Can Chris Young Hit Under .200 While Getting More Than 400 PAs?

A model of nearly robotic consistency, Chris Young has managed to shake off the disappointment of his 2013 season -- where he fell only 25 plate appearances short of immortality -- to take another run at one of baseball's most elusive achievements.

A model of nearly robotic consistency, Chris Young has managed to shake off the disappointment of his 2013 season — where he fell only 25 plate appearances short of immortality — to take another run at one of baseball’s most elusive achievements.

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It’s the time of year when our attention turns to individual performances, broken records, historic accomplishments.

I think back to 1980 when George Brett flirted with a .400 season. It was an amazing accomplishment, one that we watched with daily fascination. July, August, September. Could he possibly do it?

We watched Pete Rose in 1978 attempt to break DiMaggio’s consecutive game hitting streak. (And if he had to do it over again, Gene Garber claims that he’d throw Rose yet another change-up.)

And, oh yes, the baseball world was captivated and charmed by Mark McGuire’s attempt to top 61 home runs in a season. Don’t deny it. We ate that shit up.

So today I’m sitting here wondering:

Can Chris Young hit .200 while still getting more than 400 PAs?

You’ve heard about the 500 Club, and the 30/30 Club. Can Chris Young become the next member of the .200/400 Club?

I am fairly well-versed in statistics, but not a baseball researcher. I don’t know how many players in the modern era have achieved that unique feat. It’s rarified air, for sure. If anybody can find that answer, I’d be curious to know. It requires a unique combination of talents, a perfect storm where potential meets futility, where hope overcomes reason, and where salary plays a huge part.

Uggla's 2013 season was one for the record books.

Uggla’s 2013 season was one for the record books.

Of course, there’s legendary Dan Uggla. We all marveled as he pulled off an incredible .179 BA with a logic-defying 537 PAs last season. Talk about wow. We can all agree that it was an astonishing performance. Not only by Uggla himself, but the entire Braves organization. Ownership, management, they all had a hand in it.

Some observers might point to last season when Chris Young hit an even .200. But sadly, he received only 375 PAs from those miserly bastards in Oakland. Denied baseball immortality by the mere technicality. Who doubts that Chris Young, if given those 25 more PAs, could have lowered his batting average a measly thousandth of a decimal point?

I ask you: Did Chris Young give up after that disappointment? Denied by only 25 plate appearances? No, he did not. He came back more determined that ever. To make this dream possible, Chris elicited a promise of guaranteed playing time from Sandy Alderson. And the man is getting paid, which is key. The Mets are invested.

But let’s face it. The deck is still stacked against him. This won’t be easy. A lot of things have to break exactly right for Chris to realize his goal. For a while there, it looked like Chris was happily on pace for 400 plate appearances. Maybe even 500. But recently, those ABs have dried up. (Damn you, Kirk Nieuwenhuis!) Today, it all hinges on the PAs.

Let’s review what he’s accomplished so far, as of July 21:

  • OVERALL: 236 PA * .200 BA * 637 OPS

The worry is the plate appearances. The key here is that Chris can’t completely tank. He can’t go 0-30, start hitting in the .160 range. Even Jeff Wilpon has a breaking point, and everyone knows that Sandy Alderson’s promises are not made of gold. But here’s the beauty of Chris Young. He’s remarkably consistent. More importantly, he’s shown a knack for hitting the dramatic long ball, a feat which always buys a player at least two more weeks in the bigs. Let’s call this The Uggla Gambit. Chris has hit 8 homers already. He’s got to repeat that pattern again and again: Play extremely poorly for a while, go 3-20, make the fans disgusted every time he comes to the plate, then — BOOM, BABY, BOOM! — he goes yard. Maybe twice, even.

I think he can do it. Some numbers:

  • APRIL: 42 PA * .205/.262/.410
  • MAY: 99 PA * .198/.303/.326
  • JUNE: 78 PA * .208/.263/.347
  • JULY: 17 PA * .154/.333/.385

Clearly the man can hit under .200. That’s well-established. But I’m stressed out over the plate appearances. Here he is, putting up his best monthly OPS in July, and he can’t get the starts! Is that fair? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried.

But if any manager can work Chris Young back into the lineup, it’s Terry Collins. Chris just needs one multi-hit game, one clutch home run, and the playing time will follow.

Will the glare of the media spotlight prove too much, just as it did to Pete Rose and George Brett?

Will the glare of the media spotlight prove too much, just as it did to Pete Rose and George Brett?

My other concern as I lay in bed awake each night, tossing and turning with worry, is what happens when the media turns up the bright lights. All of those microphones, the daily requests for interviews, the constant attention. I wonder if Chris Young might crack. Lose his focus. Maybe the average accidentally rises over .200 for a stretch. What then? Can he bring it back down fast enough?

Actually, that’s the key. I think he’s got to get hot, soon, and bring that BA all the way up to the .210 range. Keep the hounds at bay. At that point, he becomes a regular again.

Many may wonder, but can he then hit below .200? Will there be enough time?

And we may also wonder: What’s the all-time lowest batting average for a Met with more than 400 PAs in a season? What’s the record? Can Chris Young break it? In any event, to qualify, it will take a village.

No one can predict with certainty. Now that Dan Uggla’s been sent to the bench, Chris Young is MLB’s next, best hope. Personally, I think he can pull it off. As the 2014 season winds down, we may be witnessing a touch of baseball history. My advice to you: Save the newspapers, keep those ticket stubs, store your scorebooks in air-sealed plastic containers.

174 plate appearances to go.

This is the stuff of memories.

 

 

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Monday Odds and Ends: Niese In, Dice-K Out, Why Not Kirk?, and More

Jonathon NieseBaseball finally came back this weekend. And the game Friday was actually worth waiting for. The other two, well. . . .

Some odds and ends on a Monday morning as the Mets head to the Pacific Northwest.

* Jon Niese comes off the disabled list tonight and Daisuke Matzasuka has been moved back to the bullpen. Dice-K has pitched pretty well all year, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. For the time being, a revitalized bullpen gets stronger. Having Dice-K out in the pen for any length of time could be especially beneficial to Carlos Torres, since Matsuzaka can provide some length.

