Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Other Writers

A couple of really nice pieces were posted on the internet about Mets players yesterday. In case you missed them, here's the information.

At Sports Illustrated's site, Tom Verducci writes a moving piece called "The Lost Slugger" about first baseman Carlos Delgado. Here's a snip:

Delgado has maintained a very reasoned position on what happened in the best years of his career. He doesn't want a do-over on the MVP award he didn't win. He is a happy man, content with his family, his decisions and his career. If he retired today, he would rank among the top 30 hitters all time in home runs, slugging, at-bats per home run and intentional walks. But he has plenty of baseball left in him. Last year, while turning 36, he played in 159 games, smashed 38 homers and racked up 310 total bases, his most since 2003. How much longer will he play?

"For sure, this year and another year," he said. "Then after that, I'll see where I am at. Then figure out what you want to do and take it from there."

He would like 1,700 RBIs, which would move him into the top 25. Already, he stands 50th on the RBI list. Already, he has Hall of Fame numbers.

"It would be a great honor," he said of enshrinement. "It would be flattering. It would be great recognition. But I catch myself if I start to think about it, because I can't control it and it's so far down the road. You start forcing yourself into doing this and that, instead of just going out and playing. At the end, somebody is going to decide anyway. I have no say. You just play the game, finish up strong, go home and hope five years later some people say, 'Hey, this guy has pretty good numbers.'"

At the New York Post, Joel Sherman penned an article called "Santana Overwhelming, Yet Somehow Under Radar" about Mets ace Johan Santana. Here's the money quote:

With his throwing complete, Santana spent 10 minutes talking with the teammate Warthen calls Santana's "special project." Santana was trying to impart to fellow lefty Oliver Perez how vital it is to concentrate on delivering fastballs with exactitude to the inner half. Santana, who turns 30 in two weeks, has that elder statesman quality, the gravitas and temperament to talk reasonably and be heard.

"A great teammate," Warthen said.

The conversation done, Santana headed toward the back fields for some hitting drills. Perhaps the best pitcher on the planet walked unhurried and in plain sight, and hardly anyone noticed. The stealth superstar.
Nice tributes to a pair of quality individuals.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Suiting Up

I thought it might be fun to take a look around the major leagues and see what men who have a history with the Mets will be in uniform on the coaching staffs of other organizations in 2009. I was able to identify no less than twenty-four such individuals. They are (in alphabetical order):

Manny Acta, manager, Nationals
Rick Anderson, pitching coach, Twins
Bob Apodaca, pitching coach, Rockies
Don Baylor, hitting coach, Rockies
Bruce Bochy, manager, Giants
Tim Bogar, first base coach, Red Sox
Larry Bowa, third base coach, Dodgers
Ron Gardenhire, manager, Twins
John Gibbons, bench coach, Royals
Steve Henderson, hitting coach, Rays
Clint Hurdle, manager, Rockies
Juan Lopez, bullpen coach, Reds
Mike Maddux, pitching coach, Rangers
Dave Magadan, hitting coach, Red Sox
Bob McClure, pitching coach, Royals
Roger McDowell, pitching coach, Braves
Orlando Mercado, bullpen coach, Angels
Jose Oquendo, third base coach, Cardinals
Sam Perlozzo, third base coach, Phillies
Gary Pettis, first base coach, Rangers
Willie Randolph, bench coach, Brewers
Luis Rivera, first base coach, Indians
Juan Samuel, third base coach, Orioles
Joe Torre, manager, Dodgers

The champions at employing ex-Mets are the Colorado Rockies, who have three ex-Mets in positions of prominence: their manager, pitching coach, and hitting coach.

Izzy a Ray

Former Generation K hopeful Jason Isringhausen has signed a minor-league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, after a decade as one of baseball's most consistent closers with the Athletics and the Cardinals. He suffered through his worst season in a 2008 campaign that was marred by stints on the disabled list.

