Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Magic 8-Ball Predicts The 2010 Mets Season

The 2010 season is upon us. This is the time of year when every fan has high expectations for their team (except Pirates fans). This is also the time of year when bloggers release their predictions for the upcoming season.

Studious Metsimus has only existed since the summer of 2009, so we were not around to dazzle you with our predictions last year. Had we been up and running last April, you would have read how we correctly predicted that 53 different players would play at least one game for the Mets, that Angel Pagan would finish fourth on the team in at-bats with only 343 and that Oliver Perez would actually throw a called strike before September 1. (We attended a game on August 1 where he stunned the crowd by doing just that.)

Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the 1986 World Champion Mets and will also be the 50th season in franchise history. Unfortunately, those anniversaries will have to wait until 2011. Since we are in 2010, Studious Metsimus would like to remind you that this year, the Mets will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1980 team, which long-time fans will remember as the year that "The Magic Is Back."

As a tribute to that "magical" season, this year's predictions will be made with the assistance of a Studious Metsimus favorite, the Magic 8-Ball. Let's shake the dust off and see what it says.

Apparently, it's a sensitive Magic 8-Ball. Maybe Luis Castillo dropped it as a child. Anyway, let's get started with the predictions, shall we?

Will David Wright remember to pay his electric bill so that his 30-homer power can return to him?

After Johan Santana, who will emerge as the Mets' #2 starter?

That's quite a shocker! Why Oliver Perez? Do you really think he's finally going to turn the corner and become the pitcher the Mets expected him to be when they signed him to the three-year, $36 million deal in 2009?

Will Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran return to their pre-injury forms once they take the field and once they do, will they stay healthy for the entire season?

Fine. How do you expect Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran to perform this season?

The Mets have never had an outfield where all three outfielders hit at least 20 HR in the same season. Will this be the first season that happens?

How about Francisco Rodriguez? Will he surpass Armando Benitez's single-season record of 43 saves?

Will Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya make it through the season?

What will be the highlight of the 2010 season for the Mets?

What is your final prediction for the 2010 Mets?

Thank you, Magic 8-Ball for your expert predictions. We'll check back with you at the end of the season to see how you fared with your predictions.

The week before the season begins is always full of high hopes. As long as those hopes don't take a tumble and have to be shuttled to the Hospital For Special Surgery, the Mets should be an interesting team to watch in 2010. This is the first time in five years that the Mets don't have high expectations (or in some cases, any expectations). Perhaps this is the year they actually don't underachieve.

The magic was back in 1980, or at least the marketing department was telling us that it was. Maybe this year, it truly will be back and the Mets will come out from behind the 8-Ball.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

When Doc Was Clocked

The year was 1986. Dwight Gooden was 21 and coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season. Darryl Strawberry was 23 and coming off a season in which he missed two months due to a thumb injury, yet still managed to hit a then-career high 29 HR. Mike Tyson was an up-and-coming 20-year-old boxer who was about to become the youngest heavyweight boxer in history.

They met for the first time at Shea Stadium where a wayward punch by Tyson connected with the chin of Doc Gooden. Everything changed after that fateful day when Doc was clocked.

Although Gooden finished the 1986 season with a 17-9 record, he failed to show up during the World Series, not getting past the fifth inning in either of his two starts. Continuing his AWOL trend, he was also conspicuously absent at the team's World Series ticker-tape parade. Fortunately for him, he did show up to Smithers that following spring to begin a drug rehab stint that would keep him out of action for the first two months of the 1987 season.

Injuries and more drug and alcohol troubles led to more DL trips and suspensions, eventually ending his once-promising career with the Mets in 1994. Gooden continued his career with the Yankees (pitching a no-hitter for them in 1996), followed by stints with the Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He returned to the Yankees to finish up his career in 2000 and retired before the 2001 season.

Gooden finished his career with a 194-112 won-loss record. However, 100 of those wins came before his 25th birthday. He re-appeared in a Mets jersey during the Shea Goodbye ceremonies on Sept. 28, 2008 and had been making appearances at Citi Field.

It looked as if Doctor K had finally turned the page. However, that was not to be the case. A few days ago, Doc was arrested in New Jersey after he left the scene of a traffic accident. Upon his arrest, he was found to be under the influence of an undisclosed controlled substance. He was charged with DWI with a child in the car, endangering the welfare of said child and leaving the scene of an accident.

It is not believed that this recent behavior will affect Doc's induction into the Mets' Hall of Fame on August 1. However, it is still sad that a once-promising athlete continues to struggle with his personal demons long after his retirement from the sport that gave him his popularity and his livelihood.

Doc Gooden was a role model to many kids. He now has kids of his own who need him to be a father to them. Someday they're going to have problems of their own and they'll need the guidance that a father can provide. But can they really come to a man who hasn't been able to deal with own problems, continuing to create new ones for himself and those around him?

I'm glad Darryl Strawberry moved out of the way of Mike Tyson's punch back in 1986. Although Darryl also succumbed to the pressures surrounding him, he was able to exorcise his demons and is now back to being a respected member of the Mets community.

If Gooden wants to take the same road to recovery that Darryl took, he's going to have to want it. The demons that continue to rear their ugly heads have to be faced head on. Otherwise, there will be no saving Doc. Once he saves himself, he will be able to enjoy his life again, perhaps getting into the newspaper for positive things (like the 2010 Mets Hall of Fame induction) than for negative things.

Doc Gooden will never truly live his life until he can overcome the vices that are living his life for him. We wish Doc well so that he can make a triumphant return to Citi Field on August 1, but most importantly, we wish Doc well so that he can make a triumphant return to life. It can be a beautiful thing once you allow yourself to live it properly.

Joey's Soapbox: Changes At Citi Field Everywhere But On The Field

Welcome to the latest edition of Joey's Soapbox. As always, I'm your fav'rit Studious Metsimus correspondent, Joey Beartran. Today I'm getting up on my soapbox to talk about a real doozy. It's about all these new changes at Citi Field.

