Mets Game 89: Loss to Braves

Braves 6 Mets 1

Getting swept was not exactly the way the Mets wanted to start the second half.

Mets Game Notes

For the second consecutive start, Johan Santana was battered by the opposition. He had difficulty locating his fastball below the waist, and got away with high strikes the first time through the Braves lineup; the Atlanta hitters seemed surprised to see fastballs up from Johan. However, they made the adjustment during the second go-around, and started hitting him. Compounding the situation was Santana allowing home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor to get into his head.

Through the first four frames, there were a number of close calls on the edges of the plate — as there are in just about any game. However, the close calls were being called strikes for Braves starter Ben Sheets, and usually called balls for Johan Santana. It didn’t seem that way, it WAS that way. But it wasn’t Bucknor holding something personal against Santana, and it wasn’t necessarily Bucknor “missing” the calls. It was the contrasting catching techniques used by Brian McCann and Josh Thole.

As he always does, McCann was “beating the ball to the spot” and catching pitches when they looked like strikes and “sticking them” — in other words, catching and holding the pitch momentarily to sell the pitch. Umpires like that and appreciate that. Most importantly, when a catcher does that, pitches look more like strikes than if they use the alternative method — also known as “framing.”

“Framing” is what Josh Thole does — on nearly every pitch. It seems to be a technique taught by the Mets organization, because I’ve seen other Mets catchers in the past employ the same nonsense. In “framing,” the catcher tries to “ease” pitches slightly off the plate into the strike zone by moving his glove AFTER catching the ball. At lower levels (little league, high school), with sometimes poorly trained, unprofessional umpires behind the plate, this method can often work. At the MLB level, it should never work. Yet, well over half of MLB catchers “frame.” Why? I guess because they did it their whole life. Also because there are still catching coaches who teach this technique, thinking that it works. Generally, it doesn’t. Catchers who do it, usually make the umpire look bad — especially from the perspective of the centerfield camera, which is already showing an untrue angle (slightly off-center). Framing also can make the pitcher think his pitches are closer than they really are. In some cases, a MLB umpire may automatically call “framed” pitches a ball, thinking that if the pitch has to be framed, it must not be a strike.

Bottom line is this: if a catcher beats the ball to the spot, catches it when it looks like a strike, and holds it, he’s giving the umpire the best possible view of the ball. If a catcher is moving his body and/or his glove as and/or after he catches the ball, he’s disrupting the umpire’s line of sight.

So, back to the game … Sheets was getting the close calls, Santana wasn’t. Santana didn’t get a few close ones in a row, and it ticked him off. Instead of focusing on the next pitch, he let the bad calls get under his skin. Then, as Santana was in the middle of delivering a pitch, Bucknor called time out at the request of the Braves hitter. It was a late time-out call, but, hey, he’s the umpire and can call time-out when he wants. That was the straw that broke Johan’s back, and he completely lost his composure. The Braves went on to score six runs, prompting Johan’s exit as well as Dan Warthen‘s, as Warthen went off on Bucknor and was tossed from the game.

Meanwhile, the Mets offense did nothing against Sheets, who won his first game since 2010. He had decent velocity — around 92 MPH — and his signature curveball had good 12-6 bite. We’ll see how long he stays healthy.

Next Mets Game

Mets take off Monday to travel to Washington D.C., then open a series against the Nationals on Tuesday night. Game one begins at 7:05 p.m. and pits Jonathon Niese vs. Ross Detwiler.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Joe July 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm
    From how I understand it, CB Bucknor has a bad reputation. Is this unfair, not fair or it doesn’t matter since your average umpire would have did the same thing?
    • Joe Janish July 15, 2012 at 11:03 pm
      I only see Bucknor when he’s umpiring Mets games, so it’s hard for me to make a judgment on whether his rep is fair or unfair.
  2. argonbunnies July 15, 2012 at 9:07 pm
    Bucknor is a bad umpire. He doesn’t seem to be a bad guy in any way, but he blows a ridiculous number of calls. QuesTec rated his strike zone as the worst in the majors.

    Maybe with Bucknor behind the plate, framing vs catching makes a difference. With your average home plate ump, you don’t see the same pitch consistently called a strike for one team and a ball for the other, regardless of catching technique.

    • Joe Janish July 15, 2012 at 11:09 pm
      “With your average home plate ump, you don’t see the same pitch consistently called a strike for one team and a ball for the other, regardless of catching technique.”

      I disagree. I have seen Thole lose multiple strike calls all season, all last season, and the season before, and have made this point previously. Mike Piazza used to lose calls consistently due to the same shitty technique, as have half of all MLB catchers. In this particular game it was more apparent because both pitchers were throwing a number of two-strike pitches on the edges of the plate and there was such a stark contrast in the way they were received.

      Also the CF camera sucks. The only times we got a decent idea of what was happening was in the handful of angles from above the plate. This situation would be crystal clear if the angle from behind the plate was still available. Because guess what? That’s the angle from which strikes and balls are called.

  3. Izzy July 15, 2012 at 9:19 pm
    Lets see the whiny excuses made by this suddenly pathetic bunch of whiny ballplayers formerly known as the feisty Mets. today the ump was bad (like CB was never bad before), yesterday the closer was off because he got out of shape from the break, Friday there must have been another whiny excuse, last weekend they lost to the Cubs because they were tired and needed the break, the other week before they were tired from a late flight. I guess there’s no need to win because its easier to make excuses. No other team plays as much as the Mets, no other team had a CB problem, no other team ever had a late flight, no other team was ever tired. Its a miracle we ever win a game with all the unique obstacles the Mets face.
    • Joe Janish July 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm
      Blaming the umpire is a symptom of a team that doesn’t believe it has control of its destiny. Bad sign.
      • Dan July 16, 2012 at 6:59 am
        100% correct, but in CB’s (who shares his name with my cat) case, there is some cause for his reputation.