* When I went to the game the Saturday before the All-Star game, my friend’s son, with the exuberance and firm conviction that comes from youth, told me that “Kirk Niewhenhuis needs to play!” And I thought about that for a second, and thought about the other left field options and answered meekly, “Sure, why not?” Well, Kirk has been getting a little bit of a shot since then and he has done some good things with it. In a you-never-know sport, in a you-never-know world, right now does seem like a good time to give Kirk a whirl.

* The Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix stuff has an odor all around it. In general, this CBA was not well thought out by the Players Association. They sold out the amatuers with an tony clarkofficial slot system, and also didn’t understand the ramifications of the new free agent compensation system.  At the same time, more and more teams are manipulating young player’s service time, even at the risk of being able to properly compete, in order to depress player salaries. So much for the integrity of the game. If I’m Tony Clark I’m going to war in the next CBA and doing whatever it takes to get some of that back. I expect a work stoppage in 2017.

* Speaking of the integrity of the game, and I will be quick since this is a little stale, but the Jeter stuff, ha. Either the game does not count or Wainright should be suspended for trying to throw it. And I haven’t checked, has Steiner Sports released the signed edition of the Wainright and Jeter All-Star “Special Moment?” The irony here is that Adam pitches for the hallowed Cardinals, with the “Cardinal Way” crap, and Jeter, oh don’t even get me started again. Okay, I guess that wasn’t that quick.

* James Garner passed away the other day, and the news made me a little blue. Like many people I was a big Rockford Files fan way back when. I’m going to end my post today with a beginning, all of the classic Rockford Files opening credits phone messages from Season One of the series.

Rest in Peace.

 

 

 

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I Spell Disloyalty Wilpon

SheaUpperDeck_092808Jon Niese is not a very deep thinker. When prodded by Andrew Marchand on whether Mets fans have stuck with their team through a lot of bad times, Niese said the following:

“How can you say that? We are not filling the stadium. Where are the Mets fans when we are down-and-out? They were here in ’06 and ’07 when we were really good, but we have struggled and they are not coming to the stadium.”

A lot has happened since then. A big one is the team is not as good, that is true. But here are some important items that Jon missed.

Jeff-Wilpon- The Wilpons left the 50,000 plus capacity Shea Stadium and replaced it with a 42,000 seat stadium. They did this in an attempt to create a scarcity of tickets and artificial demand, so that they could jack up the price of a Mets game substantially That sounds pretty disloyal to the 4,000,000 fans who jammed Shea Stadium in its final year.

The Wilpons further went to war with the loyal faithful as they cancelled thousands of fans partial ticket plans. Some of these fans had kept their plans from 1964 to 2008. Go look up the standings, there was some pretty rough years in there, but those fans were loyal. The current owners did not care one bit. They mistakenly thought they could sell Citi Field out with nothing but season tickets, and if you couldn’t afford that, the message was loud and clear. Get lost!

- While jacking up the prices, the owners began slashing the payroll. The message to the remaining fans, “pay more for less.” Oh, and they hired a lawyer to front for them who has spent four years now being evasive and deceitful about the teams finances. In 2011 fan favorite and star player Jose Reyes was allowed to leave town, even though there wasn’t a replacement in sight. There still isn’t.

- In 2008 the New York and World economy cratered. Many New Yorkers lost their jobs and never found new ones. Many more had to settle for pay decreases.

- And yep, the team has been bad, and also boring as hell.

Jeff Wilpon laughingSo, enough with the loyalty crap. The Mets haven’t had a .500 record in five years. Let me know when Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz write-up a loyalty oath that they will not raise ticket prices from their current level for five years. I’m not holding my breath.

Considering who owns this team it is a testament to rationalization that anyone ever goes to Citi Field. I sure have to partition my brain. Anyone who is not going, I understand. Never forget, the Mets fan did not start this fight. The greedy Wilpons did.

When it comes to Niese, I’ve got no beef with him. It would be nice if he shut up about things that he doesn’t understand, but he’s young, and uneducated. But any issues between this team and it’s fans was started by a greedy, incompetent and corrupt ownership. The Wilpon family made it clear to Mets fans that they did not value loyalty. You can’t blame the fans for noticing.

Saul Katz

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Folks Talking: ’86 Mets the Movie

86nymets_lgWith the 2014 Mets off for a few days, I thought today would be a great day to have a “2 Guys” discussion with filmmaker Heather Quinlan. Heather, known for her excellent documentary on New York accents, If These Knishes Could Talk, has begun work on a full length film about the 1986 New York Mets. Heather and I talked about that movie, the Kickstarter project underway to assist with the production, and the 1986 Mets. Heather is not just a filmmaker, she is a Mets fan, and she is passionate about this project. And she spoke to me patiently for over 30 minutes without once laughing at my New York accent.

Mike:

I recently heard about your project on the Shouts from Shea Podcast, and I immediately became intrigued. I went to about 180 games from 1984 through 1986; it was such an important time of my life, and so I think this is a great project. I think you have a wonderful idea here. That was an unbelievable team, as you know, and it captivated New York City a lot more than many people now understand.

Heather:

Exactly. It all was somewhat unlikely.

Mike:

But why did you pick this project, and why now?

Heather:Mets

A couple of reasons. The thirtieth anniversary is coming in 2016, which is slightly horrifying for some of us to think about, but if I was going to be done by then, these things don’t get produced overnight, so it’s now or never for that. Also, there haven’t been a lot of films done on the topic. One of them, A Year to Remember, came out in 1987.

Mike:

But that’s a whole different thing, that’s a long time ago and a lot has happened since then.

Heather:

Yes. And so I had a couple of insiders poke around to see if anyone else was doing something, and when I heard no one was, I started thinking; “Let’s do this.” Then I did a documentary last year on the New York accent, and when doing that it turns out I became friends with a man named Michael Weithorn, who created the King of Queens. Michael turned out to be a Yankees fan, but he thought it was a great idea, and he wanted to help me out with it. Michael gave me some initial funds to start the film, and that’s how I was able to travel and get the interviews filmed with Lenny, Straw, Doc, Mookie, and all of that, because I wanted to have some interviews under my belt before I approached the Mets, or MLB. I wanted them to know that I was involved in a serious project.

