Monday, September 29, 2014

Joey's Soapbox: My 2014 Not-So-Biased Wild Card Game Picks

Greetings, salutations and howdy, everyone!  I'm Joey Beartran, your fav'rit Studious Metsimus prognosticator and masticator.  For the first time in what seems like an eternity, the Yankees and Red Sox both failed to make the playoffs.  In addition, the Phillies finished in the cellar for the first time since the Mets' last World Series appearance in 2000.  (Unfortunately, the Mets finished below .500 for a sixth straight season, so not all of my prayers were answered.)

Ten teams qualified for the postseason, including five that haven't won a championship since the '80s (Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Dodgers and A's).  One hundred percent of teams that call Missouri home made it (Royals, Cardinals) and eighty percent of California teams are still playing (sorry, Padres).

Twenty percent of those ten playoff teams will be going home by the time I have breakfast on Thursday.  Will it be the Royals, who are in the playoffs for the first time since Buddy Biancalana led the team to a World Series title in 1985?  Will it be the Pirates, who just completed their second winning season in a row after two decades of futility?  Or will it be one of the Bay Area teams, who both have to go on the road for their wild card games?

Why am I asking so many questions?  And what am I having for breakfast on Thursday after the playoff field is down to eight?  Let's just got on with the wild card game predictions, shall we?

American League Wild Card Game

Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals

Since 1986, the A's have made a dozen trips to the playoffs and been to three World Series, which is 12 postseason appearances and three pennants more than the Royals have over the same time period.  Experience usually prevails in these situations, right?  Not so fast.

The starting pitchers for Oakland and Kansas City will be Jon Lester and James Shields, respectively.  Lester and Shields have never faced each other in the playoffs, but their former teams have, as the Red Sox (Lester's team in 2008) and Rays (Shields' previous club) squared off in a classic seven-game American League Championship Series six years ago.

Lester won all three of his starts against the Royals in 2014, while Shields defeated the A's once and received a no-decision in his other appearance against Oakland, a game the Royals eventually won.  But this game is in Kansas City, where the Royals took three of four from Oakland in August.  And Oakland finished the year with a losing road record (40-41), which includes losses in 26 of their final 39 games away from home.

Shields isn't called "Big Game James" for nothing, and it's hard to overlook just how bad the A's have been outside of Oakland.  And although Lester did go 3-0 versus Kansas City this year, two of those wins came before he was traded to Oakland from Boston.

Prediction:  Kansas City will advance to the ALDS.

National League Wild Card Game

San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

The Giants have as many championships in the last four years as the Pirates have winning seasons in the last two-plus decades.  Which means absolutely nothing in this win-or-go-home game.  What does matter is the following.

Pittsburgh finished with a 51-30 record at PNC Park.  That was tied for the best home mark in the National League.  The Pirates also went 20-13 versus left-handed starters.  Only Washington and Los Angeles (owners of the two best records in the league) fared better.  Why are those facts important?

The wild card game will be played in Pittsburgh.  And San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner is a southpaw.

As good as Bumgarner was this year (18-10, 2.98 ERA), he had a very inconsistent season, allowing four runs or more in 12 of his 33 starts.  Meanwhile, Pirates starter Edinson Volquez posted a career-best 3.04 ERA and finished strongly, going 9-1 with a 1.85 ERA over his last 17 starts.

It's hard to ignore how dominant Volquez has been since late June.  It's also difficult to look past Pittsburgh's success at home and against left-handed pitchers.

Prediction:  Pittsburgh will advance to the NLDS.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

25 Years Later: The Co-Captains' Final Game At Shea Becomes The Undercard

This was the scene at Shea after the final game played there in 1986.  Three years later, the scene was just a tad different.

On Thursday, the captain of the New York Yankees played his final game in front of his home fans.  He ended the game in memorable fashion, by delivering a walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Twenty-five years ago today, the New York Mets were bidding adieu to their co-captains, who were playing their final game at Shea Stadium as members of the team.  The ending to that game was also memorable, but it had nothing to do with the soon-to-be-departed team leaders.

