Section 518

Where we endeavor to stay positive about the 2011 Mets…

Archive for March, 2010

Schoeneweis Redux?

Posted by JD on March 23, 2010

Scott Schoeneweis was released by the Milwaukee Brewers today. Well, he wasn’t exactly released. Apparently, they informed him that he would not be making the roster and he packed his stuff up and left. The Brewers won’t officially release him from his minor league contract until Thursday (the date on which he could elect free agency), but it certainly seems like he’s free to contact other clubs. The Mets have been reported to be interested in Joe Beimel, but he reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies. Could the Mets turn to Schoeneweis to fill that role?

It’s certainly possible, but I’d have to advise against it. Allow me to clarify: I like Scott Schoeneweis. During his time with the Mets, he was largely a steady contributor in the bullpen who had a few high-exposure incidents that dogged him. For example, he started off 2007 by allowing two earned runs in 14 innings (over 17 appearances). He followed this with a three game stretch against the Brewers, Cubs, and Yankees (at Shea) where he allowed 11 earned runs in three innings. Two weeks later, he added a two game stretch against the Phillies (who were loaded with lefty hitters) where he allowed four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning. His game log shows more of the same. It didn’t help that he had another three-run outing against the Phillies in August, and our parting image of Schoeneweis that season was equally unfortunate, as he gave up a meaningless run in the final game of the season against the Marlins.

2008 was even more unfair to Schoeneweis. Booed on Opening Day, Schoeneweis actually had an above average season, pitching to a 126 ERA+. He still struggled with the high-profile big inning: as an example, he gave up three earned runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Yankees (again at Shea). He was often greeted by boos even though he was actually one of the more consistent relievers in the pen that year, but it all came to a head in his final appearance as a Met, in the final game at Shea Stadium.

Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Robinson Cancel walked to lead off the inning. After Jose Reyes popped out to right, Carlos Beltran blasted a home run to deep left-center* to tie it. The stadium erupted (I was there). After Brian Stokes came in and preserved the tie, and the Mets failed to score in the bottom of the inning, Schoeneweis was called in to do the same. Three pitches later, Wes Helms took him yard, effectively ending the Mets’ season. Sure, Luis Ayala replaced him and gave up a homer to the very next batter (Josh Willingham), but you could see ( even from the upper deck) the physical toll that home run and the ensuing boos took on Schoeneweis.

*In my opinion, people tend to fixate on the called strike three in 2006 and ignore moments like these. What a convenient (and bankrupt) argument.

In a weird way, what happened after the game forever endeared him to me: he broke down in front of the cameras. I couldn’t find the video, but I remember the quote (from the AP): “I’m still kind of in shock over it,” a teary-eyed Schoeneweis said before cutting his comments short. “I can’t describe it. If I could take it back, I would, but I can’t.” He showed the emotions that I know I would feel in that situation, and I’m grateful to him for it. I couldn’t hold it against him: he went out there, tried his best, failed, and regretted it. There were no cliches, no false statements, just raw emotion.

He was traded from the Mets in a move that was probably in the best interest of both parties. But instead of a fresh start, he received tragedy:  his wife was died from an overdose of cocaine and lidocaine. Schoeneweis struggled (rightfully so) throughout the season and signed with the Brewers in the off-season, but it apparently hasn’t worked out. He’s also apparently saying the Brewers released him in part because his wife died (I won’t even begin to try to analyze that).

Whatever the reason, New York isn’t the place for him to find himself. The fans’ perception of him hasn’t changed in the time he’s been gone and I doubt it would be helpful for him to return to such an environment. I will always root for Schoeneweis to succeed. I just don’t think it’s wise for him to attempt it here.

