David Berg has been following the Mets since 1990, and counts himself as a "die hard fan" -- the agonies have been numerous and arduous, but he's still watching every game he can, determined to "earn" the satisfaction when the Mets eventually win it all. In his non-spare time, David is a designer of graphics, web sites, and games. See his work at Shrike Design
Browsing All Posts By David Berg

Do the Mets need to try less situational hitting?

On Wednesday afternoon, Asdrubal Cabrera came to bat with Curtis Granderson on first. Batting second, with a dangerous power hitter behind him, Cabrera’s “job” could be interpreted as “try to work a walk or poke a single to bring Yoenis Cespedes up with two men on.” Some Baseball People would consider that the “professional” or “situational” approach. Fortunately for the Mets, Cabrera ignored that wisdom and took a big rip, hitting a two-run homer to turn a deficit into a lead.

Is that what the Mets need?

This team has been an utter abomination in clutch hitting situations. When the #2 homerun hitting team in the National League is also the #13 team in scoring (well behind #12), it’s obvious that something is wrong. A .207 team batting average with RISP (runners in scoring position) is pretty obvious too. What’s less obvious is how we got here. Are Mets hitters nervous? Playing tight? Lacking confidence? Pressing? Is it a spiral where a little bit of bad clutch hitting becomes contagious and spirals out of control?

I have a theory. When Gary, Keith and Ron talk about situational hitting, they talk about hitting to the opposite field, about putting the ball in play, about not swinging for the fences, about advancing runners, and on and on in that vein. Terry Collins and Kevin Long don’t have three hours of air time to fill every night, but they sometimes (occasionally to the media, who knows how often to the players) talk about situational hitting too, and I’m guessing they’re talking about the same things. In doing so, however, they might be getting in the way of what their roster does best. These are Alderson players. They draw a few walks and hit a bunch of homeruns. Attempting situational hitting, which they aren’t good at (see that .207 AVG), just interferes with their strengths.

Here are the Mets’ rates of hitting homeruns, drawing unintentional walks, and striking out, by situation:

SplitHR %UIBB %K %
No RISP4.4 %8.3 %26.0 %
0/1 Out RISP3.4 %5.6 %27.7 %
2 Outs, RISP1.8 %8.8 %32.1 %

So maybe the 2016 Mets would be better served following the model of other Alderson-style offenses: take your walks, swing for the fences, and don’t ever change that.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

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Let’s leave safety up to the players (even Utley)

I much prefer when there’s an explicit agreement between players, umps, and MLB that players police the game themselves.

In that circumstance, most players choose to act with integrity, and those who don’t are punished as per the culture of their time. Chase Utley absolutely violated the unspoken rules about how one is supposed to go about taking out a DP pivot man, hitting the ground way too late in pursuit of Ruben Tejada. The culture of the game that Utley grew up in says that he should get drilled in the ribs and yelled at as a result. That would be both “old school” and efficient.

Instead, MLB has decided (and the umps have clearly followed their lead) that everything worth caring about in baseball must have a rule attached. This leads the players (as it has in every other sport) to abandon any subjective notions of right and wrong and simply do whatever they can get away with. With cameras everywhere, “what they can get away with” is very little, and if replay expands enough, one day it will get down to “nothing”, where A.J. Ellis will no longer be able to fool the umpire by firing away a foul tip as if he’d caught it for strike three, as he did on Sunday night. With a good set of rules and the right penalties for infractions, this is probably the surest way to make baseball safe… and slow.

If I were a player, maybe I’d take that trade-off.

As a fan, I hate it. The occasional injury is worth having a game that moves along at a decent pace with a lot of personality and room for individual accountability. The “did the catcher give the runner a sliding lane?” replay is too high a price to pay for the fact that Buster Posey pivoted incorrectly when Scott Cousins came to wreck him. Baseball is entertainment, and thrives on contrast and emergent narratives — a version of baseball which forces Chase Utley and Manny Ramirez to play the same way doesn’t make for many interesting stories.