Keith Hernandez (named Mets captain in 1987) and Gary Carter (named Mets co-captain in 1988) were the heart and soul of the 1986 World Champions.  Acquired by general manager Frank Cashen in 1983, Hernandez was the first piece that helped turn the team around from pretenders to contenders.  A year and a half later, Carter became the most important piece added by Cashen.

Together, Hernandez and Carter helped a team that had qualified for the postseason just twice in its first 24 seasons win two division titles in three years.  But by the end of the 1980s, both players were no longer productive and it had become clear that Cashen was not going to bring them back to the team in 1990.  Cashen had already traded away several fan-favorites in 1989, including Wally Backman, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell, hoping that the future of the team would be molded by younger players like Gregg Jefferies.

Cashen's breakup of the championship team led to disarray in the clubhouse and the club's first season with fewer than 90 victories since 1983.  Although the '89 team had stayed in the hunt for the division crown for most of the season, by September 27, the Mets had been eliminated in the playoff race.  With nothing left to play for going into the final home game of the season, the Shea Stadium finale became all about Hernandez and Carter's last hurrah at the ballpark they helped electrify for many years.  Neither player was in the starting lineup, as Dave Magadan and Mackey Sasser were starting at first base and catcher, respectively.  But both co-captains did make it into the game in the later innings, as Hernandez appeared as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and Carter replaced Sasser behind the plate in the ninth.  Although just 18,666 fans attended the game, the roars for Hernandez and Carter were loud enough to drown out the airplanes flying into LaGuardia Airport.  But those vocal fans remained on their feet for a different reason once the game ended, and it had nothing to do with an extended ovation for their departing co-captains.

After Gregg Jefferies grounded out to end the game, a 5-3 loss to the Phillies, the Mets' second baseman made a beeline toward his former teammate, Roger McDowell, who had earned the save in Philadelphia's victory.  What happened next was not exactly the tribute Mets fans were expecting for Hernandez and Carter.

(Video courtesy of the official channel on YouTube)

Four years before Nolan Ryan made atomic noogies the cool thing to do when he pounded away on Robin Ventura's skull, McDowell sent the bratty Jefferies to his room with a few well-placed knuckles to the left side of his noggin.  The incident stemmed from a game earlier in the series, as recalled by manager Davey Johnson.

"It went back to Monday night," said Johnson.  "Roger screamed something at Gregg after he broke Gregg's bat.  Obviously there's bad blood between them."

Breaking one's bat does not usually set off a bench-clearing brawl a few nights later, leaving some to doubt Johnson's reason for the melee.  However, Phillies manager Nick Leyva had what was perhaps the real reason for the unique sendoff to Carter and Hernandez.

"There were 30 guys on our side rooting for Roger and 20 guys on their side rooting for Roger."

Gregg Jefferies was never liked in the Mets clubhouse and his subpar performance on the field did not endear the supposed wunderkind to Mets fans.  But he did make headlines on a night that should have been remembered for the final appearances of two of his beloved teammates.

A few days ago, the Yankee captain ended his final game in his home park by walking off a hero in victory.  Twenty-five years ago today, the Mets' co-captains ended their last game at Shea by separating teammates and opponents at the bottom of a pile of testosterone (McDowell) and puberty (Jefferies).

For the 1980s Mets, I suppose it was the only way the decade could end.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Matt Harvey Means No Disre2pect To The Mets, But...

While the Mets are trying to win two games today, their rehabbing starting pitcher also has the number two on his mind.

According to his Instagram account, this is where Matt Harvey is spending his Thursday night.

I hope the Mets win both games tonight.  I also hope Matt Harvey has fun tonight cheering for the team he rooted for as a child.  I just hope he remembers which team pays him.  And he better not be wearing a Yankee cap in the stands.

