Archive: April 10th, 2008

Mets Game 8: Win Over Phillies

Mets 4 Phillies 3

It took 12 innings, but the Mets were able to finish on top, beating the Phillies to take the game and the series.

Jose Reyes led off the 12th with a double off the centerfield wall, then came home on a single up the middle by Angel “Moises Who?” Pagan.

The Mets took a 3-0 lead thanks to RBI singles by Ryan Church and Carlos Beltran in the fourth and sixth, but eventually allowed the Phils to even it up.

Starter John Maine cruised through the first five and two-thirds innings, allowing no baserunners until running into a bit of a jam in the sixth, when he loaded the bases with two out before retiring Geoff Jenkins on a ground ball to end the inning. Maine gave up a homerun and a double to start the seventh, so Pedro Feliciano was brought in to relieve him.

Feliciano walked pinch-hitter Jayson Werth, but struck out the next three batters to retire the Phils without further damage.

However, Aaron Heilman immediately gave up a leadoff homer to Ryan Howard — a tremendous blast over the wall in dead center, a good 450+ feet. Heilman proceeded to load the bases (the details are too painful to reproduce here) and eventually allowed the tying run to score before inducing three outs. It was another bad outing for Aaron, but I refuse to blame him … another post on why is coming soon.

An array of Mets relievers held the fort from innings nine through 12, with Jorge Sosa the last of the mohicans and the eventual winning pitcher.

Notes

John Maine was throwing some nasty breaking balls tonight, that were dropping straight down, but I can’t tell what they are. They appear to have too much downward break to be sliders, and are too fast and low to be overhand curves. I’m going to guess it’s his splitfinger fastball / forkball, which he had previously used as an alternative change-up (Aaron Heilman uses one similarly).

Is it too early to award Shane Victorino with a Gold Glove? He’s catching every … friggin’ … fly ball out there.

Speaking of the Flyin’ Hawaiian, Brian Schneider made a PERFECT throw to nail Victorino attempting to steal in the sixth.

Angel Pagan — who went 3-for-5 and is batting .370 — is doing everything, quickly becoming a vital cog in the everyday lineup. He’s smacking the ball the other way for extra-base hits, taking pitches, dropping down perfect sac bunts, running the bases well, and fielding his position better than most. Keep it up, Angel!

Next Game

Mets host the Brewers in a 7:10 PM start at Shea. Hometown boy Nelson Figueroa makes his first start of the year against Manny Parra.

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Claudio Vargas and Dan Johnson

Yesterday when I saw the post headline on MetsBlog that said “Mets Close to Vargas, Johnson DFA’d” I thought for sure that Jason Vargas was having a splendid comeback from surgery and that Ben Johnson was being released. That Heath Bell deal was starting to sting again.

But alas, it was CLAUDIO Vargas and DAN Johnson that Matt Cerrone was talking about. Most of you know my feelings about Dan Johnson — I like him a lot as a hitter for his strike zone judgment, patience at the plate, and ability to drive the ball. Unfortunately, my opinion hasn’t helped him hit more than .250 in the bigs. And as Matt lamented, if he were a righthanded hitter he’d be a perfect fit for the Mets. Ironically, Johnson hits lefties and righties almost identically (.247 vs lefties; .249 vs. righties). With singles-hitting Carlos Delgado starting out hot, I don’t see a place for Johnson right now. Too bad, I think he’ll be helpful to someone if given the opportunity.

As for Claudio Vargas, I’m completely indifferent. The Mets need an arm — any arm — so I’m glad they’re looking at Vargas. I don’t see him being a savior but also don’t see him as any worse than Brian Lawrence.

But, since I haven’t seen enough of him with my own two eyes, I called on Jeff Sackmann of BrewCrewBall for his opinion:

Vargas is what he is — a back-rotation innings eater, probably more or less what Steve Trachsel is at this point in his career. There’s nothing there waiting to be exploited, but the flip side of that is that I wouldn’t expect him to implode and give you a 7.00 ERA for two months a la Jeff Weaver.

The Brewers just have too much better-than-Vargas starting pitching–even with Vargas gone, we’ve got a tough decision in front of us with Yovani Gallardo coming back from the DL within the next week or two. I’m a little surprised that Claudio hasn’t found a home yet. Maybe he’s holding out for more than the minor league deal with an out clause that a handful of teams are probably offering him.

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Why Change?

During the SNY broadcast last night, Ron Darling brought up the fact that Major League teams have a “systematic way” in spring training of deciding that every one of their young pitchers throw a good changeup. He added that he never was able to throw a good changeup, and therefore “might have fallen by the wayside” — and suggested that pitchers should work on the pitches they already have.

Interesting to hear this from Ron, who was quite successful because of changing speeds — though, instead of using a straight change, used instead a forkball and an overhand curve.

On the one hand, I agree that it is important for young pitchers to work on their current pitches — the idea being that one can improve more quickly by focusing on strengths rather than spending time bridging the gap between strengths and weaknesses. However, I’m 100% behind the idea of forcing youngsters to work on a change-up in this day and age — mainly because so few of them have an offspeed pitch.

In Ron’s day, pitchers were more complete with their repertoire — if they didn’t throw a change, they threw the forkball or a palmball or “foshball” or some other variation of a changeup. Further, while the slider was prevalent, many more pitchers threw an overhand curveball back then than they do now. So back then, it wasn’t as vital to teach a kid to change speeds — he already had a pitch that was significantly slower than his fastball. Today, however, we see a number of “shortcut” pitchers — guys who have a blazing fastball and mix it with a cutter or a slider, but have no curve nor change.

Mike Pelfrey is an ideal example of a shortcut pitcher — someone who is force-fed to the bigs by focusing on his main strength, and adding the easiest pitch to develop quickly (a slider). This strategy gets batters to swing and miss over the short term, but eventually they catch on — see: Jorge Sosa. The most successful pitchers of this and every other era were those who threw at more than one speed.

Yesterday’s game was a good example of how changing speeds leads to success. Mike Pelfrey was pounding the bottom part of the strike zone with his fastball, but was able to get strikeouts because he was mixing in a slider that often was being used as a change-up — I’m talking about the occasions that it was thrown at 84-85 MPH, or about 8 MPH slower than his 92-93 MPH fastball. Pelfrey turned Chase Utley into a pretzel on a strike three slider early in the game not because of the movement of the pitch but because of the slower speed; Utley had been “sitting on” or timing his fastball.

Hopefully, Big Pelf can keep his slider in that 84-85 range while also keeping the fastball around 93 MPH, because a pitcher needs to have around 7-10 MPH difference to keep batters off balance. The only thing I don’t like about the strategy of using the slider as a change of pace is that it flattens — and fattens — when thrown as a strike (the slider is meant to be thrown off the plate, out of the strike zone). To see an example, simply watch Jorge Sosa … he’ll serve up a nice flat fat one for the fences fairly frequently.

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