Raise the White Flag

Another year, another failed defense of the pennant for the Mets. That’s five if you’re counting.

In case you missed it yesterday, the Washington Murphies put a 3-2 beating on another sore-armed Mets phenom, padding their NL East lead over the Mets and the upstart Miami Marlins to six games. All of the air has gone out of the Mets’ balloon: they’re injured and tired-looking, a far cry from the team that stormed it’s way into the World Series just a few months ago. The sole bright spot in yesterday’s debacle was two-homer effort by the returning and apparently repentant Jose Reyes.

Wait…Reyes wasn’t the only bright spot, there were three others yesterday for the Mets, but they occurred 2,700 miles away in San Diego. Three Mets prospects appeared in The Futures Game, a clever name for what is essentially a minor league all star game. More on that in a second.

The next three weeks are like the Christmas shopping season for baseball websites and blogs, as trades and rumors of trades will drive clicks through the roof. Expect a passel of rumors about the Mets, with the pot already being stirred about the previously unlikely possibility that they should add a starting pitcher. I have the distinct impression that many Mets fans will be very disappointed at 4PM three weeks from today (this year’s trade deadline was pushed back a day for some reason) and the Mets are fielding nearly the same roster. 2015’s torrid trade deadline may have spoiled some of you, but I highly doubt the Mets add anyone. In fact, if they’re smart they might make a few subtractions.

I know that I predicted otherwise here, but at this point a divisional crown, while still possible, looks very improbable. The Mets are in actuality playing for the chance to travel across the country to face Clayton Kershaw in a one-game playoff. I wouldn’t like their chances in a game like that. I suggest that instead of mortgaging their future for a long shot at the brass ring this year that they focus on playing for the next few years and that period of sustainable success they’ve long been touting.

Part of that sustainable success was on display yesterday in San Diego. Amed Rosario and Dilson Herrera have got to figure prominently in the Mets future plans. Ironically, both are throw backs to an earlier age, the slick-fielding, surprisingly quick, contact hitters from the Luis Aparicio/Davey Conception mold. It’s funny how everything old is new again. Back 25-30 years ago, good teams were strong defensively up the middle, with power at the corners. During baseball’s power surge, this concept was lost in pursuit of putting a home run hitter at every position. It now looks to be coming back. If that’s true, the Mets are on the cutting edge of this old/new paradigm, with Rosario at short, Herrera at second and Juan Lagares in center.

First baseman Dominic Smith was also in the Futures Game. Smith strikes me somewhat as the Lagares of infielders, a great glove but a sketchy bat. Still, that kind of defense could be valuable coming off the bench in late and close situations; giving the Mets the flexibility to add a pure power hitter at first with Smith’s glove in there at the end. It’s a real waste of a high draft pick if that is Smith’s ceiling, but just ask 1986 Red Sox how valuable a defensive replacement at first base can be. Plus, Smith’s recent power surge bears watching to see if this is merely a blip on the radar or if he has really figured something out.

Those three players, along with Brandon Nimmo, are probably the Mets best non-pitcher trading chips at this point. IMO, trading any of them is a mistake. Small sample size, but I really like the energy Nimmo brings to the team. It still comes down to starting pitching, which in theory should give the Mets a long window of opportunity. At this point, there is no reason to believe that Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler won’t be ready for Spring Training (that could change of course) . Trading any of them after the collective down year they have experienced would be an all-time sell-low mistake. Mets GM Sandy Alderson can be exasperating at time, but I would be shocked if he moved any of them in the next three weeks.

While I am dead set against any trades of starters, I would dangle Jerry Blevins in front of teams like Cleveland or Texas, trying to pull a top five prospect from either one. Otherwise, I’d hold on to Blevins and try to resign him. Addison Reed’s big season could also be converted into a top prospect in those or other pennant-starved cities. In both cases, however these players still have some utility to the Mets, who could be relying heavily on their contributions next year.

