Thursday, March 31, 2005

Sheehan takes the plunge

Joe Sheehan posted his NL East preview today, in which he does the nearly unthinkable: picking the Mets to win the division, ahead of the Phillies, Marlins, and - wait for it - Braves. In that order.

"The additions of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez are worth 10-12 wins to the team by themselves. Add in a full season of David Wright and any kind of bounceback from Mike Piazza, and the Mets will have a superstar core unrivaled in the division."

He goes on to predict, as many have, that Kaz Matsui will show improvement in his sophomore season, as did Hideki from the Bronx.

What still concerns me is that, for whatever reason, the Mets only won 71 games last year, meaning the 10-12 wins he figures the Big Two will add still only gets them back to .500. This leaves Wright, Matsui, and perhaps Benson/Zambrano/Ishii to make up the other 10 wins, over and above last year's production, that it will probably take to contend for the division.

Of all the pundits/analysts I've read, Sheehan is probably the staunchest supporter of the Mets' bullpen. Statheads are often accused of accentuating the negative aspects of popular players, but quantitative analysis is more productively used in identifying real talent in the sort of no-name pitchers which make up the bulk of the Mets' pen. In short, he believes we can expect perfectly decent innings from Bell, Fortunato, Koo and company, despite their near total anonymity.

As I've said before, the Phillies are the team that scares me. While their rotation is largely the same group which was so injury-ridden and ineffective last year, exchanging Milton for Lieber is a definite upgrade, and Lofton-Utley-Abreu-Thome-Burrell is no joke at all.

I didn't have the guts to pick the Braves 4th, but I'm glad someone did. Oh wouldn't it be lovely?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Pedro, Galarraga, Stinnett

Yesterday's 83 pitch session went off without a hitch. He's not going to be as healthy, or quite as overpowering, as he was in the late 90s. But stressing about how many innings Pedro Martinez is going to throw in a Mets uniform is a really nice problem to have.

The Big Cat has announced his retirement, after a spring in which he hardly embarassed himself, especially for a 43 year-old cancer survivor. It was clear, however, that a spot on the roster was probably not in the offing, and he gracefully stepped aside.

The NYT reports that the Mets have moved in on Kelly Stinnett, who was recently released by the Diamondbacks. Sure, you wouldn't normally get excited about a backup catcher; especially one whom the Snakes deemed unworthy of being Koyie Hill's caddy, but Stinnett brings more to the table than you might think:

"I can sit for seven or eight days, come off the bench and get a few hits now and then," Stinnett said. Can he possibly live up to his own hype? I can see a guy sitting for seven days, but eight?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Willie "Old School" Randolph

I've got a bad feeling about this Randolph fellow.

I haven't written much about David Wright, because anyone trolling around the Mets blogosphere is probably well aware that he's the best prospect the team has had in some time. Last year he made the transition from "boy he could be something" to "why bother with Triple-A?"

There isn't a whole lot of mystery to setting a batting order. Is it nice to have a high OBP guy leading off? Certainly. Is it a bonus for him to have speed as well? Sure. But the most basic organizing principle of a batting order is to have your best hitters at the top, thus ensuring that they come to bat more often than your worst hitters. Which brings me to Randolph's ridiculous plan to have David Wright bat eighth.

David Wright is not going to be one of the best third basemen in the league. He already is, and he certainly should be hitting in front of at least Mientkiewicz and Cameron. Unfortunately, Randolph is under the impression that he's the pledge educator of a fraternity, rather than the manager of a professional baseball team. So Mets fans will just have to wait until Wright "pays his dues" to see their team put to optimal use.


Has anyone else noticed Dae-Sung Koo? I know very little about him, except that he's Korean, left-handed, 35 years old, and has pitched 11.2 very strong innings this spring. He's struck out 12, walked 4, and given up 0 longballs. Any team that's going to be relying on Felix Heredia as a lefty setup man should give this guy a serious, serious look.

It turns out the all-seeing eye of PECOTA is very much in line with my predictions for the NL East this year. Here is the whole article (Premium). The order of finish is identical, and the proximity of the Braves, Marlins and Mets lends my crazy and since disavowed "Braves finish 4th" prediction a bit of analytical credence:

Phillies 90 72 .554 833 744
Braves 82 80 .506 758 749
Marlins 81 81 .502 724 720
Mets 81 81 .497 736 741
Nationals 74 88 .459 685 749

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ishii trade, Mets v. Braves, etc.

