Section 518

Where we endeavor to stay positive about the 2011 Mets…

Archive for December, 2009

My Resolutions for the 2010 New York Mets

Posted by JD on December 31, 2009

It’s that time of year again: as the calendar changes from 2009 to 2010, tradition requires us to make our annual list of resolutions for the New Year. In that spirit, I present to you my resolutions for 2010 regarding the New York Mets:

I resolve to limit my negativity. I originally wanted this to read “I resolve to stay positive”. I wanted to focus on the Mets’ positives, accentuate their strengths, and present the case that they deserve the benefit of the doubt in 2010, but I wasn’t up to it. The last-day collapses of 2007 and ’08, the outright disaster that was 2009, and the hated Phillies and Yankees winning the past two World Series combined to shatter my rose colored glasses. My negativity regarding the team’s on-field performance was topped only by my anger with ownership and the front office, who at times seemed to intentionally try to piss off the fans. Objectively, I can’t sing the Mets’ praises and hope to remain honest. The best I can do is try not to obsess over their failures, find silver linings when I can, and make omelets if they lay eggs. And so I resolve to make the best of the Mets’ situation in 2010, wherever and whenever I can.

I resolve to better appreciate Citi Field. I know this resolution sounds weird because Citi Field is a massive improvement over Shea Stadium (objectively speaking). However, while the open concourses, wider seats, and expanded food selections were huge upgrades, Citi Field itself never quite felt like home in 2009. Look, I know it’s asking a lot to recreate 40-plus years of history in a brand-new building but it felt like ownership barely tried,* which pretty much ruined it for me. So this year I resolve to do my best to ignore every emotional impulse I have to hate the place. For better or worse, Citi Field is our new baseball home and I’m going to try to embrace it as best I can.

*I’m doing my best to live up to my first resolution despite my overwhelming feeling that the Wilpons mostly ignored their team’s fans when they designed Citi Field. Whether it be obstructed views (or whatever management calls these), unfriendly ticket packages, or a failure to incorporate Mets colors or history in the original stadium design, the owners dropped the ball. I know that opening such a large facility is difficult and not everything can be addressed by opening day (or even the end of the year) but really, is it so hard to address their customers’ basic expectations?

Let me give you some context: I lived in Philadelphia from September 2003 through December 2005, and I attended the third game (and first night game) at Citizen’s Bank Park. The Phillies’ bullpen had yet to be relocated below the visitor’s bullpen and yes, I was witness to a crowd of Phillies “fans” yelling obscenities at their own relief pitchers. So I understand that certain design deficiencies can’t be identified until a ballpark has been in operation. But let’s be clear: the Phillies’ Hall of Fame was in place on day one, retired numbers and championship banners were prominently displayed, evidence of past glory was on display throughout the field-level concourse, and the Phillies colors (red, white, and blue) were prominently on display throughout the park. The Phillies knew enough to include these items from day one, why couldn’t the Mets?

I resolve to better appreciate Carlos Beltran. Carlos Beltran is one of the best players in the game today, but I’d argue that he’s been under-appreciated during his time in New York. Sure, he could have swung at a certain pitch in 2006 and yes, he’s been hampered by injuries in his time with the Mets, but he’s the best center fielder to play in New York since Mickey Mantle*. I resolve to enjoy watching him play in 2010, because he’ll be gone before we know it.

*I really, really wanted to go with Willie Mays here but I just couldn’t. The Giants left New York for San Francisco before Mantle’s career peaked so he gets the nod. And yes, I’m taking a shot at Bernie Williams here. I’m well aware of how many World Series rings Williams owns, but don’t forget that he would’ve found himself out in left field had the Yankees landed Beltran in 2005. And he threw like a girl. So I’m going with Mantle.

Finally, I resolve to link to this video early and often. I admit to trying to drive an ill-conceived Oliver Perez bandwagon in 2009…not my finest moment. Ollie is frustrating. Ollie is maddening. Ollie is downright infuriating. But he’s facing a situation similar to Luis Castillo’s prior to 2009: he signed a big deal and immediately failed to live up to the expectations it created. And now we get to see what Ollie is really made of. There is no more potential, no more speculation on whether he can harness his talents. Others may argue that his window has closed (and I have little to contradict them), but I’ll reply that 2010 is his final opportunity. Ollie will succeed or (much more likely) fail, but I resolve to be there to record every outing.

Those are my resolutions for the 2010 season. What are yours?


Posted in Carlos Beltran, Citi Field, Mets, Oliver Perez | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Remembering Roberto Clemente

Posted by JD on December 31, 2009

This is primarily a Mets blog, but I’d like to take a moment to remember Roberto Clemente. Clemente is immortalized in the Hall of Fame for his feats on the diamond, but I’ll always think of him as something much more than that.

I became a baseball fan in 1985, a year that saw the sixth labor contract-related work stoppage since 1972. Player salaries were skyrocketing (Dave Winfield signed a 10-year, $20 million contract with the Yankees in 1980 and the $3 million/year contract would be a bogeyman until 1989) and baseball was dealing with a cocaine problem that would tarnish the careers of stars like Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, and Willie Wilson to mention just a few. Amid this relative wreckage, the story of Roberto Clemente stood out to me like a lighthouse in a storm.