Mike:

I understand. You wanted to make sure they didn’t think you were just another one of those bloggers looking for access.

Now, is this documentary going to primarily look back at those days, or will it also focus on the players’ lives since 1986?

Heather:

It’s going to be a little bit of both. Of course everyone has an idea of what is going on with kevin mitchell game 6 1986 world series red soxRon Darling. But, for instance, I had no idea of what is going on with Kevin Mitchell. He spends his time teaching inner-city kids in San Diego, and does it for no money, out of the goodness of his own heart. Overall, you see a maturity with some of these guys now; they were not known for maturity back then.

Mike:

Ha. No, not at all. Jeff Pearlman’s book did a good job of illuminating all of that.

Heather:

Jeff was my first interview, a great guy. Jeff felt that the number one factor in that team’s success was beer. Beer was a binding element for those guys, whether you were Dykstra, or Hernandez, Fernandez, whomever. When things went off the rails was when they took it to the next level.

And we are not just looking at 1986 from the player’s perspective. We are talking to a lot of fans.

Mike:

It was very different then for fans. The cost of going to a game, even relative to inflation was much lower. It was common for people, regular people, to have season tickets, and they would go to 30, 40, or more games. You knew the people around you, it was like a family. I exchanged Christmas cards with other season ticket holders in the ’80s.

Heather:

Exactly. And the access to the team was different. You could hang out with the team. Strawberry told me how if social media were around they would have always been in trouble. I remember my cousins went on a Mets cruise, and Bobby Ojeda was there with his wife, you could go on a cruise with the Mets. Fans saw these guys out on the town, which made them relatable. Nowadays the players are always so aware of their surroundings at all times, everyone has a camera phone and a twitter account.

Mike:

Yep, there is no privacy. I can’t imagine those guys surviving in the modern environment.

Okay, for anyone who doesn’t know how it works, can you explain how Kickstarter works?

Heather:

Sure. Basically, you can donate whatever money you want, and it starts at a dollar, whatever amount you want to donate. I have set a total goal of $50,000 for two reasons.

  1. To get as many fans as possible behind this project, to show the Mets and MLB that this is a team and this a story that people really want to see on the big screen.
  2. Baseball footage is extremely expensive; it’s $12,000 a minute. And you also need MLB’s permission to use logos, and all that kind of stuff.

Now, with Kickstarter, unless I have pledges that total at least that $50,000 I don’t get any of the money. I only receive my money when the campaign is over, and only if I meet my goal.

We have perks for higher pledges. You can get raw footage of our interviews with different Mets, you can get a film credit, or even be in the film itself. But I’ve seen plenty of pledge weeks on PBS, and it’s easy to figure, “plenty of people are going to donate, I’m not going to bother,” and that’s not the case. It will mean a lot to the project if we can get people to pledge, and I’m not just talking about high dollar pledges. We have five dollar pledges, we have those one dollar pledges.

Mike:

Right. Those can show how many potential customers are interested in the project.

Jumping back to the movie, as time passes those 108 wins gets glossed over. That is some accomplishment. Is the movie going to be mostly about the postseason, or include the regular season?

Heather:

mets-capsA lot did happen during that regular season. The biggest focus, of course, will be on Houston and Boston, but we will make sure to include the rally caps, and the curtain calls, and the magic number starting in May.

Mike:

Yes. It was like a coronation. I sweated out 1984 and 1985 and they didn’t win either year. But in 1986, I only got two weeks’ vacation at that time, and in July I was already reserving it all for October.

Heather:

If you recall, they started off 2-3, and Mookie was injured, but once they swept the Cardinals they just took off. And there was no looking back. There was off the field stuff too, brawls, and Cooters, a lot was happening.

Mike:

And I understand the postseason is going to have to be the most important thing. But I have always thought that the passage of time has created a false narrative around that team, that it was a lucky team. That was a fabulous postseason, and the “Buckner play” was wonderful but the story of the 1986 Mets was that it was a dominant team.

Heather:

They won in such a fluke weird way, people forget how much they rallied all year, and what a great team that it was.

Mike:

I have had this fight so many times over the years, where people are convinced that if Buckner fields that ball the Mets lose. And I say, “No, no, no, the team had already tied that game.” When Mookie hit that ball, there was no longer one person in that ballpark who was worried. By then, we knew it was just a matter of time. The Mets were not losing that game, or game seven. The Red Sox were done. Buckner just took them out of their misery that night.

Heather:

Another thing about that team was the swagger. Although the 2000 team went to the World Series they didn’t have that.

Mike:

Mookie Keith and the CountThey also owned New York City. Younger people who weren’t around then, I can’t even explain it, it sounds so unbelievable to them.

Heather:

Yes, and one thing I talk about in the film is what New York was like at that time, it was a different, grittier city, and the Mets were a blue collar team. The Mets fit so well with Koch’s New York, just like the Yankees of the 90s ended up a symbol of Giuliani’s more corporate city, with the no facial hair and all.

In 1986 Shea had already become a little down and dirty, and that Mets team was down and dirty. But so was the City.

Mike:

Yes it was.

I have faith you will get your funding. When the movie is produced, have you ever thought about a Citi Field screening? I saw the Last Play at Shea there; it was a fun way to watch that movie. This seems like a natural for that treatment.

Heather:

What a fantastic idea. I’ve got to be honest, I guess I’m so focused right now, I hadn’t thought of it. And this film will be honest, but it is not another expose of the 1986 Mets. Our film will be celebrating the team, and also celebrating the fans. Mets fans in 1986 were rewarded for a lot of loyalty that came before that season, and hopefully they will be rewarded again someday soon.

Mike:

That would sure be great. Do you have a targeted date yet for release?

Heather:

Of course I want to have it finished in time for the thirtieth anniversary. If I can, I want to be able to take the ’86 Mets to Sundance, I think it’s a good festival candidate.

Mike:

Tribeca is a natural.

Heather:

Yes, and Tribeca and all those places. Sundance’s deadline is September, so I would like to have it completely done by September of next year, or I would like to be pretty darn close.

