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.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Billy Ruined My Birthday

Yesterday, May 20, was my birthday, and in between celebrations, I settled in at a table at the Chelsea Gallery Diner in NYC. I went there because they have a TV, and it's usually tuned to sports, so I figured the Mets-Yankees game would be on. I arrived in the top of the 8th inning, with the Mets leading 4-0, and I watched Mets setup man, Duaner Sanchez, retire the Yankees easily. Everything was great until I saw Billy Wagner warming up in the Mets bullpen. I had a bad feeling about it even before he proceeded to melt down in the worst pitching performance by a top closer that I've ever seen.

Even the announcers were questioning the move to bring in the closer with a four run lead, and I totally agreed. This unwritten rule that the guy who pitches the 8th inning must not under any circumstances pitch the 9th inning, even though he is a former closer, pitched well and easily in the 8th, and the closer pitched the day before, and should be kept fresh for the all-important series finale. The worst part of the whole fiasco was the fact that Mets manager Willie Randolph wouldn't even consider leaving Sanchez in for the 9th, or using another reliever. This means he will keep doing this, and that is truly scary.

The whole idea of an 8th inning specialist is so ludicrous to me, that it defies explanation. Are the psyches of relief pitchers so fragile that they have to know in advance exactly what they are going to be called on to do? Relief pitchers who just want to help the team win, whatever it takes, seem to be a dying breed, and the Mets are blessed to have two such pitchers in Sanchez and Aaron Heilman. I'm sure either of them would be thrilled to be asked to pitch the 8th and 9th inning to preserve a 4-run lead anytime.

As for Wagner, a check of ESPN's player statistics splits reveals some interesting things. Wagner's ERA pitched on consecutive days is 8.31, and he has given up 7 hits and 3 walks in just 4-1/3 innings. He has given up 7 runs in that situation, with only 4 of them earned, so he has actually pitched even worse than that awful ERA would indicate. On the other hand, with 2+ days of rest, he has pitched 8 scoreless innings, allowing 1 hit and 2 walks, and striking out 12 batters. The worst stat is how he does with 1 day of rest: 8 innings pitched, 7 hits and 6 walks allowed, with a 4.50 ERA. In other words, he hasn't even been able to pitch up to his own historical standards with one day off in between appearances. This tells me he has a problem focusing, or his injured finger is worse than he is letting on.

These stats are obviously based on too few innings to really tell us much, but it is a little shocking compared to his stats from 2003-2005, in which his ERA with no rest was 1.04, with 44 saves in 48 chances (91.7%). He was just as dominant with 1 day of rest: ERA 1.55, with 30 saves in 31 chances (96.8%). With 2+ days of rest, his ERA was 2.59, and he saved 29 of 34 chances, or about 85% of his chances. His ERA went up with each extra day of rest in 2003-2005; now it's the opposite. He is becoming the Pedro Martinez of relievers, and it will be impossible to give him extra rest as a closer, unless the Mets take the drastic step of having two closers.

At this point, Heilman actually throws just about as hard as Wagner, with much better control and a better second pitch, in his changeup that looks more like a screwball, a la Tug McGraw. If Heilman won't be allowed to start, maybe he should become the co-closer. Right now, he looks like the better pitcher than Wagner, and he seems more adaptable.

Everyone seems to think the Mets need help at the back end of the rotation, but every once in a while, a sportswriter or announcer will get it right. What the Mets need is a top of the rotation guy to complement Martinez and Glavine. When they traded Benson, I really thought a move for Barry Zito was going to be the next step, to upgrade the rotation significantly. They don't need another Jae Seo or Kris Benson; they need another ace, if they really think they have a chance to make the playoffs and win a round or two. I never thought I would write this, but the Mets need to sign Roger Clemens to pitch the second half for as much money as he wants. It's the only way to add an ace without sacrificing their top prospects in Lastings Milledge and Mike Pelfrey. If Clemens only has to pitch July-September, he should have enough left to finally pitch well in the post-season again, and he could be the difference maker, without further screwing up the Mets future.

© Judy Kamilhor 2006


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