If Utley were on my team, and he and I and everyone else agreed that the penalty for a late slide was a fastball to the ribs and some angry words, and he chose to pay that price to win a playoff game, then I would be all in favor of that choice, and question the dedication of any player who didn’t make the same choice (as some certainly wouldn’t).

But there’s no agreement at all.

Some players interpret the unwritten rules as, “Don’t do dangerous plays, even if they would win a playoff game.” Some umpires interpret via precedent, others by the rulebook (which has always included ample provisions for calling Utley for obstruction on the Tejada play; they’ve just never been enforced). There’s a similar split among fans. So instead of being clearly identified as a determined but dangerous player (which he is) and getting drilled (which he can take), Chase Utley has been called everything from an old-school hero to a violent, cheating thug. It’s madness, and lots and lots of sour grapes.

I respect Noah Syndergaard for trying to handle things the way they used to be handled, and I respect Utley for not having a problem with that. The guy I can’t stand is umpire Adam Hamari, or whatever boss or supervisor encouraged him to act like that (perhaps discipline czar Joe Torre?). But maybe theirs is the way of the future, and I’m thinking like a caveman, and one day baseball will be completely free from injury and subjectivity and dramatic physical contests of any sort.

Here’s a novel idea: let’s leave it up to players who are actually risking injury.

If Alex Torres doesn’t want to get drilled by comebackers, he can wear the padded hat. If John Olerud doesn’t want to expose his surgically repaired skull, he can wear a helmet in the field. If Barry Bonds wants to hang his front elbow an inch from home plate, he can wrap it in armor. If Ruben Tejada wants to turn DPs where he can’t see the runner because of a horrible feed, he can wrap his legs in enough padding to look like the Michelin Man. If Buster Posey wants to spin into the path of a runner with his feet underneath him, let him coat his feet in lubricant so they slide instead of sticking. Let these men do whatever they want to protect themselves — and then, when they don’t, accept that as their choice.

If pitchers would rather risk brain damage than wear a silly-looking hat, then it’s not the rules that need fixing the next time a liner finds a guy’s head. If hitters eschew hand and elbow guards, then no one gets to moan about pitchers throwing inside the next time someone breaks an arm. If Tejada wants to wear his regular pants in a big spot wherein he’d attempt a blind play, then baseball is still baseball if it doesn’t work out for him.

Again, if I were a player, maybe I’d feel differently. Maybe “risk your body for the fans’ entertainment” is no more appealing on the field than it is at the steroid “clinic”. Maybe all those players telling the media “I don’t need to be coddled” are just trying to sound tough and would secretly love to be coddled. I don’t know. I’m just a fan. And as a fan, I say to Adam Hamari and Joe Torre and every other quick-trigger reactionary authority in MLB: please butt out.

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Biggest Surprises of the first Quarter

Now that the Mets are one quarter of the way through their 2016 schedule, what have we learned? Who has been better than expected? Who has disappointed? Here are my top 15 surprises so far. Chime in to the comments and let us know what’s surprised you!

The good:

Hitting homeruns

The Mets lead the National League with 60 HRs!

Asdrubal Cabrera‘s defense

I didn’t figure a shortstop with limited range could be that much of an asset. Cabrera’s been stellar on every slow-developing play, though, and his reliability (up until Thursday night) is a truly stark contrast to the Mets’ previous options at the position.

Michael Conforto seizing the #3 spot

Conforto allowed us to dream of an MVP candidate before proving himself to be as vulnerable to slumps as the next guy. Even with some inconsistency, he looks prepared for a spectacular sophomore season, hitting third for a contender. It’s still to be determined whether he can hit MLB lefties, however.

Yoenis Cespedes‘s patience

Ever since the Mets’ first homestand, Cespedes has been chasing fewer really bad pitches than in the past. With plenty of respectable hitters behind him, even a fair walk rate will help score the team some extra runs.

Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz

Thor’s stayed healthy and added weapons, while Matz has been tough for batters to square up despite inconsistent secondary stuff. It’s not a surprise that both youngsters continue to improve, but their rate of improvement has to be seen as great news.

Antonio Bastardo

After looking awful in March, and despite diminished velocity, Bastardo has been fantastic in most of his outings, getting back to his bread and butter: a fastball with the most vertical rise in MLB.

Addison Reed

94 mph and a decent-to-good slider is nothing special in today’s relief pitching. Yet Reed has racked up a ton of whiffs and gotten a bunch of late-inning leads to Familia.

Stellar relief pitching in general

Out of a group like Reed, Bastardo, Robles, Blevins, Henderson and Verrett, you expect some ups and downs. At any given moment, some will be hot, and some will be cold. Well, not so to begin 2016! In addition to Familia’s expected effectiveness, every single member of his supporting cast has been good, giving the Mets the deepest ‘pen in the league.

The bad:

Not hitting except for homeruns

The Mets are hitting .235, tied for second-worst in the NL. Their hitting with runners in scoring position is dead last at .208, and their Clutch WPA stat is 35% worse than any other team in baseball outside of Houston. We’ve seen a high number of HRs, an average number of walks, and a whole lot of choking.

Matt Harvey

Except for 6 innings against the Padres and his first 2 innings against the Reds, the guy wearing the Matt Harvey jersey has shown nothing in common with the guy who wore it in 2013 and 2015. Velocity down, command erratic, and no idea where the ball is going in the strike zone. We didn’t know it was even possible for him to be this bad with his right arm still attached.

Jacob deGrom

He’s gone from elite at 95 to merely effective at 92. This team might need him to be elite.

Wilmer Flores

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that a young player playing sporadically would struggle, but .180 with 2 RBI and bad defense is bad enough to make me wonder if he’s better off developing in the minors.

Alejandro De Aza

With that little playing time, I guess even veteran bench guys can struggle.

Travis d’Arnaud

His body can’t even survive a routine thing like throwing? It’s looking more and more like he’s too fragile for this sport. It doesn’t help his stock that the Mets’ pitch-calling and basestealer-catching improved dramatically once Travis went down.

The impossible:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Bartolo Colon steps to the plate…

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Most Important Mets of 2016: No. 3-1

After reading the replies to a recent article here on MetsToday (Who are 2016’s Ten Most Important Mets?), I’ve come up with final rankings for this exercise, which I’ll proceed through in countdown fashion. For each player, I’ll list my subjective predictions, based on watching nearly every inning and every plate appearance over the last few years. I’ll do my best to identify something that I think the national experts and pundits have missed.

First installment: Mets No. 10-7
Second installment: Mets No. 6-4

The table data below is pulled from FanGraphs. Steamer and ZiPS are two player projection systems with as good a track record as any.

 

Prelude

MetsToday voters overwhelmingly picked Yoenis Cespedes as the Mets’ most important position player, and five young arms as the team’s most important players overall. The feeling here in March seemed to be that the 2016 Mets would go as far as Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Jeurys Familia would take them.

Here on May 18, the Mets are on a pace for 94 wins, but things haven’t exactly gone as planned. Familia hasn’t blown a save, but also hasn’t dominated the way he did for most of 2015. DeGrom hasn’t been sharp and hasn’t been able to throw hard, seeing his whiff rate cut nearly in half. Harvey’s been awful. The two pitchers with the least experience, Matz and Syndergaard, have been leading the way. Are they better than Harvey and deGrom? Are they just hot right now? Are some of the Mets’ ace hopefuls on the upswing of their careers, while others, still only in their 20s, are already on the downswing? Are Harvey and deGrom, purportedly healthy, going to find it tomorrow and return to their 2013 and 2015 selves, respectively? Or are Matz and Syndergaard destined to decline soon too, from throwing too hard for seasons that run too long?

