Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Mets and Their Unprecedented Home/Road Splits

There's no place like home for the Mets.  It's a different story on the road, where they're wicked awful.

The Mets just completed an eight-game road trip this afternoon in Milwaukee, taking the finale against the Brewers after dropping the first seven games of the trip.  The win improved the team's road record to 11-26, which serves as a mirror image to the club's 26-11 home mark.

As bad as the team has played away from Citi Field, the Mets' .297 winning percentage on the road is not the lowest in team history.  That "honor" belongs to the 1962 through 1965 squads, who played no better than .259 ball away from home in any of those four seasons.  However, those first four Mets squads were also lousy at home, posting sub-.500 records at the Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium as well.  This year's Mets have a .703 winning percentage at Citi Field.  How impressive is that figure?  It's higher than the .700 mark posted by the 1988 Mets, which is the highest full season winning percentage in club history.

The difference between the .703 winning percentage posted by the Mets at home and their .297 mark on the road is a whopping .406.  If that seems like an unusually large difference, that's because it is.  In fact, no past Mets team has ever come close to that lopsided of a home/road split.

Home Wins
Home Losses
Road Wins
Road Losses
Home Win %
Road Win %

It's more than likely that the Mets' winning percentage at home is not sustainable for the rest of the season.  Similarly, the team will probably play better than .297 ball on the road over the next three months.  So let's say the Mets play .500 ball at home for the rest of the season, which would be a huge drop-off from the .700-plus ball they've played at Citi Field so far this year.  That would give the Mets a 48-33 home record at season's end.  Similarly, if they find a cure for their road doldrums and split their remaining 44 games away from Flushing, the Mets would finish 33-48 on the road.

A 48-33 mark is a .593 winning percentage, while a 33-48 record is .407.  That's a difference of .186, which would tie the 1989 Mets for the third-greatest difference between home and road winning percentages.  Should the Mets go 23-21 at home and 21-23 on the road the rest of the way, they would match the 1963 club with a .210 difference (49-32 is a .605 winning percentage, while 32-49 produces a .395 mark).

After losing 18 of their last 21 road games, the Mets finally won a game on the road today, taking the series finale against the Brewers, 2-0.  They'll need more of today's good fortune and less of what they did over their previous 21 road games to avoid becoming known as the Jekyll and Hyde of all Mets teams.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Memories of Baseball and Father's Day

As we reach another Father's Day, let's take a break from discussing the Mets' recent ups and downs (mostly downs).  Today is not a day to discuss why Sandy Alderson continues to do nothing about the team's lack of offense, nor is a day to talk about how the Mets lead the league in mental errors this year.  Today is a day to reflect on a special man in our lives.

He is the man who more than likely showed us how to throw our first curveball, took us to our first ballgame and showed us the proper way to order a ballpark hot dog (which I seem to have forgotten once prices passed the $4.00 mark).  I'm talking about fathers.

As we have had many Father's Day memories, both pleasant and not so pleasant, the Mets and Major League Baseball have also had a number of noteworthy moments on Father's Day.  Here's a small sample:


On Father's Day 2004 (June 20), Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. hit the 500th home run of his career at St. Louis' Busch Stadium.  At the time, he was the youngest player to reach that milestone.  Making it more fitting, Ken Griffey Sr. was in attendance to help celebrate his son's momentous occasion.

Nothing like a little Griffey love to get this post started.

On Father's Day 1997 (June 15), Major League Baseball instituted its first Home Run Challenge to benefit prostate cancer research.  Now in its 19th season, the Home Run Challenge has raised nearly $45 million in the hopes that a cure can be found for this devastating disease that affects millions of men worldwide.

(Note to all men reading this.  Please go to your doctors and get checked. Early detection can save your life, enabling you to share many Father's Day moments with your loved ones.)

Early prostate cancer detection is serious business.  Even if it is a pain in the ass.

In one of the most ill-fated trades in Mets history, beloved members of the 1986 World Championship team Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell were traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Juan Samuel on Father's Day 1989 (June 18).  Samuel would have a tumultuous time playing center field for the Mets during his short stay at Shea and was later traded for another dud, Mike Marshall.  Dykstra would become an All-Star in Philadelphia and helped lead the Phillies to the 1993 World Series.  McDowell pitched seven more seasons after the trade and would become famous to Seinfeld fans for his role as the man who spit the magic loogie on Kramer and Newman when they confronted Keith Hernandez after a Mets loss. 