Posted in Mets, Spring Training | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Idle Thoughts – Realignment

Posted by JD on March 20, 2010

A few weeks ago, Tom Verducci of SI.com reported on a new development from Bud Selig’s “special committee for on-field matters”. According to Verducci, the committee is discussing the merits of a concept they call “floating realignment”, a scheme that would allow teams to elect to switch divisions based on their aspirations for the coming season. The example given centered around the Indians swapping with the Rays. The Rays would get the benefit of moving into the easier AL Central and, theoretically, the easier road to a division championship. The Indians would sacrifice playing in an easier division but benefit from the additional gate receipts that would come from more home games against the AL leviathans, the Yankees and Red Sox.

There are hidden costs in this plan, most particularly in lost gate receipts. Using the same example, how many Cleveland fans would be happy to see their club give up and take the gate receipts instead of the easier path to the postseason? Probably not that many, and I suspect that the Indians would think twice about alienating their fan base before the season started. So, while I’m not ready to write it off, I think this proposal needs a little more work.

That being said, it made me think. Is there any way Major League Baseball could address the log jam created by the Twin Titans in the AL East without radically changing the salary structure of baseball? I’m no expert, but one idea struck me as sound: eliminate the divisions altogether and have one pennant winner and three Wild Cards in each league.

As you know, baseball currently has two leagues, the American and National, that are split into three geographically-oriented divisions. The three division winners make the playoffs along with the Wild Card, the non-division winner with the best record. My question is this: why do we need divisions at all? Why can’t we have one pennant winner and three Wild Cards?

Here’s some context: playoffs were a foreign concept for most of professional baseball’s history: the pennant went to the team that won the most games. Post-season baseball was born after the American League debuted in 1903 and the World Series was created but was limited to the two pennant winners. for 66 years (the term “second division” was coined to identify teams that finished fifth or lower). Actual divisions weren’t used until 1969 and there were only two in each league until 1994, when the current format was installed.

What I’m proposing is a bit of a return to baseball’s roots. Get rid of the three divisions and restore balanced schedules within the leagues. The club with the best record wins the pennant and has the first seed in the playoffs. The next three highest finishers fill out the bracket, regardless of geographic location. It wouldn’t have changed anything last year but it would have changed things in 2008: the Yankees would have made the playoffs (not exactly a selling point for the small market clubs, I admit). But it’s easier than realigning the divisions each year and it’s positively enticing for an ugly inevitability: playoff expansion.

I already think the season is too long, but I can read the writing on the wall: the playoffs are a cash cow and extending them is too profitable to ignore. My “One Division” solution facilitates expansion while still keeping an emphasis on the regular season with one simple tweak: byes. Let the pennant winner and the second place finisher sit out the first round. Then, let the pennant winner select who they want to play after the first round . Those two caveats should give clubs plenty of incentive to finish first and might (especially in the AL) create an interesting phenomenon: the two top clubs (read: Yankees and Red Sox) battling down to the wire for the right to pick the easiest path to the World Series.

Hey, it’s not perfect. For one, there are only 14 teams in the AL (vs. 16 in the NL). That needs to be rectified, preferably without expansion. Perhaps Houston could be convinced to switch over. Maybe Pittsburgh would be interested (Detroit and especially Cleveland are close geographic rivals) or maybe San Diego. That being said, the most likely (and ugliest) alternative is expansion. The market for Major League cities is tight, though I can see eight plausible alternatives. Here they are, as I see it (in descending order of likelihood): Portland, OR, Charlotte, NC, San Antonio, TX, San Juan, PR, Mexico City, MX, Las Vegas, NV, Vancouver, BC, and Montreal QC.

In my mind, adding two teams would totally suck. It would dilute the overall talent level and exaggerate the competitive imbalance enjoyed by large market teams even further…unless they dropped a team in Hartford (take that Yankees and Red Sox!). Regardless, I think the “One Division” model makes way more sense than “floating realignment”. For that matter, I think it makes more sense than our current arrangement. I’m sure that the folks in Selig’s committee have thought of it by now. I just hope they don’t ignore it’s benefits in the hopes of “making their mark on history” by selecting a more radical change. Only time will tell.

