Jun 29

Steven Matz Best Mets Hitter Ever

It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at a list of the top prospects such as Keith Law’s (Insider only) on ESPN or Baseball America’s, and see those players as proven commodities. This year it’s been especially easy when you consider that Law’s top four are Kris Bryant, Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, and Addison Russell. Bryant is currently 12th in the NL in fWAR; Russell is holding his own with the bat while providing a solid glove; Correa would be third on the Mets in fWAR (in 20 games) and nearly hit for the cycle the other night; and Buxton was doing okay, not great, in his brief 11 game major league career before being sidelined for a month with a sprained thumb. Throw in the success of Joey Gallo and Noah Syndergaard, and it’s easy to forget that sometimes prospects don’t make it.

So as we process what we saw yesterday afternoon at Citi Field, remember that what Steven Matz did was something special. Maybe we’re spoiled in this, the Year of the Prospect, as though we should be seeing a cartoon drawing of screaming baseball on some Chinese restaurant placemat somewhere: “The prospect is young, energetic, full of confidence and potential. Prospects prefer to roam in large, outdoor venues and are comfortable in crowds. Silence is their enemy. The prospect’s lucky numbers are 3 and 95, and they do not work well with snakes. When life throws you a curve, hit it to Waveland Avenue.”

To Mets fans, Matz has sort of existed in this in-between place. He’s both the promise of a dominant rotation, a guy that can slot in somewhere behind Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom as potential staff aces, but he’s also been the “prospect” most discussed in trades. He’ll either pitch the team to eek out 2-1 victories or he’ll bring a bat that helps the team in the hear and now. It’s all in how you think: now or the future.

The game didn’t start so well. Matz’s first pitch sailed Ricky Vaughn style high and outside to Brandon Phillips, went 3-0 to the Reds leadoff hitter, and then watched as the kid who never allowed home runs, even in the Pacific Coast League, grooved a mid-90s fastball and Phillips connected for his fifth home run of the year.

Of course he’s just nervous. Still. You think Theo Epstein is taking calls?

Matz responded as all 24-year old kids making their Major League debut do, he snapped off a curveball to Joey Votto and then got the four-time All Star to ground out to Wilmer Flores at second. Todd Frazier and his 24 home runs (would be 25 after he crushed a Matz offering in the fourth) came next and popped up.

Ron Darling made an interesting comment during the game, stating that this might be the only time a review of a home run helped a pitcher to settle down. It seemed to. If Phillips home run was actually a single (it hit the black railing above the left field fence) maybe things turn out differently. Votto works a walk perhaps, and then Frazier deposits one into the upper deck down left field.

Welcome home, rookie.

On the game Matz tossed 7 2/3 innings on 110 pitches (I’ll come back to that). He allowed five hits, three walks, and struck out six. The two runs given up were on home runs, which is odd only because it was the one thing we were told he didn’t do. But we were also told he could hit. Yeah, he did that too.

Michael Baron over at Just Mets does a nice job of giving the particulars, but here’s the one that sort of blew me away: Matz is only the 11th player, and first pitcher, to ever record at least three hits and drive in four in their debut. If you think about that, in one game, Matz drove in two fewer runs than Michael Cuddyer has in the entire month of June. Matz blasted a ball to deep center in his first at-bat, executed a perfect hit-and-run (after a failed sacrifice bunt, but whatever) in his second, then hit a line drive over Phillips outstretched glove in his third. The Mets had entered Sunday’s scheduled game having a streak of six straight games where they’d scored two or fewer runs and Matz eclipsed that by himself.

Oh, and those four RBI? According to the NY Daily News, Matz was the first Met player (position or otherwise) to have four RBI in his debut. Not David Wright. Not Darryl Strawberry. Not Cleon Jones.

If you’re going to earn a win, take matters into your own hands, kid.

I was surprised to see Terry Collins allow Matz to pitch the eighth. The SNY crew seemed equally surprised, and I’ve been thinking about it for a bit. The other day, I blasted Matt Williams for needlessly leaving Max Scherzer in too long and this seems like a similar case. Matz was at 100 pitches after seven, had just capped off an amazing afternoon by striking out Jason Bourgeois, and was up 6-2.

Why bring him out for another inning?

The Mets were basically finishing off the second game of a double-header (they’d completed Saturday’s game prior to Matz’s debut). The bullpen had worked seven innings already. Any extra outs Matz could provide would be huge. Also, Matz didn’t look gassed. We too often freak out about pitch counts. As though limiting innings and pitch counts is making pitchers healthier (maybe, since the rate of serious shoulder injuries seems to be down but we’re still seeing Tommy John surgeries at an alarming rate). Scherzer was coming off back-to-back complete games (both near perfect games) and had worked into the sixth on Friday with another no-hitter, and he looked physically and emotionally spent. There’s a difference. I also think with an off-day on Monday and the Mets now once again flirting with this six-man rotation, Collins could extend Matz out a few more pitches.

It was day like we’d never seen before. Let the local kid enjoy it.

Jun 28

Rains Aplenty at Citi, Runs Not So Much

As rain fell along the East Coast and postponed most of my “local” games, I didn’t watch a lot of baseball yesterday. Too bad, really. My wife was attending the New Kids on the Block revival tour, aka Mixtape Festival, and with a quick trip to the supermarket for donuts and ice cream (my daughter and I eat extremely well when the wife is away) I was ready to catch a few games.

Every time it rains hard like this I think of the Counting Crows. You’re welcome.

I did watch the six-inning Mets game, though, sharing snarky tweets with other disheartened Mets fans with the teams offensive and defensive ineptitude. Mostly it was about the offense. You know, like how leadoff doubles in the first and fourth led to zero runs in both cases because neither Ruben Tejada nor Wilmer Flores could advance Curtis Granderson or Michael Cuddyer respectively. Or there was that whole dropped fly ball by Granderson in the fifth that was ruled a Tucker Barnhart double.