Just as Tom Seaver's trade is known as the Midnight Massacre, this day should be known as The Day The Hotfoot Died.  On a lighter note, sales of Jheri Curl products increased in the New York metropolitan area ... by one.

"Let your Soul Glo..."

Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies pitched a perfect game at Shea Stadium on Father's Day in 1964 (June 21) when he defeated the Mets by the final score of 6-0.  Bunning struck out ten batters en route to becoming the first National League pitcher to toss a perfect game in the 20th century and the first pitcher in the modern era to throw a no-hitter in both leagues.  He pitched his first no-hitter in 1958 as a member of the Detroit Tigers.

Hall of Famer Jim Bunning made Shea Stadium's first Father's Day game a memorable one.

Please forgive the abundance of Phillies pictures in this post.  It is unintentional and is not meant to dampen your Father's Day festivities in any way.  If so, the photo beneath the next paragraph should bring a smile to your face, especially if you are a long-time Mets fan.

Ralph Kiner was always the king of malapropisms.  From classic lines such as "if Casey Stengel were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave" and "all of his saves have come in relief appearances", Ralph mangled words and phrases with grace and dignity.  One of his most famous quotes came on Father's Day as well, when during a Mets broadcast, he said "on Father's Day, we again wish you all a happy birthday!"

R.I.P. Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy.  You will always be missed.

One final note before you go have a catch with your son or daughter.  Mets fans are well aware of the fact that no pitcher in franchise history had pitched a no-hitter before Johan Santana turned the trick on June 1, 2012.  But prior to Santana's gem, the Mets had had several no-hitters pitched against them, including the perfect game tossed by the aforementioned Bunning in 1964.  (Let's not talk about this month's no-no by San Francisco's Chris Heston.)  Before Santana accomplished his historic feat three years ago, the Mets weren't the only team that had never pitched a no-hitter.

The only team currently without a no-hitter to its credit has also been around since the 1960s.  The San Diego Padres have played 46 years since their inaugural season in 1969 and have never had a no-hitter pitched for them.  Hmm, Padres.  That's Spanish for Fathers.  On that note, I can't think of a more fitting way to end this than by wishing all you fathers out there a Happy Birthday!  (I mean, Father's Day!)


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Wilmer Flores Is Already Approaching Several Hitting Records for Mets Shortstops

Wilmer Flores is improving with the glove, but he's really picking it up at the plate.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Throughout the off-season and during the first month of the 2015 regular season, many Mets fans clamored for general manager Sandy Alderson to acquire a good-hitting, good-fielding shortstop.  The incumbent at the position, Wilmer Flores, was expected to hit well in the major leagues, but was considered a liability on defense.  In his first 30 games of 2015, Flores committed nine errors in 129 chances and wasn't contributing much with the bat, as he was hitting just .229 with three homers and eight RBI through May 8.

But since then, Flores has taken great strides in improving his defense, making just one error in his last 104 chances (.990 fielding percentage) and participating in 20 double plays.  He has also elevated his game at the plate, batting .263 with seven homers and 20 RBI over his last 31 games.  In fact, he has as many homers in that span as he does strikeouts - a rarity for a player who hits with power.

For the season, Flores has been hovering around the .250 mark, but his ten homers are tied for the most by a shortstop in the major leagues.  (The Cardinals' Jhonny Peralta also has ten.)  In addition, Flores ranks in the top five at the shortstop position in RBI (28) and slugging percentage (.433).  Among players on his own team, however, Flores ranks first in home runs, second in RBI (just one behind the injured Daniel Murphy), second in slugging percentage and third in runs scored.  Flores is in the top three in each of those categories despite having the sixth-most plate appearances on the team this season behind Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson, Michael Cuddyer, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy.  And among all National League players, regardless of position, Flores is the ninth-toughest to strike out, as he has whiffed just 25 times in 201 at-bats.

