Jeter Passes Molitor on the Hit List – and other stuff…

Our first full week is over – and if the playoffs were to start now, you’d have Detroit facing either San Francisco or the Marlins…  Ony one team is really struggling right now, and that’s the 2 – 7 Arizona Diamondbacks.  They’ll turn it around some.  I hope.

Derek Jeter got two hits yesterday, moving him past Paul Molitor into eighth on the all-time hit list.  #7 on the list is Carl Yasztremski, with 3419 hits – or about four months worth of hits from now. [ESPN]

Bobby Parnell, Mets closer, decided to have Tommy John surgery and hopes to be back for 2015.  [ESPN]

Yasiel Puig has a strained ligament in his right thumb and will miss a few games.  Fortunately, the Dodgers have a lot of good outfielders… [SI]

Josh Beckett pitched a full bullpen session, throwing all of his pitches, on Sunday and could be available to pitch at some point this week.  [MLB]

Off to Rehab…

Chad Billingsley

Transactions:

The Cleveland Indians traded lefty pitcher Colt Hynes to Los Angeles for righty pitcher Duke von Schamann.  Hynes made it to the majors with San Diego last year, but isn’t really a prospect (he’s almost 29).  von Schamann might have been considered a prospect after 2012, but right now his only value is that he is younger than Hynes.

Both went to Texas Tech.

Baseball 365:

Arrivals:

(1873) John McGraw – a fine third baseman and the first great manager of the National League in the last century.

(1884) Jake Daubert

(1918) Bobby Doerr

(1942) Tom Phoebus

Tom Phoebus came up with the Orioles and threw complete game shutouts in his first two starts.  His arm went lame in a couple of years and he became sort of a baseball nomad.

(1944) Bill Stoneman

Stoneman wasn’t a half bad pitcher – threw the first no-hitter in Expos history.

(1969) Ricky Bones

(1973) Brett Tomko

(1975) Ron Belliard

(1979) Adrian Beltre – I think he’s a Hall of Famer.  You?

Departures:

(1967) James “Shanty” Hogan

Hogan was a big catcher (6′ 1″ – 240 and sometimes much more) for the Braves, Giants, and Senators in the 20s and 30s.  As a hitter, he was similar to Ron Hassey – but with slightly better receiving and throwing skills.

He was considered a top prospect for the Braves when the Giants surprised everyone and traded away Rogers Hornsby to the Braves for Hogan and outfielder Jimmy Welsh.  Hogan helped the Giants pitching staff – they regularly had the lowest ERAs in the league – and was the first catcher to start three double plays in a game.  As he got larger, though, Hogan’s career came to an end…

(2005) Bob Kennedy – a baseball lifer.

Events:

The Brewers open their new history in 1970 by losing to the California Angels, 12 – 0.  Ouch.

The Toronto Blue Jays begin their baseball life with a 9 – 5 win over the Chicago White Sox despite occasional snow flurries.  Doug Ault homers twice and Al Woods hits a pinch-hit homer for the win.

Ken Forsch throws a no-hitter against the Braves in 1979, joining his brother, Bob, as the only brothers to toss no-hitters.

Jack Morris tosses a no-hitter against the White Sox in 1984 – I remember watching that game.  The Sox had nothing that day…  It was the first sign that the 1984 season would be great for the Tigers.

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Did Aussie Trip Contribute to Dodger Pitching Injuries? (and other fun stuff…)

Yu Darvish should be back and pitching on Sunday against the Rays.  He has been on the DL with a stiff neck, but he’s been throwing comfortably in rehab and bullpen sessions. [FoxSports]

Speaking of the Rays (sort of), Tampa gave a six-year, $25.5 contract to Chris Archer.  It took Archer a long time to become a hot commodity, having been drafted out of high school in 2006 and bouncing around a couple of teams before finding himself and his success with the Rays.  The Rays do this a lot – lock up young pitchers before they can become free agents – and it has worked out pretty well for them.  [SI]

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt thinks that the odd travel schedule given to the Dodgers, including a season starter with Arizona in Australia, has contributed to the team’s pitching injury collection.  The Dodgers were forced to cut spring training short, and players had odd off days around the travel schedule. [ESPN]

It’s time to start the Derek Jeter gift set…  From Houston, the shortstop received custom Yankees cowboy boots, a stetson hat, and a nice set of golf clubs. [FoxSports]

From the Transaction Wire…

Mets infielder Daniel Murphy has been added to the paternity list – he will return once his baby arrives.

A few official DL moves – Wilson Ramos, Bobby Parnell, Brian Wilson, and Rockies pitcher Tyler Chatwell, who has an injured left hamstring.

A lot of moves on 4/2 – mostly teams moving around their twenty-fourth player or compensating for late injury moves.