I’m still confused by that one. Granderson practically ran a gyre pattern to the ball, slid, and dropped a ball that hit the pocket of his glove. Making the play more difficult doesn’t make it more difficult, if you catch my meaning.

That was yesterday. There were tweets. There’s a real level of disgust with this team that I hadn’t quite grasped until yesterday, but then again, social media tends to bring out the most sensationalist in us all. Anything for a favorite, right?

As a team, the Mets are in a pretty serious funk scoring runs. If you’re reading this you probably know that already. Still, it’s worth it to look at a few numbers that might better explain my meaning.

The Mets are currently in the midst of a five game streak of scoring two or fewer runs. That seems like a lot. According to Baseball-Reference, that streak is tied for 18th worst in franchise history. Saturday’s game was suspended, being made up prior to today’s regularly scheduled game, but if the game ended with the Mets not scoring or scoring one more (a huge if at this point) that pushes the streak to six, making it tied for 10th. Below are the top five (five worst) seasons for your reference:

Year Games W-L Slash Line
1964 10 1-9 .170/.223/.199
1967 9 2-7 .215/.266/.249
1965 9 1-8 .156/.201/.192
1962 8 1-7 .152/.213/.222
2012 7 1-6 .201/.272/.281
2015 5 2-3 .154/.221/.248

Longest Streaks Where Scoring 2 or Fewer Runs

It’s interesting to note that of those seasons listed, they’re all in the early days of the franchise, in an era known for pitcher dominance. In 1967, the league averaged 3.77 runs a game and in 1965 it was 3.99. We’re currently sitting at 4.14 for the 2015 season (Major League wide) while the Mets average 3.56, which is above only the White Sox, Mariners, and Phillies. I wonder if adding the DH would help this team or hurt them more. The team’s pitchers actually seem to put wood to ball.

3.5 runs? I thought the team was offensively challenged before the last two weeks, but 3.5 runs would be like . . . torrential rains.

I really, really, really need a raincoat.

Compared to the league the team isn’t scoring runs, and there’s a legitimate argument to be made that the team is without Daniel Murphy, has been without David Wright since the middle of April, and has been without Travis d’Arnaud in all but 19 games, but that doesn’t excuse not being able to move over runners, attempting an occasional hit-and-run, or (dear Lord I can’t believe I’m writing this) bunting. I hate the sacrifice bunt. I really do. It’s a wasted out, and for the most part, I even hate it when pitchers do it. However, if your team can’t score runs, can’t move over runners, and won’t be aggressive on the base paths, then Terry Collins needs to try something to get these guys some positive results.1

So, against the league (Major, NL, Federal, etc.) the Mets are pretty bad off, but how bad has it been historically? By that, I mean the only way for me to comprehend how difficult it’s been to plate runs this season, I need some context compared to franchise history. This was my original idea for this post.

Buried way down at the bottom, alas.

So, once more out to Baseball-Reference, and the 2015 Mets first half in terms of sOPS+. sOPS+ works for us here since it’s normalized to the league (meaning 100 is league average, 90 is 10% worse, 110 is 10% better, etc) and the s stands for split, telling us how the number compares to the league relative to that split. Jeff Sackman over at Brew Crew Ball does a good job of explaining if I wasn’t clear enough.

The Mets 2015 first half has been fairly cruddy. Not the worst. No, the 1963 squad had an OPS+ of 74, which is fairly retched. The 2015 team is tied for 10th worst in franchise history with an OPS+ of 87. Once again, I’ll provide another table.

Year sOPS+
1963 74
1977 78
1983 79
1964 80
1965 82
2001 84
1973 85
1998 86
1967 86
2002 87
1993 87
2015 87

Lowest sOPS+ in Mets Franchise History

So things could be worse. The team’s OPS+ is officially 84. If that’s confusing to you since I just said it was 87 above, remember the sOPS+ presents it relative to the split, so there’s a slight discrepancy. Philadelphia and Milwaukee are worse, believe it or not, and the Mets are tied with the White Sox at 28th worst in the Majors.

Just think where the Mets would be if they didn’t have their pitchers inflating those batting lines?

  1. I feel like I’ve seen so many runners stranded that I’ve abandoned everything I believe in. Not even the Scooby Doo crew could solve the mystery of the Mets missing offense.

Jun 27

Max Scherzer Loses No-Hitter, Earns Cool 100

In the end, Max Scherzer and the Nationals made history, but it wasn’t to the level those of us watching at home or those in attendance at Citizens Bank Park were expecting. No. The way Scherzer was dealing Friday night a second straight no-hitter was not only possible it was becoming increasingly likely. He was facing the Phillies after all, a team collectively batting .241 and tied with the worst wRC+ in the business, and Scherzer was mixing an easy 96 fourseamer with a changeup that had to send Ryan Howard for an ice bath afterward. You know, from the way he whiffed uncomfortably expecting the heat.

My back hurt from those swings.

Of course early on you hoped for it. Maybe not everyone. Phillies fans certainly didn’t, but I suspect by the fifth or six inning they might have been cheering too. By the fourth inning I actually started to believe Scherzer was going to do it. Up until then it was difficult to tell if Scherzer had his good stuff. He’d thrown only 25 pitches through the first three innings as the Phillies batters were hyper aggressive. See pitch. Swing. Ground out to Dan Uggla. How could you tell? In the fourth, however, Scherzer through a 2-1 slider to Cesar Hernandez that made me take notice. Oh, well now. He might just have it working after all. Scherzer followed up that slider with a change that started low and then just dove for the dirt. The movement was inexplicable. The result was a strikeout. After the fourth Scherzer dropped in curveballs for fun. They broke sharply with nasty bite. Honestly, not to wax poetic here, but it was like watching a cartoon of a composer with the notes floating across the screen. If this guy could throw those pitches in any count what chance did the Phillies have?

Remember that thought.

