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.
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Game 6: Win

Mets 7 Nationals 1

This is getting boring … win, win, win, win … it’s as if the Mets are serious about being contenders this year.

Seriously though, let’s look at what’s going on in the first six games of the year. The Mets are getting strong starting pitching performances, and hitting well. However, they are doing it against the two teams that likely will be the weakest in the National League this year. So let’s not get too excited.

The hell with it … the Mets are in FIRST PLACE … let’s get excited!

Indeed, there was a lot to be excited about in Game 6. First and foremost, Brian Bannister looked great. Hands down, great. This was definitely a better game for Bannister to remember as his first Big League win, as compared to Game Two. I’m not only understanding, but beginning to agree with the comparisons to Greg Maddux. He may not have Maddux’s command, yet, but he certainly resembles him as far as hitting spots, changing speeds, keeping cool, and throwing lots of strikes. If he pitches like this against the better teams in the NL, the Mets will have a really good shot to win the East. He could very well win 15 games and run away with the Rookie of the Year honors.

Another nice thing to see in the game was offense. Once again, we saw lots of offense. As in most of the previous games, the Mets hitters were working the count and getting good pitches to hit. True enough, the pitchers they’ve been facing have been borderline AAA quality, and they’ve been seeing a lot of meatballs over the heart of the plate. But, in 2005, the Mets would not have waited for those meatballs, and they would have struggled to beat inferior teams. This year, the Mets hitters are mashing the pitchers they should mash, and they are beating the teams they are supposed to beat.

Individually, we’re seeing continued development from Reyes and Wright, a distinct presence from Carlos Delgado, and a rebirth by Carlos Beltran. Cliffy’s timing is way off, but with Delgado, Wright, and Beltran hitting, there’s no reason for him to press. Chances are, he’ll start hitting just when one of the previously mentioned three cool off.

Speaking of cooling off, what’s up with Xavier Nady? I really hope I’m wrong about my assessment that he is an all-or-nothing streak hitter. But, I have to say I hate his hitting mechanics. His high leg kick and heavy step causes him to start his swing off-balance, unless his timing is perfect. The result is a tendency to dive into the plate and commit the hands forward too quickly. If his timing is just a hair off, he can’t meet the ball with authority. I just hope that Willie keeps Victor Diaz around a few more weeks, because he may have to take over in RF.

One negative from today’s game: Willie’s use of Billy Wagner in the ninth. The Mets had a 7-1 lead going into the final frame, and Willie brought in Billy to close out the game. Why? How is it sensible to bring in your silver bullet when you have a six-run lead? If Wagner needed work, let him do it in the bullpen, in a controlled environment, where he could throw a specific number of pitches. Instead, he struggled in the ninth, and ended up throwing over 35 pitches, probably nullifying him for tomorrow’s game. What happens if there’s a one-run lead to protect in the ninth tomorrow? Sure, Aaron Heilman and Duaner Sanchez are more than capable of closing, but you’re not paying those guys $13M a year to do that. Even if Randolph wanted Wagner to get some “game” work, he could have pulled him after 25 pitches.

There was a comment by Gary Cohen on the TV broadcast of the game, mentioning that this was a situation where the Mets could not count on Jorge Julio. Are you kidding me? They had a six-run lead! If you can’t trust Julio to hold a six-run lead, what the heck is he doing on the roster? When will you bring him in? When there’s a ten-run lead? If that’s really the case, why isn’t he on a bus on his way to Norfolk, and Heath Bell on his way back to the Bigs?

Personally, I think Julio has good stuff, and will eventually work his way into an important role here. But if he’s not going to be trusted to contribute in games like this, he may need to polish his game at the AAA level — much like Steve Trachsel did a few years back. The Mets need all the arms they can get in their quest for the playoffs this year.

Oh yeah, one more negative: Jose Valentin. I’m still trying to figure out this signing. Omar and Willie say they like his versatility, but let’s get serious: Valentin’s best two positions are SS and 3B. Wright and Reyes will play 162 games each this year, if possible, and will not be taken out at the end of games for defensive purposes. If for some reason one of them has to sit, you have Woody to play either position and Nady can play 3B. Or you have Jeff Keppinger.

