Mets Game 109: Loss to Padres

Padres 7 Mets 3

On the bright side, the Mets didn’t squander many opportunities.

Mets Game Notes

Of course, they didn’t squander many opportunities because there weren’t many opportunities. The Mets left only two men on base in the ballgame, and were 0-for-2 with RISP. Unless you’re the Yankees playing in the Bronx, it’s hard to score runs if you don’t reach base. The Mets had five hits and one walk; three of those hits were for extra bases.

The Padres were a team that Matt Harvey was supposed to cruise through. Instead, he was battered, giving us a glimpse as to why Wally Backman suggested that the young righthander wasn’t quite ready for MLB. There’s no question that Harvey has big-league stuff and will be a solid MLB starter some day; in fact, from the little I’ve seen of Harvey, I expect him to be at minimum a #3 if not #2 or #1 some day. But the report from AAA was that he occasionally had bouts of inconsistency, and lost his sharp command.

These are not serious issues for a non-contending team, so I’m fine with Harvey being in the bigs — so long as he continues to work on all of his pitches and learns. If the Mets were a handful of games out of first place, or serious Wild Card contenders, I might not like the idea of Harvey in the rotation.

Harvey lost mainly because he threw a few too many straight, belly-button-high fastballs over the middle of the plate, and two hitters whacked two misplaced change-ups. He actually got away with a few high fastballs, but after a while, big-league hitters catch up — and they did.

Ron Darling opined that Harvey should only be throwing fastballs and sliders in the first few innings of the game, to “keep it simple.” I have to disagree, to a point. On the one hand, it wasn’t necessary for Harvey to show his entire arsenal in the initial inning. However, he did seem to hold back his curve for the first few frames. Moreover, I think it’s absolutely essential to establish both the change-up and the fastball as soon as possible, to make clear that batters can’t sit on velocity. Harvey was hit hard on two poorly located change-ups in the first; they were both down and in to lefthanded hitters. The location itself would have been OK (not great, but OK) if the hitters were righthanded; to lefties, though, that is generally their wheelhouse.

Darling reiterated his stance on “power pitching” later in the game, recommending that Harvey stick to throwing the fastball and the slider, “because he looked so impressive using those two pitches in his first outing.” This is EXACTLY the kind of thinking that stunted Mike Pelfrey‘s growth. Pelfrey was directed to throw only the hard stuff — fastball / slider — and that did allow him to overpower teams on occasion, and that worked for the short-term, but he never fully developed the off-speed stuff necessary for long-term success. Maybe if Harvey was destined to be a relief pitcher, I’d agree with Darling, but as someone expected to develop into a workhorse starter, I want to see him learning to make either the change-up or overhand curve his second-best pitch. Let him take his lumps now, when it really doesn’t matter, so that less lumps will be served in the future, when he’s hopefully surrounded by championship ballplayers.

I don’t see any problem with Harvey making mistakes and getting whacked around the park — it’s nearly impossible to learn anything without failing. I want Harvey to have confidence in his change-up, feel good that he can put it in a good spot, but understand that spot varies from batter to batter. He’s not in the Majors right now to be Tom Seaver — he’s here to be Tom Seaver some day in the hopefully not-too-distant future. Not to mention, adversity builds character.

On the opposite side of adversity is Ronny Cedeno, who is as hot as he’ll ever be. May as well bat him second until he cools off.

Bizarre play in the fifth, when Jason Marquis bunted back to the pitcher with runners on the corners. Cameron Maybin came rushing home and was out by ten feet. Why he ran is anyone’s guess, but more to the point, why Marquis was bunting there is absolutely ludicrous — considering that Marquis might have been the 6th or 7th best hitter in the lineup.

Also not sure why Marquis was bunting for a hit with a man on second base with one out in the bottom of the fifth. Beyond the fact that he should be swinging away there, is that Marquis is no spring chicken, and the opposite of “fit.” With those extra spare tires above his waist, I’d be worried about popping a hammy.

If I was the GM of the Padres, I think I’d build on their foundation of speed and defense, and build a team similar to the old Cardinals of the 1980s. Yonder Alonso and/or Chase Headley can play the part of Jack Clark, and the rest of the guys should be absolute burners. I can see such a club, especially in that ballpark, giving opponents a lot of trouble — particularly teams with woeful fundamentals.

