baseball gods productions

Thoughts about baseball, from the perspective of sports psychology and the role of sports in society. It includes team and player analysis, predictions, and what I think needs to be changed in Major League Baseball. Brought to you from the heart of baseball, Brooklyn, by baseball gods productions.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

3/4 Review of the Mets Season


August 10, 2013

Mets Three-quarter mark Review and Forecast

The Mets are 52-61, for a .460 winning percentage. They are two games behind the Washington Nationals for second place in the National League East, and one game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies for third place. The Braves are out of sight in one direction, and the Marlins out of sight in the other.

The Mets have turned two weaknesses into relative strengths, the outfield and the bullpen, and have managed to maintain a strong rotation, even while losing Johan Santana early and Jon Niese mid-way. It's easy to forget, with the dominance of Matt Harvey and the emergence of Zack Wheeler, that Santana and Niese were projected to be the number one and two starters before the season.

The outfield took a long time to take shape, but the current trio of Eric Young, Jr., Juan Lagares and Marlon Byrd has outperformed all expectations to become a reliable and enjoyable group.

The bullpen has survived lots of injuries and a revolving door to more than hold their own, getting surprising performances from Scott Rice, Carlos Torres, LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison and David Aardsma. Bobby Parnell has built on last year's improvement, and until his injury was one of the more dominant and reliable closers in the league. The Mets even welcomed back Perpetual Pedro Feliciano, who didn't miss a beat.

On the other hand, another strength has turned into a big question mark as the season has progressed. The infield was supposed to be the reliable part of the offense and defense, with no major question marks before spring training. Quickly, however, Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis started struggling, both offensively and defensively, and before long, fans were waiting for one or both to be demoted.

Tejada got hurt just as he was about to be demoted, and the team rightly decided to leave him in Triple A. Davis finally got sent down, and has done a bit better since being recalled, although his power has dramatically decreased, which is not a good sign for his and the team's future at first base.

It was good to see that the Mets were willing to demote or release people who weren't performing, regardless of expectations. Lucas Duda is now a minor leaguer, not because he got worse, as much as that other players surpassed his value while he was injured. The various injuries and poor performances have given the team an opportunity to check out guys like Andrew Brown, Josh Satin, Wilmer Flores and Omar Quintanilla, and they have made some positive contributions.

Even the injury of David Wright, which would have totally destroyed them the past couple of years, has given the team an opportunity to see Flores at his arguably best defensive position, without disrupting any other positions. I'm sure he will get to play some first base and second base before the season ends, to get a better sense of his value moving forward. I know sabermetricians don't believe in this, but he seems like an RBI machine, which is something the Mets could really use.

As for Matt Harvey, it is beyond remarkable that the Mets have had two seasons in a row with such dominance from a starting pitcher: last year's version of R. A. Dickey was a joy to behold and root for, and it seemed like he was improving with every single pitch.

This year, if possible, Matt Harvey has been even more dominant, although without quite the number of wins to show for it. Harvey is one of the best pitchers I've ever seen, and he, too, seems to be improving with each outing. And, unlike Dickey, Harvey's dominance is not enhanced by pitching in CitiField. Dickey's home-road ERA (home 5.97/road 3.08) splits this year tell me that a lot of his success was due to playing in the National League in a park that makes it hard to hit home runs.

Zack Wheeler is doing slightly better than I expected this year, although my sense is that he will never be as good as Harvey is now. I think Noah Syndergaard will end up being better than Wheeler, not as good as Harvey, and that all three will be top major league starters for years to come. Not a bad three-fifths of a rotation!

Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Jennry Mejia give the Mets three more good starters for the next few years, providing what should be one of the league's best rotations for years to come. There are several other top pitching prospects that might claim a spot or two, giving the Mets the luxury to trade for position players as needed.

Then there is the matter of the manager. I have to say I'm not a big Terry Collins fan. His decision-making around when to pull pitchers is questionable, and he talks way too much about things that should remain private. I suppose I'm a bit old school, but his comments about protecting his players from having their feelings hurt makes me cringe on a regular basis.

He reveals too much of the team's thinking, too, and I just don't see the point. I know the media asks a lot of questions, but Collins could learn from Sandy Alderson how to answer a question without actually saying anything.