        • Joe Janish July 16, 2012 at 10:37 am
          Thanks for sharing, Dan. Mostly what I got from that Deadspin article is that the players don’t like him and a few bloggers hate him. Considering what Deadspin is all about, it’s hard to use that as any kind of evidence; the site’s goal is to stir up controversy ahead of reporting facts and/or telling all sides of a story.

          This is the part that jumped out at me:
          “Players may also resent that Bucknor is unafraid of making controversial calls—calls that can make him the focus of the game.”

          Is there any kind of objective judgment / analysis system in place for umpires? Other than QuesTec, I mean. Or is it all subjective?

          In any case, umpires are human, and they’re all different. I’m fine with that.

  4. DaveSchneck July 15, 2012 at 10:57 pm
    Ben Sheets? Ben freakin Sheets? Is Mark Prior on the Nats?
    • Joe Janish July 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm
      No the Nats have Wayne Garland.
    • Joe July 16, 2012 at 10:11 am
      He’s with the Red Sox organization.
  5. Crozier July 16, 2012 at 8:16 am
    Quality starts made by the Mets in July: 3.
    Quality starts made by starters not named Dillon Gee: 2.

    I hear Jamie Moyer’s available, ha ha.

    • Joe Janish July 16, 2012 at 10:43 am
      Don’t laugh so hard. I might prefer Moyer over Chris Schwinden.
  6. srozell July 16, 2012 at 10:00 am
    Joe, I think your column and ideas are generally spot-on. Here’s a thread I’m seeing bandied about: Sandy A is really trying to restrict the trades/pick-ups because of his whole “Moneyball” approach. I’m beginning to think it may be true as there haven’t been any progressive moves for the last 2 years other than bringing up Buffalo guys, which is similar to how his F.O. almost always fixed gaps in Oakland (other than trading MLB talent for supposed “Grade A” prospects).

    The way I see it, if the F.O. doesn’t make a move for a right-handed hitting catcher (who can call a good game and get Mets’ pitchers more calls) and a true corner outfielder (like Josh Willingham) now, I think the team will be sunk by the July deadline. I also think bringing up Matt Harvey would be a boost in the arm and take some of the spotlight away from players who may be teetering because of over-exposure (R.A. has looked ineffective since his scoreless streak ended; All-Star/Letterman didn’t help).

    I’m aware of the whole chemistry thing, but I think part of the reason they’ve had a smooth clubhouse is because they had been winning. Look at the Braves’ boys yesterday; they looked a bit too friendly with one another, but still, they were winning and look to be ready to challenge the Nats. Duda looks worn out, Ike has probably topped out and will now plateau, David looked 2010-2011ish the last 2 games, and the bullpen …. eee-gads!!!

    So don’t you think this club needs to import a “shot-in-the-arm” now, and if the Mets won’t move is it because of Alderson’s F.O. downshifting the direction? I’m also curious as to who you think could be shipped away to fit these needs without wrecking the clubhouse. I think Kirk could go as an attractive trade piece, Batista and Nickeas should be designated (both will make it to Buffalo as no one will want them). Jordany would be tough to give up as he seems to be at the heart of many rallies, but maybe they should trade him “high?”

    • Joe Janish July 16, 2012 at 10:42 am
      This team has far too many holes and flaws for me to believe that one or two players could be a “shot in the arm” and turn the club around. There’s a reason every critic picked this team to finish in last place prior to the season — the roster is filled with marginally talented ballplayers. The Mets have been playing above their heads for a long time, and adrenalin can keep you going for only so long.

      The only thing they have going for them is that talent all around the NL has dropped as well. They’ll probably benefit if the Phillies sell off big-ticket players and pack it in, but otherwise, I don’t believe they have enough to compete with the Braves, Marlins, and Nationals in the second half.

      • srozell July 16, 2012 at 10:52 am
        Do you think that is the F.O.’s opinion as well? They’ll just watch them slowly slide down until they become sellers?

        Another frequently bandied about thought is: You don’t always have winning seasons, even as far as the All-Star break. There is just as good of chance they’ll be worse next year than better.

        Why not put together a couple of small trades to fill small holes that could right the ship? The ball park actually had some energy before the break, but there have been way too many empty seats this season. Don’t you think filling more seats, along with a couple of new pieces will help?

    • Crozier July 16, 2012 at 11:25 am
      “Lucas Duda right now is trying to hit the balls in the seats,” Collins said, “because that’s what people expect him to do, instead of just being the true, good hitter that he’s proved that he can be.”

      Sure, that’s what I want in a right fielder in the #5 or #6 slot: a lumbering, poor-fielding behemoth who hits singles. “People expect” Duda to hit for power because he slugged .600 before getting called up in 2011 and .480 after. He’s currently slugging .399 — .399! — and on a pace to hit fewer than 20 doubles (a number he reached in 100 games last year). In excusing this woeful performance, Collins is in the role of protective Little League coach. Complain about Davis all you want, but Duda is the bigger disappointment in my book.

  7. Walnutz15 July 16, 2012 at 10:05 am
    Good to see the lack of offense extend to the “Under” of what I set as a bar vs. Ben Sheets.

    I’d said that I expected 1 run on 5 hits, scattered over 6 IP for Mr. Sheets.

    Time to wake up, fellas………..All-Star Break’s been over for a few days now.

    • Joe July 16, 2012 at 10:13 am
      The Mets blew two good offensive games & as you said, Sunday with Santana starting & the Mets’ standard operation procedure with pitchers they haven’t seen much (or in awhile, I guess) is to have offensively challenged games like this. The Mets have been off for two series now. “Snap out of it!”