Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Mets win in high style

Keith Hernandez was talking about the DH rule the other night. It was pretty rough sledding. He's opposed to it, for reasons involving fairness and machismo. I also dislike the rule, mostly because it doesn't lend itself to interesting managerial decisions.

But I realized tonight that there's something else I dislike about the DH rule. It robs the game of one of its rarest and without question its most demoralizing event: the pitcher home run. No other sport has such a gross mismatch (pitcher facing pitcher) built into it. Thus, no possibility for the kind of public humiliation Elizardo Ramirez had to endure as Steve Trachsel touched 'em all.

Sure they're all professional athletes, but they're not all professional hitters. When a guy has a career .401 OPS in 614 ABs, it means he can't hit. When he does hit a home run, unlike when a position player does, it naturally calls into question whether the pitcher can pitch. I know it doesn't have any such real significance, but it's humiliating nonetheless.

As for the game: if my excessive and perhaps unseemly attention to the Trachsel homer left any doubt, the Mets won big.

It did get close briefly, as Trachsel left a mess in the seventh inning for Sanchez to clean up. But clean up he did, allowing one run to score on a sac fly and inducing a double play.

Offensively, non-pitchers Xavier Nady and Carlos Delgado had three homers between them, and Reyes got two more hits to raise his OBP on the year to .340. That's 40 points higher than it was last year, and his SLG is 61 points higher. He's getting much better.

Lastings Milledge had his third outfield assist of the season. It was pretty impressive. In case you didn't see it, Ryan Freel hit a liner down the left field line, the kind that speedsters like Freel can usually stretch into doubles because the left fielder's momentum is pulling him the wrong way.

Not our young phenom. Milledge not only cut the ball off, but took the textbook curved route to it (meaning he was pretty much running along the left field line when he got to it) and threw a perfect strike to second. Freel was still very much en route when the ball arrived.

Milledge has got the range, he's got the arm... let's give him a pass on the glove for the time being. I'm convinced he's pretty damn toolsy.

Of course it's a good thing Milledge is showing some spark, because sure enough, Cliff Floyd was placed on the DL. I point this out only because it's relevant to the size of Milledge's cup of coffee (if he gets sent down at all), and not because I take any satisfaction in having my suspicions of the "official story" legitimized. C'mon, Omar, don't pee on our leg and tell us Cliff's day-to-day.

In NL East news, the Atlanta Braves lost their eighth straight, and assumed fifth place in the standings. The Marlins, on the other hand, have reeled off nine in a row and are just three games behind the Phillies. I still like our chances.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Reds take opener

Theo Epstein might be kicking himself a little bit this evening, or whenever he gets word of tonight's game. Wily Mo Pena looked promising in April, but has been injured for weeks. Meanwhile the player he traded away is, as of this writing, very much in the NL Cy Young picture.

The Mets couldn't get much going at all against Bronson Arroyo tonight. He went the distance on 116 pitches. This is after his last two outings of 127 and 111 pitches. As you might expect for a good Cincinnati starter, he's getting yoked like an ox. Carlos Beltran drove in both runs, one on a solo shot.

Orlando Hernandez pitched a great game. He had to work around some trouble but for the most part did so successfully, and he struck out seven in as many innings.

I didn't quite understand Willie Randolph's decision to leave him in as long as he did. With two outs in the top of the seventh, it was a one-run game with two Reds on base. Hernandez had thrown over 110 pitches, and had to face Felipe Lopez, who was hitting .301 (with little power) against righties.

Why wasn't there anyone even warming up at that point? What's the point of having such a deep bullpen if you're going to use a visibly tiring Hernandez in that spot? As it turns out, he retired Lopez on a weak flyball, and runs 3 and 4 didn't score until the Feliciano/Bradford eighth. I still think it was a totally unnecessary risk, and one which was probably taken purely to put on a show of "total confidence" in the old warhorse.

This isn't a knock on Hernandez, who ended up throwing 119 pitches (more than Arroyo needed for his CG), and did get out of trouble. But that was a bad gamble in a very important situation.


Yahoo's Jeff Passan examines the ways in which is a terrible product. I guess we should consider the source (which also provides real-time baseball content for fun and profit), but the blackout restrictions are ridiculous. Especially when they advertise the ability to watch your team's games, which are always blacked out.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sweep avoidance bullet points

- The Mets took the third game of the Baltimore series by the score of 9-4.

- David Wright had a spectacular game, going 3-4 with five RBI. There was a grand slam involved. He's now hitting .336, and is on pace for 36 homers.

- Glavine gave up four runs, but it took him a while to do it, and his peripherals were very good. I think this is maybe the kind of outing we may have to get used to seeing from him. Not that they're that bad, but they seem disappointing after his recent stretch and they probably shouldn't.

- Heilman a good inning, which I didn't think would ever be that newsworthy but probably is now. His recent stretch has been ugly.