Yes, losing the division back to Washington sucks. I don’t know whether to hate or applaud Murphy at this point. I take solace in the adage about making a deal too early rather than too late. He might win the MVP this year and then hit .260 for the next two. Hopefully by then Herrera’s star is in ascendency and he and Rosario are a nightly highlight reel. We need to look no further than Stephen Strasburg or Jose Fernandez to see that it is possible for a pitcher to overcome serious injury. The Mets have holes that will need filling, but I hope and pray they don’t reach for that quick fix this year at the expense of what still figures to be one of the better periods in team history.

Enjoy the All Star break folks.

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Is this 2016 or 2012?

Dickey Syndergaard

Do you remember the 2012 Mets? If you’ve chosen to forget, that’s understandable. Outside of a certain knuckleballer, it was a dark time for the organization, just part of a years-long spiral deeper and deeper into laughingstock status. The 97-win run of 2006 was followed by two straight choke jobs, a plague of injuries, a regime change, and a wishy-washy rebuild through a pretender 2011. In 2012, a slightly improved roster got off to a very respectable start, spending their first 93 games over .500 and giving fans hope that if they could overcome an awful bullpen, they might make a wild card run. Most fans wanted the Mets to either acquire relief help and make a run, or commit fully to 2014 and beyond by cashing in on Scott Hairston, Bobby Parnell and others at the trade deadline. Mets GM Sandy Alderson did neither, and stood pat. Before long, Mets news was once again the news of disgust and dithering and Ponzi schemes and LOLs.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2016, and the word was that everything had changed in the Mets’ universe. After a wheel-spinning 2013 and a promising 2014, 2015 brought us Yoenis Cespedes, a healthy Matt Harvey, a rebounding Curtis Granderson, an improved Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia, an emerging Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto, and a run to the World Series. With Lucas Duda, Travis d’Arnaud, and Juan Lagares already on board, and with Steven Matz and Asdrubal Cabrera expected to provide further improvements, the 2016 Mets looked miles away from their 2012 counterparts.

Do they still look that way today?

Similar Records

Both the 2012 and 2016 teams started off 8-7.
Both teams then put together some win streaks to get to 31-23.
Both teams then played under .500, achieving records of 39-33 and 40-36.

The 2012 Mets then won 6 of 9 to get to 46-39 before utterly collapsing with a 28-49 finish to a 74-88 season.

Are the 2016 Mets at risk of a similar fate? Unfortunately, I see a disturbing number of parallels in the player roster.

Similar Performances

Let’s look back at who did what in the first half of 2012, who’s doing the same so far in 2016, and how it panned out in each case in 2012.

David Wright: The 2012 team’s best player put up an MVP-level first half.
2016 version: Yoenis Cespedes
In the end: Wright regressed to his career norms in the second half. After the season, the fan favorite signed a huge contract for his 30s, which would currently be crippling the team if not for insurance provisions.

R.A. Dickey: Took a jump from good to great, establishing himself as a Cy Young contender.
2016 version: Noah Syndergaard
In the end: Dickey didn’t quite keep it up in the second half, but was still excellent and took home the award (from a much easier field than the 2016 NL).

Johan Santana: Former dominator showed brief flashes of his former self.
2016 version: Matt Harvey
In the end: Fell apart amid much speculation (ankle? workload?). Turned up a serious injury in the second half.

Ike Davis: First-round slugger who scouts saw as a middle of the order bat. After a great rookie year, things went downhill. Was it the foot injury that derailed his career, or was it the Valley Fever, or was it a high-maintenance swing? After a brutal first half, was sent to the minors.
2016 version: Michael Conforto and his sprained wrist cartilage
In the end: Ike ran into some homeruns in the second half of 2012 but was otherwise done as a productive player.

Andres Torres: Great attitude and effort but not enough talent to warrant the everyday job he was handed. His previous great season wound up looking like a fluke.
2016 version: Curtis Granderson
In the end: Torres was consistent, playing the same mediocre baseball in both halves of 2012.