Then there is the Omar/Willie defense that the guy adds leadership to the clubhouse. Are you kidding me? Isn’t that the excuse for carrying Julio Franco? And isn’t LoDuca supposed to be a leader? And Delgado? Jose Valentin looks great in a uniform. He looks very professional when addressing the pitcher in the batter’s box. And, he looks like he’ll strike out 75% of the time (but he’ll look good doing it). Yes, he’s versatile: he plays five different positions with equal inadequacy. He’s to be counted on as a late-inning pinch hitter, yet he has always been a free-swinger who misses much more often than not. And his experience and knowledge of pitchers occurred in the American League. You add all this up and wonder why in the world the Mets let Marlon Anderson walk away. Even if he did want a two-year deal, would it have choked the Mets’ budget to give it to him? What’s the difference between giving Marlon $1.5M over two years, and Valentin $1M for one year? Especially when Marlon established himself as perhaps the top LH pinch hitter in the NL, and an above-average option at several positions? OK, let’s try another scenario: let Marlon walk and give Angel Pagan a shot. Oh, never mind, Pagan is a top PH for the Cubs now. This Valentin signing is one decision that absolutely stupefies me. But, I suppose we should be happy Omar gave away a million to Valentin and not Sammy Sosa, right?

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Game 5: Win

Mets 3 Marlins 2

This was a game that the 2005 Mets would have lost. Either Looper or some other reliever would have given up the go-ahead run, and/or the Mets hitters would have simply given up. However, the 2006 Mets have solid arms in the pen, with Wagner owning the 9th, and they have a continuously developing David Wright to carry them.

Tom Glavine threw another gem, keeping the Mets in the game against the only Marlins pitcher they should lose to: Dontrelle Willis. Even though Willis is one of the top lefties in the Bigs, I was still disappointed with the Mets hitters lack of patience. The entire lineup had shown excellent pitch selection and patience through the first four games, yet were suddenly swinging early in the count vs. Willis. This shows lack of preparation and a psyche factor.

It happens often; a player knows that an elite pitcher is on the mound, and thus believes that he will have few good pitches to hit. As a result, he swings at pitches earlier in the count, believing it is the best pitch he’ll see in the at-bat and fearing getting behind in the count. This strategy is acceptable when you face a guy who can paint the corners with filthy stuff, but the truth is, there are few guys in that category. Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens, Josh Beckett, Greg Maddux (in his prime), and Mark Prior come to mind. Willis, however, is not really in that class. If you watch him, he doesn’t so much throw strikes as much as he gets batters to swing and miss. He throws a lot of breaking pitches and fastballs out of the zone, getting batters to chase. If I were Mets batting coach Rick Down, I’d have the Mets batters watch their at-bats vs. Willis before the next time they face him. They’ll be suprised to see how many bad pitches they chased, allowing him to get ahead and/or get them out.

Otherwise, it was a very well played game all around. And David Wright is my Opening Week prediction for MVP.

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Game 4: Win

Mets 9 Marlins 3

The Marlins are a team that the Mets are supposed to beat easily. Joe Girardi’s squad is really a triple-A team that happens to be playing out a Major League schedule. And the Mets did what they were supposed to do: win easily.

Steve Trachsel had a fantastic outing, using his guile and veteran status to keep the young Marlins batters off balance and confused. He registered quite a few strikeouts looking on borderline strikes. The backward K’s look good in the boxscore, but in reality most were close enough to go either way, and when a 14-year vet is facing a green rookie, the vet gets the strike. It was nice to see that for a change; personally, I spent too many years watching guys like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine get an extra two or three inches of “respect zone” against young Mets hitters. If Trachsel pitches like this all year, the Mets are a lock to finish in first.

One thing I’m really loving about the Mets hitters this year is their patience. Everyone in the lineup is taking pitches, working the count, and getting their pitch to hit. Carlos Beltran has been especially selective, and he’s hitting the ball hard all over the place. I’m guessing that the presence of Paul LoDuca and Carlos Delgado — two guys who always see a lot of pitches — have something to do with the change in approach from last year’s free-swinging Mets. David Wright, who showed remarkable patience last year, seems not even to start his at bat until after he has two strikes. Even Jose Reyes (his first-pitch leadoff double notwithstanding) is taking a bunch of pitches, to the point where he may very well walk 50 times this year. And if Jose walks 50 times, he may score 150 runs.