- Eli Marrero had quite a nice debut for the Mets, reaching base three times, stealing two bags, and making a few nifty plays in the outfield (only one of which I saw).

- Ramon Castro showed once again that he's better than Paul Lo Duca.

- Jose Reyes stole his 30th base of the season.

- Milledge took the size-4 collar.

- According to Baseball Prosepectus's "Playoff Odds Report," the Mets have a 96.9% chance of making the postseason as of tonight. Did I mention I'm not superstitious?

- With that figure in mind, I don't even know how much it matters that the Red Sox are probably going to beat the Braves tonight. Those poor bastards.

- Speaking of the Braves, Marcus Giles looks more like John Malkovich than Brian Giles.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Is this for real?

Yeah, they won again. It was closer this time, so Phillies fans can take some comfort in that.

There seems to be a pattern developing here: Mets score a bunch of runs, our starter turns in a respectable performance, and the bullpen gives up extremely little. Whether or not that's going to be the formula for the rest of the year, I think we can all agree that it's a good one. I'm just going to take a few sentences on the sustainability of each;

As for scoring bunches of runs, I think the Mets can do this on a pretty regular basis.

The team's OBP (.336) is not quite where I'd like it to be. In terms of league rank, we're just above the median, but it's a crowded field and only the Reds, Cardinals and Dodgers (in ascending order) really set themselves apart in the category. And how long can St. Louis stay there without the services of Pujols?

The SLG is in the sweet spot. The Beltran/Wright/Delgado-fueled .453 mark is just behind the Reds for league honors, and (besides employing Adam Dunn) they play in a bandbox on the Ohio River. They don't know what headwinds are.

Speaking of the Shea effect, it may deserve some of the credit for the home team's pitching performance, but certainly not all.

Pedro has been incredible, and I have a lot of confidence that it will continue. Glavine has also been incredible, but I don't expect it to continue. Trachsel is a known quantity. Hernandez and Soler are not (though I have my hunches).

I think the rotation is in the greatest need of a midseason upgrade... but a) that's what the pride of Wichita St. is for, and b) as long as the bullpen keeps doing this kind of work, the starters won't have to be any good.

To pick a totally arbitrary measure of pitching depth, the Mets have no fewer than ten (10) pitchers with an ERA of 3.33 or lower. All but one of them are currently active.

If I had been asked which two relief pitchers led the Mets in VORP, I would not have answered Darren Oliver or Pedro Feliciano, but there they are. The latter has been especially vicious. I had lost track of them in the Wagner, Sanchez, Bell and Bradford mix (Heilman's in the doghouse). Probably because they had all been so impressive, too.

Of course, there were also innings pitched by Bartolome Fortunato and Jose Lima, so the team ERA is 3.93 (maybe a few basis points higher after tonight's game). That's still good for best in the National League.

As for the original question: of course this start is for real. Just look at the standings, as I do more often these days. The record in one-run games (aka the '05 White Sox Luck Meter) has been unusually good, but the underlying performance is there, too. When the #1 pitching team in the league is also the #2 slugging team, that team should be expected to win.

Will it last? I hope so. The pitching has overachieved somewhat, but the offense hasn't.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Biggest lead since 1988

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor gloom of night shall keep this team from its appointed beat-downs.

The rain delay may have actually helped the Mets by knocking Orlando Hernandez out of the game. He did strike out three in his three innings, but also gave up two including a solo home run (Rollins, again). Of course, it didn't matter because once again the Mets built a healthy lead in the early innings.

I obviously made too much of the difficulty of getting to Brett Myers. The suddenly unstoppable Mets lineup, with a lot of help from the Philly defense, touched him up to the tune of six runs on nine hits in 2.2 innings.

Jose Reyes had four hits, Delgado drove in three, and David Wright hit a solo home run for the second consecutive night.

Heath Bell just put them out of their misery with a clean ninth inning. Final score: 9-3. Darren Oliver, who did a nice job in his three innings after the delay, picked up the win.


I don't even know what the baserunning mistake Lastings Milledge made tonight that drew the ire of Willie Randolph. Whatever it was, making a big show of berating His Royal Crunkness in the dugout struck me as characteristic drama-queenery.

Update: he looked over his shoulder at a fly ball with two outs, rather than just running all out. Yeah, it was an obvious mental mistake, but at least it wasn't laziness.


Mike Pelfrey is now officially dominating the Eastern League. Since his so-so early performances, he's improved his strikeout rate (10.2K/9IP) and ERA (2.83) considerably. Before I get accused of getting overly excited about a college pitcher's mastery of Double-A, his rate numbers are still not as good as Alay Soler's were (albeit in fewer innings) at the same level. While Soler has probably pitched well enough to stick, he hasn't yet looked like a real difference maker.

I still have concerns about the Soler/Hernandez tandem long-term, but they're not going to pitch us out of contention anytime soon, given the way the team is hitting right now. One nice thing about having a whopping 8.5 game lead in June is that Omar doesn't really have to rush him.

