Sunday, August 20, 2017

Broken News: Curtis Granderson, The Underappreciated Met

Curtis Granderson smiles one last time in a Mets uniform.  (Elsa/Getty Images)

Welcome to another edition of Broken News, where someone else breaks the news and then we break it some more.  As most of you know, Curtis Granderson was traded on Friday to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that's currently one thousand games over .500 (give or take a couple of games) and planning its World Series parade in August.

The departure of the veteran Granderson to the Dodgers was a move that many people expected to happen for months.  However, one thing that wasn't expected was the outpouring of love for a player who heard a few boos earlier this year after a slow start to the season.  One particular fan on Twitter couldn't help but notice that Saturday's first post-Granderson game caused others to dust off their Granderson apparel to wear at Citi Field.

Curtis Granderson went through his share of slumps in nearly four years as a Met, as evidenced by his .239 career batting average with the team.  However, in his short tenure in Flushing, he earned every penny of the free agent contract he signed prior to the 2014 season and provided several moments that caused many a fan to get out of their seats and cheer.  He was also much more valuable than most people think.

For example, as much as people say Daniel Murphy was a postseason hero in 2015, and he was, at least in the NLDS and NLCS, did you know that it was Granderson who led the team in RBIs during that magical playoff run?

Murphy may have hit seven home runs in 14 playoff games in 2015, but that only led to 11 RBIs.  Granderson drove in a dozen runs batting out of the leadoff spot in the batting order.  The right fielder reached base 24 times in those fourteen October and November games, stole four bases and scored ten runs, all while striking out just seven times in 64 plate appearances.  Compare that to Murphy, who struck out seven times in the World Series alone when he forgot that the postseason didn't end after the Mets won the pennant.

In the Division Series, Murphy hit three of his seven postseason homers and almost single-handedly won Game Five.  But there may not have been a Game Five had the Mets not won the critical Game Three, and Granderson collected the series-turning hit in that contest.  After the Mets lost the second game of the series on Chase Utley's leg-breaking slide, the Dodgers took an early 3-0 lead in Game Three.  Not wanting to face elimination in Game Four with Clayton Kershaw on the mound, the Mets stormed back against starter Brett Anderson.  New York scored a run in the third and loaded the bases for Granderson, who promptly cleared them with a long double to center field.  With that blast, the Mets took a lead they would not relinquish and went on to win the series.

Granderson continued to give the Mets leads in the NLCS, driving in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning of Game One against the Cubs.  His two-out RBI single broke a 1-1 tie and the Mets would never trail in the series; a four-game sweep in which Granderson reached base five times, scored three runs and stole three bases.

Had the Mets defeated the Royals in the World Series - a Fall Classic Murphy famously didn't show up for - Granderson would have been the odds-on favorite to take home the World Series MVP trophy.  In the five-game series, Granderson hit three homers and scored six runs.  No one else on the team crossed the plate more than two times.  Each of Granderson's three homers gave the Mets a lead, but unfortunately, the Mets could not capitalize on Granderson's penchant for providing emotional lifts with the fly balls he lifted into the outfield seats.  New York coughed up all three leads Granderson gave them and lost a heartbreaking World Series.

Murphy got all the accolades (and the lucrative free agent contract) for what he did in the 2015 postseason, but Granderson was the most consistent player the Mets had during their October run.  His clutch hitting should not be buried behind Murphy's exploits.

So what else did Granderson do as a Met that went largely ignored by his detractors?  During his tenure with the Mets, no position player had a higher WAR than Granderson.  His 10.4 bWAR is higher than the runner-up in this category, Juan Lagares, who posted an 8.0 bWAR from 2014 to 2017.  Everyday players like Yoenis Céspedes (6.3 WAR) and Michael Conforto (5.9 WAR) didn't play for the Mets in 2014 and the first half of 2015, but Granderson's 5.1 bWAR in 2015 alone was higher than the combined WAR put up by Céspedes (2.3) and Conforto (2.1) in just over 400 plate appearances between the two.  To put Granderson's Mets career in perspective, the only player on the team with a higher WAR since 2014 is Jacob deGrom, who has a 15.5 bWAR since his Rookie of the Year award-winning 2014 campaign.

Finally, had Granderson stayed a Met for another few weeks, he would have joined some elusive company.  Granderson hit 19 HR in 2017 before being traded to the Dodgers.  In his first three seasons with the team, he clubbed 20, 26 and 30 home runs.  Had he hit one more homer before the trade, he would have become just the sixth Met to reach 20 home runs in four consecutive seasons.  The other five?  You may have heard of them.  Their names are Darryl Strawberry, Kevin McReynolds, Howard Johnson, Mike Piazza and David Wright.  Not a stinker in the bunch.

