Sunday, July 28, 2013

Not Everyone Ages Gracefully - Just Ask The Phillies

Photo by Howard Smith/USA Today

Prior to the 2007 campaign, Phillies’ shortstop Jimmy Rollins declared his squad “the team to beat” in the National League East.  Rollins made his claim mere months after the Mets won the division by a dozen games and finished with the best regular season record in the National League.

Rollins’ statement proved to be prophetic, as the Phillies took home the 2007 NL East flag on the season’s final day.  Philadelphia’s successful run atop the division lasted half a decade, with the team winning five NL East crowns, two National League pennants and the 2008 World Series championship.

But in 2012, everything came crashing down for the Phillies.  Philadelphia missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006, finishing the year with an 81-81 record, their worst full-season showing since they went 80-81 in 2002.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard combined to miss 170 games for the Phillies.  Rollins and Shane Victorino (who was traded to Los Angeles prior to the trade deadline) hit .250 and .261, respectively.  Cliff Lee won one more game all year than R.A. Dickey won in the month of June alone.  And Roy Halladay finished the year with his highest ERA since 2000.

Why did the Phillies fail last year while teams like the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants didn’t?  It’s all in the birth certificates.

When the Phillies began their run of excellence in 2007, the core of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels were all in their 20s.  They were either already in their prime (which usually begins around age 27) or about to enter their most productive years.

But once 2012 rolled around, the same players who helped the Phillies achieve sustained greatness not seen in the city of Brotherly Love since the late ‘70s and early ‘80s had all entered their early-to-mid 30s.  In addition, Philadelphia added pieces to the team in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee who were supposed to keep the team atop the NL East standings for years to come.  Halladay and Lee started off well in Philly but both suffered through subpar seasons in 2012.  Not coincidentally, both Halladay and Lee were in their mid-thirties in 2012.

To acquire the pieces that were supposed to complement the core that’s been in place since 2007, the Phillies have parted ways with a number of prospects – prospects that could have been the Rollinses, Utleys and Howards of the next generation.  Putting it simply, the Phillies are old and they’re not getting any younger.  (Welcome aboard, Michael Young!  You’ll fit right in!)

The Mets were also an old team in 2006.  Pedro Martinez and Orlando “The Dookie” Hernandez were in their mid-to-late 30s as October rolled around.  Cliff Floyd was just two months away from turning 34.  Neither player got to experience that month the way Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca and Billy Wagner did, as Martinez and Hernandez were both disabled for the Mets’ shorter-than-expected playoff run and Floyd should have been disabled.  (And for the record, Delgado, Lo Duca and Wagner were also well into their 30s, while Beltran was six months away from blowing out 30 candles on his cake.)

In 2007 and 2008, the Mets’ thirty-somethings continued to get older and had a new forty-something to share disabled list war stories with in Moises Alou.  Not surprisingly, the aging veterans on the Mets were lapped by the much younger Jimmy Rollins and the rest of his "team to beat" in both seasons.

Now it’s 2013.  The defending World Series champion Giants have young stars at many key positions.  Players like Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Pablo Sandoval (and don’t forget Tim Lincecum) are all in their 20s and hope to lead the Giants to more titles.  The Washington Nationals, who won a league-high 98 games in 2012, are even younger than the Giants, with the under-30 core of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond all contributing in 2013.  And the Oakland A's and Baltimore Orioles are using youth to make another postseason push after surprising all of baseball in 2012.

The Mets are trying to shed their old man image that led to heartbreak and disappointment in 2006, 2007 and 2008.  Players like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud are either currently contributing to the team’s success or waiting in the wings to contribute.  As the team gets younger, the brighter future promised to us by the front office is getting closer and closer to the horizon.

The Phillies fielded a young team in 2007 that became a five-year dynasty in the NL East.  But Philadelphia did not replenish their youth when their core players began to show signs of getting older and becoming more fragile.  Instead, they gave multi-year deals to their fading stars (five years to Ryan Howard, three years to Jimmy Rollins) and acquired players who are now closer to retirement than they are to their arbitration years (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Michael Young).

Matt Harvey faced Roy Halladay at Citizens Bank Park back on April 8, and there was no question who the better pitcher was.  Halladay might have been a part of the Phillies’ past successes, but success has now passed him by.  Meanwhile, Harvey is pitching the way Halladay used to pitch before his age caught up to him.

Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige once said “don’t look back – something might be gaining on you.”  The Phillies have looked back, and all they see is a youthful Mets squad that's gunning to pass them and stay ahead of them for years to come.  (The Phillies have currently lost eight consecutive games and are just a game and a half ahead of the Mets in the standings.)  The Mets don’t have any reason to look behind them.  Their road to a successful future is right in front of them.  And they intend to drive down that road long after the Phillies have run out of gas.

Not everyone ages gracefully.  The Mets learned that the hard way in 2006, 2007 and 2008.  The Phillies are finding that out for themselves right now.

Why A Pitch Limit Is Better Than An Innings Limit

Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus

The Mets have stated that Matt Harvey is going to be capped at around 210 innings.  Similarly, Zack Wheeler will have his season come to an end when he reaches 185 innings.  As of today, Harvey has competed 145 innings, while Wheeler has tossed 108 innings between AAA-Las Vegas and the Mets.  That leaves approximately ten starts for both Harvey and Wheeler to reach their innings limit.

But is an innings limit really the best way to prevent a young pitcher from overexerting himself?  Wouldn't a pitch limit be a more accurate way to shield Harvey and Wheeler from potential injuries?  Allow me to explain.

On Friday night, Matt Harvey pitched eight beautiful innings against Washington, allowing an unearned run while throwing only 99 pitches.  Meanwhile, on July 20, Zack Wheeler was only able to pitch 4⅔ innings versus Philadelphia, needing 106 pitches before he was removed from the game.  Although Wheeler threw seven more pitches than Harvey did, Harvey pitched 3⅓ innings more than Wheeler, who was not nearly as effective with his pitches as his more experienced colleague.  However, the extra innings would go towards Harvey's innings limit, getting him closer to his final outing of the season, while Wheeler's shorter effort would give him a few extra innings to play with.

In all, Wheeler has thrown 1,996 pitches in 20 starts between Las Vegas and New York, averaging 18.4 pitches per inning and 100 pitches per start.  Meanwhile, Harvey has made 21 starts for the Mets, throwing 2,198 pitches - an average of 15.2 pitches per inning and 105 pitches per start.  That means Wheeler throws nearly 30 extra pitches than Harvey does for every nine innings pitched.

Assuming Wheeler and Harvey stay on their current pitch per inning pace, Wheeler will have thrown over 3,400 pitches when he reaches his 185-inning limit.  Harvey, on the other hand, will have thrown fewer than 3,200 pitches at the 210-inning mark.  That's over 200 extra pitches thrown by Wheeler, or the equivalent of two additional starts.

Matt Harvey has been an innings eater for the Mets in 2013, pitching into the seventh inning in 17 of his 21 starts.  Meanwhile, Wheeler has thrown a pitch in the seventh inning in only three of his 20 starts.

As two of the Mets' top young pitchers, it's a good thing that Harvey and Wheeler are being protected by the team.  The Mets are right to make sure they don't overexert themselves so early into their careers.  However, when one pitcher is more effective at limiting his pitches per inning than the other, he should be rewarded for his effectiveness.  Therefore, an innings limit for Harvey actually hurts him because he goes deep into games more regularly than a pitcher like Wheeler, who labors more in his innings.

An innings limit is a good idea, but a pitch limit is far more effective.  The Mets would be better served to implement the latter limit than the former if they want to be fair to Matt Harvey and conservative with Zack Wheeler.

The Mets Outfield Is Showing Life Without Being Bourn

Remember when the Mets were trying to land Michael Bourn during the offseason?  Bourn decided to take the money and run to Cleveland instead.  So how's that going for him?  Well, his new team is doing well in the American League Central, just three games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers.  But they're not succeeding because of Bourn.  In fact, other than a decent batting average (.291), Bourn's other numbers are far less than what Cleveland bargained for when they signed him.

Earlier this season, Bourn had a short stint on the disabled list, but he has still managed to rack up 306 at-bats.  In those at-bats, he's collected 14 doubles, one triple, four homers and 29 RBI.  He's also scored 43 runs and stolen 13 bases, while striking out 74 times and drawing 20 walks.

