Saturday, September 24, 2016

Curtis Granderson Has Become an RBI Machine

There have been plenty of happy moments for Curtis Granderson and the Mets in the month of September.  (AP Photo)

About a month ago, I wrote a piece entitled "Curtis Granderson Chases Unwanted History One RBI at a Time".  When the post was published, Granderson had 20 homers and just 34 RBI.  Each of his last 17 homers had been of the solo variety (that streak eventually reached 18).  Because of his inability to drive in runs without the ball leaving the park and his propensity for not doing anything positive when there were runners on base, I surmised that Granderson would set the record for fewest runs batted in per home run of any player who hit 20+ HR.

But just like former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's scoring guarantee in a playoff game against the Packers, I may have been a little premature with my prediction about Granderson.

After driving in a total of 16 runs in July and August, a two-month stretch in which he had 195 plate appearances, Granderson has notched a team-leading 17 RBI in the month of September in just 83 plate appearances - an average of one RBI every 4.88 PA.  Furthermore, Granderson has picked some huge moments in which to drive in those runs, and although he's still hitting plenty of homers (his seven homers in September are tied for the N.L. lead), he's finally found a way to drive in his teammates when they've been on base in front of him.

In Friday night's win over the Phillies, Granderson drove in the first run in the Mets' game-changing six-run rally in the fifth inning.  Last Saturday, he became the first Met to hit two home runs in extra innings, producing the tying home run in the 11th inning against the Twins and the game-winning blast an inning later.  Four days before that, Granderson's RBI triple gave the Mets the lead in a game they eventually won in extra innings.  On September 9, he crushed a two-run homer off Met killer Julio Teheran when the Mets were trailing the Braves by four runs in the sixth inning, then delivered a game-tying single in the eighth frame.  The Mets went on to win to complete the rally from a four-run deficit to win the game, 6-4.  And finally, On September 3, Granderson turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead with a two-run single off Nationals starter Tanner Roark in a game eventually won by the Mets, 3-1.

After hitting 18 consecutive solo homers earlier in the season, four of Granderson's last eight home runs have come with at least one man on base.  In addition, five of Granderson's last seven homers have either tied the game or given the Mets the lead.  It should be added that none of those home runs came with Granderson batting in the leadoff spot, where hitting a home run in the first inning would usually give the Mets an early lead.

On the morning of August 20, the Mets were 60-62 and Curtis Granderson had 20 HR and 34 RBI.  Since then, the Mets are 22-10 and Granderson has produced nine homers and 21 RBI.  His lack of run production was close to becoming historically bad in the annals of baseball.  Now his 55 RBI for the season have Granderson tied for second on the Mets behind only Yoenis Céspedes.  Simply stated, Granderson's RBI turnaround has been nothing short of Amazin'.

Maybe it was the acquisition of Reds' right fielder Jay Bruce that got Mets' right fielder Curtis Granderson to start driving in runs.  Or perhaps the Grandy Man has been drinking some of current Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's "miracle water".  Whatever the reason, there's no denying the fact that not only has Granderson become an RBI machine for the Mets, he's driven in most of those runs in key moments of game, with many of those runs batted in contributing greatly to Mets victories.

Without question, Granderson's hunger for run production has certainly made all the critics (myself included) eat their words.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pitching Wins Don't Matter ... Tell That to Bartolo Colón

It's been very difficult to cool down Bartolo Colón recently.  (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Decades ago, pitching victories were viewed as the standard by which to judge a pitcher's success.  If he won a lot of games, he was considered to be a good pitcher.  That was then, this is now.  And wins don't mean what they used to.  Just ask Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2010 despite finishing the season with a mediocre 13-12 won-loss record.

In the days of yore, the man known as King Felix wouldn't have been considered a candidate for the ultimate pitching honor with that record, but Hernandez led the American League during the 2010 campaign in innings pitched, ERA and fewest hits per nine innings, while also finishing high among the league leaders in the new stats of the day, like ERA+ (174; 2nd in A.L.), FIP (3.04; 4th in A.L.) and WAR for pitchers (7.1; 1st in A.L.).