Perhaps as a consequence of his selectivity, Reyes is swinging the bat strong to start the year. In addition to the leadoff double — which reached the dead-center wall — he also mashed a line-drive homer into the rightfield seats. Hopefully the newfound power stroke won’t get to his head; I’d like to see a season of 8 HRs, 20 triples, 35 doubles.

The Mets looked great, all-around. The one negative was again Jorge Julio, who struggled in his one inning of work. In his Mets debut, I felt he was hit with a bit of bad luck: bad hops, some errors, some broken bat hits. Again, although the line score does not bare it out, Julio did not look that bad. Watching closely, though, it’s clear that his issue is between his ears more than anything. It’s true that bad luck seems to follow him; however, he does not deal with it well. Whereas great pitchers shrug off unusual hits, bad calls, and poorly timed errors, Julio lets these issues pile on to his shoulders. He gets visibly frustrated, loses his focus, and the ball goes all over the place. Last night, though, he did take a tiny step forward; with the bases loaded and a full count on one of the most dangerous hitters in the NL, Miguel Cabrera, Julio kept his focus and composure as Cabrera fouled off several good fastballs. Finally, Julio snapped off a nasty slider that caught Cabrera looking. Unfortunately, Mike Jacobs smashed a 2-run single on the next pitch, nullifying what would have been a scoreless, courageous inning. It could have been a huge step forward, instead it was a tiny step. If nothing else, this particular inning gives us a glimpse of what Julio is capable of producing out of the pen. He has truly electric stuff, and can dominate batters with it when his head is on straight and he’s focused on the task at hand. But when his concentration lulls, problems mount, and disasters occur. We can only hope that this inning is not a microcosm of Julio’s 2006 season, but rather an encouraging sign of better things to come as he matures.

One last note, concerning Mike Jacobs. I was a huge fan of Jacobs as a Mets minor leaguer, and never understood why they didn’t consider him as the catcher of the future. As much as I love having Delgado in the lineup, there’s a small part of me that wishes Jacobs wasn’t part of the deal, but was instead platooning behind the plate with LoDuca this year. So last night’s game was a special treat, as not only did the Mets win handily, but I got to see Jacobs drive in three runs, including one on a monstrous upper-deck shot off Trachsel. The guy exudes exceptional confidence and composure for a youngster; I really see him continuing to do big things in the future. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his HR and RBI numbers compare to Delgado’s this year — though he’ll likely strike out more, walk less, and hit for a lower average.

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Game 3: Win

Mets 10 Nationals 5

Lots of excitement, especially for only the third game of the year. First, the 2006 debut of Pedro Martinez. Pedro was not very sharp, and did not have his best stuff. But Pedro being the guile, aggressive, wiley pitcher he is, gave the Mets six good innings and the bullpen a one-run lead. Once again, Duaner Sanchez made things look easy, pitching two strong innings before giving way to the Chad, who by the ninth inning had a five-run lead and no problem holding on to the victory. In between, all kinds of emotions erupted from the players, fans, umpires, and at least one manager.

To start, the Mets hit 4 Nationals batters — the most ever in the Mets’ history for one game. Jose Guillen was hit twice by Pedro, and took a few steps to the mound after the second time. To his credit, Pedro stared him down as the home plate umpire and Paul LoDuca held Guillen back. Senor Guillen is a good hitter — probably the most dangerous hitter in the Nats’ lineup — but he ain’t too smart. Here’s a guy who crowds the plate, always stares the pitcher down after an inside pitch, complains to the press that his pitchers don’t protect him by retaliating, yet wonders why he got plunked 19 times last year and is on course to get hit 162 times this year. C’mon Jose, figure it out: you’ve made it very clear to every opponent that you don’t like pitches near your body. And so guess what they’re gonna do to mess with your head? Jose? Are you following?

To their credit — and in their defense — the Nats pitchers did try to retaliate. For example, Ramon Ortiz tried to hit David Wright; but Wright is young and spry and was able to get out of the way. And there were a few other close shaves, but the Mets hitters didn’t make a big deal out of it (the proper reaction). Even when Paul LoDuca was plunked with a purpose pitch, he calmly tossed the bat and hurried to first, not even looking in the direction of pitcher Felix Rodriguez. F-Rod was promptly tossed from the game, as was Frank Robinson, though Robbie did not leave without giving the ump a 15-minute diatribe. The beanballs back and forth, and the emotions tied to them, have set the stage for what should be a good old-fashioned rivalry between the two clubs. It will be fun to watch!