Moving upstairs, the afore-mentioned Alderson has done a pretty good job, amidst lots of criticism and accusations from fans. Lots of people seem to think that Alderson agreed to take over the team to slash the payroll as a favor to Bud Selig. Whatever you think about his motivation, he has done what he said he would do: change the culture, get rid of excess payroll, and stockpile pitching prospects.

This strategy looks like it will start to pay off in the next few years, and I fully expect the team to compete for a playoff spot sooner rather than later. I don't see the need for the Mets to operate like a small-market team, and really hope that starting next year, people won't accuse them of it. I suppose the only way to eliminate that criticism is for the Wilpons to sell the team, but that doesn't look likely anytime soon, unfortunately.

In summary, I would say that the first three-quarters of the 2013 season has been a little better than I expected, overall, and I cautiously expect that they will not collapse again like they have the past few years. I've been fooled before, though, so until it happens I will still have that fear in the back of my mind.

The biggest concern is the troubling number of injuries to many of their key young and prime age players, including Niese, Wright, Edgin, Parnell, Duda, Tejada and d'Arnaud. There have been lingering questions about the team's medical and training approach for the past few years, and it doesn't seem like that has been resolved positively yet.

Moving forward, it will be very hard to win a championship without improving that aspect of the organization, but I have some confidence that the brain trust will find a way. Just by no longer relying on high-risk players in order to save money could help a bit with that: witness the predictable injuries to Shaun Marcum and Scott Atchison this year, and Chris Young the past two years.

The best part is that it's fun to be a Met fan again, especially when Harvey is pitching, and I really look forward to seeing Wheeler and Syndergaard as they get settled over the next couple of years.




© Judy Kamilhor 2013

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Back Just in Time to Join the Hot Stove League

The Mets 2012 season was one of the strangest of all time. I really believed that the team was as good as it looked before Johan Santana got hurt. Then, late in the season, it looked like the Mets were the worst team in the league.

They had all kinds of short winning streaks, in which they played extremely well, and then they would go through a horrible stretch where they couldn't win at all.

From May 25-June 30, the Mets had two four-game winning streaks, one four-game losing streak, three three-game winning streaks, and three three-game losing streaks. So 30 out of 34 games were part of either winning or losing streaks of at least three games.

Later in the season, from August 19 to October 2, the Mets had two six-game losing streaks, one five-game losing streak, one four-game losing streak, two four-game winning streaks, and two three-game winning streaks. 35 out of 41 games involved winning or losing streaks of at least three games.

During that time of mostly losing (16-25 from August 19-October 2), the Mets managed two streaks where they won seven out of eight games! That means they were 2-23 in the other games. Truly bizarre.

In addition to the team as a whole being streaky and beyond unpredictable, I would say that one Met player had the strangest year of all time. That player is Johan Santana.

Up until the end of June, Santana, along with R. A. Dickey, gave the Mets one of the best one-two punches in baseball. Here are Santana's won-lost and ERA by month:


April     0-2    2.25
May      2-0    3.09
June      4-2    2.77
July       0-3  13.50
August  0-2  19.89
________________

Total     6-9    4.85

During that time, he pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1, and after the no-hitter, he had two bad starts, giving up ten runs in ten innings.

After June 30, he ended the season with the worst streak of starting pitching the Mets have ever seen. He gave up 7, 6, 6, 8, and 6 runs in his final five starts, never going more than five innings. This may have the been the worst five games by a starting pitcher in the modern era.

He was pitching with several injuries during that time, which is probably good news, since it suggests that with a few months to recuperate, Santana may be able to pitch reasonably well next year.


BRIGHT SPOTS

There were some obvious bright spots this year, including R. A. Dickey's amazing year, David Wright's offensive and defensive contributions, Matt Harvey's excellent debut, Ruben Tejada's emergence as a good everyday shortstop, and Scott Hairston's power in the outfield.

Other signs of future life include Ike Davis's remarkable turnaround after about the worst start you can imagine; Kirk Nieuwenhuis's debut, before the league caught up with his weaknesses; Jordanny Valdespin's power pinch-hitting; and the continued development of Jon Niese and Dillon Gee.