Mike:

Well, I know the campaign is designed to get you there. For anyone who didn’t notice the link above, here is another easy link to Heather’s Kickstarter page.

Thanks for taking the time today to discuss that great year with me. I look forward to seeing the finished product.

Heather:

Thank you.

mets86

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In the Stands at Binghamton: A Closer Look at Nimmo, Matz, Herrera, Leathersich, Huchingson, Satterwhite, and Ballwinkle

4fc5dd404b4b6-1A few of us took the day off and drove I-88 to Binghamton for the 1:05 game on Thursday. When we arrived, there was a bit more buzz outside the stadium then we expected. Turns out this was “Water Splash” day, and the promotion generated the year’s largest attendance, more than 5,000 fans.

Our first surprise was at the ticket booth. Did we want the “wet section” or the “dry section”?

Ah, decisions, decisions. We opted for dry, not wishing for a day of random spray attacks.  And being high-rollers, we eyeballed the $12 tickets for the best seats in the house.

“That’s $6,” the guy behind the window said.

“Each?”

“No, total. The tickets are $2 each.”

(We had upgraded, you see, to the fancy seats; otherwise, pretty sure it was free. Thus, the big crowd of Binghamton’s finest.)

So we walked into the park, and planted ourselves in the fourth row behind home plate. In the sections behind us, gaggles of kids in bathing suits and their gap-toothed moms got sprayed by garden hoses all game long. We felt good about our decision to go dry. Gotta love small town baseball.

Anyway, I’m not a scout, not pretending to be an expert. Just a fan. All I have are impressions.

Brandon Nimmo: The body looks very good. I saw him two years ago and he definitely appears more solid, with the bone structure to add muscle in the future.  I was glad to see that Brandon was aggressive on balls in the zone — I don’t think he took more than two strikes in all five PA’s. He swung through a high number of fastballs throughout the day, however, and only managed a weak, opposite flair for a single. He walked once, too. His AA average at the start of the game was at .197, in limited time. Scored from first on a double, showing good speed. Oh, yeah, one more thing: This kid is white bread all the way. Just strikes me as a bland, sincere, earnest player. Wears the cross. More St. Louis than New York. Just an impression.

Later in the game, we moved behind the dugout. There's Nimmo on the railing chatting with T.J. Rivera.

Later in the game, we moved behind the dugout. There’s Nimmo on the railing chatting with T.J. Rivera.

Steven Matz: I was very excited to see Matz for the first time. Another guy with a great body, tall and lean, looks like a player. This was only his 4th start at AA after a call-up from St. Lucie. Smooth windup, hit 95 with an easy motion. He held the Sea Dogs hitless through four innings, seemed to tire in the 6th, and left after 5.1 IP after giving up 3 runs on 3 hits, 1 walk, and 5 strikeouts. Threw 90 pitches. That said, I wish I was more blown away. The secondary stuff didn’t have much break, but was effective against the hitters. Not overpowering, but a kid who seemed comfortable and in command on the hill. As often happens at these minor league games, you look at his face as he walks toward the dugout and think, “Still just a boy.”

Steven Matz.

Steven Matz.

Dilson Herrera: Had a very quiet game and was never tested defensively. Again, and I guess this is sort of a theme here, but the looked like a player. Great body, strong, solid, athletic, vibrant. He whiffed twice and never hit a ball solid all day, though he did manage a sac fly with a runner on 3rd, which I appreciated. He bunted for a hit, though the pitcher bungled in his attempt to field it. Good speed going down the line. On this one day, he looked bad on a number of breaking balls. And again, when he took off his helmet after grounding out, we looked at his face and thought,, “So young.” Just another case where watching a kid for one game is pretty meaningless, from a scouting perspective.

Dilson Herrera from our $2 seats.

Dilson Herrera from our $2 seats.

Other quick impressions:

Jack Leathersich: Threw 1.2 IP, struck out 3, gave up a hit. I was searching out an Italian Ice at the time and didn’t really focus. Seemed like he went with gas like the last time I saw him. Who knows with this guy. The K-rates are crazy. On this day, he didn’t walk hitters, got the job done. I’d still love to see a great slider or some “plus” secondary pitch before I’ll be a true believer.

Chase Huchingson: Side-armer, he brings the funk. Hit pretty hard, batters looked comfortable. 1 IP, 2 H, 1 K. But: lefty sidearmer!

Brian Burgamy (as played by Kevin Costner): He’s small, 5-10, definitely not a first baseman — but he played there this day as prospect Jayce Boyd got a day off. He’s 33 and has played in Independent Leagues for the past several years, so you have to hand it to this guy. A real deal ballplayer. Every AB was quality, got some great rips, hit a couple of blistering line drives. The old man can play the game, kids. I think he’ll put up awesome numbers in Vegas. It would be nice if he gets called up some future September, gets a few games in the bigs for somebody, something to tell the grandkids about.

Darrel Ceciliani: Had the best game of the bunch. Played a good CF, almost made a sensational diving grab, and hit the ball hard at least 3 times. Showed excellent speed on a stand-up triple. I’ve never been high on his as a prospect, but he has hit over .300 a couple of seasons already, so I guess you can’t write him off as a future 4th/5th outfielder. The K/BB numbers are not promising for this type of player (52/13 this year). Just turned 24.

Dustin Lawley: Blasted one out to the track with the bases juiced, but otherwise K’d twice and didn’t do much. Solid, stocky, not light on his feet at 3B. He’s shown power over his young career, so that’s something.

Xorge Carrillo: The catcher roped a hard double to LF, went 2-4, and is batting .327. He was probably glad to see Plawecki get promoted. I didn’t notice anything particular about him behind the plate, meaning that he was not obviously awesome or horrendous.

Cody Satterwhite: He entered the game in the 9th, by this time the Sea Dogs had the bus started and the AC on full, so it’s hard to say. He is a big guy with a big guy’s mug, and he came in throwing 95 MPH, maybe hit 96 once. Struck out all three hitters he faced, piece of pie, seemed to enjoy it. He’s 27 years old. Good chance we’ll see him down the road.