Speaking of bad fundies, Manny Acosta threw a ball in the stands on an attempted pickoff at first base. Not sure I’ve ever seen that before. It would have been more impressive had he thrown the ball into the stands on a pickoff attempt at second base, but it’s still something to talk about.

San Diego catcher John Baker scored from first on a double in the 8th. His speed is about average, maybe below average, so how was he able to score? He burst into full speed at the crack of the bat (there were two outs), he cut the bases perfectly, and he looked to his 3B coach for guidance. Little things win ballgames.

Luke Gregerson reminds me a bit of Jeff Nelson – right?

Next Mets Game

The Mets get a day off as they make the long trip home to start a series with the sinking Marlins on Tuesday night. Game time is a most civilized and welcome 7:10 p.m., and the scheduled pitching matchup is Jonathon Niese vs. Wade LeBlanc.

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. Tommy2cat August 5, 2012 at 10:03 pm
    Hi Joe:

    I’m in Darling & Gary Cohen’s camp – don’t throw the change-up until the hitter has something to contrast it to. A change-up is a very, very dangerous pitch – I abandoned it for that very reason and instead relied on a fastball, slider, curveball and a cutter. Everything thrown down, down and downer unless I wanted to elevate every so often to change the hitter’s eye level.

    A curveball & slider combo off the fastball is much more effective early in a game. But to throw change-ups back-to-back in the strike zone in the first inning when you’re ahead in the count – that’s a felony & I don’t blame Harvey for that at all. And the previous hitter had just tattooed one…that’s predicate felon status. Yikes!!!

    It’s the functional equivalent to Rob Johnson calling “time-out”, breaking out a hitting tee, placing the ball on it, and allowing the Padre hitters to have their way with it.

    Granted, Harvey didn’t have the feel for his slider, which should have invoked his curveball, but never, ever chane-ups repeatedly.

    Am I allowed to say “Dick-brain pitch selection” on this website? I mean, it was this type of thinking that enraged Byrdak, which was fully justified.

    Welp – from hereon in I am hoping that we continue to improve our draft slot and give as many players not named Wheeler an opportunity in the bigs. We need to preserve Wheeler’s FA clock, which will hopefully accrue next spring.

    What a mess… let’s just hope they allow Harvey to emphasize his strengths in his next outing.

    • Joe Janish August 6, 2012 at 9:08 am
      Wow. If you feel that strongly about the change-up then there’s no point in arguing; I’d have an easier time changing your religion or political view! πŸ˜‰

      But that’s cool, we can agree to disagree and discuss other issues. Such as, the pitch selection in general. Did it seem to you that Johnson was getting the calls from the dugout?

      I’m seeing pitch calling coming from the dugout more and more, by the Mets and several MLB teams, and I don’t get it. They have pregame meetings to go over the general plan, and that’s fine — there should be some kind of strategy based on scouting reports, stats, etc. But there’s no way someone sitting in the dugout can have a better perspective on what’s happening “in battle” than the guy squatting behind home plate. If the catcher can’t make proper calls, then he shouldn’t be catching. And if the issue is that there simply isn’t anyone capable of catching, then it’s time to re-think what you’re doing as an organization. I blame the rushing of kids through the minors and decision-makers who are ignorant of the importance of the catching position. You can’t just put anyone back there and hope things work out because a guy has a high OBP. Some things can’t (yet?) be properly measured with advanced statistics.

