Jason Bay Toggles His Awesome Switch

Jason Bay hit the wall in Dodger Stadium hard and made a great catch.  A couple of days later he was done for the season, and when he returned this year it was like someone had switched him off.   He struggled, was dropped in the order, failed to have an extra base hit for weeks, and watched his average plummet.  Then he started to get some more hits, and the occasional home run.  He was drawing more walks.  Then he made another amazing catch and hit the wall in Dodger Stadium.

One of the first things they ask you when you call a tech repair shop for service on your computer is, “Is it switched on?”  No one thought to ask that of Jason Bay this season.   Then Bay hit the wall, and his switch went back on.  Guys back in the clubhouse hung their heads in shame and said to themselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?” and Jason Bay hit two home runs and drove in four runs in a 6-0 rout of the Dodgers.

It was also Jason Bay’s 155th game as a Met, which would probably be more than he would’ve played in his first season as a Met.  Perhaps he’s just safely past his ‘first year in NY’ slump, and back to being a good baseball player.

Optimism Is Not A Sin!

Last week Ted Berg wrote this piece about optimism in response to a different optimistic post by Patrick Flood. Scratchbomb retweeted it, noting that optimism is not a sin.  I like the phrase, and it’s good to see others jumping aboard the optimism bandwagon and joining the club (see the sidebar to join the Optimistic Mets Fan Club on Facebook), whether it’s just front office philosophy or not.
Optimism Is Not A Sin
Ted and Patrick wrote about optimism mainly in regards to the Mets offseason moves, and sabermetrics.  A lot of discussions these days get twisted into an “everything Omar did was bad and Alderson is a sabermetric genius and won’t make those same mistakes.”  Sure, Omar didn’t rely on advanced statistics as much as Alderson does, but as Ted suggested, the Mets aren’t in a position to lose 120 games.  There were flaws in this team, even without the injury issues, but the team is talented, promoted minor leaguers that have contributed and will contribute in the future, and is in a good position to add pieces in the future as need be.  Moves are not necessarily easier to be positive about just because they are made with a larger emphasize on advanced statistical analysis and the Chris Youngs of 2011 are looking to fill a much larger role than the bench spots Omar signed Jacobs and Matthews Jr to last year.

Sabermetrics or not, the Mets offseason was a collection of minor signings meant to represent depth and upside.  There weren’t many good or great players to be had at anything approaching reasonable value and the Mets roster wasn’t the swiss cheese of baseball rosters that many made it out to be.  Alderson hit the holes, and hit them hard.  Multiples options for second base and lots of bench guys to slot in at various positions around the field to provide suitable backups and provide depth should a regular need to sit out a couple of days.  A handful of pitchers who have potential, or have had a great year or two when they stay healthy to make up the two empty rotation spots, and a barrel full of relievers to make up a bullpen in what sounds like it will be a no-holds barred cage match in Spring Training for the last three or four spots.

Optimism is not a sin.  I try, and I’ll continue to try until the division is clinched, to make a case for how and why the Mets will win the division. The odds may be stacked against them and they may need more things to go right than would be considered normal luck but that doesn’t mean they it’s impossible, or that it’s useless to be hopeful and upbeat that they can happen, and that the Mets can win.

I truly believe that the Mets could have one of the best offenses in the National League, and I’m not going to be shy about proclaiming that.  Looking at the lineup, it’s certainly not a stretch.  There is a certain amount of recovery from some and growing from others needed for it to happen, but it’s not out of the question.  Closer to Opening Day I’ll make my official case for how and why I’m predicting the Mets will clinch the division on 9/25 against the Phillies.

Most importantly, the games still have to be played.  Every year there are dozens of pitchers that were great and revert to being pretty average.  There are rookies that take off in their second year to have great years, and players that overcome injury in previous seasons to have bounce back years. When those players bouncing back are perennial All-Stars, the bounce is that much higher.  There are surprises every season; no one knows what’s going to happen.  Even the predicted favorite from the offseason rarely makes it all the way to the World Series. Take the Sports Illustrated picks from last season; not even one supposed expert got either of the pennant winners correct.

