's dominance in the overall standings those years, the Mets held their own when they visited the Braves during the team's final six seasons at Fulton County Stadium.  They played 11 series at the park known as the Launching Pad from 1991 to 1996 and were never swept in any of those series.  Of course, when the Mets became a surprise contender in 1997, they were getting swept regularly in Atlanta, probably wishing the Braves had never moved out of their old park.

Speaking of sweeps, since their inaugural series victory at Turner Field, the Mets have been swept in Atlanta a whopping 14 times.  (New York has only recorded three series sweeps at Turner Field, not recording their first until 2006.)  And how have the Mets performed in the 49 regular season series they've played in the Braves' new park since it opened in 1997?  They've only won a dozen of those series, losing 34 series and splitting the other three.  That means the Mets are more likely to be swept in a series at Turner Field than they are of just winning a series there.

Overall, including the postseason, the Mets have a 52-101 record at Turner Field, for a .340 winning percentage.  To put that into perspective, let's go back in time - way back - to a time when the Mets played their home games at the Polo Grounds.

In 1962 and 1963, when the Mets called Manhattan home, the team put up the worst two-year stretch of any team in the modern history of baseball, going 91-231 in their first two seasons.  New York won 56 games at the Polo Grounds during their two-year residence there, losing 105 times.  That's a winning percentage of .348 at home when the team was playing the worst baseball of any team in the history of the sport.  It doesn't take a math major to figure out that the '62 and '63 Mets - two of the all-time worst teams in baseball - had a better chance to win at the Polo Grounds than the Mets of the last two decades had at Turner Field.

And in case you forgot (which is possible considering the Mets' misfortune in the standings since they moved to Citi Field), since the Braves moved to Turner Field in 1997, the Mets have actually had winning teams in nine of the Ted's first 17 seasons, including three postseason appearances and a berth in the 2000 World Series.  But despite being successful in approximately half of the seasons since Turner Field opened for business, the Mets have played like their expansion counterparts whenever they've stepped onto the field in Atlanta since '97.

The Braves will be leaving Turner Field after completing their 20th season there in 2016.  Atlanta will be moving into a new ballpark in Cobb County once the team's lease runs out at their current park.  The Mets only wish their lease had run out sooner.  It would have saved them a lot of heartache over the past two decades.