Tuesday, July 31, 2012

This Just Happened!

In case you missed it, we got our tweet selected by SNY as tonight's Tweet of the Game.  A tip of the blue Mets cap to both @MetsKevin11 and @metszilla for the screen grab:

For the record, Gary Cohen got confused by our Twitter handle, stuttering for a second before finally getting it right.  Keith Hernandez liked it and Ron Darling was probably eating something while it was on the air.

Thanks again to @MetsKevin11 and @metszilla for staying up late enough to catch it on SNY.  (You can follow Kevin on Twitter and see more of his outstanding meme work for The Daily Stache by clicking here.  And our good friends at Metszilla can be followed on Twitter here.)

As The Trade Winds Blow, The Mets Just Say No

Today is July 31, the day circled on baseball calendars as the non-waiver trade deadline.  Many teams took advantage of the situation.  Some sold off their players to add young pieces to a puzzle not meant to be put together until next year at the earliest.  Others added talent, hoping that their new acquisitions can push them, as they say in the baseball vernacular, over the top.

After a surprisingly good start, the Mets thought they would be one of the latter teams, buying spare parts in order to put together a machine that would still be running in October.  But then they lost 13 of their first 15 games after the All-Star Break, going from six games over .500 and half a game out of the second wild card spot to five games below mediocrity and 8½ lengths behind the final playoff horse.

The question then became, “will Sandy Alderson still be a buyer come July 31 or will he be a seller?”  It turns out he was neither, as the clock struck four without any changes being made to the Mets.

The Marlins and the Phillies both became poster children for underachievement, spending the majority of the season at the bottom of the National League East, the chunk of real estate that was supposed to be inhabited by the Mets in 2012.  As a result, both teams pretty much had to become sellers at the trade deadline, with Miami dealing away half of their team and the Phillies air-mailing Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to the Dodgers and Giants, respectively.

The Mets, on the other hand, did not fold.  Nor did they go for broke.  Instead, they decided to step away from the table and watch the game in front of them unfold.  And that’s not such a bad thing.

In 2012, the Mets didn’t have any players on the roster they had to get rid of.  Last year, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran had to be dealt.  The former could not stay with the team for fear that has bazillion dollar option would kick in and the latter was not going to be re-signed at season’s end, meaning he would walk away for basically nothing.  By July 31, 2011, the Mets had rid themselves of the potential payroll-busting Rodriguez by trading him to the Milwaukee Brewers.  They also fleeced the Giants, acquiring their top pitching prospect in Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran, who ended up being a two-month rental.  This year, things are different.

The Mets’ payroll is now under $100 million.  They do not have any players about to reach an eight-figure vesting option.  They also do not have any high-priced potential free agents (a la Beltran) that they have to trade for prospects.  Instead, all they have are the relatively low-salaried Scott Hairston and Tim Byrdak as potential trade-bait.  Both veteran players could have potentially helped other teams, but the Mets weren’t going to get a top prospect for either of them and neither player was breaking the bank anyway, so there was no urgency to move them.  Teams inquired, but the Mets said “thanks, but no thanks.” 

Let other fringe contenders sell off their future in an attempt to defy the odds and make the playoffs.  The Mets will be just fine as they are.  The offseason will be the time for Sandy Alderson to carefully move pieces into place, not July 31.  The team will be better off in the future by not making unnecessary moves in the present.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

It's Not Just This Year That R.A. Dickey Has Been Great

With today's win against Arizona, R.A. Dickey improved his season record to 14-2.  He threw seven strong innings, striking out eight and allowing one unearned run, which dropped his ERA on the year to 2.83.  Clearly, Dickey has been phenomenal this year.  But Dickey has been outstanding throughout his entire Mets career.  In fact, he ranks right up there with the best pitchers in franchise history.

In three seasons as a Met, Dickey has pitched 529⅓ innings.  In that body of work, he has gone 33-24 (.579 winning percentage) and has a 3.01 ERA and 1.160 WHIP.  Dickey's 33 wins put him in a tie for 29th place on the Mets' all-time wins list with Roger McDowell.  However, only one of the 28 pitchers ahead of Dickey has more wins in fewer innings (Rick Aguilera won 37 games as a Met while throwing 473 innings).

Dickey's 3.01 ERA is surpassed by only two former Mets.  One is them is the greatest pitcher in franchise history and the other is one of the greatest relievers in club annals.  Tom Seaver has the lowest ERA in team history.  His 2.57 ERA in 11½ seasons will probably never be surpassed by a starting pitcher, but Jesse Orosco (2.73 ERA in 595⅔ innings) came close as a reliever.  Dickey's 3.01 ERA is third on the Mets' all-time leaderboard behind Seaver and Orosco.  He ranks ahead of some of the greatest pitchers in team history, such as Johan Santana (3.03), Jon Matlack (3.03), Jerry Koosman (3.09) and Dwight Gooden (3.10).

Dickey also ranks in the top five in WHIP.  His 1.160 WHIP is fifth in franchise history behind Tom Seaver (1.076), Bret Saberhagen (1.079), Sid Fernandez (1.113) and Rick Reed (1.155).  Players who are in the top ten behind Dickey include Dwight Gooden, Bob Ojeda, Johan Santana and David Cone.

Finally, Dickey's .579 winning percentage as a Met also places him in the top ten.  However, if he wins his next decision, he will pass four former Mets in winning percentage to jump up to sixth place.  If all goes well, Bret Saberhagen (.580), Pedro Martinez (.582), Al Leiter (.586) and Ron Darling (.586) might all be looking up at Dickey on the winning percentage leaderboard by the end of his next start.

R.A. Dickey is in the top five all-time in ERA and WHIP.  The only other Met who can claim that honor is "The Franchise" himself, Tom Seaver.  He is also in the top ten in winning percentage.  The only other Mets besides Dickey who rank in the top ten in all three categories are Seaver, Gooden and Cone.

Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, R.A. Dickey.  Prior to 2010, one of those four names would not have belonged with the others.  But after three seasons, R.A. Dickey has not only established himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League, he has become one of the best pitchers in franchise history.  The numbers don't lie.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

I married a Mets fan.  A Mets fan with a full season ticket plan.  Before meeting my Gal For All Seasons, I was a Sunday plan holder at Shea Stadium and continued with the "Sunday-ish" plan at Citi Field (the one that gave you 10 of the 13 Sunday games, plus five weekday games).

I enjoyed going to these games, which, as long as ESPN didn't interfere, were always day games.  I was able to relax, have some comfort food, and watch the Mets do their best to send me home with a win.  That was then.  Now is another story.

Sunday for the Mets has turned into a bloodbath.

On June 3 (a Sunday), the Mets honored John Franco at Citi Field, inducting him into the team's Hall of Fame.  The celebration was topped off with a 6-1 victory over the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, improving the team's record to a season-high eight games above .500 (31-23) and moving them into a tie for first place in the National League East.  The calendar now says we're a few days away from August.  The Mets are still searching for their next win on a Sunday.

Since that celebratory Sunday, the Mets have gone 17-30, falling from a first place tie to a 12½-game deficit in the division.  They are also 8½ games out of the final wild card spot.  Although they haven't played particularly well on most days, they have been exceedingly bad on Sundays.

The Mets have lost every Sunday game they have played since June 3, a total of seven games in all.  And it's not just that they've lost.  It's how they've lost.

Their first three Sunday games after June 3 were all close games.  But they were all losses.  On June 10, the Mets lost a heartbreaker to the Yankees, 5-4, in a game they led most of the way.  One week later, on June 17, they lost at home to the Reds, 3-1.  In that game, Chris Young was shutting out the Reds into the fifth inning and then - kablooey - the Reds scored all their runs off him in one game-changing frame.

On June 24, the Mets once again played the Yankees.  Twice they rallied from four-run deficits to eventually tie the game in the sixth.  But the recently-DFA'd Miguel Batista put an end to any hopes of a dramatic come-from-behind victory by allowing a run in the eighth, giving the Yankees the 6-5 win.