      • DaveSchneck August 6, 2012 at 11:07 am
        Joe,
        I think we all understand that Harvey will take some lumps as part of the process. I kind of in the middle on this – agree with establishing the hard stuff prior to the changeup, but I think that can be done early in the game and not necesssarily have to wait until the 2nd time through the order. Regarding calling pitches from the dugout, I am completely mystified by this. I haven’t played the game at any high level, but I can’t see any justification for this outside of needing a new catcher. You seem to agree, but perhaps you can expound in a future blog. Oh, and lastly, on another note, what about a J Bay trip to Buffalo until Sept. call-ups?
  2. gary s. August 5, 2012 at 11:56 pm
    Joe, i saw the play where the slow footed Baker scored from first on the double to right.He did his part right, Running hard and picking up his coach.However on the replay, Murphy throws the relay to home straight into the ground and it comes in on 4 hops.If he throws it on one bounce like a real Mlb 2nd baseman is trained to do, Baker is out by 10 feet.Just one more example of our sieve like defense this year
    • Izzy August 6, 2012 at 12:20 am
      Excellent observation Gary. On the SD broadcast Tony Gwynn made the same basic comment about Murphy’s very weak throw allowing the run to score, that and an excellent slide.
    • Joe Janish August 6, 2012 at 9:16 am
      What are you talking about? Dan Murphy has really done a great job at second base and exceeded all expectations. He’s made some really awesome diving plays, proving that he belongs there and the Mets knew what they were doing by putting him at 2B. Your observation suggests that Murphy did something so wrong that it cost the Mets a run and obviously that’s just your opinion because Murphy is Really Improved and haven’t you noticed he’s hitting over .300 again so it’s all good. Jeez!

      πŸ˜‰

      In all seriousness, thanks for pointing out the throw. Some (if not much) of the credit goes to Padres 3B coach Glenn Hoffman for recognizing that the Mets had a DH playing 2B, and therefore it was an advisable risk to send the runner.

  3. Tommy2cat August 6, 2012 at 8:19 am
    The pity is that Murphy has a really good arm. It was all about technique.

    I have this private belief that the Mets missed the boat on Murphy and should’ve converted him to catcher within 10 minutes of assessing his defensive skills. πŸ™‚

    • Joe Janish August 6, 2012 at 9:28 am
      There was a time that I felt similarly about Murphy as a catcher. But I’ve come to realize that his baseball instincts are so poor, he wouldn’t be much more than a second-string backstop who would be used best primarily as a pinch-hitter — because his lack of leadership, defensive skills, and pitch calling ability would hurt the team far more than his offensive production. In other words, he’d be Josh Thole.
  4. gary s. August 6, 2012 at 12:51 pm
    Please Joe, i can’t take the thought of 2 Josh Thole’s on one team.I can’t stand having one Josh Thole on the roster
  5. argonbunnies August 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm
    Some thoughts on Matt Harvey:

    Before the game, I read quotes from Collins, Warthen and Harvey about the need to be more economical and get guys out in a few pitches rather than going for the strikeout.

    Then we see Harvey throwing 0-2 pitches down the middle, completely unlike his prior starts where he threw a lot of nasty pitches just off the plate with 2 strikes.

    Coincidence?

    I’ve always thought that coaches de-emphasizing strikeouts was moronic. It’s the best thing a pitcher can do, and should be done as often as possible (unless that comes with a truckload of walks otherwise avoided). Let Harvey pitch 5 dominant innings instead of 6 mediocre ones. The “conserving pitches” part of his game can come later, as a finishing touch. Worry about getting big league hitters out, first. Worry about getting them out quickly later.

    Separately, although I thought his pitch selection was terrible for the purposes of getting the Padres out, I did think it was nice for a developing young pitcher working on his change-up. My biggest fear in Harvey’s premature promotion was that he’d sacrifice development for results. But perhaps that isn’t happening, and if so, I’m glad. I would like to see him throw his slider more, though — he’s thrown a few that were unhittable, so that seems like a skill to cultivate.

    • Joe Janish August 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm
      Well, I’m one of those “moronic” pitching coaches who de-emphasize strikeouts — by starting pitchers. The reason is twofold: first, because many young pitchers pitch for swings and misses exclusively, and that results in incredibly high pitch counts (see Ian Snell). Second, there are seven defenders standing behind the pitcher for a reason.

      The strikeout has its purpose, but trying to strike out every single hitter is not a strategy that leads to consistent, sustained success. Further, as much as one would like to believe, it’s folly to think that a pitcher controls strikeouts — there has to be “help” from the batter. Athletes succeed by setting goals within their control, and strikeouts are not in their control. The goal, rather, is to focus on location and execution of the pitch.