Jordany Valdespin: An enticing talent with good pop but OBP issues and no true position, Valdespin elicited both hope and caution. Evaluators spoke of his chance to be something more than a utility guy, but he was basically used as a utility guy.
2016 version: Wilmer Flores
In the end: Valdespin had a nice power spike in July, but never really made permanent gains. He’s since established himself as a classic AAAA player, getting chances when someone on an MLB roster gets hurt.

Jason Bay: Once counted on to be a middle of the order force, but couldn’t stay healthy. His high-maintenance swing made him ill-suited to playing in fits and starts.
2016 version: Travis d’Arnaud
In the end: Bay got healthier in the second half, but the injuries and missed time had taken their toll, and he was terrible.

Josh Thole: A bat-first catcher who showed great contact skills in the minors. Power and defense were question marks, but everyone expected him to spray line drives. His first half wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad enough to completely dispel all hope.
2016 version: Kevin Plawecki
In the end: His one contribution, batting average, eventually declined, leaving Thole as a minor leaguer (well, if not for R.A. Dickey).

Daniel Murphy: A capable hitter holding down a demanding defensive position, Murphy was cause for much debate. Was he a major asset, or were his deficiencies hurting the team as much as his bat was helping it?
2016 version: Asdrubal Cabrera and his limited range
In the end: Murphy spent 2012-2015 as basically the same guy throughout, averaging 1.7 WAR. Not the team’s biggest problem, but not a significant asset either.

Lucas Duda: Lucas Duda.
2016 version: Lucas Duda
In the end: Lucas Duda.

Scott Hairston: Veteran having a career year on the homerun front.
2016 version: Neil Walker
In the end: Kept it up! Nothing after 2012, though.

Chris Young: Crafty veteran confusing hitters with unusual fastballs.
2016 version: Bartolo Colon
In the end: Young eventually got hurt, which has been the norm for him. What Mets fans forget is that, before joining the Mets, Colon was ranked #1 on a list of pitchers most likely to suffer injury, based on his age and past injury history.

Dillon Gee: Second-year pitcher with great peripherals but a few too many blow-ups. Looked like a fixture before shoulder discomfort turned into an aneurysm.
2016 version: Steven Matz and his bone chips and elbow pain
In the end: Gee missed the entire second half after surgery for the aneurysm.

There are also some parallels between Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Juan Lagares (great athletes with holes at the plate and trouble staying healthy), Jon Niese and Jacob deGrom (third-year pitchers seeing declines in stuff and strikeouts), Justin Turner and Matt Reynolds (solid base of skills but not great at anything), and Ruben Tejada and Dilson Herrera‘s scouting reports (precocious young guys whose physique and athleticism limits their ceilings).

None of these situations are exactly equivalent — Flores doesn’t have an attitude problem like Valdespin, d’Arnaud isn’t in his 30s like Bay, Niese was never half the pitcher deGrom was in 2015 — but the overall picture I’m seeing looks eerily familiar.

Cause for concern?

Is this similarity between the 2012 and 2016 teams real, or an illusion? Are the Mets still in great shape heading forward, or have a few flops and injuries changed their whole future landscape? Even if we can’t predict the distant future, should we expect a better or worse second half from the current squad?

Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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Do the Mets need to try less situational hitting?

On Wednesday afternoon, Asdrubal Cabrera came to bat with Curtis Granderson on first. Batting second, with a dangerous power hitter behind him, Cabrera’s “job” could be interpreted as “try to work a walk or poke a single to bring Yoenis Cespedes up with two men on.” Some Baseball People would consider that the “professional” or “situational” approach. Fortunately for the Mets, Cabrera ignored that wisdom and took a big rip, hitting a two-run homer to turn a deficit into a lead.

Is that what the Mets need?

