Browsing Archive April, 2015

Series Preview: New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves

It was a very productive opening series for the New York Mets as they took two of three from the Washington Nationals to start off the season. Bartolo Colon was impressive on Monday, pitching six innings of three-hit ball in a 3-1 victory. Matt Harvey stole the show on Wednesday, pitching six shutout innings and striking out nine Nationals.

So the Mets are sitting at 2-1 and travel to Atlanta for a three-game series against the Braves at Turner Field. The Braves opened the season with a sweep over the Marlins in Miami, outscoring them 16-3. Fredi Gonzalez’s team is one of three undefeated teams in the National league, along with Cincinnati and Colorado.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: LHP Jon Niese (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Eric Stults (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Niese makes his 2015 debut on Friday after posting solid numbers last season. In 30 starts in 2014, Niese posted a 3.40 ERA and a 9-11 record — though his ERA predictors say he over-performed slightly with a FIP of 3.67.

Niese didn’t blow anyone away with a fastball that averaged 88.5 MPH in 2014, but ranked in the top 20 in the NL in keeping the ball in the yard, allowing only 0.82 HR per nine innings.

However, home runs were a major weakness for Stults, who allowed more HR per nine innings than any other qualified starter — despite making 13 starts at spacious Petco Park for the Padres last season. Stults was able to earn a spot in the Braves rotation based on a strong spring training.

Stults is another soft-tossing left-hander who will struggle to record strikeouts as he averages less than six per nine innings in his eight-year major league career.

Saturday: RHP Dillon Gee (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (1-0, 1.50 ERA)

It was anticipated that Gee would be headed to the bullpen or possibly to a different team for the 2015 season until RHP Zack Wheeler was lost for the season with an arm injury. Gee only pitched 137.1 innings in 2014, posting a 4.00 ERA. As a student, a 4.0 is excellent, but as a pitcher that is the equivalent of a “C” average.

Gee saw his changeup improve drastically, a pitch that was only 0.7 runs above average in 2013, but improved to 9.9 runs above average in 2014. At only 28 years-old, Gee is still developing as a pitcher, but if he can keep having success with his changeup in 2015, then it will not be a stretch for him to keep his rotation spot for the whole season.

On the other hand, Teheran was the Braves Opening Day starter. He pitched well, allowing only one run over six innings and striking out six Marlins on Monday. Teheran was once a top prospect in the Braves system, but it took him longer than anticipated to develop into a No. 1 starter. However, he’s enjoyed a great deal of success in the last two seasons, recording a 3.20 ERA in 2013 and then improving on that with a 2.89 ERA last season.

Teheran was one of the few major pieces that Braves Interim GM John Hart did not trade this offseason, or right before Opening Day in Craig Kimbrel’s case. The right-hander ranks ninth in the NL in wins over the last two seasons with 28. Teheran has flashed some of his potential, but he could be due for a breakout season that puts him up there with Matt Harvey, deGrom and the whole Nationals rotation for the best young arms in the division.

Sunday: TBD vs. Alex Wood (1-0, 3.60 ERA)

The Mets have yet to announce a starting pitcher for Sunday’s contest, but we can assume it will be opening-day starter Bartolo Colon. Colon was impressive in the win over Washington, pitching six innings and surrendering only three hits and one run. In a game in which he became the oldest Mets pitcher to start on Opening Day (40), Colon looked like he 15 years younger (well, maybe five).

Colon’s effectiveness at his ripe old age is due to pinpoint control his fastball, spotting it on both sides of the plate and up and down in the zone. Surprisingly, Colon has won 43 games in the last three seasons, including a team-leading 15 in 2014 for the Mets. Location doesn’t necessarily go away with age, so we could see Colon putting together more solid outings as the year progresses.

Wood pitched five innings in a win over the Marlins in 2015 debut, allowing four hits and one run. He made 35 appearances last year, including 24 starts. Wood had great success in his 171.2 innings pitched and showed that he can strike hitters out at the major league level with 170 in 2014. Wood will get better as he continues to gain experience and has a secure spot in the Braves rotation.

Players to watch


I don’t know if Travis d’Arnaud could have asked for a better start to the season. He is 5-11 (.455 AVG) with 4 RBI to begin the 2015 campaign. According to Mark Simon of ESPN, d’Arnaud could become the first Mets catcher ever to have an RBI in each of the first four games of season. We’ll see if he can get it done against Stults on Friday.

Michael Cuddyer is your early clubhouse leader in strikeouts with five through three games. I know it’s early, but the 21-million-dollar-man might want to improve his .231 average before Mets fans jump to conclusions and assume that signing him wasn’t worth giving up a first-round pick; maybe some have already made the assumption.


With Jason Heyward, the Upton brothers and now Kimbrel gone, Freddie Freeman is the new face of the franchise. He was also unsurprisingly one of the top performers in the Miami series with five hits, including two doubles, in 13 at-bats (.385 avg.). If the Braves do any damage on offense this series it will be because of Freeman.

