Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fun Facts About Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe

Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe were traded by the Atlanta Braves to the New York Mets yesterday for minor leaguer pitchers John Gant and Robert Whalen.  The trade instantly gives the Mets a credible third baseman who can actually hit in Uribe.   (Sorry, Soup.  You may be good food, but you're a lousy hitter.)  It also gives the Mets versatility with Johnson, who can play multiple infield positions as well as the outfield.

Okay, all that you know.  It's not my duty to regurgitate what others have already written about the two newest Mets.  Rather, it falls upon me to share what you didn't know or what you would not have thought of asking, mainly for fear that someone would think you were a weirdo or a forty-something who lives in your mom's basement and craves more meat loaf.

So let's not dilly-dally any longer.  Ladies and gentle-Mets, I present to you some fun facts about Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe.

Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson celebrate a home run by Uribe against Washington.  Uribe loves to face N.L. East pitchers.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Out of the first 1,000 Mets to appear in a Mets uniform, Johnson was one of the most common surnames, while Uribe had never been seen on the back of a Mets jersey.  In fact, when Kelly Johnson makes his Mets debut, he will be the eighth Johnson to play for the Mets (this doesn't include all-time club leader in managerial wins and division titles, Davey Johnson).  Kelly Johnson will join Bob W. (1967), Bob D. (1969), Howard (1985-93), Lance (1996-97), Mark (2000-02), Ben (2007) and Rob (2012) in the fellowship of the Johnson ring.  The surname Johnson will also tie Jones as the most common last name in club history.  For all you kids out there who like to keep up with the Joneses, those players' first names were Sherman (1962), Cleon (1963, 1965-75), Randy (1981-82), Ross (1984), Barry (1992), Bobby J. (1993-2000), Chris (1995-96) and Bobby M. (2000, 2002).

Newton's Third Law of Motion states that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."  The same can be said for the two newest Mets.  For every Johnson that has donned a Mets uniform, there have been no Uribes.  In fact, Juan Uribe will become just the third Met to have his last name begin with the letter "U", joining Del Unser (1975-76) and Lino Urdenata (2007).  When Uribe plays his third game for the Mets, he will pass Urdenata into second place for games played by a "U" player, as Lino appeared in only two games as a reliever and amassed a grand total of one inning pitched for the 2007 Mets.  How uncommon has it been for a Met to have his last name begin with the letter "U"?  Let's just say there have been as many Mets players to have surnames beginning with a lower case "d" (Matt den Dekker, Travis d'Arnaud, Jacob deGrom) as there have been upper case "U" guys.

Even in this era of free agency, it's rare to have a player suit up for every team in the same division.  Octavio Dotel, who began his career as a Met in 1999 and played for a major league record 13 teams, couldn't manage this feat.  Neither could Mike Morgan, Ron Villone or Matt Stairs, despite the fact that each player played for a dozen different franchises.  But not only has Kelly Johnson accomplished this rare achievement, he played for all five teams within a division in a span of less than two years.

The Arizona Diamondbacks traded Johnson to the Toronto Blue Jays on August 23, 2011.  He then signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Rays on February 5, 2013.  Ten months later, he signed a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees, who then traded him to the Boston Red Sox on July 31, 2014.  Thirty days later, on August 30, 2014, he was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles.

So let's review the stops made on Le Tour de Johnson.  On Closing Day 2012, he was a member of the Blue Jays.  He then played the entire 2013 season with the Rays, followed by a three-team pit stop in 2014, splitting time between the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles.  That's all five American League East teams in exactly 23 months (his last game with Toronto was on October 2, 2012 and his first game with Baltimore was on September 2, 2014).  Perhaps his familiarity with the A.L. East is one of the reasons the Mets acquired him, as the team plays the Rays, Orioles and Red Sox in August and square off against the Yankees in September.  Johnson can exact a modicum of revenge against the A.L. East squads that spurned him.

Speaking of reasons why the Mets acquired these two players, Juan Uribe has always been a good major league hitter, smacking 20+ homers in four separate seasons.  (By comparison, only six players in Mets history have produced four or more 20-HR campaigns while in a Mets uniform - Darryl Strawberry, Mike Piazza, David Wright, one of the eight Johnsons [Howard], Dave Kingman and Kevin McReynolds.)  But in addition to his prowess in power, Uribe has always handled N.L. East pitching extremely well.