From Baseball 365:

Arrivals:

(1856) Guy Hecker

Hecker was a pretty important figure in the development of baseball in Western Pennsylvania after a pretty impressive major league career.  He threw a no-hitter as a pitcher, went 52 – 20 with the 1884 Louisville Colonels throwing 670.2 innings, and was a very good hitter, too, batting over .300 a couple of times and winning a batting title.  When his major league and minor league career was over, he was the player-coach for a number of great semi-pro teams in Oil City, PA.  The team, nicknamed “Hecker’s Hitters” would regularly play exhibitions against major league teams and occasionally win.  I ran across his name several times when researching my biography of Rube Waddell.

Somewhere, there is a pretty good 40-page biography of Hecker and I’d like to read it.

(1926) Alex Grammas

(1930) Wally Moon

(1958) Gary Pettis -Something tells me he STILL looks like he is 25 and can fly.

(1963) Chris Bosio

(1975) Koji Uehara

(1987) Jay Bruce and Jason Kipnis

Departures:

(1952) Phenominal Smith

Born John Francis Gammon, Smith was a New Hampshire native who spent a couple of years in the Majors as a left-handed fireballer in the 1880s.  He got his nickname, not from an early version of Jim Rome, but for a 16-strikeout performance as a promising prospect playing in Pennsylvania.  He once claimed he could win without teammates – so his Brooklyn teammates proceeded to bungle plays in a loss to St. Louis, resulting in fines for the fielders and Smith’s earning his release from the team.

The book Major League Profiles – 1891 – 1900 contains a very interesting biography – the tale of a headstrong prospect who confounded owners who tried to bring him into the fold only to find he likely wasn’t worth his salt.  Smith matured, however, becoming a scout, owner, and player-manager until the early 1900s – winning minor league batting titles and having a hand in discovering Nap Lajoie and Christy Matthewson.  At one point, he even coached a college basketball team – a sport that didn’t even exist when he was a professional athlete.  Smith moved to Manchester, NH, where he joined the police department until his retirement in 1932.

Transactions:

(1966) The Mets sign Tom Seaver, after having won a lottery for his rights.  Seaver had been drafted by Atlanta, but his contract (and $50,000 bonus) was voided because he had signed a contract while still pitching for USC.

(1974) The Dodgers acquire teenaged outfielder Pedro Guerrero from Cleveland for pitcher Bruce Ellingsen.  That worked out okay…

(1987) Chicago trades away Dennis Eckersley to Oakland for three minor prospects…  Having lost his touch as a starter in Chicago, Oakland received the best closer of the next decade.

Events:

(1964) A line drive off the bat of Gates Brown caroms off the chin of Mets pitcher Carl Willey, breaking Willey’s jaw and, for the most part, ends Willey’s career.  Willey had been a top prospect in the Braves chain, was traded to the Mets in 1963 and was actually a serviceable pitcher for a horrible team.

Hurry Back, Don Baylor!

In case you missed it…

Mike Trout homered in his first at bat – naturally… Yadier Molina‘s solo shot was the only run in a Cardinals victory, and Oakland has lost on opening day for ten straight seasons in a game that featured an umpire review of a collision at home plate using video replay.

Opening Day Injuries:

Jose Reyes has a tight hamstring, so he’s on the 15-day-DL (already).  Reyes had injured the hamstring a week ago and took five days off during spring training, but played over the weekend.  Toronto called up Jonathan Diaz, who played in five games for the Red Sox last season after spending the previous seven seasons in the minors.  He’s never been much of a hitter, but is an impressive fielder.  I wonder if he will still be with the team when Diaz celebrates his 29th birthday on the tenth… [ESPN]

Mets closer Bobby Parnell has a partial MCL tear in his throwing elbow and will be resting for a couple of weeks, with a decision on surgery coming after he tries throwing again.  [MLB]

Wilson Ramos had a tough swing, injuring his hand, and was removed from opening day.  The catcher had an MRI on his hand that found no structural damage and is considered day-to-day.  [ESPN]

The worst injury was to Angels coach Don Baylor, who leaned to catch an opening pitch throw from Vlad Guerrero and somehow, in transferring his weight to his right leg, broke his femur.  Baylor is a survivor of multiple myeloma, a cancer that attacks plasma cells in the bone marrow, something he acquired in 2003.  Baylor needed assistance to get up and hobble off the field and could be out as much as six months. [MLB]

From Baseball 365:

Arrivals:

(1912)  Whistling Jake Wade

(1915)  Jeff Heath – fine outfielder, not as pleasant a teammate, had a couple of good years in the late 1930s and 1940s.  His 1938 and 1941 seasons, where he hit .340 or better with power and a fair eye at the plate are great seasons.  He just didn’t have that many of them and mixed in a year where he hit .219.

