Tag: aaron heilman

Aaron Heilman Gets New Start

From the “Where They Are Now” file …

After spending 2010 in Arizona’s bullpen, Aaron Heilman finally became a free agent and embarked on finding a team that would give him a chance to be a starter.

Heilman spent the entire winter evaluating the offers of various suitors, and wound up right back in Arizona — where the Diamondbacks are giving him a legitimate shot at a rotation spot.

Hat tip to my tweet buddy @citycynic.

If you are a longtime, loyal reader of MetsToday then you know my feelings regarding Heilman as a starting pitcher. If you’re not familiar with my stance, check out the links in my argument earlier this winter to consider him as a candidate for the Mets rotation.

Though the D-Backs have promised Heilman a legit shot at starting, and both manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers insist that the winners of the last two starting spots will not be affected by contracts and their associated finances, it would seem that Heilman has an uphill battle. He is one of three candidates for the two open spots, in competition with lefty Zach Duke — who has a one-year, $4.25M guaranteed contract — and Armando Galarraga, the nearly-no-hit artist who has a $2.3M deal. Youngster Barry Enright — who was 6-7 with a 3.91 ERA in 17 starts last year — also is in the running.

According to reports from the Cactus League, Heilman impressed in his first outing of the spring. We’ll see what happens over the next four weeks.

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Free Agent Focus: Aaron Heilman

If you are one of those people ready to set fire to your computer after reading the headline, please click the “back” button or find your way to an angry Mets fan forum. Those with open minds and an appreciation for talent that extends beyond a flat change-up to Yadier Molina in October 2006, please read on.

Finally, Aaron Heilman is a free agent, and with that has the opportunity to shop his wares to a team willing to give him a shot as a starting pitcher. If you are a longtime reader of MetsToday, you know I’ve advocated and supported the concept for about as long as I’ve written this blog.

Unfortunately for Heilman, he’s now 32 years old and hasn’t started a big-league game since 2005; in other words, it’s an uphill battle for him to convince someone that he can fill a spot in their rotation. It’s also a damn shame, considering that Heilman’s arm was abused in a role not suited to his delivery, rather than leveraged for starting duty. I doubt he would have been a Cy Young candidate, but Heilman could have been a very solid #3 / #4 starter on a playoff team had he been used properly.

Beg to differ? Then you didn’t

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2010 Analysis: Sean Green


Remember when the Mets traded Endy Chavez, Aaron Heilman, Joe Smith, Jason Vargas, Ezequiel Carrera, and Maikel Cleto in return for Sean Green and two other Seattle Mariners? Seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?

Green was supposed to be Pedro Feliciano’s foil – a right-handed situational reliever with the ability to occasionally step in as a setup man. Fans who rejoiced at the arrival of Green and the departure of Heilman soon learned that you must be careful what you wish for. Sure, Green never had the opportunity to allow a postseason homerun; but at the same time, the Mets’ dependence on talents such as Green to fill key bullpen roles was at least part of the reason they’ve been watching the playoffs from home since 2006. For those who forgot, Green was penciled in as the backup to the backup setup man in early 2010 — the man who would step in if Kelvim Escobar and Ryota Igarashi didn’t work out.

2011 Projection

Green’s time as a Met has been marked by inconsistency and injury. In an effort to salvage his career, he converted from sidearmer to submariner – a move that might’ve panned out had he given it enough time. But now that he’s back to being a sidewinder with sporadic control who turns 32 shortly after Opening Day, I’m not sure where he fits in to the Mets’ plans. He’s under the team’s control, but after earning $975K in 2010, does it make sense to renew or go the arbitration route? My guess is they’ll cut him loose and try to re-sign him on a minor-league deal.

Click here to read the 2009 Analysis of Sean Green

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Mets Game 95: Loss to Diamondbacks

Diamondbacks 4 Mets 3

It’s one thing to watch a painful loss. It’s another to watch a painfully long game that ends in a loss.

It took the Mets 4 hours and 45 minutes to lose to the Diamondbacks in a game that appeared to be lost as early as the third inning. The only thing that caused the contest to continue was a random moon shot by Rod Barajas in the sixth. Otherwise, every Met not named Angel Pagan pretty much packed it in and was going through the motions.

