Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Joey and Iggy Beartran Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, Mets fans!  This is Joey Beartran, along with my sister Iggy Beartran.  Today is not a day to criticize the non-spending habits of the Wilpons or why Sandy Alderson pauses or clears his throat after every other word he utters.  Today is about family, food and all the things we have to be thankful for in our lives.

Iggy and I have many things to be thankful for this holiday season, and we'd like to share those things with you today.  It won't take long to share, so you can read this during halftime of today's various football games or during the ten minutes your Aunt Bea takes at the dinner table to complain about anything and everything when she should really be saying what she's thankful for.  (Here's a tip - next year, skip Aunt Bea when it's her turn to speak at the dinner table.  Turkey doesn't taste as good when it's cold.)

Enjoy your holidays, everyone!

Joey:  I'm thankful to have Iggy in my life.  She's the best game day partner I could ever hope for when I go to Citi Field and can't finish my basket of chicken tenders and fries.

Iggy:  Aw, thanks, Joey.  I'm thankful for you for sharing those chicken tenders and fries.  I'd be more thankful if we got one basket for each of us.  Yelling at Lucas Duda after he butchers another fly ball gives me quite an appetite.

Guess Lucas Duda made an error before this photo was taken.

Joey:  I'm thankful I waited until all those large contracts came off the books so I could see the plethora of wonderful players Sandy Alderson would bring into the fold for the 2014 season.  I'm looking forward to Chris Young's speech when he wins the 2014 National League MVP Award.

Iggy:  I'm thankful for the internet, because without it, I would never have heard of Chris Young or have been able to read why he was being compared to Mario Mendoza.

Thanks to the internet, Iggy now knows who this is.  She just read the name on his bat.

Joey:  I'm thankful for all the extra promotions and concerts the Mets are going to have in 2014, especially on the weekends.  I've been waiting my whole life to relive the 1986 World Series championship by dancing to the music of Huey Lewis & The News.

Iggy:  I second that.  And I love that the Mets made their souvenir collector's cups in the size of my head, so they can double as party hats when I'm shuffling my feet to "Hip To Be Square".

Is Huey Lewis on stage yet?  I've got my party hat on.

Joey:  Finally, I'm thankful for my Mets fan family.  Seeing them on the Shea Bridge always warms up my heart and reminds me just why I became a Mets fan in the first place.

Iggy:  Me, too!  Also, by meeting them on the Shea Bridge, it puts us closer to Shake Shack, Catch of the Day, Blue Smoke, Box Frites, El Verano Taqueria...

When I'm not dressed for Huey Lewis, I've got my sombrero ready for the Taqueria.

That's all for this special Joey and Iggy Beartran Thanksgiving post.  Thanks so much for reading what we're thankful for.  If you'd like, why don't you share what you're thankful for in the comments section?  Just click below where it says "no comments" or "1 comment" or whatever it says at the time and share your Thanksgiving thoughts with us.

From the two of us to all of you in reader land, we'd like to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, and to all our Jewish readers (we know you're reading this, Ike Davis and Josh Satin), we wish you a wonderful Hanukkah.  Thanks so much for your continued support!  And as always...


Happy holidays, everyone!  We tip our ski caps to you to thank you for your support.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Plaque Is Wack: Armando Benitez & The Hall of Fame

The Baseball Writers' Association of America announced its Hall of Fame ballot for 2014 earlier today, with 36 players named.  Among the most prominent returnees are Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Jack Morris.  There are also 19 first-timers on the ballot, including Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and former Mets Jeff Kent and Tom Glavine.

Both Kent and Glavine have excellent chances of making it into the Hall, as Kent is the all-time leader in home runs for second basemen and Glavine surpassed the magic 300-win plateau.  But as divisive as Kent and Glavine were to Mets fans, there is another former Met on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time whose picture can probably be found next to the word "divisive" in the dictionary.  That player is Armando Benitez.

Please do not throw darts at your computer screen.

Armando Benitez pitched for seven major league teams during his 15-year career, including five years with the Mets from 1999 to 2003.  Benitez had 289 lifetime saves, which is currently the 26th highest total in baseball history.  The right-hander also recorded three 40-save campaigns, including a league-leading 47 saves in 2004 as a member of the Florida Marlins.  In addition, Benitez struck out 946 batters in 779 innings, averaging 10.929 strikeouts per nine innings.  That's the third-highest K/9 IP ratio for all pitchers with at least 700 innings pitched, behind only Billy Wagner (11.920 K/9 IP) and Francisco Rodriguez (10.931 K/9 IP).

As a Met, Benitez saved 160 games (second on the team to John Franco's 276 saves).  He also posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.133 WHIP in 347 innings.  Of all Mets with at least 300 innings pitched, only Tom Seaver posted a lower ERA (2.57) and only Seaver (1.076 WHIP), Bret Saberhagen (1.079), Sid Fernandez (1.113) and Skip Lockwood (1.114) had a lower WHIP than Benitez.

Perhaps the most amazing number posted by Benitez was his batting average against.  As a Met, opposing hitters hit only .182 against him (225-for-1236), and for his entire 15-year career, that number was still just .195, a figure that would cause Mario Mendoza to shake his head.