This team has been an utter abomination in clutch hitting situations. When the #2 homerun hitting team in the National League is also the #13 team in scoring (well behind #12), it’s obvious that something is wrong. A .207 team batting average with RISP (runners in scoring position) is pretty obvious too. What’s less obvious is how we got here. Are Mets hitters nervous? Playing tight? Lacking confidence? Pressing? Is it a spiral where a little bit of bad clutch hitting becomes contagious and spirals out of control?

I have a theory. When Gary, Keith and Ron talk about situational hitting, they talk about hitting to the opposite field, about putting the ball in play, about not swinging for the fences, about advancing runners, and on and on in that vein. Terry Collins and Kevin Long don’t have three hours of air time to fill every night, but they sometimes (occasionally to the media, who knows how often to the players) talk about situational hitting too, and I’m guessing they’re talking about the same things. In doing so, however, they might be getting in the way of what their roster does best. These are Alderson players. They draw a few walks and hit a bunch of homeruns. Attempting situational hitting, which they aren’t good at (see that .207 AVG), just interferes with their strengths.

Here are the Mets’ rates of hitting homeruns, drawing unintentional walks, and striking out, by situation:

SplitHR %UIBB %K %
No RISP4.4 %8.3 %26.0 %
0/1 Out RISP3.4 %5.6 %27.7 %
2 Outs, RISP1.8 %8.8 %32.1 %

So maybe the 2016 Mets would be better served following the model of other Alderson-style offenses: take your walks, swing for the fences, and don’t ever change that.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

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Granderson for Beltran?

All of this Jose Reyes talk/speculation/click bait has gotten me to thinking: if the Mets are seriously considering bringing back stars from the Omar Minaya era, why don’t they inquire about Carlos Beltran?

If any player symbolized the failed Minaya era better than Beltran, it isn’t apparent to me. He slashed 280/369/500 in his seven years here–near elite numbers, even for that steriod-assisted era. He slugged 149 homers and stole 100 bases. He won three Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers and was a 5-time All Star. Despite this impressive resume, he never quite got the big prize and his Met career will always have an asterisk next to it because of The At Bat. However in typing those stats, I realized that he never really quite got the appreciation he probably deserved around here.

I get it that Met-Yankee trades are about as rare as late April snow in Pennsylvania, but I propose that the Mets trade Curtis Granderson to the Yanks for Beltran. Before you scoff and click somewhere else, bear this in mind: the Mets will not trade any of their young pitchers for a bat, unless said bat is a near lock to be an offensive mainstay for the next several seasons. Instead, they will look to rinse and repeat deals like this, rent-a-bats that they hope they could catch lightening in a bottle with the way they did last year with Yoenis Cespedes.

The Beltran and Granderson 2016 contracts are essentially a wash, but the Mets would have to come up with some creative way of assisting the Yanks with Curtis’ 2017 salary. Grandy returns to the stadium where he twice hit 40+ homers, while Beltran becomes the Mets 4th outfielder, a sort of roving left fielder/right fielder.

This move gets Juan Lagares back into center field and frees up right for Beltran, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo or any other hot bat, either here or in Vegas. Maybe the Mets also add Reyes as well, giving them a bench that on paper at least has speed and power, two commodities they will need if they plan to reel in the Nationals.

So what do you think? Bring back Jose? Get Beltran? Got another idea? Sound off below.

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Mets Need More Than Kelly Johnson

News Flash: The New York Mets have traded relief pitcher Akeel Morris to the Atlanta Braves for IF-OF Kelly Johnson. This is KJ’s second go-round with the club and the second time he was traded from Atlanta to the Mets. The first time was last July 24, when he arrived in a deal along with Juan Uribe for a pair of minor league pitchers.

Has Mets GM Sandy Alderson opened a storefront in Panic City? The 34-year old Johnson is slashing a paltry 215/279/289 for the Braves. Better at least than the player (Eric Campbell) that he is replacing, but still a far cry from the proverbial shot in the arm the Mets putrid offense needs. For the record, Campbell is hitting 159/270/222 as a Met this year.