So don’t get caught up in the negativity around the Mets.  There is nothing wrong with thinking some of the Mets signings will have a good year and stay healthy, that Ike Davis could blossom into an excellent player or that Reyes and Beltran in their walk year put up numbers close to their career norms.  With better coaching and leadership it’s a pretty good bet that the Mets will get more out of their talent than they have in years past.  Remember: Optimism is not a sin!

Update: Here’s a post by Brian DiMenna who’s joined the Optimistic Mets Fan Club.

The 4th Captain of the New York Mets

Last year I wrote that Wright was, and should be, the captain of the New York Mets. I still believe this, and maybe now more than ever.  In a way the Mets have put all their cards on the table here; they’ve hired some of the brightest people to reboot most of the management team.  Sandy Alderson has talked about having limited flexibility this offseason, but if the current crop of talent can’t show us some success, he’ll have no qualms about using the flexibility of 2012 to find players who can.  It’s imperative that the players work together to the best of their abilities.

Being a leader is more than being the best player on the team, or the “face of the franchise.”  None of us will ever truly know how Wright acts when it’s just players with no media or fans around.  What we do know is that he’s always willing to own up to mistakes, always willing to answer a hard question.  He’s fiercely competitive, and doesn’t accept anything less than total effort.  He openly cheers and roots for his teammates, and is always looking for ways to get better.  He’ll wait on the field to reward a good fielding play by an outfielder, or he’ll go to the mound if he feels the pitcher needs a moment.  If he gets picked off, he doesn’t sulk but opens a dialogue about what prompted him to take the big lead, and what he’s going to do next time.

Naming Wright captain would have other benefits as well.  If some are worried that Terry Collins may be too fiery, installing the calmer Wright as an intermediary would help buffer some of that fire.  Wright would have the authority to direct his players.  If he feels they should come early to take extra batting practice, guys are going to show up for him.  He’s already shown his ability at team-bonding; he orchestrated team haircuts, and the attempted no-shave until .500 quest of 2009.  This is mostly silliness and might not mean anything at all, but Wright’s clearly at the core of this team.

Even if it doesn’t mean anything, Wright as captain would also be beneficial from a marketing stand point.  The vast majority of Mets fans love David Wright, and naming him officially captain would only heighten the lore.  You could sell more gear with a big ‘C’ on it. Newspaper writers would have a field day with dueling images of Wright and Jeter during Subway Series weeks.  Clearly his team likes and supports him, so I see no downside to this title. You don’t name a leader AFTER you win a war, you name him to lead you to victory.  The Mets would benefit from  a unified core with a strong leader as they march into the fierce battle that is the 2011 season.

Read/listen to On The Black’s  take on the subject.

The Mets Drastically Different Lineup

 

It’s likely the Mets Opening Day lineup will contain seven of nine different names.  Mike Pelfrey will likely be pitching instead of Johan Santana, which definitely hurts, but offensively the team will be starting the season off on a much better foot.  We’ve got Ike Davis at first instead of Mike Jacobs.  Probably Daniel Murphy at second base instead of Luis Castillo.  Jose Reyes instead of Alex Cora. Josh Thole instead of Rod Barajas.  Angel Pagan instead of Jeff Francoeur and Carlos Beltran instead of Gary Matthews Jr.

 

 

Alex Cora                               Jose Reyes
Luis Castillo                           Angel Pagan
David Wright                         Carlos Beltran
Mike Jacobs                          David Wright
Jason Bay                             Ike Davis
Gary Matthews Jr.                Jason Bay
Jeff Francoeur                      Daniel Murphy
Rod Barajas                         Josh Thole
Johan Santana                     Mike Pelfrey

 

Doesn’t that make you feel a little better about 2011?  Jacobs and Matthews didn’t get a ton of time, but the other four guys did.  Add in a non-concussed Jason Bay and that lineup really should compete with anyone.
I know there is some reservations about not making big changes and running out the same lineup in a “hope and pray” scenario that no one gets hurt and guys return to some semblance of career average, but there is a little bit of hope and crossing of fingers for every player.  It’s easy for some, particularly boisterous talk show hosts, to look at the Mets situation and not see how Mets fans would want to come out to watch the same guys play that have failed in years past.  It’s easy to assign blame to the guys that were a part of it all and that are more front and center, easier to pick at Reyes’ animated behavior or one pitch that beat Beltran.

