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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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Believe It: Other Its.

The wave of optimism coming from the Mets fanbase this weekend has been refreshing.  Welcome to the club.  (Guest euphoria welcome) It’s impossible not to be giddy about how this team played this weekend.  Finally, a Mets pitcher has pitched a no-hitter.  Believe it.

Believe It!

What else can you believe?  An MVP? Playoff berth?  The World Series?

 

Why not?  Many of us would’ve put the odds of those above a no-hitter, and we’ve beaten those odds.  David Wright has to be one of the favorites for the MVP a third of the way through the season.  You could make a case for both Johan Santana AND R.A. Dickey as Cy Young candidates.  According to ESPN’s Cy Young predictor, R.A. Dickey is the early favorite.

 

The Playoffs?  Well, the Mets are now tied for first place in the division.  They’ve been in “If the season ended today” position to make the playoffs most of the season.  Winning in the playoffs? I’ll take my chances with R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, and David Wright, that’s for sure.

 

Greg from Faith and Fear in Flushing has this to say on those “We’ve never had XXX” lists:

 

“And what’s left of a never-got-one nature to ache for anyway? Put aside a World Series championship even if you’ve never seen one before, because the Mets have two of those. They have cycles, triple plays, a 6-for-6 night, 10 consecutive strikeouts, a batting title and now a no-hitter. What is left hanging out there on the vine that can be attained on the field? An MVP has to be voted on, so that’s not it. A perfect game would be something, but that’s like waiting for the clouds to rain candy. Not everybody has one of those, so it’s not as if the Mets are being left out. Ditto for a four-homer performance. We’ll love if it happens, but it’s rare enough to advise against holding breath for.”

 

What can’t the Mets do this season? Nothing.  There is nothing the Mets can’t achieve.  Believe It.

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Tendering A Contract to Mike Pelfrey

I’d be shocked of Angel Pagan and Mike Pelfrey are not given contracts this season.  They’re both due raises via arbitration, and the raises they get could possibly push the money they make beyond the value they’re likely to provide.  Of course, it’s very hard to form a direct relationship between money and performance.  Ultimately it’s about getting the most value, not the best price for that value.

 

Mike Pelfrey and Scott Boras agreed to a 3.925 million dollar contract last year.  It’d be pretty hard for them to argue for much more than that in arbitration off this year.  I could see them settling for a similar value, which is not the six million dollar figure some are talking about.   Four million is a pretty reasonable amount, and it’s also a very tradeable contract if the Mets were able to find something better or they had a prospect knocking on the door in May.

 

Mike Pelfrey has not had a very good season, but he’s also not had a horrible one and has pitched on his turn every time and accumulated 200 innings.  Most teams don’t have five guys that do that, which is where Pelfrey’s value comes in. All in all Pelfrey’s peripheral stats look very similar to his stats from last year, and his stats from the year before that.  A new pitching coach may help some, specifically with working on his sinker again,  but it’s probably a safe bet to expect Pelfrey’s numbers in 2012 to be somewhere between 2010 and 2011.  I believe that has value, not as an ace but as a contributing member of a rotation.

 

I trust Mike Pelfrey to work hard this offseason and in Spring Training to do what he can do to get better.  He may not be worth the full value of what he’ll get paid, but he’ll provide the team with innings and consistency.  A lot of teams would snap him up if the Mets released him, and that’s yet another reason he’ll be offered a contract.  Someone will be willing to give the Mets a player in return for Pelfrey, were the Mets to look to trade him this offseason, in Spring Training, or early in the season.  Pitchers are always getting hurt, and reliable starters are always a commodity.   Having more than you need, even if one’s a little more expensive, is being able to deal from a position of strength.

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Does The Mets Organization Only Have Five Starting Pitchers?

With the exception of Chris Young, who was quickly replaced by Dillon Gee, the Mets starting pitchers have stayed healthy all season and not missed a start. (In fact, they’re the only ones to not miss time)  Now that Niese will need to miss a start or two, and doubleheaders galore will force the Mets to use some more pitchers, where are they?

