Section 518

Where we endeavor to stay positive about the 2011 Mets…

Archive for the ‘Hall of Fame’ Category

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 »

The Return of the Franchise

Posted by JD on December 16, 2009

For whatever reason, I always liked Lloyd McClendon. It wasn’t rational, he wasn’t one of my favorites, but I liked him as a player (and loved his steal of first base as a manager – couldn’t find the video). Part of it had to do with the fact that he was once a prospect in the Mets system. He never went beyond the backup/platoon catcher role, but the “what could’ve been” factor was always there for me. We all have players that we like despite their actual performance: Lloyd McClendon was one of mine.

Which brings me to today, December 16, 2009: the 27th anniversary of the second Tom Seaver trade. The original Seaver trade was an inexcusable mistake, a black mark that stained the organization forever. Seaver’s departure was the official end of the Miracle Mets’ run and was a smack in the face to an entire generation of fans: one of the greatest pitchers ever and the indisputible face of the franchise was shipped out of town in a disgraceful Midnight Massacre.

But Seaver would return on this date in 1982, reaquired from the Reds for Charlie Puleo and two minor leaguers. The homecoming brought a measure of closure but was not lasting; the White Sox claimed him in a free agent compensation draft after the 1983 season. Seaver almost returned to the Mets again via trade but it didn’t work out: he threw his final major league pitch for the Red Sox in 1986.

The anniversary of Seaver’s return often passes unremembered and that’s understandable, if unfortunate. His return should have been monumental; in a perfect world it would have served as a catalyst for the championship-caliber teams that were to come, a bridge between the ’69 and ’86 Mets. But it wasn’t. Age slowed Seaver, and though the franchise had begun to emerge it hadn’t traveled far enough down the road to contention. Seaver’s second term with the team became barely more than a footnote in club history.

I was much too young to remember it clearly, but looking back I feel robbed. The Franchise, the only player in team history elected to the Hall of Fame, came and went before the Mets could win again. It’s debatable that he would’ve made the rotation in 1985, nevermind ’86, but the fact that he never got the chance was just sad. December 16, 1982 should be a much brighter day in Mets history, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

By now you’ve probably guessed that one of the prospects traded for Seaver was Lloyd McClendon. I’ll never ask “what could’ve been” about him again: his potential was well worth sacrificing in return for The Franchise, no matter how unfortunate his second stay was.

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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?

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