Our “Streaky” GM

Enjoying this hot streak? Living so close the Philadelphia, I sure am. Some silver-haired manager, I think it was either Tommy Lasorda or Whitey Herzog, once made a remark to the effect that you are never as good as you look when you are winning; nor are you as bad as you look when you are losing. The Met lineup, from top to bottom (and on the bench), is full of streaky hitters. After what seems like an interminable period of waving at outside breaking balls or popping weakly to corner infielders in foul ground, they will get white-hot, not only hitting homers in bunches, but also grounders that squirt through shifts or bloopers that fall in front of outfielders playing deep.

The most famous of these hot streaks was by one Daniel Thomas Murphy in the 2015 NLDS and NLCS. Unfortunately, he cooled off in the World Series (thanks Sports Illustrated), but all of his former teammates/current Mets are also guilty as charged. These up and down streaks have served the Mets well, at the end of the season many of the players end up with better than respectable power numbers and as the team’s PR shrills remind us on a daily basis, this Mets squad has made the postseason for consecutive years for only the second time in team history.

But, wanna know what Met has been on the biggest hot streak lately? Try GM Sandy Alderson. For years it seemed, he whiffed on his acquisitions, as you can read about that here. Then something happened. He made a few minor deals with Atlanta and Oakland in July of 2015. Those trades may have been the equivalent of taking extra BP. It was as if he flipped the switch and became the hottest GM on the planet. He had the incredible good luck of the Carlos Gomez deal falling through, which paved the way for his signature (to date) trade for Yoenis Cespedes. Yes was a costly trade, but Cespedes has emerged as this era’s Keith Hernandez or Mike Piazza. Like those two icons, the day Cespedes stepped onto the field wearing a Mets uniform, the team was elevated to true contender status.

Since then? Well, Alderson stole Addison Reed from the Diamondbacks (anybody remember that he claimed Mark Rzepczynski from the Padres a few hours before the Reed trade, only to have the Friars pull him back?) He let Murphy walk, which in retrospect was a bad move, but few of us minded at the time. He lost out on Ben Zobrist, but made a pair of good moves, getting Neil Walker for Jon Niese and signing Asdrubal Cabrerra to a very-team friendly deal. He correctly gauged the market for Cespedes not once, but twice. Antonio Bastardo was a mistake, but he was able to cut bait on him rather quickly. Nobody, including me, liked the Jay Bruce deal, but give Alderson credit: he stuck to his guns all winter in trade discussions. I’ll bet either Baltimore or the Giants would be very glad to re-open negotiations on that deal now. He has also been patient with Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas and as a result, along with Reed, the Mets have a solid late inning bullpen that is costing them less per year than what the Yankees are paying Aroldis Chapman.

Alderson hasn’t been perfect (see Murphy), but he has been right and probably more than a bit lucky a lot more in the past 18 months than he was in the previous 55 months as Mets GM. Not only that, but he stuck to his principles, not trading then under-the-radar prospects like Jacob deGrom or Robert Gsellman for veteran filler when the team was really tanking.

He’s hot right now. But even the great Frank Cashen, the architect of the last Mets World Championship went cold again. Cashen’s hot streak went from June of 1983 when he traded for Hernandez until December of 1986 when he traded Kevin Mitchell away. That marked the beginning of an ill-fated dismantling of a potential dynasty. For the record, Cashen’s hot streak lasted just about 40 months.

Here’s to another twenty-two good months from the current Mets GM.

 

 

READ MORE +

First Rotation

The Mets’ hopes for 2017 rest in large part on their starting pitching staff. On paper, the Nationals and Marlins have better hitting and defense, but the Mets’ rotation has the potential to blow the competition away… if they stay healthy.

A team’s group of starting pitchers is often referred to in baseball as “the rotation” for how it cycles from #1 through #5 (usually) then back to #1 again. Let’s take a look at the first rotation through the Mets’ pitching staff and note what we’ve seen. Is everyone looking healthy and effective?