(1936)  Ron Perranoski – Dodger arm and long-time pitching coach.

(1939)  Phil Niekro – greatest knuckler of all time.

(1944)  Rusty Staub – Le Grande Orange…  Fantastic hitter until he was as round as an orange, too.

(1948)  Willie Montanez – one of my favorite players of the 1970s as he always seemed to be having fun playing baseball.

(1985)  Daniel Murphy – Mets infielder…

Departures:

Of the 23 deaths to baseball related people on this date, none had the impact in baseball as that of George Edward “Rube” Waddell.  If you don’t believe me – read my book!!!  Rube died in a sanitarium in San Antonio, TX on this day 100 years ago, his once great physical strength sapped by the plague of the period, Tuberculosis.  He was 37.

Umpire John McSherry died of a heart attack just as the Reds were starting its opening day game with the Expos.  I can still picture the video of McSherry running off the field in distress before collapsing.  The game was cancelled, but not without Marge Schott blaming McSherry for ruining opening day…

Transactions:

1962:  The Tigers sign pitcher Dave DeBusschere.  A good pitcher for a couple of years with the White Sox, DeBusschere becomes more famous playing basketball for the Knicks.

1963:  The Mets bring back to NYC the silver-haired outfielder, Duke Snider, after buying him from the Dodgers.

1969:  Seattle trades Lou Piniella to the Royals – a minor deal at the time, until Piniella won the Rookie of the Year award…

1970:  Bud Selig buys the Pilots and moves them to Milwaukee…

1982:  Lee Mazzilli is traded from Mets to Texas for pitchers Ron Darling and Walt Terrell.  Fans were sad, but it worked out okay…

 

And then there was that fantastic article about Sidd Finch in Sports Illustrated back in 1985 (pictures if you want, too).  He could throw really hard…

2012 Season Forecast: New York Mets

2011 Record: 77 – 85  (4th, NL East)
Runs Scored: 718  (6th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 742  (13th, NL)

For all the grief given to the stadium regarding how the deep fences kill home run totals, the problem wasn’t with the offense.  Rather, it was the pitching staff…

2011 Season Recap:

Mets ownership’s ties to the Madoff ponzi scheme created the backdrop for a team that started the process of unloading salaries and rebuilding the team.  The Mets weren’t an awful team, really.  They just didn’t have enough arms and the gloves in the field weren’t helping out any.

The Mets had a slow April, but actually had winning months until July and were two games over .500 at the trading deadline.  They were, too, out of it and decided to sell off players, starting with Francisco Rodriguez (who had gotten in hot water over a fight with his potential in-laws) and then moving outfielder Carlos Beltran to San Francisco for prospect Zack WheelerDavid Wright had his first truly off season, and missed two months with a stress fracture in his lower back, which didn’t help either.  Ike Davis sprained an ankle, getting a bone bruise, and missed most of the season.  Anyway – before it was over the pitching left them.  The Mets, who had only allowed ten runs or more in a game four times in the first four months, did so five times in the last two.  Mike Pelfrey looked like he was pitching through an injury,  Dillon Gee ran out of gas,  Jon Niese went on the DL, and both Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy missed three weeks with various injuries.

Starting Pitchers:

In 2011, the Mets featured Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Dillon Gee, Chris Capuano, and Jonathan Niese.  Once Dickey got out of April, he was the most dependable of the starters and the only one who pitched better than a league average arm (16 runs saved).  Pelfrey gave back 16 runs, Niese (who just got an extenstion) cost them 11, Capuano was -8, and Gee was -6.

Heading into 2012, the Mets have to hope Pelfrey returns to form (he has alternated between decent and poor seasons for the last four years – a poor man’s Bret Saberhagen?) and that Gee and Niese can make steps forward.  One advantage, however, may be the return of Johan Santana, who made his first start  (in nearly 600 days) on opening day.  If Santana can pitch 160 – 180 innings at about 80% of his former self, he’d improve the team by about 25 runs himself.  My fear is that Pelfrey could use a different approach and may not improve – and that leaves a big hole in the rotation.

Relief Pitchers:

Gone are the 2011 closer tandem of Francisco Rodriguez and Jason Isringhausen.  For 2012, the Mets imported the Toronto back end – Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, which should help improve the bullpen.  Another addition, Ramon Ramirez, arrives from San Francisco and will help, too.  The rest are holdovers from last season:  Bobby Parnell, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Beato, and Miguel Batista – and this group has room to improve.  On the whole, this unit should be 15 to 20 runs better than last year.

Catchers:

Josh Thole is young and has room to improve.  The Mets catchers were not a very good lot – poor against the run, with a losing record, poor ERA, and (in part, thanks to Dickey) a bit mistake prone.  Ronny Paulino, a decent enough catcher, is gone now leaving Mike Nickeas as the #2.  Nickeas can’t hit as well, but his defensive skills may be better.

