Opening Day Brings Anticipation

This is a different Opening Day than we’re used to. Two seasons in the playoffs has the season kicking off with anticipation in a way not seen since 2001. There’s heavy expectations on this team, and while we’re all thrilled Mets baseball is back and the games count, it’s in a “Let’s get on with it” way, as we await the summer to see how the team looks, and what needs to be done to win the division. Opening Day is always one of the highlights of a Mets season, and maybe sometimes it’s one of the best, but this year it’s going to be little more than a footnote.


Even though it’s going to be silly for a while yet, scoreboard watching is going to begin real early. In 2015 the Mets shocked the Nationals who were falling apart. Last year they kept it close for a while and still managed to make the playoffs as well. This year is a full-on battle. Each team knows the other is serious, capable, and dangerous. We’re going to get rotations being lined up to face each other. DL stints and roster moves made with upcoming Nationals series in mind.


The Mets and Nationals square off for six games in the second half of April. In a way this is a practice Opening Day, because everything really gets started April 21st when the Nats arrive at Citi Field.


So enjoy your tailgates, settle into your seats. Flip on your tv or radio and listen to Gary, Keith, Ron, Howie and Josh. Let’s get this season started, because it’s going to a fun ride.

Ignore Spring Training Stat Lines, Please!

There is value to what happens on the baseball field in Spring Training, but most of that is not in the results of the games or the at-bats. We need to stop getting worked up about the preseason stats.

Health and mobility are big ones. How the defenders are handling the mechanics of turning double-plays, preparing for throws home on sac-flies, rounding the bases while running, or getting good jumps when stealing. How guys look trying out new positions, new swings. Is a player being more selective at the plate, swinging at better pitches, or laying off ones he struck out on last year?

These things are different for everyone, and often tie into perceived faults from the year before. If the team felt a defender was taking bad routes to fly balls in the outfield last year, they’re going to be paying special attention to that this spring. If a team felt a player needed to be more selective at the plate, they might be paying more attention to when he swings this Spring, regardless of what happens after he does. These things, more than how many hits he gets off pitchers that may or may not be throwing the way they’d be throwing in a competitive MLB game, are the things teams are looking at.

It’s easy to get excited because Michael Conforto has some hits against lefties, or that Travis d’Arnaud is driving the ball, but ultimately these things are not indicators for 2017 MLB success. The Mets destroyed the Marlins in a game on Thursday, but many of the pitchers they hit were 28 year old guys with little to no major league experience. This is poor competition even if they were at their peak point in the season.

Players hit nothing during March and suddenly start the season 11/25 with 3 HR. Players also drive the ball all over Florida and start the season in a slump. The actual MLB season is such a different animal than practice games in Spring Training when everyone’s working on different things with different goals that it’s a hopeless task to try to figure out what any of it means for the regular season. This is especially true early in March when even the best pitchers are pretty rusty and the percentage of minor leaguers participating is higher.

So let’s just calm down on the over-analyzing of these games. Let’s just let everyone get in their reps and stay healthy and we can reevaluate in April.

Stop Counting To Pitchers And Catchers

photo by CeetarStop counting down until the day pitchers and catchers report because it’s a tease.


These days most pitchers and catchers are in camp days earlier, and the position players are showing up earlier and earlier too.  Thanks to the Mets acquiring a popular training program and moving it to Port St. Lucie, many players have been down there sporadically all winter, working out and getting ready for the season.


What we’re really counting down to when we talk about pitchers and catchers is to the day many of the media and beat writers start covering the team from Spring Training. The day is less about the start of baseball season and more about the start of forced columns about how guys are in the best shape of their lives. It’s basically beat writers taking attendance of all the players walking through the door.
What we’re really looking for is the first game against another opponent. The first game is Wednesday March 4th, and it’s the first game on the radio as well. We’ll get Josh Lewin’s voice, and perhaps Howie Rose’s as well if he can pop over to Florida between Islanders games in Dallas and Nashville, and the sounds of baseball in our ears. That’s when things start getting real, when two teams face off each other and half-heartedly try to get each other out while preparing for the regular season. The first television/SNY broadcast will probably be Friday March 6th against the Tigers.