Satterwhite seemed pleased after striking out the side in the 9th. Meanwhile, the Sea Dogs must have been happy about getting out of Binghamton.

Satterwhite seemed pleased after striking out the side in the 9th. Meanwhile, the Sea Dogs must have been happy about getting out of Binghamton.

On the Sea Dogs . . .

Sean Coyle: The Sea Dogs’ 2B really impressed me, just looked like the best ballplayer on the field. Only guy to wear high socks, like he wanted to stand out in every way, and he did. Ripped a double, the first hit off Matz, in the 5th. Batted cleanup, hitting .336. He’s only 5′-8″. I made a point to remember his name and mention him here.

Luis Diaz: Started on the hill for the Dogs, struck out 9, showing a top-shelf breaking ball and fastball. He had one bad inning, a walk, an error, things kind of spiraled, a little erratic, then he settled down. Who knows? Not me! But I could imagine the 22-year-old in the Red Sox bullpen some future day.

Lastly . . .

Ballwinkle: This just seemed wrong to me on so many levels.

 

I don't know, maybe it's me, but I felt uncomfortable.

I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but I felt uncomfortable.

 

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Amazing: The Mets are Red Hot

Oakland Athletics v New York MetsSo, after today’s games comes the All-Star break. And of course, the Mets are playing their best baseball of the year, and have been winning games almost every day. I’m not going to worry about whether that makes the timing of the upcoming break a good thing or a bad thing, but I did want to mention a few folks having a great week, before baseball takes its annual summer sabbatical. The difference to me is that the team has actually been hitting, so I’m going to focus only on the offensive contributors, while acknowledging that the pitching was great all week too.

- Travis D’Arnaud. I know we already wrote a post about him this week, but the change has been fairly incredible. The pre-Vegas d’Arnaud was a total black hole in the lineup, it’s very hard to carry a .180 hitter. The post-Vegas d’Arnaud is hitting rockets every at bat. It’s not just the hits, and homers, even a lot of his outs have been crushed. Remember, both versions of d’Arnaud received daily playing time, so the effect on the teams offense is dramatic.

- Curtis Granderson. Since his early season struggles Granderson has been just what a Mets fan could have hoped for, a professional hitter with power. Granderson is a reminder why every once in a while a team needs to spend a few bucks to win. It’s almost impossible to fill an entire roster with cheap homegrown talent that can get the job done. Anyway, after watching the Andrew Brown’s of the world for the last few years, it’s great to have Granderson on this team.

- Lucas Duda. Lucas was slotted number four yesterday, and I like him there right now. He looks better to me this month than at any time since 2011.

- Lamar Johnson. Hey, the team is hitting, and they didn’t hit before. It’s the same players. Why not give a shout out to Lamar?

lamar johnson

- David Wright. Wright has his batting average back to .283 and his power numbers are coming along too. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the team lost almost every game they played when he was out and have been winning now that he is back.

- Kirk Niewenhuis. Kirk is slowly getting more and more playing time for a very good reason. He’s earning it. I’m not real concerned if it’s sustainable, I do know his swing looks better than I have ever seen it. On Friday he added a fantastic defensive play in left field.

- Chris Young. Hey, an important pinch hit bomb, that’s a good week for Young.

Okay, one more today, and hopefully we can sweep the Marlins, but no matter what, this has been one of the best weeks at Citi Field in a long time.

broom

 

 

 

 

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2 Guys Talking: The Game of Baseball is Shifting Gears

mets-shift-triMike:

That was a nice article you forwarded to me the other day by Tyler Kepner, about how offense all along the game has plummeted. If you follow baseball long enough, this balance of power has shifted before. It’s a cliché, “Baseball is a game of adjustments,” but I have always believed it is rooted in reality. Overall talent is paramount to winning in baseball. But identifying where the game is, and how to be ahead of it, can really help.

Jimmy:

Sure, that’s really the essence of Moneyball, identifying and exploiting the under-utilized competitive edge. So, okay, offensive numbers are down across baseball. My first thought is that if runs are scarcer, then “small ball” might make something of a comeback. More teams playing for one run rather than waiting for the three-run bomb (which is still an awesome play, let’s be clear). It makes me wonder if speed and athleticism — pitching, defense, baserunning — will become increasingly important. Is that how the pendulum is swinging?

Mike:

Joe Maddon of Tampa Bay sure thinks so. Maddon has been at the forefront of one of the factors that I believe is curtailing offenses, extensive defensive shifting. The shifts are an interesting combination of eyes and statistics. Scouts always had the ability to track tendencies, but the computer age allows that information to be stored and analyzed as never before. Now smart men like Maddon are utilizing that information, and nothing about it benefits the offense. When he asked what offenses need to do he said the following:

“I believe it’s incumbent on the players to make adjustments to the shifts. I also think the shifts are leading to a more complete game, more hit-and-runs, more bunting. Speed will put an end to a lot of this.”

I think Joe is a smart guy, and tries to stay ahead of the curve. And I think he is right. I’m with you, I love the three home-run. But if there aren’t enough power hitters to go around you have to find another way.

And the power hitters are the most susceptible to the shifts, turning guys who might have hit .280 pre-shift into Dave Kingman.

Dave Kingman Baseball Card

Jimmy:

I have a lot of respect for Maddon and I think he’s right. Offensively, bat control becomes a more prized asset. “Hitting it where they ain’t” isn’t just dumb luck, it was, upon a time, a real skill. And defensively with all the shifts, it’s interesting too, where now at several points during a game the traditional third-baseman has to perform duties more traditionally tasked to a shortstop. So maybe a flexible player like, say, Wilmer Flores, becomes a greater asset to a team that shifts defensively.

We’ve talked about this before. Power is the game’s most expensive commodity. There are a diminishing quantity of guys who can bang 30 bombs over the wall. It’s not good news for small-market teams. You develop your own sluggers or forget about it.

Mike:

It also means pitchers’ values decrease. Everywhere you look there are hotshot young pitchers, they are not very rare anymore. So sure, you need some to keep up, but they don’t seem to be so hard to find these days. If nobody can hit and you have to make hard choices, you might need to use whatever you can spare on any hitters you can find.