 

The problem hasn’t been that Beltran or Reyes are bad players, but that they haven’t been healthy. Injuries happen.  They’ll happen in 2011 as well.  Alderson doesn’t need to sign big flashy players, but a couple of guys that provide more acceptable backup numbers than what we’ve gotten in past years would go a long way.  Players could get rest when they needed it. The Mets could be more conservative with injuries without feeling the need to have players play hurt, not go on the DL, or be rushed back from injury before they’re ready.

The biggest reasons for the Mets failures the last couple of years are in the first column, not the second.  And the biggest reason they might not succeed in 2011 (Obviously we’re talking offense right now.  The Mets pitched well last year, we’ll see what’s in store in 2011) is if the lineup features 2011’s version of Mike Jacobs a little too regularly.

AL Cy Young: Do Wins Matter?

Let us start with a common argument during September that will crop up again soon once the Cy Young awards are given out. How do we value C.C. Sabathia’s win total against Felix Hernandez pretty much putting up better numbers in virtually every important statistic? Sabathia was 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA. Hernandez was 13-12 with a 2.27 ERA. Wins have historically been the benchmark pitchers are judged by, but perhaps that’s not totally fair. Pitchers cannot win games, except in the NL with a bat. On the simplest level a baseball game is won by the team that scores more runs than the other team. A pitcher only can affect half of this.

While the voting for Cy Young is a little less of a sham than the Gold Gloves, there is always big disagreement over who the best pitcher is, and how to figure it out. I’d definitely be in favor of ironing out specific rules as to how the voters should think about the award, or which stats are more important. Should the award go the guy that threw the ball the best? That fooled the most hitters? That was the “most valuable” pitcher? One of the biggest problems is that every voter defines the award differently, and is actually voting for different things.

It should be obvious to most people that the Yankees scored a ton more runs than the Mariners, and as a result C.C. Sabathia had a better chance to win games. If Felix Hernandez had been on the Yankees, he would’ve won more games, but would he have won eight more to match Sabathia’s 21? Does it even matter? I think if these two pitchers swapped team, we’d be having no debate that King Felix was better in 2010, but there is no way to measure that. It’s as fruitless as trying to nail down exactly how a pitcher will do before the season. Hernandez would have to face different batters, with different approaches and with different scouting reports. He wouldn’t have to face the Yankees three times and would be able to face the weak Mariners lineup.

Some, such as Michael Kay, suggest that C.C. Sabathia’s numbers were hurt because of something called “pitching to the score.” It is inferred that Sabathia is capable to adjusting to the game and if his team scores 2, he’ll let up 1, but if they score 8 he’ll be okay with letting them score 6. The idea being that if the Yankees were up 8-1, he was less careful about his pitches. The stress of the game may be less, but Sabathia is not just chucking it down the middle of the plate and hoping a fielder catches it. Run support plays a huge role in whether or not a pitcher wins a game, and C.C. Sabathia got 5.89 runs a game to Felix Hernandez’s 3.07. The Yankees only scored less than 4 runs 7 times during Sabathia’s starts. The Mariners scored less than 4 runs 19 times during Hernandez’s starts.