Not only did Hernandez win the Cy Young over 19-game winner David Price and 21-game winner CC Sabathia, but the voting wasn't particularly close, as Hernandez earned 21 of the 28 first-place votes cast for the award in 2010.

Voters for regular season awards already know that there is more to determine the value of a pitcher than pitching wins.  But Mets pitcher Bartolo Colón doesn't have time for that talk.  He's too busy helping the Mets inch closer to an unlikely postseason berth by racking up win after win.  And in doing so, he finds himself just one victory away from joining an exclusive Mets pitching club.

Most of the time, when a player becomes "one of only so-and-so players to do something in club history", he's joined by a hodgepodge of players.  Some of these players are usually among the better players to suit up for the team, while others can sometimes be of the "what's he doing on this list?" variety.

For example, when you think of the top home run hitters in Mets history, your thoughts usually turn to guys like Darryl Strawberry, Mike Piazza and Dave Kingman - three guys who were known for their prodigious power.  But rounding out the top ten on the team's all-time home run list is Ed Kranepool, who never hit more than 16 home runs in any season and averaged a long ball every 50.8 plate appearances in his career.  Longevity had more to do with him appearing on this list than anything else.

Similarly, when one thinks of the top strikeout pitchers to put on the orange and blue, immediately visions of the Seavers, Koosmans and Goodens of the Mets universe come to mind.  No one would ever think of including a player like Jonathon Niese in the conversation, but there he is, sitting at No. 9 among the top strikeout pitchers in team history.  That's more a testament to how few great strikeout pitchers have managed to stick around with the Mets than it is of Niese's ability to throw strike three by an opposing batter.

That brings us back to Bartolo Colón, who currently sports a 13-7 won-loss record.  His excellent 2016 campaign comes on the heels of a 14-win season in 2015 and a 15-victory campaign in his inaugural season as a Met in 2014.  A win on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves would give him his third consecutive year with 14 or more victories and would put him on the short list of players who have accomplished that feat in a Mets uniform.  And believe me when I say that the players he'd be joining are not of the Ed Kranepool and Jonathon Niese ilk.

Steve Trachsel (Getty Images)
Entering 2016, a total of 27 pitchers (including Colón) had won 14 or more games for the Mets in a single season.  By accomplishing the feat in each of his first two seasons with the team, Colón had become one of ten Mets hurlers to post multiple seasons of 14+ victories.  However, one of the other nine was Steve Trachsel, which suggests that the company wasn't really that exclusive.  But should Colón win his 14th game of the season tonight or in any of his subsequent starts over the final three weeks of the season, he'd join pitchers like Jon Matlack, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Al Leiter as three-time 14-game winners.  It's a slightly more impressive list, but none of those guys would ever appear on the Mount Rushmore of Mets starting pitchers.

Matlack, Darling, Fernandez and Leiter all had varying degrees of success with the Mets, but none of them put together at least three consecutive seasons of 14 or more victories while they were on the team.  Only four pitchers have ever done that.  You may have heard of them.  Those players are:

  • Tom Seaver (1967-73)
  • Jerry Koosman (1973-76)
  • Dwight Gooden (1984-88)
  • David Cone (1988-91)

If you were going to sculpt a Mets-style Mount Rushmore using the top four starting pitchers in Mets history, the noggins of those four players would more than likely be permanently chiseled in granite.  Basically, any positive pitching records in team history will feature most, if not all of those pitchers.  Their constant success from year to year made them aces or co-aces of the staffs they pitched for and resulted in lots of wins for the team and themselves.

And to think, Bartolo Colón is just one victory away from joining them.

Over the years, the importance of the pitching victory has been lessened.  A leaky pen can cost a starting pitcher a well-deserved win just as easily as an explosive offense can help a starter earn an ugly "W".  But a win is a win is a win, and pitchers still love getting them.  (Just ask Rick Porcello.)

Bartolo Colón has been in baseball long enough that he remembers when pitching victories were still used to determine how valuable a pitcher was.  But you don't have to tell anyone in this day and age just how valuable Colón has been to the Mets.  And should he earn a victory tonight over the Braves, his value as a winning pitcher will elevate him into the pantheon that includes the best starting pitchers in the history of the franchise.