Jimmy:

Possibly true. It’s almost counter-intuitive. If pitching wins in high-scoring eras, does great hitting Al Kalinewin in low-scoring eras? Obviously, it’s never (ever, ever) been so simple as that. Championship teams need both and teams succeed by talking all kinds of divergent paths. There’s no single formula. But relatively speaking, it makes sense that productive hitters would be rarer and therefore more valuable. I think of the 1968 World Champion Tigers, when Mayo Smith made that bold move of shifting the team’s CF, Stanley, to SS so he could get Al Kaline’s bat into the World Series.

Mike:

Another thing about not chasing power that you might not be able to find, all of this swinging for the fences has led to a plethora of strikeouts. It’s very fashionable these days to say they don’t matter. I’m not buying that. Some of that analysis is not considering the players that teams are employing to strikeout. Sure, in a lineup of slow guys trying to jack it over the wall they are no big deal. Lucas Duda can’t beat anything out, or beat the shift. But if you put together a team of fast guys who can make contact, all over the field, that changes the equation. If you look at the data right now, who is employing such a team in 2014?

Jimmy:

Not the Mets.

Mike:

That’s for sure.

Jimmy:

This goes back to the old days with the scouts and the stopwatch. In the old era of open tryouts, the first thing they’d do is get guys to run to first base. If the time wasn’t good, see ya later, kid. The tryout ended right there. Because speed plays. Speed translates to defense and baserunning. Sure, there are some slow guys who have been great players — but they’ve had to hit a ton in order to offset their liabilities on the base paths and with the glove. There are not many Manny Ramirez’s who come along. As an aside, it’s my chief worry about the Mets #1 Draft Pick, Michael Conforto.  All reports say he can’t run, catch, or throw, but he’s a hitter. I sure hope so.

Mike:

I’m heading to Brooklyn again on Wednesday, there is a chance Conforto will be there by then.

I’ll let you know what I think.

And yes, I agree, speed can change some of this, and also a different value system for hitters. More hitters and less sluggers. Things that people still scream against now, like the bunt and the hit and run, might also make a comeback.

When I talked to Bud Harrelson, he spoke about how he wasn’t a really good hitter, but Buddy Harrelson and Mr. Metthat he felt he learned how to be effective to help his team. He used the words “pain in the neck” to describe himself. Harrelson’s plan included fouling off good pitches and wasting a pitcher’s energy until he could slap something somewhere. Among other things, that led to the now scoffed at productive out. Buddy could hit behind a runner and move him into scoring position. And of course he could field, take away outs from really good hitters. If more balls are in play, if there are less strikeouts and less home runs, the need for defense increases.

Harrelson also mentioned his ability to bunt well with great pride. Many of today’s players, if they could just bunt they could eliminate the shift. Chris Young gets shifted against a lot, it might be one reason he now can’t conquer .200. He’s not a lumbering guy, he should be able to learn how to bunt against the shift.

Jimmy:

Tougher for a RH batter like Chris, but I’m with you in regard to overall bat control, going the other way.

Mike:

Overall, I expect something to change. Although defensive shifting has been around for a very long time, it has only become a common practice in the last few years. Right now the defense has the upper hand, and run scoring totals are bearing that out.

It will be fun to see where this leads the game, and what type of baseball game becomes the norm in five or ten years.

 

 

 

 

 

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Travis d’Arnaud Turns Season Around, Right On Schedule

travis-darnaud-batting-gloves-shot

Jimmy:

Back on March 30th, we posted a big list of semi-serious predictions for the 2014 season. It’s still fairly entertaining and surprisingly accurate (in places).

I made two predictions involving Travis d’Arnaud:

1) Travis d’Arnaud spends too much time with Dave Hudgens, begins to look tentative and confused at the plate, at which point Hudgens sagely nods and says, “Exactly, grasshopper!”

2) After struggles and bad stretches, Travis d’Arnaud establishes himself as a quality major league catcher, hits above .280 in second-half of the season.

Mike:

I joked that Recker would hit more home runs. But I seriously predicted an over .500 record for the team. When you look up and down the roster, that was not going to be possible if we didn’t get some offense from d’Arnaud. Somebody has to hit, and there are clearly guys in the starting lineup that are not going to do much. The equation of d’Arnaud being bad and this Mets team being good does not add up. We saw the negative end of that for two months. Now, we are starting to see the positive side of the equation. Many of d’Arnaud’s recent hits have led directly to Mets wins.

Jimmy:

Absolutely, he was a key. I never imagined him batting that low in the order. On a team heavy with lefty bats, the Mets needed d’Arnaud’s RH bat to provide balance. I guess Terry is still thinking that Chris Young is going to be that guy, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

Mike:

I hate to be negative –

Jimmy:

Of course you do.

Mike:

– but I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up once again how badly d’Arnaud was bungled in 2013. The kid needed to be at Citi Field from Day One last year, to get the struggles and bad stretches behind him. He is a full year behind where he should be. Think about where this team could be if Travis was hitting like he is now on April 1, 2014. And when the team made its dopey decision to send him down, they didn’t even know they would not have Harvey in 2014. It was awful planning and saving money in 2019 will never make up for the revenue damage done. And anyone who reads this site knows this is not second guessing. Being a successful GM is not just about winning some transactions, and holding down costs. A job well done includes building a winning team in a reasonable time frame. Sending d’Arnaud to Triple-A in 2013 was a huge mistake that has slowed down progress for this franchise.

Jimmy:

Yes, agreed. We are seeing it with Wheeler this year. By struggling now, he’s building the foundation for future success. That’s the normal pattern. Matt Harvey must be seen as the outlier. You bring them up to struggle, so they can succeed down the road. Which is why the treatment of Wilmer Flores continues to be the same brand of misguided management, but we’ll save that for another day.

Mike:

D’Arnaud started hitting the crap out of the ball as soon as he left town. We all know Vegas is a hitter’s paradise, but now he really does look like a different guy, the guy we traded a Cy Young winner for. I’ve heard they tweaked this or that, but I think he just needed to get his head together, and get his confidence back. In this particular case our Triple-A team being in Las Vegas might have helped. It’s the perfect environment for a hitter to relax and feel good about himself.