For those of you too young to remember Generation K, that was the nickname given to three young pitchers in the Mets' farm system who were supposed to lead them out of the doldrums back to pennant contention: Izzy, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher. Mainly because of injuries, that never happened. Here are the career totals with the Mets for each of the Generation K pitchers for W-L and ERA:

Izzy: ..18-21 4.67
Wilson: .5-12 5.38
Pulse: ..5-.9 4.63

Jason Isringhausen was the most successful of the three, both in terms of overall career and in impact on the Mets. When Jason first arrived in the majors, he immediately rang up a 9-2 record and a 2.81 ERA as a starter. But he struggled for the next three years before being traded to Oakland and finding his niche in the bullpen.

In other ex-Mets news, Kris Benson has signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers. Kris is 34 years old now, and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2006. But if any team is likely to offer him a few more major-league innings, it's the traditionally pitching-starved Rangers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Practically Inevitable

Tom Glavine has re-signed with the Braves--another one-year contract. Did anyone out there really think he was going to sign with the Nationals?

I am not one of the Tom Glavine haters. He gave the Mets the best he had to offer for five years, and if it wasn't always very good, whose is? He pitched a couple of memorable clunkers, most notably his last start for the Mets--no need to go into that one too deeply. And if he wasn't "devastated" at the loss, preferring to save such a term for a greater disaster than a baseball game … well, he was right. It might not have been particularly politic for him to have made that admission so quickly, given the intensity of the moment and the fans' disappointment … but he was right.

In Tom's defense, he didn't always lose. In his five years with the Mets, he averaged more than 200 innings a year, with an ERA less than 4.00. Who wouldn't want that now? His last two years with the Mets, he went 15-7 and 13-8. He recorded his 300th career victory for New York. And if he wants to finish his career with Atlanta, where he has spent seventeen(!) seasons, more power to him. It's home to him.

While history will remember Tom as a stalwart member of the Hated Braves, he's still a Met to me. He always behaved with dignity and class, and he won more games for the Mets in the decade of the 2000s than anyone except Al Leiter and one other pitcher.


Who is the pitcher who won more games for the Mets this decade than anyone else? There will be an actual prize awarded, worth possibly 25 cents, to the first person to email me with the correct answer.
Congratulations go out to Jay from Elmira, who correctly identified Steve Trachsel as the winningest Met pitcher of the 2000s. Didn't see that one coming, did you?

The All-Time NY Mets: 1970s Shortstop

When we took a look at the third basemen of the sixties a little over a month ago, we noted that the player who spent the most time at the position in the expansion year of 1962 (Felix Mantilla) played only one year with the club, and although there were several successors who posted similar seasons, no one was really any better than the first-year starter.

When we studied the shortstops of the sixties just last week, we observed a similar phenomenon. The player who spent the most time at the position in the expansion year of 1962 (Elio Chacon) played only one year with the club, and although there were several successors who posted similar seasons, no one was really any better than the first-year starter.

When we looked at the third basemen of the seventies, the man who stood out above all the competition was the incumbent from 1969 (Wayne Garrett), whose longevity and relative competence enabled him to stare down a troop of really mediocre challengers.

Now we're examining the shortstops of the seventies. Will the pattern continue to hold? That is, will the incumbent (Bud Harrelson), who was far and away the most durable Met shortstop of the decade, pile up enough raw counting stats to turn away his eventual successors? Here's a clue: Yes.

First let's turn to the invaluable to determine our field of competitors. Buddy Harrelson, of course, was the starter from 1970-74 and again in 1976-77. Mike Phillips saw most of the action in 1975, Tim Foli in 1978, and Frank Taveras in 1979.

Let's commence by disposing of Mike Phillips, which is sort of a sad thing, because he really wasn't a bad little player, at least as far as the hitting prowess of Mets shortstops is concerned. But Mike was a utility man through and through; 1975 was the only season in his 11-year career that saw him garner as many as 300 at-bats, and the sole reason for that abundance of plate appearances in '75 was that Harrelson missed virtually the whole year with injuries. Phillips did have kind of a knack for stroking triples--he led the club in three-baggers in both '75 and '76, and was tied for sixth on the club in triples for the entire decade, despite a total of only 731 at-bats with the Mets.