I think the plan coming into this year was to plug in the veterans for another year-plus until the next wave of bats arrived from the farm in the form of Dilson Herrera, Dominic Smith, Amed Rosario and Wuilmer Becerra; meanwhile relying on the Mets greatest strength, their starting pitching, to keep them atop the division. The quartet of youngsters has done their part: all of them are putting up some good offensive numbers in the minors and with the exception of Smith, look ready to move up a level. The Mets rotation, despite a hiccup here or there has proven to be one of the best and deepest in the National League. The bullpen, once feared as the team’s Achilles heel, has actually performed well, although a few cracks are showing.

It’s that bridge of veteran bats in the lineup that have almost totally collapsed, leaving the Mets a season-high 3.5 games behind the very formidable Washington Nationals. The Mets rank dead last in the NL in hits (432), 14 in team BA (.230) and 11th in OBP (.307). They hit homers (77, tying them for the league lead with Washington), but that’s about it. They have struck out 523 times and trail the rest of the NL with only 12 steals in 21 attempts. Essentially, if they don’t hit a solo homer, they don’t score.They don’t play small ball well either, not drawing many walks nor doing much in the way of sacrificing. Thanks in part to injuries, their bench is surprisingly weak, as Met pinch hitters have tallied on 13 pinch hits in 74 ABs, a .174 average. Travis d’Arnaud, David Wright and Lucas Duda have been sidelined for weeks with injuries. Wright and Duda could very well be lost of the season and Wright’s career may be ending. Their replacements have performed poorly offensively, although the jury may still be out on James Loney, who is Duda’s replacement. Curtis Granderson is absolutely killing the team right now. It’s a lot of bad news that portends to a long and disappointing summer if they don’t turn it around.

Based on the evidence, I don’t think KJ is even part of the answer and it could be argued that a red chip like Morris could have been better utilized. Ideally, the Mets need to add both a speedy outfielder and an infielder who can drive the ball (or vice versa). I am not exactly sure they could get although I did some speculation here. How they bring this talent over is the bigger question. Here are a few possible ways, listed in order of probability:

• They trade a few “red chips” for some offensive help. This is by far the most likely scenario, as they still have Rafael Montero, Brandon Nimmo, Gavin Cechinni, Josh Smoker and a few other interesting names left in their system. One or more could be packaged together to bring in veterans as they did last year in the deals for Johnson and Tyler Clippard. Their trade partners would probably come from the Minnesota/Oakland/Atlanta/Cincinnati/San Diego/Milwaukee pool of teams, clubs far away from contention that need to fill multiple holes. What any of those teams have to offer the Mets in return is open to debate.

• They trade a veteran. Here the probability meter starts to tilt towards improbable. A veteran for a veteran? Who does that? I doubt any NL contenders would want to help the Mets out, or vice versa. Perhaps an American League team is in need of an arm later this summer and bids for Bartolo Colon. As I mentioned here, I think the way to go is to trade Neil Walker and bring up Herrera, but that might be a roll of the dice no one in the Mets Front Office wants to take. Walker’s value is very high right now, however.

• They trade a “blue chip,” someone like Herrera or Rosario. I know Matthew mentioned moving Dilson, but as I stated earlier, I believe the plan is to plug those guys into the lineup, where they produce while making the big-league minimum, freeing money to extend the starting pitchers. I don’t know for sure who Sandy considers a red chip vs a blue chip, but he does have a plan and as we saw last year, he won’t back down from it.

• They trade one of the Fab Five. This just isn’t happening. There is a better chance of someone they draft today being in the majors by August than there is of them trading one of their golden arms.

So to answer my earlier question, I don’t think Alderson has moved into Panic City…yet. For his sake and ours however, here’s hoping he can scrape together enough loose change to buy something more useful than just Kelly Johnson.

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Batting Order for the Post-Wright Era

So, I read this post in another blog and I thought “y’know, this is a really well-thought out piece, I wonder if anyone in the Mets organization might read it.” Then it hit me: they might not read his blog, but they do read this blog! We’ve called a few things right here. Both Wilpons took our advice to just shut up.