At least those games were close.  The Sunday games in July have been a different story.

Ike Davis has been great recently, but even he can't bear to watch the Mets on a Sunday.

In July, the Mets have played four games on a Sunday.  They have lost all four games by a minimum of five runs each.  On July 1, they lost to the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine, 8-3, preventing what would have been their first four-game sweep of the Dodgers in Los Angeles.  On July 8, in their final game before the All-Star Break, the Mets lost at home to the Cubs, 7-0.  That loss dropped the Mets out of the second wild card spot, a place they have not been anywhere near since then.  On July 15, the Mets were swept away by the Braves, losing the series finale, 6-1.  Finally, last Sunday (June 22), the Mets lost once again to the Dodgers, this time at Citi Field.  Their 8-3 loss capped a three-game sweep by Los Angeles and dropped the Mets below .500 for the first time in 2012.  The Mets have not seen the break-even point since then.

Since June 3, the Mets have lost seven consecutive Sunday games.  The first three were all close.  The next four were blowouts.  There's an old saying that goes, "you win some, you lose some".  For the Mets, that saying can be changed to "you win none, you lose some, then you lose some more", especially when referring to their recent efforts on Sundays.

I used to look forward to Sunday games.  Now I dread them.  It really has become Sunday Bloody Sunday for the Mets over the past two months.

Cycles, 3-HR Games and Losses

On Saturday night, Ike Davis became the ninth Met to hit three home runs in a game, leaving the yard in each of his first three at-bats against Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy.  And the Mets lost.

On April 27, Scott Hairston became the tenth Met to hit for the cycle in a game, accomplishing the rare feat at Coors Field in Colorado.  And the Mets lost.

Prior to Hairston's cycle, the Mets had won eight of the nine games in which one of their own had collected a single, double, triple and home run in the same game (the lone loss came in 2006 when Jose Reyes hit for the cycle against the Reds).  Before Davis launched his three homers into the Arizona night, only once had the Mets lost a game in which a player hit a trifecta of round-trippers (also Reyes in 2006, this time versus the Phillies).

Entering the 2012 campaign, the Mets were 15-2 when they had an individual hit either three home runs or the cycle in a game.  They're 0-2 in those such games this season.

Cycles, three-homer games and losses.  Usually, one of those terms would not belong with the others.  For the 2012 Mets, those terms have gone hand-in-hand.  With their recent track record in games featuring memorable individual performances, it's a miracle the Mets were able to win their no-hitter this year.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ike Davis Is Having An Odd Season

In Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Diamondbacks, Ike Davis became the ninth player in Mets history to hit three home runs in one game.  With his triple assault on Arizona starter Ian Kennedy, Davis reached the 20-HR plateau for the first time in his career.  He now has 60 RBI on the year and his batting average is at a season-high .216.

Despite Davis' low batting average, his power production has put him among the league leaders.  Should he continue to hit the longball at his current pace, he will enter rarefied air in club annals.

Fifteen players have hit 30 HR or more in a single season for the Mets, accomplishing the feat a total of 28 times.  In addition, the Mets have had 14 players drive in 100 or more in one campaign a total of 26 times.  Only ten players have been able to combine the two, reaching the 30 HR, 100 RBI mark in the same season.  Davis is trying to become the 11th man to accomplish this rare feat.  (Through the team's first 101 games, Davis' 20 HR and 60 RBI put him on pace for 32 HR and 96 RBI for the entire season.)

Of the ten players to collect a 30 HR, 100 RBI season for the Mets, the only ones to hit under .260 were Howard Johnson (.259, 38 HR, 117 RBI in 1991) and Todd Hundley (.259, 41 HR, 112 RBI in 1996).  Hundley also had the fewest hits of any member of the 30 HR, 100 RBI club when he finished the 1996 season with 140 hits.

Should Ike Davis reach the magic numbers for home runs and runs batted in, he would more than likely have the lowest batting average and the fewest number of hits of any member in that exclusive club.  As of Saturday night's game, Davis was hitting .216 and had collected only 71 hits.  That means that despite the season being nearly two-thirds complete, Davis is barely halfway to Hundley's 1996 hit total.

Let's take this a little further.  In 1982, Dave Kingman just missed becoming one of the few 30 HR, 100 RBI players in Mets history, finishing the year with 37 HR and 99 RBI.  For the season, Kingman collected 109 hits, finishing the year with a Mario Mendoza-like .204 batting average.  The Sky King's batting average and hit total were the lowest for any Met who hit at least 30 HR in a single season.

Four years later, Gary Carter hit 24 HR and drove in 105 runs for the 1986 World Champions.  The Kid racked up his high RBI total with only 125 hits and a .255 batting average.  Both figures are the lowest for any member of the Mets' 100-RBI fraternity.

Ike Davis is well on his way to hitting over 30 HR this season.  Although he is only on pace for 96 RBI, he has been driving in runs at a torrid pace since June 10.  Over his last 39 games, Davis has driven in 39 runs, an average of exactly one per game.  (He has also hit 15 HR over that time period.)  To reach 100 RBI, Davis would have to collect 40 RBI over the team's final 61 games, a figure well within his reach, especially with the way he's been driving the ball lately.

Will Ike Davis become a statistical anomaly for the Mets, erasing the names of fan-favorites Howard Johnson, Todd Hundley and Gary Carter from the team record books?  Will be able to stay ahead of Dave Kingman's futile all-or-nothing pace?  One thing's for sure.  Ike Davis has had a very odd season for the Mets in 2012.  But it's sure been fun to watch.

The Terrible Twos Befall The Mets Again

They were fun, they were lovable, but this was as high as the 1962 Mets got in the National League standings.

The New York Mets got their start in a year ending in a '2'.  In 1962, no one expected much from the expansion team.  They were fun.  They had a colorful manager.  And they were the worst team in baseball history, losing 120 games, a number that could have been higher had it not been for two rainouts that were not made up.

But the 1962 Mets actually had a decent recovery after their 0-9 start.  For approximately one month (April 23 - May 20), the Mets did not play like an expansion team.  Their 12-10 record over that time period vaulted them ahead of their expansion counterparts in Houston and even pushed them past the more established Chicago Cubs in the National League standings.  But soon after, reality caught up to the 1962 Mets and never let go, as they went 28-101 the rest of the way to finish buried in the Senior Circuit cellar.

Although the original Mets were never expected to do much, their limp to the finish after a crisp stretch of baseball is something that has befuddled the team in every year ending in a '2'.  Saturday morning cartoons taught us that 3 is a magic number, but for the Mets, '2' was their black magic number.  Every year ending in a '2' started off so well for the Mets, then with one stroke of the magic wand - presto, change-o - the team morphed into a shadow of their first-half selves, dashing our heightened hopes with loss after loss.  It all started in 1962 and has continued throughout the decades without fail.

In 1972, the Mets got off to the best start in franchise history.  After defeating the Braves on June 3, the Mets were sitting pretty in the NL East, with a 31-12 record and a five-game lead over the defending World Series champion Pirates.  But that June 3rd game did not end well, as a wayward George Stone pitch struck the hand of Rusty Staub, injuring the Mets' rightfielder and best offensive threat.  Although Staub was not placed on the disabled list immediately, the hand injury caused him to miss a total of three months.  The Mets went 36-46 in his absence and finished in third place in the NL East, 13½ games behind the Pirates.

Ten years later, the Mets thought another outfielder would lead them to the promised land.  In 1982, George Foster was acquired by general manager Frank Cashen in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds.  The Mets had just come off a campaign in which they competed for the 1981 second half division title (the strike-shortened 1981 season was divided into two halves, with the first half division winners squaring off against the second half winners in an extra round of playoffs) and Cashen thought adding a slugger to the mix would push the Mets over the top in 1982.  It turned out to be one of his rare misses in an otherwise outstanding tenure as Mets' GM.

