Browsing Archive January, 2011

19 DUPACR: Anthony Young

Before we go any further, I need to make something clear: the player I pick to commemorate each day in this countdown is not necessarily someone who is the “best” Met to ever wear that number. In many cases (if not most), in fact, it’s quite the opposite. My apologies for not setting the ground rules ahead of time; this countdown idea came about as a whim during one snowy afternoon while reading the Mets By The Numbers book (there’s also the MBTN website, which is equally entertaining), and I didn’t put much thought into how I’d pick the players. As it is turning out, it is a very personal — and maybe selfish — series, focused on players who stick in my head for one crazy reason or another. (For example, Jackson Todd because of his fight with cancer; Pete Harnisch because of his loose tie to my alma mater.)

That said, I strongly encourage you to use the comments section to post your memories of the players who stick in your head for personal reasons. And/or, suggest your choice for the Met most worthy of representing the number of the day. This blog is supposed to be a conversation WITH YOU, not a one-way communication AT YOU.

So, without further adieu, I bid you Anthony Young as the player to represent the 19th Day Until Pitchers And Catchers Report.

Bobby Ojeda was without question a better pitcher than Young, and he was nearly the man I chose for his savvy, gritty pitching and leadership in 1986. Tim Foli was on the short list as well, partially because anyone with the nickname “Crazy Horse” has to be in the conversation (where did all the nicknames go?). Heath Bell almost made the cut for his constant shuttling between Flushing and Norfolk. And, Lino Urdaneta was considered because of his ERA of infinity.

But in the end, it’s Anthony Young, mainly because I will never, ever forget his 27-game losing streak, and feel it is something that (I hope) will never, ever be broken nor duplicated.

Think about it: how bad do you have to be to lose 27 games in a row? Or: how good do you have to be to lose 27 games in a row and still be in the big leagues?

What’s also rather interesting is that Young broke a record of 19 straight losses previously held by a pitcher named Craig Anderson. When I say “record”, I mean it was both a Mets record and an MLB record — Anderson appeared in 57 games for the Mets from 1962 to 1964. What are the chances that such a significant record of futility would be held by two pitchers for the same franchise in two vastly different eras? Only the Mets.

Again, there are many other #19s more worthy of the honor — please post your nominations, and supporting reasoning (even if it’s personal) — below.

The countdown thus far:

#19 Anthony Young
#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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20 DUPACR: Howard Johnson

Like yesterday’s choice for #21, I might have gone for someone from further in the past here, such as Tommie Agee — had I seen him play. For those who did have the good fortune of watching Agee “in the flesh”, please post your memories in the comments.

Howard Johnson gets the nod primarily because he was the best power-hitting switch-hitter in Mets history, and one of the best all-time. OK, I don’t really have any specific numbers to back up the “all-time” proclamation; but I also can’t think of anyone other than Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray who was as serious a slugger — even if HoJo’s run was much shorter than those HOFers.

HoJo was the Mets’ first 30-30 guy — and remains one of only four players in MLB history to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season three times. His switch-hitting prowess was unprecedented in the NL — he was the first switcher to lead the NL in RBI (as well as the first Met to do so), the first to lead in RBI and HR in the same season, and hit more HR in the NL than any other switch-hitter in history — until a steroid-enhanced Ken Caminiti passed him.

As it turned out, the trade of Walt Terrell to Detroit for Johnson worked out OK for the Mets. Of course, the Tigers could afford to give away HoJo — they had the great Tom Brookens entrenched at 3B and had two future “superstars” (per Tigers manager Sparky Anderson) named Chris Pittaro and Torey Lovullo ready to take over.

There’s one negative thing about Howard Johnson, though, that sticks with me: even though he was part of the ’86 team, his career as a Met was marked by under-achievement. Not because of HoJo, of course — if anything, HoJo was an OVER-achiever. But the third baseman on the 1986 Mets, to me, was Ray Knight, with Johnson as an understudy. And after Knight left, leaving the hot corner to Johnson, the Mets perpetually underachieved, until they reached the beginning of a very dark period in their history. Again, this was no fault of HoJo’s — if anything, he was their saving grace. But looking back at those teams from 1987 – 1993, I see first grave disappointment, followed by an out-of-control downward spiral. Through it all, HoJo was the one shiny, exciting piece of an otherwise drab product, and deserved better for his effort, selflessness, and performance. Had things gone as they should have, Howard Johnson would be remembered as the greatest third baseman in Mets history, but instead, the memory is littered with visions of his awkwardness attempting to play shortstop and centerfield — the Kelly Leak of a Bad News Bears club falling apart around him.