There was no reason to believe the sixth inning would stop the no-hitter. This was the Nats night. The baseball gods had decreed this the night that history be made. Matt den Dekker hit his first home run as a Nat in the top of the inning to make it 5-0, so the stars were aligned, I was happy (another 2010 draftee!), and Scherzer had about four more runs than he likely needed to put away the Phils.

I have to admit that when I watch baseball I get giddy watching the pitchers. I love it. I love watching batters try to figure out what they’re going to do with a guy who stands 6’ 3 and is full of fury and bad intentions only 60 feet away. There’s no time to figure out if it’s a fastball or a changeup. You just guess. Think of the sixth, then, as me standing in front of my television (feeling horrible with some sort of allergy attack, cold, deep-seated fear it’s strep) practically bouncing at this point. Rest? I can’t sit still. I’ll fidget. I might as well stand and pretend these achy muscles are getting some work.

Scherzer threw Cameron Rupp a 3-2 fastball that hit the outside black. Swinging strike three. That’s not really all that important. It doesn’t sound particularly impressive. There was no way Rupp was hitting that pitch. Not with a golf club. Not with a cricket bat. Not with a kayak paddle. That pitch was so perfectly placed, moving at 95-mph, and Rupp waved at it helplessly. My favorite part of that sequence was when he looked back at home plate umpire Jordan Baker—the typical “Was it a strike” question that batters always ask—and I almost expected Baker to fall down in hysterics.

Scherzer then started the number eight hitter Freddy Galvis with a curve on the outside corner. Strike one. When the game started I thought the two hitters that could screw this up for Scherzer were Galvis and Odubel Herrera. After a fastball up and away, Scherzer came back with a slider that didn’t break and Galvis drove it into the right field corner for a double. No more no-no.

Johnny Vander Meer’s moments of glory live on. Maybe that’s for the best.

The scoreless innings streak ended one inning later. With two outs in the seventh (after Scherzer had worked hard to keep a lead off double by Hernandez from hurting him) Domonic Brown doubled to deep left center. The second longest scoreless streak in the expansion era (since 1962) ended at 47 1/3 innings.

The Nationals were one foot away from that streak lasting another inning, however. Brown’s foul ball three pitches prior missed Clint Robinson’s sliding glove by about a foot. Sometimes it’s that close.

I was surprised that Matt Williams kept Scherzer in to pitch the eighth. He looked gassed. He’d thrown 82 pitches before Cody Asche worked a nine pitch at-bat, squibbed an infield single, and then Scherzer got Rupp to pop out. Maybe he was at 94 pitches, is your staff ace, and earns an obscene amount of money, but what in the hell was Williams doing putting Scherzer back out there in the eighth? What did Scherzer have left to prove? It was clear that the back-to-back complete games (he had one total before this year), the no-hitter that wasn’t, the perfect game that wasn’t, and last night had exhausted him.

Maybe Williams won’t be happy until he adds Scherzer to the disabled list too. Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg just returned from DL stints. I guess with six starting pitchers, there’s some roster flexibility.

In the end, the Nationals won 5-2 and Scherzer picked up his 100th career victory. Maybe the latter stages of the game weren’t things of beauty, but it was beautiful while it lasted.

Jun 26

Nationals Go Streaking

It seems fitting that Max Scherzer pitches tonight with the opportunity to place the Nationals starting pitchers in fairly unique company. Having set a franchise best yesterday when Doug Fister extended the starters’ scoreless innings streak to 41 1/3 innings, Scherzer takes the mound against Philadelphia with the opportunity to surpass the 2008 Cleveland Indians streak of 44 1/3 scoreless innings as the second longest such streak in the expansion era. Scherzer was the high-priced glamour free agent signing this off season, the guy brought in to lead them to a title, and so far this season he’s been as good as advertised. Now he simply needs to do what he does, again.

The record, according to mlb.com, is 54 innings, which the Baltimore Orioles set in 1974. That ’74 Orioles team had a few guys who knew a thing or two about pitching: future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer suffered through elbow problems that year, missing time, and it was the off year in a string of three AL Cy Young awards in four years; three-time All Star Dave McNally who finished 2nd in the Cy Young race in 1970 and fourth in both ’69 and ‘71; All Star Ross Grimsley who’d finish seventh in the Cy Young race in 1978; and Mike Cuellar who was a four-time All Star, won the AL Cy Young in 1969 while leading the Orioles to the World Series, and finished both fourth and sixth in Cy Young balloting in 1970 and 1974 respectively. Cuellar threw two complete game shutouts during that streak while Grimsley, Palmer, and McNally each threw one.

It’s a different era.

Shutting down the Phillies and passing the 2008 Indians isn’t fait accompli, so this isn’t horse meeting cart. Well, not entirely. I like to think of it as historical perspective. When your pitching staff is mentioned in the same breath with Cy Young recipients, a Hall of Famer, and a franchise that dominated the AL throughout the decade of the 70s, you’re doing okay.

The 2008 Indians squad that didn’t allow a run across five starts (and didn’t allow an earned run across six) boasted both Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia. 2008 was the season where Sabathia was traded to the Brewers, pitched a kajillion innings down the stretch to help Milwaukee to their first postseason since 1982, and didn’t do Sabathia any favors in regards to arm durability. He pitched 253 innings that regular season, following 241 the prior year. Lee did alright for himself that year too. He made his first All Star appearance, led the AL in wins, ERA, and ERA+ with 22, 2.54, and 167 respectively, and won the Cy Young. The next year he would be rented out to Philadelphia for their run to the Series, only to then be traded to Seattle in the offseason. Another interesting fact is that in ’08, Lee made $4M dollars total on the season while the Nats have spent half that in the six starts comprising the streak.

Speaking of Philadelphia, on this season, Scherzer has faced the Phillies twice, once at Citizens Bank Park, and he’s allowed two earned runs in 14 innings, striking out 17. That was early in the season, however, in Scherzer’s second and third starts, so who knows what’s likely to happen tonight. He’s coming off a no-hitter against Pittsburgh, a near perfect game, and has nearly tossed two straight no-hitters. In his last two starts, he’s tossed back-to-back complete game shutouts and allowed one hit in 18 innings while striking out 26.