Uribe has started 155 games in his career against the four teams he will now face the most (Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington).  That's just about a full season's worth of games.  Against those four teams, Uribe has a .279 batting average and a .439 slugging percentage, which is higher than the lifetime .255/.419 numbers he has put up against all the other teams he's faced.  He's also produced 62 extra-base hits in 606 at-bats against the four teams - an average of one extra-base hit every 9.77 at-bats.  He averages an extra-base hit every 11.0 at-bats against every other team.  It should be noted that beginning next Friday, 35 of the Mets' last 60 games are against N.L. East teams.

Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe have been brought aboard to fill a few holes in the offense, which has been downright offensive at times.  Anyone can spit out numbers (kinda like I just did in that last paragraph), but who's going to tell you about the abundance of Johnsons and the dearth of Uribes in Mets lore?  How are you going to compete against Gary Cohen and Howie Rose in next year's edition of "Beat The Booth" if you don't know about the Tour de Johnson?  And before you say that Uribe's an old fart who will only be competitive in a hot dog eating contest against Bartolo Colon, not only is Uribe a slayer of cured meats, but he's also a slayer of the N.L. East, having terrorized pitchers in the division for the equivalent of a full season.

Hey, at least if Uribe doesn't work out as a hitter, he can always manage the team for a day, as he did last year for the Dodgers. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Mets Should Just Say No to Justin Upton

Stop making eye contact, you guys.  You might make us think something's brewing here.

With less than two weeks to go until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Mets are in sore need of a bat or three.  Well, duh.  That's all anyone is talking about these days.  And one team that keeps popping up as a potential trade partner for the Mets is the underachieving San Diego Padres.  The Padres supposedly upgraded their entire outfield this past off-season, adding Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton in an attempt to give a quick adrenaline boost to their offense.  The only problem was that the rapid shot of energy faded before the season began.

San Diego ranks 20th in the majors in runs scored and only the Mets (.233) and Seattle Mariners (.235) have a lower team batting average than the Padres (.238).  And no one - not even the Mets - can claim a lower team on-base percentage than the .294 OBP being produced by the Padres.  Because of their putrid offense and middle-of-the-pack pitching (3.91 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 1.30 WHIP), the Padres enter the day with a 42-49 record, just two games ahead of the last-place Colorado Rockies in the NL West and 3½ games in front of the Miami Marlins for the second-worst record in the entire league.

Without question, the Padres will be sellers at the trade deadline, just months after first-year general manager A.J. Preller bought the farm, the cows and both Upton brothers.  One player who might appeal to the Mets is the younger (and better) Upton sibling, Justin, whose 15 homers and 49 RBI are more than any current Met has recorded this season.  And although his .254 batting average is just okay, it would be only be surpassed by Daniel Murphy's .272 mark out of all the everyday players on the team.

On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer, even though Upton would just be a rental player, as he is in the final year of a six-year contract he originally signed with Arizona back in 2010.  The Mets wouldn't be committed to paying him beyond this season, just as outfield prospect Michael Conforto inches his way closer and closer to the big league squad.

But there are many reasons why the Mets should just say no to Justin Upton.  Here are a few of them.

Do you remember Richard Hidalgo?  He was traded to the Mets in mid-June 2004 and became an overnight sensation.  New York won its first four games with Hidalgo in the lineup, pushing the team above .500 for the season.  A week later, Hidalgo embarked upon a one-month home run tear.  From June 27 to July 29, Hidalgo batted .308 with 12 HR and 24 RBI.  He hit home runs in five consecutive games to begin the month of July, making him the first and only Met to homer in five straight contests.

Hidalgo sounded like a good buy, but before long, it was the Mets saying goodbye to him.  Take away his hot month and Hidalgo batted .189 with nine homers and 28 RBI during the rest of his short Mets career.  Hidalgo was the epitome of the streaky hitter, much like Justin Upton is today, and Hidalgo's cold streaks - like Upton's - tend to last longer than his hot ones.