In 1982, George Foster spoke softly but left his mean stick in Cincinnati.

Foster was awful in his first season in New York, but the Mets were winning despite him.  After an extra-inning victory on Father's Day, the Mets stood only three games out of first place with a 34-30 record.  After June 20, every team in the National League East had a winning record.  The Mets, on the other hand, went 31-67 after the Day of the Dad to finish in the NL East cellar, 27 games behind the eventual World Series champion Cardinals.

The 1992 Mets were full of hope after loading up their roster with veteran players and a former Manager of the Year Award winner.  Bret Saberhagen, Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla and Jeff Torborg were all part of a Mets team that was trying to erase the memories of a poor 1991 campaign, the first losing season for the Mets since 1983.  Instead, they became "The Worst Team Money Could Buy". 

But before they became the team that inspired Bobby Bonilla to become author Bob Klapisch's Bronx tour guide, the Mets actually looked like a contender.  After their 15-1 drubbing of the two-time defending division champion Pirates on June 6, the Mets found themselves in second place, a mere two games behind the Pirates.  But then, everything came crashing down on the Mets.  Bobby Bonilla (.249, 19 HR, 70 RBI) finished his first season in New York as the winner of the Player Most Likely To Be Booed award.  Eddie Murray managed to hit a measly 16 HR, his lowest home run output since he became a major leaguer in 1977.  And Bret Saberhagen spent most of the season on the disabled list, winning a career-low three games in 15 starts.  Needless to say, the team suffered after June 6, going 44-64 the rest of the way to finish 24 games behind the Pirates.

If the 1992 squad was the worst team money could buy, then the 2002 team was its kissing cousin.  After a disappointing 2001 campaign, in which the Mets followed up their pennant-winning 2000 season with a mediocre 82-80 record, general manager Steve Phillips decided to go shopping.  A lot.  Phillips completely restructured the team, bringing in Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger Cedeño, Pedro Astacio, Shawn Estes and Jeff D'Amico, to name a few.   The new faces helped the team do well in the first half.  The Mets were tied for first place on May 29 and were still above .500 as late as June 29.  But the wear of tear of the season (as well as the declining talent level of the new acquisitions) caught up to the team in the second half.

Why so glum, Mo?  Did someone get to the post-game spread before you?

The Mets were in third place, 7½ games out of first on June 25 with a 39-37 record.  From that point on, they had the worst record in the division, going 36-49 to finish in last place for the first time since 1993, a year that featured the haul from the last big shopping spree conducted by a Mets general manager.

That brings us to 2012.  This year's team started off so well.  The Mets surprised everyone by winning their first four games of the season.  On June 3, the Mets found themselves eight games above .500 (31-23) and in a share of first place.  As late as July 7, the Mets were 46-39 and holders of the second wild card spot in the National League.  Then poop happened.  And it hasn't stopped happening.

Since July 7, the Mets have lost 13 of their last 15 games.  Their strong starting rotation has taken a hit, with Johan Santana becoming the first Met since Pedro Astacio in 2002 (naturally, it had to happen in a year ending in a '2') to allow six or more runs in three consecutive games.  In addition, R.A. Dickey has looked like a mere mortal (5.36 ERA in seven appearances since June 24), and Jonathon Niese just took a page out of Fred Wilpon's book, as he was "snakebit, baby" in Arizona last night.  That loss left the Mets a season-high 7½ games behind the Braves for the final wild card spot.  The Mets were already 11½ games behind the first place Nationals in the NL East.

This year's Mets might not have as many high-priced free agents and overpaid malcontents as their predecessors had in other years ending in a '2' (the 1962 and 1972 teams played in an era before free agency), but the one thing they do have in common is their second half performance after a decent to strong first half.

Although the Mets showed so much potential in April, May and June (who didn't think the first no-hitter in team history was a sign of things to come), the terrible twos have befallen the team once again.  It's a trend that inexplicably befuddles the Mets every ten seasons.  It's a trend that will hopefully end before 2022 comes around.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Stop! Harvey Time!

Matt Harvey made his major league debut for the Mets on Thursday and was showed why the Mets made him their first round draft pick in 2010.  In 5⅓ innings, Harvey allowed no runs and struck out 11 batters.  He also went 2-for-2 at the plate, with a double in his first major league at-bat followed by a single in his next plate appearance.  Let's put those numbers in perspective.

On April 13, 1967, Tom Seaver set the franchise record for most strikeouts by a pitcher in his major league debut when he struck out eight Pirates.  Seaver's record was tied three days later by Bill Denehy, who was more known as the player traded to the Washington Senators for manager Gil Hodges.  In the 45 years since Seaver and Denehy's eight-strikeout performances, no Met pitcher had ever struck out as many as eight batters in his major league debut.  No Met pitcher until Matt Harvey, that is, who shattered the record by three.

How rare is it for a Mets pitcher to strike out 11 or more batters while pitching fewer than six innings?  Prior to Harvey's performance on Thursday, it had only been accomplished twice before.  On July 30, 1986, Sid Fernandez struck out 11 batters in five innings of work.  Fernandez's feat was duplicated by a fellow lefty twenty years later, when Oliver Perez fanned 11 in his five-inning performance on September 12, 2006.  Harvey needed to record one more out than Fernandez or Perez did to record his 11 strikeouts, but still became only the third pitcher to come out of a game before the end of the sixth inning with as many as 11 strikeouts to his credit.

Taking that even further, both Fernandez and Perez allowed runs in their outings, while Harvey was unscored upon.  That makes Harvey the first pitcher in Mets history to fan as many as 11 batters in a game in which he pitched fewer than six innings and did not allow a run.  Tom Seaver did not accomplish that.  Neither did Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman, David Cone or any of the other great pitchers in team history.  Matt Harvey stands alone in that regard.

Finally, in addition to his historical outing on the mound, Harvey proved he could handle the bat as well, collecting two hits in his two at-bats.  In doing so, he became the first pitcher in the modern era of baseball (since 1900) to record double-digit strikeouts and a two-hit game in his major league debut.  That's not the first pitcher in Mets history, but the first pitcher in BASEBALL HISTORY!

On Thursday night, Matt Harvey had one of the most remarkable debuts by a Mets pitcher in their 50-year history.  If he continues to pitch the way he did against the Diamondbacks, then it should be Harvey Time at Citi Field for many years to come.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Joey's Soapbox: Sandy Alderson Should Be Buy-Curious At The Trade Deadline

Hello, everyone.  This is Joey Beartran and although you can’t see it right now, I’m standing on my soapbox.  However, it might be time to get a new soapbox soon as this one is about to give way.  No, it’s not because I’ve been having too many of the new nacho selections at Citi Field (mmm, bacon cheeseburger nachos).  It’s because the Mets have been providing the fodder for me to rant on, necessitating multiple moments of soapbox climbing.

And why am I risking life and paw to climb on my battered soapbox today?  It’s simple, really.  Today I’ll be discussing the upcoming trade deadline and what Sandy Alderson should do as July 31 approaches.  But before I do that, I’d like to give you a little history lesson.

In 2004, the Mets came out of the All-Star Break in the middle of the playoff race, but then went into a sudden tailspin.  General manager Jim Duquette insisted the team was still in playoff contention, but instead of looking for help from within the organization, he acquired two veteran starting pitchers in Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano.  The key player from within the organization that was dealt away turned out to be Scott Kazmir, who went on to lead the Tampa Bay Rays to their first World Series appearance in 2008.  The other players involved were Ty Wigginton and Jose Bautista, who are both still active and quite productive at the major league level.  Needless to say, Benson and Zambrano did not lead the Mets to October glory in 2004.  In fact, they’re not leading anyone right now as both pitchers are out of baseball.