But the rivalrous raucous between the clubs was not the only emotional issue at stake. In addition, the Shea Stadium crowd continued to crow at Carlos Beltran after his first three at-bats, but the boos turned to cheers after his fourth at-bat yielded a huge 2-run homerun. The cheers were thunderous, and the crowd clamored for a curtain call. Beltran, however, refused to go out, and had to be pushed out onto the top step of the dugout by teammate Julio Franco for a one-millisecond acknowledgement. After the game, Beltran confirmed that he did not want to go out, sounding bitter about being booed earlier. Well if Beltran doesn’t quickly thicken his skin, and cover his ears, or start producing, the remainder of his 7-year contract is going to seem more like a jail sentence.

It’s clear that Beltran is sensitive, and now it’s questionable that he will be able to handle the pressure of playing in New York with a big contract. Lesser men than he have succumbed and been run out town: Ed Whitson, Bobby Bonilla, and Roberto Alomar are just a few. And there have been much better ballplayers — Reggie Jackson, Jason Giambi, and Derek Jeter immediately come to mind — who had been booed just as unmercifully, and for a longer period of time, yet were able to eventually win the fans over. In no other city does Darwin’s theory of the survival ring more true than in New York. Beltran needs to realize there was a reason that Houston and Kansas City and other small towns could not offer $119M over 7 years, and there is a lot of baggage that comes with the paycheck. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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Game 2: Loss

Anderson Hernandez makes great catchNationals 9 Mets 5

Brian Bannister made his Major League debut in front of a New York City crowd of just under 20,000, on a chilly 40-degree evening. From what we had heard and seen of him in spring training, the assumption was that Bannister was a control-type pitcher who would throw a lot of strikes. In fact, there have been some comparisons to the great Greg Maddux inasfar as his style goes.

The resulting performance was mixed. On the one hand, Bannister did not perform the way he is capable, probably due to butterflies and nerves. It wasn’t the largest crowd he’s ever played for, but it was his first Major League game, and it was in New York City. His command was nonexistent; he couldn’t find a consistent release point and was throwing his four pitches all over the place. However, he pitched nearly five innings before giving up a hit — a combination of not throwing enough strikes to allow a hit and Bannister’s gumption. More than anything else, this kid proved that he has guts and he is unflappable.

Many say that manager Willie Randolph should have pulled him before he gave up a 3-run homer to Nick Johnson in the 6th; many more say Randolph should have removed him immediately after the opposite-field blast. I disagree, and I laud Willie for leaving him in there. The kid is going to give up a lot of homeruns in his career, and he needs to know how to overcome them. And Willie needs to find out now, in the beginning of the season, if Bannister has what it takes to make it at this level; being humbled is all about a Major League pitcher’s life. So there on the mound Bannister stayed, obviously tired, without command, and having just given up a homerun to cut his 4-run lead to only one run. He had nothing, but he made it through and finished the inning.

It looked like it would have been a great story from there: rookie bounces back to finish the 6th, Sanchez and Heilman look lights-out in the bridge to the 9th, and Enter Sandman to finish the game, giving the rookie a win in his first Major League game in front of the NYC crowd that included his dad in the stands. However, a Ryan Zimmerman blast off of Billy Wagner to lead off the 9th killed the story; so much for the Sandman bringing us dreams.

In a way, it’s OK. Maybe it’s just another lesson for Brian Bannister: this is the Big Leagues, and mistakes can kill you. Maybe Bannister will look to his lack of command—whether it was due to nerves or the cold or whatever—and realize that it can’t happen again. After all, Billy Wagner only gave up one run; Bannister gave up the other three. If Bannister hadn’t hit Jose Guillen before Johnson’s homer, he might have won the game.

It would have been nice had Wagner pitched a flawless ninth, giving Bannister a win in his first game. But in Bannister’s heart he’d look back and think “you know, it wasn’t my best game, I didn’t really deserve to win it.” There’s no doubt that this kid has what it takes to win in NYC, and now that he’s gotten the first nervous game out of the way, he can move on to the next start and truly earn his first Big League win. It will be much more satisfying.

