Section 518

Where we endeavor to stay positive about the 2011 Mets…

Posts Tagged ‘Bobby Valentine’

The All-Powerful

Posted by JD on January 31, 2011

Like many of my best-intentioned plans, my countdown to Spring Training quickly fizzled. Not only is Amazin’ Avenue doing it better (and with pictures!), it turns out that I couldn’t even get the actual number of days right! That was particularly humbling. It turns out that pitchers and catchers are due to report two whole days earlier than I thought. So, there goes that idea.

That being said, I’d written up a couple of entries in advance, so I’m going to trot them out over the next few days. Here is what would have been my day twenty entry: Kurt Abbott.

——–

Drafted by the Oakland A’s on my twelfth birthday, the former 15th round pick joined the Mets as a free agent on January 26, 2000. Abbott would appear in 79 games for the Mets that year, hitting .217/.283/.389 in 173 plate appearances. His -0.5 rWAR (B-R.com) tied him with Matt Franco and Rickey Henderson for worst on the team, non-Rey Ordonez division (to be fair, Ordonez was lost for the season after only 29 games). So, he’s got that going for him.

It was in that year’s World Series that I (drunkenly) gave him the nickname of the All-Powerful Kurt Abbott. I was watching game one at my Yankee-fan friend’s house, surrounded by his Yankee-fan family and Yankee-fan friends, the lone Mets fan in the room. The Yankees had taken a 2-0 lead on a David Justice double in the bottom of the sixth, but the Mets rallied to take a 3-2 lead in the seventh (shockingly, Bubba Trammell was prominently involved). The Yankees sent Mariano Rivera to the mound in the top of the ninth to hold the fort. He promptly retired Jay Payton, but plunked Todd Pratt.

With a man on first, one out, and Mike Bordick due to hit, Bobby Valentine tapped Kurt Abbott to pinch hit. I was not overwhelmed by optimism. In an effort to get ahead of (what I thought) was an inevitable double-play grounder, I said something like “the All-Powerful Kurt Abbott will save the day”. Abbott promptly lined a double to right field to advance Pratt to third. Neither Timo Perez nor Edgardo Alfonzo could capitalize on the opportunity and the Mets failed to score.  The Yankees went on to win the game (and ultimately the World Series), but a nickname was born.

Fun Fact: Kurt Abbott is a cop in Florida. That’s him on the left, giving the hand to a perp he had just apprehended.

Photo courtesy of Alex Boerner, TC Palm

Posted in Flushing Frivolities, Mets | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Your Favorite Valentine

Posted by JD on June 25, 2010

UPDATE: I spoke too soon: Bobby Valentine is no longer a candidate for the Marlins’ job (God, I hate linking to Jon Heyman). I guess that means Valentine is still a candidate to replace Jerry Manuel. That’s all fine and well, but doesn’t mitigate my original point: a non-zero percentage of Valentine’s success as Mets manager came from his familiarity with the AAA team, a luxury that he cannot replicate.

It looks like Bobby Valentine is going to become the next manager of the Florida Marlins. That’s going to disappoint a large segment of Mets fans: Valentine is a colorful character who has achieved success in the major leagues, and he’s also a tangible link to one of the more successful periods in recent Mets history. I understand why fans are upset that he’s going to Florida: I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal.

Valentine’s Mets teams succeeded because he made the most of what he had a Hall of Famer (Mike Piazza), several All-Stars (Al Leiter, Mike Hampton, Robin Ventura) and some pretty marginal bench players, whose performance Valentine maximized. They were overachievers, and that’s certainly a credit to Valentine, but I feel like a fairly important fact has gotten lost throughout the years: Valentine managed the AAA Norfolk Tides for 283 games over two years before taking over the Mets. His 1994 squad was little more than Jeromy Burnitz, Rico Brogna, and Butch Huskey, but the 1996 squad included Benny Agbayani, Alberto Castillo, Matt Franco, Alex Ochoa, Jay Payton, and (most importantly) Rick Reed, all of whom would go on to contribute to Valentine’s Mets teams.