Let’s now fast forward to this season.  In 2012, the Mets went into the All-Star Break with a 46-40 record, half a game behind the Atlanta Braves for the second wild card spot.  Since returning from their midsummer hiatus, the current Mets have made the 2004 team look good in comparison, winning once in a dozen attempts.  Their 1-11 record is worse than the 2-9 record they posted two years ago, when they also came out of the break in the thick of the wild card race.  Then, it was a West Coast swing that put the kibosh on their postseason aspirations.  This time, they didn’t even wait to go out west to start their annual whimper to the finish line.

Before entering this seemingly fatal stretch of games, current general manager Sandy Alderson insisted the Mets were going to be buyers at the trade deadline.  But much has changed over the past two weeks.  Should the Mets pull a Duquette and be buyers before July 31 or should they sell off whatever valuable pieces they have, essentially raising the white flag on the 2012 season?  I have the perfect solution for our GM, who has been quite mum on the topic since the All-Star Break.

Sandy Alderson should just come out already and announce that he is buy-curious.

Don't let the gruff exterior fool you.  Beneath that scowl is one buy-curious general manager.

It’s no secret that Alderson has been talking to some potential partners as the deadline approaches.  These partners might have what Sandy is looking for, while others are probably asking for Sandy to give up too much in return.  Some of these other partners might also be hanging on the playoff fence, making them buy-curious as well.  No one’s telling Sandy to meet up with these fellow buy-curious general managers, but perhaps they have something to offer that the Mets could use to assist them in the future, without having to give up the farm.

The Mets are not the Miami Marlins, who this year basically jumped up and down on the couch to announce they were going to be more than just buy-curious.  They just came out and proclaimed loud and proud that they were buy, buy, buy.  Unfortunately, everyone doesn’t love the Marlins anymore and it’s more like bye, bye, bye these days in South Beach, with the Marlins selling off everything but their autographed Rue McClanahan poster.  (But I’m still watching eBay daily hoping they decide to list it.)

Sandy Alderson has done a good job putting this Mets team together with the chips he’s been given.  The present might be full of dark clouds, but the future is looking bright.  Matt Harvey will not become this trade deadline’s Scott Kazmir.  Instead of packing his bags to head for another organization, Harvey is packing his bags for Arizona, where he will be making his major league debut tonight against the Diamondbacks.  The only names being tossed around at this year’s trade deadline are Scott Hairston and Tim Byrdak, neither of whom have the potential to become this year’s Ty Wigginton and Jose Bautista.

The Mets are seven games behind the Braves for the final wild card spot.  They were closer to the wild card leader in 2004 when Duquette became Trader Jim.  They’re still close enough that they don’t have to follow the example learned by those who attend the Miami Marlins School of Business.  But they’re not close enough where they have to trade off their future to acquire a player who may or may not get them over the top in the present.

For now, being buy-curious might be the safe way for Sandy Alderson to operate.  There’s no shame in making it public.  And he’s surely not the only buy-curious general manager out there.  In fact, if a good trade that will help the Mets in 2013 and beyond pops up, don’t be surprised if Sandy’s trade partner is also buy-curious.  That’s how Frank Cashen operated in the ‘80s (think Neil Allen and friends for Keith Hernandez, Lee Mazzilli for Ron Darling and Walt Terrell (who was traded for Howard Johnson), or Ed Hearn, Rick Anderson and Mauro Gozzo for David Cone), and he was the most buy-curious general manager of them all.

So Sandy, if you’re reading this, you’ve done a fine job so far.  Don’t mess things up by doing something the Mets might regret.  Be buy-curious if you feel it’s best for you and the team’s future.  Just don’t force things to happen.  It didn’t work for Dan Duquette and it didn’t work for those fried fish in Florida.  Let’s make it work this time around, okay?

Now let me get off this soapbox before it collapses faster than the Phillies’ NL East dynasty.  I should probably be a little buy-curious myself about a new soapbox before the Mets give me another reason to hop back onto it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gettin' Iggy With It: The Richest Ass In The World

Hi, everyone!  This is Iggy Beartran.  You may know me as the cute sister to Studious Metsimus roving reporter and culinary expert Joey Beartran, but I'm more than just looks.  I also have a brain.  And today my brain is thinking about the asinine contract the Phillies just gave to starting pitcher Cole Hamels.  Or should I say ASS-inine, because they just made Hamels the richest ass in the world.

In case you hadn't heard, the last place Phillies agreed to terms with Hamels on a six-year, $144 million contract.  The deal will keep him in the city of No Brotherly Love through the 2018 season.  There is also a vesting option for 2019.

I'm not a numbers gal, but I'll give them to you anyway.  Since making his debut for the Phillies in 2006, Hamels is 85-58 with a 3.38 ERA.  However, he has never won more than 15 games in a single season despite the Phillies averaging just under 95 victories per year since his first full season in 2007.  Even Steve Trachsel won more than 15 games in a season for the Mets, winning 16 in 2003.

Now I know what you're thinking.  I shouldn't judge Hamels by the number of wins (or lack of) he has.  After all, Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young Award in 2010 despite a mediocre 13-12 record.  Rather, I should judge him by whether or not Hamels can keep his team in the game.  Fair enough.  I had someone who doesn't fall asleep when looking at baseball stats do the research for me (thanks, Joey) and came up with the Phillies' record in games started by Hamels over his career:

  • 2006: 23 starts, 13-10
  • 2007: 28 starts, 19-9
  • 2008: 33 starts, 19-14
  • 2009: 32 starts, 16-16
  • 2010: 33 starts, 18-15
  • 2011: 31 starts, 18-13
  • 2012: 19 starts, 12-7
  • Overall: 199 starts, 115-84, .578 winning percentage

Okay, so a record of 31 games above .500 over the past seven seasons is not bad at all.  I'm sure many teams, including my beloved Mets, would love to have a pitcher like that.

But let's look at what the Phillies have done over those seven seasons to make a comparison between the team's overall record and their record in Hamels' starts.

  • 2006: 85-77
  • 2007: 89-73
  • 2008: 92-70
  • 2009: 93-69
  • 2010: 97-65
  • 2011: 102-60
  • 2012: 43-54
  • Overall:  1069 games, 601-468, .562 winning percentage

The Phillies have a better winning percentage in games started by Hamels since he made his debut in 2006, but Hamels has been playing for a contract in 2012.  Prior to 2012, the Phillies were 103-77 in Hamels' starts for a .572 winning percentage.  Meanwhile, over the same time period, the Phillies' overall record has been 558-414.  That's a .574 winning percentage.

So in years when Hamels isn't playing for a contract, the Phillies actually perform better when he's NOT on the mound as opposed to when he is.  But according to them, it makes good sense to lock up a pitcher into his mid-30s with a contract worth an average of $24 million per season when he gives them a worse chance to win the game, especially when he's not being motivated by the prospect of a lucrative deal.  But hey, it's not my money!

The Phillies will now be paying Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee a minimum of $20 million each in 2013, not to mention the $15 million that Chase Utley will be earning to miss his usual month or two of action.  Haven't they learned yet that doling out huge contracts to aging, fragile players always come back to bite you in the ass?

Then again, the Phillies have plenty of experience when it comes to signing an ass.  They're paying for it now with Shane Victorino, who has been the talk of many trade rumors.  They're paying for it with the plethora of injuries to their aging sluggers (Utley, Howard) and thirty-something pitchers (Halladay, Lee).  And they will pay for it with the ridiculous $50 million deal they gave to closer Jonathan Papelbon prior to this season.  But that didn't stop them from giving the second-most lucrative deal ever given to a starting pitcher (after CC Sabathia's deal with the Yankees) to Colbert Hamels.

Billy Crystal said it best in When Harry Met Sally.  In the first of many famous restaurant scenes with co-star Meg Ryan in the film, Crystal discussed why one of her ex-boyfriends could never have done what she claimed he could do:

"A Sheldon can do your income taxes.  If you need a root canal, Sheldon's your man.  But humpin' and pumpin' is not Sheldon's strong suit.   It's the name.  Do it to me, Sheldon.  You're an animal, Sheldon.  Ride me, big Sheldon.  It doesn't work."