During his first two months as a Padre, Upton was one of the best hitters in the league, batting .307 with 12 HR and 37 RBI.  Upton also posted a .545 slugging percentage, a .913 OPS and collected hits in 38 of his first 51 games, which included 15 multi-hit games.  But since the calendar turned to June, Justin has hit more like his brother Melvin, batting .179 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 37 games.  In the same time period, Upton (Justin, not Melvin) has nearly twice as many strikeouts (45) as he has hits (24).

This is nothing new for Upton, as he batted .301 with 13 homers in his first 53 games last year with Atlanta, then proceeded to bat .252 with 15 homers over his next 100 games.  The year before that, in his first season as a Brave, Upton tore the cover off the ball in his first 25 games, batting .304 with 12 HR and 19 RBI.  He then faded over the next four months, batting .244 with 12 HR and 45 RBI over his next 109 games.

Upton was a product of his ballpark when he played in Arizona.  From his first full season with the Diamondbacks in 2008 until his final year in the desert in 2012, Upton batted .311 in his home ballpark.  He managed just a .244 batting average on the road in those five seasons.  He also had just 41 homers in nearly 1,300 at-bats on the road from 2008 to 2012, while taking advantage of his home park in Arizona to hit 65 home runs in 63 fewer at-bats.

Ever since he left Chase Field, his strikeout totals have gone through the roof.  In his six seasons as a Diamondback, Upton surpassed 140 strikeouts just once, fanning 152 times in 2010.  Once he left Arizona, Upton became a human whiff machine, striking out 161 times in 2013 and topping that with 171 Ks in 2014.  So far in 2015 with the Padres, Upton has fanned 96 times, putting him on pace to strike out a career-high 173 times this season.  To put that in perspective, half of the Mets' everyday players are on pace to reach triple digits in strikeouts, but none of those players are whiffing at an Uptonian pace, as Lucas Duda leads the team with 92 punchouts.

Finally, check out this stat provided to us by the incomparable Michael Baron on Twitter.
One of the reasons the Mets are winless when they trail late in ballgames is the fact that as bad as they've been at the plate throughout the entire season, they're even worse in the late innings.  In the first six innings of games, the Mets are collectively batting .242 with a .391 slugging percentage.  That's not very good, but it gets progressively worse from innings seven through nine.

In the seventh inning, the Mets have a .215 batting average and a .310 slugging percentage.  That goes down slightly to .214/.307 in the eighth inning.  And in the ninth inning, those numbers go down to .197 and .281, respectively.  We're not talking about just the ninth innings when the Mets are facing the opposing team's hard-to-hit closer.  We're talking about every ninth inning situation - when the Mets have the lead, when they're tied and not facing the closer, when they're being blown out.  In every possible situation, the Mets just can't hit in the late innings of games.  And adding Justin Upton wouldn't change that very much.

Upton was a very good late-inning hitter in Arizona, batting .282 and posting a .460 slugging percentage in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings from 2008 to 2012.  Since 2013 - his first year away from the desert - Upton has batted .240 in late inning situations and has seen his slugging percentage in those spots drop from .460 in 2013 to .404 in 2014 to just .389 this year.  While it is true that a .240 batting average and .389 slugging percentage are better than what the average Met has done this year in the late innings of games, it's still not an acceptable mark for a player making over $14 million this year.  (Upton's .240/.389 marks in innings seven through nine are also slightly lower than what the Mets have produced in innings one through six.)  More importantly, it's not nearly enough production for a player who would be brought in to recharge the batting order's batteries, costing the Mets several good minor league prospects to acquire a player of his caliber.

Justin Upton is an above-average major league player.  But he's just not good enough to give the Mets what they need to overcome the season-long doldrums they've had at the plate.  He's not the same hitter he was in Arizona, he's too streaky and he's no longer a good hitter when the game is potentially on the line.