All the same, I think Pelfrey, with his polish and velocity and 6'7"-ness, would probably be an upgrade right now if pressed into duty. Of course, the team doesn't really seem to need one.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"Yankees Suck! Yankees Suck!"

The Mets just teed off on Ryan Madson, including back-to-back homers by Beltran and Delgado, and held on for a 9-7 victory. That makes six in a row, and the ample cushion in the N.L. East standings grows even ampler.

Though the run support made it less of an issue, Tom Glavine had his second bad start in a row. That's the first time that's happened so far this season; I almost feel ungrateful for pointing it out, he's been so good. But four home runs in four innings, including two to the non-beastly Jimmy Rollins, is at least a yellow flag.

The game would have still been a blowout if it hadn't been for Aaron Heilman's brief, disastrous outing. Ol' Aaron got just one out before surrendering a single, a double, and a three-run homer to David Delucci. I guess that's why we don't start him... Or was it because he's so good?

In any case things got a little bit interesting in the bottom of the ninth when Wagner walked Abreu to bring the tying run to the plate. Fortunately, David Wright made an outstanding play at third to initiate the crucial 5-4-3 double play.

As an aside, I think the loss of confidence in Wagner is ridiculous. Even if he had been bad enough to merit concern, Willie's decision to warm up Duaner Sanchez before Wags even started pitching couldn't have been much of a morale booster. The guy's ERA entering the game was 2.40! How much better to people expect him to be? This goes back to the marathon Pedro-Webb game I attended and noticed that the crowd was decidedly cool in their reception and started groaning loudly when our fireballing lefty allowed a baserunner (who didn't score).

In other promising news, which might be taken for a box score misprint at first glance, Jose Reyes walked three times in the game (one intentional). This brings his total for the year to 29, shattering his record for walks in a season. It was an embarassing record, to be sure, but it's nice that he's broken it and it's still June. He also rapped out a couple hits to improve that unsightly batting average.

How good is this team?

Monday, June 12, 2006

The new division rival

The Mets begin a three game series tomorrow night against Philadelphia, or, for those New York Times readers among you, "the new Williamsburg." While I think it would be funny to see the Mets take on an all-hipster team in an exhibition game, no such entertainment is in the offing, and the Phillies are no joke.

A brief rundown of the pitching probables:

Tom Glavine gets the ball in Game 1, hopefully fully recovered after getting battered on three days' rest his last time out. He'll be opposed by Ryan Madson, who may or may not be getting the hang of starting.

Madson has been a good example of a guy who's been much better as a reliever than he has been in the rotation. Though I'd still like to see Heilman get a chance to start at some point, I admit that there are guys like that out there.

Game 2 is to be started by Orlando Hernandez and Brett Myers. Advantage: Philadelphia.

Game 3 is a virtual push between Steve Trachsel and Cory Lidle. Both are perfectly competent but unlikely to put up dueling zeros.

As for the offenses, ours certainly appears to be clicking after the productive Arizona trip, but the Phillies lineup is pretty formidable. Jimmy Rollins has been a disappointment so far, but Howard, Utley, Abreu and noted Mets-killer Pat Burrell are as good a foursome as you will find in any lineup.


Just when I start to lose faith in All-Star balloting as a ridiculous exercise that rarely identifies the most deserving players, I read that David Wright is the leading vote-getter among N.L. third basemen. The system works!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Mets bestride the N.L. like a colossus

The four game humiliation of the Arizona Diamondbacks is in the books. 37-9 on aggregate. The Mets have the best record in the National League at 39-23, and enjoy a 6.5 game lead on the Phillies.

This afternoon, The Team and the Time hung 15 on Russ Ortiz and friends, without benefit of a home run. Carlos Beltran is very locked in, going 2-4 with a double to raise his average to .297 (also still on pace for 50 homers).

The only starter to go hitless was Reyes, but even he drew three walks and stole two bases. The D-Backs managed only a solo HR against Pedro, who was more or less his usual self for five innings and 91 pitches. It was a low-stress affair.

On Saturday, Alay Soler threw a complete game shutout on 108 pitches, lowering his ERA from 5.00 to 3.33. It's good news that he has performances like these in him. I still worry about the poor peripherals, but maybe he's just got that Brian Bannister mojo.

Kaz Matsui was traded to the Rockies for Eli Marrero. I think it's a fantastic move.

For starters, Matsui wasn't doing anybody any good. Jose Valentin, whose head I was calling for after in May, has really come on strong at the plate. His defense is a little shaky, but not terrible.

I held out hope as long as anyone, but now it's time to make my peace with the fact that Kaz was really, truly awful. There was just no getting around, or past, the .504 OPS that was his swan song in a Mets uniform.

I agree with Joe McDonald that you can't really blame a guy for being terrible. I would even go a step further and say it's hard to blame the Mets (under Duquette, I think) for signing him. Remember at the time how huge a phenomenon Ichiro was for the Mariners, both on the field and financially. In Kaz, the Mets saw a guy who the scouts supposedly said could be one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. And most importantly, his offensive numbers in Japan suggested he could hit at least a little bit in the majors.