Likewise let's dismiss Tim Foli from the proceedings. Tim was sort of like the David Eckstein of the '70s--scrappy and pesky, well-respected, but not a particularly good player according to the more advanced metrics. Foli's season as the Mets' starter was virtually indistinguishable from his career line, at least as far as his percentage stats are concerned: his 1978 numbers were a .283 OBP, .320 slugging, and a .257 batting average, which bundled into an OPS+ of 72.

In early 1979, Foli was traded along with a minor-leaguer for fellow shortstop Frank Taveras, who was regarded as a more accomplished offensive shortstop than the Mets had fielded in years, mostly by virtue of his lofty stolen base totals with the Pirates--he had led the league in 1977 with 70. Frank continued to steal bases, swiping 42 with the Mets in '79, though he was also caught 19 times, barely reaching the break-even point of value for his efforts. His hitting stats were also empty--no walks, no power. In fact, in over 4,000 career at-bats, Frank managed only two home runs.

I mentioned last week that, until Jose Reyes arrived, the Mets never had a shortstop that could hit a lick. As a demonstration of that assertion, I printed a table of OPS+ and Batting Runs numbers for each year's starter. Just for fun, let's do it again for the seventies.

1970: Harrelson: 79 –13.0
1971: Harrelson: 79 –14.1
1972: Harrelson: 68 –15.2
1973: Harrelson: 86 .–5.3
1974: Harrelson: 80 .–4.5
1975: Phillips: .77 –12.6
1976: Harrelson: 91 .–0.9
1977: Harrelson: 34 –24.8
1978: Foli: .....72 –16.1
1979: Taveras: ..78 –20.9

Once again, no starting shortstop for the Mets posted a Batting Runs figure even as high as zero! At the risk of beating a dead horse, here are the "triple crown" stats for Mets shortstops of the '70s: best season total in batting average, .263; best season total in RBI, 42; best season total in home runs … one. For the decade of the seventies, Mets starting shortstops totaled eight home runs. For the decade.

Back to the chart. We see Bud Harrelson posting the best season OPS+ of any starter for the decade, with his 91 in 1976; he also had the second-best and the third-best seasons, and the fourth-best and fifth-best. Harrelson also had the best season in Batting Runs with –0.9 in 1976 (sigh), and also the second-best and third-best totals.

According to more traditional measures, Buddy was also the man. Twice in the seventies he was named to the NL All-Star team, and three different years saw him receiving votes for the National League MVP award. One remarkable season saw him draw 95 walks (which would stand as the club record for nearly fifteen years), and his stolen-base rate dramatically improved in the '70s (91 steals against only 27 times caught).

If it seems like faint praise to name Bud Harrelson the shortstop of the decade, that's not intended. He was a warrior for the Mets for a long, long time. He stole a bunch of bases, took a lot of walks, and by all accounts was a splendid defensive shortstop. If he wasn't Jose Reyes … well, neither was anyone else for the first forty years of Met history. Bud Harrelson, worthy hero--you are the Mets' All-Time Shortstop of the Seventies.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Meanderings

Just a couple of quick hits: The Hated Phillies have signed onetime Met infielder Miguel Cairo to a minor-league deal and invited him to Spring Training. Miguel was essentially the Mets' starting second baseman in 2005, posting a paltry OPS+ of 64 in 100 games. Last year he played for the Mariners--if he appears with the Phillies, it will be Cairo's eighth different big-league team, including two separate stints each with the Cardinals, the Cubs, and the Yankees.

2000 star pitcher and noted aficionado of education Mike Hampton was sent home from the Astros' training camp after an irregular heartbeat was discovered. This setback is not thought to be serious. Mike was once one of the National League's brightest stars ... until he signed that free-agent mega-contract with the Colorado Rockies in 2001. Since then, it's been a bumpy road for Mike, including missing the entire 2006-07 seasons with injuries. As much as I wished for his failure as a member of the Hated Braves, I hope this new problem is indeed nothing to be concerned about.