The same thing applies to Colbert Hamels.  A Colbert can fix your aluminum siding.  If you need someone to clean your septic tank, who better than Colbert?  But earning $24 million per season to be a top-notch starting pitcher?  That's not a Colbert thing.

That type of money should only go to pitchers who are locks for the Hall of Fame.  As much as it pains me to compliment a Yankee, CC Sabathia is that type of pitcher.  He has earned his exorbitant salary and barring injury, should be a 300-game winner before he retires.  (At age 31, Sabathia is 14 wins away from 200, averaging 19 wins per season since 2007.)

Cole Hamels is not a Hall of Famer.  He isn't even worthy of cleaning my septic tank.  But he is an ass.  He is also a rich ass, agreeing to terms with the Phillies on the second-highest dollar amount ever given to a pitcher in major league history.

Let the Phillies spend their money however they want.  Hey, if they need someone to figure out how much they're going to pay in luxury tax fees next year because of all their eight-figure contracts, they can contact Sheldon.  (I hear he's good for that type of thing.)  I'll just continue to be a Mets fan, watching our general manager do things wisely so that the team doesn't get saddled with bad contracts.  All the Phillies put saddles on are asses like Cole Hamels.  Giddy up.

Cole Hamels is smiling all the way to the bank.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Matt Harvey Is Coming! Matt Harvey Is Coming!

This just in!  The question of whether or not Mets' über-prospect Matt Harvey will be called up has been answered!  This was just tweeted by the Mets' official Twitter account:

Assuming that there are no rainouts or changes in the pitching rotation between now and the Mets' next homestand, Harvey will be making his Citi Field debut as a Met on Saturday, August 11 against the Atlanta Braves.  His first three starts (assuming he doesn't get sent back to AAA-Buffalo) would all come on the team's upcoming road trip, with a start in each series of the three-city, 11-game trip.

Harvey was 7-5 with a 3.68 ERA in 20 starts this season for the Bisons.  In two years in the Mets' minor league system, Harvey made 46 starts, going 20-10 with a 3.48 ERA and 268 strikeouts in 246 innings.

The Matt Harvey Era will begin on Thursday in Arizona.  With a little luck and a few good pitching performances, Harvey will never ride on another minor league bus again.  Please join the cast and crew of Studious Metsimus in welcoming Matt Harvey to the Mets.  He will surely be a welcome addition to the starting rotation.

Welcome to New York, Matt Harvey!

How The Mets Can Still Make The Playoffs

After 12 excruciating innings, the Mets finally succumbed to the Los Angeles Dodgers today by the score of 8-3.  The Mets' 10th loss in 12 games pushed them under .500 for the first time this season, as they joined the 1971 and 1991 squads as the only teams in franchise history to go below the .500 mark for the first time after the All-Star Break.

New York now stands a season-high 8½ games behind the first place Nationals and five games behind the Braves for the second wild card spot.  Although it will be a tough task for the Mets to turn their season around, it is not impossible.  Let's look at the rest of their schedule to determine what has to happen for the Mets to make the playoffs.

After Sunday's loss, the Mets still have 67 games left to play.  Nine of those games are against the NL East-leading Nats.  The Mets also play nine games against the Braves and four games versus the Pirates, the two teams who currently hold the wild card spots.  That's almost one-third (22 out of 67) of their remaining games against the three teams that could determine the Mets' plans for October.

In addition, the Cardinals and Dodgers are also ahead of the Mets in the wild card standings.  At 52-44, the Dodgers are 4½ games ahead of the Mets and the Cardinals (50-45) are three games in front of New York.  The Mets have completed their season series against the Dodgers, but they still have three games left against the Cardinals in September.

Furthermore, the Mets still have to play 35 games against teams that currently have losing records.  That's more than half of their remaining schedule.

Sure, it might be optimistic of me to believe that the Mets are going to turn things around and make an unexpected run to the playoffs.  But it's not like they have to pass seven teams to move into one of the wild card spots.  And they only have two teams ahead of them in the division standings, with a combined 18 games remaining against them.

Stranger things have happened.  Just ask the 2011 Cardinals and Rays.  Or better yet, just ask the 1973 Mets, who were in last place with a 54-68 record in late August before they stormed back to win the NL East.

The forecast may look gloomy at Citi Field for the final 2½ months of the season.  But it's not time to jump off the Shea Bridge just yet.  The Mets can still make the playoffs in 2012, and they can do it on their own, without hoping for other teams to go into tailspins.  They just have to get out of their own tailspin first, and they'll have to get out of it soon.

To Continue This Rare Season, The Mets Must Win Now

On Saturday, the Mets lost for the seventh time in eight games since the All-Star Break.  Their 8-5 loss to the Dodgers dropped their record to 47-47.  It was the third time this year the Mets fell to .500, as they were 8-8 in April and 13-13 in May.  They have yet to fall under .500 at any point this year.

Should the Mets win today to go back above .500, they would continue to hold out hope that they can play an entire 162-game schedule without ever spending a day below the break-even point.  How rare is it for the Mets to play an entire season without ever falling below .500?  Let's put it this way.  They've had an easier time winning division titles than they've had playing an entire campaign at or above the .500 mark.

Since their inaugural season in 1962, the Mets have won five division titles (making a total of seven playoff appearances overall).  But they've only had four seasons in which they never spent a day below .500.

The 1969 Miracle Mets might have won 100 games en route to a World Series championship, but even they didn't spend every day of the season at or above .500.

From 1962-1969, the Mets lost on Opening Day every year, ending their chances of playing at or above .500 for an entire season before they had earned their first victory.  From 1970-1976, the Mets had six winning seasons, with 1974 being the sole exception to this era of winning baseball.  But in each of those seasons, the Mets couldn't get through the year without spending a day below .500.

The 1970 Mets were under .500 by the seventh game of the season en route to an 83-79 record.  In 1971, the team got off to a fantastic start.  Going into July, they were 45-29 and had yet to spend a single day below .500.  But over the next six weeks, the team played as bad as their 1962 counterparts, going 13-31.  They fell under .500 for the first time on August 14.  It was the first time a Mets team had gone past the All-Star Break without spending a day below .500.

Although the 1972 Mets became the second team in franchise history to finish a season at least ten games above .500, they spent exactly one day below the break-even point.  After three games, the Mets were 1-2, ending any chances of going an entire season with ever having a losing record.

The 1973 Mets had to believe they were going to win the pennant, but they didn't for most of the season.  In fact, from May 30 to September 20, the Mets were below .500 every single day.  They did recover to win a very mediocre National League East and shocked the Big Red Machine in the NLCS, but their late season success did not carry over into 1974, as the Mets finished 20 games under .500 that season.

1975 and 1976 brought the team back to the winning baseball they had known in the early '70s, but both teams spent time under the .500 mark before the calendar turned to May.

Should we even talk about the 1977 to 1983 Mets?  Let's just say those seasons were darker than Grant's tomb.  Needless to say, those teams spent plenty of time below .500 during that bleak era of Mets baseball.

But in 1984, things started to turn around for the franchise.  The Mets spent one day under .500 all season, and that was after their Opening Day loss to the Reds.  The team recovered from that 8-1 defeat to win their next six games, never dropping below .500 again all year, although they did fall to exactly .500 twice, at 22-22 and 23-23.

Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez and Dwight Gooden played together for the first time in 1984.  By 1985, they were part of a Mets team that did something no other Mets team had accomplished before.

Then it finally happened.  In their 24th season of existence, the 1985 Mets did not spend a single day below .500, becoming the first team in franchise history to play an entire season of winning baseball.  Of course, the St. Louis Cardinals, who spent most of April and May below .500, went 77-38 after June 2 and went on to take the division title from the Mets during the last week of the season.