Jimmy:

And maybe meet a nice girl, settle down, plant some annuals. Sometimes we can make a correct prediction based on all the wrong assumptions. I don’t know the true story of Travis’s “journey” this season. But going into the season, I believed two things:

1) Becoming the full-time ML catcher was a huge defensive responsibility, handling the staff, proving that he could do the job behind the plate. I suspected that it would diminish his offense, possibly for 2-3 years.

Travis_dArnaud2) Being extremely cynical about the Mets red-hot emphasis on “approach,” I believed that — put simply — they’d screw him up. That Hudgens would get in his ear about not swinging at that, not swinging at this, that they’d turn him into a confused hitter, more worried about pleasing the teachers than in hitting the damn ball. I don’t know that it’s fair to lay that entirely on the patented “Sandy Alderson System of Success.” What I do know is that Travis has had many awful ABs this season, more than any other Met. He’s taken a ton of fastballs for strikes, then flailed at too many breaking balls out of the zone, often over-swinging wildly. It sounds simplistic, but: “See the ball, hit the ball.” The Mike Piazza Way. I didn’t get the impression that Travis was seeing the baseball. A lot of guessing, a lot of self-doubt in those ABs. The danger in burying hitters in too much data is that for most of them, the best thing is to unclutter the mind and simplify, simplify, simplify.

He seems like a freer hitter right now, more flow. Unburdened. I hope it lasts. I also hope — as I’ve said several times before — that he gets a shot higher in the order. Bat him in front of Duda, let’s see what happens.

We’ve all read about the computer studies that indicate batting order doesn’t particularly matter, but I don’t believe them, because the assumption is that guys would put up the same stats regardless. And of course the game, which is entirely situational, does not work that way. You can only run those models based on past performances.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies

I liked the lineup Terry used in Tuesday night’s deGrom game. Cool that he went with the double-leadoff man concept, though I think it only makes  sense when the pieces are deGrom and Eric Young at 8 and 9. For whatever reason, batting Granderson at leadoff seems to have energized him, while maybe taking off some of the burden. Obviously, I like when Chris Young is not in the lineup, that’s a huge help. Maybe against LH pitchers, the Mets can keep Chris Young on the bench, slide Duda down to the 6th spot, and bring Travis to 5th in the order. I believe CY is hitting below .175 against LHP, yet TC keeps giving him those starts because, you know, sigh.

When Sandy makes a promise, ladies, it’s forever. Or at least into the middle of July.

In conclusion, if Travis is going to be part of a Mets turn-around, I’d like to see him plugged into a spot where he can make a significant difference. Batting in front of Ruben Tejada has been a handicap all season long. Let’s see if this boy can get hot and, with a few other key players, help lift this team out of the doldrums.

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July 9th Will Always Be Perfect to Me

tomseaver

On June 25 I went to the Mets versus Oakland game with my buddy, Vinnie. It was what I call an “Oliver Perez Game” as it was over in two innings, at which time the Mets were behind 6-0. At that point it also started to rain, and expecting a rain delay, we decided to head to one of the Lounges quickly, before everyone went inside. We got a spot by a TV to keep an eye on the game. No delay came, but nothing compelling was happening on the field, and we settled in for a few minutes to finish our discussion.

Our topic was a question, “What is your favorite regular season Mets game of all time?” Vinnie, like me, has attended countless games, so we set a few extra ground rules. It couldn’t be a playoff clincher, or a game we had been at in person. Interestingly, even with these ground rules and the fact that we have attended over 2,500 Mets games combined, we both went with games from old Shea Stadium. Vinnie, ten years younger than I, picked a fabulous game on September 21, 1981, a contest won by a Mookie Wilson walk off home run. I will leave the rest of the details of that game for another day. Figure September 21. Today is not that day. It is, instead, the anniversary of the game I picked, July 9. For on that day in 1969 everything changed for me about being a Mets fan.

I have foggy memories of the Polo Grounds Mets, and starting with brand-new Shea Stadium in 1964 the memories become clearer. I have met a lot of people who have cited 1969 as the year they became a Mets fan. That sure makes sense, that team did not just captivate New York City, but they were a huge national story, a true miracle story. The Miracle Mets. But that miracle did not happen overnight; it started slowly, and grew and grew. Various huge moments jump out, Gil’s walk to left field being one for sure. But what made July 9, 1969, such a special day for me was it was a turning point for me as a fan. After seven years, when that game ended, I felt that my team, the Mets, was truly involved in a pennant race.

Growing up in the early 60s left me following two types of baseball. There were the Maysimportant games, between teams such as the Giants and Dodgers, the Tigers and Twins, the Cardinals for sure, and for a few of the foggier years, the Yankees. It was exciting to watch these games from time to time on the Game of the Week, and to read about them in the Daily News. The culmination of this baseball season, of course, was the annual World Series, where I watched great players such as Willie Mays, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Sandy Koufax, Willie McCovey, and well, I could go on for a while here. It was interesting to follow.

Then there were my Mets. I could watch them on WOR every day, and better yet, we went out to the park all the time. Sometimes, depending on whom the Mets were playing, you got to see some of the players above. But the Mets were not part of this pennant race world, they were so bad and so far removed from it you didn’t even consider it. You knew from Day One of the season it was all about just enjoying the game for its own sake, and that the day you watched might just be a good contest. Nothing else than that was within reach.

In 1969 things were breaking a little differently. For the first time in team history, the Mets were winning more than they were losing, in fact they were in second place, when the first place Chicago Cubs came rolling into town on July 8. That night, a Tuesday night, over 55,000 fans passed through the turnstiles, and the Mets, the Miracle Mets, rallied with three runs in the bottom of the ninth against Cubs ace Ferguson Jenkins for a thrilling 4-3 win. The next day, the Mets ace, Tom Seaver, would pitch.

Now everyone already knows what happened that day. Tom Seaver was perfect until the ninth, and then Jimmy Qualls hit his flare and that was that. What most people do not tv-vintageknow is that this was my friend Daniel Bowe’s fault. Here is what happened.