LOW LIGHTS

Lucas Duda and Ike Davis had very disappointing starts to their seasons, and both could easily have ended up in the minors. Davis was spared, mostly because the Mets didn't have anyone to replace him, besides Duda, who was also struggling to hit, and to play the outfield.

Jason Bay continued to struggle, although there were some positive signs late in the season, after the pressure of playing everyday was removed, and he had more time away from his most recent concussion.

Josh Thole had a terrible season, as much defensively as offensively. There was a period of about three games in which he botched tag plays at the plate at least twice, and maybe more. He didn't just miss the sliding runner, he also was in terrible position to receive the throws, giving himself no chance.

I remember a series a few years ago in which I noted that the Mets got out-caught, by Yadier Molina, of course, and in 2012, I can say the Mets got out-caught on an almost daily basis. Mike Nickeas, Rob Johnson, and Kelly Shoppach contributed some good defense and pitch-calling, but offered little offense, and overall ability.

Mike Pelfrey got off to a surprisingly good start, and then had to be shut down for Tommy John surgery, leaving the Mets a little short in the rotation the rest of the year. Dillon Gee had his season end with a blood clot and surgery to repair it. He was also pitching well when he went down.

Santana's second-half of awful pitching and mounting injuries led to his being shut down in August, again leaving the Mets short in the rotation for the rest of the year.

When three of your five opening day starters miss as much time as Santana, Pelfrey, and Gee did, the season is unlikely to go well. The offense tried too hard to pick up the slack, and that was a disaster of its own.


Next time: What the Mets have to do to get ready for a more successful 2013.

© Judy Kamilhor 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Woe is Mets?

Danny Abriano wrote an interesting column on his Rational (Sometimes) Mets Musing blog called When Pessimism Breeds Absurdity. His point is that the Mets are being portrayed as a horrible team, where in reality they are a slightly below average team with the potential to contend in the near future.

He also has a poll for How Many Games Will the Mets Win in 2012? 78% of voters chose either Between 70 and 77 (40%) or Between 78 and 85 (38%). I would say that the Mets will probably win between 76 and 79 games in 2012. They will most likely be fighting the Nationals or perhaps the highly-combustible Marlins for 4th place. Not good, but hardly catastrophic.

The Mets that finish 2012 will look a lot different from the ones that start the season. I expect Mike Pelfrey will be gone, and either Chris Young or Matt Harvey to replace him in the rotation at some point. Some of the relief pitchers will probably be released or traded, and I expect to see some younger guys take their place, possibly even Jenrry Mejia 2.0.

David Wright might be gone by the trading deadline, replaced by a few decent prospects, with Justin Turner likely taking over at 2B and Daniel Murphy sliding over to his natural position at 3B. This one is 50-50, depending on a lot of variables. I would like to see him stay, but won't be devastated if he is traded for some top prospects.

Other possible trade candidates include R. A. Dickey (please don't), Jason Bay (unlikely to find takers), Johan Santana (along with a boat-load of cash, still unlikely), Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Ramon Ramirez, Bobby Parnell, Tim Byrdak, Manny Acosta, Ike Davis, and Jon Niese. The last two would only be traded if they get a huge return in prospects.

As of now, this is how I see the opening day 25 man roster:

Ruben Tejada
Daniel Murphy
David Wright
Ike Davis
Jason Bay
Andres Torres
Lucas Duda
Josh Thole
Mike Nickeas
Adam Loewen
Justin Turner
Ronny Cedeño
Lucas May/Mike Baxter/?? (until Scott Hairston comes back)

Johan Santana
R. A. Dickey
Jon Niese
Dillon Gee
Mike Pelfrey
Frank Francisco
Jon Rauch
Ramon Ramirez
Manny Acosta
Bobby Parnell
Garrett Olson (until Byrdak comes back)
Miguel Batista/D.J. Carrasco (if they can't trade him)/Danny Herrera

D.L.: Tim Byrdak, Scott Hairston



The bottom line for me is that I am a Mets fan, so I will follow and root for the team, no matter what. I am curious what moves Sandy Alderson will make, and how the players will perform.

Let's Go Mets! Play Ball!