Good God.

It’s sort of impossible to fathom just how good he is this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Scherzer went all Kerry Woods and struck out 20 today. As a team, the Phillies strike out in only 19.1% of their at-bats, including pitchers, which is the eighth best rate in the Majors and third best in the NL, but Scherzer is striking out 10.82 per nine, just north of 31% of the batters he faces, so something tonight has to give. I’m guessing it’s F.P. Santangelo’s thesaurus of Scherzer superlatives. The guy is dealing and there’s little to stand in his way, especially the bottom-dwelling Phillies.

Let’s take a step back to appreciate just what the Nationals starting pitchers are doing as well. If you stop and think that in the entirety of Major League Baseball this season, there have been 296 times when a starting pitcher has lasted five or more innings and not allowed an earned run (the Nationals have done this 15 times, the Mets 12) out of a total of 2,188 pitcher starts (that comes out to 13.5% of all pitcher starts end under these conditions), and the Nationals starters have done this in five straight starts. Stephen Strasburg, coming off the disabled list, was the only one to last less than seven (he went five while allowing four hits and striking out six).

The Nats don’t necessarily need me to toot their horns, but, you know, toot toot.

Jun 26

Can Jacob deGrom Start Every Game?

I’m now at the point that when Jacob deGrom starts (or any Mets starter for that matter) I don’t worry if the Mets will score or not. I don’t even particularly enjoy watching the team bat. I’d rather just watch them pitch, enjoying the 15 or so pitches that it normally takes for deGrom to dispatch the other team’s batters. I call it managing expectations.

Yesterday, deGrom was once again brilliant, sitting mostly 95 with his fourseamer but cranking it up to 97 when needed, staying out of the the middle of the zone, and mixing it up with an occasional off speed.

chart

This chart downloaded from Fangraphs illustrates my point regarding deGrom locating his pitches. For the game, deGrom allowed four hits in eight innings while striking out seven, but that’s not an entirely accurate picture of his afternoon.  He’d allowed one hit (a double to deep left by Hernan Perez in the third) through six, and early in the game I wondered if I might be witness to yet another no-hitter. What can I say? Watching the Nationals starters mow down batters has made me greedy, and my sense of fulfillment can come only from semi-historical events.

On Thursday I don’t recall too many breaking balls from deGrom. Maybe I’m wrong. I probably am. BrooksBaseball doesn’t have the game log information up yet for me to confirm, but other than the occasional slider out of the zone, deGrom mostly worked with his fastball and sinker, mixing in a change up from time to time. He rarely worked with men on base (evidenced by the one hit allowed up until the seventh) and at one point retired 13 straight. He worked out of a tough spot with two Brewers on in the seventh, and in the eighth, with his pitch count quickly nearing 100, he induced Perez to hit into a double play. Believe me, I summarized that in thirty or so words, but it took over three hours to get there. How can a game that involves only two runs take so long?

I spend so much time criticizing the Mets horrid, indifferent defense (with good reason), but the double play started by Ruben Tejada at third was particularly nice, with an equally competent turn at second by Dilson Herrera, and was much needed.1 Jeurys Familia came on to close out the ninth, and the Mets seven game losing streak is over.

Hooray!

For deGrom, it was his eighth straight start where he’s allowed two earned runs or fewer, and if not for Max Scherzer would be in all likelihood the front runner for the NL Cy Young. At the moment, he’s behind only Scherzer in the NL for fWAR with pitchers (at 2.8 to Scherzer’s 4.0) and is tied for fifth with Corey Kluber for the Major Leagues. Both traditional statistics and advanced metrics love him.

I can’t wait for all the articles to appear that argue that deGrom is the best draft pick out of that 2010 class (you know, the one with Matt Harvey) because it’s impossible to allow Harvey time to recoup. Also, I’m still trying to pretend that Brandon Nimmo might be awesome with Jose Fernandez due back soon.

Ugh.

At the plate, the Mets were sort of a mixed bag yesterday. They collected 10 hits, but they scored only two runs. It took four singles to score one run in the seventh, and while the inning started out with a deGrom single and it was his questionable base running skills that turned into station-to-station baseball, it was excruciating to watch. The coaches tried, though, to generate offense. Third base coach Tim Teufel was aggressive in sending runners (once where Michael Cuddyer was thrown out at the plate in the second and again in the sixth when Cuddyer scored) and twice the team attempted steals with both Curtis Granderson and Darrell Ceciliani being thrown out at second.

Granderson was clearly out, but Ceciliani was safe by two feet, easily. It was such an egregiously bad call by Larry Vanover that it still feels like he was just kidding. Terry Collins was tossed arguing that call (he couldn’t use his challenge because he’d lost it when he challenged the Cuddyer play at home in the second) and it’s tough to find fault with Collins there. Having the security blanket of the instant replay system shouldn’t be an excuse for horrible officiating, but that sort of seems what’s happening here. Umpires expect calls to be challenged, so they make a call that might impact the game least negatively. If it’s wrong? Oh well. Someone will challenge, and everything will be super.

The Brewers didn’t do anything particularly notable to the Mets batters on Thursday. They basically attacked the Mets with fastballs and curveballs, like they were facing a Little League team, and the Mets could do little with it. Poor Ruben Tejada whiffed so spectacularly on curveballs (twice) that I thought he might twist an ankle spinning into the ground, and Cecillani was the same against Corey Knebel in the eighth. Lucas Duda looked a mess. Duda saw the one changeup I remember seeing from Brewers starter Taylor Jungmann, but mostly he was given a steady diet of breaking pitches low in the zone and fastballs right on the inner black, and Duda looked confused by it all afternoon. His RBI single in the eighth off of Will Smith’s glove was like a gift from the baseball gods. Eventually something had to break right for this team, and an infield single was the gift.

