Spring Training Voyage

 

I’m back from Spring Training, and it’s all too soon. I was having a lot of fun poking around Port St. Lucie and Digital Domain Park.  I took 500 pictures over three days, and captured images of many of our favorite, and less favorite, Mets players.  I watched road, home, and minor league games and saw players from the low minors to the cream of the crop doing all different kinds of baseball drills.  I met Amber Coyle, and Matthew Rose of NL East Chatter and The Real Dirty Mets Blog.

First, check out these two posts I put up last week involving Mets eating dinner and pictures from the St. Patrick’s Day game against the Red Sox and then click below to view more pictures.
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Moneyball Review

Moneyball was a good read, but it’s not quite the guide to the Mets new front office that many seem to think it is. Sandy Alderson has repeatedly stated that he wouldn’t have taken the job if he was forced to operate the way the Oakland A’s did in the book. Moneyball gets mixed up with Sabermetrics, but it’s only really one story about one team and not really about the statistics we associate with Sabermetrics these days.

 

Moneyball was about the Oakland Athletics, specifically the 2002 team, Billy Beane, and finding players that most other franchises under-valued. It was driven not by some sudden thirst for more knowledge or to understand the game better, but from a desperate need to try to compete with the vastly expanding budgets of baseball’s richest teams. Now the secret is out of the box in regards to the particular secrets Beane and the A’s discovered. Everyone is aware of the value of getting on base and not making out. J.P. Ricciardi, Paul DePodesta and Sandy Alderson are still great thinkers and I have a lot of faith in their ability to lead the Mets but they’re not imparting some secret Moneyball techniques to do so; they’re just smart.

 

There was other interesting things in the book. One such thing was the idea that you can’t determine a prospects success by saying “He looks like a baseball player.” There is statistical evidence to look at; things like getting on base, or hitting for power. Many scouts still relied on a gut feeling about how a guy looked over the actual data, dismissing it as amateur stuff and having little relevance to the major leagues.

 

“A young player is not what he looks like, or what me might become, but what he has done.”

 

One chapter talks about Billy Beane’s failed attempt to become a baseball star. He was a first round draft pick and one of those highly touted prospects. Mostly because he was talented and looked like a ballplayer. Beane couldn’t handle the failure inherent in baseball, couldn’t cope with the mental part of game and eventually ended up in the front office. The signs were there for scouts to see, but they ignored them for the pretty package.

 

Another example is Chad Bradford. A relief pitcher who threw sidearm was unconventional, and he didn’t seem like a big league player. Despite positive results he didn’t get much appreciation from his teams until the Oakland A’s traded for him.

 

Another thing to note is that just because someone played the game doesn’t make them an expert on it and the naked eye is a poor tool to evaluate baseball players. What we observe is often limited and we rarely see the whole picture. A talented shortstop adjusts and positions himself to make a hard hit ball into an easy pick up and throw to first, whereas a less talented one may have to race to the ball and making a leaping throw to get the runner. The good shortstop did it easily, and it gets overlooked because no one was paying attention to him until after the ball was hit. This is what’s truly meant by the phrase “He made it look easy.”

 

The difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter is one hit every two weeks. Even if you watched every pitch, without looking it up you wouldn’t be able to tell that Victor Martinez had one more hit every two weeks than Ryan Theriot.

 

There is a lot of Bill James and the advance of really thinking about baseball beyond the traditional numbers; The real birth of all the advanced statistics that are recorded and calculated nowadays. Moneyball discusses the roots of these companies that tabulate stats, and the intelligent people that came up with some of the almost common place statistics we use today.

 

Other sections of the book discuss scouting further. Later on the construction of the roster comes into play, and how Billy Beane is going to replace Jason Giambi’s production in the lineup now that he’s gone. There’s further discussions about specific players on the team and why they’re brought in and what they’re looking at. David Justice was an aging slugger, but the A’s expected his OBP to be something that he wouldn’t lose with age. They didn’t care that he’d hit less home runs, they just wanted him to get on base. They played Scott Hatteberg at first baseball because they felt he had value to the team and they could teach him enough defense to get by. He’d had surgery on his hand and could no longer really throw as a catcher, and the Red Sox didn’t want him anymore, undervaluing his OBP and how many pitches he saw per plate appearance. Some of the book deals with Beane himself. The guy is crazy. Picture the loudest, craziest fan you know. The one that paces during tense moments and breaks things when pitchers give up home runs. That’s Billy Beane.