 IPHRERBBKHRP 
Syndergaard650007086
deGrom620016096
Harvey6.232204277W
Wheeler465514180L
Gsellman563327191L

What I saw

Noah Syndergaard

Not his best location, but not bad either. Better downward movement on his change-up than I’ve ever seen. Usual great velocity, but that waned in the later innings along with slider command. Removed because of a blood blister on his middle finger, which probably accounts for some issues. I’ve always thought Noah was more effective when he pitched up and/or inside more than occasionally, and used his curve regularly as a change of speed. He did neither, which was fine against the Braves, but we’ll see against better opponents.

Jacob deGrom

Great fastball through three innings – not up to Jacob’s peak, but better than early 2016. After emphasizing his change-up during spring training, he didn’t throw it in this game; perhaps the cold was to blame. He showed great command of his slider, painting backdoor to lefties, something I’ve never seen from deGrom. This was the first time I’ve seen him throw the Warthen slider, with higher velocity and shorter break than in the past.

Jacob took a mighty swing at a high fastball in the 3rd inning and grimaced, and after that his velocity dropped from 94-96 to 92. Hopefully these two things are not related, and the reduced speed can be attributed to “first start, cold night”.

Matt Harvey

I saw the same Matt Harvey I saw early in games in 2016. Lots of strikes with different pitches, keeping hitters slightly off balance, but rarely hitting the glove or fully commanding anything. His fastball was mostly 94-95 with a little movement, and his secondary stuff was often elevated. The real test would have come with baserunners on, but the Braves never managed that – all of their batted balls went right to the defense, or over the wall.

I didn’t notice any signs of anything amiss, physically, but I also didn’t see the delivery I saw in 2013 and parts of 2015, when his arm seemed to come through more freely to get the ball down and to his glove side.

Zack Wheeler

Wheeler looked as good as I’ve ever seen him in the first inning, dotting the knees with a running fastball at 96. For the rest of the game, his fastball was all over the place, and his breaking balls were mostly hangers. His command of his secondary stuff was so poor that I’m wondering how much he’s actually pitched in the last two years and whether he ought to be progressing through the minors as he rediscovers his stuff. At least he didn’t fall back into the nibbling pattern that was his undoing in many starts in 2014.

His motion might be slightly improved, but is more or less as scary as ever. I am reminded a bit of Rich Harden.

Robert Gsellman

Gsellman’s best weapon wasn’t there – his two-seam fastball was running flat instead of sinking, and the Marlins destroyed the pitch. Fortunately, Gsellman kept the Mets in the game with some well-timed change-ups and well-placed curveballs. He also did an admirable job of keeping his composure through adversity, a great sign in his 8th big league start.

What did you see?

Please share your observations in the comments!

READ MORE +

Are the Mets better off than they were entering 2016?

This is the fourth annual article on this topic.
The 2014 edition is here.
The 2015 edition is here.
The 2016 edition is here.

The story so far…

After providing fans with an exquisite array of heartbreak, disappointment, frustration and disgust from 2007-2013, the Mets finally reversed course in 2014. Despite a 79-83 record, the 2014 season saw a big jump forward thanks to Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and 6th-runner-ups Travis d’Arnaud and Jeurys Familia. Add in the emergence of Juan Lagares and Lucas Duda, and the progress of several top prospects, and the future finally looked bright. In 2015, that future arrived in late July, when acquisitions to bolster a weak supporting cast allowed the team’s exceptional starting pitching to carry the Mets all the way to game five of the World Series. Entering 2016, the New York baseball headlines eagerly questioned whether the Nationals had a realistic shot at the Mets, and whether the Mets had a realistic shot at “Best Rotation Ever.”

So what actually happened in 2016?

Well, the short answer is that the team finished 8 games behind the Nationals but won 87 games and made it to the Wild Card game, where a bad outing from Jeurys Familia was all Madison Bumgarner needed to send the Mets home for the winter.

The long answer is much more complicated. Very little went exactly as planned. There were a lot of disappointments, but also a lot of pleasant surprises. The pitching staff did excel, but that was less about Matt Harvey and more about minor leaguers stepping up and a career year for the team’s 8th inning guy. The Mets’ corner infield bats got hurt, but the middle infielders suddenly morphed into sluggers. Prospects backslid, and aging veterans turned it on late. Given their position in mid-August, playing past Game 162 was a triumph, and the 2016 team deserves as much credit for clutch play and intangibles as any Mets squad in recent memory.

Takeaways?