By the time Chris Snyder lashed a liner to the left field wall to drive home the winning run in the fourteenth frame, I have to admit I was rooting for it to happen — the game had become too agonizing, and a loss seemed inevitable.

Game Notes

Jon Niese pitched so-so, allowing 3 runs on 6 hits and a walk, striking out 6, in 5 innings. All three runs he gave up were on solo homers. As usual, his release point and arm angle was all over the place, and his pitches were mostly flat. Not as usual, the opposing team took advantage. Could be a sign of things to come.

Angel Pagan hit another homer and went 3-for-5 with 2 runs scored. Has anyone been more consistent and consistently productive since Opening Day? And to think he’s been relegated to bench duty not once but twice this season.

What is most disturbing about this lost series is the fact that the Diamondbacks weren’t necessarily trying to win. Of course, they were trying to win, but what I mean is, manager Kirk Gibson was doing a lot of things he might not have done if his team were in the thick of a pennant race. For example, he pulled Ian Kennedy after 5 innings because the team wants to keep him under 200 IP for the season. And, Gibson left in his “irregulars” for most of this contest rather than plugging in starters such as Adam LaRoche when key situations came up. Gibson was doing more evaluating of his personnel than going all out to win — yet, they still won the series.

Bobby Parnell allowed no runs in his one inning of work but was lucky to do so. He walked Justin Upton to start the frame, then allowed a rip up the middle to Miguel Montero, then allowed another laser to Mark Reynolds but it was right at Jose Reyes, turning a bad situation into a double play. After the DP, Parnell gave up another hard-hit ball to Rusty Ryal before gettng the third out. It’s remarkable that Parnell can hit triple digits yet be so hittable.

Former Met Aaron Heilman hurled two nearly perfect innings of relief, striking out three and walking one. He’s lost a bit on his fastball — topping out at 92 MPH — but still has one of the nastiest changeups in MLB. He also dropped in a sharp breaking ball on Carlos Beltran that felt really weird if you have any memories of Heilman, Beltran, and Adam Wainwright from one evening in October 2006.

Oliver Perez pitched an inning and a third of scoreless ball but it was far from impressive. I’m still trying to figure out how he escaped from a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the twelfth.

Oliver Perez” and “Ollie” were trending topics in NYC on Twitter as of 2:20 AM EST.

Is it a coincidence that the Mets’ overnight change from a fighting, tenacious team to a bunch of sleepwalkers began when Carlos Beltran returned to active duty?

The Mets had one hit after the sixth inning. The game went 14 frames.

Next Mets Game

The Mets move northward to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers for a four-game set. Game one begins at 10:10 PM EST (yawn!) on Thursday night. Hisanori Takahashi is scheduled to face Hiroki Kuroda.

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Mets Game 130: Loss to Cubs

Cubs 11 Mets 4

The Bobby Parnell Experiment took another step backward.

Parnell allowed 8 runs on 9 hits and 2 walks in 4 2/3 innings, capped by a grand-slam homerun.

The offense scored four early runs against Ryan Dempster, then kind of fizzled.

Not much more to describe about this game, from the Mets’ point of view. Another long day of watching poor fundamentals, questionable decisions, walks of the opposing pitcher, etc., etc.

Notes

The bullpen was no better than Parnell. Ken Takahashi allowed a run in his one inning, and Lance Broadway gave up two in his inauspicious Mets debut.

The Mets had a chance to have a HUGE inning in the fourth, loading the bases with no outs. Brian Schneider stroked a double to score two, but Fernando Tatis was tossed out at home after stopping at third, then re-starting toward home for reasons unknown. Then Jerry Manuel gave up an out (and the game) by allowing the already struggling Parnell to hit, and having him sacrifice for the second out. Angel Pagan grounded out weakly to get Dempster out of trouble.

Tatis became the 16th Met runner thrown out at home this season.

Was it just a coincidence that the cameras were focused on the back of Jake Fox’s jersey every chance they had?