He can show his #RE2PECT without #DISRE2PECTING his current team.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jenrry Mejia Sets An Unusual Major League Mark

Jenrry Mejia started the season as the Mets' fifth starter but eventually became the team's closer when Bobby Parnell, Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth all succumbed to injuries or ineffectiveness.  Since then, Mejia has pitched through sports hernias, bases-loaded situations (of his own doing) and backbreaking celebrations to record 26 saves.

After a quarter century of importing closers from other teams, Mejia has followed in Parnell's footsteps to become a rarity in recent Mets history - the homegrown closer.  In fact, Mejia's 26 saves are the most by a Mets pitcher who came up through the team's minor league system since Randy Myers recorded the same number of saves in 1988.  Mejia is now just one save away from Tug McGraw's franchise record of 27 saves by a homegrown player, a mark McGraw established in 1972.

Note:  Jesse Orosco made his major league debut in 1979 with the Mets and saved 31 games in 1984, but he is not a homegrown Met, as he was drafted by Minnesota in 1978 and pitched in the Twins' minor league system for one season before he was traded to New York for Jerry Koosman in February 1979.

Mejia might be closing in on a Mets record, but he has already set an obscure major league mark.  His 26 saves are the most by any pitcher who made at least seven starts in the same season.  In fact, Mejia is one of just three pitchers to record as many as 20 saves in a year he started seven times.

Player SV GS Year Tm G W L IP H R ER BB SO ERA
Jenrry Mejia 26 7 2014 NYM 59 5 6 89.2 96 41 38 40 94 3.81
Joe Grahe 21 7 1992 CAL 46 5 6 94.2 85 37 37 39 39 3.52
Jose Jimenez 20 7 2003 COL 63 2 10 101.2 137 62 59 32 45 5.22
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/20/2014.

A little extra research found that only six pitchers other than Mejia have recorded as many as 25 saves when they made as little as one start during the same season.  Those half-dozen pitchers are:

  • Ryan Dempster (2005 Cubs):  33 saves, 6 starts.
  • Danny Graves (2002 Reds):  32 saves, 4 starts.
  • Mike Marshall (1979 Twins): 32 saves, 1 start.
  • Dave Giusti (1970 Pirates): 26 saves, 1 start.
  • Lindy McDaniel (1960 Cards): 26 saves, 2 starts.
  • Tug McGraw (1973 Mets): 25 saves, 2 starts.

With a little over a week to go until the 2014 season comes to a close, Jenrry Mejia has joined or is about to join former Mets closer Tug McGraw in two respects.  Mejia is one save away from tying McGraw's club mark for saves by a homegrown pitcher.  Mejia and McGraw are also two of just seven pitchers who recorded 25 saves and made at least one start in the same season.

But even McGraw can't say that he made a month's worth of starts and still managed to save as many games as Mejia has in 2014.  In fact, no major league pitcher can make that claim.  Mejia stands all alone in that respect.  It may be an obscure mark, but it's as good a reason as any for a closer to celebrate.

Funky Cold Mejia is all Kool and the Gang with his celebration.  (Photo by Brad Penner/USA Today)


Zack Wheeler Joins A Special Strikeout Club

We already knew Zack Wheeler was special.  Betcha didn't know how special.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

On Friday night, Zack Wheeler struck out seven Atlanta Braves in six innings en route to his 11th victory of the season.  In doing so, he upped his career strikeout total to 264, passing Matt Harvey by three.  It is worth noting that Wheeler has not yet made 50 starts in the big leagues, as Friday's seven-strikeout effort came in his 48th start at the major league level.

While it is true that several Mets pitchers have struck out more than 264 batters in their first 50 starts with the team, for many of them, those weren't their first 50 starts in the big leagues.  For example, Sid Fernandez had 297 Ks in his first 50 starts as a Met, but his first start in the big show came in 1983 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Similarly, Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana both had over 300 strikeouts in their first 50 starts with the Mets (332 and 310, respectively), but of course, neither pitcher began their career in New York.