So we've acquired another starting pitcher with appalling walk numbers.

In three major league seasons, Kaz Ishii's walk rate stands at 5.80 BB/9. Is this another case of Rick Peterson begging for a chance to work a miracle? Ishii's career ERA is a respectable 4.30, so it's possible that even moderate improvement would make him an asset in the rotation, but I'd hate to think that acquiring pitchers with little to no command of the strike zone has become official team policy.

The move was apparently precipitated by the injury to Trachsel and the shocking (shocking, I say!) ineffectiveness of Victor Zambrano. Matt Ginter isn't as embarrassing a 5th starter as Omar seems to think, but why not make a high-risk move if it's there to be made?

I'm not too broken up over the departure of Jason Phillips, partly because his stellar 2003 was an aberration and partly because I don't fear the prospect of giving 200 at bats to Ramon Castro. I will miss the goggles, though.

Watching the Mets take on the Braves on Hudson has kept them off the board, inducing tons of groundballs, but Glavine hasn't looked bad against the Atlanta skeleton crew (only the Joneses are starting).

*** Victor Diaz 3-run Home Run ***

Mets now lead 4-2, and the chatter in the broadcast booth has turned to the possibility of trading Cameron and giving the starting RF spot to the free-swinging youngster. I don't think that's a great idea, unless Cameron could fetch a sizeable package in return. The Mets can wait for Diaz to tighten up that batting eye at Norfolk.

* Wilson Betemit Solo HR *
(His 2nd off Glavine. WTF?)

* Ryan Langerhans HR *
(6-4 Braves. Boooo.)

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Hungry for BK?

I still look forward to getting a satisfactory explanation for what happened to Byung-Hyun Kim.

It seems like he's been around forever, but he is still just 26 years old, which must make him the youngest member of the "Where are they now?" club. And, more importantly, BK still owns the following career line:

419.2 IP, 0.9 HR/9, 9.67 K/9, 3.77 BB/9, 3.37 ERA

I am aware that he gave up some very ill-timed home runs, and that his health and control were very much in question when he fell from grace in Boston. Especially considering his $6M price tag, it's no surprise that the trade rumors have sprung more from Theo's dissatisfaction than the plethora of suitors for Kim's services.

What I can't understand is how no one seems to care. He was sent to Korea to see a specialist, ostensibly to help his balance or straighten his posture or something, and has not been heard from again... until an ugly 1.1 IP on Sunday (2 earned on 3 walks and a hit with 2 Ks). Even Baseball Prospectus has conceded that it's possible that he just can't handle big games.

I have a hard time accepting that after over 400 major league innings, many of them of the 8th and 9th variety, this guy just lost the psychological handle. I need to see him get shelled some more before I believe he's really not the same pitcher, a much longer stretch of ball fours and big flies. 17 innings during which he may have been injured is not going to convince me.

I don't want to send Mike Cameron away for him, but if he can be had for a song, as I suspect he can, hopefully with the Sox picking up some of his contract, I think it would be an excellent chance to take.


Kris Benson is/was on the hill today against the Orioles. I'd love to get excited about this guy. I really would.

Jose Reyes has looked very good and very healthy thus far. He has stolen 4 bags, running without that painful looking hitch that he adopted upon his return from his hamstring injury last year.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

So it begins...

How 'bout that Jason Phillips, huh? In the words of John F. Kerry: Who among us doesn't love gap power? I think that's what he said, anyway... I've formed some scar tissue over my memory of his campaign, but I think that was the gist.

In any case, credit for the double should really go to Jeffrey Hammonds, who badly misjudged the ball, but it still had to get to the left field corner, didn't it? Jeff Brantley originally attributed the defensive lapse to Brad Wilkerson, calling it the product of youth and inexperience (B-Dub is 27, and has played in over 500 big league games).

Glavine was sharp enough, and the only runs surrendered were off of Heilman and Heredia, who we already knew were dreadful pitchers, so it can be thought of as a shutout.

Jose Guillen really did hit the pistachios out of that ball, though.