To provide some perspective on these questions, I’d like to look back 18 years to one of the great untold stories of pitching greatness, and the decline thereof, during my time as a baseball fan. I’d like to talk about Greg Maddux.

Best Pitcher Ever?
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Most Important Mets of 2016: No. 6-4

After reading the replies to a recent article here on MetsToday (Who are 2016’s Ten Most Important Mets?), I’ve come up with final rankings for this exercise, which I’ll proceed through in countdown fashion. For each player, I’ll list my subjective predictions, based on watching nearly every inning and every plate appearance over the last few years. I’ll do my best to identify something that I think the national experts and pundits have missed.

First installment: Mets No. 10-7
Third installment: Mets No. 3-1

The table data below is pulled from FanGraphs. Steamer and ZiPS are two player projection systems with as good a track record as any.

 

#6. Yoenis Cespedes

SourceGAVGOBPSLGOffDefWAR
Steamer129.256.303.4597.91.62.9
ZiPS140.270.314.50016.02.53.9

Was 2015 the beginning of a new level of performance, or a career year? I’ll guess the latter. At the time he caught fire for the Mets, Cespedes was 29 with roughly 2000 MLB plate appearances under his belt, and it’s unusual for hitters to make big improvements at that stage. We also saw his flaws in late September and October, as his free-swinging ways were more costly once his timing was no longer perfect. This is who he’d always been, and this is who I think he’ll be going forward: an extra-base hit machine who makes way too many outs. It’s nice to know how much damage he can do when he’s hot, but when he’s not, you can forget the “lineup presence” narrative. Pitchers are not scared of a guy they can get to chase pitches above and below the zone.

On the positive side, the Mets’ deep lineup and leadoff walk machine (Granderson) should help make Cespedes’s doubles and homers extremely productive. 100 RBI from Yoenis would not surprise me, and that’s saying something in today’s game.

Beyond that, I expect him to play more than the projection systems do (I don’t see any particular injury vulnerabilities, he generally plays under control), but I expect his defensive value to take a hit with more time in his less-adept position, center field.

My prediction:

GAVGOBPSLGWAR
150.267.311.4693.6

 
 

#5. Steven Matz

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Mets Game 7: Loss to Marlins

Marlins 2 Mets 1

Noah Syndergaard was utterly dominant, but the Mets again didn’t hit, and the Marlins did a better job of executing when they had to.

Mets game notes

A friend of mine was irate over the 8th inning match-up between Jerry Blevins and Martin Prado, which Prado won with a lead-grabbing sac fly. Personally, I don’t think Terry Collins botched that one — the likely alternative was Addison Reed vs Justin Bour, which I don’t like any better.

The mistakes I saw were elsewhere:

Mistake 1

By the time he’d retired Marcell Ozuna for the first out of the 8th inning, Jim Henderson had nothing left. However he might normally match up against Yelich and Stanton, Collins would have been wise to ignore that, as Henderson could no longer finish his pitches, with everything sailing up and away. Maybe that wasn’t obvious until a few pitches into the Yelich AB, but what was obvious was the health risk. 33-year-old guy coming off shoulder surgery throwing max effort in the cold and showing obvious fatigue? It wouldn’t surprise me if his Mets career is done before it even gets started.

Health risks aside, you certainly had to see the walk to Stanton coming, which pushed the winning run to 3rd. Better to have a pitcher (even a lesser one) who isn’t totally gassed in that spot.

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Mets Game 3: Win Over Phillies

Mets 7 Phillies 2

The pitching-poor Phillies showed up in Queens to subject their #4 starter and a parade of 5 relievers to the mighty NL champs, with predictable results. Good hitting from Michael Conforto and clutch hitting from Neil Walker led the way. Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom held down a Maikel Franco-free lineup, despite not having his best command. Unfortunately, he pitched through a tight lat in the 6th, and now Mets fandom must hold its collective breath.

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