In addition to HoJo and Agee, other #20s that were considered for various, unfathomable reasons included Choo-Choo Coleman (for his nickname, of course), John Pacella (for his hat falling off his head), Shawn Green (see John Pacella), Victor Diaz (remember “Mini-Manny”?), Ryan Thompson (still waiting for him to become a 5-tool superstar), and Jeromy Burnitz.

The countdown thus far:

#20 Howard Johnson
#21 Gary Rajsich
#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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21 DUPACR: Gary Rajsich

This one is bound to raise some eyebrows, I’m sure.

Why in the world would I commemorate the 21st Day Until Pitchers And Catchers Report with someone who appeared in merely 91 ballgames as a Met, and most of it as a pinch-hitter?

All I can say in my defense is, you had to be there.

Without question, Cleon Jones and Carlos Delgado are better choices for #21 honors. But my memories of Jones are fuzzy, since I was only four years old in his last full season as a Met. And my memories of Delgado are much too clear. Kevin Elster was a candidate, but there was something creepy about him that made me uncomfortable (beyond his admission to sleeping with his bat). Elliott Maddox very nearly made the headline, but how could I honor someone who sued my beloved / behated Shea Stadium? Gerald “Ice” Williams also nearly made it, but it turned out that he was, in fact, Gerald “Ice” Williams.

So the choice was Rajsich — not for what he was, but for what he was supposed to be.

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22 DUPACR: Ray Knight

There are 22 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report. Thus we honor former #22 Ray Knight.

Choosing Knight was fairly easy, since he is one of my favorite all-time Mets, for his grit, hustle, fire, and hard-nosed play. He got dirty, he was a gamer, he played with fierce passion, he hated to lose, he was unselfish, a team player, and he beat the crap out of Eric Davis. Oh, and he was a pretty decent player, too, able to play multiple positions more than adequately and providing some pop at the plate. His career numbers don’t look spectacular compared to the hitters of today, and he didn’t hit for enough power to justify being a corner infielder, but he had a few strong seasons where his average was around .300 and his OPS in the .750-.800 range. In short, he was “a ballplayer”, and enjoyable to watch — especially in 1986, when he came through with clutch hits time after time.

And the clutch thing isn’t just my romantic side remembering things the way I want to remember them. Sure, I vividly remember him scoring the winning run in Game 6 while Vin Scully screamed “gets by Buckner!”, and hitting the game-winning HR in Game 7. But that’s the way it went with Ray Knight all year. If you check the stats, you’ll see Knight hit .357 with a .827 OPS with runners in scoring position. With two outs and RISP, he hit .396 with a .899 OPS. Two outs and a man on third, he hit .381 with a .519 OBP and .899 OPS. With the bases loaded, he hit .400. With a man on second, he hit .375 with a .964 OPS. In “late and close” situations, he hit .325 with a .839 OPS. In tie ballgames, he hit .342 with .872 OPS. My eyes saw a clutch player, my memories echo what I saw, and the stats bear the proof: 1986 was a magical year for Ray Knight, as it was for all Mets fans.

Other #22s who were considered include Kevin McReynolds, Donn Clendenon, Michael “Mother” Tucker, Hank Webb, Al Leiter, Mike Jorgensen, Xavier Nady, and Dale Murray.

And by the way, the boys at AmazinAvenue have anointed Al Leiter as their #22 — not a bad choice, either.

The countdown thus far:

#22 Ray Knight
#23 Doug Flynn
#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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Ike Davis: Mets LOOGY?

With Pedro Feliciano moving on to pitch for the Yankees, the Mets have brought in a so-so selection of lefties to audition for his LOOGY spot: Michael O’Connor, Taylor Tankersley, and Tim Byrdak. You might even throw Chris Capuano, Oliver Perez, and Pat Misch into the conversation, as well as minor leaguers Roy Merritt, Eric Nieson, Mark Cohoon, and Robert Carson.

How about Ike Davis?

Crazy, right? But in the deep dark winter, irrational, unrealistic thoughts tend to enter my mind. I’ve even thought my joke post to reverse the game could be considered seriously.

The idea is that Davis would be able to enter an inning on the mound to face one lefthanded hitter, then go to first base when a righty came up, then return later that inning or later in the game to face another lefty. Using Davis as a LOOGY would open up a roster spot, and allow the Mets to set up more lefty-lefty matchups in a game.

