Wednesday, May 26, 2004
HOWE ABOUT HOWE, PART II
Well, if the Mets don't allow any more runs the rest of the year, they will win this thing. Seriously, though, another great game last night. The key managerial moment came in the top of the 7th. The issue was when/whether to remove Trachsel. Trachsel entered the 7th with a 3-hit shutout, but had struggled with his control and had reached 101 pitches through six innings. The Mets were winning 3-0, and Trachsel was also due to lead-off in the bottom half of the inning, since 3B Ty Wigginton, batting 8th, had made the last out in the 6th. A pitching change would obviously involve a double switch, putting Zeile at 3rd in the ninth spot in the order. The stats say that Zeile is a better 3rd baseman defensively, and I don't think many Mets fans would put up an argument. Thus, the double-switch would help on both sides of the ball.
I probably would have given the ball to Bottalico to start the inning -- the bullpen was well rested and will have tomorrow off, but Howe stuck with Trachsel, which also made sense. He retired the first batter on 4 pitches, but then gave up a single to David Bell. Now at 108 pitches. Again, I would have made the double switch. Howe stuck with Trachsel, who walked Chase Utley on six pitches to bring the tying run to the plate. That walk, the last thing Trachsel wanted, tells me he should have already been out of there. Now at 114 pitches, and the Phillies announce Jason Michaels as the pinch hitter. You can make the switch and bring in Bottalico, in which case Ricky Ledee (a lefty) likely would have pinch hit for Michaels, or Stanton. I would have made the former move, but leaving in Trachsel would have been my last choice. That was what Howe did, but it worked out as Michaels popped up. I must admit, Howe did get the platoon advantage. That brought up the top of the order, Trachsel now at 116 pitches. Again, I bring in Bottalico. Who has the better chance of getting this guy out right now? The answer is clear. Howe stuck with Trachsel, who did induce a playable grounder, but Wigginton (who should have already been double switched out of the game) flubbed it. So, tying run on first, go-ahead run at the plate, Trachsel at 123 pitches, and now Stanton comes in (better late than never). Stanton barely gets out of it when Jimmy Rollins swings at ball four (thanks you Larry Bowa, for putting two guys with OBP's of .322 and .295 at the top of your batting order). Bottom line: Howe stuck with Trachsel at least three (arguably five) batters too long, with the case getting stronger with each batter, and it came within a hair's breath of mattering. On the other hand, it did work out in the end. . . .
Honesty in Broadcasting: I caught the game on the radio, and midway through the game, Howie Rose cautiously stated, that, in his opinion, Reyes was a better defensive shortstop than Matsui. Gary Cohen immediately chimed in that this was clearly so, that it wasn't close, and that the only issues were promises that had been made to Matsui and his attitude about moving to 2nd. This sort of honesty from broadcasters who depend on club approval for employment was nice to hear. I don't listen to the Yankees, but I doubt that their broadcasters would speak up that way about Jeter/Rodriguez. In any event, kudos to Rose and Cohen for joining the chorus of analysts urging Reyes for shortstop.
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
ROMP THROUGH THE STATS
Some random thoughts from browsing through the statistics as the Mets head into their 12-game, 4-series showdown with the two division leaders. . . . And we beat the Big Unit. The Mets rank 7th in the league in OPS against lefties compared to 12th in OPS against righties. Indeed, their OPS is 40 points higher facing portsiders, while most teams do better against righties. Call it the Matsui effect, but it's good news that the Mets open against left-handers in both the Phillie (Milton) and Marlin (Willis) series. . . . Help us Jose. Clearly Reyes should be the shortstop, but let's hope he can help defensively anywhere around the keystone: the Mets are tied for last in the league in turning double plays. . . . Stay out of the sun. The Mets rank 5th in the league in OPS during night games and 15th during day games. The team slugging pct. is more than 100 points better at night. That's good news/bad news -- in the first two series 4 of the 5 games are at night. In the second two series 3 of the 7 games are day games. . . . Closer than it looks. Baseball Prospectus has "adjusted standings," which take into account the strength of the opposition a team has faced, and how many wins and losses they "should" have had, given the runs they "should" have scored and allowed, given the performance of the hitters and pitchers. The Mets are almost exactly where they "should" be, but, by this measure, the Phillies and Marlins have gotten "lucky," and the Mets are only 1 1/2 games out in the "adjusted standings.