I’m not sure where all that leaves us going forward. Should Mets fans be optimistic based on two consecutive playoff appearances? Or should we be pessimistic based on the team’s worsening injury history, the projections which all favor the Nationals, and the fact that 2016’s path to success doesn’t exactly look repeatable? Should 2016 be viewed as this team’s toughest trial, or as the kind of grind they’ll need to endure every year if they hope to play in upcoming Octobers?

Let’s examine how the Mets’ roster has progressed since this time last year. I’ll focus on future takeaways, but also give some nods to 2016’s developments in the never-ending soap opera that is Mets fandom.

Stock Up, Stock Down

Catcher

Travis d’Arnaudstock: down
From 2013-2015, d’Arnaud juggled health, offense, and defense. He never put all three together at once, but seemed to be trending upward overall. That came to a halt in 2016, when he combined injury with poor play on both sides of the ball. The missed time and the ugly throwing would have been much easier to tolerate if he’d repeated his .485 slugging percentage from 2015; unfortunately, he cratered at .323 instead. Age 28 isn’t necessarily all that late in a catcher’s development, so d’Arnaud retains some of his ceiling, but he’s shown that his floor is way too low for a contending team’s comfort.

Kevin Plaweckistock: down

READ MORE +

Help Ed Kranepool

If you haven’t heard already, “original Met” and longtime fan favorite Ed Kranepool needs a kidney transplant, and is planning to auction off his 1969 World Series ring to help pay for his medical expenses. (Today’s MLB players have fantastic post-career medical benefits, but that’s not necessarily the case for those who retired prior to the 1990s; Ed’s last season was 1979.)

To help out, a good friend of mine started a GoFundMe campaign for Ed — all proceeds will go to Ed Kranepool’s medical expenses. If you’d like to donate, you can do so by going to the Ed Kranepool Needs Kidney GoFundMe page. Please pass along this link to fans of “Steady Eddie.”

Ed Kranepool of New York Mets in 1979

READ MORE +

The Mets: What Will “All In” Look Like?

On paper, the Mets are a very deep team. They have an excess number of starting pitchers, multiple relief options and a bench so strong that several guys that could start for other teams might begin this season in the minors. They are also a battle-tested bunch, with everyone on the roster having been either through a playoff push or having gone deep into the post season. Their principal owner is now an elderly man who wants to win now and their GM (who is no spring chicken himself) has recently declared that the team is “all in” for the 2017 season.

That juicy remark has stirred the long-time cynical Mets fan within me. How well have other front office pronouncements such as “Meaningful Games In September,” “Payroll Flexibility,” and “90-win Season” played out? Hint: none of them bore much fruit.

So, how might “all in” look like this year? I normally hate answering a question with more questions, but here goes:

How Much Rope?  

What happens if/when David Wright proves he isn’t an everyday player anymore? Do the Mets attempt to maximize their investment in David, trotting him out day after day, even if he OPSes below .700, or do they relegate him to the bench in favor of a more productive options? It doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence that David’s top replacement is the equally brittle Jose Reyes. If both veterans struggle, do the Mets finally give Wilmer Flores a full-time job or T.J. Rivera an extended look? A long shot, but maybe they gamble that Gavin Cecchini can handle the position? Third base is one spot the Mets have plenty of in-house options for, should Plan A prove to be unworkable.

Let’s take the opposite track with Jay Bruce, whom I  believe the Mets really, really, really want to trade. I also fully expect the Mets to stash Michael Conforto  in Las Vegas, as all this talk about getting him reps in outfield during the regular season is transparently disingenuous. So, what happens if Bruce gets off to a fast start? What if by July he is hitting the way Xavier Nady did for them back in 2006? Do they trade Bruce while his value is high and bring up Conforto? Or do they ride Bruce out to the bitter end and let him walk as a Free Agent after the season? While Conforto could make the decision easier by hitting well in Vegas, the Mets might not have the stomach to trade a productive Jay Bruce in the middle of a pennant chase.

Next to Bruce, the most maligned Met these days in Travis d’Arnaud. Once considered the crown jewel of the R.A. Dickey trade, Travis’ inability to stay healthy, coupled with his poor production when on the field last year and the whispers of some poor pitch calling, made him persona non grata among the Mets faithful. The Mets went so far as to hire Glen Sherlock this offseason to provide some additional coaching for Travis. If he struggles again this year with poor play and nagging injuries, we will finally get the answer to how much time former top prospect pedigree buys you.