Obviously that wasn't the case, but who knew?

Meanwhile Marrero might have some real value. His average has fallen off precipitously in various part time gigs (for four different teams) in the last two years, but he appears to still have some decent pop. Encouragingly, his unconventional but wholly decent batting line of .217/.347//.467 owes more to his road games than those at Coors. Plus, he's played four different positions this year: catcher, both outfield corners and first base.

One question the trade does raise is whether the Mets are being a little disingenuous about the condition of Cliff Floyd. If he weren't going to miss at least enough time to warrant a retroactive move to the 15-day DL, this trade would make for a rather crowded outfield. I don't really understand why Floyd is expected to just shake off a high ankle sprain, an injury which has put far more durable players than Floyd out of commission for longer than two weeks.

Even if Floyd proves me wrong, the Matsui deal is something for nothing. At the risk of damning with faint praise, I think it's clearly Omar's best minor move for the Mets.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Milledge vs. Francoeur

The Mets won the rubber game of the Dodgers series, 9-7. Pitching on three days rest, Tom Glavine said afterward he felt "too good," which is a little strange considering it was a pretty terrible performance. But it was good enough thanks in no small part to Lastings Milledge.

Milledge's batting line through a mere 26 AB is .308/.321/.692. Except for the average being not quite as gaudy, it's more than a little reminiscent of Jeff Francoeur's debut last year, and I think the comparison holds up pretty well.

Both were highly touted outfield prospects who were drafted out of high school, put up great numbers in the minors, and were considered Five Tool players, but still had their weak spots: Milledge showed little home run power and Francoeur little plate discipline.

I don't know how long this comparison will look reasonable, but I think it's clear that you could say of both of them that on their best days they are capable of being tremendously valuable major leaguers. But you need only look at how far Francoeur has regressed this year (.701 OPS) to get an idea of why I'm still reluctant to get too attached to the idea of Milledge being the toolsy OF equivalent of David Wright.

That's exactly what he looked like last night, though, and the Mets now have the best record in the N.L. and lead the Phillies by four games. The Braves? Still "biding their time" seven games off the pace.

Grimsley Update

There's a post up on that identifies (or reports the identification of) strength and conditioning coach Chris Mihlfeld as one of the main suppliers. You'll never guess who his client list includes. The really damning article, if it is indeed Mihlfeld in the affidavit, is actually the one that it links to.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Grimsley drops a small fortune in dimes

The Mets are underway in Los Angeles, with a 5-1 lead in the second inning of the rubber game.

As for the injuries: Floyd has a sprained ankle, and is listed as day-to-day. He has said that he won't require a trip to the DL. I'm going to go ahead and cross my fingers just in case.

Beltran is showing no ill effects from his strained oblique, with two singles already tonight. Reyes is out of the lineup with his sore wrist.

Of course, the story of the day is Jason Grimsley.

I strongly recommend the IRS-Criminal Investigation (not a TV show, yet) agent's affidavit. Just incredible stuff. "Naming names" doesn't go far enough to describe the level of cooperation he provided.

He told them absolutely everything. He gave up as many prominent names as possible, the details of their use/distribution, even the names of people he just suspected were juicing. For extra credit, he even called his supplier with a bugged phone at the agents' behest to provide evidence of their past and planned activities.

A particularly jaw-dropping excerpt:

Grimsley identified, in his words, "Latin players," as a major source for the amphetamines within baseball. He stated that it was common knowledge that you could get amphetamines from "Latin players." He stated that he got amphetamines from "Latin players" whenever he needed them. He stated that "Latin players" had boxes of them.

One major "takeaway" from his statements, as they relate to the efficacy of the recently imposed testing regime, is that its effect was to confine his performance-enhancement to Human Growth Hormone alone.

Given that he had been injecting a variety of conventional steroids before testing began, a "glass-half-full" observer could call that a qualified success. Unfortunately, that qualification is a rather large one.

There's also the familiar refrain of the apprehended (or confessed) steroid user: "boatloads" of players are using them.

The names in question have been redacted from the document, but apparently it's only a matter of time before a clean copy gets leaked. In the meantime, you can try to figure out who he's talking about from the unedited details like what team a player was on or when they started using. I tried but failed.

Whether or not he's in any of Grimsley's little black books, I'm still trying to implicate Roger Clemens in this fiasco. I'll do it myself if I have to. Look at this picture of him and Koby and tell me that his kids weren't raised on peanut butter and Winstrol sandwiches.

One thing's for sure: Jason Grimsley is going to be much more famous (and useful) as a state's witness than he ever was as a relief pitcher.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Floyd pulls a Barbaro

Too soon?

Cliff Floyd had to be helped off the field in the first inning. He appeared to have turned either his left ankle or knee pulling into third base, and crouched immediately to take weight off it. Hopefully it's just a "tweak" that won't require a DL stint, but Floyd is no stranger to leg injuries, and I'd be surprised if he avoids one.