It certainly makes sense that pitchers will pitch differently based on the score of the game. The margin for error is greater in a blowout, and it’s possible that a pitcher will risk a pitch catching a little more of the plate to avoid possibly walking a batter and giving the opposing team more chances for a big inning. If we look at games Sabathia pitched badly in, do they suggest that he let up a lot of meaningless runs that don’t necessarily mean he was pitching badly? Sabathia was 1-4 in 7 starts when he allowed 5 or more earned runs. Of those games, one he left with a huge lead and the bullpen exploded to give him a no-decision. You could reasonable claim that he wasn’t worried about the score and may have relaxed and let batters put good swings on balls. Maybe. The other no-decision was Opening Day, where he left a tight game with a one run lead and a batter on third that scored. In the game he won against the White Sox he let up all the runs early and the Yankees didn’t take a big lead until later in the game. The numbers just don’t support that he was pitching to the score.

Felix Hernandez had only 3 games where he let up 5 or more runs. He lost all three of them; his team never bailing him out when he struggled. He had one more game where he allowed 4 runs, and lost that one as well. Every other game he allowed 3 runs or less. He left three separate games with the score 0-0, one after 7 innings, one after 8 innings and one after 9. He faced the feared Yankees lineup three times, shutting them out twice and allowing one run over 26 innings and two complete games. He led the league in innings pitched, and in hits per nine innings. He had 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings for a total of 232. He was first in pitching WAR.

Ultimately I do believe that wins matter. They are the very essence of what a baseball game is. I do believe that there are levels of effort, and that it’s possible to take your foot off the gas occasionally during a long season, and that it’s possible to bare down and battle when you need to, in clutch situations. Wins don’t play a part in the 2010 AL Cy Young award however, Felix Hernandez is simply in a different class as far as pitchers go. The next best pitcher may have been David Price of the Rays, who’s numbers come a lot closer to Hernandez’s, but still fall short.

I’ve clearly shown here that I favor King Felix for the award, but what will the writers pick? That it’s even a discussion suggests to me that at least some voters are going to value the wins over Hernandez’s clearly superior stats. I suspect these voters will vote David Price first, Sabathia second, and Hernandez third. Others may look at the stats and vote Hernandez, Price, Sabathia. Or even another pitcher I haven’t mentioned here. I think when the votes are tallied that David Price will come out ahead. So that’s my vote and prediction. We shall soon see.

Signing Alderson Does Not Mean the Mets are Suddenly Respectible

The search for the next Mets general manager is (almost) over, and for now we don’t have a lot else to talk about.  Unfortunately the most important facts are hidden from us; the candidates’ plan for the future.  Looking at past history is certainly helpful, but what really determines who the best choice is is the game plan that person has to bring the Mets to the World Series.mets

Nothing will dispel the adjectives and storylines currently trending among Mets writers.  We’ve heard broke, dysfunctional, disastrous, cheap, stupid, tyrannical, clueless and many others.  Signing a general manager that’s perceived to be a good choice may quiet that some in the offseason, but that’s only a band aid. If and when the Mets announce their choice this week, the team won’t actually be any better.

This is why signing a guy as a figurehead of autonomy is not the way the Mets should go.  A quiet offseason does nothing for ticket sales or profits.  It’s the actions of the new hire that will do that, and even that’s unlikely until those actions, acquisitions and trades, put up statistics in regular season games and the Mets look like a winning club.  So we can speculate about who is the best choice, but until we see the decisions made, it’s not easy to know that.

Until the Mets are winning, consistently, all those stories people are writing about the Mets being dysfunctional will continue.  You’ll hear people crack jokes about Prevention and Recovery, joke about the Mets doctors, criticize Jeff Wilpon’s apparent involvement in the way things are done and reference Bernie Madoff any time anyone gets more money than is thought to be fair or the Mets don’t sign or talk to a player that someone thinks they need.

Outside of the fanatic fan, us bloggers and tweeters and hard-core followers, most people don’t even know or care who the general manager of the team is.  If the team is exciting, popular, and winning they will come to the stadium.  If it’s not, they won’t.  No GM is a savior; it’s going to take a lot of hard work from everyone all the way down to the 40th guy on the extended roster to get this team back to respectability.  It’s not about names or faces or organizational structure but about winning.  So let’s get this general manager selected and into the office so we can start with the process of building our 2011 World Champion New York Mets.

