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 31, 2009

I Was Wrong About Gary Sheffield

I need to admit I was very wrong about the Mets' decision to acquire Gary Sheffield. I was wrong in thinking he was done, and I was wrong about his effect on the clubhouse. He seems to have become an ideal veteran teammate, if he wasn't all along.

The reports of his outspokenness convinced me he was trouble, and the stories of his immaturity early in his career colored my opinion about him. I don't know how long he can continue his hot hitting, but I am not worried about him hurting the team's chemistry. Now that Daniel Murphy is playing first base, I'm not concerned with Sheffield taking away playing time from him. Now that Ryan Church is on the DL, Sheffield can't take away his at bats either.

Delgado's injury opened the door for Sheffield to become an every day player again, and so far so great. The trick from now on will be to give Sheffield enough rest to remain sharp. He is older, and does seem to need periodic rest, which Jerry Manuel seems to recognize.

I still say that the best thing the Mets can do is to trade Jose Reyes (plus Toronto's choice of Redding or Oliver Perez plus half his salary) for Roy Halliday (and Marco Scutaro). The one thing the Mets need more than anything is another ace, one that is a proven winner with a tough mentality and someone to lift his teammates to a higher level of production. I believe that Roy Halliday is that pitcher. Clearly, the Mets have shown that they can win without Jose Reyes. They are a more fundamentally sound team and a grittier team without him. Once Alex Cora returns, I would feel comfortable with Cora and Scutaro sharing the shortstop position.

They don't need to upgrade on Tim Redding with another fifth starter, as some baseball writers are suggesting. They need to upgrade on Oliver Perez as their number two starter, with a second ace. Since they can't photocopy Johan Santana, trading for Roy Halliday is the next best thing.

And I'm really pleased Omar Minaya traded Castro instead of demoting Omir Santos. That bodes well. Santos is clearly at his best right now, and sending him down would make absolutely no sense. Between him and Brian Schneider, the Mets have two starting catchers who work well with their pitchers. They still have Robinson Cancel for depth in Buffalo, so catching becomes a relative strong point for the first time in several years.

Caroms Off the Wall

I want to see more of Wilson Valdez, the new shortstop who sounds like an oil spill. He already showed some good instinct when he decoyed a baserunner into hesitating at second on a hit and run base hit, and not scoring.

© Judy Kamilhor 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thank the baseball gods for Nolan Ryan

Here's the best news about baseball I've seen in a while. Nolan Ryan is transforming the Texas Rangers into the kind of team I want to see, with starting pitchers pitching deeper into games, and staying healthy. I hope it succeeds, so all the other teams will be forced to follow suit.

Go Rangers!

copyright Judy Kamilhor 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Gritty and Pretty, Part One

Just when I counted the Mets out for the season, they shocked me by winning two of three in Fenway Park. I expected them to win one game at the most, and only because Johan Santana was pitching the first game Friday night.

Saturday's game was one of those delicious baseball games that I thought Boston had about a 99% chance of winning, and yet, in the most stunning of 9th innings you will ever see, the Mets scored two runs on a disputed homerun by my new favorite, rookie catcher Omir Santos, off one of the most dominant closers in the world, the Irish Jig master himself, Jonathan Papelbon.

The bottom of the ninth was almost as amazing as the Mets' infield defense channeled their 1999 version and made one great play after another to preserve the victory for substitute closer J. J. Putz, who weirdly throws the ball five miles per hour faster when the scoreboard says it's the 9th inning rather than the 8th. (Can't the CitiField scoreboard operators just pretend it's the 9th inning whenever this guy pitches?)

I've been saying for years that the Mets have a lot of talent, but they lack the killer instinct necessary to be a championship team. Several years ago I came up with a list of psychological skills a team or an individual needs to be a winner in professional baseball (or other sports):

1. handling adversity
2. maintaining success/killer instinct
3. handling pressure (of the situation or the setting, such as New York)
4. seizing opportunity/handling expectations and hype

This year, I realize there is one crucial mental skill that is needed in order to win:

5. baseball instinct

The Mets have been handling adversity quite well the past few days, as almost half the team is injured to some degree or another, including most of their big stars, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Francisco Rodriguez, J. J. Putz, and several of their important role players, Alex Cora, Oliver Perez, and Brian Schneider.

Their ability to maintain success is generally weak, often following up a hot streak with a streak of dreadful play that causes the fans to question the team's toughness. They have been one of the streakiest teams the past few years, although it seems that this year every team is going through a series of alternating extreme hot and extreme cold streaks that stand out for being so unexpected. The Red Sox, Marlins, Orioles, and Padres are a few teams that have been particularly volatile.

Handling pressure is something the Mets struggle with. The pressure of living up to Johan Santana's greatness usually causes the team to make too many mental and physical mistakes whenever he pitches. His last start on Friday, it seemed like Santana simply decided that he was going to win no matter what his teammates did. The Mets' broadcasters made the same point during the series, and it rang true. Maybe the team can rise above that specific pressure from now on. Unfortunately, the general New York fan/media pressure seems to defeat the team as often as their opponents.

As for seizing opportunity, well, Omir Santos has totally demonstrated that ability. If the Mets send him down when Schneider comes back from the disabled list, then the Mets really don't deserve to win this year. Omir Santos has shown me that he is the best all-around catcher of the three. If I were the GM, I would look to trade either Castro or Schneider, and keep Santos as the starter. I know that won't happen because contracts and reputation are overvalued and performance is somehow undervalued in today's baseball economics.