It’s 20 days until the first Mets Spring Training game.


Citi Field’s New Cider Stand

photo by CeetarThe second half of the season is often time for change at ballparks, and Citi Field is no different.  There is now a new cider stand located on the field level in the right field corner.  Cider is a popular drink, and a growing one in popularity too. I wrote about some of the best ones over at BeerGraphs last year.


Obviously, some of these are macro brews masquerading as well-crafted ciders. The two taps, Johnny Appleseed and Stella Artois Cidre, are not good beer/ciders and are both brewed by large breweries. So is Smith and Forge.


Original Sin is a New York brewery, though technically it’s contract brewed in Florida, and I’ve enjoyed their cider from time to time. Angry Orchard ciders, both the apple ginger and crisp apple, are pretty good, and they’re brewed/owned by Sam Adams.


The most interesting one there though is McKenzie’s Original. McKenzie’s Hard Cider was founded in 2011 in Buffalo so they’re the most authentic New York cider on the list. I’ve never had the original, but I tasted both their Seasonal Reserve (which has the best BAR rating of any cider on BeerGraphs) and their black cherry, both which were delicious. The Seasonal Reserve tastes like apple pie. Delicious apple pie.

photo by Ceetar

You can also find 16oz cans of McKenzie’s Original at the Empire State Beer stands and also Ommegang’s Cooperstown Ale, an American Blonde, that’s new as well.


You’ll notice the Shock Top HoneyCrisp Apple Wheat beer logo on the Cider Stand, but I didn’t actually see that one anywhere so I won’t comment on it.


QBC Can Be Your Winter Baseball Fix

The Queens Baseball Convention is taking place on Saturday at noon, and I invite you all to come out and enjoy it.


It’ll have a little bit of everything for you.  History, mascots, execs, trivia, prizes, games, fun…


Here are some highlights for you:


Mr. Met will be making an appearance at 3, and Sandy the Seagull earlier.


Steve Cohen, the Brooklyn Cyclone’s GM will be doing a Q and A.


Ron Darling will sign autographs and do a Q&A. So will Ed Kranepool.


There will be trivia games, family feud style games, a dating game with The7Line Calendar girls, and more.


Mark Simon will host a “Most unusual wins in Mets history” panel at 5 that sounds interesting.


And much more besides. There will be Mets, fans, bloggers, and a lot of fun. Check out the trailer!




Ode To The Mets Off-Day

There are lots of off-days throughout the year.


The first is the most frustrating, usually coming in the form of a rain date for Opening Day after just one game has been played. This is torture akin to someone giving you a slice of chocolate cake and taking it away after one bite.


Early season off-days are hiccups. You’re still getting the hang of baseball every day, trying to find your rhythm and they go and interrupt it. It’s rather frustrating, and while you might flip on another game to watch, it’s too early in the season for you to know who to be scoreboard watching against, making the emotional investment rather small.


As the weather heats up off-days become less of a hassle. You see the need for players to have a travel day, or a recovery day, to keep everyone fresh. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and a day away from the Mets makes the next game all the more fun.


The ultimate off-day is the All-Star Game. The Mid-Summer Classic occurs near the half point of the season, giving everyone the perfect opportunity to take a breather and assess the situation. With no competitive games on what better way to utilize the time than some celebration of the players that make this game great?


After that off-days become strategic. It’s all about lining up the rotation to match your best guys up against your best competition if you’re competing, or getting guys rest and limiting the workload of young pitchers if you’re not.


Then you come to yesterday.  The last off-day of the year. The baseball season is dying, and yesterday was a spooky preview of life without Mets baseball.


Which means tonight’s game might be the highest rated Mets game in September. The appreciation for life that comes just after a near-death experience. A cold night without the Mets that has us clutching to our Travis d’Arnaud‘s and Lucas Dudas.


The final off-day is also a window into the future of our time after baseball. Monday night football is on and the NHL preseason has begun. Many network television shows start debuting in September to start filling your DVR with non-baseball broadcasts.


13 baseball games remain over 13 days. Let’s enjoy every last fleeting moment of Mets baseball, because it won’t be long before we’re counting the days until Spring Training.