Infield:

Most of the infield remains intact from last year, with Jose Reyes leaving for Miami for $100+ million and a multi-year contract.  In his stead, Ruben Tejada gets the nod.  Tejada isn’t too bad – a slightly above average hitter, a better glove – but even saying that, it’s a 50 run hit from what Reyes delivered last year.

Daniel Murphy hit .320 and can play everywhere.  He’s earned a shot at being the regular second baseman.  Ike Davis will be back – a full season would help make up for some of the loss of Reyes.  And, a full season of David Wright could also pick up some slack.  Backing them up, Justin Turner is a useful player and Ronny Cedeno brings a glove to the middle infield slots.

Even if Davis and Wright come all the way back, it’d be hard to make up all 50 runs lost by losing Reyes.  I see this unit being down at least 25 runs from 2011.

Outfield:

Rightfielder Lucas Duda showed he has a bat and should be more mobile in the outfield than Beltran at this point.  Angel Pagan, who wasn’t horrible but appeared to struggle down the stretch, is gone – his replacement is former Giant Andres Torres, who is about the same level player but is coming off a down season.  In left you have Jason Bay, who might have a bounce back in him – Lord knows the Mets could use it.  Scott Hairston is a competent backup and Mike Baxter will get a shot as a fifth outfielder.

Prospects:

Many of the players at AAA Buffalo wound up getting a lot of time with the Mets, including Tejada, Nick Evans, and Lucas Duda.  Outfielder Fernando Martinez was lost to Houston in a roster shuffle – he looks like he might have been able to help, the Astros will find out for sure this year.  Pitcher Jenrry Mejia quickly made it to the bigs, but spent most of his 2011 AAA season on the DL.  Kirk Nieuwenhuis was noted for his overall approach to the game and will be the first callup for New York if someone gets hurt in the outfield.

AA Binghampton featured a familiar name – Allan Dykstra, who had a line that looked like something off the back of his dad’s baseball card:  19 – 77 – .267, but is more of a free swinger and not much of a threat on the basepaths.  Josh Satin bombarded AA pitching and wound up getting a look at the majors.  Juan Lagares arrived after hitting .338 in A+ ball and continued to hit .370 after arriving.  If he continues to hit over .300 in AA or AAA, the 23-year-old will get a shot to play left field.  The top AA pitcher was Collin McHugh, who went 8 – 2, fanned 100 in 93.1 innings, and allowed just two homers.  Reliever Joshua Stinson moved through AA and got a shot at the big club in 2011 – he will start 2012 in AAA.

A+ Port St. Lucie featured Matt Den Dekker, who hit a well rounded .296 and flashed baserunning prowess and moved up to AA by mid-season.  Wilmer Flores and Pedro Zapata will move up – let’s see if they continue to progress as hitters.  The best arm is 2010 first round pick Matt Harvey, who fanned 92 in 76 innings and finished in AA.  Zack Wheeler, who came over for Beltran, has a live arm and will start 2012 in AA.

2012 Forecast:

Somebody has to finish last in what will certainly be the toughest division in baseball.  With the change in the fences, the team’s offense will LOOK better, but without Reyes and Beltran, the likelihood is that the offense will be a touch worse than last year – maybe 25 – 30 runs worse.  The pitching staff will be better, though, probably 40 runs better (even allowing that they will have a tougher time with the shorter fences at home).

The statistical profile suggests 80 wins – 690 runs scored and about 700 runs allowed.  I’m not sure I buy the system on this one.  You have four really good teams in the division and the Mets will likely be sellers at the trade deadline – even considering that they shed more than $50 million in salary from last year already.  The Mets could certainly win 80 games, but my hunch is that will be closer to 75.

Youkilis in Left? God, Engineering Saves Friend

With Jason Bay out for most of the weekend and Rocco Baldelli nursing a sore ankle, the Red Sox moved Kevin Youkilis to left field for a game or two.  Youkilis was lifted for a defensive replacement, but managed an assist – throwing out Derek Jeter at second base.  [FoxSports]

Arizona placed outfielder Justin Upton on the DL with an oblique strain suffered, oddly, while running the bases.  (Well, it could have happened earlier, but he noticed it running the bases…)  Taking his roster spot is long time minor leaguer, Trent Oeltjen – an Aussie Olympian – who brings some speed, but not much power to the Snakes.  Hitting .300 in Reno, it translates to about .250 with a few walks, some steals and maybe a triple or two more than most players…  [ESPN]

The Mets have decided that Bobby Parnell will replace the injured Jonathan Niese in the rotation.  Parnell throws HARD – 98 MPH or so – so I might have to actually watch a Mets game (when they aren’t playing the Marlins or Cubs).  [ESPN]