For the past year, fans have clamored for Citi Field to be more Mets-centric. Homages to the Brooklyn Dodgers can be seen everywhere. There's the exterior of Citi Field resembling the main entrance at Ebbets Field. There's also the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. Once you take the center escalators up to the Field Level seating area, you're faced with the Ebbets Club. There's even a '47 shop that sells vintage clothing. (I wasn't around in 1947, but I heard that was a good year for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Something about the rookie season of the aforementioned Mr. Robinson and the Dodgers winning the pennant.)

See what I mean? Everywhere you went at Citi Field, you couldn't escape the Brooklyn Dodgers. Do you want to go even further? How about the store for ladies on the Excelsior Level? (Touch by Alyssa Milano)

Alyssa Milano was born in Brooklyn! She has confessed to being a Dodger fan and season ticket holder! (According to that link, she also follows many Dodger blogs, but does not follow Studious Metsimus. I will now have to put up my Who's The Boss Season 1 DVD for sale on eBay because of that.) Yes, I know there are other Touch stores in other major league stadiums, but surely the Wilpons must have jumped at the idea of having a Touch boutique at Citi Field when a Brooklyn-born Dodger fan is behind it.

So this year, the Mets are going all out to make Citi Field have more of a Mets feel to it. They started with the renaming of certain areas of the ballpark. In 2010, fans can now enter through the Gil Hodges VIP entrance, the Tom Seaver VIP entrance and the Casey Stengel VIP entrance. (We have not received confirmation on whether the janitors' entrance was renamed to honor Doug Sisk.) The bridge in right field was also renamed as the Shea Bridge.

In addition to the newly renamed areas of the ballpark, the Mets were going to construct a Hall of Fame and Museum adjacent to the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. They were also finally going to induct new members to their Hall of Fame, all of which were instrumental to the 1986 World Championship team.

In February, the Mets announced that McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon would be opening a new location at Citi Field. Now comes word that the Mets are adding new menu items to their various eating establishments, as well as new eating establishments for fans to enjoy.

The one thing I couldn't help but notice was the fact that there will now be poutine at Box Frites. (Shameless plug: For those who don't know what poutine is, please read this Studious Metsimus classic, where I discussed the topic with Professeur Bay.) Do you think this would have happened had the Mets not signed Sgt. Bay of The Yukon to a multi-year deal? Are they now going to have Molson, Labatt and Sleeman on tap at McFadden's?

Next thing you know, the Mets are going to put out an official press release stating that during the sixth inning, they will conduct races similar to the sausage race in Milwaukee and the Presidents Race in Washington. It will feature Terrance and Phillip (from South Park), Geddy Lee and Anne Murray. Similar to Teddy Roosevelt in Washington, Anne Murray will never be allowed to win one of these races.

Terrance, Phillip and Geddy Lee won't even allow Anne Murray to appear in these photos.

Ah, but I digress. What's the point of this rant from my soapbox? I'll tell you. In 2009, fans were treated to shoddy baseball by the Not Ready For The Major League Players. The result of that was a 70-92 season and fans coming to games dressed as empty seats.

Since the Wilpons and Omar Minaya couldn't get anyone other than Jason Bay to sign with the Mets (the Catcher Crusaders notwithstanding), they needed to do something to attract the fans' interest. Therefore, they're loading Citi Field with all these new attractions so that when the team is losing to the Phillies, Braves, Marlins and Nationals, no one will seem to notice because they're too busy in the Museum or drinking at McFadden's or savoring their poutine.

I am a Mets fan and I always will be. Although I'm not quite six years old (I'll be six on June 20. Send cake and chicken nachos.), I'm old enough to remember the dark days of the Art Howe Era. I want last year's team to be a fluke and not a throwback to the Art Howe days.

Perhaps if this off-season had featured better movements regarding player transactions (i.e. an improved starting rotation), the Mets wouldn't have to resort to these other fan-friendly changes to attract their fanbase. I'm sure I'll enjoy all these new amenities (especially the poutine) but I would enjoy it more if the product on the field had improved as well. Sure, they could surprise us and have all their injured players return to good health and good performances. Maybe even Oliver Perez might pitch a good game or twelve. But right now, the Mets might be a .500 team at best.

Hey, Mets fans. Look on the bright side. At least we can drown our sorrows with a Molson at McFadden's.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

To Avoid Repeating History, Mets Shouldn't Dropkick Murphy

On Opening Day, Daniel Murphy will be the starting first baseman for the New York Mets. His 2009 numbers (.266, 12 HR, 63 RBI) suggest that his production is subpar for a corner infielder. However, I say the Mets should stick with Murphy at first base. Call me crazy ("YOU'RE CRAZY!"), but I think the Mets will end up pleasantly surprised with a full season of Murphy at first.

Daniel Murphy will turn 25 on April 1. That's two years younger than the typical age a player enters his prime. In addition to his team-leading 12 HR last season, Murphy contributed 38 doubles. That was only six short of Bernard Gilkey's franchise-record 44 doubles (set in 1996). However, Gilkey hit his 44 doubles in 656 plate appearances (571 at-bats), whereas Murphy's 38 doubles were achieved in 556 plate appearance (508 at-bats). Falling six doubles short of the single-season franchise record with 100 fewer plate appearances than the current record holder bodes well for Murphy.

Murphy could easily get 40 doubles this season, especially with a clear-cut position. Last year, Murphy started in left field before shifting over to first base due to his shoddy play and Carlos Delgado's ACME hip. Stability will help Murphy both on the field and at the plate, and I wouldn't be surprised if he approaches the Mets' all-time single-season record for doubles this year.

Need further proof that stability begets success? In the first half of the season, Murphy bounced around from the outfield to the infield. He had to forget about his outfield follies and become comfortable at first base. Once it became clear to him that he was going to be the everyday first baseman for the remainder of the 2009 season, Murphy's bat took off.

Let's compare Murphy's numbers over the first four months of the season to his numbers over the final two months.

April - July: 97 games, .247, 17 doubles, 1 triple, 6 HR, 35 RBI.
Aug - Sept/Oct: 58 games, .291, 21 doubles, 3 triples, 6 HR, 28 RBI.

Murphy's 30 extra-base hits over the final two months of the season bode well for his development. A full season at first base could produce 40 doubles and 20 HR. Considering that Murphy's power is still developing, that 40 double/20 HR projection might actually be on the low side.