Granderson finished his Mets career needing five homers to reach 100 with the team.  Had he reached triple digits, the Mets would have been the third team for which he hit 100 homers, as he accomplished the feat with the Tigers (102 HR) and the Yankees (115 HR).  Only five men have ever homered at least 100 times for three different teams.  Four of the five are Hall of Famers and potential Hall of Famers (Reggie Jackson, Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre).  The other is Darrell Evans, who hit 414 HR in his career and won a World Series ring with the 1984 Tigers, something Granderson is now shooting for as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Perhaps most importantly, in this era when Mets trainer Ray Ramirez is Public Enemy No. 1 because of all the injuries that have befallen Granderson's former Mets teammates, it should be noted that Granderson played in 573 of a possible 606 games during his time as a Met.  He played in 150+ games in each of his three full seasons with the team and had played in 111 games this season before the trade, putting him on pace for another 150-game campaign.  To put that in layman's terms, Granderson never went on the disabled list as a member of the Mets.  The Hospital For Special Surgery - also known as the second home for many members of the Mets - only saw him during the 2015 off-season, when he went in for thumb surgery.  But I'm sure he made several appearances visiting patients while he was there.  Because that's the kind of guy Granderson is.

Curtis Granderson was loved by his teammates and by members of the community.  His charitable efforts and work with children and the needy earned him the Roberto Clemente Award in 2016.  His performance in the 2015 World Series could very well have brought him an MVP trophy had the Mets not surrendered the crown to the Royals.  His career numbers with the team in less than four full seasons are among the best in franchise history.  And lest we forget, his final hit as a Met was a grand slam against the Yankees.  Despite all this, Granderson was very much underappreciated by Mets fans.  Or so we thought.  The love on Twitter after his departure and the plethora of Granderson shirts and jerseys at Citi Field last night tell another story.

Granderson was actually very much appreciated by supporters of the Mets.  It's too bad it took his departure for most of them to realize his value to the team and the city he played in.

We tip our cap to Curtis Granderson, who walks off to Los Angeles as a great Met. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

30 Years Ago Today: Mets Score Club Record 23 Runs in a Game

The late Harry Caray probably wishes he hadn't been taken out to the ballgame on August 16, 1987.

The New York Mets are currently playing the crosstown rival Yankees in a four-game home-and-home series.  Thirty years ago today, the Mets were playing another of baseball's storied franchises, taking on the Chicago Cubs on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field.  One year after winning the 1986 World Series, the Mets were battling the St. Louis Cardinals for the division title and needed to win the finale of their four-game set against the Cubs after dropping the first three games.  They were in the throes of a poor stretch that saw them lose six out of eight games after they had cut the Cardinals’ lead in the division from 10½ to 3½ games.  In that eight-game stretch, they had scored only 20 runs.  They needed to bust out of their slump quickly if they were going to continue to stay in the race with St. Louis.  Fortunately, the wind was blowing out at Wrigley Field on August 16, 1987 and the Mets’ bats were ready to take advantage.

The starting pitchers were Ron Darling for the Mets and a kid for the Cubs who had just been recalled from the minors after being sent down two weeks earlier due to a poor 6-10 start for the big club.  You may have heard of him.  He was a scrawny 21-year-old kid named Greg Maddux.

The Mets jumped out of the box quickly, scoring three runs in the first inning to take an early lead.  The lead had extended to 7-0 by the time the Cubs came up to bat in the bottom of the fourth inning.  However, Darling struggled in the fourth, giving up a grand slam to catcher Jody Davis.  That was followed up by a home run from the next batter, a rookie who was pinch-hitting for Cubs reliever (and former Met) Ed Lynch.  That neophyte was Rafael Palmeiro, who hit the tenth of his 569 career home runs to cut the Mets lead to 7-5.

Fortunately for Darling, manager Davey Johnson did not remove him from the game despite the poor inning.  He was allowed to put out the fire he started and pitch the minimum five innings required to qualify for the victory.  Because of that, Darling was able to stick around to reap the benefits of the additional fireworks displayed by his teammates as they continued to ride the jet stream out of Wrigley Field.

The Mets immediately responded to the Cubs’ five-run fourth by scoring three runs in the fifth inning and seven additional runs in the sixth.  They now had a commanding 17-5 lead, but the Cubbie carnage continued.  Not satisfied with a lead of a dozen runs, they scored three additional runs in both the seventh and eighth innings.  Jesse Orosco relieved Darling in the seventh and gave up four runs in his inning of work, but by then, the Mets had already put the game away.  A run by Chicago in the ninth inning off Jeff Innis produced the final tally in the Mets’ 23-10 shellacking of the Cubs.

The offense was powered by Lenny Dykstra and Darryl Strawberry.  Eights were wild for the two Met outfielders, as they combined for eight hits, eight runs scored and eight runs batted in.  Strawberry in particular smoked the Cubs’ pitchers, as all four of his hits went for extra bases (two doubles, a triple and a home run).