On Friday night, Flores hit his tenth home run of the season, making him just the third Mets shortstop to reach double digits in homers over an entire season, joining Kevin Elster (1989) and Jose Reyes (2006, 2007, 2008, 2010).  [Note: Eddie Bressoud hit ten homers as the Mets' primary shortstop in 1966, but only eight of those homers came while Bressoud was playing shortstop.  He hit one as a first baseman and one as a second baseman.]  However, Elster didn't hit his tenth homer in 1989 until the final week of the season, while the earliest Reyes reached double figures in long balls was in 2008, when he launched his tenth rocket on July 12 during the team's 94th game of the year.  Flores turned the trick a full calendar month before the date Reyes did in 2008, doing so in the Mets' 62nd contest, leaving exactly 100 games for him to add to his total in 2015.

For his career, Flores has produced 25 doubles, 17 homers and 70 RBI in just 555 at-bats.  By comparison, Elster had 21 doubles, nine homers and 47 RBI in his first 555 at-bats, while Reyes had 32 doubles, ten homers and 52 RBI in the same number of at-bats.  Doubles-wise, Flores ranks in between Elster and Reyes, but Flores is already superior to both Elster and Reyes in home run and RBI production.

With the season still three weeks away from being halfway done, Flores is approaching 30 RBI, putting him on pace to easily surpass 60 RBI for the entire season.  Only two Mets shortstops have ever driven in at least 60 runs in a single season - Reyes, who owns the franchise mark at the position with 81 RBI in 2006 (he also produced 68 RBI in 2008) and the normally light-hitting Rey Ordoñez, who became the first shortstop to drive in 60 runs for the team when he reached that exact figure in 1999.

No Mets shortstop has ever led the team in home runs or RBI.  In fact, the closest any shortstop has ever come to leading the team in either category was in 1966, when Eddie Bressoud (10 HR, 49 RBI) finished six homers behind team leader Ed Kranepool and 12 RBI behind Ken Boyer for the club lead.  However, as mentioned before, Bressoud accumulated some of his offensive totals at other defensive positions.  The only true shortstops to finish within 20 RBI of the team leader were Roy McMillan, whose 42 RBI in 1965 left him twenty short of team leader Charley Smith, and Jose Vizcaino, who finished 20 RBI behind team leader Rico Brogna in 1995.  Vizcaino's 56 RBI during the strike-shortened 1995 campaign set the franchise record for runs batted in by a shortstop in a single season, a mark that was surpassed by Ordoñez four years later and Reyes seven years after that.

There haven't been too many offensive-minded shortstops in Mets history.  But there have been some standout seasons at the plate for some players who manned the position.  And if Wilmer Flores continues his recent power production, he might become the first to lead the team - or even come close to leading the team - in either of those categories over a full season.

With his offensive struggles and defensive shortcomings no longer as obvious as they were during the first month of the season, Mets fans are now clamoring for Flores to come up to the plate rather than asking for his head on a plate.  It's amazing what a little production and some historical perspective can do to calm the savage beast.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Mets Fans Caught Looking On "Strikeouts For Savings" Ticket Offer

Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus

If you managed to stay up to watch the Mets play the Padres and Diamondbacks last week, you probably saw the "Strikeouts For Savings" ticket offer on a number of occasions.  The promotion offered fans 1% off tickets to the Mets' upcoming homestand for every strikeout recorded by the team's pitchers.  During the seven-game road trip, the Mets racked up 66 strikeouts, giving fans the opportunity to buy tickets in selected seating areas for a whopping 66% off the regular price.

Sounds too good to be true, right?  I mean, the team is trying to save money wherever it can and they're practically giving away tickets to games featuring the defending World Series champions (Giants), a hated division rival (Braves) and the return of Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey (Blue Jays).

Well, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.  And this offer is certainly not what you think.

Tickets went on sale one hour after the conclusion of the Mets' road trip, so I went online to search for seats.  The only seats available for sale were Baseline Box, Left Field Landing and Promenade Outfield, so I went for the Promenade seats.  I had no interest in seeing the Giants or their spoiled fans who never ventured to Shea Stadium or Citi Field prior to their first title in 2010, so I looked at tickets for Saturday's game against Atlanta and next Tuesday's game versus Toronto.

I was able to snag a seat for $5.00 to the Braves game and $4.00 to see the Blue Jays.  Not bad, right?  Except the Mets found a way to slap me with the dreaded F-word.  That's right, Mets fans.  I was socked with fees.  Lots and lots of fees.