When John Olerud left the Mets following the 1999 season, the Mets played musical chairs with the first base position for the next six seasons. From 2000-2005, the Mets employed various veterans and youngsters at first base, none of whom ever made the position theirs. From Todd Zeile to Mo Vaughn to Jason Phillips to Mike Piazza to Doug Mientkiewicz, no player could hold the spot for more than two seasons and none of them played up to the team's expectations. It wasn't until Carlos Delgado was traded to the Mets before the 2006 season that a player took hold of the position and didn't give it up.

Now Daniel Murphy is expected to take over at first base. The Mets tried to find a successor to John Olerud, the last player to play at least three seasons at the position, but failed miserably and the team suffered. Other than Jason Phillips, the Mets tried to stick a 30-something year old player with limited mobility at first base. We all know how those decisions turned out. They can't make that same mistake again with Daniel Murphy.

In Murphy, the Mets have a young player who will not suffer the aches and pains that a Mo Vaughn, Mike Piazza or Doug Mientkiewicz would suffer. Murphy worked with Keith Hernandez during the off-season to improve his mobility and range at first base. He's clearly looking to improve defensively and hold on to the position now that the Mets have entrusted him with it.

Daniel Murphy is a gamer. He will come to the park day after day, looking to improve all facets of his game. Here the Mets have a soon-to-be 25-year-old who showed steady improvement both defensively and offensively as the season went along. When everyone else succumbed to the injury of the week, Murphy elevated his game instead of giving up, which would have been easy to do once the team fell out of contention.

Why wouldn't the team give him every opportunity to establish himself as a major league first baseman? History has shown that injury-prone veterans aren't always the best fit for the position. With Murphy, the Mets have a young player who doesn't get hurt (knock on wood) and hasn't reached his full potential yet. The final two months of the 2009 season showed that his potential might be greater than most people are willing to believe.

Don't kick Daniel Murphy to the curb just yet. He may end up rewarding you in ways you never expected him to.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Take Me To Your Leader (If You Can Find Him)

The Mets have had a number of fiery players over the years. With their performances on the field and behind the scenes in the clubhouse, these players have carried the Mets beyond the team's expectations.

From Tug McGraw's "Ya Gotta Believe" that gave hope and fired up the 1973 Mets on their way to the National League pennant to Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter's veteran presence that helped the Mets win the 1986 World Series, there have always been players who were ready to carry the team on their backs when they needed that push.

Players like Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Mike Piazza have all carried the team for long stretches and helped the Mets win pennants and championships. The 2006 team that fell one game short of a World Series appearance had numerous players (Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Carlos Delgado) carry the team for extended stretches.

However, if an alien spacecraft landed at Citi Field today and its inhabitants asked to be taken to the Mets' leader, who would they be directed to? Not only is there no clear cut leader, there are very few candidates who even appear to want the job of ambassador to the creatures from outer space.

David Wright is too busy trying to say the right things to be a true leader. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran haven't learned how to lead from the trainer's room.

Johan Santana is the closest thing the Mets have to a true leader. On the next-to-last day of the 2008 season, he took the mound on three days rest with a later-to-be-revealed torn meniscus and pitched a complete game shutout against the Florida Marlins to keep the Mets alive in their attempt to make the playoffs. This was done after throwing a career-high 125 pitches in a victory against the Chicago Cubs. He took the struggling Mets and carried them into that final game. Without his gritty performances, the final game wouldn't have been relevant as far as postseason hopes went.

Even in the forgettable 2009 season, Johan displayed his leadership skills over the first two months. Carlos Delgado went down in early May, followed by Jose Reyes. Carlos Beltran was playing with an injury. Somehow, the Mets were in first place on May 27. How was that possible with such a depleted squad? Two words: Johan Santana.

Over the first two months of the 2009 season, Johan Santana made ten starts for the Mets. In those starts, he was 7-2 with a barely-there 1.77 ERA. He was on a Gooden-esque strikeout pace (86 Ks in 66 innings) and was practically unhittable. Opposing hitters were hitting a measly .208 against 'Han the Man and slugging .316 against the Smooth One. That slugging percentage would have been a poor on-base percentage, which, since we're on the topic, Santana held opponents to a .270 on-base percentage.

As a result, the Mets held a half-game lead over the Phillies after Santana defeated the Washington Nationals on May 27. However, since the gods above gave us The Four Rainouts to back up Santana in the rotation, not even Sir Smooth could keep the sinking ship afloat.

For as much as Johan Santana tried to lead the Mets, he can only lead them on the field once every five days. That leaves 125-130 games where he can only lead in the clubhouse. Unfortunately, pennants are won on the field and not in the clubhouse. (Only poker games are won there. Right, Mr. Bonilla and Mr. Henderson?)

In Dana Brand's book, "The Last Days of Shea", there is a chapter about Dr. Brand meeting Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson. The self-proclaimed "straw that stirs the drink" approached Dr. Brand and struck up a conversation on the 2007 Mets. According to Dr. Brand's book, Mr. October went on to say:

"What was it, they only needed to win one more game? You know, people used to call me egotistical , but I tell you, if I had been playing for (the Mets), I would have won that one game, even if I had to do it all by myself."

The Mets don't really have an everyday player who has the fire of a Reggie Jackson. They have players who can fill up a stat sheet, but can any of them truly carry the team? Can any of them be counted on to drive in the winning run when the team needs to win one game? Is there a pitcher on an opposing team who fears any hitter on the Mets?

The 1986 Mets had swagger. When they were down, you always expected someone, whether it was Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter or Darryl Strawberry to come through with a clutch hit. Even in 2006, David Wright seemed to come through with many a walk-off hit. (The Mets had 11 walk-off wins in 2006, but only had four such wins in 2009.)

The closest thing the Mets have to a leader is Johan Santana. But he can only lead on the field 34 or 35 times a season. Kirk Gibson won an MVP Award in 1988 by leading the Dodgers on the field and in the clubhouse. His numbers weren't typical MVP numbers (.290, 25 HR, 76 RBI) but he had the uncanny ability to come through when the game was on the line.