Disappointing. I thought he was a good bet to recover from his terrible start. He was hitting the ball hard, but usually at people, and in recent weeks he'd started to heat up. More significantly, the counter reading "214 Games Since Last Significant Injury" has to be reset to zero. It may not go that high again.

Assuming he does miss some time, Lastings Milledge's place on the team looks very secure, and Endy Chavez will probably get the majority of starts in left. With Beltran in center, it makes for a kind of irregular outfield in that most teams have power hitters in the corners and a speedster in center. We would have a power hitter in center and speedsters everywhere, which should prove especially helpful at Shea.

My confidence in the offensive production of both Chavez and Milledge is still low. I know they've been great, but think for a minute what your reaction would have been in spring training if you'd been told those guys would be starting in June. Nervous? Yeah. It's too early to throw caution to the wind.

Ideally, Victor Diaz would have been hitting well enough to be a respectable Plan B for the Milledge callup. Unfortunately, his numbers at Norfolk are just atrocious. I had thought that he had been passed over, but clearly there was very good reason to do so.

[Segue alert!] You know where OF help isn't going to come from? Today's draft. The Mets took a junior RHP from Villanova named Kevin Mulvey with the 62nd pick. With their next selection, the Mets shamelessly pandered to the growing legions of Mormon fans by selecting Joseph Smith, reliever from Wright State.

Seriously, I don't know who any of these guys are. Would you expect to see maybe one position player in the first five picks? I did, but in general I'm a fan of the college pitchers and supposedly this Mulvey guy slid.

As for the jewel of last year's draft (Pelfrey), I think it might be go time.

Monday, June 05, 2006

"We've fallen a long way from Mickey Mantle..."

The furor over Lastings Milledge's post-homer celebration is deeply, disturbingly stupid.

The idea that his celebration is made worse for the fact that he's a 21 year-old kid hitting his first home run seems exactly backwards. Is the issue really that, as a rookie, he hasn't "earned the right" to high-five fans, or is it just that such a celebration is a little over-the-top? I would hope it's the latter, and that under the circumstances you might cut the kid some slack.

But no, this us just too golden an opportunity for talking heads like Karl Ravech* to bloviate about how much the kid has to learn about humility and respecting his elders. It's part of the same "old school" seniority/hazing nonsense which kept David Wright in the bottom half of the order.

I would contend that if Wright had been the one to do something like this in his debut, the uproar would have been quieter. I don't think the scrutiny is coincidental to the fact that Milledge is black, has braids, and sported an unusually large cross pendant in his debut. There, I said it.

At gunpoint, I'll admit that concerns over excess celebration in sports have their place, but they should be relegated to short pieces on the very slowest of news days. It isn't the stuff of national controversy. I think this is just the sports media sniffing out the next Terrell Owens, who as anybody whose watched ESPN in the last two years can tell you is their No. 1 meal ticket.

Bill Madden is all over the story in today's Daily News. The article is less harsh than the headline (which he probably didn't write), but he gets bonus points for botching the Armando Benitez story too.

"But say this for Milledge: The kid has come here as advertised. He's a no-doubt-about-it talent who can do just about everything a manager could want on a ballfield - and a lot of other things that are going to need to be corrected if he wants to avoid getting a rep as a self-absorbed showboat."

Herein may lie the real crisis: I'm afraid that Milledge is still not a "no-doubt-about-it talent." At the very least, I don't think it's a given that he's already a major league hitter. But in the interest of putting the proverbial fannies in the seats, Mets management is probably going to be reluctant to demote him even if it becomes apparent (and I'm not saying it will) that he's not quite ready yet.

Should yesterday's showing buy him some time? Absolutely, but it's still too early to call him even a 20-HR (annualized) threat.

* Here's a paraphrase of the SportsCenter interview, in which Ravech mistakenly assumes that Joe Morgan is eager to participate in the Circle of Condemnation:

Ravech: What does a Hall of Famer like you have to say about a rookie doing something like that?

Morgan: I think it's great. It was just youthful exuberance and what's wrong with that?...

Clearly unprepared for the point of view that Milledge's behavior was non-horrible, Ravech looks confused and uneasy. Rather than taking the cue from Morgan's initial response and maybe adapting the tone of his questioning, Ravech makes the ill-advised decision to treat the witness as hostile:

"What about the fact that it was a tie game? You celebrate ties, not wins?"
I don't remember Morgan's response exactly, but he digs in a little, probably wondering what part of "I don't have a problem with it" he had left unclear, and basically reiterates that it was a big situation in his first game, etc.

I don't think I've ever written anything positive about Joe Morgan in this space, but this was great.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mets lose despite Milledge heroics

Damn. I suppose you can't win'em all, but still, damn.