Posted in Idle Thoughts, Major League Baseball | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Hey, Super Joe!

Posted by JD on March 18, 2010

There are a ton of Joe McEwing fans out there. We all know at least one. The super-utilityman who embodied grit and hustle and any other intangible you can think of endeared himself to many a Mets fan during his time in the blue and orange. Well, today is a big day for all of you Super Joe fans: on this date ten long years ago, the Mets acquired the mini-mite in return for Jesse Orosco (who had been re-acquired only months before). And so it came to be that Super Joe McEwing entered our lives, and all was well.

One caveat: don’t bother bringing up how he “owned” Randy Johnson. It turns out that it’s a myth that was largely created by one game. Here’s my post from last June addressing the McEwing/Johnson dynamic:

Randy Johnson just became the most recent member of the 300 win club, a fraternity that all but guarantees he’ll be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Ken Davidoff and Joe Posnanski (with Bill James) have much more detailed takes on Johnson, both well worth reading. Posnanski is of the school of thought that we’ll see other 300 game winners (though it may be awhile). I tend to agree. While we, as baseball fans, should take time to appreciate the greatness of Johnson’s career, we shouldn’t overdramatize it to the point that we call him “The Last 300 Game Winner”. Though that does conjure images in my mind of an aging Randy Johnson popping open a bottle of champagne every time a pitcher retires close, but just shy, of 300 wins.

But I digress. Watching Randy Johnson wrap up his 300th victory yesterday made me reminisce about “Super” Joe McEwing, the utility man who played for the Mets from 2000-04. McEwing had some memorable at-bats against Johnson, to the point that it was said that he “owned” him. This was more than a little unusual because, at the time, Johnson was one of the most dominant pitchers in the league.  It isn’t often when a little-used utility player “owns” a multiple-Cy Young Award winner, so I decided to look at the match-up more closely.

All told, McEwing had 44 at-bats against Johnson which, interestingly enough, was the most he had against any pitcher. Somewhat surprisingly, his career line against Johnson was only .250/.244/.432 (BA/OBP/SLG), with one home run and four RBI. Digging deeper, however, revealed this interesting fact: in 2000, McEwing went 4-for-6 against Johnson, producing a .667/.571/1.667 line. Those four hits were three doubles and one home run, and he hit two of those doubles and the home run in one game (on 5/21/00). So, his reputation as a Johnson-killer primarily came from one single game.

Just goes to show how far popular perception can be from reality. McEwing was a fan (and personal) favorite so I don’t begrudge him anything. But the numbers show his reputation for “owning” Randy Johnson was in fact much ado about nothing.

And so it goes, even for Super Joe.

Posted in Mets, On This Date | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Dubious Anniversary

Posted by JD on March 17, 2010

It’s after 11PM as I write this. I suppose some of you are in the process of squeezing the most out of a Happy St. Patrick’s Day while the rest of you are readying for bed. I wouldn’t normally bother trying to squeeze in a post at this hour, but today I feel obligated: March 17th is the anniversary of one of my least favorite baseball memories: the Committee on Government Reform’s hearing into steroid/performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. And this year it’s the fifth anniversary, no less. I had to put down some of my thoughts on the event.

Good lord, what a shit-show it was. I remember sitting there in stunned silence as Mark McGwire repeatedly stated that “he was not there to talk about the past.” I remember staring in disbelief as Curt Schilling failed to back up his years of tough talk about what he would do if he were in a position to address steroid abuse. Most of all, I vividly remember the vague, nagging feeling I had when Rafael Palmeiro jabbed his finger in the air and said: “I have never used steroids. Period”.

I admired Palmeiro at the time. He seemed to me to be one of the most underrated, under-hyped superstars in the history of the game (there are only three other members of the 3,000 hit, 500 home-run club). I also admired how his family escaped from Cuba and made a life for themselves in the US. But something about his vehement denials struck a false chord with me. He was just a bit too insistent, a bit too urgent, to be entirely believable. It seemed as thought he stole the show that day with his assertive declarations, but in reality he was only digging a grave for his reputation (and, most likely, his shot at being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame).