Those look like the Hall of Fame numbers of a dominant reliever.  But Benitez has as much chance of making it to Cooperstown as Ike Davis has of winning a batting title.  In fact, Benitez will probably fall well short of the 5% needed to remain on the ballot for a second year.  Why is that?  It's all about the timing of this rare hits against him.

  • Who gave up the game-tying home run to Derek Jeter in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS (the Jeffrey Maier homer)?  That was Armando Benitez.
  • Who failed to protect a two-run lead by serving up a three-run homer to Marquis Grissom in Game 2 of the 1997 ALCS?  Señor Armando Benitez.
  • Who allowed the Diamondbacks to tie Game 4 of the 1999 NLDS, only to be spared by Todd Pratt's walk-off home run in extra innings?  Armando the Destroyer.
  • Who made Mets fans rain expletives when he allowed a game-tying three-run homer to J.T. Snow in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS?  It was Armando F. Benitez.
  • Who prevented the Mets from taking Game 1 of the 2000 World Series by allowing the Yankees to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth?  That damn dirty Armando.

You want me to serve up another gopher ball in a big spot?  Sure, why not?

And that was just the postseason.  We don't really need to mention the regular season, like the blown save to the Phillies during the near-fatal seven-game losing streak at the end of September 1999.  Or the eight runs he allowed in two September appearances against the Braves during the final two weeks of the 2001 season that thwarted the Mets' unexpected late-season run.  Or even the game-tying home run he allowed to light-hitting Craig Counsell that set up the Mets' season-changing 12-game losing streak in August 2002. 

Armando Benitez allowed 39 home runs as a Met.  That means 17.3% of the 225 hits he gave up in a Mets uniform left the park - a number that overshadows the sub-.200 batting average against him.  And Mets fans got a good look at those home runs, as 31 of the 39 homers were hit at Shea Stadium.

On January 8, 2014, the Hall of Fame will get a new member or two.  Whether it be Mike Piazza, Jeff Kent or Tom Glavine, there is a good chance a former Met will be given that ultimate baseball honor.  Another former Met will be considered for enshrinement, but the only way he'll get in is if Brian Jordan hijacks the voting system or if the baseball writers decide to show their sick sense of humor.

Armando Benitez had a great Mets career.  When he wasn't pitching in a big spot, that is.  That being said, he should probably start saving his money for Cooperstown.  After all, the admission fee for visitors is getting higher year after year.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Omar Infante Could Be A Smart Pickup For The Mets

Jhonny Peralta has signed a four-year, $52 million contract to play shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals.  Stephen Drew is still out there, but is surprisingly not getting much attention. (Injury history, anyone?)  Ben Zobrist could be traded for, but Tampa Bay really loves him and would more than likely ask for a king's ransom in exchange for Zobrist.

But there is one veteran middle infielder out there who isn't getting much attention, but he should be getting lots of attention from the Mets.  That infielder is Omar Infante.  And despite the fact that he's played only 225 games at shortstop in his career (he's played over 700 games at second base), he might be the guy to target for the vacant shortstop position at Citi Field.

It would certainly not be considered baby steps for the Mets if they chose to sign Omar Infante.

Omar Infante has played 12 seasons in the major leagues, but is still relatively young (he'll be 32 in December).  He became a regular in the big leagues in his third season, when he hit .264 with 27 doubles, 16 homers, 55 RBI and 13 stolen bases for the Tigers.  But his first go-round in Detroit didn't end well, and he was traded to the Cubs, who traded him to the Braves prior to the 2008 season.

In Atlanta, Infante became an All-Star.  He also quietly became one of the best contact hitters in the game.  From 2008 to 2010, Infante hit .309 for the Braves, striking out just 134 times in over 1,000 plate appearances.  But he didn't hit for much power or steal many bases for the Braves, so Atlanta decided to move him to the Marlins for power-hitting second baseman Dan Uggla.

Infante hit with more power and stole more bases in 2012, splitting the season between Miami and Detroit.  Although his average dipped to .274, he hit 12 home runs, drove in 53 runs and stole a career-high 17 bases for the Marlins and Tigers.  He also legged out seven triples and produced his first 30-double campaign.

In 2013, Infante overcame a mid-season injury that kept him out of the lineup for six weeks.  Had he not been hurt, he might have had his best season yet.  Infante played in 118 games for the AL Central division champion Tigers, batting .318 with 24 doubles, 10 HR and 51 RBI.  Had he not been hurt, he probably would have surpassed his 30-double, 12-HR, 53-RBI totals from 2012.  He also would've finished fourth in the American League batting race had he qualified for it, as his 476 plate appearances kept him 26 short of being considered among the leaders in batting average.

So why am I making such a big deal about a soon-to-be 32-year-old middle infielder being a smart pickup for the Mets to take over at short?  One reason is economical.  The other is all about the ballpark.

Omar Infante made just $4 million as a member of the Tigers in 2013.  The two-year, $8 million contract he signed with the Marlins after the 2011 campaign was the richest he had ever agreed to.  That means he'd be a cheap signing for the Mets, as they could give him two years for less money than the Cardinals are committing to Jhonny Peralta per season.  Signing Infante would also leave approximately $15-$20 million for Sandy Alderson to spend on a starting pitcher and another outfielder.  Had they signed Peralta or continued to be in the mix for Stephen Drew, that dollar amount would be far smaller, as would the talent level of the players Alderson would have to settle for.

