Archive: October 2nd, 2007

What Went Wrong: Attitude

In our third installment of “The New York Mets 2007 Season: What Went Wrong?”, we’ll address the issue of attitude — which is a bit complex.

We’ll call it “attitude” but also take the liberty of extending the definition to include “cockiness”, “overconfidence”, “disrespect”, and “defeatism”.

Overconfidence / Cockiness — and Defeatism

The 2006 Mets were very similar to their 1986 brethren — they steamrolled over the competition, locking up the division by a landslide early in September. It was hardly a race after the All-Star Break, in fact.

At the beginning of 2007, I mistakenly believed that the return of most of the 2006 squad was a good thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? I was also under the false assumption that the core group — guys like the Carloses, Jose and D-Wright, Glavine, Heilman, Wagner, and LoDuca — would be extra-motivated to return to the postseason, and “get it right” this time. While everyone else in the NL East was revamping their roster, I thought the continuity would be an advantage for the Mets (if you missed it, it’s here: Continuity Is Key).

Boy, was I off the mark.

As it turns out, the return of the core guys only caused the team to be overconfident. They won by a ton last year, so they figured they could put it in cruise control and blow the doors off everyone in 2007. There was a long stretch during June that the Mets simply lost interest in putting in an effort — if they were losing by two or three runs by the fifth inning, the game was effectively over.

Back in mid-June, I accused the Mets of tanking — i.e., not putting forth their best effort — both here on MetsToday, as well as a commenter on MetsBlog. At the time, I was poo-pooed for such a silly evaluation. Body language? Facial expressions? They mean nothing. The Mets were simply in a slump, a bad run. Willie Randolph had a slew of explanations, most of which sounded something like ” … we just gotta get it going … gotta turn the page … gotta tip your cap to your opponent sometimes … blah blah blah … ”

Willie wouldn’t admit it, but the Mets would give up — they’d accept defeat early on in ballgames. The ironic thing is, they gave up because they felt they’d have no problem getting a win the next day — so why overextend yourself in a seemingly lost cause? Down by four? Heck — let ’em take the game, there’s always tomorrow. An indifference to losing, which now weighs heavily for a team that needed only two more wins to take the division.

And now, after the season, the truth comes out — from two of the Mets’ veteran “leaders”:

“We’ve got so much talent, I think sometimes we get bored,” said first baseman Carlos Delgado.

Um …. WHAT ?????

“Sometimes when you’re a team as talented as we are – I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘bored,’ but I guess you can get complacent at times,” said veteran pitcher Tom Glavine.

Oh, gee … thanks for clearing that up, big T!

Disrespect

In addition to the cockiness — and perhaps connected — was the disrespect shown toward both the game and the opponents from a few choice players. Omar Minaya has his own “synonym” for it — he calls it “exuberance”. Strangely, that “exuberance” doesn’t always translate to “effort”, and you’d think it would.

Perpetrator number one is Jose Reyes. And I’ll be the first one to admit that I LOVE watching Jose smile, laugh, and express emotion on the field. He’s one of the very few ballplayers who shows how much he purely enjoys the game. But, when his enthusiasm extends into dances, flamboyantly complex high-five combinations, and similarly taunting outbursts — well, a line has to be drawn. There’s a fine line between enjoying the game and showing up your opponent, and on many occasions, Jose crossed that line. Willie Randolph made a big stink punishing Reyes for not running out a ground ball, but he never did a thing about the over-the-edge exuberance (perhaps not his choice, though). And Reyes is old enough to learn the difference and control himself.

Because Reyes “got away” with it, Lastings Milledge did too. Milledge is immensely talented, we know, but unfortunately he knows it better than we do. He’s a ballpark frank developing into a foot-long — a dyed-in-the-wool, authentic hot dog. At first it was innocent and cute — even I, one of the most critical of LMillz, thought the high-five around the stadium was a fantastic and refreshing act of genuine, kidlike enthusiasm. But it’s not cute anymore when Milledge hangs around to watch homeruns, initiates disco dances at home plate with Reyes, and openly taunts the opposition. It’s also not cute when he lollygags after balls in the corner, allowing opposing pitchers to stretch doubles into triples. And it’s not cute when he doesn’t run hard to first on a grounder back to the pitcher, then stands on second base on a popup with two outs. His inexcusable string of actions (and inactions) of games 161 and 162 were not independent — but rather, representative of his “maturity” in 2007. But you can’t get on Lastings until you first get on Reyes — and whether that happens remains to be seen. Already, Omar Minaya has released them both from responsibility, excusing their disrespect as “exuberance” and being “what young kids do”.

