The Mets Just Aren’t Very Good, Okay?

May 23, 2010

WFAN’s Mike Francesa had Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez on his show on Friday to discuss the current state of the team. Like nearly everyone in or around the Mets organization, Hernandez insisted that the team isn’t playing up to its potential, particularly offensively:

“And now I think it’s snowballed and the whole team is infected. The whole offense. I’ve been on teams early in my career that struggled offensively, and boy, you start losing, and everyone’s trying to hit the three, four, eight-run home run, trying to take the extra base, and you can just see it… and it’s called ‘pressing’.”

And then later in the interview:

“I just can’t help but think that – with this lineup that the Mets have – that they’re gonna break out. You can’t tell me that Bay, or Reyes, or Wright – Wright I’m a little worried about the long swing – Francoeur has always been streaky, and he’s not gonna play ice cold like this the rest of the year. I’ve gotta believe, at some point, that this club is gonna click offensively.”

I’ve gone on the record as saying that the 2010 Mets aren’t very good in general, and specifically aren’t nearly as good offensively as many seem to think. I like to think that I’ve been fairly diplomatic about this. But as I keep hearing people say “the Mets just haven’t clicked yet” or “it’s only a matter of time,” it’s getting increasingly difficult to be measured in my disagreement.

So, consider this a deviation from my earlier methods when I say, unequivocally, that the Mets do not have a good offense. They are not “pressing” as a team (but it’s possible that, at any given moment, a particular player is doing so). They are not going to break out. The club is not going to “click offensively” with any sort of sustainability. And the reason none of this is going to happen is that the Mets have one and a half players (Jose Reyes and Jason Bay) that are underachieving, and that’s it. The Mets simply don’t have enough good hitters. Let’s take a quick look, because this really isn’t that hard to understand: Read the rest of this entry »

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The Dysfunctional Mets: April 27th

April 28, 2010

It pains me to write this, but as I listened to Mike Francesa’s interview with Jerry Manuel, I realized that there’s not a whole lot of delusion or incompetence going on with the Mets right now. They’re playing pretty good baseball, and have found themselves atop the NL East as April winds down. And as much as I’d like to rag on them like I did at the very beginning of the season, there’s not much material there. While the best part about issuing cranky prognostications is pointing out when you’re right, it’s also only fair that you admit when you’re wrong too. So far, I’ve been wrong about the Mets. So far. We’ll see how things look when Ike Davis isn’t hitting .333/.424/.556, when Jeff Francoeur settles down (I’m not buying his turnaround for boring and statistical reasons), and when Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, and Jonathon Niese don’t have a combined ERA of 2.07.

I’m not very good at apologies, am I?


The Dysfunctional Mets: April 21st

April 21, 2010

Unfortunately, today’s segment with Jerry Manuel on WFAN wasn’t nearly as fruitful as the one on April 15th. There were no admissions of choosing Demonstrably Inferior Player A over Potentially Average Player B solely because of the former’s “experience.” No delusions of grandeur about an offense that has an upper limit of average. Nothing. The segment was strikingly bereft of incompetence.

In fact, when asked to diagnose the Mets and their current state, Manuel was downright sensible. He continually stressed that the key to the Mets’ season is their starting pitching, which is totally accurate. Of course, Manuel wasn’t perfect. He claimed Jonathon Niese was on the cusp of “being a force to be reckoned with for a long time.” He tacitly agreed with Mike Francesa that David Wright (.229/.439/.458) is struggling. Manuel was also fortunate that Francesa didn’t bring up Rod Barajas and his .200/.191/.356 line, although that’s probably mostly because Francesa joined Manuel in the Barajas lovefest this winter and doesn’t want to remind us of it. But all in all, Manuel didn’t say anything particularly incompetent or delusional, which was a huge disappointment.

But since you are no doubt relying on me to complain about something, I will bring up Manuel’s overly respectful and fearful description of the Chicago Cubs’ offense:

“They got good hitters. I mean, those are good hitters. [Aramis] Ramirez is a historically good hitter. Derrek Lee, obviously, is a good hitter. [Alfonso] Soriano, you know, has got some power. Xavier Nady. [Jeff] Baker, you know, all those guys. [Marlon] Byrd looks like he’s improved as a hitter. So they’ve got some dangerous, dangerous right-handed hitters.”