It wouldn't be that much of a stretch to think Omar Infante could be a fine player at Citi Field.

The main reason why Infante would be a wise choice for the Mets is because of the ballpark he would call home for 81 games a year.  Do you know which opposing player has the highest batting average at Citi Field for all players who have played at least 15 games there?  Would you believe the answer is Omar Infante?  And we're not even talking about a small sample size, as the players with the second and third highest batting averages for visiting players at Citi Field (Matt Kemp, Reed Johnson) combined have 14 fewer at-bats at the park than Infante has by himself.

In 117 career at-bats at Citi Field, Infante is a .402 hitter, picking up 47 hits in 30 games (27 starts).  Infante has 11 extra-base hits, 13 RBI and 17 runs scored at the Mets' home ballpark.  His batting average is nearly 100 points higher than the Met with the highest average at Citi Field (Jose Reyes hit .319 at the park before joining the Marlins in 2012).

Infante also has the second-most number of hits of any opposing player at Citi Field, four behind Jimmy Rollins, who has 47 more at-bats than Infante has at the ballpark.  And for a player who is not a slugger and isn't among the league leaders in walks, Infante's .995 OPS at Citi Field has been bested by just two players, Joey Votto and Matt Kemp, both of whom are considered to be among the best players in the game.  The Met with the highest OPS at Citi Field is David Wright, but his .842 mark is nowhere near Infante's OPS.

Mets fans have been waiting for years for Sandy Alderson to make a splash in the free agent market.  But it's not always the free agent with the highest price tag that has the biggest positive impact on the team.  Sometimes, it's the smart move that pushes a team in the right direction (see Red Sox, Boston, circa 2013).  Omar Infante isn't a sexy signing.  But he'd sure be a smart one.  And he may just be the right guy at short and the player who would give the Mets the most bang for their buck in 2014.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Quick Thoughts On The Brian McCann Signing

Here's a bit of broken news for you.  This just came in from the Twitter account of the always-dependable Ken Rosenthal:

That's right, Mets fans.  Former Braves catcher Brian McCann is getting $17 million per season in a deal that could see him getting a total of $100 million from the Yankees through 2019.  Need I remind you, McCann will be 30 before Opening Day.  He's also a catcher.  And he's also been basically a singles hitter with an occasional homer thrown in to mix things up.  Want proof?

McCann has hit 20+ homers seven times in his career.  However, he's still looking for his first 25-HR campaign.  Despite the fact that a home run guarantees a run scored and at least one run batted in, McCann's runs have gone down every year since 2008 and his RBI total has decreased each year since 2009.  McCann's extra-base hits have also decreased annually since 2008, as have his total hits.

Runs Scored
Runs Batted In
Extra-Base Hits
Total Hits

To put that into perspective, please note that in the 2012 and 2013 campaigns, Lucas Duda scored a total of 85 runs, drove in 90, collected 61 extra-base hits and pounded out 167 total hits.  (McCann had 87, 124, 67 and 192, respectively.)  And for those of you saying "but McCann's a catcher and gets less playing time", Duda had 719 at-bats in the majors between the two seasons, while McCann had 795.  Therefore, the Yankees just paid $85 million (and perhaps up to $100 million) to a player whose current offensive production isn't that far off from what Lucas Duda does at the plate for the Mets.

But hey, at least the Yankees know that if someone styles after hitting a home run off one of their own, Brian McCann will be there to block the plate as that hitter rounds third.  I guess that part of his game is priceless.

Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

If Only The Mets Could Trade For Ben Zobrist...

The Mets are looking for a shortstop.  The names that constantly pop up as potential free agent acquisitions at the position are Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew.  But Peralta is asking for a minimum of four years and $52 million and is supposedly getting attention from teams willing to give him that type of deal.  Stephen Drew could be had for less money and years, but he has an injury history that has caused him to miss nearly 200 games since 2011.  His production at the plate has also gone down, as his slash line has been .245/.322/.403 during those three injury-plagued seasons.

So if the Mets can't acquire a free agent shortstop (which would not require them to lose their protected first round draft pick), they might have to look to make a trade.  And there's one player who would fit in very nicely at short if the Mets could find a way to engineer a trade with his current team.

What do you think of Ben Zobrist starting at shortstop for the New York Mets?

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Ben Zobrist is the longest tenured player on the Tampa Bay Rays.  He is the only member of the Rays currently under contract who has been with the team when they were still known as the Devil Rays.  He is also 32 years old and is earning $7 million in 2014.  The Rays have a $7.5 million option for Zobrist in 2015.  And we all know that Tampa doesn't keep their players around once they enter free agency.  They failed to re-sign and/or were forced to trade players like Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, B.J. Upton and James Shields.  They're also considering trading David Price - the only pitcher to win a Cy Young Award in a Rays uniform.

At $7 million, Zobrist would cost the Mets far less than the amount they would have to lock up to ink Peralta or Drew to deals.  But they would have to part ways with a few prospects and/or a major league player.  I have a deal in mind that might get it done.  Tell me, Mets fans.  Would you trade Rafael Montero and Ike Davis for Ben Zobrist?