The Yankees acquired Chad Gaudin from the Padres for either cash or a player to be named later…  With San Diego acquiring a number of prospects at the trading deadline, Gaudin became expendable.  He’ll be a long reliever or fifth starter option in the Bronx.   Let me ask you this…  How good is any pitcher with a 5.13 ERA pitching in the run scarce environment in San Diego? [SI]

Two Washington Nationals minor leaguers, both at AA Harrisburg, were suspended 50 games for testing positive for amphetamines.  Ofilio Castro and Edgardo Baez will miss most of the rest of the season.  [FoxSports]

Then, the Nationals set infielder Anderson Hernandez to the Mets for minor leaguer Greg Veloz.  Neither is a prospect, and I’ve watched Hernandez – he’s a glove in search of hitting skills.

Baseball card collectors wanting official MLB stuff will now have fewer options…  MLB signed an exclusive multi-year deal with Topps Trading Cards Co., which (if you didn’t know) is now run by Michael Eisner.  Yeah – that Michael Eisner.  Upper Deck still has a deal with the MLB Players Association, which means that they can make cards, but cannot use team logos and what not.  I’ve collected pretty much only Topps cards for years, but I will admit the last 15 years or so have been crazy with so many possible brands.  Now, it should be easier for kids to figure out what to buy.  [SI]

I mention this because my friend, Andy Finch, is a professor at Vanderbilt…  Mike Minor, Commodore grad and seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, signed a contract with Atlanta yesterday.  This summer, we saw two other Vandy alums playing in Peoria – so maybe we can find this guy in a minor league game next summer.  [ESPN]

Speaking of friends…  One of the best people I know, Steve Dubin, walked away from a five car accident yesterday morning.  He was on the turnpike heading to the office when he had to stop for cars who had slowed for a flash rain.  He stopped, but the van behind him did not and plowed into him at about 65 MPH.  The impact threw Steve and his car across three lanes of traffic, where he bounced off of three other cars.  God and Hyundai engineering shined down on Steve – he got out of his car and, not knowing what to do, began taking pictures of the mess.  The interior – including two car seats, which thankfully were empty – was intact.  The exterior, however, was crushed like a discarded beer can.

I’ve known Steve for about a decade, our kids will probably date in high school, and his wife is a sweetheart.  But I feel especially lucky to still have the big lug around.  He was hauled to a hospital, checked out okay, and given pain killers to deal with the ache of getting whalloped the way Albert Pujols hits belt-high fastballs.  That seems reason enough to think today will be a good day no matter what else happens.

Welcome Back!  Doug Waechter returns from the DL for the Royals, and they need him…  Royal reliever Juan Cruz was placed on the DL with a strained right shoulder.  The Yankees signeed Russ Ortiz to a minor league contract.  He’s Chad Gaudin, only older and used to be good.

Hurry Back!  Other than Cruz, Rocco Baldelli (mentioned above) is on the DL with his ankle contusion.

Interleague Baseball is Fun!

Lots of fun stuff going on in baseball right now – wish I had more time to chase it all down for you…

Michael Cuddyer hit for the cycle – the fourth of 2009 and second for the Twins.

Jake Peavy stayed home, and trashed the Cubs last night. For the Cubs, Carlos Zambrano came off the DL and was decent – looks like he’ll be fine. However, Zambrano was replaced on the DL by Rich Harden (big surprise) with a back injury. Zambrano drilled David Eckstein with a pitch in the first inning, though, when Eck squared up to bunt. The pitch nailed Eckstein high on the chest. He stayed through the inning, but left when he said he was light-headed on the bases.

Daisuke Matsuzaka returned to the Red Sox last night and was okay – threw a lot of first pitch strikes, but was pulled after 80 pitches in his first start. He was topped by Johan Santana, who was fired up after a little tussle with Kevin Youkilis. Youk yelled loudly when plunked in the fifth inning and made it a little dicey – but it only made Santana focus more. By the way, J.J. Putz has a stiff neck, so Bobby Parnell pitched the 8th. Did you know Parnell could hit 100 on the gun? Me neither. Suddenly, I’m a fan. Meanwhile, outfielder Ryan Church left the game with a sore hammy.

Texas won in extra innings, but not without a price. Michael Young has a strained foot and may not play today.

How about Ricky Nolasco? After another bad outing last night (he ruined my ERA), he was shipped to AAA New Orleans. Ouch. The Marlins, who were clocked 15 – 2 by the Rays, called on Ross Gload to pitch an inning. Apparently Cody Ross was unavailable. Continuing to try and find anyone who can pitch, the Marlins designated David Davidson for assignment, then called up Sean West and Christopher Leroux from AA Jacksonville. West, who has stuff but may not be ready, gets the start today for the Fish. He was a 1st round draft pick in 2005 – looks to be wild and a flyball guy. Baseball America calls him the #4 prospect on the team, but I can’t tell. Leroux doesn’t look like a prospect yet. The kid hails from Wintrop University and hasn’t been bad, but he’s maybe 80% the pitcher West is, and West doesn’t look ready.