Valentine managed that 1996 team to an 82-59 record, good for second in the International League West. He developed a relationship with those players, an appreciation of their strengths and weaknesses that he would later use to his advantage as manager of the Mets. It’s not the sole reason why he succeeded, but it was an inherent advantage that he had that can’t recreate with the Mets (or the Marlins, for that matter).

Valentine is a smart, resourceful man. I don’t doubt that he’ll have some success with the Marlins. But he’ll be stuck with the same limitations that faced Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez before him: an owner (Jeffrey Loria) whose priorities lay in profits, not necessarily performance. Valentine will again be forced to maximize limited roll players, only this time without the benefit of experience with them. It’s not an insurmountable task, but it’s a handicap nonetheless.

It would have been the same story if he took over the Mets: he doesn’t know any of these players and would have to spend valuable time learning how to use them. Combine that with an eight year absence from American professional baseball, and it might actually be a bit of a hindrance.

I would have enjoyed seeing Bobby Valentine manage the Mets again, but I don’t think it would be the panacea some of you were expecting.

Posted in Mets, Mike Piazza | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Robbie Alomar, Revisited

Posted by JD on December 13, 2009

Roberto Alomar made his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot this year*. He was the best second baseman of the 90′s, won two World Series in Toronto, and was part of some very good Baltimore teams that just couldn’t get past the Yankees. He hit, hit for power, stole bases, had a great arm and was a wizard with the glove. But he was almost done by the time he got to the Mets: a 34-year old second baseman who couldn’t catch up to a fastball, couldn’t field his position, and seemed to hate playing here.  It looked to me like he never wanted to be here and I never quite understood why**. Both his dad and older brother played and coached for the Mets and seemingly didn’t hate their time here (as far as I know). His act wore thin quickly: Robbie was an unproductive grump and the Mets soon dumped him for prospects (one of which was Royce Ring).

*Along with Kevin Appier, David Segui, Robin Ventura, Fernando Vina, and Todd Zeile. There’s a murderer’s row of ex-Mets for you. And I could’ve included El Gato Grande on the list, but that’s stretching it a bit.

**Bob Klapisch sheds some light on Alomar’s attitude in a recent interview. It’s worth the read (I don’t want to just copy Klapisch’s words here) but let’s just say that Robbie’s explanation sadly makes perfect sense. It’s no excuse, but at least I understand now.

Robbie certainly didn’t play like a Hall of Famer, posting an 89 OPS+ in his only full season (2002). However, I remembered it as being so much worse. It was below average, but it wasn’t horrible as I’d remembered. I began to wonder whether I might have overestimated how poorly Robbie played. So I set out to take another look at Robbie’s Mets career, comparing it to all the other second basemen that have played for the team.

As a point of reference, here are Alomar’s key stats from 2002: 655/590 PA/AB, 73 runs, 24 doubles, 4 triples, 11 home runs, 53 RBI, 16/4 SB/CS, .266/.331/.376/.708 BA/OBP/SLG/OPS, 89 OPS+. I used Baseball Reference’s suggested (yet seemingly arbitrary) number of 502 plate appearances as a cut-off (I know there’s a reason they chose this number but admit I don’t know what it is). Sorted by OPS+ (which I feel is a more representative statistic when comparing different eras), we get the following results:

Rk            Player OPS+  PA Year Age
1    Edgardo Alfonzo  147 650 2000  26
2    Edgardo Alfonzo  125 726 1999  25
3           Ron Hunt  118 521 1964  23
4    Gregg Jefferies  111 659 1990  22
5          Jeff Kent  110 514 1995  27
6           Ron Hunt  110 600 1963  22
7    Gregg Jefferies  106 559 1989  21
8          Jeff Kent  104 544 1993  25
9           Ron Hunt  102 543 1966  25
10   Gregg Jefferies  101 539 1991  23
11      Felix Millan  100 587 1976  32
12     Luis Castillo   98 580 2009  33
13      Felix Millan   92 743 1975  31
14      Felix Millan   92 699 1973  29
15      Charlie Neal   92 579 1962  31
16   Edgardo Alfonzo   90 519 2001  27
17    Roberto Alomar   89 655 2002  34
18     Wally Backman   87 574 1985  25
19      Felix Millan   78 585 1974  30
20     Carlos Baerga   76 551 1998  29
21        Doug Flynn   62 572 1978  27
22        Doug Flynn   61 580 1979  28

Alomar ranks 17th, which seems realistic (to his credit, however, Robbie is the oldest second baseman on this list). But let's face it; we're not looking at a very deep group here. When Carlos Baerga's 76 OPS+ makes your top 20, you don't have a tradition of excellence at the position.

However, the Mets do have a history of using platoons at the position, most notably from 1986-88 (arguably the most successful years in franchise history). Let's lower our plate appearance threshold to 300 to account for part-time players and see what we get:

Rk            Player OPS+  PA Year Age
1         Tim Teufel  153 350 1987  28
2    Edgardo Alfonzo  147 650 2000  26
3    Edgardo Alfonzo  125 726 1999  25
4           Ron Hunt  118 521 1964  23
5      Wally Backman  117 347 1988  28
6      Wally Backman  115 312 1982  22
7       Keith Miller  114 304 1991  28
8      Wally Backman  113 440 1986  26
9          Jeff Kent  111 452 1994  26
10   Gregg Jefferies  111 659 1990  22
11         Jeff Kent  110 514 1995  27
12          Ron Hunt  110 600 1963  22
13     Jose Valentin  109 432 2006  36
14   Gregg Jefferies  106 559 1989  21
15         Jeff Kent  104 544 1993  25
16       Ken Boswell  103 405 1969  23
17          Ron Hunt  102 543 1966  25
18   Gregg Jefferies  101 539 1991  23
19       Ken Boswell  101 436 1971  25
20      Felix Millan  100 587 1976  32
21     Jose Vizcaino   99 402 1996  28
22     Wally Backman   99 499 1984  24
23     Luis Castillo   98 580 2009  33
24   Willie Randolph   93 336 1992  37
25        Tim Teufel   93 309 1988  29
26        Tim Teufel   93 318 1986  27
27       Ken Boswell   93 306 1968  22
28      Felix Millan   92 743 1975  31
29      Felix Millan   92 699 1973  29
30      Charlie Neal   92 579 1962  31
31   Edgardo Alfonzo   90 519 2001  27
32    Roberto Alomar   89 655 2002  34
33      Jerry Buchek   89 444 1967  25
34     Carlos Baerga   87 498 1997  28
35     Wally Backman   87 574 1985  25
36    Roberto Alomar   84 302 2003  35
37     Damion Easley   82 347 2008  38
38       Ken Boswell   82 402 1970  24
39        Bob Bailor   79 404 1982  30
40      Felix Millan   78 585 1974  30
41     Luis Castillo   77 359 2008  32
42     Carlos Baerga   76 551 1998  29
43   Edgardo Alfonzo   75 407 1996  22
44      Chuck Hiller   74 303 1965  30
45       Brian Giles   70 445 1983  23
46        Doug Flynn   70 474 1980  29
47       Ken Boswell   70 400 1972  26
48      Felix Millan   68 340 1977  33
49      Miguel Cairo   64 367 2005  31
50     Wally Backman   62 335 1987  27
51        Doug Flynn   62 572 1978  27
52       Bobby Klaus   62 337 1965  27
53        Doug Flynn   61 580 1979  28
54          Tim Foli   59 312 1971  20
55        Doug Flynn   54 343 1981  30

Tim Teufel only had 279 plate appearances in 1986 and so doesn't qualify, but he had a 93 OPS+. From '86 to '88, the Mets' second base platoon OPS+ was 113/93, 62/153, and 117/93. Add them up, divide by two and you get 103, 108, and 105. Not awesome, but certainly capable (I know you shouldn’t just combine OPS+ this way, but I’ve already wandered too far off topic).