Montero is an excellent control pitcher, averaging nearly five strikeouts per walk in three minor league seasons.  With half a season of Triple-A experience, he should be in the starting rotation very early in the 2014 season.  But the Mets have a surplus of good, young starting pitchers.  They can certainly afford to trade one of those hurlers, especially with a rotation that will include Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee and a veteran starter or two yet to be acquired.  At some point during the year, Noah Syndergaard will also be a part of the starting rotation.  That makes a pitcher like Montero expendable.  And we all know how Tampa Bay values quality arms.

Ike Davis clearly needs a change of scenery.  And Tampa has a hole at first base, as veteran James Loney is a free agent who will more than likely seek a multi-year deal and a big raise after hitting .299 with 33 doubles, 13 homers and 75 RBI for the Rays on a one-year, $2 million deal in 2013.  First base is normally a power position, something James Loney is not known for.  Ike Davis would certainly give the Rays a powerful bat at first base.  Of course, Davis hasn't been the same since the season-ending injury he suffered in May 2011.  But even with two poor first halves in 2012 and 2013, Davis has done fairly well after the All-Star Break in both seasons.  His second-half performances in 2012 (.255, 20 HR, 41 RBI in 66 starts) and 2013 (.290, 4 HR, 15 RBI in 32 starts) show that Davis can be a big power threat if he could ever combine those numbers over a full season.  Another plus is that Davis won't be 27 until a week before Opening Day, while Loney will be 30 in May.  Davis will also be under team control until 2017, and team control are two important words in Tampa's front office.

Sandy Alderson should not turn his back on my idea to trade for Ben Zobrist.

Ben Zobrist is 32 years old and will soon be pricing himself out of the Rays' future plans.  But he can play both middle infield positions and all three outfield positions.  He is also a switch-hitter who can be a great contributor at the plate.  Since 2009 - when he became an everyday player for the first time - Zobrist has produced three 30-double and three 20-HR campaigns.  He has also reached double digits in stolen bases every year, with a career high of 24 in 2010.  And of course, he draws a lot of walks, having surpassed 90 walks in a season three times since 2009.  Just eight players in Mets history have walked 90 or more times in a season.  Of those eight, only Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Carlos Beltran and David Wright had multiple 90-walk campaigns.  None of them did it three times, as Zobrist has done for the Rays.

Now let's look at the numbers for Jhonny Peralta, Stephen Drew and Ben Zobrist since 2009 and compare them to see which player has performed better at the plate for his respective team.

  • Peralta: 702 G, .267/.325/.414, 152 doubles, 71 HR, 368 RBI, 293 R, 5 SB, 535 K, 228 BB
  • Drew: 575 G, .257/.329/.424, 125 doubles, 52 HR, 266 RBI, 293 R, 26 SB, 469 K, 232 BB
  • Zobrist: 773 G, .269/.366/.446, 177 doubles, 89 HR, 402 RBI, 432 R, 85 SB, 533 K, 429 BB

It's not even close.  Of the three players, Zobrist has the highest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.  He also has the most doubles, homers, RBI and runs scored.  He has drawn almost as many walks as Peralta and Drew have combined and he has nearly three times the combined stolen base total posted by the other two.  Zobrist does have 64 more strikeouts than Drew, but it took him almost 200 more games to accomplish that whiff total.  And remember, Zobrist is only making $7 million in 2014, which is half of what Peralta will probably earn and surely less than the amount the injury-plagued Drew would command.  Oh, and did I mention that Zobrist plays five positions?  I did?  Well, it's worth repeating.

Finally, let's look at WAR, and show what it's good for in the case of Ben Zobrist.  Since 2009, Zobrist's 32.9 WAR is the third-highest in baseball.  The only players above him are Robinson Cano (34.2 WAR) and Miguel Cabrera (33.7 WAR).  Directly behind Zobrist are teammate Evan Longoria (31.5 WAR) and Joey Votto (30.5 WAR).  Cano, Cabrera, Zobrist, Longoria and Votto are the only players in baseball with a combined WAR of 30.0 or greater over the past five seasons, as Adrian Beltre has the sixth-highest WAR since 2009 at 29.4.  For the record, David Wright's 20.7 WAR since 2009 is the highest of any Mets position player.  The second-highest WAR on the Mets over the same time period is 10.3, which is what Angel Pagan produced despite not playing for the team after 2011.  Needless to say, the Mets haven't had many position players with high WARs since they moved to Citi Field.

If I were Sandy Alderson, I'd seriously consider doing more than just kicking the tires on this deal.  Tampa Bay has always prided itself on having lots of young talent in its starting rotation.  Rafael Montero would certainly qualify as a talented arm, something the Rays would need should they choose to trade David Price.  And Tampa could definitely use more power, as Evan Longoria was the only player on the team who hit more than 18 homers in 2013.  Ike Davis could provide a left-handed power bat to complement Longoria's right-handed pop.

Jhonny Peralta is pricing himself off the Mets' radar.  Stephen Drew is too much of an injury risk.  If only the Mets could trade for Ben Zobrist, they wouldn't have to worry about the almighty dollar or the training room.  Zobrist has been a great, versatile player for a number of years now.  He'd be wonderful as a Met.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Don't Give Arroyo a Blue & Orange Hooded Sweatshirt

The Mets need to add a starting pitcher or two.  That much is certain.  One of the names that keeps popping up as a potential target is Bronson Arroyo.  Arroyo has been durable, making at least 32 starts in each of his last nine seasons.  And the Mets certainly need an innings-eater in 2014, especially with Matt Harvey not being able to feed himself any frames next year.  But should the Mets make Arroyo one of their top free agent targets this offseason?  If it were solely up to me, I think the Mets would be shama-lama-ding-dongs if they signed him.  Here's why.