I’m pretty sure Manuel just named every Cubs hitter he could think of in 10 seconds, because this list includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ramirez is fine. He’s gotten off to a terrible start, but he’s 31 and has an excellent track record, so his inclusion on the list of “good hitters on the Cubs” is acceptable. Lee has also been an excellent hitter over the last few years. Those are the “good.”

Byrd is only good if you like shiny stupid stats like batting average and RBI, because he hit .283 and drove in 89 runs in 2009, numbers that suckered the Cubs into signing him as a free agent. You would also have to ignore Byrd’s .285/.322/.419 line away from the Rangers’ hitting-friendly ballpark in order to think Byrd is good or “has improved as a hitter.” Soriano is a disaster because, for the 11th year running, he cannot lay off breaking balls away. His OBP last year was .303, and even with the best of luck, it won’t top .320 this year. Nady is fine as long as he’s facing a lefty, but he’s below-average against righties. He’s 31 and that isn’t going to change at this point. Those are the “bad.”

The “ugly” is Jeff Baker, but his inclusion is more comical and inexplicable than anything else. In 27 plate appearances in 2010, the 28-year-old has hit .240/.296/.480 (.269/.325/.456 career) with two homers and three RBI. I mention the RBI because it’s not like Manuel was perusing the Cubs’ hitters and saw Baker had an outlandish RBI total, thereby deciding that he’s an offensive threat. Baker has three RBI and is hitting .240, numbers that would make even a traditionalist groan, so I really lack any sort of explanation as to why Manuel thinks Baker is a dangerous right-handed hitter.

That’s really it for this edition of The Dysfunctional Mets. Hopefully Manuel and Francesa will get into a discussion about Rod Barajas’ entirely predictable unfortunate struggles next time.


The Dysfunctional Mets: April 15th

April 15, 2010

I have to admit that, in a totally self-indulgent bit of schadenfreude, I’ve been following the New York Mets since spring training. I don’t watch many of their games; I have too much respect for myself to do that. But I’ve been examining their box scores and, more relevantly, following what the people in and around the Mets organization are saying about the team. In general, I think it’s fascinating to hear people discuss themselves or their work. And when “their work” equals “the 2010 New York Mets,” the urge to lend an ear is irresistible.

I’ve found that the best source for these sorts of discussions is WFAN‘s Mike Francesa. Francesa frequently has Mets manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya on his show to talk about the team’s performance. This started in spring training, and has been enormously entertaining since day one. This is because the Mets organization has replaced the New York Knicks as the most delusional and incompetent franchise in American professional sports today. Some franchises are more delusional than the Mets. Some franchises are more incompetent than the Mets. But none combines those qualities as stunningly as the Mets do. Francesa’s interviews with Manuel and Minaya continually illustrate that fact.

So, in that spirit, I’ve decided to start a recurring theme called The Dysfunctional Mets. The idea is simple: I listen to the most recent WFAN interview with Manuel or Minaya, take down the most delusional or revealing of incompetence utterances, and present them to you with sobering remarks. I suppose this feature is a risky proposition, since it’s wholly reliant on the Mets continuing to stink. If they turn it around (as Manuel and Minaya insist they will do), I’m going to look like a fool. Luckily, I have some experience looking like that, so it’s worth the risk. I hope you enjoy this feature as much as I suspect I will enjoy writing it. Read the rest of this entry »


Equilibrium

April 2, 2010

A few days ago, I did something that was probably kind of rude. I had just spent the afternoon in St. Augustine, Florida with my girlfriend, her sister, and their mother. We were driving back to Gainesville when I sheepishly warned everyone that I was putting my headphones on to listen to a podcast. No one seemed to care except for my girlfriend, who asked what the podcast was about. I told her it was Bill Simmons and Keith Law discussing baseball, a particularly interesting combination because of their wildly divergent perspectives on the sport. Simmons has been reluctant to embrace newer baseball statistics, even projecting some snark their way, while Law (who is snarky in his own right) is a sabermetrically-inclined scout and analyst. Anyway, my girlfriend wished me the best, and I tuned in.

