Baseball 101: Fans Just Wanna Have Fun

Have you ever gone to a Broadway play? It requires some effort. In my case, living upstate, it’s not quite the invasion of Normandy, but there are a lot of details. If we bring the kids, that’s four tickets purchased well in advance. Maybe we get a hotel, make a day out of it. Then there’s food, they’ll want to eat. Souvenirs, the CD soundtrack, maybe a t-shirt.

You know how things add up.

And when the play is spectacular, I turn to my wife and say, “We have to do this more often. Why has it been two years since we’ve seen a play? Look at our children, this is what we want for them. Quick, let’s buy something!”

When the play disappoints?

“Oh, well. That was 400 balloons down the drain. Let’s go walk the High Line.”

And you don’t go back for another three years.

So that’s the big takeaway after the opening of the 2014 baseball season. For all my analytical interests, my love of the game itself, I am still a much happier fellow when my good old Mets win a game.

TheLowBeat-1024x768

Quick story: I was in a bar on Friday night, April 4th, waiting for the mighty Figgs to take the stage. The Mets game was on, because it was that kind of place — rare, these days, operated by a hardcore Mets fan. And I’m watching as Papa Grande takes the mound in the 9th. The team is 0-3 and, my lord, it feels like this one might slip away too.

But: Strike three! Put it in the books!

I involuntarily pump my fist in that crowded, oblivious room, look over at my friend, smile. A win!

As a fan, I like wins. And I don’t care who we beat. If the Mets stomp on Our Little Sisters of the Poor, I’ll still rejoice. Even sweeping the lowly Diamondbacks was a sweet thing.

It made me happy.

Not grumpy, not depressed. I didn’t want to punch anything, put a bag over my head, or go bury my sad face in a pint of ice cream. I was floating on white, puffy clouds, breathing pure oxygen.

mets

The next day I caught up with a calm, thoughtful, reasonable essay by Matt Cerrone over at Metsblog, titled, “The real ‘Plan’ for the Mets and why I’m patient.” And there was something in it that stuck with me. It’s been gnawing it me to the point where, well, here we are.

Let me be upfront by declaring my appreciation for Metsblog. I’ve read it nearly every day since its inception. While I don’t agree with every opinion that’s written there, I am appalled by the trolls who litter the comments section with mean-spirited criticisms. When it comes to that crap, I am solidly on Team Matt.

One other aside, full disclosure: When we started out, Matt linked to us a few times, sending readers our way. Matt, whom I’ve never met, didn’t need to do that. We’re certainly not delivering corporate-approved material. My sense is that Matt is authentically rooting for us to find a readership. It sets him apart from most of the other bloggers, and I’m grateful for that. It’s not like they knocked down the door with bundt cakes.

Anyway, sorry, I digress. Here are the first few opening paragraphs to Matt’s essay:

According to Sandy Alderson, he never predicted the team will win 90 games in 2014, he simply challenged his staff to find ways to build a team that can get to 90 wins… eventually. It was a goal, he said.

If that’s accurate, why is this a new goal? What have he and his staff been doing the last few years?

The answer, as I understand it, is simple: First and foremost, they’ve been setting up future payroll flexibility (by cutting payroll — see: Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, lack of new, expensive, long-term signings, etc.), while stockpiling young, controllable, power pitching. That’s it. The rest has been a means to an end, a way to assess in-house talent, bleed a little, minimally entertain fans, and get to a point (2014) when things can begin to turn a corner.

He achieved his first goal, which was to restructure payroll and rebuild a farm system. That cannot be questioned. It seems he’s challenging his staff with a new goal, and to create a follow-up plan, which is about winning 90 games.


I think we could, in fact, debate the quality of the farm system rebuild, but I’ll save that for another day.

Can you guess which phrase really stuck in my craw?

Yep.

Minimally entertain fans.”

It’s like Bush’s daft sign on May 1, 2003 on that boat in the Gulf: “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”

Bush_mission_accomplished

It’s true, Mets fans have been minimally entertained.

And I think Matt’s dead wrong about that. Far, far too dismissive of results, wins and loses, the enjoyment factor on the field. Baseball is an entertainment business competing for our dollar. Our time.