Before we single out Milledge and Reyes, let me extend the point to Paul LoDuca, who does not have the excuse of youth. Ninety percent of the time, I like Paulie’s emotion — at some points during the season, he seemed the only Met with a pulse. But he needs to cut down on the dramatic complaining to umpires on balls and strikes. First of all, it’s bush and disrespectful to the umpires. Secondly, whining about calls doesn’t do anything to help your team — neither the pitchers nor the hitters. And a catcher, of all people, should know better.

Oh, and for those who say “it’s OK, Omar’s right” and “what’s the big deal?”, may I refer you to game 162, which might have been a different contest had the Marlins not been externally motivated. Think it’s hogwash? Then I suggest you spend more time with the sabermetricians, who are convinced that the human element has no bearing on wins and losses. And root for the Athletics. People — whether they’re baseball players or janitors — don’t like being kicked when they’re down, and most will find a way to regain their pride at the expense of the kicker. This isn’t the NBA (thank god), so childish antics, finger-pointing, and trash-talking don’t have a place on the diamond — because amped-up emotions tend to be detrimental to execution in baseball.

Additionally, the players who tend to tend to be exuberant when going well also tend to brood and sulk and hang their head when things are not so good. Or get violent (i.e., Milton Bradley). It’s dismissed as immaturity, but it’s more than that — it’s the inability to control and temper emotions. If a 23-year-old kid learns that it’s OK to have extreme highs and lows, what would make him change as a 25, 26, or 27-year-old? That kind of emotional rollercoaster may work in football or basketball, but it’s not the best way to approach a 162-game baseball season. The highs and lows have to be balanced from April through October if one wishes to be successful. Willie Randolph is an example of the extremely level-headed drone, and Milton Bradley is an example of the extreme opposite. Ideally, a player would be somewhere in between — but closer to Willie than to Milton. Otherwise, we’d we’d be seeing daily pep rallies before games instead of batting practice.

How To Fix It

The first issue of overconfidence will fix itself — the one good thing (if there could be such a thing) to come out of the monumental collapse. The aforementioned comparison to the 1987 Mets grows — those second-place finishers learned from their underachievement and came back roaring in 1988. Many from the 2007 team will return in 2008, and we can be fairly certain that effort is one thing that won’t be a question next season. Thoughts of unfulfilled promise and wasted talent will weigh heavily on their minds all winter — and they wouldn’t have made it this far without self-respect and pride. Both need to be regained in 2008.

On the other hand, the second issue could be a chronic problem. Minaya’s “exuberance” stance is a step backward, and handcuffs Randolph — who I think could “fix” the problem if given the go-ahead. Unfortunately, Willie isn’t much more than Omar’s sock puppet, which is part of the reason his ideas on how the game should be played falls on deaf ears. Say what you want about his in-game management, his handling of the pitching staff, and other technical issues — but the guy is a straight-shooting, old-school ballplayer who knows how the game is supposed to be played. He respects himself, his teammates, his opponents, and the game itself. As a player, he played hard, always hustled, always knew what to do with the ball and on the bases, and focused on the task at hand — and expects his players to do the same. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if the Mets players chose Randolph to emulate. Whether that will ever happen, though, is another story.

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Bullpen Part Two

Yesterday we discussed that one of the big reasons for the Mets’ second-place finish was the gross mismanagement of the bullpen.

Well I have some new numbers for you, further proving that the Mets’ bullpen was the most overworked in the National League.

I think we can all be in agreement that the Mets top nine relievers — as far as innings pitched — are as follows:
[TABLE=24]

The numbers don’t lie; above were the nine most-used relief pitchers in the Mets bullpen in 2007. The next guy on the list, by the way, is Willie Collazo, who pitched less than six innings.

The next table lists the total number of relief innings pitched by each team, the number of innings pitched by the top nine relievers on that team, and the percentage of the total innings that the top nine pitched. I hope that makes sense.