According to baseball-reference.com, when Gibson came to bat in a tie game situation in 1988, he hit .306 and had a .424 OBP. In 239 plate appearances in those situations, he didn't hit into a single double play, thereby not squelching potential rallies. In late and close situations (defined by baseball-reference.com as plate appearances in the seventh inning or later where the team is tied, ahead by one or with the tying run on deck), Gibson hit .321 and compiled a .423 OBP in 97 plate appearances. Since Gibson amassed 632 plate appearances in 1988, the above clutch situations made up for more than half of Gibson's appearances in the batter's box.

The Mets have never had an MVP. If they're ever going to get one, they need a team leader. He can't pad his stats by hitting home runs when the team is already up by six runs in the eighth inning. He must come through in the clutch. He must be fundamentally sound. He must be able to pick up his teammates when they fail between the white lines.

Do the Mets have someone who's willing to step up over the entire 162-game schedule? They're going to need one if they're going to reverse the trend that began when Carlos Beltran looked at Adam Wainwright's curveball. Otherwise, the fans will be doing the leading, but it'll be towards the exit gates at Citi Field.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ubaldo Jimenez: The Pitcher That Got Away From The Mets

In 2000, Mike Hampton helped the Mets win the National League pennant. After the Mets lost the World Series to the Yankees, Hampton left New York for the better school systems in Colorado. (The $121 million given to him over the course of the eight years he signed for had nothing to do with it.)

Apparently, Hampton wasn't the only pitcher to turn down money from the Mets in 2000, only to sign with Colorado. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, fireballer Ubaldo Jimenez was offered $20,000 by the Mets to sign with the team after he turned 16 in 2000. Why did he turn them down? Yet again, school was cruel to the Mets.

The teenaged Jimenez was still in high school at the time the Mets made their offer. But his parents chose the benefit of an education over the temptation of quick financial success.

When recounting the reasons for not signing with the Mets in 2000, Jimenez went on to say:

“My parents said no. They didn’t want me to sign until I finished high school. I always respected my parents, and I knew it was for my own good, so I didn’t sign. I always figured I was going to be a doctor anyway. I used to love medicine. My mom’s a nurse. It’s something I grew up seeing. Every time people got sick, my mom would be the one who helped make them better.”
So how did the Rockies sign Jimenez in 2001 at the age of 17, thereby negating his chance of becoming a doctor? It was pretty simple, really. When the Rockies’ director of Latin American operations paid the Jimenez family a visit, he promised that if Ubaldo signed with Colorado, they would allow him to finish high school. That was enough for Jimenez’s parents. After graduating from high school, Jimenez signed his first professional contract and joined the Rockies organization.

Since making his major league debut at the age of 22 in 2006, Jimenez has improved steadily each year and is now among the best (and lesser known) pitchers in the National League.

The Rockies inserted Jimenez into the starting rotation in 2007, just in time for their unexpected run to the World Series. In 15 starts with the Rockies, Jimenez was 4-4 with a 4.28 ERA, but he held opposing batters to a .228 batting average. He then turned it up a notch in the National League playoffs, giving up one run in 6.1 innings in his start against the Phillies in the NLDS, followed by five more innings of one-run ball against the Diamondbacks in the NLCS.

His luck (as well as the Rockies’ luck) ran out in the World Series, but he still pitched effectively in his one start against the Red Sox, giving up two runs in 4.2 innings of work. The 22-year-old pitched like a seasoned veteran in the playoffs, where many pitchers at the same age would have wilted in the national spotlight.

He followed up his rookie season by going 12-12 for Colorado in 2008. He lowered his ERA to 3.99 and opponents batted only .245 against him. More importantly, he was able to get his outs via the strikeout and the ground out, thereby overcoming the Coors Field effect. He racked up 172 strikeouts in 198.2 innings and allowed only 10 home runs.

In 2009, his improvement continued to where he became one of the best pitchers in the National League. Last season, Jimenez helped lead the Rockies to their second playoff appearance in three years. He finished with a 15-12 record, which tied for fourth in the NL in wins. He also lowered his ERA to 3.47 (which is very low for a pitcher who plays half his games at Coors Field) and struck out 198 batters in 218 innings, making him sixth in the NL in strikeouts. Opposing batters continued to be frustrated by Jimenez, as they only batted .229 against him last year.

How good is Jimenez? Only seven pitchers in 2009 finished in the top 25 in both strikeouts per nine innings and groundball percentage. Those seven pitchers were Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, Jon Lester, Josh Johnson and Ubaldo Jimenez. That’s a pretty exclusive class, if I must say so myself.

Ubaldo Jimenez has already been named the Rockies’ Opening Day starting pitcher by manager Jim Tracy. The 26-year-old will be among the favorites for this year’s NL Cy Young Award and will be counted on to help lead the Rockies back to the postseason.

Imagine what might have been if the Mets had offered to let him finish school instead of just throwing $20,000 on the table. The Mets might not be having such a problem in the starting rotation had Ubaldo Jimenez signed with them instead of the Rockies. Hindsight may be 20-20, but in the case of Jimenez, all the 20-20 needed to be was $20,000 and 20 more months in school. Too bad the it was the Rockies who had the foresight to do so.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jerry's Plan For K-Rod

Francisco Rodriguez made his first appearance in a Grapefruit League game yesterday at Tradition Field after missing the first two weeks of the exhibition schedule due to a bad case of pinkeye.

He seemed fully recovered from the ordeal, needing only seven pitches to retire the Cardinals in order in the ninth inning.

K-Rod took the mound with orange-tinted wraparound glasses that he says he may continue to wear during the regular season. The glasses will allow him to pitch without contact lenses as he continues the healing process for his eyes.

Although Rodriguez's performance on the mound was a welcome sight, it was the comment made by Jerry Manuel (channeling his alter ego of Sesame Street character Guy Smiley) that drew my attention. According to Marty Noble's mlb.com article, Manuel stated that he will use K-Rod more in non-save situations, but will limit his pitch count to 15 in those situations.

As the Mets were falling apart (both literally and figuratively) in the second half of the 2009 season, Manuel could not find regular work for Rodriguez and was forced to use him in non-save situations. The sporadic appearances and the occasional high pitch count in those outings led to an inconsistent, if not poor second half for the Mets closer.