As for the rest of the team, the Mets looked pretty good. Wagner is only throwing about 92 MPH, which is why Zimmerman was able to rock him. It was a 3-2 pitch that Wagner got up in the zone; when Wagner is at 100%, that pitch is riding in at around 98-99 and blows it past the rookie. The homer doesn’t concern me. It’s early in the season, it’s cold, and Wagner is not yet Wagner. He missed significant time in spring training with the finger sheath issue, and is probably a few weeks away from his real self. By late May, he’ll be throwing BBs, and I’m fine with that.

There’s a lot of concern about Jorge Julio; the columnists and bloggers are already calling for his head. Once again, I disagree with the masses. True, he gave up a single and then a homer after getting Matt LeCroy to ground out. Well, Wagner gave up a homer just the inning before, but are we calling for his head? The, a batter reached base on a strikeout, because Julio’s ball ran about 4 feet. Yes, it’s a problem, but there is hope when you throw 95+ MPH with that kind of movement. If … and yes it’s a big if … Rick Peterson can teach Julio to harness that fastball, we’ve got a very dominating arm in pen — Brad Lidge-like dominating. True, this has been Julio’s problem all along, but he does have two things going for him: first, he did have success at one point, so he’s capable; and second, he has Peterson. In my opinion, Peterson’s ability is way overhyped. But, he’s a pair of new eyes. Sometimes, all a pitcher needs is a coach with a different perspective. Maybe Peterson will see something that other coaches did not. My fingers are crossed.

After the strikeout, the next batter bunted and LoDuca jumped on it quickly enough to peg the guy at second and initiate an inning-ending double play. Instead, Jose Reyes and Anderson Hernandez couldn’t decide who was going to cover and the ball flew into centerfield. The next batter was walked intentionally, then all hell broke loose. Julio threw a great pitch to Royce Clayton that broke his bat, but the ball trickled into CF. Schneider struck out, then Damian Jackson hit a double. It was just one of those innings where nothing goes right. It could happen to anyone. From what I understand, these innings happened to Julio all the time in Baltimore. But that’s the past, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. I truly believe that if he can make an adjustment in his mechanics, and gain a little confidence, he could be downright nasty. Time will tell.

As far as the offense went, I was happy to see the Mets show some patience and better pitch selection, particularly Reyes and Beltran. Hopefully both players will continue to be patient and watch pitches, Reyes so he can get on base and Beltran so he can get better pitches to hit. On the other side, I’m concerned about AHern, who looks greatly overmatched. He may well save 30-40 runs with his defense, but if he can’t produce at least 80-90 on offense, then the Mets need to consider Jeff Keppinger or another option at 2B. It will be very difficult to succeed with two automatic outs in the lineup.

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Game 1:Win

Soriano safe at homeMets 3 Nationals 2

A few notes regarding Opening Day …

It was an enjoyable game to watch, but hardly a solid Mets win. The Mets were very lucky to pull out a win, as there were a few calls that went the Mets way (Soriano was safe at home, but called out, for example), but more importantly, several missed executions that seem like nothing but are difference-makers over the course of a season. For example, Anderson Hernandez could not get a bunt down with no outs and a man on second base, and ended up striking out on a third-strike foul bunt. I don’t see Hernandez hitting more than .230 this year, which means he HAS TO get bunts down in order to be helpful on offense. There were also chances for Met baserunners to take an extra base and they didn’t; I’m hoping that was due to the wet grounds. On defense, aside from his game-ending assist, Carlos Beltran did an awful job of returning the ball to the infield. At least twice, he missed the cutoff man and gave the hitter or runner an extra base. Granted, there was no guarantee that hitting the cutoff man would have resulted in an out, but overthrowing the cutoff results in a guaranteed extra base. A Major League outfielder should know when he can and cannot reach a base on a fly.

Finally, the Mets’ ability to hit with runners on base looks no better than it was a year ago. There were several situations where the Mets had a runner on second with less than two out and did not get good swings. Forget about advancing the runner or driving him in; I was seeing strikeouts, popups, and weak infield grounders. Granted, it’s only the first game of the year, and perhaps it’s too early to criticize. However, these little things are called “fundamentals” and the reason they’re called fundamentals is because executing them is fundamental to winning. Great teams — winning teams — execute fundamentals consistently, not sometimes or once in a while. Watch the Braves for a few weeks and you’ll understand why they have no fans despite winning constantly: they’re boring! Rarely do you see a 12-1 win, or back-to-back homers, or four home runs in a game. Rather, you see broken-bat singles, hit-and-runs, sac bunts, runners scoring on groundball outs, and other remarkably unexciting plays. And at the end of the game, most of the time, they’re on the winning side.