Think about this.  Bourn was signed for his defensive prowess (he's won two Gold Gloves) and for his speed.  Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to expect him to steal many bases, as well as leg out many doubles and triples.  Yet Bourn is seventh on his own team in doubles (Asdrubal Cabrera has eight more doubles than Bourn even though Bourn has one more at-bat than Cabrera) and five teammates, including backup catcher Yan Gomes, have more triples than Bourn.  Bourn isn't even leading the team in stolen bases.  That honor goes to Jason Kipnis, who has 21 steals in 26 attempts.

And let's look at those stolen base numbers for Bourn.  He has 13 steals in 21 attempts.  In 2011, he led the league in times caught stealing with 14.  But he also stole a league-leading 61 bases that year, which made it easy to overlook the times he was erased on the bases.  Last year, he was once again the caught stealing champion with 13.  He was successful on 42 stolen base attempts, a noticeable decline from his 2011 numbers, but still not something to be worried about.  This year, Bourn has just 13 thefts, which is a significant dropoff.  Despite the drastic decrease in stolen bases, Bourn is still the league leader in caught stealing with eight.  Clearly, he is not the player he once was in the stolen base department, as his success rate has been taking a tremendous hit in 2013.

In addition to stealing bases, a leadoff hitter is supposed to get on base and score runs.  Although Bourn has never been a threat to lead the league in on-base percentage, he has still managed to maintain an OBP above .340 in each of the last four seasons.  This year, despite his .291 batting average, Bourn is only reaching base at a .338 clip, which would be his lowest on-base percentage since 2008.  After averaging 61 walks per season since 2009, including a career-high 70 walks last season, Bourn has only seen ball four 20 times this year in 330 plate appearances.

The combination of his poor stolen base success rate and his inability to draw a walk has limited Bourn to only 43 runs scored, which is tied for fifth-most on the Indians.  Prior to this year, Bourn had surpassed 90 runs scored in three of his last four seasons.  The one year he failed to score 90, he missed the last three weeks of the season due to an oblique injury.  He still managed to score 84 runs in 2010 despite missing 21 games.

So that's what Michael Bourn has done in his first year with the Indians.  Now let's compare his numbers to the ones posted by Mets center fielder Juan Lagares.  You might notice some similarities between the two.

  • Bourn: .291/.338/.382, 14 doubles, 1 triple, 4 HR, 29 RBI, 43 runs, 13 SB, 74 K, 20 BB, 1.9 WAR
  • Lagares: .263/.294/.398, 15 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 17 runs, 2 SB, 47 K, 7 BB, 1.9 WAR

Juan Lagares looks better in blue and orange than Michael Bourn, don't you think?

Now what if I told you that Bourn has almost twice as many plate appearances (330) than Lagares has with the Mets (171)?  Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that if Lagares had come to the plate 330 times, his cumulative offensive statistics would be equal to or would surpass many of the numbers posted by Bourn.

There are two things, however, that Bourn has a commanding edge over Lagares.  First, he is more than six years older than Lagares.  Bourn will turn 31 in December, while Lagares won't turn 25 until next April.  And second, Bourn is in the first year of a four-year, $48 million contract.  A vesting option could turn that into a five-year, $60 million deal.  Lagares is playing for the major league mininum salary.

The Mets came close to paying Michael Bourn tens of millions of dollars to play center field for the team until his mid-30s.  Instead, they just handed over the job to a player in his mid-20s whose numbers are rivaling those being put up by Bourn in Cleveland.  The only numbers Lagares is not rivaling Bourn in is age and salary.

When the season began, the Mets were playing musical chairs in the outfield, hoping to find a set of three players that would be around when the music stopped.  With nearly two-thirds of the season complete, the Mets have finally found those three players.  With Eric Young, Jr. and Marlon Byrd flanking him in left field and right field, respectively, Juan Lagares has taken over as the field general in the outfield.  He's done everything that's been asked of him, including playing stellar defense.  That's what the Mets were hoping to get from Michael Bourn before the season started.  It's good to know that the outfield has shown signs of life without ever being Bourn.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Walk-Offs

Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images North America

After playing their best game of the season in the first game of Friday's day-night doubleheader, whitewashing the Nationals, 11-0, the Mets dropped the second contest to Washington, 2-1, losing the game when Ryan Zimmerman took a LaTroy Hawkins offering over the wall in right field.

