Tag: brian stokes

Kelvim Escobar Out for the Year

Stunning, shocking headline, I know. We were all counting on the once-nearly-good Escobar to handle the eighth inning for the Mets, but he has suffered an out-of-the-blue setback that requires season-ending surgery.

This wasn’t even going to be given the importance of a post, since we more or less wrote off Escobar the day we heard he couldn’t grip a baseball (and for those who kept the faith, his “weakness” might have sent you toward reality). The idea that he might pitch at all in 2010 was considered a joke, in fact.

But after the official news of Escobar’s impending surgery broke, I received several emails from you, the loyal readership, and felt compelled to address the issue.

So … there goes $1.5M down the drain. To be fair, it was much less painful (pardon the pun) a loss than last year’s J.J. Putz debacle. Had the Mets signed him to be an extra arm, or “gravy”, rather than as “the guy” for the 8th inning, it would have been a logical, safe gamble.

The good news is, the Mets have a backup plan in place named Ryota Igarashi.

Oh, wait … he’s on the DL, isn’t he? So then it must be Sean Gre… never mind. I guess I meant Kiko Calero. Oh shoot, Calero is in AAA because he was signed so late (after it was discovered Escobar could grip a pen but not a ball), and he allowed 7 runs in his last outing for Buffalo, didn’t he? Well, that’s better than Johan Santana did in his last appearance, so there’s that. Luckily, the Mets have Brian Stokes. Er, I mean … Bobby Parnell. No, that’s not right, either … um … who IS the setup man?

Ah, relief pitching is overrated anyway … better to have spent big bucks on second-string catchers and experienced backup infielders.

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Gary Matthews Jr. Returning to Flushing?

Jon Heyman says the Mets are on the verge of acquiring Gary Matthews, Jr. from the Angels, with the Angels paying the majority of the $23M left on his ridiculous contract.

No official word on who is going the other way, but Heyman mentions that the Angels have shown interest in Brian Stokes.

Let’s wait until the whole story is published before we react. Though, my initial gut reaction is that there’s no way this can turn out well for the Mets.

Some of you may recall Matthews’ two-game tenure with the Mets in 2002. That team was, in some ways, eerily similar to the 2010 version.

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2009 Analysis: Brian Stokes

brian-stokes-pitchMany Mets fans may be surprised to learn that Brian Stokes appeared in 69 games this past season — but the final record says he did.

Stokes was roleless throughout the season, or perhaps the better descriptor was “everyman”. He was used as a long man, a short man, a mopup guy, a setup man, in middle relief, and as a situational / matchup guy. Strangely, the only thing he didn’t do in 2009 was start.

There were times that Jerry Manuel used Stokes in back-to-back games, and three games in a row, and just as many times when Stokes went a week or more without appearing in a game. Manuel and Dan Warthen seemed unable to figure out where Stokes fit into the plans.

But, previous managers and coaches have been equally confused about Stokes. The 30-year-old righthander has been an eternal enigma from the day he signed a pro contract, shifting from the bullpen to starting and back to the bullpen, all the while impressing onlookers with a 96-97 MPH fastball and a full arsenal of secondary pitches. Yet, with those tools, he’s been able to strike out only 121 batters in 190 MLB innings.

Stokes has two major problems. First, his fastball is usually straight as an arrow. Second, his curve, slider, split, and change are all equally inconsistent, but show promise. If he had just a little sink or lateral movement on his fastball, and/or could transform one of his other offerings into a plus pitch, he’d be an ideal setup man. He has the assortment of a starting pitcher, the velocity of a reliever, but expertise in neither.

I like Stokes’ raw talent and his demeanor. He doesn’t appear to lose his focus in the face of adversity, and he’s fairly aggressive and confident in pounding the strike zone. If I were Dan Warthen, I’d work on his fastball grip, insist that he choose one secondary pitch to focus on, and pencil him in as a 7th-inning reliever. And then, I’d ask Jerry Manuel to give the guy regular work, and see what happens.

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Thole and Misch a Good Match

josh-thole-catchingThe highly anticipated debut of prospect Josh Thole could have been more difficult, but the Mets made the right move by matching him with lefthander Pat Misch.