In other words, the Mets’ top 9 guys — the ones you see above — accounted for 95% of the total innings pitched in relief by Mets pitchers in 2007. I tallied up the numbers to find the percentages for every other NL team, as a comparison.

See for yourself:

[TABLE=23]

Some interesting things jump out here. First of all, the team that came in second to the Mets on this list — the Diamondbacks — had nine guys who threw 93% of their team’s relief innings … but, it was a lighter workload than the Mets’, by nearly 40 innings. The third team, the Padres, would appear to have whipped their top nine nearly as hard as the Mets’ relievers — as they handled 90% of the workload and pitched nine more innings. The Astros also were at 90%, but like the D’Backs had a lighter load to bear. The rest of the NL was under 90%.

And who do we see at the bottom of the pile but the Phillies — who needed to cover 8 more innings of relief than the Mets, but did a much better job of sharing the load. After seeing these numbers, it’s not so surprising that the Philadelphia bullpen was lights-out for most of September — they were well rested!

In addition, I took this study one step further, and eliminated two pitchers from the bottom. So from the Mets, that would be Jorge Sosa and Ambiorix Burgos. And you know what? The Mets top seven most-used relievers — Heilman, Wagner, Feliciano, Mota, Schoeneweis, Sele, and Smith — handled over 85% of the total relief innings pitched by the Mets. That would still put them just behind the Dodgers, at #7, in comparison to everyone else’s top 9 (the next-closest “top 7” were also the D’Backs and the Padres).

[TABLE=25]

Look at those Phillies again, at the bottom. A stark contrast to the Mets’, eh?

Hopefully someone in the Mets organization is also taking note of this trend in relief pitching. To reiterate, establishing specific people with bullpen roles and expecting them to fulfill those roles from game 1 through 162 is suicide. There are simply too many innings to cover over that span, which require at minimum 9-10 arms that can share the load. The teams that stockpile the highest-quality arms — and/or can squeeze the most innings out of their starters — will be less susceptible to breakdowns in the last weeks of the season.

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What Went Wrong: Underachievers

Why did the supposedly most talented team in the National League fail to win at least 90 games in 2007? At least part of it was due to several players falling short of expectations. Fair or unrealistic, the following players were counted on to do more than their 2007 output.

Jose Reyes

After establishing career highs in every single offensive category in 2006, the world was predicting superstardom for Jose Reyes in 2007. Surely an energetic 24-year-old who seemingly improved every day would continue to evolve, and perhaps make a run at a triple crown.

And on the heels of a hot spring training that led into an explosive April, it appeared that Reyes would fulfill the prophecies. Instead, it was a downhill slide from around July through the end of the season.

Reyes was on fire in April, batting .356, and though he cooled to .268 in May, he responded in June with .330. From there, he slowed to a near stop: .265 in July, .272 in August, and a dismal .205 in September. There are all kinds of reasons offered, probably all of them correct in some small way. The firing of Rick Down, who supposedly “got” Reyes, has been mentioned. The fact that he ran like a maniac in August under Rickey Henderson’s tutelage couldn’t have helped.

Here’s my take: he started to get in a rut in July, mostly due to a poor approach — not letting the ball get deep and swinging at questionable pitches. This is when bad habits began which occasionally affected his hitting mechanics. In August, he stole 23 bases — seemingly stealing for the sake of running up his season total, rather than for the purpose of winning games (the next-highest total for a month was 17 during his hot April). By getting caught up in the numbers game, he exhausted himself by the end of the game, and gave away late-inning at-bats. His wearing out in these later innings also further affected his already inconsistent hitting mechanics as well as his mental focus. By September he was mentally fatigued, and losing confidence — which caused him to press. That combination — more in his head than his body — was what caused his abysmal performance in the field and at bat in the last four weeks of the season.

Regardless of what was the TRUE reason behind Reyes’ disappointing season, the fact was, it WAS a disappointment. Though he stole a Mets-record 78 bases, his .280 average, drop in power, and absence down the stretch were among the most influential issues of the Mets’ demise. Although it wasn’t necessarily fair to believe he’d improve upon his eye-popping 2006 numbers, it was within reason to expect him to show up in September. It was a disappearing act that most Mets fans won’t soon forget.

