Are The Mets Being Too Protective Of Their Starters?

Dan Warthen and the Mets have come out with a plan to have the starting rotation ease into the Spring and not really start gearing up until about March 5th. This is an injury prevention and workload reduction philosophy that’s geared towards keeping them healthy all season, but I’m concerned.

My main concern is that skimping on the prep work is never the right way to train. To be ready for physical activity the most important thing to do is physical activity. You practice. You stretch. You don’t amp up the activity to new levels until you’ve hit the target below it. In the ‘30s the coaches had Babe Ruth basically not use his legs at all during Spring Training in the hopes that they’d be stronger for the season, which is obviously ridiculous, and didn’t work. Spring Training these days is specifically this long in order for the pitchers to really stretch themselves out in time for the season.

This isn’t different than the Mets philosophy the last few season though. Warthen said that the goal is to have each of them at least get to 90 pitches once before the season and that’s roughly how it’s gone in the past.

This regiment only leads to those pitchers going into games in April still need to ramp up and stretch out their arms to the 100-110 pitches they’ll average during the season. It’s a long season and care needs to be taken, but I bet it’d be better to take that next step in the warm Florida sun rather than cold New York nights. April games count too, but often times managers are still feeling out the relievers they can trust this year, and purposely cutting off a couple dozen innings from your starters in favor of random relievers is not in anyone’s best interest.

There’s not a lot of convincing data that this method, or any method, is going to keep pitchers healthy and effective. I’d rather see them get stretched out a little faster, and taper more in the summer months or when they show signs of fatigue before the all hands on deck month of September. The Mets pitchers haven’t been healthier than anyone else over the years either. There’s a bit of catch-22 in all of this. The rotation doesn’t have anyone that has thrown 200 innings, but is that because the Mets are so afraid of them throwing too many innings and getting hurt or because they’ve been hurt and fatigued from throwing too many innings?

Maybe this will protect the pitchers’ arms, or maybe it’s needlessly protective. They might get hurt anyway, but hopefully this means the plan is for them to be healthy, able, and not up against any pitching restrictions when it comes to September and the playoffs. If we can avoid more Scott Boras innings limit drama, we’ll all be better off.

Where Did The Playoff Teams Get Their Best Relievers?

reedThere’s a lot of talk about what the Mets should or shouldn’t be doing this offseason. Relievers are a popular request. That makes sense as no team ever has enough relievers and with a possible suspension to Familia, the Mets could certainly benefit from another quality arm or two.

Still, it’s January and relievers are volatile. The top relievers from one year are sometimes complete unknowns the year before, and guys fall off cliffs fast. Relievers get so few innings that sometimes the stats can be misleading as the samples size is small. We’ve all seen the Mets give significant deals to relievers only to have them be sub-par, whereas random minor league deals turn out big dividends.

So, where did last year’s playoff teams get their best relievers, by fWAR? All these teams, which include the Mets, were in the position the Mets are in right now–trying to find the final pieces for a championship. So did they go out and sign high price relievers, promote from within, make trades, 3D print them or get them from Earth 2?

Mets
Addison Reed was their best reliever.
Acquired August 30th, 2015 for Miller Diaz (minors) and Matt Koch.

Do you remember Diaz or Koch? Have you heard about them since? Probably not. This was the stretch run pick up for 2015 that worked out, and the Mets kept him around.

Jeurys Familia was the second-best reliever, and he was drafted by the Mets as a starter and converted.

Cubs
Aroldis Chapman
Trade with Yankees on July 27th.

Their best reliever was literally only on the team two months.

Pedro Strop
Came over in the Arrieta deal from Cleveland in July 2013.

Strop was a nice reliever they’ve had for years who really flourished in Chicago.

Indians
Dan Otero
They got Otero last offseason, on December 18th, for cash from the Phillies. He was an under-control guy not yet in arbitration.

Otero pitched great for them but there is no way they were counting on that. They took a flyer on a guy and it worked.

