Section 518

Where we endeavor to stay positive about the 2011 Mets…

Archive for October, 2010

Caught Looking

Posted by JD on October 25, 2010

Steve Lombardi at the Baseball Reference Blog had an interesting post the other day listing all of the players who ended their team’s post season by taking a called strike three. The post was inspired by the season-ending strike outs of Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez this weekend. The last occurrence prior to that was, of course, Carlos Beltran’s season ending backwards K against Adam Wainwright. No surprise there.

What is surprising (at least to me, anyway) is that Beltran wasn’t the first Met in that situation: Howard Johnson took a called strike three to end the 1988 NLCS. Hojo’s K was slightly less dramatic than Beltran’s: the Mets were trailing the Dodgers 6-0 at the time and Orel Hershiser was working on a complete game, five hit shutout. Those circumstances likely spared Hojo from the treatment Beltran has received in the past four years. In fact, I could only find two Hershiser-centric articles that briefly mentioned Hojo in passing (here and here). Given the pounding Beltran’s taken, I wish Johnson had been a little more vocal about his experience (though part of me understands: it’s never easy to talk about negative events).

Another ex-Met on the list also stands out, even if his post-season ending moment didn’t happen in the orange and blue: Willie Randolph took the final strike against the Royals’ Dan Quisenberry in 1980. Now, I could swear I remember Willie mentioning his strike out in defense of Beltran at some point, but I can’t find it in a Google search. While I’ll trust my spotty memory to give Willie the benefit of the doubt, I’m still frustrated with the media (and fans) who refuse to give Beltran a pass. It’s past time to move on and let it go, but Beltran’s career as a Met is doomed to be overshadowed by that one at bat.

In the interest of thoroughness, three other players with connections to the Mets appear on the list: former Met Randy Myers struck out Omar Vizquel to end the 1996 ALDS, future/former Roberto Alomar K’d looking against Jose Mesa to end the 1997 ALCS (in another twist, both series pitted the Indians against the Orioles), and Derek Lowe punched out former Met Terrance Long to end the 2003 ALDS. Throw in the fact that A-Rod and Alomar will both eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame and Vizquel has a decent shot, Beltran isn’t exactly keeping poor company here. But I’m sure that fact will go unreported, too.

Posted in Carlos Beltran, Flushing Frivolities, Mets | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Fine Print

Posted by JD on October 21, 2010

Eno Sarris offered a three-part analysis on how the Mets could learn from the mid-decade Phillies, which you can find here, here and here (give it a read: even if you don’t agree with the comparison, it’s an interesting look at how a franchise can change course in a relatively short time). Without stealing his thunder, he mentions in passing trading Carlos Beltran during the season if he re-establishes his value. I agree with the strategy (as I said here) for the reasons that Sarris mentions, and for one additional factor: the Mets cannot offer Beltran arbitration.

Under the current CBA, a player who files for free agency may chose to accept arbitration if his team offers it to him. If it is offered and the player declines, the team may be entitled to compensation in the form of draft picks (if the player qualifies as a Type A or Type B free agent). Thus, teams who elect to simply let their players’ contracts expire can receive some compensation which, given the cost-effective nature of young players these days, can potentially exceed the value of the departing player.

This option is not available to the Mets because Scott Boras negotiated a clause into Beltran’s contract (scroll down) in which the Mets agreed not to offer Beltran arbitration at the end of his contract. So, Sarris’ comment about trading Beltran in mid-season isn’t just a good strategy for the Mets, it’s the only practical strategy available to them given his current, decreased trade value. Just another gift from Omar Minaya, king of the contractual clauses.

Posted in Carlos Beltran, Mets, Omar Minaya | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Call Me Skeptical, But…

Posted by JD on October 18, 2010

There are half a dozen or so good candidates involved in the Mets’ search for a new general manager (Patrick Flood analyzes each of them here), but I can’t shake the suspicion that it doesn’t really matter who ultimately gets the job: Fred and Jeff Wilpon will still be signing the new GM’s paycheck, and no matter how many good intentions they have (or how much “autonomy” they concede) the root causes of the current malaise will still be lurking in the background.

That’s not to say that the new GM, whoever it may be, can’t breathe new life into the team. Omar Minaya had a nice run in 2005-06, before the collapses and injuries combined with his lack of a clear vision to derail the team, and Jeff Wilpon steadily assumed a higher profile in the baseball operations.  

I know I’m being unfairly negative. This is a time of change for the organization: the right hire might satisfy the Wilpons to the point that they feel comfortable distancing themselves from the day-to-day operations. The right general manager might be able to change the organizational structure in such way that it can function after he’s gone, and the team might even win a championship while it’s happening. I should at least give the Wilpons a chance to go through their process before writing it off.