If it seems like I’m exaggerating, it might be related to the fact that I was eight at the time. I had a very limited personal history with the game and it seemed to be in dire straights from everything I was reading, watching and hearing*. But the problems of current day baseball only served to highlight the excellence of earlier eras, and through this lens Clemente shined brighter than most.

*Of course, the same thing might have applied if I became a fan in the 30’s (Babe Ruth makes more than the President!), 40’s & 50’s (African-American and Latino players will ruin the game!), 60’s (expansion!), 70’s (free agency!), 90’s (salaries!), and 00’s (Performance Enhancing Drugs!).

It was exactly this effect that I feared when I realized that today was the 38th anniversary of his death: I was worried that I may have overestimated his actions in my mind’s eye. A quick refresher course proved that over-estimation is the last thing to worry about.

I knew that charity was dear to Clemente throughout his career, and that he died in an airplane accident attempting to deliver supplies to survivors of an earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua. What I didn’t know was this (from Wikipedia):

Clemente (who had been visiting Managua three weeks before the quake) immediately set to work arranging emergency relief flights. He soon learned, however, that the aid packages on the first three flights had been diverted by corrupt officials of the Somoza government, never reaching victims of the quake. Clemente decided to accompany the fourth relief flight, hoping that his presence would ensure that the aid would be delivered to the survivors. The airplane he chartered for a New Year’s Eve flight, a Douglas DC-7, had a history of mechanical problems and sub-par flight personnel, and it was overloaded by 5,000 pounds. It crashed into the ocean off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico immediately after takeoff on December 31, 1972.

Read that again. Not content with lending his name to a fund-raising effort, Clemente risked his life to try to aid complete strangers (even if the plane had landed, there was no guarantee the Nicaraguan government would have allowed the supplies to get to the survivors). Is it fair to hold other ballplayers to this standard? No, but only because it’s unrealistic to hold almost anybody to it.

Whatever you think of professional ballplayers, whatever you think of your fellow humans, please don’t forget that there are people out there like Roberto Clemente, people who are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to help other people.

Roberto Clemente died on this date in 1972. Take a moment out of your holiday to reflect on the sacrifice he made. We’ll all be better off for it.

Posted in Major League Baseball, On This Date | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Flushing Frivolity – 12/23/09

Posted by JD on December 23, 2009

The question you asked was “Did any Major Leaguer ever hit a home run in his one and only plate appearance?” We deliver the answer: “Nope”. But it’s awfully close:

Rk              Player HR AB   To From   Age
1         Mark Worrell  1  2 2008 2008 25-25
2          Esteban Yan  1  2 1996 2006 21-31
3          Dusty Brown  1  3 2009 2009 27-27
4        Jeff Bittiger  1  3 1986 1989 24-27*
5          Gregg Olson  1  4 1988 2001 21-34
6          Doug Clarey  1  4 1976 1976 22-22**
7    Gene Stechschulte  1  5 2000 2002 26-28

It’s not shocking that all of our entrants were pitchers who played after the DH rule was enacted. Anyone who hit a home run in his first at-bat would immediately be given at least one more. The main thing that excites me about this stat: there’s a decent chance that Esteban Yan will own this record shortly. Mark Worrell is only 26; there’s every chance that he might get back to the majors and make an out. I’m sure Esteban has a bottle of champaigne set aside just in case…

*Totally irrelevant note one: Jeff Bittiger was drafted by the Mets in the 7th round of the 1980 draft. He was traded to the Phillies in January 1986. The Mets went on to win the ’86 World Series. Coincedence? I think not…

**Totally irrelevant note two: the Mets acquired Doug Clarey on 3/10/77 in return for Benny Ayala. Clarey never pitched in the majors again. What? I said it was irrelevant…

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Mike Pelfrey – Another Look

Posted by JD on December 22, 2009

A lot has been made of the Mets’ failure to acquire a starting pitcher this offseason and that’s fair: the starting rotation (outside of Johan Santana) was a mess last season and it’s imperative that they improve it. If no moves are made, the Mets’ starting rotation would likely be Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, John Maine and Nelson Figueroa/Jon Niese. Basically, unless something is done, there’s a realistic chance that we’ll be watching Santana and four question marks.

Pelfrey, to me, is the biggest unknown. Perez is all over the place, an inconsistent talent who can shine or stink in consecutive starts but did far more stinking than shining last year. Maine has his plusses but also struggles with consistency: too often he gets pulled in the sixth inning after wasting too many pitches and walking too many batters. I can’t totally write off either Perez or Maine, but I think we’ve reached the point where we know what exactly what they’ll give us: occasional excellence surrounded by mediocrity (or, in Ollie’s case, worse). And including Figueroa/Niese in this discussion is really just a polite way of saying the fifth spot is “To Be Determined”. Personally, I think Niese can handle the fifth spot in the rotation but injuries and lack of experience (Niese is only 23, with all of eight major league appearances on his resume) combine to make him a questionable choice today.