Sandy chose not to crater when he took over. He kept Wright, kept Reyes. Because, I believe, he felt he was smart enough to field a pretty good team while he got the house in order. Pick up a Collin Cowgill here, an Aaron Laffey there. Sign a DJ Carrasco here, a Frank Francisco there. Trade for guys like Andres Torres and Kelly Shoppach. Search through the system, endlessly, for internal options to real problems. And so on. Maybe he misread the NY market in the process. This isn’t Oakland. It’s not San Diego.

It’s not, in other words, Off-Broadway.

The Pinnacle List

Alderson’s primary task was letting time pass, letting contracts expire, trading a few veteran free agents the Mets couldn’t sign, and hopefully doing okay in the draft. He’s been on record stating that winning has not been a priority.

Not much of a mission, frankly, but: Accomplished!

In the meantime, the Mets organization has had to put on 81 shows a season, sell tickets, bring in fans, operate a television station . . . run a business.

And from what I can see, Alderson has contributed to running that business into the ground.

We’ve all seen the empty seats. Maybe all those fans come running back the first hot streak. Maybe some of them don’t. Maybe losing all that revenue and good faith will cost the club for years. Maybe the pain has been necessary. One parade in canyons would work wonders to help us forgive and forget.

You don’t try to win because it’s more fun than losing. You try to win because “fun” is everything. Entertainment comes before winning. It’s what we’re selling here. Good times. Enjoyment. Those fist pumps in the bar, those “happy recaps,” the games where we watch the highlights over and over again. Smiling.

Since Sandy took over the Mets, he is the only GM in Mets history to have a worse record at home than away. The numbers:

  • 2011   Home: 34-47   Away: 43-38
  • 2012   Home: 36-45   Away: 38-43
  • 2013   Home: 33-48   Away: 41-40
  • 2014   Home: 2-4      Away: 6-3

TOTAL

  • Home: 105 wins, 144 loses
  • Away: 128 wins, 124 loses

Brutal, brutal and unacceptable. Though, admittedly, it has been minimally entertaining.

Here’s a theory, Sandy. Instead of chasing home runs in that big park, you should be chasing speed and athleticism and defense.

Meanwhile, the loses mount.

empty-CitiAll those people in the stands, the dwindling faithful, the diehards dying hard, shrugging after another loss, heading to the subway or their cars. “No, Timmy, we’re not stopping in the damn gift shop today. Drink your eight dollar soda and shut up. Daddy’s not made of money.”

Hopefully, as Matt says, 2014 will be that pivot year. A plus-.500 record would be a step in the right direction.

And by that I mean, more fun, more pleasurable, more entertaining. Those aren’t asides or fringe benefits. That’s the goal right there, and it’s achieved by putting a lively, compelling team on the field, game after game, year after year.

The team never had to bleed this bad. The franchise did not have to sink this low.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

26 comments

  1. IB says:

    Good post.

    Alderson is not in the entertainment business. Alderson’s a Harvard lawyer, a “prudent” pragmatist to a fault. Steinbrenner was a ship builder who also understood he was in the entertainment business. Smart man.

  2. Eric says:

    Nice article. My passion for this team is completely at odds with my desire to go to the ballpark. When we moved back to NJ a few years back, I wanted to take my daughter to at least one game a year. But my apathy and disdain for supporting the Wilpons kept me from going to the park.

    I think I am going to break down this year and take my girl to her first Mets game. After all, her middle name is Shea, in honor of the ol’ ballpark.

    As for Cerrone, I agree with you. While I am not a huge fan of the site, I wish the piling on and personal attacks would stop. The guy is obviously a huge Mets fan. That’s good enough for me.

  3. What might have worked, both from an entertainment standpoint as well as moving this franchise finally in the right direction, is if they had fully committed to a youth movement at the beginning of this season. The marketing motto could have been, “Come Watch the Kids Play.” Put any and all prospects out there, including Montero, Syndergaard, and whomever else has a reasonable pulse and is under 25-years old, on the field, and let them go at it. Mets fans would no longer have to put up with watching quite so many of the re-treads that are not only boring to watch, but whom also don’t have any real future with this team.. Fans would have been allowed and encouraged to embrace these “Baby Mets” as their own, to watch them grow up together into the future. And if some of them failed, so be it. They were never all going to pan out anyway.