Okay. I’ll take it.

Two runs shouldn’t feel like 20, but after the team scored but 10 on their eight game road trip2 it’s difficult to not see that as a bounty.

  1. In the Nats game, not but an hour or so later, Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa turned a fantastic double play to end the fifth and keep the Nats starters’ scoreless innings streak alive. I didn’t pump my fist at that one. I expected the Nats to turn that play, and it was admittedly much more difficult. This is where I’m at with the Mets and the defense. Routine stuff is cause for celebration.
  2. In comparison, the Nats scored nine in the first inning against the Pirates on Sunday.

Jun 25

Jordan Zimmermann Adds to Nats Dominant Run

The last time a Washington Nationals starting pitcher allowed an earned run, the country hadn’t celebrated our dads for being awesome, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley hadn’t called for removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, and I hadn’t added my twenty bucks to the one billion or so Jurassic World has earned so far.  Joe Ross was the last to allow a run on June 19th against the Pirates, and all he did in that game was strikeout 11 in 7 1/3 innings.  If you count the 5 1/3 innings where Ross didn’t allow a run after the Pirates scored in the second, Nats starters have now gone 34 1/3 innings without allowing a run, and Jordan Zimmermann didn’t do anything to break that streak last night.

There was a stretch last season, between September 14 through the 17th, where the quartet of Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, and Blake Treinen 25 2/3 innings scoreless across four starts, but the 34 1/3 innings scoreless is sort of unprecedented in franchise history, at least since the team moved to D.C. With the Expos there was a streak of 20 straight back in 1992, and there was a streak of 26 2/3 in 1989, but we have to go all the way back to 1981 when the team went 39 innings straight (4 straight starts where the starters didn’t allow a run and the innings in the sandwich games). I didn’t go back further than that. There was a streak of 25 innings in 1980, but that was it for the Expos days. I confined my search to the modern era, not venturing out to the old Washington Senators days. You’re free to do so. Maybe I’ll update this later.

Last night Zimmermann kept the Braves relatively quiet across his eight innings of work. He allowed six hits and struck out three, one of which he got Jace Peterson on a particularly nasty curveball in the eighth. All in all, he worked his fastball around 93-95, mostly up in the zone, and had a 10-10 mix of ground balls to fly balls. If not for Drew Storen blowing the game in the ninth, I’d be adding in something about Zimmermann earning his sixth win, but he’s 5-5, and I’m sure he’ll just as soon take a Nationals win.

I’m not sure what to make of Zimmermann’s season so far. His K/9 are way down at a career low of 6.16, and he’s walking half a batter more per nine than last season. Then again his HR/9 rate is down and his BABIP of .328 is extremely high. Bad luck? Maybe he’s frustrated with all the errors. He’s already allowed five unearned runs. If not for a Eury Perez double play in the second, Zimmermann might have allowed more after yet another Ian Desmond error (his 16th) when he failed to transition the ball from his glove to his hand. Zimmermann didn’t look happy after the play, but honestly, how can you tell?

So Doug Fister starts today, hoping to keep the dominance of the Nationals staff going. In his first rehab start back from the disabled list, Fister allowed five earned runs to Tampa Bay in 5 1/3 innings.

Jun 24

Let’s Fix the All Star Game!

Thanks to Royals mania and the collective joie de vivre of the Kansas City baseball fans, there are seven Royals projected to start the All Star game. This, apparently, is a bad thing. Somehow Royals’ fans of all ages voting for their favorite players to make the All Star game has turned MLB’s summer showcase into a farce and has to be fixed. You should read about it. People are extremely angry. Jayson Stark on ESPN even wrote an article on how to fix the voting because, this is me reading between the lines here, the fans are sort of stupid and shouldn’t be allowed to think for themselves. He doesn’t say this, of course. Stark is a good-natured guy who loves baseball and just wants to see the best players on the field, but it’s sort of how I’m reading it. We fans are barely capable of using forks without the fear of losing an eye, and this game is far too important to hand over to the masses.

I don’t know if the fans are angry about the voting. I suspect that no one cares. In the last week I can say with 100% certainty that I have not once discussed the All Star game with anyone. At Nationals Park on Sunday, no one mentioned the game, and while admittedly I didn’t overhear all 33 thousand in attendance, the few hundred I sat near in left field were more concerned with Gio Gonzalez throwing strikes and booing Jose Tabata. Also there was the sun. It was hot, and my flesh sort of bubbled by the fifth run in that nine-run first. My wife was more concerned with dehydration, sunburns, and a steady stream of five dollar waters. I did not ask her about the All Star game. I did ask her if she was going to eat all of her boardwalk fries, however. Maybe someone there worried that Lorenzo Cain might start in centerfield over Mike Trout or that Omar Infante was even included on the ballot much less to rob poor Jason Kipnis or Brian Dozier of a roster spot. That person is probably the same person who wears black dress socks with Jams and sips coffee in 100 degree weather, but whatever. His or her voice needs to be heard, and by God, the All Star game is a national institution.

Maybe the real issue isn’t the voting. Maybe the real issue is that Major League Baseball can’t decide what they want the All Star game to be. Is it an exhibition? If so, allow the fans to vote, keep the rule where every team needs to have at least one representative, and remove the ridiculous and artificial awarding of home field advantage based on the game’s result. Is it a game to determine postseason scheduling? If that’s the case, remove the fans entirely and allow front office personnel and managers to pick the teams, stop trying to award participation ribbons to teams who have questionable inclusions, and really sell the fact that this game matters. You can’t have it both ways. It can’t be both an exhibition and meaningful. If you want to make every team able to promote their individual All Star participant (and sell those awesome custom jerseys and hats) and still have the game hold meaning then why not just fill the teams with the best players, regardless of team, and have skills competitions to showcase your other stars? I would love to see Wilmer Flores in a routine grounder competition. Will Ian Desmond botch the first soft liner or will it be Flores? Which middle infield duo refuses to cover second on a stolen base first? Both Vegas and I think it will be the Mets! What’s the over/under on poor Eric Campbell decisions? See, there’s so much fun to be had when we really sell the fundamentals.