The heartbreaking defeat was the Mets' ninth walk-off loss of the year in their 100th game.  That's only three shy of the dozen walk-off losses the Mets suffered in 2010, a year in which the Mets seemingly lost every game on the road in walk-off fashion.

With the loss, the Mets dropped to 46-54.  That means one-sixth of their losses have come with their opponents celebrating in front of their home crowd by throwing their hands up in the air and waving them around like they just don't care.  To make matters worse, the Mets actually have a winning record on the road (25-24) despite all the walk-off losses.

Just imagine where the Mets would be if they had just won five of those nine games they lost via the walk-off.  For one thing, they'd be 30-19 away from home, which would be the best road record in the majors (St. Louis currently has the best record on the road at 30-21).  Winning those five games would also have given the Mets an overall record of 51-49.  The team would be in second place in the NL East and would be within sniffing distance of the division-leading Braves.

And what about losses at Citi Field in which the opponent scored the decisive run in their final turn at bat, which don't count as walk-off losses but are just as painful and avoidable?  Just this past Monday, the Mets blew a 1-0 ninth-inning lead to Atlanta when Bobby Parnell allowed two runs before he could get the final three outs.  The team has also lost four extra-inning games at home, including a 20-inning defeat to the Marlins on June 8 and a 15-inning loss to the Diamondbacks on the Fourth of July.  In the latter contest, the Mets rallied to tie the game in the 13th and 14th innings, only to see the bullpen allow an extra-inning run for the third consecutive frame in the 15th.  New York did not have a third overtime rally in them that day.

Other games at Citi Field that saw the Mets give up the decisive run in their opponent's final turn at bat include a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers on April 25 (Los Angeles scored two runs in the ninth), a 7-4 defeat to the Reds on May 22 (Cincinnati scored three times in the ninth), and a 6-4 heartbreaker to the Nationals on June 28 (Washington scored twice in the ninth).  The most recent home loss in which the Mets allowed the winning run to score in their opponents' final at-bat came this past Monday, as mentioned above, when Atlanta scored two runs in the ninth inning to turn an uplifting 1-0 victory in to an ugly 2-1 defeat.

In all, the Mets have lost 17 games in which their opponent scored the winning run in their final turn at bat (nine walk-offs, four extra-inning home losses, four home losses in which the decisive run was scored in the ninth inning).  That's almost one-third of their loss total for the season.  Had the Mets just won nine of those 17 games - which is barely more than half - they'd have a 55-45 record.  And if two of those nine wins had come against the Braves (in addition to last Monday's ninth-inning debacle to Atlanta, the Mets also let a 1-0 ninth-inning lead slip away in Atlanta on June 17, which became one of their nine walk-off losses), Atlanta's record would not have been 58-45.  Rather, it would have been 56-47, meaning the Mets would be in first place right now.  And all they had to do was win roughly one-half of the games they lost in their opponent's final at-bat.

The Braves have four walk-off losses in 2013.  The Nationals have five.  The Phillies have six.  The Mets have nine.  And don't forget those eight additional losses at home in which the Mets allowed the decisive run to score in the ninth inning or later.

We don't need no stinkin' walk-offs like last night's loss at Nationals Park.  We also don't need no stinkin' losses at home when the games are there for the taking in the late innings.  Should those types of losses continue, the Mets are going to miss out on what could have been an unexpected successful season.  And that would be the biggest stink of them all. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

To Be The Best, You Have To Beat The Best

Jenrry Mejia photo by Evan Vucci/AP

The Mets have the best record in the NL East since June 18, playing .600 ball over the last six weeks.  Slowly, but surely, they have been creeping closer to the Phillies and Nationals in the standings.  They are also starting to appear in the Braves' rear view mirror, although Atlanta is still a safe distance ahead on the highway.

New York is defeating everyone these days.  They're beating lefties, righties, rookies, veterans.  They're even defeating pitchers who rarely lose to anyone.