© Judy Kamilhor 2012

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Off-Season Strategy for the Mets (Slightly Revised)

I don't know about you, but I have already given up on the possibility of the Mets making the playoffs, expanded or not, in 2012. I'm okay with this, as it should prevent Sandy Alderson from having to sign overpriced players to make it seem like they are going for it this year.

The Mets' goals this off-season seem to include:

  • Getting one or two late-inning relievers for one or two years each, and spending no more than $10 million on them in 2012. 
  • Resigning Jose Reyes if they can keep it to 5 years or fewer, and $85 million total or less.
  • Signing one or two cheap back-of-the-rotation starters for incentive-laden one year deals (see Chris Young and Chris Capuano in 2011). 
  • Holding onto most if not all of their top prospects.
I'm okay with this approach. I would like for Alderson to say the team is rebuilding, rather than talking around it the way he usually does.

Here are some of my thoughts so far:

  • If the Mets don't resign Reyes--which is very likely at this point because I think the Marlins are very serious about him--they should sign Yoenis Cespedes (and maybe Jorge Soler, too, to give Cespedes someone to mentor in Spring Training) to give the fans someone to show up for. This guy looks like the most entertaining player outside Reyes (and Andrew McCutcheon).
  • For starters, Jason Marquis would be fine. Might bring some family and friends out to Citi Field. And why not Tim Wakefield and his super-slow knuckleball to make R. A. Dickey's hard knuckler look even faster. But the guy I'd really like to see is Dontrelle Willis. That guy was born to be a Met. If they can get him for an incentive-based one year deal, this would be one move I would love to see. He can even pinch-hit!
  • Consider bringing Jason Isringhausen back as one of the two late-inning guys, assuming he is willing to accept a one-year contract for up to $4 million.
  • Sign Takashi Saito or Jon Rauch as the other late-inning guy, for a similar contract as Isringhausen. There is no need to get a top-of-the-line closer for a rebuilding team.
  • Trade Mike Pelfrey and/or Angel Pagan for the best prospects possible, or a decent reliever or 4th outfielder-type. Non-tender both if they aren't traded.
  • Sign Endy Chavez for some feel-good memories and perhaps a well-timed bunt or two.


I would keep Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner, and now is not the time to trade David Wright. Wright (AKA Mr. Met) is more valuable to the Mets than to anyone else, and I would really like for him to still be here when the Mets get competitive again in 2014 or so. As one of several top offensive producers, he is fine. The problem is when he feels he needs to carry the team. He's not that good, period.

If the Mets follow my plan, I think they would win 75-81 games in 2012, depending a great deal on how Jason Bay and Johan Santana do. I know fans are really down on both of them, and can't wait until their contracts can be bought out, but really, why can't they have bounce-back years? I have a lot of respect for both of them, class-acts all the way (except maybe on the golf course).

At the trade deadline, assuming that they are out of the playoff race already, I would listen to offers for all of the over-30 guys (except Dickey), and consider any trade that brings back legitimate prospects.

As I said, I'm okay with a real rebuilding process that focuses on player development and prospect-collecting. I totally agree with Alderson when he says that the team needs to develop a top-notch work ethic from the Rookie Leagues to the Major League team. Let's use 2012 to create a winning attitude at all levels of the system, and get rid of the guys that don't fit that mold.

Let's Go Mets!






© Judy Kamilhor 2011

Monday, September 05, 2011

Wild Card Is Great Some Years, But Not This Year

The two Wild Card races are practically over, and it's only Labor Day. Not a big deal in itself, but it takes away the drama of the American League East division title race between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Does it really matter who wins, since both are virtually guaranteed a playoff spot already?

I know it's never going to happen, but I think baseball would be better with four eight team divisions, and four playoff teams. This would require adding two expansion teams, and perhaps some radical realignment.

It would eliminate the Wild Card, which is fine with me, since it would return baseball to its special position as the only sport that doesn't reward teams for finishing second.

I know that it's much more likely that baseball will go in the opposite direction and add two more Wild Card teams. The proposed system would still be an improvement over the current system, if only because it will make it harder for a Wild Card team to win the World Series, which has happened way too often.