    • wkkortas says:

      That’s an interesting point, Bill, and one I agree with–being mediocre with Quintanilla and Lannan and both Youngs et al is not building the brand either short or long term. I’d also note, however, that I’m saying this from my perch as a Pirate fan, where you have to accept and embrace the boom-and-bust cycle of fandom, the notion that there are going to be narrow windows where you have to decide to go all-in, and spend the other seasons building toward that. What has been said here so often, and remains true, is that the notion that a team in the game’s biggest market finds itself in a position where it has to act like the Royals or Rays is absolute madness.

      • No question about it. Add to that the frustration of having a G.M. who appears to be unaware that trading for other team’s players is also an option. Even if a Keith Hernandez or a Gary Carter were available today, where’s the evidence that Alderson would have the guts to pull the trigger on making a deal for that caliber of player?
        Alderson is like a WWI commander bogged down in trench-warfare. There’s no longer any Grand Strategy here, merely small tactical victories designed to gain 100 meters of useless ground, assuming that attrition is as good as it can get.

  4. Michael Geus says:

    The home and away splits are mind boggling. They are historical. When I researched this a little last year it became clear that almost no team loses more at home than away. Since Alderson has taken over it happens every year. I have seen people scoff at this and say the answer is better players. Well, the 1962-1968 Mets won more at home. The M. Donald Grant era Mets won more at home. Every era has. It is, in fact, very rare when this happens, yet it has occurred in all of the Alderson years.

    The 2010 Mets, the year before the management change, played .580 ball at home. The change has been dramatic and is depressing. When you look at our overall record every year, it is not that bad. It is not like these teams have been losing 95 to 100 games a year. But to fans, it feels like the Mets do lose 95 games a year, because that is how they play at home. The home games are the ones they attend, and those experiences are burned into the brain.

    It is a huge fail to not be able to field a better team at home.

  5. dave says:

    going to my 1st game on thursday, a 1:10pm tilt against the cards, and if the place has tumbleweeds knocking about blue smoke behind left field … i’m gonna be sad. and stronger citifield beer sales will result.

  6. Eraff says:

    Is the Home/Away History nothing more than Overmatched Talent underperforming in the Highest Pressure environment?

    Beyond that very straight forward idea…. Is HOME a Happy Place? It’s the place where the bad people talk about the team…and the negativity reverberates…. maybe it’s just a grind..???

    • James Preller says:

      I think it comes down to the importance of defense in a pitcher’s park. Poor defense has been a constant of the Alderson Era. Look at Tejada and Murphy up the middle. No plus-defensive catcher (too early to say on Travis). That’s what’s so galling about their perception of Lagares; they don’t properly value the defense.

  7. IB says:

    James – I agree completely. I’ve been crying for speed and D and gap hitting ala 80’s St Louis since they opened this park. They seem to finally get it, at least with the OF. But I have a question: Do you know for sure how the perceive Lagares? I haven’t read any definitive quotes.

    • James Preller says:

      For sure? No. Before JL got injured, with CY due to return, Collins talked about a rotation. Did not name Lagares a starter. lso said that Grandy would be everyday. And we know CY was promised regular time and a shot at CF. I know how I read all these signs. But I don’t have absolute certainty.

  8. Reese Kaplan says:

    All it will take is a couple of hitless games when he returns and Lagares will be relegated to the bench so that we can be treated to more strikeouts and .250 hitting from Collins’ speedy leftfielder with Chris Young in CF.

  9. Patrick Boegel says:

    As someone who used to spend a great deal of time on Metsblog, I found much of the horde’s incessant pile on tedious. The obsession over minor issues such as a name being misspelled or a lineup being incorrect was exhausting in the extreme.

    Matt has worked incredibly hard to get where he is and I challenge anyone reading that site now or in the past to dispute otherwise. Often I would see people dismiss his work as a simple naming convention victory. Utter nonsense.

    That being said I have found with each passing year since Metsblog has connected with SNY to be increasingly leading to hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil white washing of facts.

    The constant refrain to not talk about finances, while simultaneously talking about not talking about finances and how difficult they are to understand was like reading really bad Orwell.

    He is a great fan, and I know he loves the Mets, but he has become the epitome in my opinion of everything that is wrong with the core culture of being a Mets fan. Total blind optimism in complete denial of facts that sit on you like an elephant.

    One need not be the bell ringer of doom, but he has basically chosen to do the one thing that is borderline impossible to survive in New York Sports, sit on the fence.

    2013 was the first time since 1994 that I did not attend a Mets game. Frankly, I barely watched. I couldn’t even get all that motivated by the silliness of “Harvey Day” the kids extremely talented exploits notwithstanding.