 

The book was an interesting read, but it’s still just a story. A lot of interesting philosophies are put forth, but many of them also don’t work out so well for the team. I highly recommend anyone that’s interested in baseball read the book if they haven’t already, (Hey, there’s a movie coming out too!) but it won’t give you any particular insight into the Mets front office or really to any front office. It was a long time ago in baseball years, and even Billy Beane is doing things differently.

 

One last observation: Much of the misconception of Moneyball is that it’s about walking and then hitting the three-run home run. This isn’t the case at all, and that particular phrase is only popular because it’s how Joe Morgan once described the book on a Sunday Night Baseball broadcast.

 

 

 

 

 

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Debunking Pessimism

I stumbled across this extremely negative post on the Mets through some Google alerts.  At first I thought it would end up being a Philly blog, but nope. So here’s his five reasons why the Mets will suck post is way off the mark.
 

Spring training games began over the weekend, reminding us all how terrible the Mets will be this year.  Fittingly, Luis Castillo booted a ball at second base yesterday. Way to set the tone for the new season, Luis.

 

Here are my top 5 reasons why the Mets will be terrible this year.

Yes, I’m sure Castillo booting a ball in practice just doomed the Mets all season. Real players never actually make mistakes in Spring Training. Nevermind that Scott Hairston hit two home runs. This is just an excuse to pick on Castillo, who might not even make the team.

5- Ownership: Between borrowing $25 million from Major League Baseball, looking for minority ownership, and facing a multi-million dollar law suit, it will be a distraction all season. If the Wilpons sell the team, maybe it will make them less terrible, but still not good.

I can’t tell you that the Madoff stuff is a positive in any way, but it’s hardly going to be a distraction that causes the Mets to fail.  Wright’s not going to be worrying about the state of the lawsuit while he’s standing out at third base or at the plate.  They won’t even have to talk about it with the press, they’ve all said what they can say and their business is not finance, it’s baseball.  The state of the finances is not going to have much of an effect on the play on the field.  The only real thing it might do is prevent Alderson from adding pieces around the trade deadline, but so far there is no word that it will.  

4- Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez: It’s March 1, and for some reason they are still on the team. Perez got bombed in his first spring training game and Castillo is abysmal. Sadly he could actually win the starting second base position. It is unbelievable the Mets do not have anyone better than Castillo. Please cut your losses. I would rather have Ike Davis play first and second at the same time.

They’re on the team because they can’t lose the Mets games in March.  Whether or not they make the team will solely be based on merit, and it’s not looking good for either of them.  The players that help the Mets win will make the team, and therefore these two players will not be why they suck.  Reyes and Davis do have pretty good range, but I don’t think it’s enough to cover second base too. Plus, the rules don’t allow for only eight players in the lineup.  

3- Carlos Beltran playing right field: How long until he complains about it? I give it a month. Just imagine if he gets off to a bad start on offense. I know what the excuse will be.

#blamebeltran.  This pretty much debunks the whole post right here doesn’t it?  Never mind that he voluntarily moved there or that he’s not a complainer or an excuse maker.  A more valid question is how much regular rest is he going to need, and how well do those knees hold up?  Still, he’s been taking batting practice, and he should be ready to go as a hitter.  This should help prevent a slow start offensively at least.  Carlos Beltran continues to be underappreciated.

2- The NL East: The Phillies are probably the best team in baseball, which is not even fair, but the Braves and Marlins are better than last year too. The Mets are closer to the Nationals.

Just stating it doesn’t make it so. Probably? What if they’re not?  What if someone gets hurt? Their offense no longer looks formidable, Utley hasn’t even played yet and it’s looking more and more likely that Wilson Valdez may be starting for them, and they don’t even know what scrub or under-prepared prospect they’re going to throw out there in right field.  What if they don’t score runs when they pitch these great games, and what if age catches up with them?   The Marlins are not very good.  They’ve got some pitching, but it’s hardly amazing and they’re fielding a AAA offense outside of a couple of guys.  The Mets are capable of being in the thick of things just with their offense and with Pelfrey, Dickey and Niese doing what they did last year.