Think about it: bringing in a LOOGY to face Ryan Howard and Chase Utley not once a game, but twice — or three times! Or, bringing in a LOOGY, only to have the opposing manager counter with a RH pinch-hitter, and then slipping in a ROOGY to counter-counter — while still keeping your LOOGY available because he’d be moved to 1B.

Of course, there are some issues to work out, such as getting Davis enough warmup pitches prior to the inning in which he’d be used. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of whether he’d be good enough to retire MLB hitters.

But the idea isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds, considering that Davis — son of former late-inning reliever Ron Davis — was a pretty good pitcher in college. He started 12 games in his freshman year at Arizona State, and was an effective reliever in his junior year, winning 4 games, saving 4, striking out 30 batters in 24 innings, and posting a 0.88 WHIP. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at, as they were put up in the always-tough PAC-10 Conference. Davis was originally recruited as a DH / pitcher by ASU, and was used in the outfield because of his rifle arm. In fact, the reason he is a first baseman is because he was put there by ASU to keep his arm fresh for closing games. Here is a snippet from a Baseball America scouting report from 2005, written during his senior year in high school and prior to the June draft:

Davis had realistic expectations of going in the first round, both as a pitcher and hitter coming into the year, but he had a disappointing spring, in both roles, as Chaparral won a third straight state title. While he has excellent bat speed and continued to hit for average (.447), he drove balls only in spurts, which magnified his lack of speed and athletic ability. His velocity also slipped. It settled into the high 80s this spring after being 87-91 and touching 92 in the past. But he still gets exceptional movement from a three-quarters angle. Scouts are split on where to play Davis, but most see greater upside on the mound. His father, on the other hand, wants him to be an everyday player. The debate could benefit Arizona State, which recruited him to play both ways and has penciled him in as its starting first baseman for 2006.

I didn’t see him pitch at ASU, so have no idea whether he had big-league stuff. From what I’ve heard, he threw at least in the low 90s during his junior year, but don’t know what he did for secondary stuff. If he threw in the mid- to high-90s, he wouldn’t necessarily need other pitches in a LOOGY role (but then, he likely wouldn’t have been drafted as a first baseman, either).

It’s been only a little over two years since Ike Davis last pitched competitively, so he wouldn’t have too much rust to shake off. Why not put him on the mound and see what he can do? If he can find the plate with his fastball and mix in a slider, he’ll have enough to be a LOOGY. In spring training, have him spend about 15 minutes to a half-hour a day throwing off a mound under the close watch of Dan Warthen. What’s the worst that can happen?

Hat tip to Murph, who inspired this post by his comment over the weekend.

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23 DUPACR: Doug Flynn

There are 23 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report to spring training. To commemorate the day, we honor Doug Flynn, who wore #23 for the Mets from 1977-1981.

Why Doug Flynn? Because, in so many ways, Flynn symbolized what the Mets were in the late 1970s and early 80s: offensively feeble, defensively steady yet unspectacular, uninspiring overall, and displaying a lack of something to look forward to.

That’s not necessarily a knock on Flynn, who had his moments and was — frighteningly — something of a bright spot during very dark days in the franchise’s history. But Flynn was a major link to the glorious past, being a key component in the Tom Seaver trade of 1977.

The Mets traded “The Franchise” for Flynn, Steve Henderson, Pat Zachry, and Dan Norman. At the time, Seaver was the best pitcher in baseball — the Roy Halladay of his time, and already considered a future HOFer. You might want to compare the package the Blue Jays received for Halladay, but it’s not quite the same as apples to apples, considering the complexity of contracts and financials of today’s game — there were only a few teams in MLB who could afford Halladay, and had both the wherewithal and desire to obtain him (and extend his contract). Back in 1977, Seaver was well-paid, and, like Halladay, would require a contract extension (which was the crux of why the Mets jettisoned him), but would have easily fit into the budgets of at least 20 teams, if not all 25 not playing in Flushing. So, when the Mets fetched a package headlined by Flynn, Zachry, and Henderson, it was, well … underwhelming. More frustrating is when you look back and realize Flynn — who never hit higher than .255 — might have been the best of the lot.

One thing Flynn could do was play defense. Originally a shortstop, he had above-average range, soft hands, a strong arm for a second baseman, and was masterful at turning the double play. He wasn’t the type who regularly made diving stops for the highlight reels, but he rarely made errors when playing 2B (he tended to make more miscues while playing SS, something he did frequently in ’77 and ’78). Flynn was our defensive whiz on a team devoid of whiz kids. With a bat in his hand, though, was another story.