By posting 264 strikeouts before his 50th career start (with all starts coming as a New York Met), Wheeler has joined some exclusive company.  Here is the list of all pitchers in Mets history who recorded 250 or more strikeouts in their first 50 starts (or fewer, in some cases).  We are only considering those pitchers who made each of their first 50 starts as a member of the New York Mets, so a pitcher like David Cone - who made his major league debut with the Kansas City Royals in 1986 pitching exclusively in relief - can be included on the list, since each of his first 50 big league starts came in a Mets uniform.  Also, we are only looking at strikeouts recorded in starts.  Strikeout totals compiled in relief appearances (as well as innings pitched in relief) are not included in the chart below.

No. of Starts
Innings Pitched
Dwight Gooden
David Cone
Jerry Koosman
Zack Wheeler
Matt Harvey
Tom Seaver

Zack Wheeler has become just the sixth pitcher in Mets history to fan 250 or more batters within his first 50 big league starts.  And look at the other names on the list.  You have the three winningest pitchers in franchise history in Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and Jerry Koosman.  You have David Cone, who was traded away before his 30th birthday, but still managed to become the team's all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings and is also one of just four pitchers to make at least 100 starts for the team and finish his career with a .600+ winning percentage.  (The others are Gooden, Seaver and Rick Reed.)  And of course, you have Matt Harvey.  Barring any setbacks from Tommy John surgery, the 2013 All-Star Game starting pitcher should become just the second pitcher in team history to record 300 or more strikeouts within his first 50 starts in the majors.  He needs just 39 strikeouts in his next 14 starts to become Doctor K's understudy in that department.

Now, as great as Wheeler has been in getting those whiffs, he has tended to throw a lot of pitches to get said Ks.  Gooden, Cone, Koosman and Seaver all averaged at least seven innings per start in their first 50 big league starts, while Harvey is just under six and two-thirds innings per start.  Even if Wheeler pitches complete games in both his 49th and 50th career starts, he will still be under 300 innings pitched.  That's less than six innings per start.

Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman and David Cone are among the best pitchers in club history.  Prior to his injury, Matt Harvey appeared to be on his way to joining them.  Zack Wheeler still needs to work on his command before he can be considered one of the best pitchers to ever don a Mets uniform.  But for now, he is becoming one of the best strikeout pitchers the club has ever seen.  And by joining Seaver, Gooden, Koosman, Cone and Harvey, he's certainly in a class that very few Mets starting pitchers have had the privilege to be a part of.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Breaking The Four-Games-Under-.500 Wall

At any age, Matthew Broderick has no problem breaking the fourth wall, so why can't his team break four games under .500?

In television, movies and comic books, there is a term called "breaking the fourth wall".  This term refers to fictional characters speaking directly to their viewers/readers, in essence finding their way through the imaginary wall that separates their scripted world from our reality-based universe.  A talented writer can make this wall-breaking quite entertaining (see Ferris Bueller's Day Off for an example).  However, the Mets don't have a talented writer.  And they're not exactly breaking any fourth walls.  In fact, they're having a tough time just breaking the four-games-under-.500 wall.

On June 4, the Mets lost the middle game of a three-game series in Chicago to drop their record to 28-31.  The next day, after the last place Cubs completed the sweep, the Mets found themselves four games under .500.  The Mets went on to lose their next game as well, this time in San Francisco, and failed to move back to three games under the break even point.  That game at AT&T Park began an alarming trend that is still active to this day.

Let's take a quick look at how the Mets have fared each time they've taken the field when the morning paper has reported that they're four games under .500 (since early June). 