Bronson Arroyo had excellent run support in Cincinnati.  From 2011 to 2013, Arroyo had a 4.19 ERA and allowed 104 home runs.  But he still posted a winning record (35-34) in those three seasons.  During those three seasons, Arroyo had the likes of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce in the starting lineup.  The Mets just added .235 career hitter Chris Young to become one of their top sluggers.  Needless to say, an ERA north of 4.00 won't cut it when you're depending on the Mets' lineup to give you run support.  Just ask Jeremy Hefner, who had a 4.34 ERA in 2013, but only won four of his 23 starts.

With Matt Harvey gone for the year, the Mets don't have a starting pitcher other than Zack Wheeler who can rack up strikeouts.  (Harvey and Wheeler were the only Mets starters who averaged better than 7.0 K/9 IP.)  Bronson Arroyo averaged exactly 7.0 K/9 IP during his first three seasons in Cincinnati.  But since 2009, Arroyo has failed to surpass 130 strikeouts in any season, averaging just 5.3 K/9 IP over his last 162 starts.  It's not as if Arroyo isn't throwing strikes.  It's just that his strikes aren't missing bats.  And that brings us to...

Those hits.  Oh, those hits.  From 2006 to 2010, Arroyo allowed opposing hitters to bat .259 against him.  That number jumped to .271 from 2011 to 2013.  He also failed to allow more than 31 homers in any season from 2006 to 2010.  But in the last three seasons, he has allowed more than 31 homers twice.  Arroyo gave up 46 dingers in 2011 and 32 long balls in 2013.  In both of those seasons, he led the league in taters served.

So let's talk about those taters.  Bronson Arroyo pitched eight years in Cincinnati.  That's two years short of a decade.  A total of 12 pitchers suited up for the Reds for at least a decade.  But none of them gave up as many homers as the 252 allowed by Arroyo.  In fact, prior to Arroyo, only one other pitcher had served up as many as 200 home runs as a member of the Reds.  That would be Tom Browning, who watched 234 balls sail over the wall.  However, Browning pitched 11 years in Cincinnati, making 33 more starts than Arroyo.  Yet Arroyo still gave up 18 more homers than Browning.  For a team that has been around since before the creation of the National League in 1876, Arroyo is the Reds' all-time gopher ball king.  That's not exactly something to be proud of.

Staying on the topic of home runs, it's true that Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark is a home run hitter's haven.  But Arroyo gave up nearly as many home runs on the road as he did at home.  Of the 252 homers Arroyo allowed as a member of the Reds, 130 were hit in Cincinnati, while 122 were slugged on the road.  He also has allowed five home runs at spacious Citi Field.  In just 31 innings of work.  To Mets hitters.  Former Met Jason Tyner could probably hit a home run against Arroyo if he was afforded the opportunity.

Bronson Arroyo has allowed five homers in 31 innings at Citi Field to guys who can't hit homers.

Finally, as great as Arroyo has been against the Mets in his career (8-3, 3.63 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), he has been horrible versus the rest of the NL East.  Against the Braves, Marlins, Phillies and Nationals, Arroyo is 15-19 with a 4.65 ERA and 1.40 WHIP.  Arroyo has made 11 starts against the lowly Marlins.  He's beaten them once.  And remember that run support we were talking about before?  He had plenty of that against the Braves.  He holds a fairly impressive 7-4 career record versus Atlanta, but is also the owner of a 5.14 ERA and 1.60 WHIP against the team that would become his new division rival.  Should he become a Met, he'd lose the opportunity to face the team in the division he's had the most personal success against.  And he'd also gain more starts against the teams he's been below average against.

Without question, the Mets need to fill a few holes in the starting rotation prior to Opening Day.  But as consistent as Bronson Arroyo has been over the past decade, that consistency doesn't bode well for him should he become a Met.  He'd be losing that great offensive support he's had since 2006 in Cincinnati and he'd be moving to a division where he'd have to face some of his nemeses more often.

The Mets should look elsewhere when considering which starting pitcher they'd like to bring into the fold.  They should only sign Bronson Arroyo if they have a death wish for 2014.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fill In At Closer, Fill Out Your Pink Slip

A hug before leaving.  (Getty Images Photo)

After having an excellent season with the Mets in 2013, LaTroy Hawkins will be pitching elsewhere in 2014.  Hawkins, who finished the year as the Mets' closer after Bobby Parnell was sidelined with a season-ending injury, signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Colorado Rockies on Monday.

Never mind that Sandy Alderson said he wouldn't pay a 41-year-old reliever that kind of money, even though Hawkins gave the Mets his best statistical season since 2004, posting a 2.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 13 saves at the age of 40.  But if Hawkins was aware of recent Mets history, he should've known that he was about to become a goner.

In 2011, Francisco Rodriguez was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers during the All-Star Break.  After the trade, Jason Isringhausen became the Mets' closer, saving seven games - including his 300th career save.  The following season, he traded apples for oranges, leaving the Big Apple for Orange County.  Isringhausen pitched in 50 games for the Los Angeles Angels in 2012, but did not pitch in the majors in 2013.