Going back to my radical proposal, there is something great about the eight team unit, harkening back to most of baseball history, when there were eight teams in each league, and the only interleague play happened in Spring Training and the World Series. Of course, it would be double that old model, but I like the symmetry and mathematical beauty of it all. And the DH would have to be eliminated, which is one of the best parts.

Here's my dream MLB configuration:


North
Minnesota Twins
Detroit Tigers
Toronto Blue Jays
Cleveland Indians
Chicago Cubs
Chicago White Sox
Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds
South
Atlanta Braves
Florida Marlins
Tampa Bay Rays
Texas Rangers
Houston Astros
Kansas City Royals
St. Louis Cardinals
Senadores de San Juan
East
New York Mets
New York Yankees
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Baltimore Orioles
Brooklyn Cyclones
Boston Red Sox
West
Seattle Mariners
San Diego Padres
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles de Anaheim
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
Oakland Athletics


It would be great to return to the 154 game schedule. One reason there are so many injuries is that the season is too long and there is too much travel. Now that amphetamine testing has slowly eliminated that aspect of the game, players need more down time to recover from fatigue.

One possibility would be to go way back and have teams only play against other teams in their league, so that each team would play 22 games each against the other seven teams in their region. Or there could be some kind of rotation of the regions, so that one year West and South were in the same league, and only play against the 15 other teams in those regions. The first round of playoffs could be a seven game series called the Regional Championships. And how about a best of nine games World Series?

Big changes are coming, so why not dream of what I'd really like to see?


Caroms Off the Wall

The other day, the Washington National were trailing by two runs and had runners on first and second with no outs against the Mets. The batter hit a hard grounder right to the short stop, clearly a double-play grounder. Right after the Mets turned the double-play, it occurred to me that the runner on second should have let the ball hit him. That would have resulted in one out (the runner on second), and still having runners on first and second, instead of having two outs and a runner on third. I wonder if a runner has ever had the presence of mind to do that, instead of instinctively dodging the ball and running to third?




© Judy Kamilhor 2011

Saturday, July 09, 2011

All-Star Break Edition

Two more games before the All-Star break and the Mets are three games over .500, guaranteeing that they will be over .500 at the break. I've never been this excited by a .500 team. They play the game the right way, at least better than in several years. They are even developing a killer instinct, which has been the missing link since the 1980s.


Yesterday's win was especially good to see, because in losing the game before, it looked like the news about Jose Reyes missing more time than initially expected may have had a negative effect on the team's confidence. Right now, attitude is the key ingredient, because it's not pure talent that is driving this team. Terry Collins has already shown me more than his two predecessors about motivating and getting the most out of his players. I admit that I did not expect him to be this good for this team.


I don't envy Sandy Alderson right now, because the decisions he has to make are challenging ones. What I would do in his position is:



  • Keep Jose Reyes and keep letting him know how important he is to the team.
  • Trade Francisco Rodriguez to anyone that makes an offer, to get rid of that horrible vesting option. I don't think Rodriguez is worth investing more money in, even if he would be willing to get an extension and void the vesting option.
  • Keep Carlos Beltran and offer him a one-year extension to reward him for his excellent season. His agent is Scott Boras, which means he will probably not accept, but it can't hurt to try.
  • Trade Mike Pelfrey for the best offer, either pieces to help now, or legitimate prospects. Pelfrey needs a less stressful environment to reach his full potential. He is one bad throw away from full-on Steve Blass disease. 
  • Call up Chris Schwinden to start until Johan Santana is ready to step in. I fully expect that to be this year, probably in August.
  • If they trade Rodriguez and don't trade Pelfrey or another starter, I would even ask Santana if he is willing to be the closer for the rest of the year. 

To the last point, Santana would be available sooner since he won't have to stretch out his arm. I can't see him being able to pitch more than 5 innings per game at least for the first few starts. He would be more valuable in the bullpen and he would probably be an awesome closer because of his ultra-competitive nature. It's also the least disruptive move for the rest of the pitching staff, keeping everyone in their current role.


For the next few weeks, three key guys are Lucas Duda, Nick Evans, and Dillon Gee. These guys need to step up and prove they are legitimate major leaguers. Gee has had a disturbing string of starts, and he needs to prove that he has gotten back to the way he was pitching earlier. I think he will, because I'm impressed with his fearless mindset and ability to make adjustments.