Eric Young Jr. will need to be more productive out of the leadoff spot for the Braves. The 2-10 he went in the opening series is not going to get the job done. Gonzalez has already used Jace Peterson to hit leadoff once and he could do it a whole lot more if EYJ continues to hover around the Mendoza line.

Though Mets fans are familiar with ex-Met EYJr, there are a number of other new faces on the Braves. The previously mentioned Peterson and Phil Gosselin platoon at second base; Jonny Gomes, Cameron Maybin, Nick Markakis, and Young, Jr., comprise the completely overhauled outfield; Christian Bethancourt, who was promoted from the minors at the tail end of last year, starts behind the plate — backed up by A.J. Pierzynski; Kelly Johnson returns to beef up the bench, along with Alberto Callaspo; and Jim Johnson, Jason Grilli, Cody Martin, and Brandon Cunniff are new arms in the bullpen. Oh, and Wandy Rodriguez, Trevor Cahill, and the aforementioned Stults make up the back of the starting rotation. Not exactly the Atlanta team you remember from 2014, eh? If nothing else, the 2015 Braves are … different.


Stock Up, Stock Down: Are Mets Better Off Than A Year Ago?

This is the second annual article on this topic. The first one is here.

Entering Year Five of the Alderson “retool while competing” administration, Mets fans are also entering Year Two of “competing trumps retooling”.

Competing certainly didn’t trump retooling entering 2013, when the Mets traded Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays for a top prospect and two talented kids. That’s a move for 2016, or 2015 if everything breaks right, isn’t it? Presumably “sell high” trades of Ike Davis and Jon Niese would follow, and the organization would be stacked for the future. Presumably the mammoth extension given to David Wright two weeks earlier would be budgeted as an indulgence in an expanding payroll, for a franchise icon and gate attraction who would no longer be the team’s best player when it returned to contention in his thirties.

Here the Mets are, though, in 2015, holding onto a creaky Jon Niese, having gotten nothing for Ike Davis, having signed only guys who are getting worse, not better (Granderson, Colon, Cuddyer) – and they’re still playing with a payroll that’s severely limited by what they’re paying an injury-prone, 32-year-old David Wright.


Mets vs Marlins, Position by Position

There’s been some talk lately about the moves made in the NL East, and how this impacts the Mets’ chances in the division. Does the Heyward trade tell us that the Braves are rebuilding? Does the Marlins’ signing of Stanton signal a sustained push on their part? This got me thinking about the gap between the Mets and Marlins – how big is it, in whose favor, and what would it take to bridge it? To that end, here’s a positional comparison of the two teams going into opening day:


Biggest Questions for the 2015 Mets

Many news outlets have listed their top Mets questions, many of them focusing on the team’s best players. Will Matt Harvey pick up where he left off? Will David Wright and Curtis Granderson return to form? Can Lucas Duda repeat? I agree that these are vital concerns, but I don’t see as much uncertainty surrounding them as many pundits do. The statistical projections for all these players seem quite logical to me — Harvey will be excellent though not Cy-worthy, Wright and Duda will split the difference between 2013 and 2014, and Granderson will continue to be the low-AVG, high-K guy he’s been for 4 of the past 5 years. I’d see any significant deviation from these projections as the sort of fluke every team goes through, and wondering about them makes no more sense to me than wondering about Robinson Cano‘s health as a key to the Mariners’ season. Anything can happen, but there’s no particular reason to foresee an injury there.

Accordingly, the biggest questions I’m looking at for the Mets are areas of true uncertainty, where a given player or position is a significant unknown, and could be either a big help or a major problem for the team. Here’s my list:


You Read it Here First: Mets Will Win NL East (This Year)

First off, I promise this will not end with the phrase “April Fool.”

I realize that all March baseball stats need to be taken with several grains of salt, or as put best by the late great Ralph Kiner, hope always springs eternal in the Spring. That said, I am (cautiously) optimistic enough from what I have read and observed about our Mets this past month to make this prediction.

Part of my new sunny outlook is due to


Jon Niese’s New Delivery Not So New

Finally! It only took an entire year, but Jon Niese discovered the mechanical flaw that was causing his shoulder pain.

If only Port St. Lucie had access to the information super highway, Niese might’ve discovered the EXACT ISSUE last March by visiting a web log called “MetsToday.” Well, I suppose later is better than never, right? Or, rather, later is better than waiting until after a pitcher is on the surgeon’s table.

For those not with us a year ago, I launched a podcast titled “The Fix” with pitching motion expert Angel Borrelli (btw, she’s an “expert” based on her credentials and advanced degrees, rather than because of a self-imposed social media handle). The subject of our very first podcast was none other than Jonathon Niese, who was suffering from shoulder pain and diminished velocity — we explained the reason for his injury.