Sunday, May 23, 2004
The Mets completed a wonderful weekend sweep of the Rockies today with another All-Star outing from Tom Glavine. They now head into series with the Phillies and Marlins with a .500 record and just three games out of first. Anyone following the team has to feel that they can do better -- particularly with a healthy Floyd and Reyes (likely to return Friday) -- so these are exciting times. Perhaps overshadowed in Glavine's win today was Matsui's performance: he hit his fifth home run leading off a game this year (breaking Tommie Agee's Mets SEASON record in MAY) and added his 16th double, which ties him for 4th in the Major Leagues in that category. Almost half of his hits have been for extra bases!
Yet, as Jose Reyes' return nears, Matsui is a cipher. His overall numbers are very solid for a shortstop. He often looks like the worst hitter on the team (not counting McEwing), yet he leads the club in runs and rbi's. Indeed, he's been the third most productive shortstop in the National League this year and (so far) easily the most productive shortstop in New York. At the same time, anyone watching the Mets regularly has seen a player who time after time looks badly overmatched,and he takes many of the worst swings you have ever seen. Matsui has walked 20 times, showing decent patience and accumulating a league average on-base percentage, but swings at terrible pitches that he has no hope of hitting. He shows great speed on the base paths -- stretching singles into doubles and scoring when he's on base, but has been a complete bust as a base stealer. He mashes left-handed pitching but struggles against righties. In the field, he's made the most errors of any shortstop and has displayed a weak arm, and the Mets are last in the league in turning double plays, though Mets shortstops do rank 6th in range factor and fifth in total chances. Reyes is as superior defensively to Matsui at SS as Rodriguez is to Jeter.
So,is Matsui the likely Rookie of the Year, a budding star still making adjustments? Or is he the small half of a 2nd base platoon with an all-star salary? Should the Mets move him to 2nd as soon as Reyes comes back? Or wait till the off-season, figuring he has enough to adjust to already? Mets fans can stay tuned and find out in an environment where, wonderfully, the games are relevant!
In memoriam: Doug Pappas. Doug Pappas, the leading writer on the business of baseball, died Thursday while hiking in Big Bend National Park. His coverage of matters such as the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Player Salaries, Franchise Relocation, Contraction, and Salary Caps wasn't just unsurpassed, it was not approached. Next to Pappas, there was nobody else analyzing these matters. As a fellow lawyer who worked for several years in the business of baseball, I was consistently impressed and educated by his trenchant and thorough work. You can view his website here and link to Baseball Prospectus' memoriam (he wrote for them as well) here. He will be deeply missed.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
HOW ABOUT HOWE? Part I
Is Art Howe a good manager? Analysts tend to bash him (perhaps as a result of his portrayal in Moneyball) and mainstream media are softly critical -- likely because of his blandness. It is difficult for an outsider to assess his skills as a manager of individuals -- the things apart from baseball decisions -- that can be so important in any work environment. I think he handles the NY media well, in a don't-get-to-high-or-too-low-and-don't-make-yourself-the-story way that would seem Torreesque with a better team around him. What I'm interested in, though, is has skill as a managerial strategist. Is he making the right "moves?" I think the perception among Mets fans is that the answer is no, and he certainly started out last year far below the standard Mets fans had been accustomed to with Bobby Valentine. I want to consider the question this year by picking occasional games and looking at his decisions. Let's start with the Mets great win last night over the Cardinals, 5-4.
Decision #1: The starting line-up. Howe seems to have chosen Valent over Garcia for the time being as the left-handed platoon man in right field, which has looked great so far. Starting McEwing is almost always a bad idea if there is a choice, so let's hope this was a single day off for Garcia.
Decision #2: Bottom of the 5th, one out, Cameron on first, Glavine due up. Mets trail 4-1. Howe opts to have Glavine bat and sacrifice, not using a pinch hitter to try to get back in the game (or to let Glavine swing the bat). First Guess:At the time, I would have pinch hit, figuring Glavine had not pitched well anyway, would only go one more inning, the bullpen was well rested, and sacrificing would not get us the three runs we needed with not much time left in the game. Hindsight:Close call. Glavine pitched one more inning, so the bullpen had a lighter burden, but the game ended and the Mets still had good arms (Looper) and bats (Zeile) unused.