Sure, I could be completely wrong — Thole could suffer seven passed balls and six stolen bases, while striking out five times. But I believe the Mets have given him a strong opportunity to succeed by choosing this game, this opponent, and this starting pitcher.

For one, it’s a day game, played outdoors and under natural light. Right there, Thole should be comfortable, as it is always much easier to see the flight of a ball in broad daylight than it is at night under artificial lighting. This is an advantage both in terms of batting and in receiving pitches behind the plate.

Secondly, the Mets have matched Thole with one of their easiest pitchers to catch. Pat Misch relies on pinpoint control, using a small repertoire of pitches that generally range from 70-85 MPH. If anything, he throws too many strikes and is always around the plate. He’s thrown only one wild pitch in his MLB career, and less than a dozen in close to 800 minor league innings. In short, he is a catcher’s dream in terms of receiving the ball. Additionally, Misch is a poised, unflappable, easygoing veteran — no worries about having to calm him down in times of adversity.

Contrast Misch with, say, Oliver Perez, and it’s easy to understand my point.

Loyal MetsToday reader “Murph” (of MurphGuide) posed the question:

“Do you think it is harder for a rookie to hit major league pitching, or to catch major league pitching?”

Neither is easy, but from my own experience, catching a pitcher whom you’ve never caught before can be much harder than hitting one you’ve never faced before — and it all depends on the pitcher’s command, velocity, and repertoire. Someone like Ollie Perez, John Maine, or Bobby Parnell — who throw at high velocity and tend to be all over the place — are extremely difficult to receive because the catcher may have no idea where the ball is going, nor what route it’s going to take, and he has little time to react. Remember the struggles of Brian Schneider early last season? Those were due specifically to the unfamiliarity with the pitching staff, and secondarily to a new glove.

As we’ve been told, Josh Thole has been catching many of the Mets pitchers in the bullpen since his promotion. And that’s good, but not necessarily enough — it depends on the pitcher. Some are around the plate and have pitches that run and break consistently, and you can get a “feel” for the distance they’ll move when they’re not on target. Also, it’s easier when the top velocity is lower, and there are less pitches to “learn” — for example Pedro Feliciano throws only an 87-MPH fastball and a sweeping slider, so he might be easier to catch than, say, Brian Stokes, who can hit 97 MPH with the fastball, and also has varying degrees of success with a curve, slider, changeup, and split. Francisco Rodriguez, I imagine, would also be difficult to catch, mainly because his pitches break so sharply and so late — and often into the ground and wide of the strike zone.

The pitcher’s personality is another can of worms which we won’t get into in depth. But consider this: what if Thole’s MLB debut came last night, and he had to deal with Mike Pelfrey’s case of the yips? Or if he had to get Oliver Perez back on track during one of those “Ollie Innings” ?

Another consideration is calling the game. I would bet that the pitches will be called from the dugout today. After all, Thole doesn’t know much about the strengths and weaknesses of MLB hitters, and isn’t yet familiar with Pat Misch’s game-time abilities.

We’ll see soon enough how well Josh Thole handles himself behind the dish. We’re told his best tool is his bat, and that he needs work on his catching skills. That said, the Mets have made his MLB debut as easy as could possibly be managed. For once, a logical decision based on thought and preparation.

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What’s Wrong with Bobby Parnell

b-parnell-backHe looked lights out for the first two months of the season, and thrilled us with his triple-digit radar gun readings. But lately, Bobby Parnell has been ineffective — what’s wrong?

As is often the case, there is no one clear-cut answer. But I do have a multi-pronged theory.

Bullpen Routine

The most obvious issue is that Bobby Parnell has never been in the bullpen in the pros before, so he’s not used to the reliever’s routine — mentally nor physically. Since joining the Mets organization in 2005, Parnell has been a starting pitcher, throwing in a game once every five days (with a pitch count) and adhering to a strict program in between starts.