Take a look at my purchases below.  I attempted to buy two tickets - one for each game - for a total of $9.00.  And then the fees hit...

For the $5.00 Braves ticket, I was socked with a $1.00 convenience fee, which is more convenient for the Mets than it is for me.  On top of that, I was charged an extra $6.00 handling fee, turning my $5.00 ticket into a $12.00 purchase.  For all you kids out there, that's 140% more than the original $5.00 price.

Now let's talk about the ticket to the Blue Jays game.  Once the (in)convenience fee and the bogus handling fee are added, I was charged $10.75 for a ticket that was supposedly only $4.00.  And all the math nerds know that that comes out to 168.75% more than the amount that made me scream out "Holy Tim Foli" when I first saw it on my screen.

So it was going to cost me $22.75 to buy a $5.00 ticket and a $4.00 ticket.  Are you angry yet?  Now here's the kicker.

Those same seats for each game are regularly priced at $15.00 and $13.00, respectively.  Therefore, had I just asked for these seats at the ticket window, my wallet would only be $28.00 lighter, which is only $5.25 more than I'd be paying with this "Strikeouts For Savings" ticket promotion.

So that 66% savings in reality is just an 18.75% savings - not exactly something that should make anyone invoke the name of former No. 1 overall draft pick Tim Foli.

Mets pitchers have been striking out batters in bunches this year.  But with this ticket offer, it's the fans that are really striking out, especially if they thought they were actually going to save 66% on tickets.  You should consider this promotion a swing and a miss.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

This Is How Close The Mets Are To Being Crazy Good

Matt Harvey smiles as he realizes just how good this team could be very soon.  (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

On Friday, Jonathon Niese allowed three runs in six innings of work in a game that was eventually lost by the Mets, 7-2.  The game marked just the sixth time all season that the Mets lost when their starting pitcher was credited with a quality start (six or more innings pitched, no more than three earned runs allowed).  By contrast, the Mets have won 27 times in games where the starter recorded a quality start.  That gives the team a 27-6 record in quality starts and a lowly 3-20 mark when the starting pitcher failed to give a quality performance.

To put this in layman's terms, the Mets have won over 80% of the time when their starting staff has kept them in games.  But once the starter falls apart, it becomes nearly impossible for the offense to bail him out.

I wanted to know how important quality starts have been for the Mets in determining where the team has finished in the season's final standings, so I did some research on the topic.  My findings were not only stunning, but proved just how close the Mets currently are to being one of the top teams in the league, as long as the offense doesn't let them down.

First, I wanted to see how many Mets teams have recorded 100 or more quality starts in a single season.  There were a dozen such teams, as shown by the chart below.

Of the 12 teams to reach triple digits in quality starts, nine finished with winning records and four reached the postseason, including both World Championship teams and all three 100-win squads.  The three teams that posted 100 or more quality starts, but still finished below .500 did so in 1968, 1974 and 2012.

Clearly, all three of those sub-.500 teams had excellent pitching, as evidenced by the overwhelming numbers of quality starts.  But one other thing they had in common was their anemic offense.

The 1968 campaign was known as "The Year of the Pitcher", as hurlers such as Bob Gibson (1.12 ERA; the lowest mark in the modern era of baseball) and Denny McLain (31 wins; the last pitcher to win 30 or more games) posted career years on the mound.  But as much as hitters struggled against pitchers in 1968, no team fared worse at the plate than the New York Mets.

In the final season before the leagues split up into divisions, the Mets finished dead last in the National League in team batting average (.228), on-base percentage (.281) and slugging percentage (.315), scoring just 473 runs - which remains the fewest tallies in club history in a non-strike shortened campaign.

Similarly, the 1974 club made most of the pitchers they faced look like Sandy Koufax on the mound.  The Mets finished the year in last place or next-to-last place in nearly every offensive category, including hits, doubles, triples, stolen bases, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and of course, runs scored.  The pitcher who suffered the most for the Mets in 1974 was Jon Matlack, who incredibly tossed seven shutouts and posted a 2.41 ERA, but only managed a 13-15 won-loss record.  More than half of his wins in 1974 came in those seven shutouts, meaning that once he allowed a single run, his team's chances of winning went down the drain.