On the subject of the pitching staff: I've been reading and enjoying some growing counter-CW to the effect that the Mets bullpen will be just fine. From what I saw, the Reyes-Matsui tandem should be okay. They had a "You got it!"- "You got it!" moment which let a slow chopper go for a single, but otherwise looked a'ight.

Jim Bowden must have been pleased to see his acquisitions perform well. He should enjoy it while it lasts, because Guzman and Castilla are both liable to become full-blown embarrassments by July.

Watching the webcast on, I was struck by two things:

1) the picture and audio quality are surprisingly good; so good that, were it in my best interest to have access to regular season broadcasts while at my office, I would consider subscribing.

2) the commentary, provided by Jeff Brantley, former GM Steve Phillips and a third guy, was cringe-inducing at every turn.

Broadcasters are entitled to shake off the rust too, I guess, but after the third consecutive inning of constant steroid-scandal jabber, I put down the headphones. Had Harold Reynolds been in the booth (as he was for today's Yankees-Pirates tilt), I would have probably done so even sooner. Jeff Brantley, in particular... Man, that is one country fried bubba.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Zambrano revisited

Comment from Stumped1 on yesterday's post:

"I gotta say I like Zambrano, and so must have a lot of other teams. because what is lost in that trade is the fact that other teams were trying to get him, Tampa didn't come looking for Kazmir. the Mets just got the winning bid. You know he can pitch at the ml level already and has a ton more potential. Kazmir at this point just has potential."

Thanks for the comment, Stumped. I'd like to encourage more of them, and it's a subject I feel fairly strongly about, so I'm going to address it further, if I may:

Taking your second point first, you make the case that Victor Zambrano has demonstrated the ability to pitch at the major league level, while Kazmir has only demonstrated the potential to do so.

Zambrano has indeed been pitching in the Show since 2001, and in almost 500 innings has posted a very respectable career ERA of 4.45. And, in what some might consider to be an even more impressive feat, his record stands at 37-27 despite toiling almost entirely for the D-Rays (pronounced "D minus rays").

On the other hand, he walked 102 batters in 142 innings last year. The strikeout rate was nice, but when you consider he turned 29 in August, it's very hard to believe that he'll ever get much better. I haven't studies his mechanics, and I wouldn't know what to look for even if I did, so I can't say that the "Peterson theory" is pure hogwash... What I can say is that he looks an awful lot like a 4th or 5th starter to me.

As for Kazmir, "potential" might not go far enough to describe a 21 year-old who has struck out 324 batters in 261 professional innings. That's a K/9 of 11.17, with a K/BB of 2.84. After the trade, Tampa Bay had him make 4 more starts at AA, then called him up to the big club.

How did he do in the same uniform that Zambrano wore weeks earlier? He struck out 41 in 33.1 IP. His control was poor (nerves, maybe?), as was his ERA, but his K/BB was still better than Victor's.

On September 14, Kazmir twisted the knife in Mets fans everywhere by shutting out the World Champion Red Sox for 6 innings, allowing 3 hits, 3 walks, and ringing up 9.

You can say he's too small to pitch starter's innings, or that his mechanics put too much strain on his elbow. Maybe he'll wind up as a relief pitcher, and who would want a Billy Wagner-type around anyway, but at this point he looks like a young lefty with filthy stuff who's poised to have a dominant career as a starter.

What really makes me want to pull my hair out is that's exactly what he looked like last July, when Jim Duquette had his great epiphany ("Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead... to a Wild Card berth... possibly"). Ask me at that point which of the two I'd rather have on the 25-man roster, and I would have said Zambrano without much hesitation, but at the cost of Kazmir?

Which brings me to your first point: there was a bidding war for Zambrano's services and the Mets had to win it. I understand the demand for reliable-but-unspectacular starting pitching at the trade deadline always exceeds the supply, and that it can be worth it for contending teams to overpay. But, I ask,

A) Would a rational observer conclude that the Mets were a real title contender last year? and
B) Is it possible, even for a contender, to simply give up too much in exchange for at best a moderate short-term upgrade?

As I said, I would rather have had Zambrano for the last few months of 2004. But entering the spring of 2005, I'd take Kazmir now. That's what I call a very short term upgrade. Kazmir's fanned over a quarter of the big league hitters he's faced, and, for the love of Dwight Gooden, he's only 21. I think only chronic injury can keep him from stardom, and I'm not about to wish it on him.

We got fleeced.