Now, he is expected to be ready every day, which is vastly different in regard to both physical and mental preparation. It’s not unlike going from being a marathon runner to a sprinter. Consider this: through the first 67 games of 2009, Parnell has appeared in 36 ballgames. Last year, while jumping from AA to AAA to the MLB, he appeared in 37 games ALL SEASON. In 2007, Parnell pitched in a total of 29 games, all as a starter. It’s safe to suggest that part of Parnell’s problem right now is being unaccustomed to the daily rigors of a big league relief pitcher.

Secondary Pitch

The next issue affecting Parnell’s performance is his lack of a legitimate secondary pitch. His slider has potential, but is inconsistent, cannot be thrown for a strike, and is 10-15 MPH slower than his fastball. The difference in speed is a problem because it gives batters time to realize what’s coming, and they can lay off of it. Further, batters can wait for a fastball and tee off on it, especially after Parnell misses with the slider once or twice in row. It’s pretty easy for a Major Leaguer to hit the ball hard if he knows what’s coming.

Location and Movement

When Bobby Parnell was developing as a starting pitcher, he relied on a sinking fastball thrown to specific locations in the strike zone. I don’t know for sure, but I’m going to guess he used a two-seam grip, which provides the sink and some lateral movement. Generally speaking, a two-seam fastball has more movement, but a little less velocity than a four-seam fastball. I’m going to make another guess, which is that Parnell is hitting the high-90s and 100 MPH using a four-seam grip, which usually offers much less lateral movement and no sink at all (it’s why infielders and outfielders use a four-seam grip — so their throws are accurate and “true” / go in a straight line toward the intended target).

I’m going to go one more step with my theory, and say that Parnell throws his two-seam / sinking fastball to a specific location, but rears back and throws his four-seamer in the general direction of home plate. As a result, the four-seamer has lots of velocity, but is staying too “true” and is too close to the center of the plate. Hitters may have a hard time getting their bat on a 98-100 MPH fastball even if it’s over the heart of the plate, but eventually, an MLBer will catch up to it — and they are. Add in the previous point about the batter knowing what’s coming, and it’s no surprise that Parnell is getting lit up lately.

The Solution

It’s difficult if not impossible to develop a consistent offspeed / breaking pitch at the MLB level — just ask Mike Pelfrey, who has been developing secondary pitches “on the job” for the past three years. So although one solution is for Parnell to “learn another pitch”, that’s easier said than done.

The second possibility is for Parnell to go back to using his two-seamer more often, to set up the triple-digit heater. But here’s the problem: one of the reasons Parnell was not progressing quickly enough as a starter was his inability to spot his fastball consistently. He is throwing the two-seamer/sinker on occasion here in the bigs, but it “runs” (moves laterally) a bit too much, veering out of the strike zone. Additionally, it’s “only” about 91-93 MPH, so if it doesn’t sink or run, it’s really easy to hit.

Bottom line is this: Bobby Parnell is, right now, a AA starter who needs more time to develop command of his fastball and an offspeed pitch. But, because the Mets were so excited at his velocity, they rushed him to the big league bullpen. After a bit of success, there are now much bigger expectations of him as a future setup man and possibly a closer.

One may wonder why the Mets were so eager to put Parnell’s electric arm in the bullpen, when they already had Brian Stokes. Stokes also throws a straight 96-97 MPH fastball, but he can mix in three secondary pitches (they’re mediocre at best, but they’re better than what Parnell has in his limited repertoire). Could it be part of the organization’s initiative to prove everyone wrong who criticized their farm system? Did they throw Parnell into the fire before he was ready simply to prove their player development is better than what the scouting reports state? A similar move to anointing Dan Murphy the everyday left fielder on the second day of spring training? We can only wonder.

Whatever the case, the point is, the Bobby Parnell experiment should be put on hold. The kid needs to go down to AAA or AA and hone his craft. When he develops either better location of his fastballs, or a legit secondary pitch, he’ll undoubtedly be a lights-out reliever again, with a bright future. Otherwise, expect more of what you’ve seen the past two weeks, while Parnell learns on the job.

(Hat tip to loyal MetsToday reader “sincekindergarten” who wrote an email to me inspiring this post)

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