Archive: April 25th, 2008

Mets Game 21: Loss to Braves

Braves 6 Mets 3

The Mets garnered TWO hits all night — one from Marlon Anderson, the other from Raul Casanova, both coming in the third inning — as they were beaten to a pulp by the mighty Braves.

Jair Jurrjens — who began the season as the Braves’ #5 starter — shut down the Mets lineup through six innings, his only struggle coming in the third inning when he walked four straight batters. Although, from my seat, it looked as though the home plate umpire may have been squeezing him during that four-walk episode; in any case, he wasn’t far away from the strike zone.

The Mets were only able to score because of Jurrjens’ temporary control issues. The bats were feeble and lifeless.

Mike Pelfrey was not great, but I’m not going to get on him for a poor outing. This kid has no business being at the MLB level right now, his most recent two starts notwithstanding. Considering that he is a fifth starter who throws one speed, we can’t expect him to pitch seven innings of shutout ball every time out. It’s not fair. Big Pelf should be at AAA right now honing his command and working on a legitimate offspeed pitch.

We could detail the Braves’ scoring here but I don’t have the energy nor desire to do so. If you missed the game, here is the boxscore and play-by-play.

Notes

Pelfrey did not look good from the first batter of the game (Kelly Johnson walked). There was something amiss about Big Pelf’s face and body language — he appeared, to my instincts, to be unsure about himself.

Willie Randolph looks like he’s aged a few years in the last few weeks. I wonder if he’s starting to worry about his job, despite what he says to the contrary.

Not clear on why Duaner Sanchez was brought into this game, down three runs and the bats asleep. Did Willie Randolph really believe the hitters would miraculously wake up and score three runs in the ninth?

Carlos Delgado was given a day off, and Marlon Anderson was spectacular in that he had half of the Mets’ hits.

What’s with Harold Reynolds on the SNY postgame? I’ve never been much of a fan, although I was happy to see him a bit more calm and controlled than the hyped up caricature ESPN made him be. Also happy to see that SNY put an african-american on the postgame show for once. Lee Mazzilli’s George Hamilton tan and Sicilian background didn’t quite fill that void.

I keep telling myself it’s very early in the season, it’s not even May yet, but the initial “feeling” of this year’s Mets has my stomach queasy.

After losing the opening game of the series, the Mets will now face Tim Hudson and John Smoltz over the weekend. Talk about an uphill battle.

Next Game

John Maine goes against Tim Hudson at 1pm. The highlight of the day might be the bloggers roundtable on Mets Weekly prior to the game.

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Throw Stuff at the TV Screen

Personally, I’ve been tempted to throw things at the TV screen during Mets games … especially lately.

Tomorrow afternoon between 12:30 and 1pm, you have another opportunity (in addition to the game) to throw stuff at the screen. That’s when Mets Weekly will be on SNY, and you’ll get to see and hear more blasphemies spew from my mouth during a “Blogger Roundtable” with Ted Berg of SNY, Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog, Anthony De Rosa of Hot Foot, and “Coop” of My Summer Family (and a frequent commenter here, BTW).

We five geniuses will be discussing the “cornerstones of the Mets”, Jose Reyes and David Wright, and Groucho Berg will be without the facial accoutrement he received at Keith Hernandez Mustache Day last year (however you will see me with the paste-on Peter Fonda sideburns).

If you miss the 12:30pm showing tomorrow, you can catch the rerun at random times during the week.

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What’s Wrong with Heilman?

If you are one of those fans who has come to hate Aaron Heilman (for example, if you refer to him as “poopyface” or something less family-friendly), then please don’t bother reading further — your opinion likely can’t be changed at this point.

The rest of you, who have at least a glimmer of hope in the righthander, can continue on, consider my analysis, and provide your own below.

Let’s get one thing established: I’m a huge fan of Aaron Heilman, and thus I tend to be an apologist / defender, and perhaps my opinion is slightly biased. So take my analysis with a grain of salt.

First, I don’t think there is any one thing “wrong” with Aaron. He still touches 96-97 on the gun with a hard sinking fastball. His change-up still has good bite and ideal speed (about 10 MPH less than the fastball). I don’t believe there are any demons in his head lurking back to the 2006 NLCS — if that were so, how do you explain his spectacular pitching during the second half of ’07? Finally, he doesn’t appear to be injured (yet … but give Willie time, he’ll Proctorize him evetually).