What the Mets need is a player who hits in any park, is consistent at the plate and does not wilt under the late-inning pressure.  The onus to find that player or players will fall on Sandy Alderson's shoulders.  The player who should not be at the top of his shopping list is Justin Upton.  The team would be better served to shop at a different store as the trade deadline approaches.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Jeers: Where Everybody Knows Your Trainer's Name

A week ago, the Mets embarked on a West Coast road trip after being swept by the Chicago Cubs at home.  The trip began with the Mets sitting a season-high 4½ games out of first place in the National League East.  However, after a 4-2 sojourn in Los Angeles and San Francisco, coupled with Friday night's "welcome home" win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Mets now find themselves just two games behind the first place Washington Nationals with two games to play before the All-Star Break.

Normally, that would be enough to cause even the most pessimistic Mets fans to crack a smile, or at the very least show off their best Lucas Duda grin.  But no.  The Mets just had to mess up Steven Matz's first month in the big leagues by allowing him to pitch last Sunday at Dodger Stadium after he complained of stiffness near his left armpit following his masterful debut appearance on June 28.

That's the left one.  The armpit he pitches with.  (Well, you know what I mean.)

Some of the blame for the injury could be placed on Terry Collins, who allowed Matz to throw 110 pitches in his debut and 101 more in his second start, after Matz had yet to surpass 100 pitches in any of his 15 starts with AAA-Las Vegas earlier this year.  But that would be the easy person to blame.  It's a lot more fun to blame Mets trainer Ray Ramirez.

See that press release up there?  That snippet was at the very bottom of the formal announcement made by the Mets when Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph decided on the team's coaching staff shortly after both men were hired to be the club's general manager and manager, respectively.  It was just an afterthought.  And look at some of the pertinent information on it.

  • Ramirez earned a Master's Degree in Sports Medicine.
  • Ramirez was certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association three decades ago.

Ramirez got a Master's Degree to do what he's doing for a living.  And he's been certified to put Mets players on the disabled list since a time when most of his current Mets victims weren't even alive.  No wonder this was all listed at the bottom of the press release.  The Mets didn't want us to know they were bringing in Dr. Death himself.

Dr. Death (as he's been called on Twitter by many trainer-phobic Mets fans) has never been liked by the masses since the team moved to Citi Field in 2009.  Anyone who has attended the Mets' home opener each year can vouch for that, as the most thunderous boos are usually reserved for Ramirez during the pre-game introductions.

But even if the plethora of injuries or the misdiagnosis of other maladies have nothing to do with Ramirez (let's just say they do), it's obvious that there's something wrong with the team's strength and conditioning practices when they lead to so many trips to the disabled list for those unfortunate souls who wear a Mets uniform for a living.

Let's just say this about Ray Ramirez.  People know his name.  And if you're doing your job correctly as a team trainer, no one should know who you are by name, even if you have your own baseball card that says your name is "Ray Ramirez, Trainer".

Dr. Death before receiving his PhD in deathdom.

When Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo wrote "Where Everybody Knows Your Name", the song that became the classic theme to the long-running television show, "Cheers", they had no idea that the song could also be applied to Ray Ramirez.

The song's co-writers began the catchy ditty with the following lyric:

"Making your way in the world today
takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries
sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?"

Ramirez took everything he had to make his way in the world today.  The problem is that now he's adding to Mets fans' worries by breaking Mets players.  To be honest, it would sure help a lot if Ray Ramirez just got away.

Mets fans know Ray Ramirez's name even though he's just the team's head trainer.  Fans shouldn't know his name.  And unlike the song, those fans are not always glad he came.  When Ramirez tends to a fallen Met, the troubles are all the same.  We just want to go back to a time when no one knew the trainer's name.  (For the record, the trainer prior to Ramirez was Scott Lawrenson.  I'll bet you had forgotten his name.  It's probably because he did his job properly.)

Like many other players who have been knocked to the mat and stayed down, Steven Matz won't be coming off the 15-day disabled list in 15 days.  As a result, there will be no cheers for Matz at Citi Field anytime soon.  But there will continue to be jeers directed at the Mets and Ray Ramirez in particular for the way the team conditions its players.

Sometimes it seems as if Dr. Death is the only person on the team who never gets injured.


On a related and sad note, Roger Rees, who played Robin Colcord on "Cheers", passed away last night at the age of 71.  The late actor gained fame as the title character in "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby", a role that earned him the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 1983.  Everybody will always remember Roger Rees's name.  May he rest in peace.