      That doesn’t mean Harvey should be throwing meatballs on 0-2. Rather, he should be throwing a specific pitch to a specific spot with specifically intended movement and speed, and if it turns out to be strike three, great (actually, that should be the focus for every pitch, regardless of count). “Pitching to contact” isn’t supposed to mean “strikeouts are bad.” Instead, it should be throwing pitches early in the count that are likely to be hit to a fielder. You want one- or two-pitch outs ideally, to conserve energy,get through innings quickly, and keep the defense alert and engaged.

      I don’t believe it makes sense to learn how to “conserve pitches” later. Learning to pitch efficiently and learning to pitch are to me, one and the same. Dominating hitters for a few innings is not special — we see pitchers do it all the time (Oliver Perez, anyone?). There’s no question that Harvey has the stuff to strike out MLBers — the question is whether he can have sustained success.

      The slider is the easiest pitch to learn, and the most over-used; I’m not concerned with Harvey’s ability to master it. I am, however, concerned that he could go down the same path as Mike Pelfrey, and would much rather see him fail today learning how to throw pitches that will make him an elite pitcher tomorrow.

      • argonbunnies August 7, 2012 at 2:29 am
        I’m totally with you on emphasizing the long-term over the short-term, and not Pelfing around. And I hear you on Snell (or Matt Clement!) and on pitching efficiently being part of learning how to pitch. If “pitch to contact” is pitching coach speak for “don’t nibble” or “don’t spike or yank every pitch trying to put unhittable spin or velocity on it”, then great.

        That said, it does seem to me that every great pitcher I’ve ever seen has worked on developing at least one swing-and-miss pitch, and on working an at-bat to get to that pitch with 2 strikes. Santana in his prime threw up and in fastballs until he judged the time was right to throw a change-up low and away. That’s an approach designed to strike a batter out in 3-5 pitches. It’s probably not going to produce a weak grounder. If the fastball up isn’t in enough, there’s a risk of a HR. Many pitches, high risk… if only Santana had learned a sinker, he could have been facing more batters and counting on his defense instead of allowing the fewest baserunners in the league by never letting the opponent put the ball in play. He could have been a crafty workhorse instead of a Cy Young.

        I’m not sure how much is fair to put on the pitching coach, but I’ve seen this over and over again: unpolished pitcher comes up, gets some Ks but struggles, various quotes in the media appear about needing to pitch to contact, Ks go down, pitcher becomes batting practice for opponents. I’d much rather see our high-ceiling prospects taking the approach Santana took.

        (Plus, our D isn’t good enough for the Dave Duncan school of “never walk anyone, never allow fly balls that could be HRs, hope not too many of those hard grounders get through the infield”.)

        • Joe Janish August 7, 2012 at 9:47 am
          “not Pelfing around” – AWESOME! That’s now an official part of Metspeak!

          Strikeouts are a part of being a great pitcher, agreed.But the emphasis is on PART; strikeouts are not the definition of great pitching. Case in point: Oliver Perez is #8 in K/9 among all pitchers who ever took the mound in MLB. Also in the top 25 ALL-TIME are Erik Plunk, Scott Kazmir, and Dan Plesac (among others). Of course there are some greats in there as well, but the point is that getting swings and misses is not all there is to pitching.

          You bring up Santana, who happens to be #10 all-time with 8.8 K/9. Getting 9 outs without putting the ball in play is indeed quite helpful, but today’s starter still has to get at least a dozen more outs, and he’s only allowed to throw about 100-110 pitches. So the majority of outs come from non-strikeouts — by one of the greatest strikeout artists in MLB history. That’s why pitching coaches talk about “pitching to contact.” But, I can understand why it sounds counter-productive — why would you want the batter to hit the ball, when it would seem that the pitcher’s job is to prevent him from doing so?

          “Pitching to contact” is another way of saying “great command,” which is ultimately the factor that separates great pitchers from everyone else. Unfortunately, not everyone interprets it that way … it’s often heard as “let the guy hit it,” when it should be, “make him hit YOUR pitch.”

          Santana didn’t become a great pitcher because he learned how to strike out hitters. He became a great pitcher because he developed outstanding command that empowered him to get both strikeouts and poorly hit balls.