Seven more homers in Yankee stadium last night – A.J. Burnett gets the loss to the Phillies. Chien Ming Wang allowed two runs in three innings of relief, his first game since returning from the DL, and dropped his ERA to 25.00.

David Price may get the call by the Rays. The Ripped Hydes have been holding him all year and may finally get to use him!!! Scott Kazmir, who hasn’t looked the same, was placed on the 15 day DL with a quadriceps strain. It may last longer than that, though, as his mechanics are fouled up. Also, Troy Percival’s shoulder problems put the veteran reliever on the DL – though the stories coming out of Tampa suggest that Percival may actually hang up the mitt for good. Percival helped two teams get to the World Series, and has been a VERY good reliever since coming up in 1995.

Add J.J. Hardy to the Day-To-Day list… Back spasms.

The Transaction List for 5/22 in MLB was ENORMOUS. Here are the highlights:

Welcome back! Magglio Ordonez (personal), Juan Uribe (bereavement), Nomar Garciaparra (calf – DL). Billy Buckner got the call from Arizona and got a win for the Snakes. Johnny Gomes gets a trip back with Cincy with Joey Votto’s illness.

On the Mend: Kelvin Escobar (arm) gets a rehab stint in Rancho Cucamonga, along side Vlad Guerrero. Hiroki Kuroda was assigned to Inland Empire for his stint.

Hurry Back! Travis Snider (Toronto), whose bat stopped working. Wilkin Ramirez (covering for Maggs), Ramon Ramirez (Reds) – replaced by prospect Carlos Fisher. Eugenio Velez (SF) who wasn’t hitting as well, and the Giants like Kevin Frandsen better. Hunter Jones (BOS), who was replaced by Dice-K. He can pitch, will be back with somebody. Maybe, when the Sox decide to replace David Ortiz, they’ll package Jones and Brad Penny in a trade for someone…

Is it over? Adam Eaton was (finally) released by the Orioles.

Afterthoughts… Jerry Koosman may land in jail following a conviction for income tax evasion over a three year period. Sad story, really. Sounds like he became a radical conservative!!!

2009 Season Forecast: New York Mets

New York Mets
2008: 89-73 (2nd NL East, three games back)
Runs Scored: 799
Runs Allowed: 715

On the heels of an extremely difficult September, the New York Mets added Johan Santana to the rotation and declared the team ready to win the 2008 division crown, if not more.  Unfortunately, while the core hitters performed admirably and Santana was up to the task, the team drifted aimlessly in the spring, fired manager Willie Randolph, got into the race in the summer, and suffered a milder version of the same September let down.  When it was over, the Mets again missed out on a playoff spot by a single game.

Compared to the Phillies, the Mets scored the same number of runs (799), despite playing in a more difficult home park for batters (Mets games away from home produced 52 more runs than games in the now departed Shea Stadium, while Phillies games had more scoring in Citizen’s Bank Park than on the road).  However, the Phillies allowed 35 fewer runs (680 to 715), which accounted for the three games difference in the standings. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two was injuries.  The Phillies had limited lost time to regulars, while the Mets lost several players, including closer Billy Wagner down the stretch, second basemen Luis Castillo and Damion Easley, and tried a dozen left and right fielders in part due to injuries to Moises Alou, Ryan Church and others.

Looking Back on 2008

The Mets got off to a decent start, winning ten of sixteen before drifting through May and June.  Two five game losing streaks put a sting to the team, the first in late May began serious calls for Randolph’s exit, a second in early June finished off his tenure.  When the Mets got to Anaheim, Randolph was sent packing – rather unfortunate in terms of timing – and Jerry Manuel was given a chance to manage a sinking ship.

Manuel’s biggest change was that he basically got the team to stop playing with their heads in a cloud.  In July, there was spark; there was hustle; there was teamwork – something that hadn’t existed in the first part of the season.  And, when the bats of Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran caught fire, the Mets got into the race by winning 18 games in both July and August.

At that point, the Mets ran out of gas.  And arms.  John Maine had bone spurs in his right shoulder.  Carlos Beltran crashed into a wall; Wagner’s arm nearly came off – it had bothered him all year.  The bullpen, not necessarily very good, now lost its only dependable pitcher – when he was able to pitch.  Super sub Damion Easley injured his quadriceps muscle, and David Wright’s game seemed injured.  Despite Santana’s fantastic stretch run, the end of Shea Stadium’s life – at the time the third oldest stadium in the National League – came without one more playoff game.