Earlier in the game, I was actually wondering how long it would be before Lastings Milledge hit a major league home run. I was thinking more in terms of months than hours, but he just smoked the ball against an intimidating, hard-throwing pitcher at a crucial juncture.

It was pandemonium in the broadcast booth as well as certain living rooms in the SNY market. The word "karma" was used frequntly, as were shots of Ray Knight crossing the plate in 1986. The ability to consistently come back. The resiliency, chemistry and whatnot.

While extra inning games, one run games or "walk-off" games are definitely more fun to watch, they don't have any more value in the standings, or prove the winning team to be championship timber. The Mets have been very successful in these nailbiters, which is great, but at the end of the day it's something to be thankful for, not evidence that we're better than our record. In fact, it's the opposite.

Don't get me wrong, I'm very excited that the team is playing at this level. We're not lucky to be in first place. The pitching has been the best in the league by (the arbitrarily selected metric of) OPS-against, and second behind the Cardinals in the higher profile ERA.

But the offense has been a little heavy on the slugging (4th in NL) and light on the OBP (11th). The former number is impressive given the hostile home environment but the latter has to give some pause.

Anyway, it also occurs to me that I may not have been making a big enough deal out of how good it is to still have Pedro Martinez healthy. Whatever your take on how the rotation has been constructed and handled, I think the number of starts we get from Pedro is the greatest predictor of the Mets success. Concerns over the usage or availability of any other pitcher pale in comparison. Credit to Peterson, the Mets medical staff, Willie for keeping him in working order (can't blame them for the recent slip and fall).

Meanwhile, Steve Trachsel is an absolute stud of a fourth starter. I realize he's our third starter, but that's how I like to think of him. Does he have the occasional blowup? Sure, but he mixes in enough games like today's to keep the numbers pretty tidy. He's boring to watch, but I'd rather be bored than terrified.

Heath Bell was not sharp, giving up a single and a double (the walk was intentional). I wish he would really slam the door a few times in a row, both because it's preferable to letting inherited runners score and because it might get him a little breathing room on the roster.

In any case, it's disappointing to lose a series at home, but it's only the second such mishap this season. Pending the conclusion of the PHI-LAD game, we still have a five game division lead. This is in spite of some suprisingly bad offensive performances (Floyd, Reyes, Delgado recently), and that dark age when we were starting Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez. While it's way too early to crank up the '86 nostalgia machine (if only because Keith is insufferable enough as it is), I'm pretty happy with the first two months of the season.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Doubleheader underway + Stumpy responds!

The monsoon has stopped long enough for the first game of the twinbill to get started, about three hours late.

Orlando Hernandez had a rather shaky first inning, but thanks to Endy Chavez, whose defense is really noticeably awesome, only one run scored. He caught a line drive and then got the throw into first in time to double up Bonds, who had strayed waay too far.

Since it's early in the game, I might as well get the obligatory Bonds discussion out of the way. Here's an interesting article on Slate which at first I thought was going to be annoying but actually makes a lot of sense.

The headline is "Pee No Evil: Why Are Sportswriters Pretending the Steroid Era is Over?"

The first case is of course Pujols, who, while he is at least the right age to be doing it, is on pace for 76 home runs.

Is Pujols abusing steroids or human growth hormones? I don't know. But what's alarming in this era of deceit is that nobody seems interested in finding out. A little more than one year removed from congressional hearings that produced the most humiliating images in the game's history, baseball writers have a duty to second-guess everything. Instead, everyone is taking Pujols' test results at face value. Have we forgotten that Barry Bonds has never failed one of Major League Baseball's drug tests?

I disagree that no one is interested in finding out, but as long as there are ways of working around the MLB testing regimen (and it's my understanding that there are), you'd think that every 50+ HR threat would be under a little suspicion. Clearly that's not the case.

The thing that really gets me though is Clemens, who is now getting another round of fawning media attention for the "comeback" that everyone knows is just a return from a nice long vacation.

Here's a guy who just challenged Bob Gibson's single-season ERA mark at age 42. He's lowered his ERA each of the last three years. He had an incident, which Mets fans should remember well, which certainly seemed consistent with the symptoms of 'Roid Rage. His head seems wider than it was in his youth.

But what do we see on SportsCenter? Reel after reel of him running and lifting weights with his good friend Andy Pettitte.