One year before Isringhausen finished the year for K-Rod, another pitcher was forced into closer duties for the Mets when Francisco Rodriguez couldn't finish the year with the team.  After injuring himself when he became Frankie Knuckles in front of his son's grandfather, Hisanori Takahashi filled in as the team's closer, notching three wins and eight saves over the season's final two months.  The 35-year-old Takahashi was not re-signed by the Mets following his versatile "rookie" season in 2010.  Instead, he chose to sign with the Angels, spending a year and a half in Los Angeles, followed by short tenures in Pittsburgh and Chicago.

Billy Wagner began the final season at Shea Stadium as the Mets' closer.  But a season-ending injury forced Omar Minaya to acquire Luis Ayala in August 2008.  Ayala saved nine games as Wagner's temporary replacement.  And by temporary, I mean his two blown saves, two losses and 14.40 ERA over the season's final two weeks guaranteed he wouldn't be a Met in 2009.  Since then, Ayala has bounced around more than his pitches did in the left and right field corners of Shea Stadium in his six weeks with the team.  The right-hander has collected paychecks from the Twins, Marlins, Yankees, Orioles and Braves since he allowed the final run to cross the plate at Shea Stadium on a back-breaking blast by Dan Uggla on September 28, 2008.

When Braden Looper was in the final days of the two-year contract he signed with the Mets prior to the 2004 season, he required season-ending surgery to repair a blown AC joint in his right shoulder.  In stepped Roberto Hernandez, who picked up two wins and three saves over the final two weeks of the 2005 campaign.  But the Mets allowed Hernandez to leave as a free agent, and the 40-year-old reliever inked a one-year deal to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2006.  Hernandez was traded back to the Mets (along with Oliver Perez) when Duaner Sanchez had a case of the munchies and got into the wrong taxi cab in Miami, but Hernandez did not record another save as a Met.

Roberto Hernandez should've pitched in this game instead of Braden Looper.

LaTroy Hawkins had a wonderful season for the Mets in 2013.  After becoming the team's closer on August 6, Hawkins pitched in 23 games and was 13-for-14 in save attempts.  Hawkins had pinpoint control as the team's closer, striking out 18 batters and walking only one in 22⅓ innings.  Opposing hitters had a .229 on-base percentage and a miniscule .272 slugging percentage against Hawkins, collecting just two extra-base hits in 81 at-bats.

Usually, those numbers are what you'd expect from a young, stud closer.  Someone like Craig Kimbrel.  In fact, going back to August 6 - the day Hawkins became the Mets' fill-in closer for the injured Bobby Parnell, Kimbrel went 16-for-17 in save opportunities with 31 strikeouts and five walks in 23⅔ innings, allowing a .211 on-base percentage and .224 slugging percentage (three extra-base hits in 85 at-bats).  Those numbers weren't that much better than what Hawkins did as the Mets' closer.  But because Hawkins is going to be 41 next month, he's not worth $2.5 million for one year, according to Sandy Alderson.

Perhaps Alderson should have given Hawkins another chance to be one of the team's top relievers in 2014, just like he was in 2013.  But Alderson must know about the team's recent history.  He surely has to know how relievers who fill in as temporary closers for the Mets never stick around with the team.  And who is Sandy Alderson to mess with tradition, right?  

Goodbye and thanks for playing, LaTroy Hawkins.  You should have been given another chance next year.  Instead, you're just in the same class as Roberto Hernandez, Luis Ayala, Hisanori Takahashi and Jason Isringhausen.  That's some consolation prize.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Mets Need Home Run Hitters At Home

Photo by Clayton Collier/Mets Merized Online

One of Sandy Alderson's top priorities this offseason is to acquire a legitimate power hitter.  After all, Marlon Byrd led the team this past season with 21 homers despite the fact that he finished the year in Pittsburgh.  It was the second time in three seasons that the team's home run leader closed out the year on another team, as Carlos Beltran led the Mets with 15 homers in 2011 before he was traded to San Francisco.

Since the Mets moved from Shea Stadium to Citi Field in 2009, the only players to hit more than 21 home runs in a season are David Wright (29 HR in 2010) and Ike Davis (32 HR in 2012).  Meanwhile, the Oakland A's and Atlanta Braves each had four players with at least 21 homers this past season alone.  Both teams won division titles in 2013.

When Citi Field first opened its doors nearly five years ago, the baseball cognoscenti deemed it a pitchers' park.  With the high walls in left field and the deep power alleys (it was 415 feet to one spot just to the right of straightaway center field), fly ball pitchers would not have to worry about opposing hitters taking them deep as often as they would at various other ballparks around the league.

But after two seasons of the pitcher-friendly dimensions, it was decided by the Mets' brass that the heights of the walls should be lowered and those walls should also be moved closer to home plate.  The Mets had averaged 56 home runs per season at Citi Field in 2009 and 2010 and the team felt the more fair dimensions would help its players produce more long balls.  Since the walls were moved in, they've certainly seen more balls leave the yard.  They're just seeing them come off their opponents' bats.

Let's look at the home run production by the Mets and their opponents compiled over the last two seasons of Citi Field's old dimensions and compare that to the power production for the first two seasons of the new, more fair dimensions of the park.