Like most of us, I am taking the news of David Wright‘s impending demise somewhat in stride. It is a real shame to watch his body betray him like this, but from a pure results on the field perspective, he hasn’t been “David Wright” for several years now. I’ll always root for David, but I find myself hoping that he packs it in after this latest news. It would be a shame to see him tarnish his legacy by trying to stretch out his career any further. Maybe his buddy Michael Cuddyer can counsel him on this.

Meanwhile back to the lead and to the task at hand for the Mets, which is the defense of their NL crown. Building on my fellow blogger’s ideas a bit, here is a batting order proposal for our heroes. Terry and Sandy, take note:

1. Asdrubal Cabrera and his .335 OBP get the nod here. A few years ago, the Mets made a play for then-Astro Jonathan Vilar, who is playing well right now for Milwaukee. Vilar is somewhat of a Jose Reyes-lite player, who if he is available at the deadline, the Mets should inquire about–providing he is still producing that is.
2. James Loney. Right now it’s a bit of a man crush due to his career 285/338/410 slash line. I do have a feeling however, that we will find out why two sub-500 teams dumped him.
3. Michael Conforto. Anybody else concerned about his “Scooter” nickname? Having lived through the Gregg Jefferies era, I am. It’s a cute name for a 3-year old but not for your #3 hitter. Maybe I am reading too much into this.
4. Yoenis Cespedes: Wright’s impending retirement means there will be money to sign him. We will see this offseason if he really loves New York more than a long-term deal elsewhere. I’m betting the latter, but I’ve been surprised before when it comes to this guy.
5. Neil Walker: Interesting scenario developing here. As expected, Walker is having a good season on his expiring contract. Meanwhile his heir apparent Dilson Herrera, who is probably the last major-league ready prospect coming for a while from the Mets system, is hitting 288/328/492 in AAA. He also has six steals, twice as many as any current Met. Would the Mets actually consider moving Walker while his value is so high (and whom they viewed as a stopgap anyway), for help elsewhere ? They could plug Herrera into his spot. It’s an unlikely scenario, but I wonder if GM Sandy Alderson doesn’t at least have a few feelers out on this one.
6. Curtis Granderson: He’s my wife’s favorite Met (and I know for sure that she reads this blog), but he is just killing the team right now. It’s very hard to know what Grandy will do next. He appeared to have re-invented himself last year, only to have reverted to his 2014 form this year. I’d rather have Juan Lagares in the lineup everyday instead of Granderson. It may be time to try to find a taker for this contract. Sorry love, we’ll always have 2015.
7. Wilmer Flores: Counting June 3, there are 52 games to play between now and the trade deadline. Wilmer should be in line to get 175-200 at-bats, sufficient time for a team in the Mets position to decide on whether or not he is a viable solution. No less than Gary Cohen speculated (on the air) that former Yankee, current Padre Yangervis Solarte would be a perfect fit here should they need to look. Small sample size, but Solarte is slashing 339/426/593 with the Friars right now. Like Vilar, the Mets may have missed the train on this one. The other and perhaps more likely option, should Flores fail, is to move either Cabrera or Walker over to third and find a replacement for them at their incumbent positions.
8. Catcher. This has suddenly become a gaping black hole. Hopefully the impending return of Travis d’Arnaud eases the situation somewhat. I really like Travis, but enough with the injuries already.

Not a murder’s row by any means and it will probably require some tinkering as the season progresses. The Mets are all about the starting pitching anyway. Plus Daniel Murphy can’t hit .400 the entire season, right?

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Let’s leave safety up to the players (even Utley)

I much prefer when there’s an explicit agreement between players, umps, and MLB that players police the game themselves.

In that circumstance, most players choose to act with integrity, and those who don’t are punished as per the culture of their time. Chase Utley absolutely violated the unspoken rules about how one is supposed to go about taking out a DP pivot man, hitting the ground way too late in pursuit of Ruben Tejada. The culture of the game that Utley grew up in says that he should get drilled in the ribs and yelled at as a result. That would be both “old school” and efficient.