    This was the off season I was waiting for and that was on Alderson, he set 2014 as the MARK on the calender. And I watched. I read. I tweeted. Ultimately I shrugged. The Mets did not even need to break the bank vaults to get significantly better, but instead we got the most shameful ruse of “we are investing back into the club”. Right after “scary prices”.

    90 wins, or something.

  10. Michael Geus says:

    Am I the only one who misses Ike already?

    • Mark me one who feels like the Mets systematically ruined a player. They have done it with several under this crew.

      • Yes, I strongly suspect that, too. Obviously, they didn’t help him. As I wrote last night, and just posted this morning, if Ike rebounds it could put “the approach” under scrutiny. Weird, because these guys have been putting out positive spin about the approach all week. Info about the new stat they invented, talk about the point system they’ve implemented in the minors, Hudgens interview, praise for “hunting strikes” on Mets blog. The PR machine in full tilt.

        I wondered what a hitting coach — say, Howard Johnson — might say to Ike Davis right now. I don’t think it would be, like a Little League coach talking to the lousy player, “Now remember, don’t swing unless it’s a perfect pitch, okay? It’s got to be a perfect? You know what I’m saying . . .”

        • Eraff says:

          Between the lines, the HUNTING STRIKES article pointed at the intensive “instruction/direction” on their “younger” players.

          Most teams recognize that they are working with “finished” players at the mlb level…the instruction provided is offered MOSTLY by request, with only very specific interruption/suggestion given to players.

          I suspect that this “coaching” is particularly active and distractive on home stands—-I earlier offered evidnce of the team home/away stats for 2013—- the 710 OPS is an AWAY stat—- the 632 is a HOME state—219 ba versus 254… They are bullying and burying their players in a mental heap, especially when they play at home.

          Is their a SABRE STAT for over-coaching?

          • I think you are making a huge leap there, without any evidence. Yes, they hit worse at Citi. But because of over-coaching? Only at home? I don’t see it.

            In the end, I think we’ve find that there’s no magic bullet, no single reason.

            Also, for the quotes stats to have meaning, need context. How did opposing team hit home and way?

          • I think the article’s intent was to do that, to not call into question the moves they are going to begin making.

            Murphy is next, mark my words. They are going to move everyone who does not buy and sell the game plan.

            If a hitter has a seemingly good, and successful approach for them, you don’t change it. The Mets big problem with their “philosophy” is it is fundamentally stupid and an excuse for nerds in the front office to cover their mistakes.

            I’d like to see someone in the front office actually explain the “Bases per Out” because I’ve looked at it, and it translates to next to nothing unless you have an MVP type season. Unless of course they are using some phantom math.

            Example per the math as it is currently explained, David Wright 2012…

            Bases = 367
            Outs = 403

            That would by my understanding put David Wright in a deficit, meaning he’d get NO bonus.

            David Wight 2007 (his best year ever)
            Bases = 424
            Outs = 408

            So unless someone explains this better, it seems an MVP season can net you $3,200

            Seems like a perfect equation for the Wilpons.

  11. Eraff says:

    Good luck Ike! Looking forward to the return on the trade.

    The roster removes one “block” making the roster more flexible and maneuverable. New Projection…. 78-84 wins (up from 78-83)

    Sign Drew.

  12. Alan K. says:

    What’s frustrating was the Mets had two players whose talents were perfectly suited to Citi Field in Reyes and Pagan.

  13. Eraff says:

    I don’t think it’s a such a big leap to conclude that they are Over Managing their players—and the home split differentials are Huge. An OPS weighting would be anticipated in some instances, but a differential in ba of 254 versus 210— that’s absolutely Massive!

    You’ve agreed with the premise thsat they may have “ruined” Ike and perhaps other players—where and when are they Ruining them?—- whenthey have the most impact and access to them. I believe the underlying stat absolutely reinforces the possibility that they are, in fact, KILLING players with “the approach”.

    And I will expand on that—I don’t think “the approach” itself is so outlandish—but over packing people with direction and second by second pressure is bad psychology. I think there’s tremendous evidence that they are squashing their players “at home”. I’m not sure whether this is Ike’s specific case—he has other issues (his swing, etc.)…but the team stats SCREAM that something bad happens at home, and the offensive stats are even more outlandishly imbalances than anything you might note with only your eyes.

Leave a Reply

Email
Print