Pelfrey is different though. He’s still young (he’ll turn 26 in January) and has had success in the past (his 2008 second-half had many, including me, thinking he’d turned the corner), but was plagued with control issues of his own last year (the propensity to balk that he suddenly came down with in ’09 was startling, to say the least). There’s still a chance that he can become a dependable second starter. Heck, the numbers say there’s a chance he can become a dependable number one starter.

For proof, I used the Baseball Reference Play Index to identify pitchers similar to Pelfrey at this point in his career. I used two main criteria: ERA+ (Pelfrey has a career 91 ERA+, 100 is league average) and WHIP (Pelfrey’s career WHIP is 1.489). I focused on pitchers who pitched in four or fewer seasons by the age of 25, were within 5 ERA+ of Pelfrey (86-96) and .100 WHIP (1.389-1.589), and had pitched at least 479 innings (Pelfrey’s career total) while starting at least 90% of their appearances (Pelfry has actually started about 97% of his appearances). It’s an interesting list:

Rk            Player ERA+  WHIP    IP From   To   Age   G  GS
1    Livan Hernandez   94 1.493 533.1 1996 1999 21-24  81  80
2         Kyle Lohse   94 1.432 666.0 2001 2004 22-25 119 114
3      Jason Schmidt   94 1.479 523.1 1995 1998 22-25  93  84
4      Sidney Ponson   94 1.432 705.1 1998 2001 21-24 118 107
5        Scott Olsen   93 1.452 579.1 2005 2008 21-24 102 101
6      Mark Langston   93 1.482 591.0 1984 1986 23-25  96  93
7      Ryan Dempster   93 1.542 639.1 1998 2001 21-24 106 103
8         Early Wynn   93 1.410 507.0 1939 1943 19-23  75  69
9         Mike Moore   93 1.434 731.1 1982 1985 22-25 119 115
10        Jim Slaton   92 1.398 718.0 1971 1974 21-24 113 104
11      Mike Pelfrey   91 1.489 479.0 2006 2009 22-25  82  80
12      Dick Ruthven   91 1.450 622.0 1973 1976 22-25 107 101
13       Jamie Moyer   89 1.475 490.1 1986 1988 23-25  85  79
14     Dave Morehead   88 1.445 562.0 1963 1966 20-23 107  97
15        Bobby Witt   87 1.581 669.1 1986 1989 22-25 110 109
16      Melido Perez   86 1.397 587.2 1987 1990 21-24 101 101

I love seeing Early Winn, Jason Schmidt (Baseball Reference has Schmidt as Pelfrey’s top comparable at the age of 25), and Mark Langston. Can you imagine Mike Pelfrey as a legitimate Cy Young candidate? I struggle with that, but at the same time, I’ve seen enough flashes from Pelfrey that I can’t completely reject it. When he’s on, Pelfrey can command a game. Is it that much of a stretch to assume that he’s capable of putting it all together one day?

At the same time, you can’t ignore the prescence of Sidney Ponson, Jim Slaton, or Dick Ruthven. Ponson is a bust, and Slaton and Ruthven went on to mediocre careers. Pelfrey’s at a career crossroads: any further struggle might cause him to regress and may lead the Mets to give up on him early. Personally, I think this highlights why the Mets need to keep Dan Warthen on a short leash.

Though he seemed to connect with Pelfrey in 2008, the Mets’ pitching coach couldn’t build on it last year. Any signs that a trend is forming should result in the Mets either replacing Warthen immediately or bringing in someone else to work with Pelfrey specifically. Inaction would be inexcusable, and would be more of a stain on Omar Minaya’s resume than failing to land John Lackey or Jason Marquis.

There’s a school of thought among Mets fans that the team should sign Ben Sheets or Chien-Ming Wang, pitchers with a record of previous success who are available only because of serious injury concerns. I’m not against it: I like a good risk/reward proposition and wouldn’t object if the Mets went that route. But I think we should remember that we already have a risk/reward proposition on the team, a pitcher who has the potential to become an ace. Any way you slice it, it’s going to be a big year for Mike Pelfrey.

Posted in Mike Pelfrey | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Flushing Frivolity – 12/22/09

Posted by JD on December 22, 2009

I’m sure that if you read yesterday’s Frivolity, you know where we’re going with today’s. Without further delay, I give you the players who have hit the most home runs in Mets’ history (while accumulating no more than 25 plate appearences):

Rk            Player HR AB   To From   Age
1      Brian Daubach  1 25 2005 2005 33-33
2         Esix Snead  1 13 2002 2004 26-28
3    Prentice Redman  1 24 2003 2003 23-23
4      Shawn Gilbert  1 25 1997 1998 32-33
5        Chris Jelic  1 11 1990 1990 26-26
6     Stan Jefferson  1 24 1986 1986 23-23
7          Tim Leary  1 14 1981 1984 22-25
8      Ken Henderson  1 22 1978 1978 32-32
9      Billy Baldwin  1 22 1976 1976 25-25
10      John DeMerit  1 16 1962 1962 26-26

There’s a story here but I’m just not seeing it. I was holding out hope that there would be someone that hit one home run in just one at bat, but no such luck. Wonder if anyone’s ever done that? Tune in tomorrow…

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