 

The Future is Now (Or Is It?)

So let’s say that as expected, the Mets and Washington are locked in mortal combat for NL East supremacy. Will the Mets mortgage a part of their future to avoid the risk of another do-or-die tussle against an all-world pitcher like the one they ran into in last year’s elimination game? Here in late February, it’s easy to say yes. But let’s fast forward a bit to the trade deadline. Several second division teams are contacting Alderson offering names like Pollack, Abreu, McCutchen or Dozier. Each of them have their eyes not on one of the Mets current crop of pitchers (I think the word is out on their untouchable status), but on the up and comers in the farm system. And for the sake of the discussion, both the veterans being offered and the prospects discussed are all healthy and productive. How far would Alderson go? I don’t think Amed Rosario is going anywhere unless its to shake Mike Trout lose from the Angels. But would he sacrifice say Dom Smith or Des Lindsay along with Thomas Szapucki to bring in that last big piece? Dream for a moment: what if the Angels do make Trout available? Does Alderson jump in?

A little more likely scenario is that a known-quantity, late-inning relief arm goes on the block in late July. Like most teams, the Mets will almost definitely need help in the ‘pen down the stretch. How much do they give up to get this as-of-yet undefined figure? Stay tuned.

 

Innings Limits Be Damned? 

Now it gets really dicey: how far do the Mets let Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom go this year? In pursuit of a divisional crown, do they let all of them exceed career highs for innings pitched? Many have blamed the extra work they took on in 2015 as the reason for their injuries the following year. But does “all in” mean they go for it this year, with the knowledge that some of these guys could be back on the shelf in 2018? What about Robert Gsellman? His max number of innings pitched in any season major or minors is 143. If as expected he is the 5th starter this year, he will likely exceed that number. And after two years of inactivity, do the Mets dare push Zack Wheeler past 125 innings, provided he is healthy and effective?

 

Funny what kind of firestorm a simple remark can start! I think this can be a fascinating and fun year. Let’s Go Mets!

 

READ MORE +

The case for starting Juan Lagares

Jaun Lagares

Imagine you have a pretty good slugger on your team — not an MVP candidate, more like a borderline All-Star. Someone like Carlos Gonzalez or Justin Upton, or maybe Marcell Ozuna or Melky Cabrera, or maybe Carlos Beltran. A hitter with flaws, and risks — maybe they get injured too much, or are too slump-prone, or strike out a ton — but overall a good hitter, without a doubt. Now imagine that, in the field, they’re below average; might hurt you a bit out there. So, this player… do you play them? Do you put them in your lineup every day?

This isn’t a trick question. If you’re anything like the typical baseball fan, or player, or manager, or executive, the answer is “yes.”

Okay, second imaginary scenario: you have a hitter on your team who doesn’t make a lot of outs. He draws walks, gets hit by pitches, bunts for singles, and so on. You have other guys who do other things better, so this get-on-base guy doesn’t play every inning of every game, and that’s fine. So what should his role be? Do you only use him when you’re trailing late in games and the guy leading off the inning isn’t very good and you want to pinch-hit with a rally-starter? Or do you use your on-base machine, y’know, most of the time, figuring that every time he reaches base instead of making an out is a good thing?

Again, not a trick question. Again, it seems to me that the obvious, agreed-upon answer is “yes.” You use this player most of the time. Sub him out when the situation warrants; otherwise, let him play.

Doesn’t this make sense? If you have someone like Carlos Beltran on your team, you’d like to give him four at bats every day, right? And if he’s slow and wears down easily and can’t field anymore, you still try to get him as many at bats as you reasonably can, right?

Now imagine the exact same player, except he does it with his glove rather than his bat.

That’s Juan Lagares.

 best 2-year dWARworst 1-year dWAR
Juan Lagares6.90.4

In 2013-2014 combined, Baseball Reference credits Juan Lagares with 6.9 defensive WAR. Then in 2015 he was awful, with 0.4 dWAR. Then in 2016 he was only given a part-time role.