Duda and Evans will probably be sharing first base until Reyes, Davis, or Wright come back, and they need to hit well enough to keep the offense flowing. They don't need to replace Reyes's production, but they both have enough power to contribute some extra base hits and RBIs along the way.


I expect that the Mets will have a better second half than the first, and will end up with 85-89 wins and will fall a bit short of the NL Wild Card. All in all, that would be quite encouraging, and bodes well for 2012. Good luck, Sandy Alderson, it's your turn to give this team an even brighter future.








© Judy Kamilhor 2011

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Meet the Mets

The season is going about how I expected. The Mets are an almost .500 team with some top level talent and some promising young players. There are some useful veterans under affordable contracts. The new GM and front office appear to be committed to fiscal sanity, which is good for the long-term prospects of the team. The new manager seems to be changing the culture in a positive way.

Even when they are losing, they don't look horrible for the most part. The losses are generally by one run, and according to many baseball analysts, that is partially due to luck and tends to even out over the long run.

There are two major issues that are casting a cloud on the team. One is the precarious owner finance issue that will be addressed if not resolved with the selling of a minority stake in the team. The leading candidate sounds like a potential Bernie Madoff clone, which is very disturbing. My preference (as I imagine it is for most Met fans) is for the Mets to sell the team completely, to someone with sound finances and a hands-off approach to the business of baseball. The current situation is a distraction at best, and a potential disaster at worst.

The Wilpons probably won't sell unless the lawsuit against them is successful, so it's wishful thinking to expect them to sell sooner rather than later. The team can survive this situation, though, so all is not lost.

The other major issue is the recent injuries to three of the team's best young pitchers. Bobby Parnell, Jenrry Mejia, and Pedro Beato are significant pieces now and in the near future. The Mets need at least two of them to come back better than ever, or else the team will be set back significantly.

It is alarming that three of the team's hardest throwing pitchers are all injured. I would really like to see the team find a way to cut down on pitchers' injuries, using biomechanics and training methods. This is obviously a problem throughout baseball, and it will require a lot of research and experimentation to solve. The first team to find a way to significantly minimize pitching injuries will be very successful on the field.

A third issue that has already gotten a lot of attention is the debate over selling off valuable pieces before the trade deadline, both to reduce the budget and to deepen the stock of prospects and younger, cheaper players.

I think most fans are resigned to trading Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez, and just want the team to get some useful players in return. My only preference with these two players is that the Mets be willing to eat enough (meaning most) of their salaries to get a significant return, rather than a salary dump in which they get little to nothing of value.

It would make sense to trade guys like Chris Young (assuming he is healthy enough to pitch again), Chris Capuano, Scott Hairston, Willie Harris, and even Jason Isringhausen, if there are any takers, of course. I would be open to releasing Willie Harris as soon as Angel Pagan comes back, as he is not playing well, and has made some questionable comments about the team's clubhouse, which makes it sounds like he doesn't really want to be here.

That leaves the more valuable players: Jose Reyes, David Wright, R. A. Dickey, Angel Pagan, and Mike Pelfrey. This is the group that will be interesting to watch. Of this group, I don't think it's a good time to trade any of them. The ones that make sense to trade if/when they start playing better are Angel Pagan and Mike Pelfrey.

As for Jose Reyes, I would try to sign him to a three year extension, in the range of $45-51 million dollars. I would not sign him for more than three years because I really don't think he will age well, being a strictly physical player with somewhat questionable baseball instincts. The idea of trading him now is scary, given how well he is playing, and how popular he is in New York. If other players are traded, and with all the money coming off the books next year, this contract is affordable and fair, and may be enough to entice Reyes to stay where he says he wants to be.

If he won't sign a three year contract, they would have to trade him for the best package available by the deadline. If he keeps playing the way he is playing now, some team will be willing to offer top prospects for him, especially if the Mets offer a negotiating window. There is one other option which is intriguing, and many people have already proposed this: trade him now and resign him during the off season. That would be great, as long as they don't give him more than three years.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the season, to see how the front office handles all of these issues. I have more confidence in how the team is being run than I have had in a long time.



© Judy Kamilhor 2011