Tell me about that offense

All things considered, the Mets offense was loaded – it just never seemed to have all the wheels moving at the same time.

The infield offense was solid at three positions, with David Wright continuing to pound the ball, Carlos Delgado finding his swing, and Jose Reyes getting 200 hits again.  The three combined to generate nearly 400 runs of offense.  Reyes’s final numbers look a lot like Jimmy Rollins from 2007 – high numbers of doubles, triples and homers, a lot of plate appearances, and a good stolen base total.  David Wright, by my count, was the second best offensive force in the National League behind Albert Pujols, and Reyes was right behind him.  Had Delgado hit the way he did before June 1 the way he did after it, the Mets would have had three of the five best hitters in the NL.  Only Luis Castillo, finally showing the signs of father time taking over his position, was below average.  His backup, Damion Easley was productive but his bat was slowed.  Easley is 39 but plays like he’s 34, Castillo is 34 but is starting to play like he’s 39 – in either case the Mets need a replacement soon.

In the outfield, Carlos Beltran was the only true regular and was solid.  The Mets used a dozen left fielders (not one played more than 300 innings there), and some could hit – like Endy Chavez or Moises Alou or David Murphy.  Ryan Church hit for two solid months between concussions suffered in collisions with second basemen.  After the second one, which caused him to miss the better part of six weeks, he didn’t fare well.  One hopes Church gets back to where he was last May.  Fernando Tatis – yes, that Fernando Tatis – came back and hit well until his body broke down in September as well.  So, while the corner outfields were generally shared, there usually were at least two outfielders hitting at a time.

Brian Schneider, whose back started bothering him in September, didn’t hit too well but backup Ramon Castro didn’t fare too badly.  Schneider was there to provide solid defensive catching and any offense he provided was gravy.

Defensively:

Schneider was pretty good behind the plate, making few mistakes and showing some mobility.  He was decent in preventing stolen bases, as only two other teams allowed fewer stolen bases than the Mets.  Castro isn’t great against the runners, but he’s decent enough for a backup catcher who can hit.

The infield was okay.  Wright didn’t have the unreal numbers he had in 2007, but it was still his third straight year with above average range.  Reyes continues to improve; he has a cannon for an arm but he’s slightly below average in terms of range.  Castillo was a bit more mobile than he was in 2007, but it was his third straight year as a below average infielder.  Damion Easley remains a solid second baseman and they nearly shared the role.  Delgado is not very mobile – he’s a former catcher playing first base – but he actually had a pretty decent year there.  Since he arrived in New York, his defensive numbers haven’t been as bad as what most people see when they watch him play.  He’s awkward but it’s working.

The outfield defense was as varied as there were players in left field.  Carlos Beltran is still a solid outfielder, and Endy Chavez – now in Seattle – could cover ground.  Ryan Church played well in right.  David Murphy, added in August, showed he could play and will likely start in leftfield next year, and if he is healthy will represent a significant improvement over playing Fernando Tatis, who looked out of place in left or right field.  Marlon Anderson still runs well enough to cover left in a pinch.

The net result was a defense that was likely 20 runs better than average, reflected by the fact that they turned 69.7 percent of the balls in play into outs – the league average was 68.7 percent.

Now Pitching…

Signed to a long term and expensive New York-eqsue contract, Johan Santana pitched magnificently, though he rarely got the support he needed until July.  He started 7 – 7, but didn’t lose a decision for the rest of the year (nine wins) and after a 5 run, two homer outing in Cincinnati, he went 14 starts without allowing more than three earned runs.  By my count, Santana was 43 runs better than the average starting pitcher.

After that, Mike Pelfrey was decent (13 – 11, 13 runs better than an average pitcher), but both John Maine and Oliver Perez were inconsistent.  Still they were better than Pedro Martinez, who may finally be at the end of the line.  He showed flashes of his old self, but the fastball isn’t as lively, the ball is more hittable, and instead of giving up a homer every other start, Pedro is giving up a homer every time he takes the mound.  As of the end of January he still wasn’t signed – and the Mets need starting pitching.  He may find a home for one more go – and he may not want to get his 100th career loss (he has 99, against 214 wins).

The bullpen, however, had problems.  Remember how good the Phillies ‘pen was?  Five guys who were at least 10 runs better than average?  Nobody was that good here – even Billy Wagner, who was great but pitched just 47 innings.  Pedro Feliciano, Scott Schoeneweis, and Duaner Sanchez were average at best (meaning that they gave up a run every other inning), and Aaron Heilman got worse as the season went on – he was 12 runs worse than average and part-timer Jorge Sosa was even worse in just 20+ innings.  So, the bullpen was no better than average, actually slightly below average, whereas the Phillies bullpen was at least 60 runs better than the average staff.