Fox’s grand slam came on an 0-2 slider that hung up in the zone. It was like deja vu all over again — the pitch took almost the exact flight of Brian Stokes’ hanger to Alfonso Soriano on the previous afternoon.

Aaron Heilman made his first-ever appearance against the Mets. He wasn’t dominating, but did well enough. He also put on a few pounds (perhaps the home cooking?) and was wearing old-school stirrups. Something else was different, too — his arm angle, which was more over the top than we’d seen in the past. He’s still throwing three-quarter, but more of a high three-quarter than he usually did as a Met. If you remember, the more Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel (ab)used him, the more Heilman’s arm angle would drop — to the point where at times his delivery resembled that of Joe Smith.

Seeing Heilman and Parnell in the same game stoked a memory. Remember when Omar Minaya explained that Aaron Heilman wouldn’t be a starter because he didn’t have command of enough different pitches? Yeah …

Next Mets Game

The Mets can’t leave Chicago fast enough, but before they do there’s one more afternoon affair with the Cubs. Game time is 2:20 PM, with Nelson Figueroa facing Carlos Zambrano.

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Why K-Rod and Putz Might Not Matter

Ask anyone why the Mets finished in second place last year and the immediate answer is “the bullpen stunk”. People are quick to point out the 29 blown saves as evidence supporting that claim. Also buying into that theory was the Mets’ front office, who sought to band-aid the problem by acquiring the AL West’s two best closers. Problem solved, right?

Not so fast. Before we assume that J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez slamming the door on innings 8 and 9 are the “final ingredient” for the Mets’ entry into the postseason, let’s continue to follow the data.

Blown Saves: Putz and K-Rod


Question: who blew more saves last year, J.J. Putz or Billy Wagner?

Answer: You may be surprised to find out that Putz blew 8 games, to Wagner’s 7. But Putz was injured in 2008, so we’re willing to give him a pass. Right?

Question: who blew more saves last year, Francisco Rodriguez or Aaron Heilman?
Answer: K-Rod, who blew 7 to Heilman’s 5.
Granted, K-Rod converted 89.8% of his save opportunities, finishing with 62.

But still, 7 blown saves is 7 blown saves. Add Putz’s 8, and the Mets acquired 15 blown saves this offseason — more than half of the 29 they blew in 2008.

Fans will find out quickly that despite their skills, Putz and K-Rod are not “automatic”. In fact, of K-Rod’s 68 innings pitched last year, he went one-two-three only 22 times (FYI, the Royals’ Joakim Soria led all of MLB with 36 “clean” innings). Also of note: K-Rod never pitched more than one full inning in 2008.

Breaking Down the Mets’ 29 Blown Saves

A few numbers to consider regarding the 29 blown saves that supposedly ruined the Mets season:

9: the number of games that were WON by the Mets, in games they blew a save
13: the number of blown saves that came after Billy Wagner went on the DL
11: the number of blown saves that occurred BEFORE THE 8th INNING

That last number is most intriguing. Many people don’t realize that a pitcher can be assigned a blown save as early as the 6th inning. The big deal about getting Putz and K-Rod is that the Mets can now “shorten the game” to 7 innings. However, the Mets will still have to find a way to bridge the gap in the 6th and 7th, a time when more than one-third of their blown saves occurred.

Subtract those 11 “early blown saves” from the 29, and you’re down to 18 blown saves. Subtract the 9 games that were won, and you’re down to 9 blown saves that occurred in the 8th or 9th inning, that resulted in a loss.

Suddenly, the Mets’ bullpen doesn’t look so awful, does it? Now, consider again that Putz and Rodriguez combined for 15 blown saves last year, and ALL of their blown saves occurred in either the 8th or 9th frames, and you tell me whether the bullpen is definitely improved over last year.

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Heilman Traded to Cubs

Aaron Heilman has been traded to the Cubs in exchange for Garrett Olson and Ronny Cedeno.

Well that was quick … guess I can cancel my order for a Seattle Mariners hat. I could have gotten away with that too — rooting for the M’s. I don’t know how I can root for the Cubs, though.