Second, I think it is a huge mistake to bunch all of Aaron’s poor performances into one basket and say he stinks, because again, there isn’t one specific issue that caused the demise in those ballgames. Rather, if you analyze his appearances individually — and analyze, rather than react to the outcomes — you’ll see different reasons for those “bad games”. (No, I will not detail each appearance here, unless a dozen of you beg me to do so.)

For example, in some of those outings, the problem was fatigue, which caused his arm angle to drop, which caused his hand to get under the ball at release, which caused the ball to fly up higher in the strike zone than he intended. Cause and effect. Fatigue happens when your manager trots you out to the mound 12 times in the first 18 games of the year. At that pace, Heilman would appear in 108 games by the end of the season, breaking Mike Marshall’s MLB record of 106. Fatigue also occurs when you pitch with no days’ rest four times, and with one day’s rest six times, within a three-week period. So we can blame some of those bad outings on overuse (I call it “abuse”).

More recently, however, the issue is his location — which is not the same as command. If his target was set up in one spot, and his pitches were ending up elsewhere, we could surmise he had a control problem. For the most part, he doesn’t, and lately I’m baffled by the pitch-calling — which has to be due to Brian Schneider’s absence behind the dish. When Schneider is out, I’m not sure who’s calling the pitches — Raul Casanova? Heilman? Rick Peterson? Randolph? — but whoever it is, he needs to re-think his strategy.

In the Cubs game on the 21st, Heilman was pounding the inside of the plate with his fastball, but in last night’s loss I didn’t see one pitch inside. Casanova was setting up outside so it wasn’t a matter of command — whoever was in charge of pitch-calling was continually calling pitches on the outside part of the plate. I do understand that there are scouting reports that specify each batter’s weaknesses and strengths, and that it’s a good idea to expose a weakness. However, that doesn’t mean you continually pitch to that one specific location over and over and over. Case in point: Lastings Milledge. Everyone and his brother knows Milledge can’t hit junk off the outside of the plate. Fine. But after throwing six offspeed pitches out there in a row, even Milledge is smart enough to realize the plan. How about freezing him with that 96-MPH fastball in on his hands, after you have him leaning and diving over the plate and thinking the ball’s coming in at 84-86? Instead the full-count fastball was called on the outside, it missed its mark (because Heilman’s best fastball is a sinker that moves inside, not outside), and Milledge walked, setting up the grand slam. That granny, by the way, was poor location in that it was a belt-high changeup over the middle of the plate — but it never would have gotten to bases loaded, full count, had Milledge been fed an inside heater in his at-bat.

Of course, there is little excuse for the location of the pitch that Felipe Lopez hit for the grand slam — it was a belt-high changeup over the heart of the plate — and Lopez was sitting dead-red on the change. But you can’t look at that one pitch and say, “oh, Heilman has to shelve that changeup, it sucks”; or, “Heilman stinks, he’s always giving up homeruns” — because it’s not always that simple. While you are drowning down a beer and a hot dog, chatting with your buddy next to you, and texting your significant other, there are small, barely noticeable nuances in the ballgame that build to the eventual outcome (don’t tell the sabremetricians that, though, because they can’t measure that stuff and therefore dismiss it). Baseball cannot be measured solely on individual outcomes — you have to watch what’s happening before to understand why they occurred. In many ways, baseball games are like movies; if you miss ten or fifteen minutes of the plotline, you may not understand why the flick ended the way it did.

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Basics: Bunting

While commenting on a replay of Oliver Perez dropping a beautiful sacrifice bunt in the third inning, Ron Darling brought up a fundamental that I don’t necessarily agree with. Darling said that you should hold the bat at chest level, and if the ball is above it, you let the ball go because it will be a ball.

However, I have always taught (and been taught) the exact opposite: to hold the bat at the bottom of the strike zone, and let the ball go if it’s below. The thinking behind this, is that you are more likely to bunt the ball on the ground — and less likely to pop it up — if you move up to the pitch than if you move down to it.

Generally speaking, when bunting, you want to “catch” the ball with the bat, with the bat parallel to the ground or at slight angle that has the barrel slightly higher than the handle — this position gives you the best chance to put the ball on the ground.