Jon Heyman is reporting tonight that the Mets have decided on Sandy Alderson.  If this is indeed the case, my point stands: The team is not yet better.  Let’s take the next step and start interviewing smart, talented people to manage the team.  And let’s start keeping some things internal before blabbing it to the media.  Either announce it officially, or don’t tell Heyman, because telling him is as good as announcing it.

The Mets’ Wheel of Time Turns

The Wheel of Time turns, and Mets seasons come and pass, leaving games that become legend. Legends fade to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called 2010, an Age yet to come, an age long past, a press conference started in Flushing. The conference was not the beginning. But it was a beginning.

Okay, the quote barely makes sense, but the cyclical nature of the Mets history reminded me of Robert Jordan’s epic series. The Mets are again faced with a reboot of sorts, shedding some dead weight and redirected the franchise that has run off course.

Shea Goodbye
Shea Goodbye

So far I feel Fred and Jeff Wilpon said the right things.   I’m sure some of it’s probably saying what we want to hear, but they’ve given the right answers and seem to have the right goals and motivation.  I’ll take it.  Words are all we have right now, until after the World Series when we can start signing guys, and even that’s nothing until we play, and win, some games.

This season wsn’t a total waste for me.  The Mets made a lot of strides in appeasing and interfacing  with fans and bloggers. They created a Twitter account and started interacting. They invited a group of bloggers ‘into the fold’ and gave us an opportunity to stand on the field and talk to players during batting practice. They’re aware that there are a lot of intelligent people that spend a lot of time focusing on the Mets and thinking about them in detail.  Giving us that opportunity this year was an amazing thrill and one I’m extremely thankful for. It also gave me a chance to meet some of the fellow bloggers that I’ve been interacting with for a while.

You may have noticed, or not, that I’ve been posted a lot less.  It’s not the Mets, although them being mostly irrelevant for a month didn’t hurt, but me.  I’m getting married this weekend and things have been rather hectic.  The Mets did not reward me with a wedding present of a NLDS game to miss, and David Wright did not respond to my wedding invitation . I probably won’t be updating much over the next couple of weeks, but I suspect once things settle down I’ll get right back into it.  I’ve got some stuff planned in the offseason including some sabermetric debates that I’ve been putting off as well as some trying to match up the title of the blog with the 2011 season and the direction of the team.  In other words, a couple of spin posts trying to justify believing the Mets can and will win the World Series in 2011. (Hey, it’s more fun than predicting doom and gloom. Aren’t you tired of that?)

Omar Could Stay For 2011

There have been signs that the Mets were never going to go all-in in 2010. As far back as the offseason, the Mets appeared to have a plan of not overpaying for mediocre players. They considered John Lackey, considered the top pitcher on the market, but ultimately decided that he was going to get more years and commitment than they felt was wise. They resisted Bengie Molina’s demands for a second year, something we’d all be screaming about for 2011 had they given it to him. Joel Pineiro had a contract offer from the Mets, but played chicken with them hoping for more money or another year, something the Mets felt was not in their best interests and didn’t budge on. We’ll likely never know if this was due to some budget constraints, or due to a philosophy of not giving out bad contracts. Outside of budget issues, Omar also resisted trading away prospects for rentals or other pieces during the season. It’s impossible to know if there was one guy that would’ve turned the season around, or gotten them to the playoffs. It certainly doesn’t seem like it based on where they’ve ended up, but hindsight is always 20/20. Maybe there was a creative solution that could’ve gotten the Mets a contributing second baseman, or a solid right fielder when Castillo was sidelined with the injury and Jeff Francoeur settled back to his sub-par career norm. However, Omar’s resistance to trading prospects this season has helped bolster the farm system and has created more options going forward.