Carlos Delgado

For the first time in a dozen years, Carlos Delgado failed to drive in 90 runs. For the first time in ten years, he failed to drive in at least 99.

Delgado was brought to New York for two reasons: 1. to provide protection for Carlos Beltran; and 2. to drive in runs. He failed miserably on both responsibilities, and saw his batting average drop to a paltry .258. We didn’t mind his .265 in 2006, but 38 homers and 118 RBI will overshadow a mark 20 points below his career average. Once among the top five most feared hitters in all of baseball, Delgado is a shell of his former self, waving weakly at pitches in the dirt and boosting his average by punching grounders through the hole vacated by the third baseman as part of “the shift” maneuvered against him.

The Marlins granted Delgado an obnoxiously huge contract — $64M over five years — because he hit 35-40 homers, drove in 100-135, and batted near .300 with regularity. He also posted high OBPs, taking walks around a hundred times per year. In 2007, however, his 24 HRs, 87 RBI, and 52 walks were a horrendous output for a man making $14.5M. What worse, is as his numbers go down, his salary goes up — the Mets are on the hook for $12M of a $16M payout in 2008.

It may have been his offseason surgery, nagging injuries, the new baby, or a combination of excuses that caused his demise in 2007. It doesn’t matter — the point is, the Mets expected much more from Delgado, and he came up grossly short.


Paul LoDuca

His average dropped more than 45 points from the .318 posted in 2006, and his defensive skills continued to erode. While his 2006 average was more than anyone could expect, he was counted on for somewhere between .280 -.290, a better than .311 OBP, and a bit more punch than his .378 slugging. Yes, he did drive in 54 runs — 5 more than last year — and nearly doubled his homerun total. However, it came at the expense of 21 less doubles — not to mention 34 less runs scored. We didn’t expect Paulie to vie for the batting title, but we wished he were on base more often, and didn’t hit into double plays so often (18 times, or once ever 25 at-bats). His inability to throw out runners after July was reminiscent of Mike Piazza — but at least Mike provided a big bat in the middle of the lineup. If LoDuca returns in 2008, it will only be by default — there just aren’t any more exciting options available in the marketplace.

Carlos Beltran

Hard to believe a guy who hits 33 homers and drives in 112 runs could be a disappointment. And you can’t pin the Mets’ failures in 2007 solely on Beltran. However, he’s one of highest-paid players in baseball, and with that comes some expectations. For example, to carry a team on your back for occasional stretches.

However, Beltran never carried the team, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that he’s just not that type of superstar. He is a great all-around player — certainly one of the best, and one of the few players who does everything well. But more a complementary player than a marquee star. With good players around him, and a slugger hitting behind him, he’ll do very well. But he’s not the go-to guy.

His end-of-season numbers were very good, almost excellent. But many Mets fans might be surprised he amassed 33 HRs and 112 RBI, probably because of the several pockets of the season where he simply disappeared. He had a big April, and finished strong, but otherwise was somewhere between inconsistent and non-existent on offense. His defense was stellar in centerfield, worthy of another Gold Glove. But he batted .234 in May, .238 in June, and .208 in July — amassing a grand total of 13 homers in those three months. That’s fairly impactful considering that he was the Mets’ #3 hitter for most of that time, before being dropped to the cleanup spot. Of course, people will blame his numbers on Delgado not providing protection, and/or Alou not being in uniform, but if that’s the case then the theory holds — he’s not a “go-to” guy. And that’s too bad, considering what he’s being paid.

Lastings Milledge

Yes, Lastings was a disappointment — though not completely his fault. First of all, he was supposed to push Shawn Green and eventually take over right field. He gave it a damn good run in spring training — and probably deserved the job based specifically on March — but Green went ballistic in April and ended that idea. Nearly simultaneously, Milledge injured his foot and was MIA until July — while every Mets outfielder hit the DL, one by one.

Had Milledge remained healthy, he — and not Carlos Gomez — would have been Moises Alou’s replacement in left field. And while it was nice to get a preview of Gomez, it’s possible Milledge could have “broken out” and started realizing all this potential we keep hearing about. Instead, he played in only 59 games, got less than 200 ABs, and by those numbers alone was an underachiever. Again, not all his fault, but we expected more.