  • June 6:  The 28-32 Mets lose to the San Francisco Giants, 4-2.
  • Jul. 19:  The 46-50 Mets lose to the San Diego Padres, 6-0.
  • Jul. 29:  The 51-55 Mets lose to the Philadelphia Phillies, 6-0.
  • Aug. 1:  The 52-56 Mets lose to the San Francisco Giants, 5-1.
  • Aug. 3:  The 53-57 Mets lose to the San Francisco Giants, 9-0.
  • Sep. 11:  The 71-75 Mets lose to the Washington Nationals, 6-2.
  • Sep. 13:  The 72-76 Mets lose to the Washington Nationals, 10-3.

That's seven straight losses in games the Mets have "tried" to pull back to within three games of the ever-elusive .500 mark.  And I have the word "tried" in quotation marks because the Mets haven't really competed in those seven affairs.  They've lost the heptad of games by a combined score of 46-8.  That's like the Seahawks defeating the Broncos in the Super Bowl and then adding a late field goal just in case.

To make matters worse, in the seven losses the Mets have held the lead for a grand total of one half inning.  That brief flash of hope came on a two-run homer by Daniel Murphy in the seventh inning of the Mets' game against the Giants on June 6.  San Francisco tied the contest in the bottom of the frame and scored the go-ahead runs an inning later on a two-run blast by Buster Posey.

As incredible as it may seem, that Murphy homer is as close as the Mets have come to sniffing the three-games-under-.500 mark since June 4.  For all you kids out there, that was almost 100 games ago.

The wise prophet Ferris Bueller once told us directly to our popcorn-stuffed faces, "Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you can miss it."  In the case of the 2014 Mets, the baseball season has moved pretty fast.  But if they don't find a way to break that four-games-under-.500 wall, they could miss ending their streak of five consecutive losing seasons.  And that, my friends, is nothing to twist and shout about.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Mets' Hitting Record David Wright May or May Not Want

David Wright has usually been a spectator when the home run apple has risen at Citi Field.  (Photo by Kathy Kmonicek/AP)

David Wright will be the first to tell you that he's had a disappointing season.  Entering Sunday's rubber match against the Cincinnati Reds, Wright is batting .270 with eight home runs and 63 RBI.  His .371 slugging percentage would not only represent a career-low for Wright, but it would also be lower than his .377 lifetime on-base percentage (which was .382 coming into the 2014 campaign).

Needless to say, Wright has not done many positive things to help the Mets' struggling offense in 2014.  However, he is close to accomplishing something with his bat that has never been done by a Met in a single season.

There are currently eight players in franchise history who have driven in 60 or more runs in a season that did not see the player reach double digits in home runs.  The chart below lists those eight players and adds a ninth - David Wright - with his numbers entering today's game.  The chart is sorted by runs batted in and also lists the number of home runs hit by each player during his tenure with the team.

Home Runs
Career HR as a Met
Dave Magadan
Joel Youngblood
Lance Johnson
John Stearns
Daniel Murphy
David Wright
Gregg Jefferies
Doug Flynn
Rey Ordoñez

As of today, David Wright has the sixth-highest RBI total of all players in Mets history who failed to hit a minimum of ten home runs in a season.  Wright needs seven RBI in the team's last 20 games to become the second Mets player to have a 70-RBI campaign without the benefit of a double-digit home run total.  Should Wright drive in ten runs before the end of the season without hitting more than one ball out of the park, he'd set a new team record, becoming the most prolific single season run-producer of all Mets players who failed to hit 10 HR.

What makes Wright's name look completely out of place on the list above is that Wright has 230 career home runs, which are second in franchise history behind Darryl Strawberry's lifetime total of 252.  Incredibly, the other eight players listed above combined to hit 218 homers during their time with the Mets, or a dozen fewer than Wright has hit by himself.  (That number can still rise, as Daniel Murphy is still active.)

Wright owns or will own most of the Mets' hitting records, but this is one single-season achievement he probably wasn't counting on.  Dave Magadan, who hit 21 home runs in seven seasons as a Met, most likely never expected to hold on to this unusual team record forever.  But he surely never thought it would be David Wright who was about to knock him off his perch.