Although the Mets had an extended era of greatness in the mid-to-late 1980s, the team didn't play another full season at or above .500 for another 13 years.  (The 1991 team came close, not going under .500 for the first time until August 16.)  Just like the 1985 team, the 1998 Mets were in the second season of a renaissance after an extended slumber.  The 1998 squad spent three days at exactly .500 (1-1, 13-13, 14-14), but never succumbed to the dark side, although a five-game losing streak at season's end once again kept the Mets from making the postseason.

In 1999 and 2000, the Mets made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history.  But both teams spent time below .500 at some point of their magical seasons, with the 1999 squad dropping under .500 two times (0-1, 27-28) and the 2000 team losing six of their first nine games.

The 2001 Mets finished the season with a winning record (82-80) but needed a strong finish to get there after spending most of the season below .500, just one year after their fourth World Series appearance.  That would be the last time the Mets would finish an entire season above the break-even point until 2005, when the team finished 83-79 (although they didn't go over .500 for good until September 25).

The 2006 Mets were good enough to win the World Series.  But they weren't good enough to win the pennant.  However, they were good enough to become the third team in franchise history to spend every day at or above .500.  After dropping to .500 with a loss in their second game of the season, the Mets didn't see .500 again until the 2008 season.  That's right.  In 2007, the Mets also never spent a day below .500.  In fact, they became the first team since 1985 to never even finish a day at exactly .500, as they won their first four games of the season and never dropped back to the break-even point.

The 2006 Mets began a two-year run in which the team never spent a single day below .500 during the regular season.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the postseason.

That brings us to the Citi Field era, an era in which the Mets have finished under .500 for three consecutive seasons (2009-2011).  The 2012 Mets have yet to spend a day under .500.  But after losing to the Dodgers on Saturday, the Mets fell back to the mark of mediocrity for only the third time this season.  The first two times they fell to .500, they recovered to win their next game.  They'll have to do the same again today.

Only four times in franchise history have the Mets played an entire season without ever falling below .500.  The 1985, 1998, 2006 and 2007 Mets are the only teams in the franchise's 50-year existence to accomplish that feat, making it a rarer accomplishment than winning a division title, which the Mets have done five times.

The 2012 squad is looking to become the fifth team to join that exclusive Mets fraternity.  But if they lose today, their dream will end.  Instead of becoming one of the lucky five, they will join the 1971 and 1991 Mets as the only teams in franchise history to spend their first day below .500 after the All-Star Break.  It's not such a bad thing to be compared to a Gil Hodges-led Mets team, but it would be much more of an accomplishment to be associated with the four teams that never spent a day below .500, as those teams were all part of an extended era of success for the franchise.

Will this year's team be the start of another extended era of success?  Spending every day at or above .500 for an entire season usually leads to that.  But the Mets have to win today to make sure 2012 can continue to be an unexpected magical season.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Rise And Fall of Johan Santana

How the mighty have fallen.  Johan Santana, whose bounceback campaign hit an unexpected high on June 1 when he threw the franchise's first no-hitter, has not only come back to Earth, but he's done it in a way no one could see coming.

Through his first 11 starts of the season, which ended with the hitless gem, the southpaw was vintage Santana, going 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 68 Ks in 68 innings.  He was also holding opposing hitters to a .200 batting average, .262 on-base percentage and .306 slugging percentage (4 HR allowed in 68 IP).  Santana was also on the mound deep into games, pitching into the seventh inning in six of his 11 starts.  If there was one complaint about Santana's starts, it wasn't about Johan himself.  It was about the lack of run support he was receiving, hence why he only had three wins in his first 11 starts.

But since his Herculean 134-pitch effort on June's first night, Santana has been very hittable.  Over his last eight starts, Santana has gone 3-5 with a whopping 6.54 ERA, 1.64 WHIP and 37 Ks in 42⅔ innings.  Opposing batters have hit .305 against the struggling starter, reaching base at a .363 clip, while slugging a mind-boggling .575.  Santana has also allowed 11 HR in those 42⅔ innings, an average of more than one homer every four innings.  (Prior to the no-hitter, he had allowed a home run every 17 innings.)  Furthermore, he has not been very durable, pitching into the seventh inning only once in his last eight starts.

So what has gone wrong with the Mets' co-ace?  Does he have a dead arm after not pitching at all in 2011?  Did Terry Collins' decision to allow him to go for the no-hitter despite the high pitch count backfire on him?  A simple look at some other numbers will tell us exactly what's wrong with Santana.

During his first 11 starts, Santana was getting hitters to swing and miss at his assortment of fastballs and change-ups.  Santana threw 1,056 pitches through June 1.  Opposing batters swung through 129 of them.  That's 12.2% of his pitches that generated a failed swing attempt.  Since June 1, Santana has thrown 748 pitches.  Only 86 of those drew a swing that made no contact.  That's 11.4% of his total pitches.

In addition, Santana also threw a lot of called strikes before his return to mediocrity.  A total of 302 of his 1,056 pitches during his first 11 starts were either looked at or swung through by opposing hitters (28.6%).  That number has fallen to 27.2% since June 1, as batters have taken a strike or failed to make contact with 204 of his last 748 pitches. 

What does this all mean?  It means that batters are making more contact with Santana's pitches.  More contact means a better chance for a hit.  And boy, are opposing hitters getting more hits off the Mets' lefty.  Some of it can be attributed to luck (.259 BABIP through June 1 as opposed to a .328 BABIP since the no-hitter), but still, if a batter is kept off-balance at the plate, the pitcher will always have a distinct advantage.  Santana has not been keeping anyone off-balance over the past month and a half.

It's not just that opposing hitters are making more contact with Santana's pitches.  It's where they're hitting them.  Through June 1, Santana had recorded 204 outs, of which 116 came from fly balls.  That's 56.9% of his outs coming via the air.  Since the no-hitter, Santana has recorded 128 outs.  How many of those were hit in the air?  How about 90?  That's right.  Exactly 90 of his 128 outs have been recorded on fly balls.  That's over 70%, a marked increase over his pre-no-hitter fly ball rate.

Of course, the more balls hit in the air, the more balls land in the seats.  And Santana's pitches have been finding the outfield seats with an alarming regularity these days (11 HR in eight starts since June 1, as opposed to 4 HR in 11 starts before that date).

The Johan Santana story is just as compelling as the one being written by R.A. Dickey.  Both pitchers were not expected to do much this year, with Dickey coming off an 8-13 campaign and Santana coming off a year-long hiatus.  But both had an amazing run to start the season.  However, despite a few bangs and bruises here are there, Dickey has still managed to keep his team in ballgames and has not lost a game since April 18.  The same can't be said for Santana.

The book on Johan Santana has not been closed yet for 2012, but perhaps it's time to put the book down for a rest.  No one expected more than 30 starts from the ace this season, but he hasn't missed any yet.  Santana has made 19 starts this season.  No one in the National League has more than 20.  Maybe it's time for him to skip a start in the rotation.  It would afford him the opportunity to rest for 10 days in the hopes that a refreshed arm will help the team alive in its push for a wild card spot.

Johan Santana is a wonderful team player.  He would do anything to help his team win.  But right now, the team isn't winning when he's on the mound.  A team player doesn't just help his on the field.  Sometimes he has to come off it to help them.  It's time for Johan Santana to take a break.  His arm and the team would benefit greatly from the extended rest. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

National Crisis Averted

With a little help from the bats of David Wright and Ike Davis, plus the right weather conditions for R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, the Mets avoided being swept in Washington and the greater embarrassment of coming home after a winless road trip against the division rivals directly ahead of them in the NL East standings.

How bad was this road trip before Thursday’s finale?  I’ll tell you how bad it was.  Davey Johnson offered some of his traditional dugout snack food (Rolaids) to Terry Collins to help him deal with the heartburn, heartache and heart stomping going on between the foul lines since the All-Star Break.

