Last night I was lucky to be in the ballpark to see Matt Harvey baffle the White Sox hitters all night long. It was an amazing performance from the start, and a captivating one. I watched the game in awe; whether or not he would get the perfect game was immaterial to his dominance. You knew that he was pitching well enough to get one, and if he didn’t it would be that odd squib or perfectly placed grounder that broke it up. It was precisely that, a perfectly placed ball between third and short off the bat of the speedy Alex Rios that did it.
That didn’t take away from the greatness of it. That’s probably the best game I’ve ever seen in person, and it might just be the best game I ever will see in person and I’m only 31. Last season I saw Dickey spin a masterful one-hitter that had much the same feel as last night’s game in that you just knew the opposition had no chance. I also saw Johan Santana’s 4-hit complete game shutout the start before the no-hitter that was probably his most dominating game of the year. Before that I got to see Santana’s final start of 2008, that gutsy performance to flay the Marlins and keep the Mets playoff hopes alive. That was a great game too, but any of us would’ve taken a 12-10 slug-fest just as easily, the magnitude of the win overshadowed how it was achieved.
Watching Matt Harvey emerge..no, emerge sounds too timid. Watching Matt Harvey burst onto the scene as one of the best pitchers in the game the way he has is a feeling all it’s own. He leads the league in strikeouts and WHIP. He’s given up an average of only four hits per nine innings. He throws in the mid-high 90s with his fastball. He’ll pitch with blood streaming out of his nose. He probably juggles between innings to entertain his teammates and feeds and nurtures the stray cats that live around Citi Field.
Onlookers that remember have started to draw comparisons to Dwight Gooden and how his starts at Shea Stadium were events. Matt Harvey is certainly getting there, and fast. Just look at Twitter and see all the people after the game last night and today planning to be there on Sunday for his next start. As the weather warms up this will become very evident, but it hasn’t yet. Last night’s crowd was sparse and quite for the most part. Everyone got into it as they realized just how dominating he was last night, but for a nice night against a team that few Mets fans have ever seen the crowd was disappointing.
I understand that you feel betrayed by the Mets, or the payroll, or the record, or the Wilpons, or Beltran, but baseball is awesome and every Matt Harvey start, if not every game, is an opportunity to see something wonderful. So instead of muttering under your breath about wasted starts and commenting to me about firing the hitting coach as we watch the bottom of the 10th, enjoy what’s in front of us; a great Matt Harvey performance and a walk-off victory.
Remember R.A. Dickey? He was a great pitcher for the Mets for three years, and features prominently in a movie about his signature pitch. This movie, by MPI/FilmBuff which you can get here (released April 2nd), was filmed during the 2011 season and in addition to Dickey features Tim Wakefield and the five other retired knuckleballers.
And you can win a copy! Three lucky readers will take home their very own copy of the DVD. All you have to do is have a little optimism about the 2013 New York Mets. Follow @Ceetar on Twitter and send me a mention with the hashtag #Knuckleball and the one aspect of the 2013 season you’re most excited about. Additionally you can email email@example.com with your submission, comment on this post, message Optimistic Mets Fan on Facebook, or randomly run into me in real life and tell me your answer. (Who knows, creatively getting me your submission may win you brownie points)
I spent some time poking through the DVD. I definitely recommend it, and check out some of the additional features if you want to know more about the knuckleball. The best part may be the conversation between Dickey, Wakefield, Hough and Niekro, just sitting around talking about it. That’s worth the price of the DVD itself. Also very interesting is all the super slo-mo images of the knuckleball in flight, that’s always fascinating.
And a favorite part of mine is when R.A. Dickey visits some young baseball players in Ramapo, NJ and teases them that he’s not going to tell them about his pitch because it’s a “Mets secret” and a lot of them are Yankees fans. When one kid asks who he owns, he responds with Derek Jeter. A little bit of trolling by Dickey there, and it’s much appreciated.
Here’s the synopsis:
The definitive documentary about the impossible-to-hit pitch, the knuckleball!
From acclaimed filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (The Devil Came on Horseback; Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work) this heartfelt, funny and deeply engaging film delves into the legendary subculture of the knuckleball and the brotherhood of men who share the drive, imagination and humility to throw baseball‘s slowest, most disrespected pitch. Filmed throughout the 2011 season, KNUCKLEBALL follows 37 year-old R.A. Dickey (New York Mets and 2012 All-Star) and 18-year veteran Tim Wakefield, formerly the oldest player in the major leagues and an icon of the Boston Red Sox, detailing their personal and professional triumphs of the season while exploring the bond between them and their only allies, the five living retired knuckleballers - Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, Jim Bouton, Tom Candiotti, and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. KNUCKLEBALL is the story of these extraordinary men, and the sacrifices they made to a pitch that would come to define their lives.