 

Rosters expand on Thursday, the first day they’ll need another pitcher, and yet first we’re going to see 40 year old Miguel Batista, and then R.A. Dickey is going to come back on short rest to pitch Friday.  No Chris Schwinden, no Mark Cohoon.   I know there aren’t a ton of healthy starting pitching prospects in the higher portions of the minor leagues, but why do we have to be subjected to fodder like Batista?

 

On the other hand, I’ll be in the ballpark Thursday to see Batista’s first, and perhaps last, Mets start on what’s his 11th team.  He’s actually going for his 100th win and 1200th strikeout, which I guess is something.

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It Was Just One Game, Let’s Overreact

It was a horrible game. The Mets played sloppy baseball all around the diamond, and didn’t hit the ball with runners in scoring position. Niese didn’t throw enough curveballs and was forced to get too many outs in one inning, but survived through five.

This game was not a result of comments made by guys in suits. This game was the result of play on the field, which wasn’t better than the Cubs play on the field. Ruben Tejada was not thinking about what a meanie Fred Wilpon was to Jose Reyes when he failed to catch a pop-up going back.

Jason Bay is not done.   He’s not very good, deserves all sorts of criticism, and is killing the lineup but he’s not done.   Just like Carlos Delgado was not done in 2008. Remember him? I always laugh because there’s a blog out there called Ketchup On Your Ice Cream, whose last post was a frantic call for Mike Carp to replace him.  This blog still stands, nearly three years later, as a monument to not overreacting.   Yes, Bay looks horrible.  Luckily he’s a hard worker and a hustler.  He can come out of it.  No better time than right now, when the Mets need offense the most. 

Justin Turner is not “regressing to the mean” as I saw one beat writer note last night.  Rookies do not regress, because the idea of regressing suggests a baseline value.  Justin Turner does not have a baseline value, because his major league sample size is ridiculously small.  Even punching in his Buffalo numbers to the extremely questionable minor league equivalency calculator gives him a respectable .743 OPS in the majors.  Obviously it’s unlikely he’ll hit like Albert Pujols and drive in a run every game, but that doesn’t mean he’s trash. 

The Mets are not done.  Yes, they’re in a tough spot with the offense.  Justin Turner helped some, but when he cooled off no one else stepped up to get big hits.  When the offense is struggling the defense needs to make the plays and avoid costly mistakes that extend innings and make things tougher.  The Mets had been pretty good at that, but they’ve gotten sloppy again lately.  They’ve got one of those “turning point” series coming up this weekend with the Phillies.  Everyone overreacting right now will likely be overreacting in the other direction if the Mets win that series.

The pitching is not horrible.  The bullpen is actually very good, but the starters are what’s in question here.  Yes, Pelfrey and Niese fell apart around some sloppy play and bad luck, but they’re not crap.  Pelfrey is a solid above average workhorse type pitcher and Niese is still learning the league and the craft.  Dickey put up a good showing on Friday and hopefully that means he’s back in command of his knuckleball.   Gee’s a rookie and Capuano’s pretty solidly average.  I’ve long been saying the good part of the Mets rotation, and the team in general, is that they all around don’t suck.  There aren’t any huge black holes and automatic outs or gimme pitchers.   Every pitcher is capable of pitching very well, and most of the time they’ll keep the team in games.   The lack of an ace, for now, is mitigated some by having an above average back end of the rotation.  I also suspect Sandy Alderson is looking for a couple of pitchers that could help out a little, for depth purposes, but it’s hard to find much in May. 

So in the end, it’s just one game.  You can’t overreact and point to every three game losing streak as confirmation  that all the negative gibberish spouted about the Mets is true anymore than you can take a three game winning streak as evidence that I’m correct in my prediction of the Mets clinching the division on August 25th against the Phillies.  It’s a long season, and lots of things change week to week and even day to day.

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