I’m fully willing to admit that my perception of this game might be clouded by watching the Mets play recently. I’ve seen this team play defense like it’s an NBA All Star game, not care, and pretty much give up on Terry Collins over the last week, so that the thought of players more upset about not getting three days of extra rest than excited about an exhibition game doesn’t get me fired up. I see that pretty much every day, thank you very much.

We’re here because in 2002 the All Star game ended in a tie, and we were all so very upset that an exhibition game didn’t end decisively. Bud Selig and MLB, embarrassed because the game was played at Miller Park and Selig epically froze under fear of doing anything innovative or fun to determine a winner (home run derby anyone?), overreacted and made the decision that haunts us to this day. Also it was Torii Hunter’s fault.

I have an idea, though. It’s an admittedly dumb idea, but my idea at least pretends that the game matters and treats it like it does. Why not fill out the roster with only the players who are currently in line to make the postseason? These players would certainly care about home field advantage—maybe—and they’d probably be willing to try. If nothing else, we’d see the best players from the best teams, and that at least would be worth the viewing. Oh, sure, there are all kinds of issues with this plan. Teams would be less than enthused about their $30M dollar stud pitcher taxing his arm in a game that might not have any direct benefit to them (because that doesn’t happen now, of course), and injury replacements and pitcher rest days would be challenging. Also, why only add players from the teams who are currently in line for postseason berths? The Tigers and Blue Jays are each one game back from the AL wild card, so why can’t Josh Donaldson or Miguel Cabrera play too? In the AL there are seven teams either owning a wild card spot or within 2.5 games while in the NL there are three.

I haven’t worked all of that out. Why bother? It’s a dumb idea. I also haven’t worked out ways to determine tie breakers so that rosters are only selected from the same number of teams, what manager fills out the lineup cards, or how the rosters are actually filled. For the moment, I’ll choose. Here are the 10 teams that either lead their division or own a wild card: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates, and Cubs in the NL and the Rays, Royals, Astros, Yankees, and Twins in the AL. In the spirit of the current game, I’m filling pitcher positions, not necessarily predetermined roles.

 

Position AL NL
C Brian McCann Francisco Cervelli
1B Albert Pujols Anthony Rizzo
2B Brian Dozier Danny Espinosa
SS Alcides Escobar Jhonny Peralta
3B Mike Moustakas Kris Bryant
LF Alex Gordon Randal Grichuk
CF Mike Trout Joc Pederson
RF George Springer Bryce Harper
Bench Salvador Perez Yadier Molina
Bench Jose Altuve Adrian Gonzalez
Bench Evan Longoria Matt Carpenter
Bench Trevor Plouffe Justin Turner
Bench Brett Gardner Chris Coghlan
Bench Steven Souza Jason Heyward
Bench Alex Rodriguez Andrew McCutchen
P Chris Archer Max Scherzer
P Dellin Betances Clayton Kershaw
P Wade Davis Zack Greinke
P Glen Perkins Gerrit Cole
P Andrew Miller Jake Arrieta
P Michael Pineda A.J. Burnett
P Dallas Keuchel Francisco Liriano
P Jake Odorizzi Drew Storen
P Trevor May Jason Hammel
P Josh Fields Aaron Barrett
Homer Pick Chris Sale Jacob deGrom

Hypothetical All Star Lineups

I’m missing players for sure. I haven’t counted how many players for each team are on the roster, and I wasn’t trying to be particularly fair either. I had one rule: if there was a way to not place a Cardinal or a Dodger on the squad, I took it. There’s a reason why I added Chris Coghlan over Kolten Wong and why the Nationals have two relievers (and also Aaron Barrett followed me for like six hours on Twitter once) while Michael Wacha stays home. I also decided to add one special homer pick. These are guys that I want to see at the game no matter if their team is in line for the postseason or not. I’d imagine some of these players could be swapped out for others with no problem, and I added Alex Rodriguez because he’s having a decent season and it’d drum up interest in the game. How many articles will be written here soon about whether Rodriguez deserves to play in the game, should or will make the roster, or what it means to his legacy? I also gave Danny Espinosa a starting nod because he’s having a really good year, and this is my blog.

I can do that.

This is a game I’d watch. The NL’s squad definitely has a strong group of starting pitchers while the AL has lights out relievers. The AL has speed off of the bench while the thought of Bryce Harper facing Dellin Betances in the late innings is almost too much. Does Betances risk throwing him a fastball? Can Harper hit that ridiculous curve?

Does it make sense? No. It doesn’t not make sense, however, especially in comparison to the current game, so why not? It’s sad that we won’t see Giancarlo Stanton or Manny Machado or Paul Goldschmidt play, but apparently denying those that deserve to make it is already a problem. I can’t imagine my approach is really any worse.

Jun 15

Dillon Gee Had a Bad Time

Dilson Herrera

Dilson Herrera, listening to the sound of his own awesome.

Since 2010, the Mets starting pitching has been better than you might think for a team that hasn’t finished above .500 once in that time and has a cumulative record of 416-457, including the current season. In terms of fWAR, the Mets rank sixth in the NL since the beginning of 2010 and the team’s starters have the 10th ranked FIP at 3.84. Big strikeout numbers typically help FIP (it’s fielding independent after all) and the Mets surprisingly are ranked seventh at 7.24 K/9. The last number surprised me. Well, not the 7.24 but being ranked seventh. I thought it would be lower. Outside of the current crop of big armed righties, it’s not as though in the last six years the Mets have employed guys with swing and miss stuff.

Over that time, of all the pitchers not named Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, or Zack Wheeler, the starter with the highest K/9 is Chris Capuano at 8.17 in his one, not so horrible even though I was convinced it was going to be, 2011 season where he was third of the Mets starters in fWAR behind Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey.