Here is a list of some of the pitchers the Mets have defeated this year, along with their win-loss record or number of saves for the season:

  • April 21:  Mets defeat Jordan Zimmermann (12 wins, 6 losses).
  • May 9:  Mets defeat Jason Grilli (league-leading 30 saves).
  • May 16:  Mets defeat Adam Wainwright (13 wins, 5 losses).
  • May 28:  Mets defeat Mariano Rivera (second in the majors with 33 saves).
  • June 12:  Mets defeat Shelby Miller (10 wins, 6 losses).
  • June 20:  Mets defeat Mike Minor (10 wins, 5 losses).
  • July 2:  Mets defeat Patrick Corbin (12 wins, 1 loss).
  • July 21:  Mets defeat Cliff Lee (10 wins, 4 losses).
  • July 26:  Mets defeat Jordan Zimmermann again (see record above).

There are five pitchers in baseball with 30 or more saves.  The Mets have pinned losses on two of them.  There are four pitchers in the National League with 12 or more wins.  The Mets have defeated three of them, including the Diamondbacks' Patrick Corbin, who has not lost to anyone else this season.

In addition to the above pitchers, the Mets have also defeated Roy Halladay, Stephen Strasburg, Dan Haren, Matt Cain and Cole Hamels (twice).  All of those pitchers have had very successful careers - except against the Mets in 2013.

The Mets still have a sub-.500 record.  But they are getting strong pitching, clutch hitting, and they are beating some of the best pitchers in baseball.  That's a recipe for long-term success and makes the Mets a formidable opponent.

There is no pitcher in baseball and no team in baseball that is scaring the Mets right now.  But perhaps it should be the Mets' opponents who should be scared of them.  To be the best, the Mets have to beat the best.  They've been doing just that and are showing no signs of stopping.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Mets Can Win The N.L. East

This scene isn't as impossible as you might think for the Mets in 2013
(other tha
n the Shea Stadium location, of course).

Stop laughing at the title of this post.  I truly mean it when I say the Mets can win the N.L. East.  Sure, the team is still eight games under .500 after splitting a four-game series with the division-leading Atlanta Braves.  And yes, the Mets remain ten games behind the Braves for the top spot in the East.  But there is no reason to think the Mets can't end up on top of their division come September 29, and I have several reasons why.

On the morning of June 18 (otherwise known as "Super Tuesday"), the Mets woke up with a 25-40 record, 14½ games behind the Braves for first place in the eastern division.  They were also seven games behind the second place Nationals and six games behind the third place Phillies.  In the six weeks since Zack Wheeler made his major league debut and Eric Young, Jr. was acquired from the Colorado Rockies, the Mets have a 20-13 record.  The only teams in baseball with more wins than the Mets during that time period are the Los Angeles Dodgers (24-8) and Tampa Bay Rays (24-9).  No other team in the N.L. East has more than 15 wins since June 18.

New York also has many games remaining against teams with losing records.  After their 7-4 victory over the Braves on Thursday, the Mets have 64 games left on their schedule.  Each of their next 14 games is against a team with a losing record.  In all, 44 of their last 64 games are against teams with sub-.500 records.  The Mets play just six series over the next two-plus months against teams that currently have winning records.  Two of those six series are against the Atlanta Braves - a team the Mets have defeated seven times this year, which is the most victories they have against any team in 2013.  Another of those six series is against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team that is 18-24 since June 5 and has relinquished first place after holding on to the top spot in the N.L. West for most of the season.

Consider this.  Since their 12-1 start, the Braves are 45-44.  That's over half a season of being mediocre.  Meanwhile, the Phillies and Nationals have been mediocre all season.  The Mets, on the other hand, have been far better than a break-even team for well over a month now.

Shaun Marcum has been released, thereby freezing his record for all eternity at 1-10.  Zack Wheeler has replaced him in the rotation with a 4-1 mark.  Dillon Gee has been brilliant over his last ten starts, going 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA.  And the bullpen has finally found its groove, posting a 1.98 ERA in the soon-to-be-completed month of July.  (Matt Harvey is Matt Harvey, so you know he's going to be good.)

The offense has finally clicked as well.  After hitting .229 from April to June (never batting higher than .233 in any calendar month), the Mets are batting .267 in the month of July.  They are still averaging close to one home run per game (92 homers in 98 games), but now they've added the stolen base to their offensive repertoire.  During the season's first three months, the Mets averaged 12.3 thefts per month, never swiping more than 14 bases in any one month.  In the month of July, the Mets have already stolen 20 bases, and that's with the All-Star Break zapping four days off the calendar.