When the game started the whole family sat down in front of the TV to watch. I’m mildly surprised we did not head out to Shea, but we didn’t. I found myself watching with heightened interest; the events of the night before had me intrigued. Could the Mets be part of a pennant race? Three innings in, Seaver perfect and incredibly dominant, my mother made an important announcement.

“Nobody moves.”

And that was the closest anyone in the Geus family came to saying that Tom Seaver was throwing a no-hitter. We knew the rules. Inning by inning went by, and as the Mets had scored three early runs it started to become obvious there was only one thing left to be decided that night. By the time the Cubs were retired in the eighth, no one in our house had spoken for three or four innings. There was nothing to say, we all knew what we were watching.

And then it happened. The phone rang. Who the hell was calling now? Mom spoke first, loudly.

“Nobody answer!”

But it kept ringing, and it was 1969. There were no telemarketers, and no caller ID. My father got up and answered the phone. He looked at me and said, “It’s for you.”

rotary-phone

For me? I was eleven years old; I had not yet received a phone call in my life. I grabbed the receiver.

“Michael, it’s me, Daniel. I wanted to make sure you were watching the game.”

Now, looking back, it was actually considerate of Daniel. His parents, casual baseball fans at the most, were watching with him and wanted to make sure he called me. It was well known what a crazed Mets fan I was, and they didn’t want me to miss history.

But I wasn’t thinking that way back then. Instead I screamed into the phone,

“Of course I’m watching the game! Are you crazy calling right now!”

And then he apologized, ha, and I said okay, but we need to get off the phone. And when Jimmy Qualls got his hit my mom looked me straight in the eye and said, “You understand that was Daniel Bowe’s fault.” A position she never fully moved off of. When Daniel moved out of the neighborhood four years later I was partially relieved for both him and me.

Now, I had a different reaction to that game than my mom. I was slightly disappointed when Qualls got his hit, but not very upset. Qualls’s single slightly marred what had been a fantastic game. A game, I suppose, that could have been the ultimate game. But I had experienced great games before, and I could live with this one not being the ultimate. Because I already got to experience something that night that I never had before. As the game developed, it became obvious to me that this was not all just a nice short run. Any doubt had been removed. I knew my team was now one of those teams, the teams that competed to be in the World Series. Koosman and the ninth inning heroics had me wondering if this could be true the day before. Seaver left no doubt.

In 1969, from then on out, every game was huge, and I was not surprised one bit when the Mets flew by the Cubs in September. The Cubs? I never had seen them playing in the important season.

And on October 12, 1969, I got the ultimate game and the ultimate season, all wrapped together.

That day the New York Mets became World Champions.

Koosman celebration

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It’s Official: The Dullest Team on Earth, Statistically Speaking

In Little League terms, the big jump is when the players go from “Farm” to “Intermediate.” Maybe the terminology in your district is different, but you’ll recognize the dynamic. In Farm, no batter can walk. After four balls, a coach runs onto the mound to complete the AB. He inherits the strike count and tries to find the bat. The hitter either puts the ball in play or strikes out.

little-league

Then players graduate to “Intermediate” where, for the first time, walks are allowed. The quality of the games, from a fan perspective, takes a huge step backwards. Batters are walking all the time. Even worse, they begin to figure it out: The best thing I can do is not swing! A percentage of brutally short-sighted managers even encourage these kids to not swing. Sure, solid short-term strategy that will increase the likelihood of a win, but a horrible way to develop a hitter. You only learn how to hit if you swing the bat. It’s the only way.

The scene in the stands for these games is comical. People are bored out of their minds, staring at phones, groaning in frustration. “Intermediate” is always the last field to finish its game. The pace drags. Ball one, ball two, ball three, ball four. Fans are clawing at their eyeballs. Ears are bleeding. It is awful beyond belief.

Then, of course, we have our beloved New York Mets, the Intermediate team of Major League Baseball.

Two facts:

1) Mets pitching has issued more walks than any other team in the NL.

2 Met hitters have “earned” the most walks in the NL (tied for 1st with Dodgers).

While I don’t have all the P/PA numbers before me, it stands to reason that per pitch, per AB, per game, per season, Mets fans witness more of nothing happening than any other fan in baseball.

ITEM: Friday night’s game lasted 4:08 and was the longest game in major-league history in which the teams totaled fewer than 15 runs and the home team won without batting in the ninth, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

More marketing slogans for 2015:

  • Less action per pitch!
  • More of absolutely nothing!
  • The games drag!

I think about basketball. In hoops, there’s a strategy that says an athletically-inferior team has the best chance of winning by slowing down the game. They walk up the ball, use as much of the shot clock per possession, and seek to minimize turnovers. No fast breaks in either direction! It works, in that it (at least) tends to keep the games close. It frustrates opposing teams. However, it bores and frustrates most fans and players.

One constant in the Sandy Alderson Regime: Ruben Tejada, poster boy for boring baseball.

One constant in the Sandy Alderson Regime: Ruben Tejada, poster boy for boring baseball.

The most popular local college team in my area is the Siena Saints. A number of years back, they had a coach who favored a slowdown approach. Very much against turnovers, liked to control the clock (and the players). His winning philosophy was to play a boring game, maybe like an NFL coach who never risks a ten-yard pass. And when you win, really win, most fans don’t seem to mind. We like winning best of all, even if it’s ugly.

But losing ugly? Man, we don’t have a taste for that.

I remember being so glad when Siena brought in two different coaching regimes, Paul Hewitt (replacing Bob Beyer) and, later, Fran McCaffery (saving fans from another insufferable season of Rob Lanier). Both coaches threw out the old way of doing things. They said, in a word, we’re going to play uptempo. We’re going to run. We’re going to let the players loose. We’re going to press, we’re going to substitute freely and often. And we’re going to make mistakes, too. In the process, they successfully recruited better athletes, because that’s how kids today want to play. They love the uptempo game. So do the fans. It’s wild and exhilarating.

These Mets? We’re trying to win in the most boring way possible.

And guess what? We’re losing and the stands are empty. Losing ugly. It’s a tough sell.

 

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