Fast forward to today, when I was killing some time while my girlfriend tried on some clothes in shop here in Gainesville. I was poking around on Twitter when I saw this message. It was a pretty clear suggestion: Bill Simmons – the longtime baseball traditionalist, user of pitcher wins, RBIs, advocate of grit, guts, and heart – had finally come around on sabermetrics as a valid, useful, and pretty darn accessible method of evaluating baseball. Naturally, I immediately read Simmons’ column to make sure this had actually happened. And while it does indeed appear that Simmons has seen the light, reading his column did require some patience and understanding on my end. For example, the ease with which one can grasp a statistic is extremely important to Simmons. But he criticizes OPS+ for being inaccessible while touting VORP even though, and I quote: “only the robo-nerds know exactly how to calculate it.” Simmons also admits to having disliked sabermetrics because they were some combination of intimidating, threatening, and hard to comprehend, which tested my patience. I decided, however, that I admire his honestly because those are the reasons that I think most sportswriters and analysts are reluctant to embrace sabermetrics. It takes fortitude to say “these things were too daunting for me to explore, and that’s why I’ve been sticking to my guns” – even if it was an irritating admission to read. No matter what, it’s good to have Simmons aboard. He has a huge audience, and I’m hopeful that his embracing of sabermetrics will encourage others to at least consider the possibility of a world outside traditional baseball statistics.

In my ecstasy, I hollered to my changing room-enclosed girlfriend “Bill Simmons is cool with new baseball stats now!” To this she replied “maybe Keith Law rubbed off on him!” This is why I love her.

Of course, the universe does seems to tend towards equilibrium, which means that I was due for a dismaying bit of news in the coming days. Sure enough, I came upon this tragic (there is no better word for it) bit of news from the New York Mets’ camp. Off-season pickup and Kansas City Royals castoff (red flag!) Mike Jacobs will be batting cleanup on Opening Day, which presumably means that he’ll be occupying that spot for at least a few weeks. As a Yankees fan, this is wonderful news. As a fan of intelligence, this is heartbreaking.

Let’s ignore, for a moment, the studies showing that optimizing lineup construction in baseball isn’t all that important. By that I mean that the difference in production between a lineup constructed “optimally” and a lineup constructed randomly isn’t all that great. Instead, let’s focus on the widely-held idea in baseball that the fourth spot in the batting order should be one of the best hitters on the team. Every team in baseball puts the player that it considers to be its best or second-best hitter in the fourth spot. The Yankees hit Alex Rodriguez fourth. The Phillies hit Ryan Howard fourth. The Brewers hit Prince Fielder fourth. Excellent hitters – or at least the best hitter a team has to offer – hit fourth.

Given this widespread belief, one that every team in baseball practices, it stands to reason that the Mets believe Mike Jacobs is one of the best hitters on their team. This is the same Mike Jacobs who hit .228/.297/.401 in 2009 (.254/.313/.476 career, with a declining OBP in each of his five seasons), and who did so with average luck (BABIP) and a line drive rate that is perfectly aligned with his career norms. In other words, Jacobs received little luck either way in 2009 and was still awful. There are no underlying indicators of future success here. Jacobs is a terrible hitter, an out machine, and will be entrusted with perhaps the most vaunted of the nine lineup spots on a team that fancies itself a legitimate contender.

There is no excuse or justification for the Mets’ choice in this day and age. Fundamental statistics like OBP and SLG are no longer cutting edge nor at all difficult to understand. They are everywhere and simple, intuitive and essential. It has been suggested a few times that there are two teams in Major League Baseball that are paying no attention to the sweeping changes in performance analysis that the industry has undergone in the past decade: the San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets. Decisions like this one reinforce that notion, and indicate that the Mets have no idea what they’re doing.

Maybe Omar Minaya should hire Bill Simmons.


David Cross Should Stick To Comedy

September 7, 2009

This afternoon, I returned to Manhattan from Connecticut on a very crowded train. I turned to my iPod for entertainment, but quickly realized that I have added little new music in recent months (suggestions are welcome), and that I am bored with my current selection. There was a cute and especially bug-eyed pug across the aisle, but with me being neither its owner nor adjacent, its fun factor was limited. The same went for another charming dog in the alcove ahead of me. I was a man with few options.