In 1973, the Mets were 12 games under .500 and 11½ games out of first place on the morning of August 6.  They went on to win the division.  In 2001, New York was 14 games under .500 and 13½ games behind the division leader when their alarm clocks went off on August 18.  By September 27, they had cut the lead to three games but fell short of completing their unlikely comeback.

The 2013 Mets are eight games under .500 and ten games behind a team that has been nothing more than mediocre since the third week of the season.  They have less of an uphill climb this year than they had in 1973 and 2001.  Why is it so hard to believe they can't overcome Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington in a weak division when there's still over two months to go in the regular season, especially when the team is showing that it's getting better offensively and in the bullpen?

It ain't over till it's over.  And with the way the Mets have been playing over the past month and a half, it may not be over anytime soon.  As far-fetched as it may seem, ya gotta believe the Mets can still win the N.L. East.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Charitable Evening With The Mets At Foley's Pub

Tonight, the cast and crew of Studious Metsimus (and A Gal For All Seasons) spent an evening at Foley's Pub and Restaurant doing our part to help the tornado victims of Moore, Oklahoma.

I had the 405 Burger (which is named after the telephone area code in Moore) and my gal for all seasons had the Big Red Foley Chicken Sandwich, which we both enjoyed.  Proceeds from the 405 Burger were used to help the victims of the terrible tragedy.

In addition to helping out the tornado victims with the special burger, Foley's also invited various Mets players to take part in a meet-and-greet with fans, with proceeds once again going to those in need in Oklahoma.  For a $30 donation, we were able to get a ball autographed by Jeremy Hefner, Dillon Gee, LaTroy Hawkins and David Aardsma.  And for no additional fee, we also got each player to take a photograph with our very own Joey and Iggy Beartran.  A certain PR man with a mouth covered in sauce from the wings he was eating also made a photo appearance with the bears.

Thanks once again to the players and to Foley's for getting together for a fine cause (and for making such a thick, juicy burger ... YUM!!).  Enjoy the photos!

Bottom two photos by Taryn Cooper.  Top four photos by a guy who needs to fix the flashbulb on his camera.

Band On The Run

AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

Since Jose Reyes left town to be part of the Marlins' semi-annual fire sale, the Mets have not been very dependent on the stolen base.  The team stole just 79 bases in 2012.  It was the first time since 2003 (the year Reyes was called up to the big leagues) that the Mets failed to steal 100 bases in a season.

Over the first two and a half months of the 2013 campaign, the Mets' lethargy on the bases continued, as the team stole 29 bases in their first 67 games - a 70-steal pace over 162 games.  But then the Mets acquired Eric Young, Jr. from the Colorado Rockies in mid-June, and the team became a band on the run.

Since Young played his first game for the Mets on June 19, the team has stolen 25 bases in 26 games.  Not only are the Mets stealing more bases, they're doing it with an incredible success rate.  Through June 18 (the pre-Young days), the Mets stole 29 bases in 43 attempts for a 67.4% success rate.  The last time the Mets had a lower stolen base success rate was in 2001, when utility player Desi Relaford led the team with 13 steals.  (The team stole 66 bases in 114 attempts in 2001 - a 57.9% success rate.)

Once Young donned a Mets jersey for the first time, the team was off and running (and smarter, too).  In 26 games since June 19, New York has stolen 25 bases in 35 attempts for a 71.4% success rate.  Today marked the sixth time in the last ten games that the Mets stole at least two bases.  Prior to Young's arrival, the Mets had six games with two or more steals all year.

Young himself has swiped ten bags since he became a Met, but the rest of team has followed in his speedy footsteps, specifically Daniel Murphy, who is 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts since June 19.

The focus on stolen bases as an offensive weapon has given the Mets a new dimension to their game.  Not coincidentally, it has also given them a few more wins.  Including today's 5-4 win over the Phillies, the Mets have gone 15-11 since Eric Young, Jr. joined the Mets.  Without question, his arrival has helped invigorate a moribund team.