Stumped1: my name in lights, how cool is that? hey, maybe i came off a little strong as well. but ya, we do disagree a lot of the time and i love these heated exchanges. and no, you can hurt my feelings, im usually the minority in these things so im used to it. as far as all the moves go it seems you mostly get down on trades where the mets have to give up something. the nady deal, the loduca deal, benson, seo and these last ones. i know the argument about cameron bein a center fielder. but after fielding offers for 2 years on him dont you think omar knew what he could get, and just looked for some youth and potential? not to mention the money to get delgado, which you liked. while benson may have what would be the 3rd best vorp on the team, that is not sayin much with all those injuries. if he was here the rotation would still be weak, and we be waitin for that inevitable dead arm period. i can find the numbers to spin my feel on benson just as easily as you can using vorp. its just a matter of perspective. and when looking at this trade as well as many others, you have to take into account omar's scouting background. it seems to me he has more of an eye for potential than your average gm. that is why i think he goes after a guy like maine. take julio for example. he saw the stuff that guy had, and after a horrible start he has been doing very well. and remember he had almost no time in spring working with the coaches. its like people wanted him to be a lights out closer type, but imo, thats asking a little much for a benson.i have no problem with people passing judgement when a trade happens. but, lets be realistic when its done. benson and seo were both mediocre starters, something the mets had plenty of. benson was ripped for 2 years on these boards because of inconsistancy and dead arm, but when he is traded he all of the sudden becomes quality and is worth so much more. i never look at it that way, at least i try not to. in the last 2 years i cannot find 1 trade that i disagree with. even the phillips-ishii thing was to fill a need. they just stuck with ishii way to long. and if seo or heilman had a bigtime spring that year it probably would never have happened. i am first to admit that the kazmir deal was a botched trade. i originally didnt mind it that bad. i thought zambrano had a huge upside and i dont buy into every prospect panning out.(kazmir appears to 1 of the few that might) but it was by the prior front office. i dont fear every trade because of that one when its a totally different theme bein played by omar. to say that omar has to be smarter than other gms is hogwash. omar just has to be smart enough to know what his team needs. the idea of trading isnt to get the best of your trading partner, its to build your own team.feel free to look at the mistakes of the past by a different batch of guys. the alomars, vaughns and cedenos were all bad moves, and i thought so from the get-go. i would have loved for them to surprise me and turn out, but as each deal wound up sucking i got more down on that regime. but i dont see how anyone can compare that with what omar has done. different guy, different approach. how you cant think they are doing a good job is beyond me. a last place team has been built into a 1st place team in less than 2 years. they are younger and deeper, and yet you cant accept that they know what they are doing. you like the delgado thing. it wouldnt be possible if they hadnt traded cameron for nady, which in itself has been a good deal. loduca for gaby is a no-brainer as well. maybe omar the scout noticed that gaby was havin trouble in A ball too. id take hernandez and maine in a heartbeat for benson. id take hernandez alone for benson. benson has never had a stellar year and has never had to pitch under pressure. hernandez acually pitched well 2 years ago for the yanks and also came up big in the playoffs. i dont care what vorp says, that stuff matters. maine was guy a lot of teams were up on. he still has the potential which is what the minors are for. you seem to want norfolk to be loaded with 5 #3 types ready for the call. and then to call the williams trade acitivity without progress is insane. the guy is closer to being a help at the major league level than the no-name schmo that they gave up. the guy puts up great numbers against lefties(i think it was lefties) and could actually figure into a bullpen role. that my friend is progress. i too think this is an excellent team. you point out that they rely on the financial resources more than smarts. tell me then how omar changed this team from a doormat to a contender in less than 2 years without increasing payrole. ya, the money is still up there, but its being spent a lot smater than before. give credit where credit is due.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

An open letter to Stumped1

I'm reproducing here the full text of a comment [the second one] by regular reader Stumped1 on Thurday's post. Rather than confine the heated debate to the comments section, I've opted to give it the massive exposure that this space provides, along with my indulgently lengthy response.

As you can tell, it's not our first go-round, and now that I have to call attention to the thread, I'm embarrassed that I was as mean as I was in my initial response. He's one of a very few posters here (wonder why?) so I know he can take it. And in the spirit of Edward R. Murrow, I will grudgingly put any response he wishes to make in the main section of the blog.

The basic argument that we've been fighting on several fronts is whether Mets management is doing a good job. I'm usually on the "No" side, Stumpy on the "Yes" side. This thread is specifically about my criticism of the Benson-Seo deals and more recent Julio-Hernandez trade.


Stumped1: "I need no moment of vindication [I had mocked him for claiming one]. It just seems to me you'd complain about any move that this team does before you see any results. Is this how you make yourself feel good? It's like you can't wait to be the 1st to say I told you so when something goes bad. But guess what, it hasn't been going bad. Julio was an asset, which you hate to admit. Benson would still be a liability, look at his line. I'll say it again, every move doesnt have to be a major upgrade. In fact there doesn't have to be an upgrade as long as a need is being filled. MDK [the third poster on the thread], if the Dbacks use Julio as their closer is not relevent here. He was pitching well since those 1st couple of outings which may be attributed to no spring training. What irks me is when fans hate a guy from the get-go. Like Doyle did with Julio. Then they turn around and [whine] when those guys they hate are traded for something other than a Cy Young winner. Fact is, the rotation was hurting and you aren't going to get major help there when so many teams are still in the race. This filled the need with a decent starting pitcher, not great, decent. The D-backs traded Vazquez for him, so they must have thought he still had something left as well. Who are you going to believe? Doyle, who complains about trading for a guy [Dave Williams] to fill a hole at AAA, or the heads of 2 playoff calibre teams?"