Manuel has finally realized that leaving Frankie in games too long when there was no save to be picked up was detrimental to his closer. He goes on to add:

"He appears to be a guy who loves to be on the mound on a regular basis. He's able to command his pitches better. He likes to perform. We didn't really give him the opportunity in the second half."

Kudos to Jerry Manuel for realizing something he should have already known. Closers always need regular work, but if you use them for 30 or more pitches in non-save situations, they may not be effective if you need them in an actual save situation the following day.

Case in point, on the morning of June 28, K-Rod's ERA stood at 1.01. He had made 35 appearances to that point and did not throw over 30 pitches in any of those outings. The Mets still had a winning record (37-36) and were very much alive in the NL East race, resting 1½ games behind the first place Phillies.

Then the wheels came off the wagon. Including their loss to the Yankees on June 28, the Mets went 33-56 the rest of the way. Frankie Rodriguez made another 35 appearances in that time. Unfortunately, not many of them were in save situations.

After never surpassing 30 pitches thrown in any of his first 35 appearances, he registered six such outings over his final 35 appearances, including two outings where he threw over 40 pitches.

Save situations were few and far in between and Frankie needed his work. Unfortunately, he was getting too much work in some of those appearances and it cost him in the ERA department (6.68 ERA over his final 35 appearances).

This year, if Jerry Manuel is true to his word, Rodriguez stands to have a much better season. A closer needs consistent work to maximize his effectiveness. That doesn't just mean pitching three or four times a week. It also means not having a seven-pitch appearance here and a 40-pitch appearance there.

There is no need to stretch Rodriguez past 15 pitches in non-save situations. He may be called upon to save the following night's game and must be as fresh as he possibly can for those games. After all, he's not getting paid over $12 million per year to be the mop-up guy. He's earning his dinero by closing the door on the opposition.

Francisco Rodriguez might be the one wearing the colored glasses, but it's Jerry Manuel who seemed to have the vision. Let's hope his plan for K-Rod remains in play for the entire season.

We Believe In Home Field Advantage, But What About The Road?

I noticed something interesting on the cover of my 2010 Mets tickets (see left). The slogan "We Believe In Home Field Advantage" is boldly emblazoned on it. Last year, the Mets' record at Citi Field was 41-40, not exactly what you'd call a home field advantage.

Of course, when you consider the Mets' 29-52 road record in 2009, perhaps they did have an advantage at home. The one thing I know for sure is that the Mets were at a DISADVANTAGE when they left their friendly Flushing confines.

Last year, there were eight teams who finished with winning records away from their home ballparks. Of those eight teams, six made the postseason, including both pennant winners. This was similar to what occurred the previous year (2008), when only six teams finished above .500 on the road, four of which made the playoffs.

Now let's look at home records. In 2009, 20 of the 30 teams in baseball finished with winning records. 12 of those 20 teams (60%) FAILED to make the playoffs. The year before, 21 teams finished above .500 at home. 13 of those 21 teams went home before Game 1 of the Division Series.

It's not an easy task to win on the road in any sport, but finishing with a winning road record greatly improves a team's chances to play past the 162nd game. A team is expected to win at home. That's why more than half the teams that finished with winning records at home over the past two seasons didn't play in October.

However, the majority of the teams that finished above .500 on the road continued playing when other teams were left wondering what went wrong.

The Mets finished with a winning record at Citi Field last year. However, when a team finishes 23 games below .500 on the road, that doesn't give them much of a chance to play meaningful games in July, let alone September.

For all the talk about the Mets not being able to hit home runs at Citi Field, they actually hit more long balls at home (49) than on the road (46). They scored 15 more runs at Citi Field than on the road (343 home, 328 away), but gave up a whopping 57 more runs on the road than at home (407 runs given up on the road, 350 runs given up at Citi Field).

The two most outrageous home-road splits belonged to Mike Pelfrey and John Maine. Below are the stats for Pelfrey and Maine at Citi Field and on the road:
  • Mike Pelfrey (Citi Field): 6-5, 3.72 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
  • Mike Pelfrey (Road): 4-7, 6.72 ERA, 1.73 WHIP
  • John Maine (Citi Field): 6-1, 1.98 ERA, 0.95 WHIP
  • John Maine (Road): 1-5, 6.92 ERA, 1.64 WHIP

It's very easy for guys like Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel to say that the team can compete if they remain healthy. What they really need to say is that the Mets can compete if they can perform better on the road. Using injuries as a crutch (no pun intended) can only go so far. What will they say if the team is still losing when Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are back in the lineup?

The Mets don't necessarily have to finish with a winning record on the road. After all, in each of the last two seasons, there have been two teams with losing road records that made the postseason cut. But no team that loses almost twice as many road games than they win can expect to be anything but a second division team.

Forget about blaming injuries, forget about blaming the ballpark. The answer to whether the Mets will succeed or fail in 2010 rests on the road. If they can take care of business there, home cookin' will taste so much sweeter this year.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Worst Way For The Mets To Lose A No-Hitter

Every young boy with aspirations of being a major league pitcher dreams of tossing a no-hitter.  The thrill of recording out #27 before giving up hit #1 is one of the biggest joys in sports.   However, this thrill has never been felt by a New York Met.

The Mets are one of four teams to have never pitched a no-hitter.   Two of the other three teams are recent expansion teams (Tampa Bay Rays and Colorado Rockies).  The other team is the San Diego Padres, who came into existence in 1969.   The closest they came to a no-no was in 1972, when Steve Arlin's bid was broken up by the Phillies' Denny Doyle with two outs in the ninth inning.   That's also as close as any Mets pitcher has come.

Of the 33 one-hitters thrown by Mets pitchers (two of the 33 were of the rain-shortened variety), only three were no-hitters entering the ninth inning.  All three were thrown by The Franchise, Tom Seaver.  Jimmy Qualls of the Chicago Cubs broke up Seaver's perfect game bid with a one-out single on July 9, 1969.  The Padres' Leron Lee singled to break up Seaver's no-hitter with one out in the ninth on July 4, 1972.  And Chicago's Joe Wallis broke up Seaver's no-no with two outs in the ninth on September 24, 1975.  Since then, the longest any Mets pitcher has carried a no-hitter is 7 2/3 innings.