Yeah, wins for pitchers don't matter as much as they used to.  But I don't think anyone is complaining  that Bartolo Colón is still racking up that "meaningless stat" for the Mets.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Wilmer Flores' Friends Want Him to Play Every Day

Wilmer Flores' new walk-up music is "I'll Be There For You", the theme to the long-running television show, "Friends".  That story seems to have taken over social media for the past 24 hours.  But the real story should be how Flores is making a push to be in the everyday lineup.

Flores had a fine season at the plate in 2015, collecting 22 doubles, 16 homers and 59 RBI to go with a .263 batting average and .408 slugging percentage.  He also made solid contact, striking out just 63 times in 510 plate appearances.  That made him the eighth-toughest person to strike out in the National League.

However, with the Mets' acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera and the trade for Neil Walker, Flores was a man without a position at the start of the 2016 campaign, and his performance suffered as a result of his sporadic play.  On the morning of June 24, Flores was batting .226 with a .357 slugging percentage and a .648 OPS.  He had also started just 31 of the team's first 71 games, and most of those starts came as a result of David Wright's annual injury.  But something clicked as the summer got underway, and Flores has been one of the team's most productive hitters since then.

On June 24, Flores began a four-game stretch in which he reached base eight times and drove in four runs.  A week later, he became the second Met in team history to collect six hits in a game.  That Alfonzian effort kicked off an 11-game stretch in which Flores batted .412 with seven homers and 13 RBI.  And Flores hasn't stopped producing.

Since the middle of June, Flores has hit 14 homers and has 42 RBI.  That production has come in a mere 216 plate appearances.  To put that into perspective, that's more pop and run production than Yoenis Céspedes has had in the same time period with a similar number of plate appearances (Céspedes has 11 HR and 28 RBI in 205 PA).  And since June 24, Flores is batting .296 with a .536 slugging percentage and an .880 OPS.  Even more crazy is the fact that Flores has a .264 BABIP since mid-June and he's still become one of the team's top run producers.  Eventually that low BABIP (an average BABIP is around .300) will even itself out, which means the potential to drive in more runs exists for Flores.

One of the reasons why Flores wasn't starting many games early on was his inability to hit right-handed pitching.  He was mashing left-handed pitching to the tune of a .340 batting average but was struggling to get to the Mendoza Line against right-handed pitchers.  But that lack of success against RHP has begun to change.

In today's game against the Reds, Flores had three hits against Cincinnati right-handed starter Robert Stephenson.  This came less than 24 hours after Flores went 2-for-4 versus the Nationals, collecting a double off starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez and a single off reliever Mat Latos, both of whom are right-handed.  Four days earlier, Flores turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead by clubbing a two-run homer off Marlins starter Jake Esch - also a right-handed pitcher.  The night before that, Flores picked up a double and an RBI single off Miami pitcher Tom Koehler.  And what do you know?  He throws with his right hand as well.

(Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)
In fact, Flores hasn't had a hit off a southpaw since August 26, when he hit a grand slam against Phillies starter Adam Morgan.  Since that salami, Flores has reached base 13 times (ten hits, three walks) in eight starts.  All 13 times he's gotten on base, a right-handed pitcher was on the mound.

With Neil Walker out for the season, Asdrubal Cabrera playing through an injury and James Loney struggling to the tune of a .174/.195/.187 slash line since August 9, Flores was bound to get more at-bats.  But even without the less-than-100% infield, Flores has 100% earned the opportunity to start every game for the Mets, regardless of whether the pitcher is a lefty or a righty.

His BABIP is low even with the high production.  His inability to hit right-handed pitchers appears to be a thing of the past.  And his teammates are dropping like flies.  The reason to sit Flores is gone.

Wilmer Flores wants everyone to know that his favorite TV show is "Friends".  Flores should know that he has his own friends in Mets fans who feel his bat should be in the lineup every day.  After all, Flores' bat has certainly been there for us since the beginning of summer.