Nearly 2 hours of Featurettes, Interviews, and More
If you’re like me, you’ve adopted the Toronto Blue Jays as your American League team since it has former Mets favorites R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, and a few others. In an effort to get to know the entire team, and not just those guys, I’ve decided to take a closer look at the rest of the team, starting with the rotation.
We’re familiar with Josh Johnson, as he was acquired from the Miami Marlins. After barely pitching in 2011, Johnson’s 2012 wasn’t great. He was still a good pitcher, he just walked a few more and gave up a few more hits than his career line suggests. It’s not unreasonable to expect him to bounce back a little, even in the American League, and be a terrific starter for the Blue Jays.
Mark Buehrle was also acquired from the Marlins, and is one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball. He spent most of his career with the White Sox, so he’s not unfamiliar with the American League. Last year he had a pretty good year, with a 3.74 ERA and nearly a career low 1.171 WHIP. He actually struck out more and walked less than his career norms during his stint in Miami. Going into his age 34 season I’d expect much of the same from him, and that will be very valuable to the Blue Jays.
Ricky Romero is the youngest pitcher of the five at 28, although only a couple months younger than Brandon Morrow who’s only a couple of months younger than Josh Johnson. Ricky Romero had a bad season last year, struggling with his control and leading the league in walks. Romero’s always been a bit wild, but prior to 2012 he walked two less guys per nine innings and that led to a lot of success in his first three years in the majors. I don’t know what to expect from Romero next year off of reading his stat lines and a couple of posts from writers that also seem unsure of what the reason was for Romero’s drastic decline. It would seem reasonable to expect him to be better than he was last year certainly, although probably not as good as he was in 2011 when he enjoyed a very high batting average on balls in play and corresponding low hits per nine innings. Romero will probably take the ball, pitch a lot of innings, and generally keep his team in the game. On a team that just imported three good starting pitchers, that’s probably perfectly fine.
Brandon Morrow is the last but not least member of the rotation. He suffered some oblique problems last year limiting his innings and also presumably lowering his strikeout rate which was much lower than his normal rate. He made eight starts to end the season so perhaps that is behind him, but he’s never pitched more than 180 innings in the majors so it is something to worry about. He throws hard and even though he had a career low strikeout rate last year, he also cut out some of the walks and ended up with a career low ERA. If his oblique is fine and his strikeouts return, he’s a guy you can expect a good year from and certainly a big contributor to what looks like a very nice rotation up in Toronto.
Those are the four guys projected to join R.A. Dickey in the Blue Jays rotation, and it looks like a tough year for AL East batters. As is the case in most years there will be injuries that cause other players to get some starts, but these are the five who will start the year for Toronto.
One of those things I set-up but never published. Here’s a video of Jerry Koosman and R.A. Dickey talking scoreless innings earlier in the year.
Chris Capuano was a Met last year, as you may remember. He wasn’t a particularly good pitcher, although he had his moments. After 66 innings in 2010, Capuano came to the Mets healthy for the first time in a while and had a pretty good first half before tailing off in the second. The Mets correctly assumed that Capuano would get too much money for a near replacement level starter and didn’t retain him, but what he has become this year has been anything but average, although he does again appear to be tailing off in the second half again.
Perhaps this ‘change’ is simply him being comfortable with his body one year removed from surgery, but he’s got basically the same K/BB as last year. He’s got a career low ERA even after a sub-par second half so far. He’s throwing much more pitches in the zone, but actually getting less contact on them, and much less contact outside of the zone. It certainly seems like he’s setting up hitters better and keeping them more off balance. He’s allowed less hits overall, and less home runs.
I guess you could attribute some of that to defense, although the Dodgers defense doesn’t seem particularly awesome, just better than the Mets. Seems a big jump to attribute just to that. His FIP is better, but his xFIP is worse. (Although it’s hard to trust a stat that says fielding independent and yet gets better when fielders make plays) Is this an indictment on Dan Warthen and the Mets staff? Was there an adjustment to be made that he was unable to figure out with the Mets? I know Ron Darling mentioned on the broadcast one day that he worked with Capuano a little last year on some things, and while it’s cool that he’s helping out, it seems like a bad sign that the broadcaster is helping out the pitchers on the side. This wouldn’t be the first pitcher that struggled here and succeeded elsewhere, although maybe that’s true of every team and it just seems like it’s more with the Mets.