Dykstra and Strawberry - two smiling California kids who put lots of frowns on Cubs fans' faces on August 16, 1987.

In doing so, Strawberry became just the third Met to produce four extra-base hits in one game, joining Joe Christopher, who accomplished the feat in 1964, and Tim Teufel, who turned the trick just six weeks prior to Strawberry.  Strawberry added a stolen base in the second inning, making him the first Met to collect four extra-base hits and a stolen base in the same game.  The Straw Man was the only Met to accomplish this feat until Yoenis Céspedes matched him with four extra-base hits (three homers, one double) and a steal against the Colorado Rockies on August 21, 2015.

Strawberry also became just the third Met to score five runs in a game, after Lenny Randle in 1978 and Lee Mazzilli in 1979.  In addition, the Straw Man drove in five runs, making him the first Mets player to have a five-run, five-RBI game in franchise history.  The only other Mets to accomplish that rare feat since August 16, 1987 are Edgardo Alfonzo, who produced six runs and five RBI against the Houston Astros on August 30, 1999, and Céspedes in the aforementioned 2015 affair.  He had seven RBI to go with his five runs scored.

Dykstra also made Mets history in the game, becoming the first Met to collect seven at-bats in a nine-inning game.  The only Met to match Dykstra since then is Luis Hernandez, who went 3-for-7 in an 18-5 thrashing of the Cubs in 2010, which, just like Dykstra's record-setting effort 23 years earlier, took place on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

Strawberry and Dykstra victimized several Cubs pitchers that day, including starting pitcher Greg Maddux.  Maddux collected almost 10% of his 355 career wins against the Mets.  His 35 victories (against 19 losses) are the most by any pitcher against New York.  However, one of his worst pitching performances against the Mets (or any other club) took place on that Sunday afternoon in the North Side of Chicago.

Throughout his major league career, which resulted in a much-deserved call to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year, Maddux was always known as a control pitcher, as he walked fewer than 1,000 batters in over 5,000 innings.  But on August 16, 1987 against the Mets, Maddux pitched 3 innings and was charged with seven earned runs allowed.  He gave up six hits and a very un-Maddux-like five bases on balls.  Let's dissect Maddux's effort to see just how much of an anomaly this game was for him.

Greg Maddux would have preferred starting at Shea Stadium on August 16, 1987.

Greg Maddux made 740 starts in his big league career.  He issued five bases on balls or more in just 20 of those starts.  But in 14 of those 20 starts, he lasted at least six innings, giving him more time to issue those free passes.  Maddux wouldn't have another game in which he lasted fewer than four innings and allowed five or more walks until 2004, a year in which he produced his first ERA above 4.00 since - you guessed it - 1987.

Maddux also allowed seven earned runs in the game, which was the first time he had ever allowed that many runs in one of his starts.  Maddux would go on to allow seven or more earned runs in a start a total of 27 times in his career, including three more times against the Mets, but he never walked more than three batters in any of his other seven-run efforts.  The game on August 16, 1987 was the only time in his 23-year career that Maddux allowed seven or more runs and walked more than three batters.  And that was from a future Hall of Famer who beat the Mets more than any other pitcher in the 56-year history of the club.

Going into their series finale against the Cubs on August 16, 1987, the Mets were in a hitting slump and got out of it in a major way at Wrigley Field.  They scored more runs in that one game than they did in their previous eight contests combined.  By doing so, the Mets established a new franchise record with their 23-run outburst in Chicago and were able to use that game as a stepping stone that carried them all the way until the last week of the season, when they were eliminated from playoff contention by the Cardinals.  And it all happened exactly 30 years ago today.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Michael Conforto Could Join an Exclusive OBP Club

Make way for Michael Conforto, the OBP Machine!  (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

In Wednesday's 10-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies, Michael Conforto reached base twice in five plate appearances, holding his on-base percentage at an impressive .401.  Despite Conforto's inability to crack the starting lineup early on (he started just four of the team's first 15 games), his 359 plate appearances currently qualify him for all full-season leaderboards, and as such, allow him to rank seventh in the National League in OBP.

Should Conforto maintain his .400-plus on-base percentage and reach the minimum 502 plate appearances to qualify for the batting title (or OBP title), he would join a very exclusive club of Mets players to accomplish that feat.  In fact, during the team's first 55 seasons, only seven players have reached base in at least 40% of their plate appearances when they had a sufficient number of trips to the plate.

