Bones to Pick
The Mets’ recent slide has not simply “occurred” due to bad luck or the baseball gods, and despite Willie Randolph’s all-too-calm demeanor, this team is in a state of disarray. We keep hearing that the “talent is there” and that “this team is too good not to be playing in October”. Spare me — I heard the same crap from 1987-1990. I saw Gregg Jefferies — the man who was supposed to be a switch-hitting George Brett — never win a ring. Dave Magadan was supposed to win a batting title. I watched Darryl Strawberry — “the black Ted Williams” — never win an MVP. Hojo could have went 30-30 every year, but his only ring came in the year he was a backup. A rotation of Frank Viola, David Cone, and Dwight Gooden, with John Franco closing, was supposed to be unstoppable.
We know all about the talent on the present-day Mets. It’s oozing from every corner of the clubhouse, and it’s coming from youngsters and oldsters. But for whatever reason, all this talent has not resulted in WINS. That’s not a sabermetric acronym, and I don’t give a hoot about WHIP, VORP, FIPs, BABIP, or WARP-1, WARP-2, or WARP-3. At this point, the talent doesn’t matter, the stats don’t matter — all that matters is that the Mets have scored more runs at the end of a ballgame than their opponent, and thereby earn a “win”. That said, I have some bones to pick on players and issues that may be keeping the Mets from those elusive “Ws”.
In March, and through the middle of April, it looked like Jose Reyes might improve upon 2006 and become a bonafide superstar. He was waiting well on and seeing pitches better than ever, letting the ball get deep, keeping his hands back, taking walks, and swatting the ball the other way. Once in a while, he’d get an inside pitch and turn on it viciously.
What happened to that guy?
Somewhere along the line, he stopped waiting on pitches. He started swinging before recognizing — maybe it evolved from guessing. Going to the opposite field happened less and less, and his line drive swing was affected by hands dropping — creating an uppercut (from fatigue?). This change in his approach and his mechanics resulted in more swinging and missing, and less hits. Which in turn led to reduced confidence at the plate. Which resulted in more guessing, and swinging too early, rather than staying back and trusting his hands.
Lately, he’s added pressure to his slump cocktail. So in addition to the mechanical flaws, the poor approach, and the lack of confidence, Reyes is now pressing as well — trying to do too much. The numnuts who are blaming Rickey Henderson for the demise of Reyes are simply lazy know-nothings who find it easier to pick a scapegoat. If anyone is at fault, it is Reyes himself as well as Willie Randolph and the entire Mets coaching staff for not taking control of Jose’s various issues. How about putting on the take sign, and forcing Jose to watch pitches go by. But not just wave a fake bunt and take for the sake of taking — tell Jose to take his normal stride, keep his head down, get the hands back, and watch the ball into the catcher’s glove. Maybe he’s been forced to do this a half-dozen times — if so, it’s not enough. He needs to do this at least once or twice every at-bat until he’s out of his slump. He needs to then concentrate on zoning middle-out, waiting on the ball, and dropping the barrel on top of the ball, and hitting grounders and liners to the opposite field. Again, he does this occasionally, but needs to do it all the time until he has his “March swing” back. And here’s a crazy idea: how about telling Jose to drop at least one bunt a game? I’ve seen Jose show bunt — but when was the last time he actually bunted for a hit? Does he have even ten bunt hits this year? Shouldn’t he have about twenty? Maybe he does, and I missed them. Yes, I know Willie has mentioned that Jose should bunt more, and Howard Johnson is in his ear about hitting the ball on the ground, but apparently they need to find a new way to motivate him. Fine him if he hits a popup. Buy him a steak if he goes the other way. I don’t know — maybe that stuff doesn’t work with guys who make millions. But the point is, it’s the coaches’ job to get through to him — and Reyes, due to his youth, is one of the few Mets who can still be affected and changed by good instruction.
Pelfrey looks great for two or three innings, then starts unraveling — what’s with that? How about we look closer … could it be an issue with men on base? It does seem that Pelfrey is less effective when runners are on — and the numbers bear it out. Opposition batting average with nobody on: .287 (yikes, that’s higher than I wanted to know … but not part of the argument). With runners on: .310. With runners on first and second: .391. First and third: .429. Bases loaded: .100. Huh? OK, that last one is a small sample — 10 at-bats — and there is the added glitch that 7 runs have scored despite the low average. However, I’m wondering if Pelfrey’s issues have to do with working out of the stretch? And perhaps, with bases loaded, he’s returning to the full windup?
Granted, no matter which way you look at it, Pelfrey gives up a lot of hits. But then, that’s part of being a sinkerball pitcher. The way his numbers balloon when runners reach base is alarming, and indicative of someone who is very uncomfortable — and inexperienced — with runners on base. It makes sense — he didn’t allow many baserunners in college, and probably was the same way going back to little league. Pitching from the stretch was rather foreign to him until last year, and keeping runners close is likely a major issue for him right now. There’s nothing the Mets can do to fix this now, but a.) it’s clear he won’t be able to help in the postseason out of the pen; and b.) it’s another glaring point toward the fact that Pelfrey was (and is) much further away from MLB-ready than Mets officials’ believed (or let on). He’s nowhere near the “polished” pitcher the scouts told us he was — some comparing him to Mark Prior as far as advancement. Pelfrey needed — and still needs — more game experience in the minors. Had the organization realized this, perhaps they would not have been so quick to part with Brian Bannister. As it is, the team has been depending on Pelfrey to “step it up” in the heat of the pennant race — when he has no business pitching at this level.