Instead, MLB has decided (and the umps have clearly followed their lead) that everything worth caring about in baseball must have a rule attached. This leads the players (as it has in every other sport) to abandon any subjective notions of right and wrong and simply do whatever they can get away with. With cameras everywhere, “what they can get away with” is very little, and if replay expands enough, one day it will get down to “nothing”, where A.J. Ellis will no longer be able to fool the umpire by firing away a foul tip as if he’d caught it for strike three, as he did on Sunday night. With a good set of rules and the right penalties for infractions, this is probably the surest way to make baseball safe… and slow.

If I were a player, maybe I’d take that trade-off.

As a fan, I hate it. The occasional injury is worth having a game that moves along at a decent pace with a lot of personality and room for individual accountability. The “did the catcher give the runner a sliding lane?” replay is too high a price to pay for the fact that Buster Posey pivoted incorrectly when Scott Cousins came to wreck him. Baseball is entertainment, and thrives on contrast and emergent narratives — a version of baseball which forces Chase Utley and Manny Ramirez to play the same way doesn’t make for many interesting stories.

If Utley were on my team, and he and I and everyone else agreed that the penalty for a late slide was a fastball to the ribs and some angry words, and he chose to pay that price to win a playoff game, then I would be all in favor of that choice, and question the dedication of any player who didn’t make the same choice (as some certainly wouldn’t).

But there’s no agreement at all.

Some players interpret the unwritten rules as, “Don’t do dangerous plays, even if they would win a playoff game.” Some umpires interpret via precedent, others by the rulebook (which has always included ample provisions for calling Utley for obstruction on the Tejada play; they’ve just never been enforced). There’s a similar split among fans. So instead of being clearly identified as a determined but dangerous player (which he is) and getting drilled (which he can take), Chase Utley has been called everything from an old-school hero to a violent, cheating thug. It’s madness, and lots and lots of sour grapes.

I respect Noah Syndergaard for trying to handle things the way they used to be handled, and I respect Utley for not having a problem with that. The guy I can’t stand is umpire Adam Hamari, or whatever boss or supervisor encouraged him to act like that (perhaps discipline czar Joe Torre?). But maybe theirs is the way of the future, and I’m thinking like a caveman, and one day baseball will be completely free from injury and subjectivity and dramatic physical contests of any sort.

Here’s a novel idea: let’s leave it up to players who are actually risking injury.

If Alex Torres doesn’t want to get drilled by comebackers, he can wear the padded hat. If John Olerud doesn’t want to expose his surgically repaired skull, he can wear a helmet in the field. If Barry Bonds wants to hang his front elbow an inch from home plate, he can wrap it in armor. If Ruben Tejada wants to turn DPs where he can’t see the runner because of a horrible feed, he can wrap his legs in enough padding to look like the Michelin Man. If Buster Posey wants to spin into the path of a runner with his feet underneath him, let him coat his feet in lubricant so they slide instead of sticking. Let these men do whatever they want to protect themselves — and then, when they don’t, accept that as their choice.

If pitchers would rather risk brain damage than wear a silly-looking hat, then it’s not the rules that need fixing the next time a liner finds a guy’s head. If hitters eschew hand and elbow guards, then no one gets to moan about pitchers throwing inside the next time someone breaks an arm. If Tejada wants to wear his regular pants in a big spot wherein he’d attempt a blind play, then baseball is still baseball if it doesn’t work out for him.

Again, if I were a player, maybe I’d feel differently. Maybe “risk your body for the fans’ entertainment” is no more appealing on the field than it is at the steroid “clinic”. Maybe all those players telling the media “I don’t need to be coddled” are just trying to sound tough and would secretly love to be coddled. I don’t know. I’m just a fan. And as a fan, I say to Adam Hamari and Joe Torre and every other quick-trigger reactionary authority in MLB: please butt out.

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