          I don’t see Harvey having an issue getting swings and misses, because he’s already getting them. In contrast, Pelfrey NEVER displayed high strikeout numbers, except for a small sample size in the low minors. His rookie year he struck out a very average 5.5 per 9 IP, and he stayed there. In contrast, Harvey is striking out close to 13 per 9 in his first few MLB outings, and averaged 10 K/9 through every step in the minors. That said I think it’s a skill he’ll have an easy time developing going forward.

        • argonbunnies August 7, 2012 at 10:15 pm
          Good points. I just have a few quibbles:

          – I did qualify that Ks aren’t worth it if it takes a truckload of walks to get them. That covers Ollie, Bobby Witt, etc. I totally agree with you that “at any cost” is dumb.

          – If you believe Keith on the psychology of hitters, a lot of Santana’s early-count weak contact is because he strikes out a lot of guys, and they’re afraid to get to 2 strikes, and therefore think that first pitch fastball inside might be their best chance.

          – I hope you’re right on Harvey, but I still worry he’ll get all Pelfed up. Their K rates in their last 2 years of college and first year of pro ball are identical, except Mike fanned more in AA.

          I still remember the start in Colorado where Pelf shut down the Rockies throwing mostly high fastballs, and actually getting them to roll over the few sinkers he did throw. So what did he do for an encore? Went back to throwing tons of sinkers, getting destroyed, and talking about how “I’m a groundball guy who needs to get quick outs and let my defense work for me.”

          Maybe Pelf has never had the slider, change-up, poise, or command to become a good MLB pitcher. But at the same time, it didn’t seem to me that he was making the most of what he did have. Trusting the same organization with Harvey doesn’t come easily for me.

      • argonbunnies August 7, 2012 at 3:04 am
        Also, what pitch is likely to be hit to a fielder? I have a rant on this… will try to compose later…
        • Joe Janish August 7, 2012 at 9:48 am
          There is no one pitch that is likely to be hit to a fielder. It depends entirely on the situation, the defensive set up, and about two dozen other factors. Pitching isn’t that simple.
        • argonbunnies August 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm
          Well, if you can throw an un-liftable sinker to a lead-footed dead pull hitter with a deep shift on, then great, go for the 1-pitch out.

          The rest of the time, I dunno, how likely is likely? (To be hit at someone, I mean.) Let’s say it was 67% likely. Sounds good at first… but in baseball, giving up hits 33% of the time is actually terrible. The 2012 NL average on contact is .328 / .399 / .519. I’m not likin’ the odds here.

        • Joe Janish August 8, 2012 at 10:08 am
          Batted balls and hits are two different things. That’s why defense is so important, and why the Mets lose so many games.

          You need 27 outs, and they’re not all going to come from strikeouts. Even if you can get half via strikeouts, you still need to get half from the defense. If the pitcher is throwing 5,6,7,8 pitches to every batter going for a strikeout, that’s a lot of time for the fielders to be hanging around doing nothing. The more time between outs, the more likely there is a lapse in concentration by a fielder.

          Further, a team’s best pitcher on a given day is usually the starting pitcher, so ideally you want that pitcher out there as long as possible. If the pitcher is going for a strikeout against every single batter, he’s likely going to be averaging 20-30 pitches per inning, and be out of the game before the fifth.

  6. derek August 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm
    as far as calling pitches from the dugout..i just dont get it…these guys are pros…i understand here and there the dugout may see something..but for every pitch…with all the scouting they have now…and tools avail…everyone knows what guys inpros can an cant it…

    the catcher and pitcher are rt there to see stance and set up that the dugot cant fully see…

    also the pitcher has to throw the pitch he wants and feels comfortable throwing…u can call pitches all day from the dugout but if that guy doesnt want to throw it or isnt comfortable throwing it..chances r its gonna be a ball or worse teed off on…

    im hope the dugout calls were maybe just to get him to use his change more….but if we are wking on pitches..he should stil be in trips…let him throw what he is comfortabe throwing to get in a groove…

  7. NormE August 6, 2012 at 3:52 pm
    The proper times for communicating to your catcher and pitcher about pitch selection are before the game and between innings. Calling each pitch from the bench is a great way to inhibit the growth of players.
    If, as a manager/coach, you are unhappy with the way your catcher calls the game, then do your job of intensive tutoring to try to bring him up to snuff. With present day video capabilities it is much easier to teach ballplayers.