Andrew Miller
2016 deadline trade with the Yankees.

Another guy that put up great numbers in two months.

Cody Allen
He was drafted by the Indians in 2011.

Allen was a little off in 2016, giving up a lot more home runs than usual, but was still reliable.

Red Sox
Craig Kimbrel
They grabbed Kimbrel last offseason, 11/31/2015, from the Padres.

Kimbrel had a sizable contract through 2017 with a 2018 option so this fits the ‘pay for a big name’ model, and the Red Sox gave up quite a few prospects for this as well. Kimbrel was still very good, but his ERA rose, as did his walk rate. His ground ball percentage dropped. Was it worth the expense? Hard to say.

Brad Ziegler
7/9/2016 trade with Arizona.
Over the full season, Ziegler was better than Kimbrel. The Red Sox used him and let him walk in free agency, where he went to Miami.

Blue Jays
Roberto Osuna
Signed as 16 year old in 2011.

Basically a prospect they brought up through their system.

Joe Biagini
Rule 5 pick from Giants last offseason.
Biagini was mostly an unexceptional AA guy the previous year but the Blue Jays must have saw something they could work with. They got good value from him despite a sub-par strikeout rate.

Joaquin Benoit
7/26/16 trade with Mariners.
Benoit was garbage with Seattle and the Blue Jays got him for Drew Storen, who was garbage with the Blue Jays. Storen pitched alright with the Mariners, but Benoit was amazing for the Jays before getting hurt just before the playoffs. He pitched 23.2 innings and allowed one run. One. Benoit has been a good reliever for a while, but he did turn 39 on the day of this trade so it’s easy to see where he might just have been done, instead he was key in getting the Blue Jays to the postseason. The Phillies signed him for a one year and nearly eight million after the season.

Orioles
Zach Britton
Drafted 2006

Britton had an absurdly good year, and should get into that Wild Card game any moment now.

Brad Brach
11/25/2013 trade with the Padres.

Brach is a pre-Free Agent. He was pretty good in previous years but really stepped up last year.

Rangers
Matt Bush
Signed to Minor league deal on 12/18/2015
Bush is a unique case as personal issues and jail time kept him away from the game after being drafted in 2004. The Rangers gave him a chance, and he started in the minors, succeeded, and was promoted.

Sam Dyson
7/31/2015 with Marlins
2015 deadline deal and 2016 closer for the Rangers. 2017 is his first arbitration year.

Giants
Derek Law
Drafted 2011
Major League debut in 2016, and he pitched well.

Hunter Strickland
Signed off waivers from Pirates in April 2013
Giants grabbed Strickland in 2013 after the Pirates gave up on the 24 year old in AA, sent him down a level, and managed to turn him into a useful pitcher.

Dodgers
Kenley Jansen
Drafted 2004
Jansen has been a solid Dodgers reliever for years. They just re-signed him to a long 5/$80 deal with an opt-out.

Joe Blanton
1/19/16 for 4mm off first year of relief.
Back end rotation guy turned reliever with the Royals and Pirates in 2015 got a $4 million dollar deal with the Dodgers and pitched pretty well as he now strikes out a lot more batters. He remains unsigned for 2017.

Adam Liberatore
11/20/2014 trade with Rays
Came over with Joel Peralta. Wasn’t great in 2015 but improved for 2016. Had surgery this offseason but he’s still pre-arb.

Nationals
Shawn Kelley
3 year deal signed on 12/11/2015
Kelley’s one of the few free agent signings on this list. He’s on a relatively inexpensive 3/$15 deal that has already paid off through a successful 2016 with the Nats. He had a career high K/9 rate as well as a career low BB/9, though hitting the zone that much seems to have led to a few more home runs.

Mark Melancon
7/30/16 trade with Pirates
Melancon pitched really well for the Nationals down the stretch and then left for the Giants and a 4/$62 deal.

How about previous Mets teams?