Now, with that in mind, if you start the bat in a high position, and the pitch is low, you have a tendency to change the angle of the bat and drop the barrel too low — a position that promotes a popup. On the other hand, if you start the bat low and parallel to the ground, then raise it up to a pitch, you have a better chance of getting the ball on the ground. It’s all about angles and reaction time; if a pitch suddenly darts down — as many pitches do (sinkers, sliders, curves, splits) — you may move your bat too quickly and get under the pitch (or drop the barrel and produce an angle that causes a popup). In contrast, there is no such thing as a pitch that rises (the “rising fastball” is an optical illusion), so if a pitch is higher than the bat, it’s probably going fairly straight and it is easier to adjust the level of the bat. Even if the pitch is so high it is out of the strike zone, it might still be a good pitch to bunt — if you raise the bat properly.

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Mets Game 20: Loss to Nationals

Nationals 10 Mets 5

The Mets suck.

They can’t hit, they can’t pitch, they can’t field, and they give up after falling behind (same as last year) — against the worst team in baseball. Can’t wait to see what happens against the Braves this weekend.

Notes

David Wright made a spectacular play in the Nats’ three-run fifth on a sharp grounder by Ryan Zimmerman to save a run and get the third out.

As expected, Brady Clark was DFA’s to make room for catcher Gustavo Molina, while doctors figure out what’s going on with Brian Schneider’s infected thumb.

Home plate umpire Darryl Cousins was inconsistent with pitches on the right edge of the plate, which led to several strike-three lookings for both sides. For example, right before his RBI hit in the fourth, Ollie Perez appeared to have taken strike three on the inside corner — yet that same pitch was called strike three on Luis Castillo earlier and on David Wright later.

For those who were concerned about Luis Castillo — and Castillo’s presence in the two spot — you should have been happy to see him walking, hitting, driving in runs, stealing bases, and running wild.

The Mets finally retired a runner at third on a bunt back to the pitcher, in the sixth. Ollie jumped off the mound like a cat, D-Wright retreated to the bag, and Wily Mo Pena was retired easily.

Lastings Milledge was benched in favor of lefthanded-hitting Willie Harris against the lefthanded Perez. Strange. LMillz did appear in the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth, to face righthander Aaron Heilman.

Speaking of, once again I’m baffled by Raul Casanova’s location choice with Heilman on the mound and two strikes on the batter. Heilman had gone to the outside part of the plate on every pitch to Milledge, went full count, and then — after not throwing any fastballs — went to the fastball on the outside part of the plate. Why??? The whole strategy of going with soft stuff on the outside against a hitter is to set him up for a fastball on the INSIDE. Heilman had not thrown a pitch faster than 87 to Milledge at that point, and had pounded the outside corner. His 3-2 fastball — again on the outside — was clocked at 96 MPH. Had that pitch been put on the INSIDE corner, Milledge would not have had a chance in hell of getting around on it — not after being lulled into soft stuff on the outside. As it was, Milledge walked, and the next batter Felipe Lopez blasted a grand slam on another 3-2 pitch. My opinion? Raul Casanova is clueless when it comes to calling a game — or, he’s getting really bad information from the bench (it’s possible the pitches are being called from the dugout).

Carlos Delgado has officially become an albatross. He has absolutely no idea what to do at the plate — he’s flailing weakly at first pitches with no plan whatsoever — and has become worse (yes, it’s possible) in the field. In the seventh, he allowed a slow grounder to slip under his glove (the official scorer should be shot — twice — for scoring it a hit), and then let another one get past him one batter later. The second one didn’t look as bad, until you watch the replay and see that the runner was only a few feet away from Delgado and was trying to get out of the way of the ball while Delgado didn’t even make an effort. In the eighth, umpire Angel Hernandez was so shocked that Carlos caught a line drive that he called “fair” before calling “out”. Carlos, I have the utmost respect for you, and it’s time to pack it in. Either make an effort to improve, or retire. Get out of the way.

Next Game

The Mets face Atlanta, with Jackson Todd going for the Mets against Phil Niekro of the Braves. Skip Lockwood should be fresh and available out of the pen. Joel Youngblood might be starting at 2B in place of Doug Flynn to add a little more punch to the lineup.

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