A week later, Angel Borrelli and I followed up with another podcast centered on how to easily fix Niese’s mechanical flaw (ah! THAT’S why it’s called “The Fix”!).

Unfortunately, Jon Niese wasn’t a loyal follower of MetsToday — and neither was anyone close to him — because he and the Mets came to the conclusion that a “clean” MRI meant the shoulder was OK and nothing really needed to be done other than rest. You, the loyal reader, of course, knew different and we discussed it in detail.

Eventually, Niese realized that his shoulder ailment was connected to his mechanics. However, he didn’t understand what it was about his mechanics that was causing the problem — apparently he thought it had something to do with his arm angle. That’s not his fault, and it’s not Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen‘s either — neither have advanced degrees in body movement (i.e., kinesiology and/or biomechanics), thus neither have the background to truly understand how tiny actions within a pitching motion can be dangerous. Some day, MLB will wake up and begin to bring in qualitative scientists to diagnose pitching deliveries and prevent injuries (they’re already dipping their toe into the quantitative side of science, via biomechanical analysis, but both sides are needed to keep pitchers healthy and pitching at peak performance).

Maybe through luck, advice, or perhaps divine intervention, Niese finally found that his shoulder feels better when he strides straight:

Jonathon Niese spent a simulated game Thursday trying to get his mechanics back in order.

Niese said he noticed in his last bullpen session that his right leg was stepping toward the first-base side — not directly at the plate — as he landed. That caused him to throw across his body and, he believes, fatigued his left shoulder.

During a 76-pitch session Thursday against New York Mets batters, Niese concentrated on striding longer and toward the plate. He suggested that helped his shoulder feel better.

“It actually felt a lot better,” Niese said. “I wasn’t fatigued at the end.”

In the words of the immortal Mel Allen, “how about that?”

Finding success in avoiding pain Niese is continuing the experiment with more bullpen work::

The southpaw instead suggested improper pitching mechanics before the All-Star break were causing shoulder irritation. So he has revised his mechanics. But he’s now struggling to locate pitches with the revised motion and just needs more bullpen work to get things sharper.

Even though he was having statistical success before landing on the DL, Niese said he had drifted into some bad habits. So he now is back to striding farther with his landing leg, “which changes my arm slot,” he said.

Said Niese: “I’m kind of opening up a little bit more. I was a closed too much. So I’ve opened up. Now I’m able to release the ball out front more instead of on the side.”

OK, maybe he’s not all the way there in terms of enlightenment, but he’s close. First off, he does NOT need to stride any further or longer, he merely needs to stride STRAIGHT. He’s doing that by what he’s calling “opened up.” But again, I can’t blame Niese, nor Warthen — what they’re doing can be described as the blind leading the blind. If Niese had someone with the right background guiding him, the correction would be made quickly, easily, and with no negative affect on his command — rather, it would more likely IMPROVE his command, velocity, and overall performance.

Here are more quotes from Niese as well as reporting from Mike Vorkunov that provide us a more complete picture of what’s happening in Niese’s head:

Most important for Niese was his work in honing his new delivery. The Mets left-handed pitcher discovered it this week while throwing a bullpen session. He stopped in the middle of the session after his shoulder â?? where he has had a history of injury woes â?? began to bother him and realized something had to change. His shoulder had received too much of the burden.

Niese noticed that his stride was off. He had been landing toward first base, instead of home plate. This caused him to throw, essentially, he says, across his body.

It was a poor habit he picked up last season as he dealt with his bothersome left shoulder and it carried over to this spring.

Once he made the change in his bullpen session, he felt the strain on his shoulder go away.

“My shoulder felt great,” Niese said. “Today I went out and worked on my stride, same thing I was working on in the bullpen. I felt great.”

A few things to comment on here. First, Niese’s landing more toward first base was NOT something he picked up last season — rather, it was a habit he had before, and was most likely the cause of his shoulder pain to begin with. We know this because we have the photos and video to prove it.

Second, I don’t like the term “throwing across the body” because it can mean 100 things to a hundred different people.

Third, I’m very curious to know what turned on the light bulb in Niese’s head regarding his epiphany about his stride being off. It’s been “off” for over two years at least — what made him realize it now?

Will this discovery, and Niese’s self-diagnosis / self-treatment, prevent Niese from landing on the DL and damaging his shoulder further? I hope so, but can’t really be sure. For one, he doesn’t need to stride longer to achieve the goal of a straight stride. Second, his arm slot is not necessarily problematic in comparison to the stride issue. He’s shooting in the dark, and making adjustments without guidance from someone who knows better, so the end result is a mystery.

The good thing is that Niese recognizes that there was a CAUSE to the EFFECT of shoulder pain. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? Even in pitching a baseball, that simple philosophical causality applies. It’s a huge step for a MLB pitcher to acknowledge that his injury may have been caused by mechanics. Now all pitchers need to do is seek the right people for guidance. Fingers crossed!