1Cleon Jones1969.42255848392164254127564713.340.482.904
2Keith Hernandez1984.40965755083171310159497109.311.449.859
3Keith Hernandez1986.41365255194171341138394403.310.446.859
4Dave Magadan1990.41754145174148286672742410.328.457.874
5John Olerud1997.4006305249015434122102851308.294.489.889
6John Olerud1998.44766555791197364229396417.354.551.998
7Rickey Henderson1999.42352643889138300124282213.315.466.889
8John Olerud1999.42772358110717339019961251106.298.463.890
9Edgardo Alfonzo2000.425650544109176402259495506.324.542.967
10David Wright2007.4167116041131964213010794607.325.546.963
11Michael Conforto2017.4013593026189191215647802.295.573.974
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/3/2017.

Cleon Jones became the first Met to do so in 1969, reaching base at a .422 clip and propelling the team to a World Series title.  It wasn't until the Mets' 23rd season that Jones had company in this formerly one-man club, as Keith Hernandez produced a .409 on-base percentage in 1984; the Mets' first 90-win season since Jones and his teammates won it all 15 years prior.

Hernandez repeated his .400-plus OBP feat two years later, when he helped the Mets take home their second World Series trophy.  Keith's fill-in at first base in the 1986 division clincher became the third Met to play a full season with an on-base percentage greater than .400, as Dave Magadan flirted with a batting title in 1990 before settling for third place in that race, but still managed to produce a lofty .417 OBP in 541 plate appearances.

After Magadan's one-year wonder campaign, the Mets played musical chairs at first base.  From 1991 to 1996, the Mets had a plethora of players who became their everyday first baseman, including Magadan himself in '91, future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray in '92 and '93, David Segui in '94, Rico Brogna in '95 and Butch Huskey in '96.  It wasn't until they made one of the most one-sided trades in club history that they found a starter for more than two seasons, and he became the team's all-time OBP king.

John Olerud was a Met for only three seasons, but he reached base at least 40% of the time in all three campaigns.  In 1997, he became the first Met with a .400 OBP over a full season in seven years.  He then followed it up with a .447 OBP in 1998, which remains a single-season franchise record, and a .427 OBP in 1999, when he helped the team advance to within two victories of a World Series berth.  His 1999 teammate, Rickey Henderson, didn't want Olerud to party alone in the .400 club, so he crossed the velvet rope and put up a .423 on-base percentage of his own.

A year after Olerud and Henderson became the team's first pair of .400 OBP players, they were both gone, as Olerud signed a free-agent contract to return home to Seattle and Henderson played his way out of New York, earning his release from the team in May.  But a new man took over the reins as the team's resident .400 on-base guy in 2000, as Edgardo Alfonzo posted a career-high .425 OBP in helping the team win its fourth National League pennant.

In the 16 seasons since Fonzie went over .400 in the OBP column, only one Met has joined him in the .400 club.  That would be David Wright, who in 2007 became the most recent player to achieve an on-base percentage of .400 or greater, as he reached base at a .416 clip for the 88-win Mets.

For the past ten seasons, Cleon Jones, Keith Hernandez, Dave Magadan, John Olerud, Rickey Henderson, Edgardo Alfonzo and David Wright have been the only seven players to post a .400 OBP over a season of at least 502 plate appearances.  Now Michael Conforto and his .401 on-base percentage are threatening to make this an eight-man club.  But one other thing stands out among the members of the .400 club that Conforto could have a tough time duplicating.

When Jones became the first Met to post a .400 OBP over a full season in 1969, he did so for a 100-win team.  Hernandez had his .400 seasons in 1984 and 1986 when the Mets won 90 and 108 games, respectively.  Magadan's 1990 campaign ended with 91 Mets victories, while Olerud's three .400 OBP seasons occurred during 88, 88 and 97-win campaigns.  (Rickey's season gave us 97 wins as well.)  When Fonzie did it, the Mets won 94 regular season games.  And Wright's high OBP helped the Mets win 88 games.

See a pattern forming there?  Every player who produced a .400 OBP over a full season played for a Mets team that finished with a winning record.  In fact, the worst record by a Mets team that had such a player was 88-74.  That's a far cry from the current Mets team, which is currently seven games under .500 at 49-56.

This year has been an anomaly for the Mets; a year in which the pitching has been the team's greatest disappointment when it was supposed to be an asset.  If Michael Conforto finishes the season with an on-base percentage above .400, it will be anomaly for another reason.  Barring a late-season push in the standings, it would mark the first time a Mets team employed a player with a .400-plus OBP and failed to produce a winning record.  Even with a surge in August and September, the team would be hard pressed to reach 88 victories; the minimum number of wins produced a Mets club that had a .400 OBP player.

Michael Conforto has been a steady presence in the field and at the plate.  He's also been a steady presence on the basepaths, reaching base more than 40% of the time in 2017.  However, his team hasn't been able to take advantage of his keen ability to not make outs.  The potential to join an exclusive seven-man club that includes several all-time Mets greats is a fine accomplishment.  It would be far better if Conforto could match Jones, Hernandez, Magadan, Olerud, Henderson, Alfonzo and Wright by joining that club while playing for a competitive Mets team.