But I can’t. I can’t bring myself to buy in to what they’re selling. After all, it was only five years ago that we went through this very process, and look how that turned out. Yes, all good things come to an end, and general managers (and managers) are “hired to be fired,” but the fact that the Omar Minaya era ended in almost the exact same way it began (in a state of organizational confusion) is most disheartening. Yes, ’05 and ’06 and even most of ’07 were good times for the Mets. I won’t discount that. But ’08 and ’09 and now ’10 are so analogous to ’02 and ’03 and ’04 that I cannot ignore the feeling of déjà vu.

I hope very much that I am wrong. I hope that Fred and Jeff have learned their lesson. I hope that they hire someone they trust enough to grant true autonomy, and that they then honor that throughout that person’s tenure. I hope that if it doesn’t work out, they can fire that person cleanly rather than killing them slowly with a thousand cuts of ownership interference. I hope all of these things, and there’s a chance that they could all happen. I just don’t think it’s a very good chance.

Your move, Fred and Jeff. Prove me wrong. Nothing would make me happier.

Posted in Mets, Omar Minaya, The Wilpons | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

More on Ike Davis

Posted by JD on October 10, 2010

As we head into a week sure to be filled with exciting general manager interviews (I’m in the Sandy Alderson camp), I figured I’d use Baseball Reference’s Play Index to look at how some of the Mets’ seasons stacked up historically. I don’t know if I’ll make this a recurring series but I’ll probably come back to it during the long offseason. My first subject: Ike Davis.

Over at Amazin’ Avenue, Chris McShane (in this post) and James Kannengeiser (in his 2010 Postmortem: First Base) both looked at Ike Davis’ first season. Both are good reads and gave me inspiration for this post, which is an attempt to place Davis’ year in a larger historical context. I used the Play Index to look at the rookie seasons of every position player from 1901 to 2010 who qualified for the batting title, a list of 469 player-seasons. As you’ll see it’s a somewhat arbitrary comparison, but here we go:

The first take-away is the near-total absence of Mets: no Daryl Strawberry, no Jose Reyes, no David Wright. In fact, the only other Met rookie to qualify for a batting title was second baseman Ron Hunt, in 1963. In and of itself, it’s a trivial point: the other Mets rookies were either called up later in the season (like the three listed above), suffered injuries at some point in their rookie year (Reyes qualifies here, too), or weren’t good enough to earn enough at-bats to qualify. Nothing significant, just good trivia.

Sorting by Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, Davis checks in at 109 with a 2.5 BR WAR*, tying him with George Burns (1914), Jim Finigan (1954), Orlando Cepeda (1958), Chuck (not Curt) Schilling (1961), Ellis Burks (1987), and Austin Jackson (2010). For what it’s worth (which is not all that much), Davis had the fourth highest OPS+ of that group, trailing Cepeda (125), Finigan (120), and Burns (119).

*For the record, Ron Hunt nudged Davis with a 2.6 BR WAR, tied with Doc Smoot (1902), Mickey Doolan (1905), Lou Stringer (1941), Jerry Remy (1975), Jim Norris (1977), Kirby Puckett (1984), Ozzie Guillen (1985), David Eckstein (ugh, gross), and Tadahito Iguchi (2005). However, Hunt’s OPS+ was five points lower than Davis’.

Age strikes me as a relevant factor. There were 66 players on our list who were 23 on June 30th of their rookie season: only 15 had a better BR WAR than Davis’ 2.5 (Schilling and Jackson were also 23). Among them were Hall of Famers Paul Waner (5.7), Johnny Mize (4.9), Phil Rizzuto (4.3) and Joe Gordon (3.5), and future Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell (4.7). Only 11 rookies had a higher OPS+: Mize (161), Waner (147), Alvin Davis (147), Bagwell (139), Harry Lumley (136), Babe Herman (136), Grady Hatton (128), Bob Meusel (126), Joe Hauser (121), Moose McCormick (118), and Hall of Famer (and revered Mets broadcaster) Ralph Kiner (117). By these (arbitrary) measuring sticks Ike Davis had the best rookie season since Bagwell debuted in 1991. For what it’s worth.

James Kannengeiser calls Ike’s 12% walk rate encouraging, and he’s right: only 32 players had a higher ratio of walks to plate appearances in their first season (Davis’ raw total of 72 walks is 30th among rookies qualifying for the batting title). On the flip side, Ike’s 138 strike-outs tied him with former American League Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske for fifth worst overall. Only Pete Incaviglia (185), Jackson (170), George Scott (152), and Jake Wood (141) had more strike-outs. You take the good with the bad, I guess.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I cherry-picked the stats discussed in this post. It’s meant to provide a historical context for Ike Davis’ rookie season and not to make a case for him to win Rookie of the Year (Jason Heyward tops Davis in many of the categories listed above and Buster Posey didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title). Here’s the list: go to town on it and please let me know what you find.