Young man, we need your bat, your spark, and your penchant for the dramatic. Please keep your cool and remember that the team comes first. Borrow Pelfrey’s mouthpiece if it will help you keep quiet.
The Mets’ team batting average is .275. Their batting average with runners on is .272. Runners in scoring position, it’s .274. All pretty consistent. However, with runners in scoring position and two outs, it’s a dismal .233 — 25th in MLB and two spots ahead of the Nationals, who managed to score 11 runs on two-out base hits in Monday’s game. In contrast, their opponents are hitting a solid .250 in the same situation — that’s one hit every four at-bats. Not terrible — it places them 18th in MLB. But at least it explains my perception that the Mets’ opponents take better advantage of runners moving at the crack of the bat.
How can a team drop more than 40 points in team batting average in such a situation? Too much thinking? Not enough thinking? Over aggressive? Under aggressive? Apple in the throat? I don’t think it’s bad luck — not in a 660+ at-bat sample. It’s officially an issue. Managing base hits with two outs is a huge advantage, because the runners are off on contact. How many times have we seen our Mets relievers go full-count with two outs and runners on? And how many times have we seen our Mets hitters go full-count with two outs and runners on? Personally, I think it’s a rarity, and would like to find the numbers to back it up — because usually the Mets hitters don’t get that far in an at-bat in those situations. If the stats support that theory, then perhaps it’s an issue of patience and/or pitch selection. Whatever the case, it needs to be investigated — maybe it’s not too late to fix.
Oh boy, this could be an entire article unto its own … but I’ll try to keep it brief. Something struck me during an SNY interview with — of all people — Scott Schoeneweis. The Show was asked if he thought the Mets bullpen could have been more effective this year, and his answer was, more or less, that he thought the pen had done a very good job considering the circumstances — insinuating that the relievers were overworked. And you know what? He’s right.
While it’s true the Mets starters have pitched effectively this year, they haven’t show much in the way of longevity in games. (It’s not just the Mets starters, of course, it’s an epidemic throughout MLB, but we’re focusing on our team here.) Out of 156 games started, there have been two complete games. Oh, but not really — those two “complete” games were actually rain-shortened, five-inning games pitched by John Maine and Tom Glavine. So in reality, no Met has finished what he has started this year. And, on average, Mets starters do not pitch past the sixth inning — their 913 innings this year averages out to 5.8 innings per start. That puts them somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as MLB, but the comparison to other teams is irrelevant. The point is, the Mets’ bullpen has had to pick up at minimum 3 1/3 innings every game — remember they also have to pick up all the extra innings in tie ballgames as well. Consider also that the relief corps has been pretty stable, and more or less the same faces since Opening Day — Schoeneweis, Billy Wagner, Pedro Feliciano, Aaron Heilman, and Aaron Sele have been behind the outfield fence nearly every game. Guillermo Mota has been part of the nucleus since late May. The only significant change in roles was Joe Smith replaced by Jorge Sosa, and the only other reliever of consequence was Ambiorix Burgos, who appeared in 17 games.
With the same arms coming out every day, with Sosa replacing Smith as the only “refresher”, the bullpen has been pretty much burned out — and their recent meltdowns shouldn’t be a surprise. Aaron Heilman and Pedro Feliciano have each appeared in 75+ games — nearly half of the teams’ games. Did you know Joe Smith appeared in 52? No wonder he came down with tendinitis halfway through the season. The Show’s been in 67, and Mota 51. I’m not sure how best to fix this issue, but the strain could have been somewhat alleviated if the Mets either used Aaron Sele (33 games) more often, or replaced Sele with someone Willie Randolph had more trust in. While Sele has had a few solid, and important outings (including one a few days ago), the fact he was taking up a roster spot yet only being used once every two weeks was a complete waste of a role. I understand that Darren Oliver defined the role in 2006, but even Oliver got into 45 games — many of them important appearances. Sele was used almost exclusively for blowouts and garbage innings — why? You don’t need a guy hanging around for 162 games to do that. If you get blown out one game, bring in a starter, or ask one of the relievers to take one for the team, then bring up a minor leaguer the next day to cover innings the next few days. Having that one extra guy coming in from the bullpen would have given Heilman and co. more rest, and perhaps the entire corps wouldn’t be gasping for breath right now.
There are other bones to pick regarding this year, but my fingers are tired from hitting the keys. Perhaps if I had a relief blogger to come in, we could go on. But then, you might need a relief reader.
Let’s just beat the Nationals already, and get this thing over with. Waiting for the Phillies to lose is not my idea of “enjoying the pennant race”.