This is just piece of evidence against Dan Warthen’s tenure as pitching coach continuing. With all the young pitchers the Mets are going with, I’d really love to have a brilliant coach that can really nurture these guys and get the best out of them. I don’t believe Dan Warthen is that guy.
The talk lately has been whether or not the Mets should shut down Johan Santana for the season. He’s been mostly ineffective lately, and there is a growing concern that he’s hit a wall with all the rehab and work he’s put in to be healthy this season. No matter what you or I think, the Mets and Santana have a lot more knowledge of the situation than we do. There is probably no clear and obvious answer here even for the Mets, and especially not for people outside the situation, which includes the media. The media are writers and reporters, not doctors. They’re as unqualified to speak on the right course of action as they were to speak on the state of the Mets finances. Take their info on how Santana is feeling and what the Mets are saying about it, but their prescribed course of action is not necessarily the best one.
Personally I’d err on the side of keeping him pitching. At least until he throws a good game or two. This is all presuming that there isn’t some unseen or unreported injury, but recovering from a serious injury to perform at the top level of your craft is hard, tenuous work. Throughout his life Johan Santana’s arm has been what’s separated him from his peers, it’s what makes him special. To have that arm give out on you so seriously can be crushing. I imagine that feeling has been in the back of Johan’s mind all season. The same is true of any injury; if you hurt your foot even days after you feel no pain you still often step tenuously because you expect it to hurt. Johan Santana has all the same doubts floating through his head that we do about the durability of his shoulder and whether he’s the same pitcher. So on that note, I think it’s valuable for him to get through this period the same way any pitcher wants to get through the valleys inherent in every season. It’s important for him to dismiss the doubts that his shoulder is failing him and allow it not to be the undercurrent of every outing he has next spring. Reaffirm that hard work will get him where he needs to go, and then shut him down.
I do think there could be some value in getting Johan Santana an extra week or two off this offseason by shutting him down in September once he’s hopefully bounced back from this stretch. The Mets might like to get a start or two out of prospects like Colin McHugh or Jeurys Familia and Santana’s spot would be one way to do that. After all Johan Santana has given us as fans, particularly the no-hitter, it’d be nice to see him go out this year on a high note.
Everyone likes to toss out the Mets bullpen ERA and talk about how bad it is and call it the worst bullpen ever. Truthfully though, the Mets do have some good relievers and they’re getting overshadowed by how bad the overall numbers look.
Tim Byrdak and Jon Rauch have both had pretty good years, give or take a couple of slumps, but it’s Bobby Parnell I want to talk about. ERA is not everything, but Parnell’s is at 3.07 which certainly isn’t bad. Parnell has actually been better than that though, he’s just been victimized by some bad luck and defense. Four of the 19 runs scored against him are unearned. That’s more than 20%.
Since Frank Francisco last pitched for the Mets, Bobby Parnell has pitched 14 innings and allowed 4 earned runs for a 2.57 ERA and a .581 OPS against with 15 strikeouts.
He’s holding opponents to a .354 slugging. Luis Castillo’s career slugging was .351. So Bobby Parnell is as likely to give up an extra base hit as Castillo was to hit one, and you may recall that didn’t happen very often.
He’s been victimized by the Mets not turning double plays. The MLB average is 11% of ground balls with a runner on lead to a double play. The Mets only turn 6% of them for Parnell.
Parnell strikes out 23.4% of the batters he faces, which is well above the MLB average of 18.4%.
He walks 5.7% and the MLB average is 8.5%.
His ground ball to fly ball ratio (with line drives included in fly balls) is 1.38 compared to the league average of 0.8.
His first pitch strike percentage is above average, as is his swinging strike percentage. He throws more total strikes than the average reliever and gets to a 3-0 count less often.
With runners on third and less than two outs the runner scores only 36% of the time against Parnell as compared to 52% league-wide.
So Parnell has actually executed his pitches pretty well and should be getting better results. Games like Jordany Valdespin’s two error game at shortstop make his numbers look worse overall, and double plays not turned have hurt him, particularly because those don’t count as errors because you can’t assume the double play, and ultimately hurt his ERA. Given his strikeout numbers and the fact that he rarely allows extra base hits and home runs, Bobby Parnell is the reliever you most want on the mound in any given high-leverage situation.