Flynn did two things well as a hitter: he could lay down a sacrifice bunt and he could make quick outs. Since he batted eighth exclusively, his ability to bunt wasn’t terribly helpful. Grounding out meekly on the first or second pitch he saw, however, helped those depressing games go by more quickly — so we can thank him for that. His offensive prowess is properly communicated by his stats:

Back then, his stats looked bad. Today, now that we look at things like OBP and OPS, one wonders how he stuck around MLB for 11 years. Check out his walk totals in particular — and be sure to compare them to his intentional walks (IBB)! Even though he batted eighth, you have to wonder why opposing pitchers found it necessary to walk him in order to get to the pitcher’s spot; Mark Bomback had a higher OPS than Flynn in 1980.

As a person, Doug Flynn was hard not to like — humble, easygoing, always complimentary on the rare occasions he was quoted. He played hard, always hustled, and had good fundies. He also was a semipro country singer in the offseasons, and contributed his time and money to many community / charitable services. An underwhelming hitter, but a good guy.

Ironically, Flynn after his MLB career ended, he became a beast of a hitter in professional slo-pitch softball. That’s no joke — he played in slo-pitch softball exhibition games during the 1988 Summer Olympic Festival and was inducted into the Kentucky Softball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Other #23s up for consideration included Pat Mahomes, Bernard Gilkey, Julio Franco, Marlon Anderson, Brian Giles (another good-field, no-hit 2B), and Tim Bogar.

Bogar, by the way, is the root of the longest-running active link of Mets trades. He was traded in 1997 for Luis Lopez, who was traded in 2000 for Bill Pulsipher, who was traded for Lenny Harris, who was part of the deal for Jeromy Burntiz, who was traded for, among others, Victor Diaz, who was traded in ’07 to the Rangers for Mike Nickeas. This trivia was supplied by the book Mets By The Numbers, which was the inspiration for this series.

The countdown thus far:

#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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Mets Sign Hairston, Byrdak, and Boyer

Tim Byrdak catches two fish

Mets' big catch Byrdak poses with his own big catch

Sandy Alderson and his Fantasy Front Office began the offseason like a lamb, but is going out like a lion. After months of ho-hum-drum transactions / inaction, the Mets are really turning up the heat on the hot stove, picking up high-impact AAA players like it’s nobody’s business. If you are considering purchasing season tickets, hurry over to Mets.com and reserve your package now, because this past week’s rash of acquisitions is sure to motivate fans throughout the tri-state area to buy up every last seat in Citi Field.

As if the signings of Chris Young, Willie Harris, and Taylor Tankersley weren’t enough to bowl you over, the Mets have followed up that trio with another triumphant triumvirate: Scott Hairston, Tim Byrdak, and Blaine Boyer.

Hairston is the younger, taller, less-skilled, non-enhanced brother of Jerry Hairston, Jr. He plays the outfield and second base with equal adequacy, and hits the ball infrequently. When he does make contact, he occasionally sends the ball over a fence — he blasted 10 homers in only 295 at-bats last year, while posting a .210 average and .295 OBP. He had a career year in 2009, with 17 homeruns, .265 AVG, .305 OBP in 116 games and 464 plate appearances. With too many offensive-minded outfielders already on the roster, the Padres had no room for the soon-to-be 31-year-old slugger, and the Mets are the beneficiary of their surplus. Yet another brilliant, under-the-radar move by those very smart and efficient people in the front office. This strategy of exploiting market inefficiencies is so exciting!

Byrdak is a similarly smart move — I know this because the Mets made it, and everyone keeps telling us how smart they are now. Byrdak is one of those little old ladies lefties who everyone undervalues just because he has underwhelming stuff, walks too many people, gives up too many hits, and allows too many homeruns. What people forget is that in his 9-year MLB career, he twice averaged more than one strikeout per inning, and he limits lefthanded hitters to minuscule batting averages (righties rake him, but as long as he doesn’t face any, everything will be fine).

Boyer might be more interesting if his first name was Ken or Clete, instead of plain Blaine, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Interestingly, Boyer is basically the mirror image of Byrdak, in that he is murderous on righthanded batters, but gets killed by lefthanded batters. I’m wondering if the Mets can teach both of them to play first base, and then in the late innings, switch them back and forth between 1B and the mound depending on the batter’s handedness? If not, I suppose Terry Collins can politely request that the opposing manager not use pinch-hitters.