1- The Pitching Staff:  With Johan out until God knows when, Mike Pelfrey is the ace of the staff. Enough said. The Mets are depending on RA Dickey to repeat what he did last season, which is insane. I can’t even tell you who the 4th and 5th starters are: Chris Young?, Chris Capuano?, Dilon Gee? Oliver Perez??? Who the hell knows. As for the bullpen, talk about a disaster. Hopefully K-Rod won’t get arrested again or injure himself while beating up an old man. I honestly can’t even tell you who else is in the bullpen, so I have no further comments.

Enough said?  Sure, I could agree with that.  Mike Pelfrey was basically the best pitcher in baseball last April.  He had a horrible July, and it’s important that he minimizes that this year, but to dismiss him as crap is silly.  Why is it insane to expect Dickey to be as good as last year?  Did you really watch him all last year, and listen to him talk about pitching, and deduce that it was a fluke? It wasn’t.  He’s learned and adapted, and crafted his knuckleball to be a dangerous weapon.  It’s certainly possible he’s not as good, but the dropoff won’t be that extreme.  The ignorance in the rest of this ‘reason’ is too large to argue with, but I do have faith that some combination of Young and Capuano can give us some quality innings and keep the Mets in the game.  Losing Santana is rough, but given how many of his great games they let turn into losses last year, I’m confident with a little hitting the Mets can win more games that a lesser pitcher starts than they did last year with Santana on the mound.

 

I do have something good for Mets fans to look forward to. On Tuesday night (After the Knicks game) MSG will have a 4 part series on the ’86 Mets. Bar fights, sex, drugs, alcohol and more sex, drugs and alcohol- the good old days. Should be interesting. I guarantee it will be better than anything the Mets do on the field.

I’ll grant a pass on this statement since it was written before hand, but most accounts I’ve seen of the show have been pretty negative.  You can take your ‘guarantee’ and shove it, the Mets are going to be interesting this year.  Optimism is not a sin.

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Carlos Beltran in 2012

My ideal situation with Carlos Beltran is that he has a good year, and the Mets negotiate a new, reasonable priced contract with him and he moves to right field in 2012. I know this might not be the perfect baseball move, that from a pure numbers standpoint it may not make sense to retain Carlos, even if he has a good year without injury.  Baseball is more than a fantasy draft of the best statistical robots that put up a certain line of stats; it’s also very emotional, and I happen to like Carlos Beltran.  I’d be very happy for him to finish successfully, and one day add his number to the wall of retired Mets out in left field.  Beltran has been a great teammate and a great part of the New York community since he’s arrived, and I think continuing that into perpetuity would be great for both him and the Mets.

So while other fans seem to be counting the days until Beltran is no longer a Met, or thinking about possible trade targets for him now or by the trading deadline, I’m hoping he somehow remains a successful Met for the rest of his career and thinking about ways that that can happen without sacrificing team success.

The biggest issue with Beltran is that he has bone bruises on his knees that don’t heal easily, and he may never fully recover from them.  The brace he wears is meant to minimize the damage to his knees and those bruises, but he’s only been wearing the thing for two months worth of games so it’s hard to get a sense of how much it affects him.  His bruises were better at the end of the season than they were when he started rehabbing to return, which is a good sign.  The perfect, if unlikely, situation would be that his knees heal completely and that the brace becomes second nature to him and doesn’t inhibit his swing or ability to run in any way.

So if Beltran were to prove himself healthy and productive in 2011, what would be a reasonable contract for him to satisfy my emotional desire for him to remain here, and yet not inhibit the Mets from being great, and continuing to be great?  His contract currently pays him 18.5 million dollars, which is definitely too much.  Technically he’s only making 13 million, as 5.5 of it is deferred.  Even if the compromise was the same amount in his paycheck, that’s probably also a bit high for anything but a one year deal for a player turning 35 at the start of the 2012 season.  Something more along the lines of three years at 27 million seems to be what he might be worth going forward.  The Mets could lace it with all sorts of incentives for games played and awards received.  If three seems too much, maybe two plus a vesting option based on games played, and therefore health, for the third year.

I have no idea if that’s something Carlos Beltran, or his agent Scott Boras, would accept.  I have no idea what, if anything, Carlos could do to make the Mets consider keeping him.   Based on his work in the community, and his comments about staying a New York Met, I do believe Carlos wants to be here, but often money talks.  This is all predicated on Beltran having a good 2011 season and looking like he can continue to produce for multiple years anyway, but based on how he was doing in September last year I believe that he can definitely contribute if he can manage the situation with his knees.

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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.
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