Okay, so the sharing of the Rolaids between past and present Mets skippers might not be entirely accurate, but after watching and listening to the team before and after their games this week, perhaps it should be the fans who start raiding Davey Johnson’s medicine cabinet for some vintage 1986 antacid tablets.

For example, on Tuesday Jordany Valdespin put on his Air Jordanys and sent a Tyler Clippard pitch flying into the night.  Valdespin had come into the game as a pinch-hitter for Jason Bay.  So did Terry Collins reward the ‘Spinster for his late-inning heroics?   Nope.  The next day, Jason Bay’s name was once again on the starting lineup card, while Valdespin was once again keeping Bay’s seat on the bench warm.

Then, on Wednesday, after the Mets had cut Washington’s lead in half, Collins gave the ball to Saturday’s starting pitcher, Miguel Batista to keep the Mets within a run of the Nationals.  That’s not last Saturday’s starter.  That’s this coming Saturday’s starter, as in three days after his relief effort.  So of course, Batista allowed two runs to the Nats, which ended up being the winning runs after the Mets hit two solo homers off closer Tyler Clippard in the ninth.  But of course, when Batista was interviewed after the game, he claimed the Mets were not only better than the Nationals, but that they were THE BEST TEAM IN BASEBALL!

Let me rewind that.

Batista, who gave up the runs that proved to be the winning tallies, doesn’t think there is any team in baseball better than the Mets.  Now I know Batista is a published novelist and poet, but I don’t think his poetic license extends to post-game interviews.  I mean, was he waxing poetic or was he just a poet who gets waxed by other hitters?  Seems to me as if the latter has been true more often than not, and by Terry Collins giving him a start on Saturday on two days rest, perhaps Batista is writing the final chapters of his Mets career.

Let me set the record straight.  The Mets are not the best team in baseball.  They’re not even the best team in New York.  Heck, I think a little league team or two in Queens might argue that the Mets aren’t even the best team in their own borough.  But they are a good team.  And sometimes that’s all you need to crash the postseason party.   But when they lose five straight games to teams that are standing behind the velvet rope checking for their IDs … well … let’s just say the Mets are going to have a tough time proving they should be invited to their exclusive shindig.

Terry Collins has to make better decisions as the manager.  The relief corps has to stop being the relief corpse.  And they should stop making stupid statements when they come off the field.  The only statements fans need to hear are ones made by the bats, gloves and arms between the foul lines.  That’s it.

By winning the series finale against Washington on Thursday, a National crisis was averted.  For now.  The Mets could once again be in crisis mode when the Nats visit Citi Field for a crucial three-game series next week.  But only if they fail to play the way we know they can play.  With heart.  With cojones.  With a desire to win.  With the passion they showed during the first half.  Are those Mets still with us?  Let’s hope so.   

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sandy Can't "Duquette" Out For Help This Year

Eight years ago today, the Mets came out of the All-Star Break with a win against the Philadelphia Phillies in extra innings.  Although they were only two games above .500 at the time, the Mets were in the thick of a tight four-team race in the National League East, with one game separating the Braves (46-42), Phillies (46-42), Marlins (45-43) and Mets (45-43).  The Mets then proceeded to lose eight of their next 11 games, losing some ground to their division rivals, but still only five games behind the division-leading Braves.

Despite their struggles, general manager Jim Duquette considered the Mets to be contenders for the division title (at the time, the Padres and Giants were tied atop the wild card standings, with both teams ten games above .500) and decided to upgrade the team in a last-ditch effort to stay in the playoff hunt.  "Last-ditch" ended up being an appropriate term for the trades orchestrated by Duquette, as the Mets dug themselves a "ditch" that they could not climb out of, while Duquette didn't "last" as Mets' GM, replaced before season's end by Omar Minaya.

Although there were three trades made by Duquette on July 30, 2004, two of them were connected.  The first trade sent top prospect Scott Kazmir to Tampa Bay for starting pitcher Victor Zambrano and reliever Bartolome Fortunato.  Although Zambrano had a 35-27 career mark for the perennial basement dwellers in Tampa, his 4.47 ERA and 1.49 WHIP were not exactly top-of-the-rotation caliber.

In 2003, Zambrano led the American League in walks (106), hit batsmen (20) and wild pitches (15).  Prior to his trade to the Mets, he was once again leading the league in walks (96) and had hit 16 batters in 22 starts.  Clearly, Duquette thought a change in scenery and ten minutes with pitching coach Rick Peterson (as Peterson infamously claimed would be all he would require to "fix" Zambrano) would do the trick.  He thought wrong.

Injuries and poor performances limited Zambrano to 35 starts as a Met, as he went 10-14 for the team with a nearly identical ERA (4.42) and WHIP (1.49) as he had in Tampa.  Similarly, Bartolome Fortunato suffered from injuries (he missed the entire 2005 season) and poor performances on the mound (7.06 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 17 career relief appearances for the Mets) and was out of baseball by 2006.

Scott Kazmir, although not as successful as a first round draft pick should have been, still became the Rays' all-time leader in wins, strikeouts, starts and innings pitched (he has now dropped to No. 2 in those categories, supplanted by current Rays pitcher James Shields).  Kazmir also led the Rays to their only World Series appearance in 2008, the same year the Mets finished a game short of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.  With a productive Kazmir on the pitching staff instead of fill-ins and journeymen, who knows where the Mets could have gone in 2006, 2007 and 2008?

The other two trades orchestrated by Duquette on that fateful late July day in 2004 featured a player who was barely a Met and a player who now kills his former team with regularity.  First, Duquette traded minor leaguer Justin Huber to the Royals for a little-known prospect named Jose Bautista.  The Mets then sent Bautista and infielder Ty Wigginton to the Pirates for former No. 1 overall draft pick Kris Benson and infielder Jeff Keppinger.

Bautista has since become one of the most feared sluggers in the major leagues, leading all players with 124 HR since the beginning of the 2010 campaign.  Wigginton is not just the last Met to bowl over a catcher at the plate, but he has also become a pretty good hitter in his own right.  Since leaving the Mets in 2004, Wigginton has hit 138 HR for six teams.  In 30 games (24 starts) against his former team, Wigginton is batting .308 with five HR and 26 RBI.  He also owns a .390 on-base percentage and a .560 slugging percentage against the Mets.  In 2012, Wigginton has become a one-man wrecking crew versus the Mets in more ways than one.  In only 29 at-bats, Wigginton has three home runs and 14 RBIs against the team that sent him packing eight years ago.  He also wrecked Josh Thole's head, sidelining him with a concussion in a (you guessed it) home plate collision with the Mets' catcher.

Jose Bautista slugs baseballs.  Ty Wigginton slugs catchers.  Just ask Josh Thole, assuming he can remember.

The two players received for Bautista and Wigginton did not have the greatest success for the Mets during their time in New York.  Jeff Keppinger only played in 33 games for the Mets in 2004, spending the entire 2005 season at AAA-Norfolk, before being traded to the Royals in 2006 for Ruben Gotay.  Keppinger has become a solid utility player since then.  He hit .332 in 241 at-bats for the Reds in 2007, and is now hitting .312 for the Rays in 138 at-bats this season.  In six-plus seasons since leaving the Mets, Keppinger is a .283 career hitter.

Kris Benson was never horrible as a Met (14-12, 4.23 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 39 starts).  He just wasn't what the Mets hoped they were getting.  Although Benson was only 30 when he pitched his last game for the Mets in 2005, he went on to win 13 more games in the majors for three teams (Baltimore, Texas, Arizona) before calling it a career to become a successful businessman following the 2010 season.

That brings us to Sandy Alderson and the 2012 Mets.  (Finally!)  This year's Mets came out of the All-Star Break a half-game out of the second wild card spot and 4½ games behind the first place Washington Nationals.  One sweep to the Braves later, and the Mets find themselves 3½ games out of the final wild card spot and 6½ games out of first.