Both Tom Glavine and John Maine had their bids for baseball immortality dashed with two outs in the eighth inning.  Glavine's 2004 bid was broken up with a double into the right field corner by Rockies' catcher Kit Pellow and Maine's 2007 no-no ended when Marlins' catcher Paul Hoover hit a slow roller to third reminiscent of the excuse-me single hit by the Cubs' Keith Moreland to break up Dwight Gooden's no-hitter in 1984.   (Side note: This Studious Metsimus blogger was present at the Glavine and Maine games.   There is no truth to the rumor that I turned to my neighbor and said "do you think we'll finally see a no-hitter today?" in each game's eighth inning.)

As seen by the above examples, the Mets have lost no-hitters late in games by hard-hit line drives and little dribblers.  But what would be the worst way for the Mets to lose a no-hitter?  Studious Metsimus has the answer.

Say Johan Santana is mowing down the Phillies and becomes the first Mets pitcher not named Tom Seaver to take a no-hitter into the ninth inning.  (What, did you expect it to be Maine or Perez?  Neither of them is capable of pitching into the ninth inning, let alone carrying a no-hitter into the ninth.)  Santana retires Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco to start the ninth inning, making him the first Mets pitcher to come within one out of a no-hitter.

The next batter is Chase Utley, but he draws a walk.  The Phillies now have a baserunner, but the no-hitter is still intact as Ryan Howard steps up to the plate.  Howard hits a routine grounder towards Luis Castillo that appears to be the third out of the inning, but the ball hits Utley as he's running to second base.  The umpires immediately call Utley out for being hit by a batted ball in fair territory and the game is over.

Could it be?  Has Johan Santana become the first pitcher in Mets history to toss a no-hitter?  The players on the field seem to think so, as they're celebrating with Johan on the mound.   But let's borrow the Major League Baseball Official Rule Book from the official scorer and take a look at two rules.

  • Rule 7.08 (f): Any runner is out when he is touched by a fair ball in fair territory before the ball has been touched or passed an infielder.  The ball is dead and no runner may score, nor runners advance, except runners forced to advance.

  • Rule 10.05 (a) (5): The official scorer shall credit a batter with a base hit when a fair ball that has not been touched by a fielder touches a runner or an umpire, unless a runner is called out for having been touched by an Infield Fly, in which case the official scorer shall not score a hit.

While Johan Santana and his Merry Men were all celebrating his apparent no-hitter, the official scorer noticed that Utley had been called out because he was touched by a fair ball in fair territory before the ball was touched or passed Castillo (Rule 7.08 (f)). By Rule 10.05 (a) (5), the official scorer had to give Ryan Howard a base hit since there was no Infield Fly involved when the ball hit Utley.

Therefore, at the exact moment Johan Santana recorded the 27th out of the game, he also lost his no-hitter.   Imagine the shock on his face when the scoreboard flashed the "1" in the hit column.  Gary Cohen and Howie Rose would have been sick to their stomachs.  If Bob Murphy were still alive, he'd be spinning in his grave while saying "and Santana loses the damn no-hitter", Ron Darling would have analyzed how losing a no-hitter this way would affect Santana's psyche and Keith Hernandez would have said that we shouldn't have female official scorers.

The Mets will pitch a no-hitter...someday. But I wouldn't be surprised if they lost one in the way detailed above before they actually completed one.

Batting Third Is Like Being The Drummer For Spinal Tap

When the Mets signed Jason Bay in December, Carlos Beltran was pencilled in as the #3 hitter. Since then, Beltran underwent his top-secret knee surgery and will not be available to the Mets on Opening Day. The Mets were left without their starting centerfielder and with a hole to fill in the batting order.

A few weeks ago, Jerry Manuel proclaimed that Jose Reyes, fully recovered from his nine-month vacation in Hamstringville (which is somewhere near Kneesburg), would become the team's new #3 hitter in Carlos Beltran's stead.

Oops! Now with Reyes' hyperactive thyroid becoming the biggest mystery since Keyser Soze, the Mets are now sans third-place hitter for a second time before the first pitch of the regular season has been released.

Since when did batting third for the Mets become tantamount to being the drummer for Spinal Tap? As the story goes, the band Spinal Tap was notorious for having all of its drummers pass away in bizarre accidents. Fortunately, none of the Mets' third-place hitters have passed away, but the way things are going, would you be surprised if that eventually did happen?

Perhaps the Mets should insert The Indestructible Daniel Murphy in the three-hole. He seemed unfazed by the 2009 injuries (the year 2009, not that the Mets suffered 2009 injuries last year. They suffered more than that.) Is John Olerud still available? He wore a batting helmet at all times. Maybe he'd stay healthy as our third-place hitter.

In Spinal Tap, the amps were all set to 11 for maximum volume. The 2010 Mets will need to set their amps to 11 if they're going to stay competitive in the NL East while their plethora of #3 hitters recover from their injuries.

It's too bad that the Mets only shelled out for $10 amps from Wal-Mart instead of the more powerful ones. Hey, maybe Omar Minaya can become the Mets' new third-place hitter. It couldn't hurt...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Too Much Coy And Vance, Not Enough Bo And Luke

The blogosphere is going crazy these days with all the news about Jose Reyes' hyperthyroid problem. From respected bloggers like Joe D and The Coop, there is no shortage of talk about Reyes and the fact that the Mets lack depth at so many positions.

Carlos Beltran will not be available to the Mets until May at the earliest. If Reyes misses the full eight weeks (has the timetable changed to two minutes to eight months yet?), he will also not register his first at-bat of the season until May. Of course, coming back at around the same time as Carlos Beltran might prevent the Jerry Manuel "Let's Bat Jose Third" Experiment from ever seeing the light of day. Of course, I'm trying to find a bright side to all this while the fluorescent bulb in my brain has fizzled out.

No Reyes, no Beltran. Who do we have waiting in the wings? How about Angel Pagan and Private Matthews for Carlos Beltran and Alex Cora and (shudder to think) Fernando Tatis.