Adjusting the threshold to include platoons reveals that Alomar's 2002 season ranks 32nd out of 55. The adjustment also captures Robbie's second season on the Mets. In 2003, he appeared in 73 games (302 PA) and put up an 84 OPS+, good for 36th on our list. Better than some*, worse than most**, and not as awful as I thought.

* Certainly better than Doug Flynn. Holy crap! How do you amass 572 plate appearances with a 62 OPS+? And then get 580/61 the very next year? That should be illegal. I’d like to think he had naked pictures of somebody in the front office, but this was the same group that traded Tom Seaver, so I think it’s safe to chalk it up to total incompetence.

**Again, it's worth noting that there were only two second basemen older than Alomar on our list: 36 year-old Jose Valentin (109 OPS+) in 2006 and 37 year-old Willie Randolph (93 OPS+) in 1992. Two thoughts: I didn't truly appreciate how well Valentin played that year until now, and it's always a bit disorienting to see Randolph's name pop-up in discussions about Mets players these days. His time as manager overshadows his Mets playing career so much that it gets a lost a bit.

I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything here; Alomar was bad, and he was a major factor in the Mets under-performance in 2002-03. But I’d argue that it was inevitable, that there was no way he could live up to the expectations created by the trade that brought him here. He may have had a 150 OPS+ for Cleveland in 2001, but it was a career high and he was 33. It wasn’t really smart to expect him to continue producing at that level for much longer, never mind trading several young players to acquire him. Throw in his reputation as a “clubhouse lawyer” and Cleveland’s eagerness to send him packing and you have to wonder how so many red flags could be ignored*. Which brings me to a larger point: Steve Phillips was a horrible General Manager.

*Yet another example of why the Wilpons were so foolish to retain Phillips at Bobby Valentine’s expense. Valentine had his flaws to be sure, but there’s no way he makes that trade. This is a great example of the single worst part of being a sports fan: the utter hopelessness of knowing that your franchise’s ownership is incompetent. Valentine is a free agent as I write this yet the Wilpons would never consider rehiring him. Forget Omar Minaya’s silly contract extension: if the GM position was open today, the Wilpons' stubbornness would preclude Valentine from getting anything more than a courtesy interview, if that. It’s almost like the fans have to root for the players to win IN SPITE OF management/ownership.

Phillips traded his flagship prospect at the time (Alex Escobar, who never panned out but would be roughly equal in terms of hype to Fernando Martinez in 2008), Jerrod Riggan (a solid reliever) and Matt Lawton (a decent LF who struggled in NY but had an OPS+ of 99, 104, and 114 in three seasons for the Indians) and threw in Billy Traber as a player to be named later (nothing to write home about, but still bouncing around the majors today), and another prospect for a past-his-prime second baseman who all but admitted he didn't want to leave Cleveland. Alomar may have become a symbol of the Mets' malaise, but that was a horrible trade. While Alomar’s performance on the field did little to enamor him to the Shea faithful, that ire should have been focused on Steve Phillips for failing to properly asses Alomar’s value and squandering valuable assets to acquire him. It’s no coincidence that Alomar was Phillips’ last major acquisition, and rightfully so.

While I still don't care for Alomar, I have a better understanding of why he performed the way he did. Considering how much of a cluster-fuck that trade was, his below average performance was less egregious than it originally seemed. The lesson that I've learned here? While a player may be responsible for his individual failures, never place all of the blame on that player's shoulders when management is completely incompetent.

I have a feeling that's a lesson we all might have to apply again this season, don't you?

Posted in Hall of Fame | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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