I may not have wanted to admit it at the time but I think I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. As we know now, it didn’t take long: Palmeiro was suspended for a positive steroid test in August 2005. It was all but the end of his career: although he has never filed for retirement (even though he’ll be 46 in September and hasn’t picked up a bat in five years),no franchise has come close to signing him since. A sad ending, indeed.

So, today is anything but a happy anniversary for Major League Baseball, McGwire, Palmeiro, and really, all of us who’ve been fans throughout the Steroid Era (or Selig Error, as I sometimes like to call it). It was a dark day for baseball, but try as I might to move on, it keeps coming back. I suppose it will forever be part of the fabric of the game, for better or worse.

UPDATE: I just re-read the post and realized it’s not quite what I was aiming for. Sure, I felt at the time that Palmeiro was not quite telling the truth and I am disappointed that I was proven right, but I didn’t want the post to focus only on him. For me, his was only the most shining example of failure. Everyone (with, knock on wood, one exception*) who was involved in the events of the day contributed to the horror show: Palmeiro was only the most egregious.

* That would be Frank Thomas. History awaits, but to this day it appears that his good name is still intact.

Elected members of our nation’s government wasted their time with an issue that ranked (and still ranks) far, far down on the list of priorities in what appeared (to me, at least) to be a shameful grab for the spotlight. Some of the biggest names in the sport produced one of the most pathetic performances in its history. It was the exact opposite of a banner day. What was a day that should have lived in sports-infamy morphed into a car-crash that a lot of us would like nothing more than to forget. Unfortunately, it became a day that will always lurk in the background for baseball fans of a certain age, casting a shadow on some of their favorite memories. And that’s the part of the “Dubious Anniversary” that I really wanted to focus on.

Posted in Major League Baseball, Performance Enhancing Drugs | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Ollie Rolls On

Posted by JD on March 13, 2010

Oliver Perez made his second Spring Training start today. After watching the game, I think it’s safe to say that Good Ollie has not completely surrendered to Evil Ollie. Yet.

Before we get to the details it should be noted that the Tigers only started four regular players today. Carlos Guillen started in left field (he’ll most likely DH) and Magglio Ordonez was the DH (he’ll probably be the starting right fielder). Ramon Santiago started at shortstop and lead off and Max Scherzer was the starting pitcher. The rest of the squad was made up of minor leaguers, so it’s not like Ollie was facing a Murderer’s Row today.

That being said, he didn’t give up a single hit. You read that correctly: he threw four no-hit innings. By my count he threw 69 pitches, 33 of which were strikes. That’s not the best ratio, especially considering that he was basically facing a minor league team. However, he was consistently around the strike zone, maintained a steady pace, and showed good velocity (30 pitches exceeded 90 MPH and he hit 93 four times).

I don’t want to get carried away here. There were many positives, but there was plenty to work on. The most obvious negative was his reaction to Audy Ciriaco’s at bat in the third. Ollie worked him into a 2-2 count, but Ciriaco fouled off several pitches in a row to stay alive. Ollie responded by firing two consecutive 93 MPH pitches too far inside and walking Ciriaco. Evil Ollie immediately surfaced and walked Ramon Santiago on five pitches, eliciting visits from David Wright and Dan Warthen in the process. It looked bleak, but Warthen must have whispered the right “sweet nothings” because Good Ollie regained control and induced Guillen to fly out to Angel Pagan on the left field warning track. Good Ollie then went on to finish strong, throwing only 12 pitches in the fourth inning, seven of which were strikes. It was a very encouraging rebound.

Ollie battled the Tigers to a tie: he failed to record a strike-out but they failed to register a hit. It wasn’t perfect by any means but it wasn’t bad for a second Spring Training start. Ollie showed improvement and I remain encouraged…until the next start.

Posted in Mets, Oliver Perez | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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