Dear Stumpy,

On the charge that I'd complain about any move: I can see how it might seem that way, but remember I was very much in favor of the Pedro, Beltran, Delgado and Wagner acquisitions. I gave Omar full credit for those deals, and didn't scoff that they were rather obvious moves or whine at all about the size of the contracts (a little about the length, maybe). I wrote glowingly of the 2006 roster, and picked the Mets to win the division.

As for the deals which turned Benson and Seo into Sanchez, Hernandez and Maine, I wasn't a fan.

Sanchez has been lights out. His 12.3 VORP is better than such starters (the metric is playing-time dependent) as Maddux and Mulder. Meanwhile Seo has been less than a run better than replacement level. On that deal, so far, advantage Omar.

As for Julio. I have admitted that his K:BB had improved substantially, but it was only 21 innings, and he gave up four home runs and a 5.04 ERA. For all his apparent improvement, he was 1.4 runs worse than replacement level, and three runs worse than Heath Bell (whom you said needs to learn how to pitch) despite the fact that Bell has thrown a third as many innings.

In any case, his value to the Mets is now moot. It’s a question of whether Benson for Hernandez and Maine was an upgrade.

First of all, I want to point out that I do indeed pass judgment on transactions at the time they are made. It’s the best and really only appropriate time to do so. The advantage of hindsight is a big one, and I’ve never blamed Minaya or Phillips for unforseen injuries or bad performances (see: Beltran’s 2005). Plus, it’s very early in the season, and there’s a long way to go before the playoff run that I fully expect.

But as for giving the front office the benefit of the doubt, I’m sorry but I just can’t do that. Mets general management, going back well before Omar, has been incredibly inept. We regularly have the biggest payroll in the league, and yet we never, ever, win the division. I’ll spare you any further discussion of a certain recent high profile trade which has not helped matters in the least.

I don’t wish for them to screw up so I can call them on it. I want the Mets to win a championship. But the whole reason I write this blog is because I think I have an informed opinion about how best to accomplish that goal, and if I think a move was stupid, I’m going to write as much. As for the “He’s the GM and you’re not” angle, it’s quite true. He obviously wins because he has my dream job, but in this little corner of the internet, I get to critique his decisions. And don’t forget that there are equally qualified professional baseball executives on the other side of all these trades. He doesn’t just need to be smarter than me, he needs to be smarter than the guys in Arizona (not easy) and Baltimore (not hard).

So anyway back to the moves at hand… You’re right that Hernandez has been excellent away from Chase Field. 28 strikeouts against seven walks in 22 innings is nothing to sneeze at. But even though you can adjust his performance at home for the hitter-friendly environment, you can’t just ignore it. For one thing it was a comically bad 28 innings, including 16 walks and eight home runs. For another, it’s a lot harder to ignore stretches like that when they come from 36 year-old pitchers with a history of long ball issues. He hasn’t pitched a decent full season since 2002.

As for John Maine, one thing that’s hard to ignore about a 25 year-old pitcher is a lack of success above the Double-A level. Again, he may prove useful (nice rehab start) and I would be happy about that, but there’s not much evidence to suggest he’s ready to hold down a job.

So how bad has Benson been, really? I admit that his having been the ace of the Orioles staff says more about the Orioles than it does about Benson. But not only is his 7.7 VORP the best among Baltimore’s starters (remember when Bedard looked so good?), it would actually rank third behind Pedro and Glavine in the Mets rotation (not counting the injured Bannister who got off to what is widely considered an unsustainably good start). His peripherals have been poor, except for his decent home run rate, but given that he’s five years younger than Hernandez, and coming off a very respectable 2005 campaign, I would like his chances of being our number three starter, and would take him over El Duque and Maine.

As for Williams, I wrote a few words about him, just pointing out his acquisition as another example of activity without any progress.

In summation, I think in general the Mets are an excellent team which relies more heavily on its financial resources than in the executive talents of its front office. As long as they win, that's fine with me.

Pedro vs. Webb (postgame)

The pitchers' duel was as good as advertised, and it continued well into extra innings. Pedro, Wagner and Sanchez were all outstanding. The D-Backs did not advance a runner past second, that I can recall. It was just a question of finally tallying against an equally effective pitching performance by Webb and a whole slew of relievers.

Lastings Milledge did not look good at the plate. Sure, Webb is probably the best pitcher he's ever faced at this point in his career (i.e. game two), but he looked overmatched. However, he might very well have saved the game for the Mets with an incredible throw from right field to third base. It was a thing of beauty. My eyes tend to glaze over when people talk about tools, but that was a fantastic play that not many big leaguers make, and it was a major contribution to the win.

Willie Randolph did a nice job tonight. I like that he brought in Wagner in when he did, and that he stretched out Sanchez for three innings (that only took 27 pitches).

I will produce a more substantive post sometime soon, but it's getting very late.