There’s a point here. Trust me.

Over those six years, the Mets have asked 31 different men to start for them. Of those 31, seven starts were given to Oliver Perez, four to Aaron Harang (before he found he could pitch again with the Braves), 18 starts to their former closer Jenrry Mejia, and one start to their current closer Jeurys Familia. It’s sort of like a time capsule here. I look at this list and smile when I see John Maine.

It’s like that but opposite with Perez.

Of those 873 games that a pitcher could potentially start, Niese has made the most starts with 152. Second most is Dillon Gee with 110, and over the years Gee has a perfectly respectable record of 40-37 (one of only five Mets starters to have a record greater than .500 who have at least one full season worth of starts) with a below average ERA of 4.00 and an fWAR of 4.8 that Max Scherzer will likely equal by the middle of July. Amazingly enough Gee’s allowed fewer hits than innings pitched over the years, which is saying something if you watched the game Sunday.

Yesterday it was like he was balancing the books.

All of this is really my way of saying we go way back Dillon. I think Mets fans genuinely like the guy, even if they booed his outing yesterday, and I imagine most people feel for a guy who’s pitched competently for a franchise that hasn’t been above .500 since 2008 and not once since Gee’s been employed. He’s not part of the team’s future (as evidenced by the constant trade speculations and creative ways management screws up this six-man rotation “thing” that has basically gone nowhere excruciatingly slowly), and when fans dream of a rotation of twenty-somethings who all throw mid-to-high-90s, post sexy strikeout rates, and have a changeup that essentially is Gee’s fourseamer.

Maybe he’s traded, and maybe he’s not, but for Gee, there’s no rosy future where he saves the season of the only professional team he’s ever known. Even the bullpen is like the team is just finding a spot to put him, sort of out of sight for the time being, like stacking things in your basement just to make room for shinier objects. I get his frustration. He deserves better than to be forgotten, except when it’s impossible to forget the train wreck of his latest starts, but he won’t get it here. I guess the only solace is that he doesn’t pitch for Boston. They’d leak rumors of a peppermint oil addiction or something.

Yesterday, Gee allowed 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings. The hits allowed were one shy of his personal worst (a 6 2/3 inning outing against the Giants in 2012), and if all of those didn’t happen in bunches with two outs it certainly felt like it. I think they call those clusters. Yeah, yesterday was sort of a cluster.

The eight earned runs allowed by Gee (oh, passive voice!) tied his career high and marks the fourth time this season where he’s allowed four or more runs. That’s in seven starts. The averages aren’t particularly good.

The averages also aren’t good for any pitch that Gee throws up there right now, except his slider. Batters are hitting .318 against his fourseamer, .369 against his sinker, and a ridiculous .375 against his changeup. Batters used to hit just .209 against his change—back when things were more settled, like his location both in terms of where he’s throwing the ball and where he’s expected to be placed.

The Mets won yesterday, so Gee’s outing will largely be forgotten. The storyline will be the return of Jose Reyes and Dickey and Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud starting against the team that traded them. Gee will be forgotten too, at some point, for newer, younger guys with electric stuff that don’t have to be perfect to be serviceable. Even when Gee makes great pitches, like he did to Jace Peterson to lead off the game, they can be slapped around for singles and lead to bad things happening.

Younger guys are distractions. Isn’t that so, Dilson Herrera?

Jun 08

deGrom and My Favorite Pitch: the Change

Sometimes I think that Ron Darling is the better looking, more talented, much smarter version of me. He sits in the SNY booth with Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez, drops a little knowledge on us fools watching the game, and then he leaves in a stretch limousine with tinted windows still seething from the latest Lucas Duda plunking. I don’t know if that’s how it really happens. That’s how I imagine it, though.

At that moment in the first inning when I think, “Hey, Jacob deGrom should probably try not to start every batter with a fastball . . . even if the location looks pretty decent for the most part, hitting corners . . . a guy like Paul Goldschmidt will deposit one of those in the right-centerfield pool, and where will the Mets be then,” Darling mentions how deGrom hasn’t thrown any breaking pitches or changes of pace.1 I’m not saying Darling and I are sympatico, but I’m not saying there’s not a mental connection either. 1986 might have changed us all in some subtle way.

deGrom was starting batters off with fastballs, and seeing how the fourseamer Ender Inciarte laced over Curtis Granderson’s head was up in the zone it was troubling. A lot of fastballs. Location seems a little off. One or two sliders, missing off the plate. I had visions of deGrom’s start against the Yankees flashing through my mind, and really, I wanted this road trip to end on a positive note since the Mets went through the trouble of actually scoring a run and all with Granderson’s leadoff homerun. Then Eric Campbell throws away a perfectly find double-play opportunity (now his start against the Cubs pops into my mind), but deGrom escapes by giving up only two runs, striking out Jake Lamb and Chris Owings to end the inning. Both were on fastballs if you’re wondering.

In the third inning deGrom struck out A.J. Pollock with a particularly nasty changeup that had great movement down and in. It was a lovely pitch. In a larger moment, say in the late innings with the game on the line, it would have been discussed with awe by sports writer and given its own segment on Baseball Tonight. On a lazy afternoon in June it was a nice pitch that struck out a guy who strikes out around 16% of the time anyway. Unfortunately, deGrom only threw 10 changeups to the Diamondbacks on Sunday afternoon, which is about average for deGrom since he throws his change 9.3% of the time. It’s possible he doesn’t throw it often because batters hit .273 off it, but that seems silly to me. It’s a wonderful pitch. Batters swing and miss about 40% of the time when he throws it.

Logically I understand the need to use the fastball to set up his other pitches, but with a fourseamer sitting 95-96, an 84-mph changeup that dives to a right-hand batter’s ankles seems like an incredibly effective weapon that should probably be used more. Look at this image and tell me it’s not a thing of beauty:

jacob_degrom_changeupdeGrom buries that pitch in the lower half of the zone. There’s a reason why batters’ ISO is .064. Vladimir Guerrero could have done something with a pitch like that, but I don’t think too many others are taking that yard.