On the positive side, Tommy Glavine looked great. Except for one inning where he forgot where the plate was, he threw lots and lots of strikes, and pounded the inside part of the plate to both righties and lefties, with both the fastball and the changeup. Also, both Glavine and Heilman pitched very tough with runners on third and less than two out. Heilman’s command was a little off, but he may still be pissed off about being sent back to the pen; he’ll be fine. Another great thing to see on the mound was the presence of Billy Wagner. As soon as he steps on the mound, you can feel the electricity, and you can see the other team frightened stiff. He “only” hit 95, but it’s clear that Wagner will bring a new kind of excitement to the end of ballgames this year.

In addition, I am very impressed with Paul LoDuca behind the plate. He has no arm, but he’s otherwise very solid and savvy back there. He calls a great game, in my opinion: lots of fastballs and inside pitches. I really like the way he receives the ball as well, with soft hands. I never understood writers and broadcasters who would talk about Piazza being a good defensive catcher who was discredited for a poor throwing arm. The fact is, Piazza is an awful catcher in nearly every facet. He did not call a good game, he did not block balls well, and he was very stiff behind the plate with jerky, rocklike hands. Pitchers lost a lot of borderline strikes because Piazza constantly over-framed and jerked the glove into the strike zone. Watch LoDuca, and you will see him simply hold a borderline strike right where it hits, occasionally just bringing it a hair into the zone. That’s good framing. Tom Glavine thought Questech was his bane when he came to Shea; he’ll find out this year it was Piazza, as LoDuca will coax strikes out of the majority of the borderline pitches.

I suppose I should say Xavier Nady’s hitting was a positive, but I just don’t like this guy’s bat; he looks streaky to me. Which is fine as long as he’s hot. But I’m just too much a Victor Diaz fan to give the X man credit just yet. Nady will have to really impress me, through July, to win me over.

Useless notes

I can’t decide what looks worse: Carlos Beltran’s hair or his cheesy wannabe goatee.

And what is the story with some of the ballplayers having facial hair? I thought that was a no-no in Willie’s Yankeeology. (Willie’s mustache looks really cheesy too … he needs to get rid of that with Victor Conte back in the spotlight.)

Further to the point, the Nats’ Nick Johnson has a really bad cheesy mustache himself. It looks so out of place, or like a stick-on. Meanwhile, Carlos Delgado looks like a teenager sans goatee.

Delgado, in fact, doesn’t look “right” to me. Not sure what it is, exactly. Maybe his uniform is too loose. Or maybe it’s the lack of facial hair. Or that stupid new vented helmet. His bat speed looks awesome: he’s going to hit some bombs this year. There’s just something about his appearance that’s not right. I’m wondering if someone gave him Mo Vaughn’s old uniform, and he was wearing longjohn layers underneath to keep warm.

Anyway, that’s game one. I call ’em as I see ’em.

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Heilman in the Bullpen

Aaron Heilman back to the bullpenSo now it’s official: Aaron Heilman is in the bullpen, supposedly for the good of the team. I don’t buy it.

How is this good for the team when you have Zambrano and Trachsel still in the rotation? I understand the Mets’ need to make up for the Kazmir deal and keep throwing Zambrano out there until he finally “gets” the 10-minute tutoring received from Rick Peterson. What I don’t understand is how and why Trachsel still has a job.

Yesterday, Willie Randolph was quoted as saying something to the effect of, the players know they need to do what’s best for the team, and Aaron may be unhappy but he’ll be fine with the decision because he’s a team player. Well if that’s true then again, why is Trax still on the roster? Last year he downright refused to go to the bullpen when he returned from back surgery. With the Mets already set with five starters, was that best for the team?

I have no problem with Brian Bannister being the #5 starter; in fact, I applaud it. The problem I do have, is with Zambrano and Trax #3 and #4. Get Trax out of there and insert Heilman; better to do it now than in June, when Trax is 1-8 and has re-busted his back.