Prior to June 19, the Mets were a station-to-station team who depended mostly on the long ball to score runs.  (Remember the team-record 12-game homer streak to start the season?)  They still hit home runs (14 homers in their last 14 games), but now they can beat you with their legs as well.

After a 25-40 start, the Mets have used their wings to fly from base to base, making them a true band on the run.  Let's see if their new offensive weapon can take them running up the NL East standings as well.

Against the Phillies, Jeremy Hefner Is the Anti-PSSST

Jeremy Hefner does not pitch well against the Philadelphia Phillies.  Of his 46 appearances (32 starts) in the big leagues, six of them (five starts) have come with Phillies hitters salivating in the batter's box.  Hefner has managed to pitch only 18⅓ innings versus Philadelphia in those six appearances, allowing 29 runs (28 earned) and 48 base runners (43 hits, 5 walks).  That's a 13.75 ERA, 2.62 WHIP and .448 batting average (43-for-96) against him, for all you kids scoring at home.

For his career, Hefner has a 4.46 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, with opposing hitters batting .268 against him.  That means when he faces teams that don't have brotherly love for him, Hefner has a 3.54 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and opposing hitters are batting .244 (173-for-709) against him.  Simply stated, against the Phillies, Hefner pitches like a Quadruple-A pitcher.  Against everyone else, he pitches like a top of the rotation starter.  In essence, Hefner is the Anti-PSSST.  And what exactly is PSSST?  Oh, ye of little memory, let me take you back to a piece that was originally written on April 11, 2010.

Back in the early '90s, the Pittsburgh Pirates dominated the National League East.  The Bucs won three straight division titles from 1990 to 1992, effectively ending any chance of the Mets continuing their '80s glory into the new decade.  One of the reasons the Mets constantly walked the plank against the Pirates was their trio of lefty starters, namely John Smiley, Zane Smith and Randy Tomlin.  Smiley, Smith and Tomlin formed the "SST" in PSSST, or the Pitching School of Smiley, Smith and Tomlin.

John Smiley was a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1986-1991.  Zane Smith was a Pirate from 1990-1994, then returned to Pittsburgh for his final season in 1996.  Randy Tomlin played his entire five-year career in the Steel City from 1990-1994.  Collectively, the three pitchers were the definition of mediocre, as they combined to win 256 games and lose 256 games over their careers.  But when they put on their Pirates uniforms to face the Mets, they became world beaters (or at the very least, Met killers).

Let's look at what the charter members of PSSST did over their entire careers and let's compare that to what they did against the Mets while they were members of the Pirates, considering their won-loss records, ERA, WHIP and batting average against them.

  • John Smiley (entire career): 126-110, 3.80 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .255 BAA
  • John Smiley (w/PIT vs. Mets): 10-3, 2.41 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .178 BAA

  • Zane Smith (entire career): 100-115, 3.74 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, .271 BAA
  • Zane Smith (w/PIT vs. Mets): 7-3, 1.87 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .245 BAA

  • Randy Tomlin (entire career): 30-31, 3.43 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, .268 BAA
  • Randy Tomlin (w/PIT vs. Mets): 9-0, 2.05 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, .216 BAA

  • Combined (entire career): 256-256, 3.73 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .264 BAA
  • Combined (w/PIT vs. Mets): 26-6, 2.12 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, .214 BAA

                                   PSSST!  Don't tell anyone, but these guys were pretty good against the Mets. 

From 1986, when John Smiley made his first start for the Pirates against the Mets, to 1996, when Zane Smith made his final start as a Buc versus New York, the Mets went through a decade of malaise against the fearsome threesome of Smiley, Smith and Tomlin.  They couldn't touch the three lefties whenever they faced them, even though other teams seemed to have no problem against them.

In that respect, Jeremy Hefner is the Anti-PSSST.  Whereas the charter members of PSSST had their best success against the Mets and were just okay when they faced other teams, Jeremy Hefner has struggled mightily against the Phillies, but has been pretty decent against the rest of the league.

Perhaps a private session with the members of PSSST and a complimentary 1986-1996 highlight film of the Pirates' trio in games versus the Mets can do the trick for Hefner if he wants to learn how to exorcise the demons wearing Phillies uniforms.  If that doesn't do the trick, then Mets fans will continue to get PSSST off whenever Hefner takes the hill against the Phillies.