Those other players I mentioned above, the ones who do it with their bats? In the last few seasons (I looked back as far as 2012), they’ve had good years and bad years too. None of them were demoted to part-time roles.

 best 2-year oWARworst 1-year oWAR
Justin Upton6.82.0
Carlos Gonzalez6.7-0.1
Carlos Beltran6.30.3
Melky Cabrera5.20.4
Marcell Ozuna4.10.7

When a hitter demonstrates that type of ability but then has a bad year, most teams give him another chance. And sometimes another, and another. When a hitter shows he can be elite, he doesn’t wind up in a role where he’s only used if the situation is perfect.

Juan Lagares shouldn’t be a back-up. Juan Lagares shouldn’t be playing only when the Mets are leading and he can sub in for a player who won’t bat again, on the off chance that someone hits a difficult fly ball his way in the tiny portion of the game remaining.

Juan Lagares should be given the chance to recapture his form from 2013-2014, to see if he can save the Mets as many runs with his glove as some of those hundred million dollar men add with their bats. He should be pinch-hit for when the situation calls for it, and left in the lineup otherwise to work his magic on as many defensive plays as possible.

Juan Lagares should be the Mets’ 2017 starting center fielder.

READ MORE +

Would Wood Help?

This slow offseason has made the Baseball Network virtually unwatchable, but I was channel surfing the other day and stumbled on and then stuck with their Top Games of 2016 segment.

#9 on the list was a midsummer clash between the Cubs and Mariners that included an awkward-looking catch in leftfield by a Cubs reliever, whom manager Joe Maddon inserted there when the game seemed like a blowout loss. That “blowout loss” was later transformed into a Cubs win, which is  the real reason the game was featured on the show.

The less than nimble relief pitcher turned outfielder was one Travis Wood, who is currently (a) left handed and (b) an unsigned free agent. While statistically current/former Met Jerry Blevins is a better performer, I believe that Wood fits the profile of the kind of player that GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins like to target.

From the GM perspective, Wood can fill more than one role. He has 133 career starts, although none since the nine he started in 2015. His transformation to the bullpen began that year, as Maddon inserted him into 46 other games as a reliever. The results were mixed: his K/9 rate rose and his WHIP declined, but his BB/9 jumped by nearly a full walk per nine innings. In 2016 he appeared in a whopping 77 games (Terry’s kinda guy), his K/9 and WHIP ratios stayed the same, however so did his BB/9. He was a better “late and close” pitcher in 2016 than in less high-leverage situations, which is a good sign.

The Mets have claimed to have faith in the Joshes (Smoker and Edgin) to fill the lefty roles in the pen. They are penciling in another lefty, Steven Matz into their rotation. Edgin and Matz are definite injury concerns and Smoker, although showing flashes of brilliance at times down the stretch in 2016, is untested and had a earlier promising career derailed by injuries. Wood might be able to start the season in the pen, perhaps co-handling the 8th inning with someone like Hansel Robles until the expected suspension of Jeurys Familia ends. From there he could be available to “swing,” moving into the rotation if perhaps Matz can’t go, or sticking to the pen if the rotation stays healthy the whole year (yeah, right). He doesn’t really block Edgin or Smoker if either proves to be effective beyond a cameo role or two.

Former Met GM Steve Phillips once coined the phrase “payroll flexibility.” Alderson and Collins seem somewhat hooked on a lineup flexibility and the 2017 Mets appear to be  constructed around players that can handle multiple roles, especially off the bench. Travis Wood represents another example of that type of player, should the Mets be interested.

Plus, they could probably get him cheap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

READ MORE +

The Case For Keeping Jay Bruce

So everyday and sometimes several times a day, I visit or refresh MLB Trade Rumors to see if the Mets have moved Jay Bruce. Apparently, I’m not alone. Take yer 30-homers elsewhere ya big palooka, we want our boy Conforto playin’ right.

But, will the past prove to be prologue?

In 1975, the Mets had a hot rookie outfielder named Mike Vail, who burst on to the scene, highlighted by a 23 game hit streak, which was the best ever for a rookie up to then. He finished the year with a slash line of 302/339/420. The fans and apparently the FO were ecstatic enough about this guy, to the point where they deemed folk hero  Rusty Staub and his team-record 105 RBI’s expendable and traded him to Detroit that offseason to clear an outfield spot  for Vail.