Many of the fans posting on the Mets blogs are asking what the Mets owe Heilman … my question is, what do the Mets owe Tracshel? The guy is a career loser, never better than a #4 when 100%, and now 35 and coming off back surgery.

Some of the same fans are saying that Heilman’s best role for the team is to be in the bullpen because he was so dominant there last year as a setup guy in the late innings. Well guess what? That’s Duaner Sanchez’s role this year. So when does Heilman come in? The 6th? But isn’t that where Bradford, Heath Bell, and Jorge Julio will be? You wouldn’t need all these damn relievers if you had starters who could go more than 5 innings. I think Heilman has the guts and ability to be a 6-8-9-inning pitcher, if given the chance.

But of course, the naysayers point to the fact that Heilman is a two-pitch pitcher, and batters hit him after he goes through the lineup two or three times. Nonsense. First, he’s a three-pitch pitcher; he throws a slider that he didn’t need in relief outings. Second, even if he was only a two-pitch pitcher, there have been very successful starting pitchers in the past with just a fastball/changeup arsenal. Mario Soto, Tom Glavine immediately come to mind. Finally, I think every lineup in the big leagues is going to hit better against a starting pitcher in the third and fourth go-around. And I’ll take my chances with Heilman in a second, over Trachsel and Zambrano.

Unfortunately, Heilman is in a difficult predicament. If he continues to pitch well, coming out of the bullpen, the Mets will further feel justified in their decision and keep him there. If he pitches poorly, he may never get another chance to start. My greatest fear is this jerking back and forth injures his arm, and we won’t see him pitching anywhere. Let’s just hope he doesn’t become the next Tyler Yates or Grant Roberts, and be out of baseball due to arm problems by 2008. I’d rather see him anchoring the starting rotation, with Bannister, Pelfrey, and Humber right behind him.

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The LOOGY

Chad Bradford : the ROOGYFor those wondering what a LOOGY is, it’s not a gooey expectoration of the throat. Rather, it is a Lefthanded One Out GuY.

There seems to be concern in Mets’ camp over who wil retire lefthanded batters. Not sure why, other than the stupid thinking that you need a lefthanded pitcher to get lefthanded batters out. It’s an interesting theory, and if you dig enough, or manipulate enough, you’ll find numbers to support the theory. In reality, good pitching gets out good hitting, regardless of which hand is used to throw the ball.

The California Angels have earned the reputation as having one of, if not the, strongest bullpens in the Major Leagues over the last few years. They don’t have a lefty. Instead, they have great pitchers. The Mets say they can do the same, and in the next breath say they need Aaron Heilman to return to the pen partly because of his success against lefthanded hitters. What it comes down to is, Heilman is a great pitcher: he pitches well against lefties and righties.

Still, Willie Randolph is doing all he can in spring training to give looks to a plethora of less-than-adequate lefties, hoping that one will remarkably emerge as the perfect LOOGY. There is one HUGE problem with this goal: the Mets already have the Major Leagues’ only ROOGY. That’s right, the Mets have a Righthanded One Out GuY, his name is Chad Bradford. A Major League team cannot afford to have both a LOOGY and a ROOGY; it’s inefficient, stupid, and takes a bat and glove off the bench.

Another problem is the group of lefties in camp. The best of the group is Royce Ring, but Omar and Willie will never concede that fact. They have some strange, unexplainable abhorrence for Ring and righthander Heath Bell. Maybe it’s the combination of the names: Ring, Bell. Anyway, I digress…

Outside of Ring, the Mets have Pedro Feliciano, Juan Perez, and Darren Oliver auditioning for the LOOGY spot. Feliciano couldn’t cut it in the ML in the past and went to Japan, where he was only OK. Perez has spent his career in the Red Sox minor league system and not yet thrown a ball at the ML level, a scary thought considering the demand for lefthanded pitchers (Jesse Orosco is still getting calls to come out of retirement). And get this: Oliver, who was released by two teams last year, is a better pitcher against RIGHTHANDED hitters, lifetime, than against lefties!

So what should the Mets do? Forget about the LOOGY. Keep Ring around, dump the other three pretenders, and make the final week of spring training a competition among the best PITCHERS, and bring the best arms north. Wasting valuable innings on these lackluster LOOGYs is an exercise of futility.

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