My argument here is that in a lost season, Ike Davis’ performance was a legitimate bright spot. In some categories, his limited sample size of a career compares favorably to players who wound up in the Hall of Fame. By no means am I suggesting that Davis will join them. I am, however, suggesting that we can be encouraged by his rookie season and look forward to him being an important part of the 2011 line-up.

Posted in Flushing Frivolities, Hall of Fame, Ike Davis, Mets | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

133 Days

Posted by JD on October 3, 2010

Season finales have their own unique feel, at least to me. 161 games have been played and a lot of passion has been spent. Second guessing the manager’s (and General Manager’s) decisions became a way of life but now, for one day at least, it becomes irrelevant. If Jerry Manuel wants to use Pedro Feliciano to face Adam Kennedy instead of saving him for Adam Dunn, well, who cares? What’s the point in getting worked up about it if this is the last game he’ll manage for the Mets?

Today’s game reminds me of a similar situation, not that long ago. I was at the final game of the 2004 season (also a Sunday, also October 3rd), when Art Howe was the resident “dead man walking”. GM Jim Duquette was planning on letting Howe finish the season, but word got out that he would be fired (sound familiar?). Duquette was forced to announce Howe’s dismissal on September 16th, and Howe had to manage the final two and a half weeks of the season knowing that he would be out of work.

It was a lost season: the Mets would finish 71-91. Though there were some positives (the Mets swept the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and had a winning record against their cross-town nemesis rival for the first time), it was mostly negative: there was the infamous Scott Kazmir/Victor Zambrano deal as well as the botched experiment with Mike Piazza at first base. By all rights, game 162 should have been a formality, one last exercise in futility. Maybe it was. Maybe I read too much into what I saw that afternoon, but it felt like more than that.

There was a new era on the horizon: the Mets were clearing the decks, preparing for a new beginning (Omar Minaya would be hired shortly). But there was also a lesson, a hidden message for us all…we’ll get to that in a minute.

But first, the game itself. Art Howe wasn’t the only Met who would be leaving: John Franco was appearing in his final game. The writing was on the wall: Franco was done with the Mets, and he knew it. Howe did the right thing: Franco entered the game after a nice video tribute in the top of the eighth, replacing Heath Bell. He pitched a third of an inning, gave up a single to Termel Sledge, and got Ryan Church to fly out to Todd Zeile, who was catching that day for the first time since 1990.

Zeile had announced his retirement earlier in the week and Howe chose to let him go out the way he came in. That was the day that I first heard that Zeile was a movie producer, and it was a day that he’d remember forever. Not only did he record the out on the final pitch that John Franco threw for the Mets, but he hit a three-run home run in his final at-bat in the bottom of the sixth. It really was a special moment, the future producer had a real Hollywood moment.

There were other nice moments for the Mets in that game, too. Joe Hietpas had his Moonlight Graham moment and rookie David Wright hit his 14th home run, a two-run shot off John Patterson in the bottom of the third. It was a generally uplifting game: a negative era in Mets history was ending and the future, though uncertain, looked bright. This was highlighted by the unfortunate fate awaiting their rivals that day: the Montreal Expos.

You see, that was the Expos’ final game. While the Mets were ending a lost season, Montreal fans were mourning the loss of their team. Those of us in attendance knew we were seeing a major league team’s death. The franchise’s fate was sealed: they were shortly to become the Washington Nationals (coincidentally, the Mets’ opponent in today’s finale). Really, we were watching the Expos being taken off of life support.

There was a decent contingent of Expos fans in attendance. They scattered a few “Let’s Go Expos!” chants throughout the game, but there was a moment in the top of the ninth where they rallied one last chant. I can’t speak for the other fans in attendance that day, but I found it a remarkably poignant moment. Here was a group of fans in a foreign stadium, watching the final moments of their favorite team, saluting them for the final time.

That moment remains fresh for me today. While we think about how poorly our team has played this year, we can look forward 133 days till pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie again. We’ll have a new General Manager, a new manager, new players. Our team, no matter how poorly managed, will get another chance to redeem itself. On February 13, 2011, the voluntary reporting date for pitchers and catchers, the Mets will once again take the field. Montreal fans can only wish they could say the same about the Expos.

Bad Mets baseball is better than no Mets baseball, and the 2010 season comes to an end today. Let’s enjoy what we have while we can while looking forward to new memories in the coming season. 2011 begins tonight, but today, let’s enjoy watching David Wright, Jose Reyes, Josh Thole, Ike Davis, Mike Pelfrey, and all the others write the final chapter of the 2010 Mets. Hopefully, they’ll send us off on a positive note.

Posted in Jerry Manuel, Mets | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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