And finally, old friend Jason Phillips is still out there plugging away. The only action Jason saw in 2008 was in the minors for Richmond, but he has just signed a new minor-league contract with Seattle, where there's an outside chance for him to see a few more big-league at-bats. Jason was the starting first baseman for most of 2003, having a surprisingly good year with the bat, and the starting catcher in 2004. In March 2005, the Mets traded him to the Dodgers for Kaz Ishii--betcha didn't remember that! His most recent big-league action was as a bench player for the 2006-07 Blue Jays.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Livan in the Mix

In what must be regarded as some kind of cruel practical joke, the Mets have signed Livan Hernandez as additional competition for the fifth starter's position, currently being contended for by Freddy Garcia, Tim Redding, and Jon Niese.

Livan's older half-brother Orlando Hernandez pitched for the Mets both brilliantly and sporadically for the last several seasons, and it was widely reported that the two longed for a major-league reunion. Now, El Duque is gone, all possibility of a New York reunion vanished forever, and Livan is welcomed aboard.

But the joke isn't only on the Brothers Hernandez--it's on the Mets fans, too. Livan's ERA+ for the last six seasons in order reads like this: 141, 126, 102, 91, 95, 69--a dizzying downward spiral. If Livan ever pitches for the Mets at all, it seems that he is destined to become another bleak footnote to recent Met history, along with James Baldwin, Jose Lima and Chan Ho Park, Brian Lawrence and Dave Williams.

Hope I'm wrong.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Will Work for Food

Moises Alou, Gary Bennett, Ambiorix Burgos, Paul Byrd, Miguel Cairo, Damion Easley, Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen, Paul Lo Duca, Pedro Martinez, Ramon Martinez, Doug Mientkiewicz, Jay Payton, Ricardo Rincon, Kenny Rogers, and Matt Wise.

That's the list of players who have history with the Mets and are still out of work for 2009, as complete as I can figure it. Some of them will undoubtedly be forced into retirement; some will get minor-league deals and last-minute Spring Training invites. Ambiorix Burgos, of course, is a story unto himself, and will probably never play baseball in America again.

Anyway, I'm taking this opportunity to say goodbye to most of these guys, whose disappearances from the big leagues will come without press conferences, with no formal declarations of retirement. You were all Mets heroes for a moment or two (just one, in Gary Bennett's case).


Just a few moments after I made this post, I read on MetsBlog where Ramon Martinez is coming back to the Mets as a non-roster invitee for Spring Training. Ramon was actually fairly impressive for the Mets in a handful of September starts last year, and he is younger than Jose Valentin!

The All-Time NY Mets: 1960s Shortstop

Ah, back to the beginning again. We'll begin our inspection of the New York Mets' all-time shortstops with a look at the players identified as the Mets' starters for each year of the '60s, take a brief perusal of each man's days with New York, and conclude by naming the Shortstop of the '60s. I think you'll be surprised.

The starters were Elio Chacon (1962), Al Moran (1963), Roy McMillan (1964-65), Eddie Bressoud (1966), and Bud Harrelson (1967-69). Let me interject here that, until the arrival of Jose Reyes, the Mets have never had a shortstop that could hit a lick. For this week's exercise, we will lean heavily on the linear weights statistic now known as Batting Runs, which measures a player's offensive contributions and can return either a positive or a negative number. You have to be a pretty poor hitter to post a negative number; in no season of the '60s did a Mets starting shortstop tally a figure higher than -6.1!

Remember that, for the purposes of this exercise, I have not factored in defensive contributions, which I am too dimwitted and/or lazy to calculate. What we're naming here is effectively the least offensive offensive shortstop of the '60s. (A subtle play on words; I hope you understand.)

And we begin.

The Mets' first-ever Opening Day shortstop was eventual Third Baseman of the Decade Felix Mantilla, but the man who became the primary starter at the position was little Elio Chacon. He inaugurated the Mets' history at short with a robust total of two home runs and a .236 batting average, which was a harbinger of seasons to come. But he also drew bases on balls at a somewhat astonishing rate: 76 walks in only 118 games. Elio also led the '62 club with a dozen stolen bases. After that season, he never appeared in the big leagues again.

For 1963, the man who spent the most time at short was Al Moran, who had come over from the Red Sox in the Felix Mantilla trade. In 119 games, he slugged a total of one home run, complementing that display of power with his .193 batting average. He led the team in an offensive category, too--seven times caught stealing--but in his defense, he was successful three times. After 22 more at-bats in 1964, he also never appeared in the big leagues again.