Herein lies the problem for the Mets. They don't have capable backups to replace Beltran, Reyes, et al for an extended period of time. Case in point: In 2009, Alex Cora saw extended playing time due to Reyes' injury. In 271 at-bats, he batted .251 with 11 doubles, one triple and one home run. He also collected 18 RBI. Compare those numbers to the .279 average, seven doubles, two triples, two home runs and 15 RBI amassed by Jose Reyes. Now consider that Reyes did that in only 147 at-bats.

Let's put this into perspective. In 1984, the Mets' backup shortstop was Rafael Santana, a man not known for his hitting skills. As a backup, he only played in 51 games and collected 152 at-bats that season. In those 152 at-bats, he hit .276, with 11 doubles, one triple, one home run and 12 RBI. Those numbers are almost identical to the digits put up by Cora despite the fact that Cora collected 119 more at-bats than Santana did in 1984! Heck, if Johan Santana could play shortstop, I'd take his bat over Cora's.

The Pagan/Matthews combo is somewhat better in the offensive department. However, consider that Beltran was a consistent 20-20 threat and Gold Glove winner. Private Matthews has never hit as many as 20 HR in a season and Angel Pagan hasn't hit 20 HR in his CAREER! Also, neither player has stolen as many as 20 bases in a single season (Matthews' career high was 18 in 2007 and Pagan stole 14 last year for the Mets). That shows how much of a dropoff you're getting whenever Beltran is not in the lineup. They're both adequate fielders, but neither of them would win a Gold Glove over a full season like Beltran would. (And don't let me get started about fundamentals. Beltran puts the "fun" in fundamental, while Pagan brings home the "mental" part, as in he makes fans go mental watching him. I haven't seen enough of Private Matthews, so let's give him the "da" part of fundamental.)

What I'm trying to say in this lengthy diatribe is that the Mets are employing too many Coy and Vance Dukes and not enough Bo and Luke Dukes.

Bo and Luke Duke WERE the Dukes of Hazzard. They were the stars. They were the reason young fans tuned in on Friday night, at least until puberty hit and Daisy Duke became the main reason to tune in. In Season 5, Bo and Luke were "replaced" by Cousin Coy and Cousin Vance. Ratings went down faster than David Wright's 2009 home run output and Bo and Luke were written back in to the show before the season was over.

Alex Cora is Coy Duke and Pagan/Matthews are Vance Duke. They're not capable of carrying Reyes and Beltran's jock straps, let alone replacing them adequately on the field.

The Mets had their chances to sign Felipe Lopez, a younger and more productive player, to back up Reyes at short and chose to re-sign Cora. Lopez then signed a one-year deal with St. Louis for less money than the Mets gave Cora. The Mets could also have signed Jim Edmonds as a backup for Beltran in center and instead decided to trade for Private Matthews. Edmonds has since signed a minor league deal with the Milwaukee Brewers and is in camp with the Brewers trying to become their fourth outfielder. Surely the Mets could have signed him to a similar deal. After all, in his last stint in the majors, he collected 19 HR and 49 RBI in only 250 at-bats for the Chicago Cubs in 2008. We already know he's a Gold Glove-caliber centerfielder.

Are the Wilpons trying to become a modern day Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane, trying to keep as much money for themselves while trying to screw the fans out of the team they deserve to root for?

After Jason Bay, the Mets did not address the issue of role-players. Re-signing Fernando Tatis was as far as they went. They chose to ignore the fact that players who are injured once tend to get injured again. Didn't they learn that the players from last year who were forced into everyday action were not capable of helping this team contend?

Coy and Vance Duke were not adequate replacements for Bo and Luke Duke. The fans never accepted them as Dukes. Similarly, Mets fans should not accept Cora and Pagan/Matthews as adequate replacements for Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran. It's like trying to replace moonshine with water. It might look the same in the bottle, but once you have a taste of it, you'll know the difference.

Cora, Matthews and Pagan will all be wearing the same Mets jerseys as their teammates, but they're not the New York Mets the fans are paying to see. If the Wilpons were Dukes of Hazzard fans, they'd pay close attention to what happened in Season 5. Then maybe they'd see that fans won't accept an inferior product when there are better Dukes on the pond.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

M*A*S*H: Mets Are Still Hurting

For what seems like the 4077th time over the past year, the Mets' battalion has lost another of its key troops to the MASH unit. This time, it's Jose Reyes' turn to miss extended time, as his hyperthyroid condition will keep him out of action for as little as two weeks and as many as two months, as was revealed today on a conference call by Reyes' agent, Peter Greenberg.

The condition is not considered serious and Reyes will not be prescribed any medication for it. He will require plenty of rest and will be tested weekly until his thyroid levels come down to a normal level.

Even if Reyes misses the minimum two weeks, he would still need to rebuild his strength until he's healthy enough to play in a game, putting his Opening Day status in jeopardy.

Should Reyes miss Opening Day, he'd be the second regular player who will not be in the starting lineup when the Mets take the field on April 5 at Citi Field, joining Carlos Beltran, who is recovering from offseason knee surgery. Potential set-up man Kelvim Escobar will also be unavailable until at least mid-April due to a shoulder injury.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Apparently the Mets didn't get the memo stating that 2009 was over. How else can you explain these injuries continuing? There's no WBC to blame it on this year.

Fortunately, these injuries will not keep Reyes, Beltran and Escobar off the field for a major chunk of the season (supposedly). When the Mets take the field with their ugly red caps during Memorial Day Weekend, all three players should be available to them. How they will perform is something we won't know until they cross the white lines.

Experiencing the 2009 season prepared Mets fans for the worst. These pre-season injuries/surgeries are bringing back visions of last year's reunion that took place at Citi Field. Unfortunately, the reunion I'm talking about is not the one featuring the 1969 Miracle Mets, but the one starring the 2009 Buffalo Bisons, since most of the players on the Bisons' Opening Day roster ended up reuniting as New York Mets at some point last season after each injury claimed another victim.

When the Mets added Jason Bay, fans thought this year could be different than last year. However, with each announcement of another player missing significant playing time, fans expecting to see the equivalent of Hot Lips Houlihan at Citi Field in 2010 might have to settle for Corporal Klinger instead.

