We know Ron Darling is a great announcer as Mets fans, having been privy to his talents on SNY since 2006. He creates great insight into the game as a former pitcher, and isn’t afraid to tell you what he thinks. We’ve witnessed this frequently this past season with his remarks about how the Washington Nationals handled Steven Strasburg. Unlike other former athletes turned broadcaster, Darling often goes above and beyond simply crediting players for ‘being players’ as if he’s part of some secret club that knows better than we do. He imparts knowledge like he wants us to have it, not like he wants us to know HE has it.
I was watching the third game of the Giants and Reds NLDS, and he offered a bit of analysis that blended an appreciation of advanced shifting with a thought to the game at hand and how long-term trends might not apply the same way to individual samples. The Giants were shifting against Joey Votto to pull like many teams do for left-handed hitters with power. Ron Darling noted that Votto had returned from knee surgery this season and may not be 100%. He was questioning whether or not Votto could put the same force into his front leg to generate the power and pull that the Giants were positioning for. Maybe, he mused, they should use the injury information to adjust the defensive positioning despite what the long term trends say.
Joey Votto had not hit a home run since returning from the surgery, but I have no idea if this theory has any statistical merit in Votto’s case or in knee injuries at large. That’s not really important here because Darling wasn’t suggesting that the Giants forgo the shift because it’s over-thinking or bad form or anything, he was proposing that there was another input that the Giants should take into consideration. Perhaps the player they were shifting against wasn’t quite the same player that had generated all the data they were using.
Baseball is a game with a ton of statistical data that can be used to make educated guesses about players and teams and overall results, but it’s also a collection of small sample results that can vary wildly based on any number of random inputs. A player simply waking up with a headache could throw off the projections for one afternoon. This is why the very best teams will succeed by being aware of the overall trends and still be able to make snap decisions in the moment to adjust those trends based on the fluctuating nature of many of the factors. It’s part of what makes Ron Darling a great announcer. As a pitcher he studied and learned a lot about baseball, and he’s brought that into the booth with him, and as a scholar he appreciates the studious work other people have put in as well.
Gary Cohen: “It‘s the bottom of the third inning here at Digital Domain Park. The Marlins just made a pitching change, bringing in their ace Josh Johnson to get his work in. David Wright at the plate with the bases loaded.
Ron Darling: “The Mets are down a run, this is the perfect opportunity for them to tie the game even with an out.”
Keith Hernandez: “They’ve got some speed on the bases. With..who’s on first?”
Gary: “Hu’s on second.”
Keith: “No, on first. Who’s there?”
All teams have a variety of different roster spots open for the taking in Spring Training. So what should we be watching in Port St. Lucie with the Mets? (And if you’re watching on SNY, the games will be in HD this year!)
Keeping players healthy is definitely number one. This includes building up arm strength and recovering from an injury that ended last season, or simply not getting hurt. Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez and Daniel Murphy ended up the season on the disabled list. The primary goal from them is to get to Opening Day without experiencing any pain or lingering effects of what ailed them last year. Bay and Rodriguez have both been reported healthy and pain free, but it’ll be good to show that in real spring training games. Daniel Murphy has had some knee issues, and the best shot he has at winning a job this season is to not be hampered by lingering pain that prevents him from putting in the work both at second base, and at the plate, that he needs.
Some guys have been injured frequently, to various degrees, and may be at risk again. Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Carlos Beltran are three of the most recent cases. Beltran has mainly been dealing with one issue, a lack of cartilage in his knee, and may have that under control via an understanding of what ails him, and a knee brace that keeps his knee bones from bruising further. Beltran’s goal this spring is to prove the brace hasn’t reduced his range significantly in center field, and to get the reps at the plate he needs to keep up to speed without needlessly stressing his knee in exhibition games.
Young and Capuano have more to prove if they want to earn a spot on this team and continue contributing for the entire season. Consistent starts this spring with no reports of pain or soreness would go a long way to giving us confidence that can give us some quality innings.
Jose Reyes often gets mentioned in the injury discussion, but really he was healthy for most of 2011. He had a medical condition that had him almost literally rolling out of bed and into the field in April, and had a slight oblique strain mid-season that was so poorly managed by the Mets and their manager that it probably cost him twice as many games as it needed to. Players get nicked u, and an oblique strain isn’t something to worry about. Given these parameters, it seems like 2010 is the absolute floor of what we can expect out of Reyes for any given season, and given a full spring worth of preparation it’s not unfair to expect him to be much better again.