Moving on.

On the day, deGrom finished with 10 strikeouts, making it the second time this season he’s reached double-digits. He had eight through four innings, and I thought for a moment he might hit 14 or 15 on the afternoon. It seemed like one of those days.

Opposite deGrom, the Diamondbacks Josh Collmenter allowed five earned runs and the Mets hit four homeruns against hit (tying their season high). No offense to Collmenter, but the Mets should have hit that many homeruns, if not more, since Collmenter was tossing up 85-mph fastballs and slow looping curves. The pitch Campbell drove to deep left was an inside fastball that looked served to order. In the sixth, before Wilmer Flores hit his ninth on the year, he swung at a fastball at his eyebrows. The pitches that Collmenter graciously tossed to the plate looked tantalizing enough that a professional hitter nearly came out of the batter’s box hacking at one located at his helmet’s logo.

Juan Lagares had a great game against Collmenter, getting three hits in each of his at-bats against the righty. Most impressive was that Lagares drove the ball to deep right center for a ground rule double, and then he lined two to left field (one a rather generously awarded double in his second at-bat). Does Lagares look leaner? He did to me. He seemed a little heavy early in the season, but in this game he looks like he’s lost some weight. Is that on purpose? I didn’t hear anything on this, so maybe it’s just my imagination.

3-4 on a road trip isn’t necessarily all that bad, and a third of the way through the season the team is holding their own in the East. Soon, likely by early this week, Dilson Herrera and Travis d’Arnaud will rejoin the team, and if nothing else, it’ll be nice to see a Mets regular take the field again.

  1. Isn’t it great how one time pitchers that are now television broadcasters call them changes of pace and not changeups? It always throws me off just a little when they do that. It takes a few seconds for the brain to process what they said, thinking, “Did he just . . . do people really call them that?” I always enjoy that moment. It’s the same when an announcer calls a curve an Uncle Charlie.

Jun 05

Mets Win, Murphy Exits Game Early

Jean-Claude Van Damme

Jean-Claude Van Damme wears an awesome leather jacket, speaking to people or something.

I have to admit that today was supposed to be a good day. Despite the fact that I’ll be outside all day working on the yard (still better than a day in the office, sitting in an uncomfortable chair while staring at a computer screen) I felt pretty good. I won a bag of Black Dog dark roast coffee for backing the Warriors last night; Anthony Rendon made his season debut on Thursday, and Tanner Roark is scheduled to start on Friday (now the Nationals season officially starts for me and I can begin to love again); and with a rare evening to do whatever I watched Bloodsport, marveling at Jean-Claude Van Damme’s fluffy bangs, which even when fighting against Chong Li in the finale never once moved.

Then, I begin to re-watch the Mets game from last night. I didn’t catch any of it last night. My high stakes coffee bet kept me glued to Game 1 of the NBA Finals (honestly, I didn’t even know when this game was supposed to be played due to the 2-month layoff between the end of the conference finals, but when someone offers you the Warriors at home it’s difficult to turn that down, even for #HarveyDay), so it was immediately sadness as the Mets squander scoring chances in the first and second with two innings of no outs and a man at third, and then the bottom of the third starts with Eric Campbell replacing Daniel Murphy. What? Gary Cohen tells us, “tightness in the left quad.”

Enough already.

There were only two possible reasons for Murphy straining his quadriceps: either he’d hurt it running out a grounder in the top half of the inning or he’d torn it sprinting to second before realizing that Terry Collins had assigned him to third again, and Murphy’s quad exploded when he jump stopped and his cleats caught in the grass. I’m certain it was the first reason, but I’ve decided to believe in the second because it sounds plausible enough that my mind doesn’t immediately reject it, and it confirms the absolute mess the team’s infield situation is currently in due to David Wright being out.

There’s no official word as to the Mets’ plans going forward. Hell, they didn’t really have any plans before Murphy was hurt, living more paycheck to paycheck with however the stars seemingly aligned that day, but it probably means Campbell will remain at third, Wilmer Flores stays at short, and Tejada will play second. With Dilson Herrera beginning his rehab assignment there’s no immediate relief for a Major League capable second baseman to allow Tejada to return to third, and Herrera was batting only .235/.297/.353 in 10 games with the club before fracturing the tip of his right middle finger in fielding drills. With Campbell in the lineup, the Mets once balanced lineup has become increasingly right-handed dominant with the only left-handed batters being Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda, and Darrell Ceciliani off of the bench. If Murphy is out at all, the team will likely recall Daniel Muno, which is super because he can at least swing from the left side, but with an OPS+ of -27 in 17 plate appearances his making contact with anything is unlikely.

In truth, the team should just use Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard to pinch hit for whomever the team decides to man Murphy’s spot the third time through the order. I’m okay with that. Sadly, it even sounds logical at this point.

After a rather awful beginning to the season that saw Murphy hitting .198/.258/.346 with two homeruns through April (that includes this dramatic 9th inning homerun against the Marlins), Murphy has turned into an offensive dynamo once he hit May. He hit .330/.378/.417 in May with seven extra-base hits and 12 RBI, and in June he’d already recorded six hits in 14 at-bats, including a long double to left field in his first at-bat in Thursday night’s game. On the season he’d hit well against right-handed pitching as well, going .302/.355/.459 with all four of his homers coming against righties. As a team, the Mets non-pitchers are batting .245/.310/.367 (the batting average good for 23rd out of 30 clubs in the Majors) with the righties hitting .245/.291/.349 with a wRC+ of 90 (24th).

So, yeah, Murphy’s increasingly hot left-handed bat is sort of important.

The good news is the Mets won 6-2, and with the Nationals falling to the Cubs 2-1, the team climbed back into first place in the East. If they can stay there might depend on Murphy’s health and the severity of his injury.

photo credit: star via photopin (license)

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