For the next two years, the middle of the infield was anchored by former All-Star Roy McMillan, a man who had received Most Valuable Player votes in five different seasons and would later go on to be a coach and manager with the Mets. He smacked one home run in each season that he played with New York, with a cumulative batting average of .226. One thing you could say about the man--he knew how to lay down a bunt; in both 1964 and 1965, he led the Mets in sacrifices. After his '66 season, he never appeared in the big leagues again.

For 1966, the Mets decided to try their luck with a hitting shortstop, importing Eddie Bressoud from the Red Sox. Eddie had recently had two seasons where he stroked at least 40 doubles, and a third where he had reached 20 home runs--Herculean totals for a shortstop of the '60s. Bressoud was near the end of the line, though. He did hit ten home runs for the '66 Mets; in contrast, the starters for the rest of the decade totaled six home runs in seven years! He also led the squad with five triples and 47 walks. But his on-base percentage, despite that team-leading walk total, was only .304, a number that would make notoriously impatient Jose Reyes blush with shame. After 67 ineffectual at-bats with the Cardinals in '67, he never appeared in the big leagues again. Still, those ten home runs must make him a leading candidate for the decade honors.

In 1967, the Mets finally turned the shortstop position over to spindly Bud Harrelson, who had been waiting in the wings for several years. Buddy, like Roy McMillan, later went on to serve the Mets as a coach and a manager. He was the starting shortstop for three years in the '60s--more than anyone else--plus he was a key player on the 1969 World Champions. Surely he must be the shortstop of the decade. But wait--in those three seasons, Buddy hit only one home run, and batted a cumulative .242. Not fair, you say--Harrelson's game was about speed. Well, from 1967-69, he did total 17 stolen bases ... and was caught 21 times. And I've already mentioned that this exercise does not include defense; otherwise Buddy may well have been the Mets' shortstop of the '60s.

The following table shows each year's starting shortstop followed by their OPS+ and their Batting Runs figure. Remember, an OPS+ of 100 indicates an average offensive player.

1962: Chacon: ...81 .-6.1
1963: Moran: ....47 -22.3
1964: McMillan: .42 -29.1
1965: McMillan: .64 -24.6
1966: Bressoud: .87 .-6.5
1967: Harrelson: 81 -12.4
1968: Harrelson: 59 -20.7
1969: Harrelson: 82 .-8.6

The calculations used by the NY Mets Hall of Records combine a variety of factors: traditional counting stats, longevity, and value relative to the rest of the team, balanced by the linear weights calculation of Batting Runs. Unfortunately, when a hugely negative component (like Batting Runs for the Mets' shortstops of the '60s) is factored in, longevity can actually prove to be a detriment!

So ... Al Moran--no longer part of the discussion. Roy McMillan and Bud Harrelson--though worthy defenders and multi-year contributors, ruled out by means of their anemic stickery. Ed Bressoud--almost, but not quite. Narrowly nosing him out for the honor in question, I present to you the Mets' All-Time Shortstop of the 1960s: Mr. Elio Chacon.

I'm not saying that Elio was the answer to the Mets' prayers here ... but replacing him in 1963 with Al Moran was not exactly what the doctor had ordered.

Next week, the shortstops of the 1970s, where perhaps Bud Harrelson will make a better showing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thursday Morning Nuggets

Frank Viola, the Mets' last twenty-game winner (nearly twenty years ago!), is going to work with the Cleveland Indians' pitchers this Spring Training, helping pitching coach Carl Willis. Frankie was a one-time teammate of Indians manager Eric Wedge.

In 2½ seasons with the Mets, Viola went 38-32 with a 3.31 ERA, and the mark of 249.2 innings he pitched in 1990 hasn't been seriously challenged since. He originally came to New York in late '89 for five other pitchers, two of whom went on to have long-term big-league success: Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera.

Following up on yesterday's Robbie Alomar story, a statement from his own website,

"This is a very private, personal matter and I greatly appreciate all the support I have received in the past few days from my family, friends and colleagues in baseball. I am in very good health and I ask that you respect my privacy during this time."