Santos is one of the few gritty, intense players, and they need his energy. The Mets have too many pretty players (Beltran and Reyes above all), and not enough gritty players (Santana, Santos, Cora). They have a few players who have the potential to be gritty players but aren't quite there yet, for various reasons.

David Wright seems to be evolving into a gritty leader, but it is a long process. Ryan Church seemed like the kind of guy who would run through a wall to make a catch, but between all the concussions and his weird relationship with Jerry Manuel, his grittiness seems to be evaporating this year. I don't expect him to last the year with the Mets, as it seems like he has some kind of mental obstacle that he needs to overcome, and New York might not be the place to do that kind of deep growth work. He has struggled with overcoming adversity, maintaining success, and seizing opportunity in the past two years, and missing third base the other night is a clear example of missing baseball instinct or even self-sabotage.

Daniel Murphy is a gritty player with (usually) good baseball instinct that is struggling mightily this year with the heightened expectations of the team and the fans. I think he will be fine; I'm glad he's at first base, where he belongs. He reminds me of John Maine in that they both put extra pressure on themselves to be perfect, and it hurts them more than it helps. Perfectionism doesn't work in baseball, or in anything else for that matter. Murphy and Maine need to learn to relax and just play within their talents. They are both very talented young players, and should have successful careers with the right coaching and support from teammates and, dare I say, fans.

Delgado and Castillo have been disappointing more for a lack of leadership than for anything they have done on the field this year. I think they have both struggled in making the New York adjustment. Delgado doesn't seem to like the fans very much, nor the media, or maybe his injuries have kept him from taking an active leadership role. In any event, he is very smart and very talented, and the younger Mets need him to step up when he comes back, or else it's time to consider trading him at the trade deadline and giving Murphy first base for the rest of the year and beyond.

Castillo has played well, but I still get the feeling that he will disappear one way or another when the Mets most need him. With Alex Cora hurt, a Castillo injury would be disastrous unless Tatis can play second base well enough to handle the position for an extended period.

Ramon Martinez had an impressive rebound from his horrible start, at least defensively, which is what they need from him right now. I didn't realize that he was actually still rehabbing from a sports hernia when they abruptly called him up. He has handled adversity remarkably well. They still need Cora back as soon as possible, and off course Reyes needs to be healthy and happy, at least until they trade him for Roy Halladay and Marco Scutaro (in my perfect gritty world).

Caroms Off the Wall

David Ortiz is having the same first half this year as Carlos Delgado had last year. Let's hope his second half is as good as Delgado's was last year. I doubt it, though. There is no way he is only 33 years old, by the way. More like 37.

© Judy Kamilhor 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

I love Jerry Manuel but . . . .

Murphy in LF and Jeremy Reed at 1B? Murphy's best position is probably 1B and Reed is only on the team because of his superior defense in the OF. I would have put Sheffield in LF, Murphy at 1B, and Reed in RF. And I would have switched Castillo and Cora in the batting order.

When I saw Cora shaking out his hand on second base after his double, I knew the Mets were in trouble. They have been winning with him playing SS. He's grittier and more a winner than Reyes will ever be.

Jose Reyes reminds me of Alex Rodriguez in that they are the two best examples of physical talent and emotional immaturity/lack of baseball instinct I've ever seen. Not that emotional immaturity and lack of baseball instinct are related in general, but in those two players, it seems unlikely their teams are going to be winning World Championships anytime soon. They make me think of Marbury. I had the feeling when the Knicks picked him up that they weren't going to be winning much while he was their leader.

Emotional immaturity is something you can grow out of, but lack of baseball instinct is another matter. Did you see the incredible play by Joe Mauer yesterday, when he tagged out Brett Gardner at home after a grounder richocheted off the pitcher? He instinctively pump-faked to first, hoping to pick Gardner off third. He had the incredible presence of mind to adjust immediately when he saw that Gardner wasn't going back to third at all, but barreling towards him at full speed. He ran and dove towards home, tagging the runner out to prevent the winning run! Amazing. No-one on the Mets would have been able to do that. That's baseball instinct in a nutshell.

© Judy Kamilhor 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Now is the time to trade Reyes

The Mets look pretty good right now. They are still not a championship caliber team. They are doing the tease they sometimes do, to convince their fans that they have a chance, but I don't buy it.

My solution is the answer to the question that NY sports writers have been asking lately: Yes, it IS time to trade Jose Reyes. For Roy Halliday and Marco Scutaro of the Toronto Blue Jays. It looks like Adam Schein has proposed a Reyes for Halliday trade in the past couple of days, but I had this thought last week. Scutaro is one of those guys that helps teams win, even though he has modest talent. Halliday is exactly what they need, a second ace and a proven winner who deserves a chance to pitch in the post-season. The Mets can offer Toronto a choice of Oliver Perez, Livan Hernandez, or Tim Redding, if they want to replace Halliday in the rotation while waiting for their injured starters to come back.

The point is, and I've had seven years to observe this, Jose Reyes does not, and will never, possess winning baseball instincts. I've played a lot of softball in my life, and I know that you can't teach instinct. Derek Jeter has it; Craig Counsell has it; Jose Reyes doesn't. It's that simple.

The Mets might make the playoffs with their current team. They might choke in the last month like they have the past two years. If they want a real chance to win in the post-season, they need to make this trade or one like it.

If anyone is at fault for the Mets lack of killer instinct, I have to say it's Omar Minaya. He has constructed a very talented team that lacks grit and savvy. It's time to start fixing that problem, Omar. Here's a way to start.

© Judy Kamilhor 2009