I think this plan reflects well on Omar. He seems to have conducted business in 2010 according to this preset plan likely put in place with his agreement or from the owners. While it’s possible it was set in motion to keep Omar from sacrificing the Mets under bad long term contracts or gutting the farm system for a outside shot at success this year, it seems more likely that he executed the organizational plan very well in 2010 and it’d be surprising for them to fire him as a result of that. It’s never an easy thing to evaluate a GM. We don’t know what decisions were solely his, and what decisions of his were vetoed by either the owners or the other people involved in making decisions. We also don’t know what decisions Omar may have vetoed that would’ve worked out, or that he just couldn’t get done. There are rumors and hints at both positive and negative budget issues and it’s unlikely we’ll ever know exactly what the financials are, or were, for the Mets.

The Mets are even more aware of the risk of long term contracts with Johan Santana’s recent torn capsule in his shoulder casting doubt on the productivity of the back end of his contract. Johan was and is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and it’s looking like even that may not have been worth the money and years. I think this only accentuates why the Mets won’t, and shouldn’t, go after Cliff Lee in the offseason. Having one long term, high priced, contract for a pitcher is risky, two could be catastrophic. Investing over $40 million dollars a year on two pitchers who will be on the field less than 40% of all Mets games may be irresponsible. This subject will probably be debated back and forth all offseason anyway though.

I wish the Mets had given 2010 a better shot than they did, although I consent that part of it was the underperforming Bay, Beltran’s slow recovery, Maine’s un-fixed injury, Murphy’s injury and even Castillo’s bone bruise that kept 2B production down from his usually OBP and subjected us to Cora and Tejada for too long. I don’t dislike the Mets plan. It’s often possible to find a cheap option that will approximate, if not better, the performance you’d get by signing a guy an average free agent like Jason Marquis or Joel Pineiro with a lot less commitment for the future. R.A. Dickey did as well as any free agent pitcher on the market, including John Lackey. The Mets trusted in Niese and were rewarded. Josh Thole certainly looks very solid, both defensively and offensively, and i’m so glad Omar didn’t give Bengie that second year.

Not trading prospects will end up being a boon as well. Ike Davis hasn’t been much better than Daniel Murphy was in his “rookie” 2009 season, but he’s well above average defensively, and has more power. Niese has grown up, Thole is here, Jenrry Mejia and Dillon Gee may be outside shots at contributing next year. Ruben Tejada has looked pretty good defensively. There are others in the minors as well. This doesn’t mean the Mets are set for 2011, but they have a lot more options going forward. Knowing more about these prospects and having them close to Major League ready gives the 2011 Mets a lot of possibilities in terms of getting production for cheap from Ike Davis, or maybe trading a guy that doesn’t fit as well for a different piece of the puzzle.

Omar is still here right now. There’s no doubt that the Mets have a lot of things they need to accomplish this offseason, and I can see how a head start on getting to know what’s needed on the team could help that. What real reason is there to keep Omar around for September when the Mets are out of the playoff race? The biggest decisions he’s making right now are which rookies to promote to the Mets, and using that major league exposure to determine the holes and needs of the Mets for 2011. Chances are the ownership group is involved in which players are getting looks too, and isn’t this something a new GM could do as part of his (or her, though that seems unlikely) process? The Mets are going to have a lot to do this offseason, including picking new coaches and a manager and improving the team on the field. Wouldn’t it make sense to reassign or fire Omar sooner rather than later and get a head start on the administrative changes?

So based on all this, it does appear that Omar has been doing a good enough job to warrant not getting fired. Does that mean he keeps his job? One concern with the team is that they may stick with a guy too long, or make a decision based on what happened last year versus what will happen next year. It’s the front office’s job to pay a guy on what he’ll do in 2011, not reward him for what he did in 2010. This can apply to the GM as well. Omar may well have done a good job creating a 2011 Mets puzzle that looks promising, but will he do a good job putting together those pieces so that the end result is a 2011 Mets World Championship? That is the difficult question here, and one the Wilpons need to think long and hard about. If it was up to me, I think I’d look long and hard at other options, but I think if Omar can and does lay out a fully thought out and complete plan for 2011, and beyond, that he could return.