Decision #3: Bottom of the 6th, 2 outs, men on 1st and 3rd, McEwing due up. Mets trail 4-3, St. Louis starter Morris is on the ropes. First Guess: I would have pinch hit for McEwing with Karim Garcia right there. This was a game situation -- chance to tie or win right on the line -- and the Cards did not have a lefty ready in the pen. McEwing was sure to prove useless, and, obviously, Danny Garcia could come into the game and play second. If Karim Garcia made an out, Howe could have double switched, putting Moreno in the 8th spot and having Danny Garcia lead off next inning.Hindsight: McEwing grounded weakly to third. Garcia was used later when he came to the plate as the go-ahead run, and he reached and scored. . .
Decision #4: Bottom of the 7th, Ober Moreno due to lead off the inning. Mets still trail 4-3. Howe pinch hits with Shane Spencer. First Guess: Matt Morris (a righty) is still in the game. Now is the time to use Karim Garcia. The team pinch hitting should get the platoon advantage. Maybe Howe was thinking that if he brought in Garcia, LaRussa would go to Kline, and that he would rather have Spencer against Morris than Garcia against Kline. I don't know if Kline was ready at that point, though, and the fact that Morris stayed in to pitch to the lefty Valent suggests he would have pitched to Garcia. Hindsight: Again, Garcia did contribute later, so things worked out.
Decision #5: Top of the 8th, trailing 4-3. Howe brings in Bottalico to pitch. First Guess: A great decision. Fran Healy commented at the start of the outing that Bottalico has been a "nice addition to the back of the bullpen." I took Healy to mean that the Mets should use one of their lesser relievers, since they were losing, and that Bottalico was in that group. To the contrary, though, since this was a one run game, the Mets should have used one of their best relievers, and Bottalico is there number 2 man in quality. Howe has shown a willingness to use his best relievers in important situations, even if it is not "their" inning, with great results. One example was brining in Looper to start the 8th with the Mets losing by one in Houston on Sunday. This was a similar move. Hindsight: Worked great. Bottalico threw two scoreless, allowing the Mets to rally for victory.
Decision #6: Bottom of the 9th, trailing 4-3, man on 1st, nobody out, McEwing at the plate. Howe decides to sacrifice. First Guess: I agreed. Playing for the tie at home is by the book, but, moreover, it keeps McEwing from hitting into a DP and the Mets have the stronger bullpen if the teams are tied. Moreover, best righthanded pinch-hitter, Spencer, is already used. 2nd choice would be pinch hit with Zeile, 3rd would be let McEwing swing away. Hindsight: The move worked as the sac was successful, and the Mets got a single before making two more outs.
Judgment:Overall, a good game from Howe, particularly because it all worked out in the ninth. Certainly good management of the pitching staff, but questionable use of pinch hitters.
Addendum: Shortly after this was originally posted, the Mets lost to the Cardinals 1-0. Howe's moves in this game were worse.
Sunday, May 16, 2004
RAH RAH RICKY
What a great Met's game today. Watching Mike Piazza tie the game with the Mets down to their last strike, and then seeing Jason Phillips get to be the hero. I was watching the game with the Astro's announcers, who kept describing the Mets as "scrappy," "battler's" and a "team that is being thoroughly outplayed, but just wont quit." Poor Rocket! :) . . . Some quick thoughts: Jim Duquette seems to be doing a surprisingly good job at picking up the free talent from the scrap heap. I thought Shane Spencer was a smart pick up, but I thought Eric Valent, Ricky Bottalico and Todd Zeile were utter wastes of roster space. I was wrong (or at least it seems that way at the moment). I watched Bottalico pitch twice over the weekend, and this guy had terrific stuff. He got his fastball into the 90's; he has two different devastating sliders; he works fast and throws strikes. It looks to me like he is the second best reliever on a team with a decent bullpen. Many have argued that the Mets are foolish to play Bottalico when they are not realistic playoff contenders and could use the spot to give Roberts or Yates more experience. I say, let's win(!), and watching Bottalico I was surprised and VERY impressed. Without Bottalico, the Mets easily could have been swept by Houston. While we're giving Duquette some credit, let's point out that he also picked Matt Ginter up off the scrap heap from the White Sox, and he pitched very well today, earning another start in the fifth starter's role. . . . If you told me at the start of the season that on May 16th we would be in front of the Braves and only 3 1/2 games out of first, I would have taken it in a minute. We've just taken 2 of 3 on the road against the best team in the league with the back end of our rotation. The Mets are playing like a solid .500 club, which beats the heck out of losing 95 games. Let's actually get to .500 and take it from there.