Guillermo Mota

Many, many fans and pundits thought Omar Minaya was out of his mind for signing Mota to a two-year deal after he was caught for PED and suspended 50 games. At the time, I was one of the few to defend Minaya’s decision, for this reason: guys with Mota’s skillset are not available for $5M over two years. In other words, Mota was an absolute bargain — or do you know of another pitcher with 8 years’ MLB service, a 95-MPH heater, often filthy changeup, and closing experience at that price?

Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out well — Mota off steroids did not have the confidence needed to get the job done. It didn’t help that Willie Randolph had an unfounded fascination with him, and didn’t understand the concept of cutting losses. His unwavering confidence in Mota had much to do with the Mets’ downfall in the second half of the season.

If Mota had been HALF as good as he was in September of 2006, the Mets would have won at least 2-3 more games from June to September. And that’s all that would’ve been needed to earn a postseason spot.

Scott Schoeneweis

Ouch. The Mets refuse to give Chad Bradford a three-year deal early in the free-agent market, then hand over a three-year deal to “The Show” at the tail end — a signing that literally came out of nowhere. Unfortunately, Minaya based that contract on The Show’s ability to hit 94 MPH in 2006, acting as part-time closer for Cincinnati — and not on the guy with the mysterious leg problem and sudden inability to break 90 in 2007.

The Schoeneweis signing looked pretty good in April, when he posted a 1.86 ERA. However, his ERA in May was a hair under TEN, and gave up over five runs per nine in June and July. His August was better — a 3.38 ERA — and September was a so-so 4.66. He did save two games in three days down the stretch while Billy Wagner’s back was barking, but it was hardly enough for fans to forget the other 68 games in which he appeared.

Schoeneweis was supposed to be the LOOGY to handle Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, as well as a guy to give the Mets two-inning stints in tight games once or twice a week. As it turned out, he pitched two complete innings only once all season — mainly because he was knocked out of a game before finishing one. As with Mota, had The Show been merely half as good as he was in September 2006, the Mets might have won an extra two or three games — which would have put them on the field in October.

And now we find out that Schoeneweis — like Mota — was a steroid abuser. Calling Jay Horwitz, Jay, it’s time for damage control … AGAIN.

Scary thought: what if Mota and The Show chose to take the needle again, say, in August? And they pitched like they used to, and pushed the Mets into the postseason by winning another two or three games? Makes you wonder how many games — and postseason teams — in the past years have been tainted. But that’s for another article, on another day.

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Wagner’s Comments: What’s the Big Deal?

Sorry for being late on this one … I’ve been avoiding talk radio, Baseball Tonight, espn.com, and all forms of media that might be covering baseball since “the loss”.

Anyway, let’s look at Billy Wagner’s comments in New York Magazine — the ones that he apologized for:

“We’ve been throwing four innings a night – for months!” Wagner told the magazine. “Our pitching coach has no experience talking to a bullpen. He can help you mechanically, but he can’t tell you emotions. He has no idea what it feels like. And neither does Willie. They’re not a lot of help, put it that way.”

OK … and? Why the apology?

Everything Billy said was correct. I can see why people are up in arms, because it sort of could be construed as criticism, but really, it’s not. Wagner said, in so many words, that both Rick Peterson and Willie Randolph were ignorant of what goes on in a reliever’s mind. Pointing out ignorance is not being critical — it’s stating fact.

I know, I know — Billy “should just keep his mouth shut”. Yet at the same time, we hope every day that one of the Mets will come forward and say what’s on his mind — the truth, rather than the same old b.s. and tired cliches. Or are you satisfied with hearing “… gotta turn the page …” every day from Willie Randolph?

To expand on Wagner’s words: if Rick Peterson gets the credit for revamping the careers of Tom Glavine, Oliver Perez, and John Maine, then he has to get some of the blame for the collapse of both the starting pitching and the bullpen. Yet, throughout September, we saw nor heard anything from The Jacket, and not one pundit, beat writer, nor blogger called him out. Now, after the season, Wagner doesn’t blame him, but simply states that he can’t help with a reliever’s emotions. The first time all season someone puts the finger on Peterson, and he has to apologize for it. Huh.

Personally, I do agree that Wagner would have been better off stating things differently — because what he said could have caused dissension had the season still been going on. However, he manned up and apologized for the words, and by next February it will be forgotten.

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