Mets HR (Citi Field)
Mets HR (Road)
Opponents HR (Citi Field)
Opponents HR (Road)

During the last two seasons of the old dimensions (2010 and 2011), both the Mets and their opponents hit more home runs away from Citi Field than they did in Flushing.  In fact, Mets pitchers allowed 70 more home on the road than they did at Citi Field in 2010 and 2011.  But once the fences were lowered and moved in, the opposition took full advantage of the change while Mets' hitters barely noticed the dimensional differences.

In 2010 and 2011, the Mets hit 12 more home runs on the road than they did at home.  In the two years since the dimensional switch at Citi Field, the difference in home runs on the road versus home runs at home has actually increased to 17, meaning the Mets have been finding it more difficult to hit home runs at Citi Field even with the outfield walls lowered and moved in.  Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case for the Mets' opponents.

After holding opponents to 105 home runs at Citi Field in 2010 and 2011, Mets' pitchers allowed a whopping 178 homers in Flushing in 2012 and 2013.  Meanwhile, they've only given up 135 home runs on the road over the same time period.

Let's look at that again from a different angle.  In the last two years of the old dimensions at Citi Field, the Mets outhomered their opponents, 113-105.  But in the first two years under Citi Field's new outfield wall configurations, the Mets were outhomered by their opponents, 178-126.

Joey and Iggy Beartran let it be known that they want more homers at Citi Field by Mets hitters, not their opponents.

Clearly, the change in dimensions at Citi Field was made to help the Mets score more runs via the long ball.  But all it has done so far is make opposing hitters salivate every time they come to the plate.  After allowing 70 more home runs on the road than at home in 2010 and 2011, Mets' pitchers have given up 43 fewer homers away from Citi Field than they have in their home ballpark.  That's an alarming difference.

The Mets need to improve their offense in 2014, especially in the home run department.  But perhaps they should also reconsider what they thought was a good plan going into the 2012 campaign.  The new dimensions have only been advantageous to hitters wearing road grays.

Doc Gooden Was Great After He Stopped Being Great

Photo by Ray Stubblebine/AP

Baseball historians will say that Dwight Gooden's first three seasons in the major leagues were some of the best by a young pitcher in the game's history.  Gooden took the mound 99 times from 1984 to 1986, going 58-19 with a 2.28 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 35 complete games, 13 shutouts and 744 strikeouts - reaching 200 or more strikeouts in each season.

But after off-the-field problems came to light prior to the 1987 campaign, Gooden went from being Dr. K to being Dr. Just OK.  Or did he?

From 1987 to 1991, Doc's numbers were clearly not the same as they were during his first three seasons.  But they were still pretty darn good.  In his fourth through eighth seasons with the Mets, Gooden went 74-34 with a 3.39 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, striking out 797 batters, completing 22 games and tossing eight shutouts.  He also finished in the top five in the Cy Young Award voting twice.  (Gooden was fifth in the Cy Young balloting in 1987 and fourth in 1990.)  He accomplished all of this from 1987 to 1991 despite making fewer than 28 starts in three of the five seasons.

Perhaps his greatest and most underappreciated accomplishment occurred in 1991.  After seven consecutive seasons of winning 87 or more games, the Mets finished under .500 in '91.  But Gooden still managed to finish with a 13-7 record, 3.60 ERA and 150 strikeouts in only 27 starts.  In 15 of those 27 starts, Gooden allowed two earned runs or fewer, but received losses or no-decisions in six of the games, mainly because he was surrounded by a putrid offense.

Keith Miller (.280) and Gregg Jefferies (.272) were the only players with 300 or more plate appearances to finish the year with a batting average north of .260.  Howard Johnson (38 HR, 117 RBI, 108 runs) was the sole Met with more than 16 homers, 74 RBI or 65 runs scored.  Gooden basically had to help himself when he was in the game, as he batted .238 with three doubles, a homer, six RBI and seven runs scored in only 63 at-bats.  His .333 slugging percentage was higher than the marks posted by Mark Carreon (.331 in 254 AB), Vince Coleman (.327 in 278 AB) and Garry Templeton (.306 in 219 AB).

In the five seasons immediately following the 1986 World Series championship campaign, when Gooden supposedly went from being a great pitcher to just being a very good pitcher, the right-hander's winning percentage was .685 in 137 starts.  That was the highest winning percentage for all pitchers who made 100 or more starts from 1987 to 1991.  The rest of the top five included Dave Stieb (68-34, .667), Roger Clemens (94-48, .662), Bob Welch (88-42, .662) and Dave Stewart (95-56, .629) - pitchers who combined to win 909 games over their long and successful major league careers.

Despite his dropoff in strikeouts following the 1986 season, Gooden's 797 Ks from 1987 to 1991 was surpassed by just one pitcher in the National League - his teammate, David Cone.  Cone struck out 945 batters over the five-year stretch.  Gooden's 74 wins was also second in the NL to Doug Drabek, who won 77 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates from '87 to '91.

One other thing that Gooden was great at from 1987 to 1991 was something that never showed up in the boxscore.  During those five years, Gooden was outstanding at helping the Mets win games immediately following a loss, thereby preventing the Mets from suffering through extended losing streaks.  Doc started 65 games following a Mets loss from 1987 to 1991.  The Mets were 41-24 in those games.

Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus
Today is Dwight Gooden's 49th birthday.  It's been nearly three decades since he rocketed onto the major league scene with his blazing fastball and devastating curveball as a rookie in 1984.  It's also been almost two decades since he threw his final pitch as a member of the New York Mets.

From the ages of 19 to 21, Gooden was arguably the best pitcher in the game.  Then, as his off-the-field habits started to come to light, he failed to approach his otherworldly numbers from 1984 to 1986.  But that didn't mean he stopped being a great pitcher.  In fact, no one in baseball gave his team a better chance to win from 1987 to 1991 than Gooden, and only a handful of pitchers sent as many opposing batters back to the bench without putting the ball in play than Doc did.

Just because he wasn't leading the league in strikeouts and threatening to throw a no-hitter in every start didn't mean he wasn't the Doctor anymore.  In fact, he continued to operate with surgical precision for quite some time after the 1986 campaign.

Doc Gooden never stopped being great on the mound.  It's a shame that some people thought his greatness just wasn't good enough.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Corey Hart Conundrum

Earlier today, while I was perusing through various Mets blogs, I came across this recent post by Kirk Cahill on Mets Merized Online.  I actually hadn't been thinking much about the Mets potentially signing Corey Hart, but after reading Señor Cahill's piece, I now have to consider him as one of the players Sandy Alderson should definitely be looking at this offseason.

Corey Hart has been a top-notch player for the Milwaukee Brewers for many years.  He has also been somewhat of a silent Met killer.  Whereas players such as Chipper Jones and Pat Burrell tormented the Mets with dozens of home runs, Corey Hart found other ways to beat the Mets.  For example, in 2008, Hart almost single-handedly defeated the Mets in a game won by the Brewers at Shea Stadium.  Hart went 4-for-5 in the game, igniting a four-run game-tying rally in the fourth inning.  Two innings later, Hart had a run-scoring single that gave the Brewers their eighth run of the game.  The hit proved to be the game-winner in Milwaukee's 9-7 victory over the Mets.  And for those with short memories, the Brewers finished one game ahead of the Mets for the wild card in 2008.

Two years later, Hart demolished the Mets, driving in a dozen runs against New York in just seven games.  Hart delivered a two-run, walk-off homer off Mets' reliever Ryota Igarashi to break a scoreless tie on May 28, then followed it up with a six-RBI performance the next day, which included a grand slam off Oliver Perez.  Finally, during the season's last week, Hart helped end the Mets' chase for a .500 record.  On September 29, the Mets stood two games under .500 with six games to play.  After spotting the Brewers a 6-0 cushion in the first game of a doubleheader at Citi Field (Hart drove in the first run in the Brewers' six-run third inning), the Mets roared back to take a 7-6 lead.  But with the Mets just four outs away from claiming a dramatic come-from-behind victory and putting themselves a game under the .500 mark, Corey Hart delivered a game-tying RBI single, then scored the go-ahead run two batters later in the Brewers' 8-7 victory.

Unlike Chipper Jones and Pat Burrell, Corey Hart has only hit six home runs against the Mets.  But in 30 starts against New York, Hart has delivered 12 extra-base hits, scored 24 runs and driven in 24.  He's also been a .303 career hitter versus the Mets (Hart has a lifetime .277 batting average) and has delivered in the clutch repeatedly at Miller Park, Shea Stadium and Citi Field.  So signing Hart would obviously turn a Met killer into a Met.  But a Hart signing would do much more than just take away a potential lethal bat against the Mets' staff.

Hart can play two defensive positions - first base and right field.  Although much of his time in the majors has been spent playing right, Hart transitioned into Milwaukee's first baseman in 2012 after Prince Fielder moved on to Detroit.  Hart is not a smooth fielder, as evidenced by his -1.3 defensive WAR in 2012.  But that's still better than Lucas Duda's -2.1 dWAR from last season.  Hart's dWAR would place him smack dab in the middle of Duda's dWAR and Ike Davis' -0.6 dWAR from 2013.

Now you may have noticed that I've been comparing Duda and Davis' numbers from last year to Corey Hart's defensive metrics from 2012.  That's because Hart missed the entire 2013 season recovering from surgeries performed on both of his knees.  And you know what that means.  It means Corey Hart is the classic Sandy Alderson player, meaning he won't be expensive, he could be a "high-reward" player (a la Marlon Byrd) and can be dealt at the trade deadline if the team doesn't compete.  Of course, if they do compete, Hart could be one of the main contributors to the team's success.

In his last three healthy seasons (2010-2012), Hart's average slash line was .279/.343/.514.  Hart also averaged 31 doubles, four triples, 29 homers, 83 RBI and 87 runs scored.  No Mets player - not even David Wright - has posted a .514 slugging percentage over the last three seasons.  The last Met to even come close was Carlos Beltran, who slugged .510 from 2007 to 2009.  And the only players to hit as many as 29 homers over the past five seasons were Wright (29 HR in 2010) and Ike Davis (32 HR in 2012).

The Mets need outfielders.  They could also use a first baseman.  And they also need to give smart contracts to players.  They can have it all in Corey Hart.  Would they be taking a chance signing a player with recent knee problems?  Absolutely.  But if that player's knees hold up, would that chance be worth it?  You betcha!  That's the Corey Hart conundrum.  And it'll be up to Sandy Alderson to see if it's a conundrum worth solving.