Forecasting 2008:

Last year, I thought the team might age quickly and struggle to meet .500.  Instead, the veterans and Santana held it together through the summer before landing a scant series behind the Phillies.  This year, the front office tried to rebuild what couldn’t be assembled at the all-star break last year – and that’s a bullpen, so let’s start with the pitching.

Santana is as good as it gets, Pelfrey might be able to provide a little more, but after that – John Maine is league average at best and he’s number three.  That the Mets couldn’t sign a starter in the off season (its January as I write this) and is trying hard to sign the inconsistent Oliver Perez – I’m not ready to proclaim the rotation as being improved.  The Mets did sign Tim Redding, most recently a 30 start pitcher for the Nationals, to a contract.  Redding was 10 – 11 with an ERA higher than the league average.  At best he’s an improvement on what Pedro Martinez did last year – but he hasn’t had a winning season in any year that he pitched more than 50 innings.  In late January, Omar Minaya visited Martinez to see if he might have one more year left, which I don’ t interpret as a good sign.  It might be time to see if Ben Sheets has two reasonably healthy seasons in him.  Freddy Garcia signed a contract – but he hasn’t pitched much due to injuries in a long, long time.  Even in 2006, he was no better than a middle of the rotation guy.  I don’t see the rotation as possibly being any better than last year.  I also don’t see them as being much worse.  Let’s call it a wash.

The bullpen was bolstered by the signings of saves record setter Francisco Rodriquez and J.J Putz, who will likely be the eighth inning guy.  Middle reliever Scott Schoeneweis is gone, while Duaner Sanchez and Pedro Feliciano are still here.  At least Aaron Heilman is gone…  Long relief will be manned by a rookie or two.  So, while the starters don’t look to be much better, the relievers might be 20 to 25 runs better than last year.
 
In terms of offense, the infield won’t be any better.  Reyes and Wright are at the age where one or the other might have a monster season, but Carlos Delgado is at the age where he might lose 25% of his production.  On May 25th last season, you might have thought it was already happening.  That leaves Castillo, who is below average offensively and not a guarantee to play 100 games.  His replacement now is Alex Cora, who is a decent backup.  At least he’s younger than the departed Easley.  He isn’t better, though, and Easley might still be a better fielder.  I think they score a few less runs, on the whole, and defensively, they might slip a little – especially on the right side.

The outfield, as a whole, was surprisingly productive considering how many different players played there.  You might see fewer people playing in left field in 2009, but if you added up the offense of the left and right fielders, it wasn’t a hole in the lineup.  Murphy, Beltran and Church make a good outfield when all three are playing.  Defensively, they will be slightly better if Tatis doesn’t play as many innings.  The only fear might be a decline from Beltran who has been less productive over the last two seasons from where he was in 2006.

The catchers are the same lot – only another year older.  There could be a decline of ten runs in production here just because all three catchers on the roster were born in 1976.

So, what you have is a potential gain on the defensive side of perhaps 20 – 25 runs, and what looks like a decline of about 40 runs on the offensive side unless (a) Beltran has one more big year at 32; (b) Delgado retains his swing one more year; and (c) Reyes or Wright turn it up one more notch.  I’ll call it 25 runs on both sides.  The system says 90 wins, which would be enough to win the division, but my gut is admittedly not in step with the system.  What makes me less confident is two bad Septembers and the fact that nobody knows how the new Citi Field (assuming it’s still called Citi Field) will affect the team.  The new stadium could help with attitude and fan support, but it might change the game dynamic in ways that this veteran squad can’t possibly know.

Down on the Farm…

The Mets are leaving New Orleans for Buffalo, and hopefully they will put a younger team there.  There were no position players who are threats to take jobs from the starters.  The best hitter was probably Chris Aguila, and he’s never stuck in the majors.  The best pitcher was Tony Armas, another 30-ish arm who never seems to make a significant contribution to pitching staffs.  Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell made it to AAA after success in AA.  Niese, a southpaw, throws ninety with a big breaking curveball – he had one good start (eight shutout innings against Atlanta) in a September call up.  He looks like a young Barry Zito.  Parnell throws mid to high 90’s – real hard – with a slider, but looks like he needs one more year in AAA.  Either would look good in long relief while learning his trade.

AA Binghamton featured Niese and Parnell as well as Jose Sanchez, who could be a useful long reliever, too.  There were a couple of hitters – some, like Murphy and Nick Evans have seen MLB action, while Mike Carp could be a potential replacement for Delgado in 2010.  He showed growth in terms of his batting average, power, and plate discipline.

At the lower levels, Lucas Duda and Joshua Thole were the best hitters but are far from ready.  Teammate Dylan Owen was 12 – 6 for St. Lucie, with good control and a fair number of strikeouts.