Bad News For Beer and Baseball Fans

Budweiser extended it’s agreement with Major League Baseball by six years.  This isn’t a new deal, it’s more than 30 years old, but the renewal of it may represent a lack of progress towards getting craft beer recognition at ballparks.


It’s fairly obvious that the big beer brands, including Budweiser, would rather the beer drinking public of America be as they feature it on television.  Beer as mostly flavorless sustenance that is almost mandatory to have at any viewing of a sporting event.  Leaving aside arguments that this reinforces the “Get drunk and belligerent” at ballgames attitude, because those people are looking for a place to party regardless of the entertainment provided.  The ballgame is usually secondary to these people and it’s pointless to blame it on the beer and unfair to the rest of us that want to enjoy a beverage.  Which is the point; there is a growing subset of fans that want to enjoy a beer at a game that’s a well-crafted tasty drink the same way fans in new ballparks are enjoying cuisine beyond hot dogs and peanuts these days.


Even if rumors of Budweiser actively pursuing ways to shut down craft beer taps, and not just at ballparks, are mostly exaggerated, Budweiser can afford to pay the big bucks for the prime real estate at a venue.  This often means craft beer has to be almost hidden among kiosks and specialty stands in other areas.  Don’t be confused by Big Apple Brews; while there are some good beers there, they’re all distributed by Anhauser Busch/InBev.


Even with Budweiser being the big player in beer at baseball games, craft beer has been making inroads more and more.  Hopefully this continues.

On Enjoying the Mets

Shannon at Mets Police writes up his feelings about why he loves getting to go out to Mets games and enjoying baseball.


It’s a nice enough warm summer night. Santana on the mound, friends, two beers (not eight), some food, 100 or so tweets, take some pics, maybe a blog post, a “free” t-shirt, #imwith28, a folk hero in Dickey, hanging with the tribe – all good things. All make me happy


Baseball is supposed to be fun.  Yes, the nature of sports mean some times are not as fun, but if you can enjoy the experience even bad losses have that silver lining. You still hung out with some friends, got some fresh air, and still got to see all the wonderful things about baseball from home runs to devastating curve balls and sparkling defensive plays.  Sometimes it’s the opposing team doing it.  Sometimes there is comedy in the errors.


Even if it ends badly that doesn’t erase the three hours you were having fun.


And that’s my main take away from baseball.  I’m going to note that the Mets are in the playoff picture even though it’s only June.  I’m going to note winning streaks and the division champion losing.  Because even if the Mets fall out of it on September first, I’ve had five months of happiness and enjoyment believing and rooting and hoping that the Mets will win tonight’s game.


Wouldn’t you rather look up in September and realize it’s been a fun ride and start really getting invested in whether they can take it home than keep looking for the trapdoors around every bend in the schedule?  Isn’t it more fun to be excited about a team even if it ultimately fails than to remain un-invested until the last moment?  Ike Davis may carry us over those trapdoors.  R.A. Dickey may steer us around them.


I respect that everyone has different criteria to really believe in a team, and that many people put up these huge walls between watching and truly believing because they’re afraid of getting hurt and being let down.  Some people race to the Internet after losing streaks or poor performances to proclaim that the Mets are what was expected of them in a way that seems like they’re almost chiding themselves for getting invested emotionally.


Getting invested emotionally is half the fun! This is the culture of being a sports fan.  This is what makes Jordany Valdespin‘s first career hit being a go-ahead 3-run home run against the hated Phillies so amazin’.  Or Dickey’s magical mystery tour.  Or Kirk Nieuwenhuis‘ emergence and Rookie of the Year campaign.   It’s the hopes and dreams that come along with these events.  The understanding that enough helpings of improbable wins, circus catches and league-leading 2-out RBI could make the Mets pretty damn good.  Deep down I think everyone knows this.  It’s probably part of the reason there is a ground-swell of support for Valdespin getting more playing time despite hitting .222 and playing mostly bad defense over Daniel Murphy hitting .271 while playing mostly bad defense.


The emotional thrill of some of Valdespin’s big hits coupled with his swagger seem to have resonated with Mets fans.