Then, in a foreshadowing of Bobby O’s hedge trimmers and Duaner Sanchez’ cab ride, Vail hurt himself playing basketball during the winter, and began the ’76 season on the DL. He just never got untracked after that. He went on to have a semi-productive, but essentially unremarkable big league career, playing for half a dozen other teams. Only his immediate family, close friends, former teammates and Met geeks like me remember him as a big leaguer. Staub also played another 10 years, outhitting Vail and staying productive, albeit in a limited role, into his 40s. He is fondly remembered both here and in Montreal for his swagger and his style, and he threw out the first pitch at one of the 2015 home WS games. While Vail and his replacements struggled in 1976 (the last good Mets year for the next eight), Staub hit 299/386/433 for The Tigers that year, with a 4.5 WAR.

So….fast forward to January of 2017. The Mets have another prized young ouftielder named Michael Conforto, who broke into baseball at age 22 (one year younger than Vail) in 2015, wowing everyone with his offensive prowess.   Like Vail, he suffered an injury that essentially ruined his sophomore year, although by all accounts Conforto’s was baseball-related. Also like Vail, Conforto faces an early career crossroads in his third season. No one can determine if he is the next Moises Alou or the next Domonic Brown.

There is no guarantee that Conforto bounces back. Absent those assurances, doesn’t it make sense that the Mets hold on to Bruce, at least through Spring Training? Bruce will turn 30 right around Opening Day (Staub was 31 when the Mets traded him).  Could Bruce put together a season reminiscent of Staub’s 1976 campaign? Of course he could. He’s done it before. Think about the impact those types of numbers could have on the Mets attack and on the NL East. A right-left-right-left batting order of  Yoenis Cespedes, Bruce, Neil Walker and Lucas Duda could approach 90 homers and wear out a lot of pitching staffs.

Maybe Conforto is really that good. I hope so. Maybe Mets GM Sandy Alderson can get a good return for Bruce in the next few weeks, something that will shore up the bullpen or add some speed to the lineup. But if all he can fetch in return are some low-A ball flamethrowers and partial salary relief, isn’t he better off holding on to Bruce and setting up a loser leaves town competition in right field this spring between Bruce and Conforto? I don’t fully buy the idea that the Mets haven’t added any relief help because they’re pinching pennies. As of today, there are a glut of relievers still out on the market, meaning a passel of teams are suddenly cash-strapped or the majority of them have determined that the harvest has yet to ripen and the time for handing out contracts for all but the most elite of relievers hasn’t occurred yet.

Why make a bad deal, be it signing a pitcher like Mike Dunn to a incredible contract or trading Bruce and his power for scrubs? Answers to this question can be posted below.

 

 

READ MORE +
Baseball Instruction from OnBaseball
Tommy John Setbacks Explained, and Attack from Olecranon

Tommy John Setbacks Explained, and Attack from Olecranon

3

Over the weekend, I interviewed sport kinesiologist and pitching mechanics expert Angel Borrelli. We discussed the following topics: - Chad Billingsley's recent major setback ...

READ MORE +
Scientist: Matt Harvey Could Return in 2014

Scientist: Matt Harvey Could Return in 2014

9

Matt Harvey has been insistent upon returning to a Major League mound at some point before the end of the 2014 season. Is that a realistic goal? Should he be prevented from doing ...

READ MORE +
Seven Mechanical Flaws that Lead to Tommy John Surgery

Seven Mechanical Flaws that Lead to Tommy John Surgery

MLB can count all the pitches they want, and can blame youth league baseball till the cows come home -- ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) / elbow injuries that require Tommy John ...

READ MORE +
Solutions for The Pitching Dilemma

Solutions for The Pitching Dilemma

The clouds look ominous -- and I'm not necessarily talking symbolically about the Mets' immediate future but rather, regarding the skies in Washington DC right now. Possibly, ...

READ MORE +
The REAL Importance of Pitch Counts

The REAL Importance of Pitch Counts

2

If you've been reading MetsToday for a while you may know that, as an old-school baseball guy, I'm not a fan of limiting the outings of starting pitchers based on pitch counts. ...

READ MORE +
Mets Gifts