Interestingly, Heilman brought the Mariners a fairly accomplished, young, lefthanded starter and a potential starting shortstop or second baseman. Strange that the Mets had to add 22 people to him to get a 32-year-old reliever.

Now, the question is, will Heilman get his chance to win a starting rotation spot? The Cubs have Sean Marshall penciled in, but he was going to compete with the now-departed Olson. Would Lou Piniella give Heilman a shot to compete with Marshall? Or does he view Heilman as another setup guy to team with Kevin Gregg, Jeff Samardzija, and Chad Gaudin?

Or, will this acquisition lead to ANOTHER deal, possibly one that sends Jake Peavy from San Diego to Chicago? Should be interesting to follow.

In any case, Heilman looks now to be in a position to either make the Mets look really bad, or really smart, and to do it much too close to “home”.

By the way, at the annual Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner last Sunday, Heilman took out this ad:

An Appreciation

Playing at Shea
before you folks
was an experience
I always will savor

Thank you for support

— Aaron Heilman

Congratulations to all award winners this evening

(Hat tip to ‘Ropolitans)

Classy. It’s going to be hard for me not to root for him as a Cub.

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Does Brian Schneider Stink?

Earlier this offseason — before Omar Minaya went into hibernation — there were rumblings that the Mets might be looking to upgrade their catching situation. Various rumors swirled involving Jason Varitek, Ivan Rodriguez, and Bengie Molina, among others. According to “sources with knowledge of the Mets’ thinking”, the team was hoping to get more offensive production from their backstops. The lefty-righty tandem of Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro combined for 16 HR, 62 RBI, 45 runs scored, and a .253 average. Not bad, but not great either. It’s about the same output as Varitek’s 2008.

Most recently, statistics published on Adam Rubin’s “Surfing the Mets” blog suggest that Schneider could be more the scapegoat of the Mets’ failure — but because of his defense, rather than his offense. The numbers reported in Rubin’s column, by way of “RayRubin Sports Analytics“, are as follows:

SANCHEZ caught by CASTRO 65 ABs, allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=292
SCHNEIDER 108 ABs, allows 6 HRs and OPP SLUG%=454

HEILMAN caught by CASTRO 50 ABs , allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=340
SCHNEIDER 195 ABs, allows 9 HRs and OPP SLUG%=456

FELICIANO caught by CASTRO 36 ABs, allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=306
SCHNEIDER 134 ABs, allows 6 HRs and OPP SLUG%=455

WAGNER caught by CASTRO 49 ABs, allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=204
SCHNEIDER 99 ABs, allows 3 HRs and OPP SLUG%=313

SANTANA caught by CASTRO 333 ABs, allows 6 HRs and OPP SLUG%=297
SCHNEIDER 524 ABs, allows 15 HRs and OP SLUG%=401

PEDRO M caught by CASTRO 138 ABs, allows 2 HRs and OPP SLUG%=377
SCHNEIDER 185 ABs, allows 15 HRs and OPP SLUG%=600!!!!!

Same phenomena holds with John Maine, Claudio Vargas and Nelson Figueroa. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Huh … those stats are worrisome, particularly since Schneider’s value as a ballplayer is tied directly to his defensive performance. If he can’t hit, AND can’t catch, how can the Mets move forward with him behind the plate?

Before we go piling on Brian and blaming him for all the Mets’ woes, let’s take a better look at what these numbers mean.

First of all, I don’t see the actual stats for Maine, Vargas, and Figueroa, so I’m taking for granted the source is telling the truth. Further, I don’t see any stats for Pelfrey, Perez, Smith, Schoeneweis, Stokes, Muniz, Sosa, Ayala, Wise, Rincon, Parnell, Knight, Niese, Armas, nor Kunz. Maybe the guys at RayRubin found similar trends, but didn’t deem it necessary to continue belaboring the point. Or, perhaps the split performances of the other pitchers don’t fit RayRubin’s argument, and thus were conveniently left out.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to say which is the case, because I can’t for the life of me find these individualized stats anywhere (if someone can, please send us the link!). All I can find is the “Catcher’s ERA” (CERA), which has Schneider at 4.11 and Castro at 3.68. Before we judge Castro the big winner there, consider that most statheads find CERA to be an unreliable indicator of a catcher’s performance.