“I was thinking I’m the man,” Valdespin said with a slight smile after his home run of Jonathan Papelbon.

A little bit of confidence in the face of improbable predictions of making the playoffs in 2012 goes a long way towards making the season exciting.   It wasn’t just pure cockiness either, as Valdespin continued with a more humble appreciation of where he is.

“I’m just so happy,” he said, adding that his first phone call once he left Citizen’s Bank Park would be to San Pedro de Macoris, in the Dominican Republic, to his mother Maria.

“I want her to know this home run is for her. Because she’s the person who put me here to do this.”

Maybe Jordany’s mix of humble appreciation for being in the Major Leagues coupled with the cocky appreciation for the team’s big hits will be a nice story going forward.  Maybe Daniel Murphy shakes off his slump with a three home run week.  It’s not one against the other, as they’re on the same team.  I’m rooting for both of them.


I give the mainstream media a lot of grief for creating silly Mets-hating narratives, but creating narratives can be fun.   Don’t we love Dickey’s story?  Still, him climbing a mountain in the offseason does not actually make him a better pitcher or mean he’s destined to win 30 games this season.  That doesn’t change that it’s a fun story or that he’s a entertaining guy to root for.  The Mets being a ‘gritty’ team may not actually mean anything more than statistical randomness, but it’s still fun to get into it when the Mets are scratching out 9th inning wins against good pitchers, working counts to chase starters early, or executing bunt base-hits when the defensive situation calls for it.


No one knows where this Mets team is going.  Not me, not you, not sports radio hosts or national baseball writers.  Sandy Alderson does not know, nor does Terry Collins or even David Wright.  They believe though.  No one can predict the future, and no one has all the data required to give you odds.  The season so far is a huge example of that.  Everyone tried to tell you what would happen with Johan Santana, and pretty much everyone was wrong.


There are so many unpredictable things in baseball.  Things go right and things go wrong and some things are just awesome.  So instead of sleeping in the back of the train waiting for something to jolt you awake, enjoy the scenery and imagine the beautiful places the train may be taking you to.  You may not end up where you imagine, but I can guarantee you’ll see some amazin’ places along the way.   Believe it.

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.

Canadian Optimism

Memorable series in Toronto?  Perhaps not.  The Mets flirted more with last place than with first this weekend, but they got out of the country with a win and perhaps that’s a step forward.


No NL East team swept this weekend, providing the Mets some solace.  The Mets also have managed to squeak out some wins while they’ve been struggling, perhaps doing some good towards minimizing the damage.  Avoiding long losing streaks is a good way to avoid undoing all the progress you’ve made during winning streaks, and simply being 4-6 over the last 10 instead of 2-8 has done that.   A good way to have a winning record is to win more games when you’re playing well than you lose when you’re playing poorly, since all teams do both for at least some portion of the season.


It’s important to minimize the length of said losing streaks as well, and for the last couple of decades the National League’s favorite way to do that has been to face the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The Mets will travel to Pittsburgh for a three game set, and while it’s true that they’re not a good team, it’s important to note that they rank 3rd in the NL in team ERA and the Mets will be facing their two best pitchers in Bedard and McDonald.  The counter argument is of course that the Pirates can’t hit a lick and the Mets will be tossing the top of their rotation as well, with Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese getting the starts.


It’s worth noting that the Mets are three games over .500 more than a quarter of the way through the season and haven’t been a losing team even for one game all season long despite being almost universally picked to finish last.  It isn’t because everything has clicked either.  The starters have probably been better than expected overall, but they’ve been prone to absolute disaster starts as well.  The bullpen is incredibly streaky, and it almost seems that as Frank Francisco goes, so go the Mets.  The offense that should’ve been the Mets best feature has been spotty, although David Wright is hitting for two.  Ike Davis has been pretty much a disaster and the two positions that the Mets really didn’t have any depth, shortstop and catcher, are two positions the Mets faced injuries at .  Both Ruben Tejada and Josh Thole went down while putting up strong offensive numbers, and their backups certainly aren’t up to par.


And still the Mets roll on.  Time to take care of some Pirates.