With all the talk about improving the league's worst bullpen, maybe Alderson should hold off on making a trade that would only serve to help the team this year.  If he is to make a trade, it has to be one that can also help the Mets in the future, not just one that might be too little, too late to help them succeed in 2012.

If the Mets continue to fall in the standings, similar to the way the 2004 Mets did after the All-Star Break, it would behoove Sandy Alderson not to make any drastic moves.  There's no need to sell off the future in a last-ditch effort to remain in contention in the present.  The 2004 Mets were around .500 when Duquette became Trader Jim.  They finished the season 20 games under .500.  This year's squad might not contend as long as we'd like them to, but they're also not the type of team who will finish so far under .500 that the general manager will be canned.

That was then.  This is now.  And Sandy Alderson is a better GM than Jim Duquette.  If the Mets don't gain ground in the standings prior to the trade deadline, I have full faith in Sandy Alderson that he will either not make any trades or he will only deal for a player who will help the team beyond this season.  Buying for the sake of buying doesn't get you anything but the door slammed behind you on the way out.  Sandy Alderson knows this, and that's why he won't "Duquette" out with other teams for players.  He's a better general manager than that.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Chipper Jones Welcomes Josh Edgin To The Mets

On Friday, Josh Edgin became the 934th player in Mets history to play for the team.  He also became the 442nd player to take the mound for the Mets when he came into the game in the fifth inning to clean up the mess Miguel Batista left for him.  Edgin struck out both batters he faced to escape the bases loaded, one-out jam.  However, he didn't become a true Met until the following inning.  What happened to earn him this dubious honor?

Chipper Jones took him deep.

If chicks dig the longball, chicks must really dig Chipper Jones when he bats against the Mets.

Josh Edgin started the sixth inning trying to keep the Mets within one run of the Braves.  But he didn't check the playlist on Chipper Jones' Farewell Tour before the Braves' third baseman walked up to the plate to face him.  You see, Chipper Jones always has a second set when he faces the Mets.  It's a set that includes taking a new pitcher deep every time he sees him.  And Josh Edgin found out about that set one pitch too late.

In allowing Jones' 49th career HR against the Mets, Josh Edgin became the 35th different Mets pitcher to watch his meatball leave the yard.  27 of those 35 pitchers gave up exactly one home run to Jones.  Those pitchers are:

  • Josias Manzanillo (1995)
  • Pete Harnisch (1995)
  • Pete Walker (1995)
  • Mark Clark (1996)
  • Jason Isringhausen (1997)
  • Masato Yoshii (1999)
  • Pat Mahomes (1999)
  • Dennis Cook (1999)
  • John Franco (2000)
  • Glendon Rusch (2001)
  • Satoru Komiyama (2002)
  • Pedro Astacio (2002)
  • Tom Glavine (2003)
  • Jae Weong Seo (2003)
  • Edwin Almonte (2003)
  • Pedro Martinez (2006)
  • Darren Oliver (2006)
  • John Maine (2007)
  • J.J. Putz (2009)
  • Pedro Feliciano (2009)
  • Pat Misch (2009)
  • Johan Santana (2010)
  • D.J. Carrasco (2011)
  • Jonathon Niese (2011)
  • R.A. Dickey (2011)
  • Chris Schwinden (2011)
  • Josh Edgin (2012)

Jones has also victimized eight different Mets pitchers on multiple occasions.  Those pitchers are listed below, along with the number of home runs they gave up to him and the years in which those home runs were hit:

  • Bobby Jones: 4 HR (1996, 1997 [twice], 1998) 
  • Steve Trachsel: 4 HR (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005)
  • Rick Reed: 3 HR (1999, 2001 [twice])
  • Mike Pelfrey: 3 HR (2007, 2008, 2010)
  • Orel Hershiser: 2 HR (1999 [twice])
  • Aaron Heilman: 2 HR (2003, 2005)
  • Dave Mlicki: 2 HR (1995, 1997)
  • Al Leiter: 2 HR (1999, 2000)

Here are some additional tidbits of home run information, courtesy of Chipper Jones' bat and the good folks at baseball-reference.com.

Although Chipper Jones has five multi-HR games against the Mets, Bobby Jones is the only pitcher in Mets history to allow two home runs to Chipper in the same game, doing so on June 25, 1997.  Chipper's non-relative allowed a solo shot in the fourth inning followed by a grand slam in the fifth.  In each of Chipper Jones' other four multi-HR games against the Mets, he took multiple pitchers deep.

Since the Mets left Shea Stadium for Citi Field in 2009, Jones has hit ten home runs against them.  Those ten homers were hit off ten different pitchers, with Jones doing the 120-yard trot against (in order) J.J. Putz, Pedro Feliciano, Pat Misch, Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, D.J. Carrasco, Jonathon Niese, R.A. Dickey, Chris Schwinden and Josh Edgin.  (Here's a tip for Mets pitchers.  If you don't want to give up a home run to Chipper Jones, go by your given first name, not by your initials.  Got that, Putz, Carrasco and Dickey?)

The home run allowed by Edgin on Friday was the first given up by a Met to Jones in 2012.  If no other Met serves up a homer to the Braves' soon-to-be retiree (which is about as likely as Lucas Duda winning a Gold Glove this year), this would mark the fourth season in which Jones hit only one home run against the Mets.  In 1998, 2004 and 2008, Jones hit only one home run against the Mets, taking Bobby Jones deep in 1998, Steve Trachsel in 2004, and Mike Pelfrey in 2008.  Not by coincidence, those are the three Mets pitchers who allowed the most home runs to Jones during their time in Flushing.  (Pelfrey is tied with Rick Reed for third-most home runs allowed.)

Finally, Josh Edgin is not alone in allowing a home run to Chipper Jones during his major league debut.  Two other Mets pitchers received their "welcome to the majors" present from Chipper Jones in the form of a home run as well.

At Shea, at Citi, or at Turner Field, no Met pitcher is safe from Chipper Jones.

On July 7, 2003, Edwin Almonte made his major league debut for the Mets, pitching in relief of Jae Weong Seo, who had already given up a home run to Jones earlier in the game.  Almonte must not have been watching from the bullpen, as he allowed another home run to Jones in the eighth inning.  Almonte went on to pitch 11 more games in relief for the Mets in 2003, never recording a decision for the team, but finishing his abbreviated career with a whopping 11.12 ERA, the highest ERA for any Mets pitcher who appeared in at least 10 games.

Just last year, during the first game of a doubleheader on September 8, 2011, Chris Schwinden was rocked by a Chipper Jones home run in the third inning of his major league debut.  Like Almonte before him, Schwinden has not won a game in the major leagues, despite making six additional appearances (five starts) since his debut.  Fortunately, his 6.98 ERA as a Met is not the highest of any pitcher in Mets history who has made at least six starts.  That honor goes to Calvin Schiraldi, who was a Met before he lost Games 6 and 7 of the 1986 World Series to his former team.  Schiraldi had a 7.63 ERA as a Met in 15 appearances (seven starts) with the team in 1984 and 1985.  Fortunately for him, he was out of baseball by 1991, so he was not able to be taken deep by Chipper Jones.

Chipper Jones has not just welcomed Mets pitchers to the big leagues.  He has also given a goodbye present to one unfortunate soul.  On September 11, 2002, during the first game of a doubleheader, Jones hit a home run off Mets reliever Satoru Komiyama.  It was the last hit allowed by Komiyama in the major leagues, as he never pitched again after that game.  And just for the record, Komiyama finished his one-year career in the big leagues with an 0-3 record.  No wins.  Just like Almonte.  Just like Schwinden.  Just like Edgin (as of now).

Chipper Jones has always been one of the biggest thorns in the Mets' side.  Josh Edgin has now been pricked by that thorn.  Welcome to the big leagues, Josh.  You're a true Met now.