2014-2015 Jeurys Familia – Drafted
2014 Mejia – Drafted
2013 Parnell – Drafted
2013- Latroy Hawkins – 1/31/2013 minor league deal
2006 – Wagner – FA, Heilman – drafted, Bradford – FA.

Perusing this list leads to the conclusion that it’s hard to determine who your best reliever is going to be in an upcoming season. Many teams acquired a great reliever sometime between the end of the last season and the trade deadline, but it was rarely a heralded free agent.

It seem just as likely that you’ll find a quality reliever as a throw-in for a trade, as a flyer on the waiver wire, or simply in your own minor league system. It could be a minor league free agent that you had no real expectations of. Additionally, plenty of the major league free agent relievers signed did not end up pitching in the playoffs or even pitch that well. Antonio Bastardo, Joakim Soria, Tony Sipp, Tyler Clippard to name a few.

So there’s every chance that the Mets minor league signings of Ben Rowen and Cory Burns could pay dividends. We certainly shouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. Sandy Alderson has been pretty active over the playoff seasons with moving smaller pieces around and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more relievers show up by the time the season really gets going. Or maybe the Mets starters all stay healthy and someone like Wheeler or Lugo gets some quality time in as a reliever.

Jon Niese’s Impressive Hitting Streak

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 22: Pitcher Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets hits an RBI double in the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on May 22, 2014 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Ron Antonelli/Getty Images)During Jonathon Niese’s first at bat the other night Josh Lewin casually mentioned that he had a three game hitting streak going back to last year. Pitcher hitting streaks are not something you pay much attention to, as even a three game streak during the season spans 10 or more days. Niese laced an RBI single to left field in the fourth to extend the streak to four and it made me wonder about pitcher hitting streaks.

 

Turns out four games ties for the active lead among pitchers with Colby Lewis. Lewis’ is perhaps most interesting because it began all the way back in 2011 with a double in June bring him to one out of eight on the season. He made only one start in an NL park in 2012, going two for four against the Astros. He missed all of 2013, but managed a hit in both his NL games in 2014 including the 4th one against the Bartolo Colon and the Mets on July 5th. The Rangers play in Arizona on April 21st and 22nd, but Lewis is scheduled to miss them. Kyle Kendrick just had a 4-game hitting streak end against Clayton Kershaw on Friday.

 

Niese’s streak began on September 20th last year against the Braves’ David Hale. Many Mets pitchers have had a four game hitting streak, most recently R.A. Dickey did it in 2011 and 2012. There are six guys with five hits, most notably Mike Hampton and Tom Seaver. Anytime your name is mentioned alongside Seaver’s you know you’re doing something right. The all-time Mets leader though, with a six game hitting streak from late 1974 to early 1975, was Jerry Koosman. Koosman hit .500 during his streak going nine for 18 with a double, triple, and four RBI. It ended against the Expos and Dave McNally when Koosman failed to get a hit in his first AB and after giving up six runs through five was replaced in his second AB by Jesus Alou. Niese will face the Braves tonight trying to make it five.

 

You might be wondering what the All-Time streak is. Niese is nowhere near Wilbur Cooper’s 16 game streak from 1924. Cooper hit .346/.376/.433 on the season that year while winning 20 games for the Pirates. More recently Carlos Zambrano had a 13 game hitting streak, but the play-index query I used ignored his pinch hitting appearances where he wasn’t a pitcher. Truthfully he only had a six game hitting streak. Johnny Sain had a 13 game streak in 1947 which is good for second place on this list.

 

When I said ‘pitcher hitting streak’ your mind may have first gone to Babe Ruth. Ruth did have an 11 game streak crossing from 1917 to 1918 as a pitcher, but there were a bunch of games in the middle as a pinch hitter and first baseman. Truthfully he hit in the final two games of 1917 as a pitcher, and then 10 of the first 11 games of 1918, with the one miss being a walk as a pinch hitter. That’s a 12 game streak, nine of which were as a pitcher. Ruth would later have a 26 game hitting streak with the Yankees, but not as a pitcher.