The third club with 100 quality starts that failed to post a winning record did it fairly recently.  In 2012, the Mets had the National League Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey, who led the league in complete games, shutouts, innings pitched and strikeouts, as well as recording quality starts in 27 of his 33 starts.  They also had a staff that included Johan Santana, who pitched the team's first and only no-hitter, and Jonathon Niese, who quietly had the best season of his career, going 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA and 22 quality starts.  In addition, the 2012 campaign saw the debut of Matt Harvey, who dazzled in his ten late-season starts (2.73 ERA, 70 Ks in 59.1 IP).  Of course, none of that could help the team achieve a winning record.  While it's true that the bullpen was part of the reason for the team's failure to have many happy recaps, the offense didn't help much either.  The team batted .249 and finished outside of the league's top ten in home runs, stolen bases, runs scored, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Now let's take a look at the teams that posted the highest winning percentages in games where a starting pitcher recorded a quality start.

Once again, the teams that took advantage of quality starts were among the best in franchise history.  Eight of the top ten teams won 88 or more games and six of those eight teams made the playoffs.  The two teams that didn't win at least 88 games were the 1994 Mets, who never finished their 162-game schedule due to the players strike and this year's club, who are on pace for just under 87 victories.

The 1994 squad had a wonderful one-two tandem atop the rotation in Bret Saberhagen and Bobby Jones.  The two right-handers combined to go 26-11 with a 2.93 ERA, accounting for nearly half of the team's 55 victories.  However, the team's offense sputtered for most of the abbreviated season finishing at or near the bottom of the league in hits, doubles, triples, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.  New York also had no speed to speak of, as bench player John Cangelosi led the team with five stolen bases.  Also, making contact wasn't exactly the team's forte, as the Mets led the league in strikeouts and were next-to-last in walks.

And that brings us to this year's squad, who currently is one of just two teams in franchise history to win 80% of their quality starts - the other is the 1986 World Championship team.  With a rotation led by Bartolo Colon, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, the 2015 Mets have been wonderful at limiting runs scored by the opposition.  Unfortunately, the hitters have prevented the team from winning games when the starting pitchers haven't been on top of their games.

The Mets have averaged 3.79 runs per game in the 56 contests they've played this year.  The last Mets team to score fewer runs per game was the 1992 squad, who crossed the plate 3.70 times per affair and famously became known as "The Worst Team Money Could Buy".  This year's team is also averaging 7.73 strikeouts per game.  The only teams with a higher strikeout rate were the last two - the 2013 and 2014 clubs.  It also doesn't help that the Mets are batting .241 and reaching base at a .305 clip.

It wouldn't take much for the 2015 Mets to win on a more consistent basis.  In fact, they don't even need a bunch of superstars to push them over the top.  They just need to be average at the plate.

The average National League hitter is putting up a .253/.314/.392 slash line.  Those numbers aren't spectacular, but they're much better than the current .241/.305/.367 slash line posted by the Mets.  In addition, the average National League team has 91 doubles, nine triples, 49 homers, 31 stolen bases and has scored 225 runs.  All of those numbers are greater than the 82 doubles, five triples, 47 homers, 19 stolen bases and 212 runs scored by the Mets.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to postulate that quality starts usually help a team win ballgames.  But even having a staff that produces quality starts by the bunches doesn't guarantee a playoff berth or even a winning record.  The 1968, 1974 and 2012 Mets know all about that.  And despite the season-ending players strike that put the kibosh on the 1994 campaign, Jeff Kent, his epic mustache, and rest of the '94 club could attest that winning the majority of the team's quality starts doesn't mean very much if the team can't win its non-quality starts.

The best teams in Mets history had great starting pitchers and could also hit the ball around the park.  That's why the 1969, 1986 and 1988 squads are the only ones to appear on both of the above charts.  Neither of those three teams were offensive juggernauts, but they each had a balanced attack at the plate.  The '69 squad finished in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories, yet still won 100 games.  That's all the 2015 Mets need.  If they're just mediocre at the plate, their starting pitching will carry them to places they've rarely been.

All the quality starts in the world won't produce a memorable season if the team's hitters are less than average at the plate.  A little mediocrity may be just what the doctor ordered to prescribe a successful season at Citi Field in 2015.