There are still a little over three weeks of exhibition games left on the Late Winter Training docket. It's imperative for the Mets to focus on remaining healthy just as much as it is for them to get in game shape and practice good baseball fundamentals. (I'm talking to you, Angel Pagan!) They can't continue to lose players to injuries and expect to remain competitive for long.

These injuries almost make me wonder. When the Mets unveiled their "We Believe In Comebacks" slogan for 2010, were they referring to the team being able to come back from a miserable season to compete in the NL East or were they just being cautiously optimistic that injured players would eventually come back from their injuries before the season was over?

Let's just hope that the team doesn't believe in coming back to 2009. But with the way the injuries are popping up again in 2010, it sure looks like they're feeling nostalgic for last season.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bears Gone Wild: Port St. Lucie Edition

Studious Metsimus decided to send one of its bloggers to Port St. Lucie to cover the Mets and their activities. Since Joey is cuter and stands a much better chance of getting away with things that might cause other bloggers to have their Blogger Union membership revoked, he was sent to Tradition Field. We now turn things over to Joey (seen in the picture to the left with Slider) with his PSL report.

Thanks, esteemed colleague! This is Joey Beartran reporting for Studious Metsimus. I had a great time covering the Mets in Port St. Lucie during Open Workouts. From sampling great breakfast dishes to delicious lunches to sumptuous dinners (and an occasional Mets player here and there), I did my best to bring you the most complete coverage of what the fan experience is like at Open Workouts. So sit back, turn on your favorite sports radio station to listen to the latest Mets pitcher getting rocked while throwing strikes and enjoy what I like to call "Bears Gone Wild: Port St. Lucie Edition".

I woke up at the crack of dawn and to my surprise, I found myself greeted with breakfast in bed. I love the smell of Corn Pops in the morning!

Then it was off to Tradition Field to see batting practice. However, there was not much action going on in the batting cages. Is it possible that Daylight Savings ended and I was the only one who didn't get the memo?

One Mets player did show up and was kind enough to pose for a picture with me. Here I am with minor league prospect Eddie Kunz. I asked him if he felt he had a chance to make the team out of Spring Training and all he did was smile and hide his pitching hand behind my back. Apparently, he was nervous to meet me because he was covered in sweat. That's okay. When you meet the only bear blogger for the Mets, I can understand if you have a sudden case of the jitters.

Later on, I met a member of the 1986 World Champion Mets. He was the starting pitcher in Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS and Game 6 of the World Series. It was an honor to meet fellow lefty Bobby Ojeda.

I talked to Bobby about how he managed to make the transition from the pitcher's mound to the SNY studio in the hopes that someday I can make a similar move from blogger to SNY on-air personality. He just smiled as I overheard him say "am I on Candid Camera?" to our Studious Metsimus photographer.

After a long day of interviewing, photo ops and wondering whose hand was where, it was time to sample the fine cuisine in Port St. Lucie. There was no shortage of fine Floridian food to partake of. Take a look for yourself...

After a wild night of hot wings and brownie sundaes, it was time to hibernate for the evening. Fortunately, Studious Metsimus had enough funds available in the budget (a.k.a. the piggy bank that serves as our petty cash tin) to allow me to stay for another night. Our photographer had to stay in the car, but I promised to share my breakfast the following day as compensation for the room.

As the sun rose and the roosters cock-a-doodle-doo-dooed, (I should know. I accidentally stepped in some of it.) it was time to get back to the field. This time, I arrived a little bit late and the players were already doing some running. Just watching them perform their drills made me tired so I decided to take a load off and rest on the warning track. Had it been batting practice at Citi Field, I would have been in a perfect position to catch a David Wright just-short-of-the-wall double.

After players were done running around (no truth to the rumor that Angel Pagan was messing up the rhythm of the drill by running too aggressively), it was time to meet some more players. I went after a few more lefties and ended up with the motherlode. (sorry, I didn't get to meet my hero, Keith Hernandez. He's the ultimate lefty and the reason why I became a Mets fan. How can any bear not love him after he was caught by the SNY cameras feeding corn chips to a teddy bear in the TV booth during the 17-inning marathon in Houston during the 2007 season? Ah, but I digress...)

First I met the man known as Perpetual Pedro. He's the Mets' all-time single season leader in appearances by a pitcher. He was also the first Mets player, past or present, to actually talk to me when he told me that I looked a little like him. Personally, I didn't see any resemblance other than the two of us wearing a "Mets" on our chests and the fact that we're both lefties. Here I am with Pedro Feliciano.

Finally, I met up with my Aunt Coop and together we were able to attract the attention of the man with the most home runs in Mets history (no, not Tim Bogar). The "Coop" de grĂ¢ce of the entire trip was getting this picture with the Straw Man himself, Darryl Strawberry!

If I looked like I wanted to be somewhere else, it's because we were about to miss Happy Hour! Fortunately, we were done with our meet and greet session with Mets players, so we headed out to Duffy's for an hour of liquid happiness.

I had to stow away in the bag because I left my "special ID" at home. Fortunately, I was able to partake in Duffy's 2 for 1 offer, although I can't say I remember much after that. I don't even remember being photographed in the picture you see below to the right.

I was told we didn't do anything else after Happy Hour, so we packed up our belongings and headed back to New York. I was hoping to fly over Citi Field to get some overhead shots of the new additions for 2010, such as McFadden's, the reconstructed bullpens and the Mets Museum and Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the pilot was a Yankee fan so I couldn't convince him to change his flight pattern so that we could land at LaGuardia Airport instead of Newark Liberty.

It's okay. When he wasn't looking, I unbuckled my seatbelt and left him a surprise in the lavatory (and I'm not talking about the iPhone in my lap, if you know what I mean).

Thank you for reading about my experiences as a bear blogger gone wild in Port St. Lucie. With your continued support of Studious Metsimus, we hope to continue to bring you more exclusive content such as this year's Late Winter Training escapades. Maybe next year, our budget will increase. You can never have enough meal money.

For Studious Metsimus, this has been Joey Beartran reporting. Hope to see you all at Citi Field this season!

Special thanks go out to Sharon Chapman and Taryn Cooper for their wonderful photographs and their credit cards. Oh wait, they don't know about the room service I ordered, do they?