But put all that aside for a moment, and let’s look at RayRubin’s reported numbers specifically. What could be the explanation for such a dire contrast in performance from Schneider to Castro? Right off the bat I’m seeing an issue with the sample sizes. Other than in the cases of Martinez and Santana, Schneider caught about double the ABs for each of the pitchers in question (with Heilman and Feliciano, it was nearly FOUR TIMES as many at-bats). Is it possible that Castro simply caught those pitchers on “lucky” days? What if the appearances were reversed — if Castro was the one to catch Heilman for almost 200 batters, for instance? Would Heilman have pitched extraordinarily better? No one knows for sure. These numbers suggest that Schneider looks bad simply because he was the guy that was usually behind the plate, rather than any negative impact he had on the pitching staff.

Which brings up another point — even if Castro was that much better as a receiver, it matters little since he couldn’t stay healthy enough to remain on the roster.

Looking at the rest of the defensive stats, Schneider has a fairly solid advantage over Castro (other than passed balls). Schneider threw out 21 of 63 (33%) runners attempting to steal, while Castro nailed 5 of 23 (21.7%). Passed balls — Schneider , Castro 1. Errors — Schneider 4, Castro 4. That last number is a bit scary, since Schneider caught 109 games and Castro only 47. If Castro caught, say, 120 games, he might have committed 10 errors or more. Another stat I can’t find anywhere is the number of wild pitches allowed per catcher. Though wild pitches aren’t necessarily a catcher’s fault, the better catchers minimize their occurrences. My eyes tell me that Schneider is much more nimble behind the plate than Castro, and my guess is that Schneider does a better job of keeping balls from getting past him.

As many of you know, I’m a catcher myself and so you may want to know my personal thoughts on this idea that Schneider is a prominent scapegoat. I have to say no — at least, I wouldn’t blame the Mets failures on Schneider’s defense or game-calling abilities. I do believe it’s possible that the pitchers who were with the Mets in previous years were probably more comfortable throwing to Castro, and I can tell you firsthand that it takes a while for a catcher to learn how to get the most out of a pitcher. When Schneider was swatting at balls early in the season, many wondered how a defensive specialist could commit so many passed balls. Anyone who’s caught at a fairly high level can tell you instantly — it’s hard as heck to catch a guy who (a) you haven’t caught before, or very often; (b) is throwing 90+; and/or (c) is wild. Since Schneider missed nearly all of spring training last year, he didn’t get a chance to catch the Mets pitchers as much as he should have. You can read the rest of my explanation on his passed balls here and here.

In other words, it probably took a while — probably half the season — for Schneider to both get comfortable with, and begin to learn how to extract the most from, the Mets’ pitching staff. A good catcher has to manage the pitcher’s emotions as well as his pitching repertoire, and also needs to know when and how to push / motivate a guy — and when to stroke his ego to build his confidence. In addition, the catcher needs to gain the pitcher’s confidence. When I look at those big slugging numbers, I wonder if the extra-base hits were due to Schneider calling a bad pitch, or the pitcher shaking off a pitch? We all remember that fateful NLCS game, when Guillermo Mota continually shook off Paul LoDuca; sometimes the catcher has the right idea, but the pitcher either doesn’t have confidence in the call, or doesn’t have confidence in himself to throw the pitch. Who is to blame in such a situation?

Assuming that Schneider returns to catch in 2009 — and all signs seem to point that way — I believe that the numbers cited above by RayRubin will improve, based on the fact that Schneider will have a better “feel” for his pitchers, and in turn, the pitchers will be more comfortable, and have more faith, in him. In short, NO — Brian Schneider does NOT stink — and the pitching staff can only improve with the continuity of Schneider behind the plate in 2009.

(Schneider has at least one more thing going for him — as of today, Martinez, Heilman, Wagner, and Vargas are not on the 2009 roster … so those terrible numbers can’t get any worse!)

******** Shout out to “isuzudude” for suggesting this subject *******

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