Strangely, neither Boyer nor Byrdak have had serious arm surgery within the past two years — which seems to be inconsistent with another market inefficiency being exploited by Alderson. However, if you look back far enough into their histories, you’ll learn that Byrdak did undergo Tommy John surgery in 2001, and Boyer had shoulder surgery in 2006 … so there you go.

All sarcasm aside, Boyer and Byrdak are perfectly fine, low-risk, mild-reward signings that could turn out quite well. Byrdak, in particular, has been something of a late bloomer, re-making himself into a crafty and efficient LOOGY in his mid-30s — kind of like the one-batter version of Jamie Moyer. He throws a four-seam fastball that rides in the 88-89 range and occasionally breaks 90; a running, sinking, two-seamer that’s a few MPH slower; a slider; and a forkball that he uses to change speeds. His varied repertoire has the potential to keep batters off balance, but because he doesn’t have great velocity on his heater nor great bite on his slider, his effectiveness is dependent on keeping the ball away from the plate and hoping batters extend their strike zone; therefore, he tends to walk too many batters.

As for Boyer, he was a top prospect in the Braves’ organization until the shoulder problems and eventual surgery briefly detoured his career. It took about 2-3 years for him to regain his velocity, which can get up into the 95-96 MPH range on occasion. He mixes in pretty good overhand curve and a hard slider, and was a workhorse for Bobby Cox in 2008, appearing in 76 games. However, he tends to get hit hard, as his fastball is pretty straight and control inconsistent — a combination that leads to frequent meatballs. He kind of reminds me of Brian Bruney.

Regarding Hairston, I don’t get it. Like Willie Harris, he can play both 2B and CF in a pinch, but probably best suited to left field, and isn’t going to offer much on offense. Harris hits from the left side and Hairston from the right, so I suppose they complement each other. But it would’ve been more efficient to get switch-hitting Delwyn Young to do the same thing, no? (Young was signed by the Phillies earlier this month.)

I know that neither Hairston nor Harris are going to be difference-makers, and their purpose is to provide depth, but my concern is they will be taking reps away from Nick Evans, who is out of options and will need to really wow Terry Collins in order to make the team.

In related news, the Mets DFA’d outfielder Jason Pridie and pitcher Tobi Stoner to make room for Hairston and Chris Young. Not a huge deal; I was actually surprised that Pridie and Stoner were on the 40-man roster in the first place.

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24 DUPACR: Kelvin Torve

With 24 Days Until Pitchers And Catchers Report, we will label this day with Kelvin Torve, who briefly wore #24 for the Mets in 1990. What? No Willie Mays?

Willie was probably the reason I became a Mets fan. The “Say Hey Kid” was my dad’s all-time favorite player, having watched him play in the Polo Grounds for the New York Giants. When Mays returned to New York as a Met in 1972 and 1973, my father instantly became a diehard Mets fan (after the Giants went to the Left Coast, he became an anti-Yankees fan). I was just a toddler, and while my dad was watching the Mets games, he would pick me up from my coloring book (or Lincoln Logs, or Legos, or whatever toddler-type thing I was doing) and set me in front of the TV every time Mays came to bat — so I could see “the greatest player who ever lived”. I was only three years old, but the images of blue and orange were forever burned in my brain as a result of those weekend afternoon “Mays breaks” from kiddie activities.

Of course, Mays was the greatest ever to wear #24 as a Met — even if he was only a shell of himself during his Flushing experience. The number was never officially retired, but in respect to his greatness, it wasn’t worn by a Met ever again … until 1990, when the immortal Kelvin Torve adorned it in a late-summer game against the Phillies.

Somehow, some way, someone screwed up; Torve was never supposed to be issued a jersey with #24 on the back, and he himself didn’t realize the enormity of this snafu until clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels approached him two days later to let him know there would have to be a change. The entire story can be read in detail via an interview with Torve on the Mets By the Numbers website, which, along with the MBTN book, is the inspiration for this countdown.

Interestingly, much is made of the fact that Torve hit .500 while wearing #24 … but people don’t mention that he went 4-for-5 (.800) immediately after switching to #39; though, I guess that’s because it was all downhill after that.

Other #24s that deserved consideration included Art Shamsky, Rickey Henderson, and Bob L. Miller (not to be confused with Bob G. Miller).

The countdown thus far:

#24 Kelvin Torve
#25 Willie Montanez (no link … sadly, didn’t have time to write a post)
#26 Dave Kingman
#27 Pete Harnisch
#28 John Milner
#29 Alex Trevino
#30 Jackson Todd

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