Can We Talk About Chris Capuano?

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.

 

 

On Wishing Johan Santana into the Cornfield

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.

The Mets Best Reliever

July 28, 2012 - Source: Norm Hall/Getty Images North AmericaEveryone 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.

Mets Bullpen: Worst Ever, or Just Bad?

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.

These Mets Are Not Finished

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.

 

 

Rotation After All-Star Break

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.

The King In The North Of Queens

Confirmed: R.A. Dickey does indeed come to bat to the theme song from the HBO series the Game of Thrones.

 

What Dickey has been doing on the mound is so amazing it changes the narrative around the team and dominates the story line.   Even the usually wordy R.A. has run out of things to stay to describe the results he’s getting, instead saying he’s going to leave it to us to describe and just continue going out there and doing his work.

 

The Mets had just gotten swept, again, coming into this series with the Orioles.  This was the farthest thing from your mind watching the game.  There was no downward spiral, no wheels coming off the train, just R.A. Dickey dazzlingly darting knuckleballs around Oriole bats.  Wilson Betemit got a hit in the 5th and ceased our worry about the no-hitter, and Ike Davis got a grand slam in the 6th that ceased our worry about losing the game.  From there on it was pure joy.

 

The Mets have a legitimate Cy Young candidate as the season nears it’s halfway point.  They probably have the All-Star Game’s starting pitcher.  They have an MVP candidate and a Rookie of the Year candidate.   If they could find someone to compete for Rolaids Relief Man there would be nothing this team couldn’t do.

R.A. Dickey When It’s Not Raining

R.A. Dickey had one really bad start this year. It was against the Atlanta Braves in the rain.   Normally I’d say you can’t throw out bad starts, because they still count.  That’s true; that bad start will always be on his record, will always count in the standings, and will always have cost the Mets a chance to win that day.

 

In evaluating Dickey’s performance, and in looking forward to when he next takes the mound, it’s a little bit more unfair to factor that game in.  The rain played a huge factor in the outcome and in his ability to command his pitches.  If it’s not raining Dickey isn’t going to pitch like he did in Atlanta.  The biggest cause of his bad game was the rain affecting the break of the pitch, not Dickey himself.

 

So that said, what does R.A. Dickey’s pitching line look like without that start?

 

10-0 record in 85.2 IP

1.47 ERA via 14 earned runs.

.875 WHIP.

17BB and 85 K for a 5 K/BB and an 8.93 K/9.

 

 

That seems pretty good.

 

 

 

Run Differential and the Mets

A lot has been made about the Mets run differential so far this year, and how it suggests that the Mets should have lost a lot more games than they have.  They’re 32-29, but the Pythagorean formula says that with 262 runs scored and 281 runs allowed they should be 29-32.   They’re at a point where winning a 3-2 game may get them a win, but will hurt their Pythagorean record.

 

Math does not have a memory.  If the Mets play well enough to win a one run game, then they get a victory which suggests a .6774 winning percentage (110 wins) via Pythagorean.  However if they get blown out 14-5, they get one loss but Pythagorean suggests a .1319 winning percentage (21 wins).  Combined that’s a .2195 winning percentage (36 wins).  Take the Mets record over the last 10 games.  They are 4-6, but their 42:37 runs scored to runs allowed ratio suggests they should be 6-4.

 

This is all nonsense really, because I’m just cherry-picking games.  The logic to it all is that overall you need to score more runs than you allow to win baseball games.  There is no inherent talent (besides things like using mop-up relievers that make blowouts bigger blowouts) or ability that allows teams to scatter those runs in a way that groups all of the runs allowed into a couple of games and spread the runs scored more evenly so that they win a lot more games than they lose.  That’s simply luck.  A team that scores 3.5 runs a game but allows 4 runs a game should lose more often that it will win.  For the entire season.  Runs do group though through luck and randomness and late inning replacements in out of reach games, and a near even run differential rarely means a team loses or wins mostly close games.

 

Manny Acosta has given up 29 runs this season.  Last season he gave up only 21 runs all year (although he started in June) to a rate of .4468 runs given up per inning.   If we’d have had that Manny Acosta so far, he’d only have given up nine runs, rounded up.  Acosta is pitching to a 11.86 ERA, which has accounted for a ton of those runs allowed.  This is why run differential is not predictive of how the Mets will do going forward.  The Mets removed a key input, Manny Acosta, from the equation and he won’t be around to give up more runs.  If he does return, it’ll be because he’s pitching better and won’t be giving up runs at the same rate.

 

Let’s compare the run differential if we’d had the 2011 version of Manny Acosta.  Instead of 262 runs scored and 281 allows the Mets would have scored 262 runs and allowed 261.  Aha! A positive run differential.  As I’m sure you can guess, that comes out to a .502 winning percentage via Pythagorean and 81 wins.  The Mets are only three games above that, which isn’t an unreasonable deviation.

 

What run differential predictions forget is that teams and managers make changes.  Manny Acosta is only one example of that.  The Mets will make, and have made, other bullpen changes.  They’ll make offense changes to to try to score more runs.  Ike Davis will hopefully learn how to play baseball again, Daniel Murphy is almost a lock to score more runs than he has been.  The Mets current run differential has roughly zero correlation to what we can expect from this team going forward; it only tells us about what they’ve done so far.

Tripling Barry Zito’s ERA

Clearly Barry Zito’s ERA is a factor of small sample size. (sing it everybody!)

 

He’s coming into tonight’s game with a 1.125 ERA having given up only two runs over 16 innings.  This is unsustainable, as I suspect the Mets will demonstrate.

 

If the Mets score 6 runs in 5.1 or less it would triple Zito’s 1.125 ERA.
If they only score five they’d have to do it in 2.1 innings to triple it.
4 runs in 8 or less innings would double it.
If they only score 3, they’d have to chase him in 4 innings to double his ERA.
For his ERA to dip under 1, he only needs 2.1 scoreless innings, but if the Mets score once he’d need to go 11.