 

Can Niese get a 5th hit tonight against Trevor Cahill? If so the streak might start getting some real attention; five games is a lot for a pitcher. At that point only six active players would have had a longer one, with Wade Miley’s 2012 8-game streak being the top. Niese has never batted against Cahill, but I’m looking forward to the matchup.

Kershaw, Hernandez Win IBWAA Cy Young: My Votes

Los Angeles – The Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA) announced the winners in its Cy Young category Wednesday, with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw winning the group’s National League award, and Felix Hernandez, of the Seattle Mariners, being selected in the American League.

 

Clayton Kershaw was a no-brainer, and his unanimous selection means everyone else agreed. After the playoffs I do feel a little silly having left Madison Bumgarner off the ballot entirely, but there was a lot of good pitching.

 

Hernandez’s selection was more contested. I voted for Corey Kluber, who did receive more first-place votes but less total points. It was really a toss-up either way, as both guys were definitely deserving. I ultimately erred on the side of Kluber’s higher WAR and strikeout total.

NL

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Johnny Cueto
  3. Adam Wainwright
  4. Zack Greinke
  5. Cole Hamels

AL

  1. Corey Kluber
  2. Felix Hernandez
  3. Chris Sale
  4. Jon Lester
  5. David Price

Matt Harvey’s Record Is Actually Very Good

photo  by CeetarPitcher wins mean next to nothing. They’re a factor of the offense, defense, the opposing pitcher and often times the bullpen. The best way to accumulate wins as a pitcher is to play on a team that scores a billion runs.  That team is not the Mets.

 

The Mets are 13-12 in Matt Harvey starts. He has nine wins and four losses, which is actually a pretty good percentage. The Mets are then four and eight after he leaves the game, suggesting that they are a team with a really good player and aren’t as good when he leaves the game. Additionally, they’ve been playing without their best hitter and best reliever for a couple of weeks now, the guys they’d need most in those post-Harvey innings. The Mets don’t score runs, and when they do they often do it in bunches. That is why they don’t win more Matt Harvey games. The less runs you score as a team, the less likely those runs are going to be scored for your ace.  This is especially true when you’re trying to build a cushion of runs to preserve a lead with the bullpen pitching at least two innings for even the best of starters in the league, of which Matt Harvey is one.

 

The Mets won 52% of Matt Harvey’s starts so far this year and 44.3% of their games otherwise.  Over 162 games that means they’d win 84 games if Harvey started everyday, and just 72 if he wasn’t on the team. That’s quite a difference, in fact it’s 17% better. Just for a reference point 17% better than a .500 team would get you to nearly 95 wins.

 

Of course, there’s a lot of randomness and luck in there because the Mets score runs independent of who they’re starting, so running into a lot of weak starters on one day, or a hitter happening to have a great day another can greatly skew these results, which is why a pitcher’s record mean so little. If Daniel Murphy gets hot and goes four for five with two home runs one day, that has nothing to do with how well Matt Harvey is pitching. There is no rhyme or reason to which batters happen to hit well on a given day, and it’s just luck if it happens on one pitcher’s starting day more than another’s. It’s safe to say the Mets aren’t quite wasting Matt Harvey starts, because he is making them much better. He’s helping them win games they’d have no business winning otherwise given how many runs they scored. In some ways, if they scored six or seven runs on a day Harvey started that could more be considered wasting his start, because they’d rarely need so many to cover what he gives up to the opposing team.

 

 

Matt Harvey and the best pitching performance I’ve seen

photo by CeetarLast 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.

Mets Contests: Win a copy of Knuckleball!

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. 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 contest@ceetar.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.

 

Bonus Features

Nearly 2 hours of Featurettes, Interviews, and More

 

 

Blue Jays Rotation: Non-Mets Edition

R.A. Dickey pitching for the Mets in 2011If 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.