The results may not matter, but it’s still fun to watch some of the best in the game play. The Mets have a nice core of excellent players. David Wright and Jason Bay can launch home runs and bash the ball all over the place. Jose Reyes can run wild and be his energetic, fun to watch self. Carlos Beltran may go back to making difficult defensive plays look easy while blasting home runs.
While maybe not on the same level, yet, many other players that have jobs secured are fun to watch. Ike Davis has some great power and is maturing as a hitter. R.A. Dickey is an amazing guy and watching him taunt hitters with the knuckleball is always fun. Jon Niese progressing with his devastating curveball or Bobby Parnell blowing guys away with his occasionally triple digit fastball will make highlights reels all spring long.
Rounding Out the Roster
Which guys will make the team seemingly out of nowhere? Who will have a monster spring and launch themselves into the conversation for 5th starter, or long reliever, or first pinch hitter off the bench? A lot of the bullpen is open for guys looking to have a strong showing. Beyond second base that has a couple of favorites, but is an open competition, there are a couple of different ways the Mets could fill out the extra bench spots. Could it be Nick Evans? Or Scott Hairston? What about Jason Pridie or Justin Turner?
What’s more exciting than seeing what may be on tap for the years to come? Jenrry Mejia make a lot of noise last spring, enough that he mistakenly got a roster spot in the bullpen. He’ll be exciting to watch this year to see how’s he progressed and if he’s someone we can look forward to in the future. You’ve got some possible outfielders that look exciting, like Lucas Duda or Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
Besides the games finally being in high definition, Gary, Keith, Ron, and Kevin are a joy to listen to do a game. Just like Spring Training is a little more lax than the regular season, so are the broadcasts. Obviously most of us don’t have the opportunity to listen to them live, because most games are on at 1pm, but if you do get a chance it’s well worth it.
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Tags: bobby parnell, broadcast, Carlos Beltran, chris young, daniel murphy, David Wright, dickey, digital domain park, Gary Cohen, Gary Keith and Ron, jason bay, jason pridie, jenrry mejia, jon niese, Jose Reyes, justin turner, Keith hernandez, kevin burkhardt, kirk nieuwenhuis, lucas duda, Mets, mets spring, mets spring training, mets spring training in HD, New York Mets, nick evans, port st lucie, r a dickey, ron darling, scott hairston, sny, sny HD, tiki hut
Two words that have no place in Mets discussions: “Wild Card”
I’ve heard it a bunch of places, even Ron Darlings. The Wild Card is not a term that needs to be mentioned right now, about a team that’s in first place with 18 games still to play against the biggest challenging team. The Wild Card need not be mentioned until August at the earliest. The Wild Card should never be the goal.
The division is not out of the question for the Mets. There is no doubt in my mind that the Phillies will not run away with anything. They are a team that won 93 games last year, and the Mets are at the very least 10 games better, and the Nationals are better. The Phillies play almost 25% of their games against those two teams, so it’s likely that the increased talent would shave a couple of games off the Phillies win total. The Phillies have a couple of guys injured, and aren’t all that improved over last year anyway. They had guys have career years last year, and career years often don’t get repeated. They’re even picking up guys off our scrap heap, which doesn’t say a lot for their pitching or infield depth. The Mets were criticized for having no depth and having to go with Wilson Valdez and Nelson Figueroa last year, yet the Phillies are doing the very same thing this year.
Anything can happen in a baseball season. Nothing is decided in the offseason, or in April. However, it’s going into May soon and the Mets are standing in first place. I said earlier last week that the goal I would like of the Mets is to get through this home stand with a chance to play the Phillies for first place this coming weekend. After some excellent baseball games it’s looking like it could be the Mets playing the Phillies to help lengthen their division lead.
Ron Darling had a great comment during a replay of David Wright’s bases clearing triple. As he was rounding second, Ron said “And right around here is where the monkey jumped off his back.” It’s a good start along those lines, and if the Mets could beat the Phillies, play the Reds and return home solidly in first place it’d go a long way towards erasing 2009. A lot has been made of the attendance figures at Citi Field so far, but I think a lot more of us would start making the trip to the stadium if they returned home conquering heroes and reclaiming their rightful place atop the National League East.