I’m not trying to defend the bullpen, because they haven’t been great and have been giving a lot of close games away lately, but it I keep hearing people talk about how it’s the worst bullpen in the league and how horrible it is and that’s misrepresenting it a bit. The National League league average for bullpens is 3.85 and has been a little worse, 3.98, in June and July. The Mets are at 5.00. That’s what makes it look really bad.
These seven guys in the bullpen are not fully responsible for all those numbers. So the bullpen the Mets will have available to them tonight is not the epic failure it’s being made out to be. Manny Acosta, with 33 runs allowed, is still tops in the National League among pitchers with no starts. Now, you can’t discount those runs because clearly someone else would’ve given up some in that role, but it does seem worth nothing that the non-Acosta relievers are pitching to a 3.77 ERA. The bullpen with Manny Acosta in it was posting a 5.54 ERA. Since the last time he appeared in a game, the Mets bullpen has posted a 4.07 ERA.
That certainly isn’t record-setting bad. It’s a bullpen that will close out games when you have a good starting five and an offense that can score runs. The Mets have been struggling with consistency in those other departments lately and that’s a bigger problem than the bullpen. Another thing in the Mets bullpen’s favor is the defense. They don’t make a lot more errors than average, but the plays not made or double plays not turned can be problems as well. I’m sure we all have nightmares about some of these games where the Mets gave the opposition four or five outs to work with. Balls falling in that an average defender would catch means a higher ERA for the pitcher despite his best effort. Sometimes it’s just bad luck, as with the hit and run last night, but other times it’s a bad read or bad positioning.
Of course ERA isn’t the perfect tool for evaluating relievers so it’s probably not safe to say they’ve been only a tick worse than league average lately. They’ve allowed 33% of inherited runners to score, with or without Acosta, and that’s good for second worst in the league behind only Philadelphia. League average is 28%. Sometimes those runs apply to other relievers, but sometimes they’re hurting the starters ERA and don’t show up in my calculations above.
So while the bullpen hasn’t been great the extent to which it’s struggled has been over-stated lately. Even the average bullpen around the league is is going to give up a run roughly ever seven outs. That’s usually at least one run a game.
The Mets have been bouncing around between just good enough and mediocre for most of the season now. They’ve been unable to take that next step to great, but they’ve also never fallen off the cliff towards bad and it’d be foolish to read into their current state, again, as the beginning of the end unless you’re more concerned with your preseason predictions being correct than with how the Mets are actually doing.
There are plenty of times that if the season were to end the Mets would’ve been in the playoffs. Some as recent as four games ago. Losing three to a division rival is a rough way to start the second half, but it’s hardly the end of the world. The Mets are actually only 4 and 5 against the Braves this year. Those first three games are as important to the standings as these last three. The Mets will clearly need to made some adjustments, play better, and have some better luck to win more games. These are all things the Mets have proved able to do. R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana are human, apparently. Everyone slumps.
Everyone streaks too. Santana and Dickey will have other stretches of dominance. Other players will get hits, pitch well, catch the ball and beat the opposition. The Mets will win again.
If I were to judge this Mets team at this point, I’d say it might be a 50% chance they make the playoffs. If the season happens to end while they’re on a hot streak, they’ll likely be in. If not, they’ll likely miss out. The margin of error may be that small, which was also the case in the series in Atlanta. The Mets number one goal for the second half is to create situations where they have a margin for error. Multiple run leads when the bullpen is struggling. Less walks so that one error or poorly defended ball doesn’t lead to runs. Most importantly, getting into playoff position and building a lead so every loss isn’t a possible elimination event.
All-Star Break coming up after the Cubs series and I think it’s worth a thought about how Terry Collins will line up his rotation coming out of it. There are a couple of things to consider here, including getting Dickey as many games as possible, the impending division match-ups, and the two pitchers coming off shoulder surgery.
So I’d definitely start R.A. Dickey the first game back against the Braves. This also ensures he’ll pitch against division-leading Washington in the second series. I’d then pitch Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee. Give Johan Santana the extra days off, which amounts to skipping a start, and have him start the series against the Nationals on Tuesday, 11 days after his start tonight.
No one’s asked this question that I’ve seen, and maybe it’s because no one dreamed Santana would throw this many innings, but I’m starting to wonder if the Mets would prefer he didn’t throw 200 of them this year. He’s on pace for about 196, and this is probably the last opportunity the Mets will have to give him a little break before a pennant race. Starting with the Nationals series, the Mets will play 20 games without a day off across five cities and three time zones.
Skipping Chris Young the first time through after the break gives him some rest as well, and allows the Mets to have Santana, Dickey and Niese lined up to pitch five of the six July games against the Nationals.