Consequently, I found myself reading my girlfriend’s copies of New York magazine (which included a heartening article by Jay Jaffe) and Time Out New York. The latter contained a barely noticeable excerpt from an exchange with comedian David Cross, who offered his opinions on the New York Mets:

“Oh, man. If you want to talk baseball, I’ll do that all day. I can’t believe they didn’t even make a play for [Victor] Martinez.”

“I feel bad for Mets fans. Now, I don’t really give a [damn] about the Mets – or Mets fans, really – but when you pay that much money for tickets, and then a little over halfway through the season you just say, ‘Nah, we give up. [Screw] it…’ I can’t imagine Minaya being there next year. Just some bad, bad moves. They go in and sign the best pitcher in the majors, and then there is no backup for him? John Maine?”

The most important bit of information here is the Mets’ record at the trading deadline and at the time of the interview. At the trading deadline, the Mets were 49-53 – ten and a half games behind the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL East and 6.5 games back in the wild card. In late August, approximately when Cross was questioned (I’m assuming), the Mets were 17.5 games back in their division and 13 games behind the wild card leader. Also, from the trading deadline through late August, the Mets were without the services of Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, J.J. Putz, John Maine, Carlos Beltran, Fernando Martinez, Jonathon Niese, David Wright, and Johan Santana for long stretches. And owner Fred Wilpon has lost millions in the Bernard Madoff scandal. What, exactly, would Cross have the Mets to do combat this litany of problems?

So – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – I think we can all forgive the Mets for not being totally equipped to handle this ludicrous streak of horrible luck. The Mets didn’t make a play for Victor Martinez because they (a) had no money and (b) were 6.5 games out of the division with most of their best players on the disabled list for the foreseeable future. The Mets did not say “[screw] it.” They said “we’re broke, we’re not looking good for the playoffs, and everyone is hurt – we probably shouldn’t trade prospects to take on more money for a lost cause.” Finally, is Cross really criticizing the Mets for not having a comparable replacement for Johan Santana? There isn’t a team in baseball that can replace 200 innings of 3.00 ERA pitching from within the organization.

Look, Mets’ general manager Omar Minaya has made some questionable moves and even more questionable public relations decisions. But everyone – sportswriters, fans, comedians – can feel free to stop piling on the Mets for a legitimately promising season that was derailed by a freakish, unforeseen, and unprecedented rash of injuries.

I know Cross is just a comedian, but give me (and if not me, the Mets) a break.


Statistics Have Huge Effect On A Game’s Outcome, Studies Show

September 3, 2009

During today’s Mets-Rockies game, Mets play-by-play man Gary Cohen said something that I found both confusing and – because I’m thin-skinned about this stuff – obnoxious. To very closely paraphrase:

“Nowadays, there’s so much more of an emphasis being placed on statistics and statistical analysis when putting together a team. You see more and more front offices embracing that way of doing things. Which is fine; there’s a certain place in the game for that. But the more you actually watch the game, the more you realize that statistics don’t win games.”

(color commentators agree, discussion on the importance of intangibles ensues)

I’ll tackle the confusing part first. Namely, I’m not sure I understand what point Cohen is trying to make. I would guess that he’s trying to say that you cannot rely solely on statistical analysis when evaluating individual or team performance, that there’s more to constructing a winner than high batting averages and low ERAs. This is, of course, true. Exclusively statistical analysis would suggest that the New York Yankees have a real prospect on their hands in Shelley Duncan, but anyone who has seen Duncan play in the majors knows that he is – at best – a bench player on a second-tier team. It took me forever to be able to admit this, but it really and truly takes the careful combination of objective (statistical) and subjective (scouting) evaluation to identify major league talent and assemble it effectively.

I’m almost positive Cohen was trying to endorse this balance. The problem, however, is that he actually said nothing like that. He said that “statistics don’t win games,” which is about as wrong as you can get. Baseball teams win and lose games based on the number of runs they score and allow. Runs themselves are a statistic, which should automatically disprove Cohen’s theory, but I’ll continue. Teams like Cohen’s Mets score runs (well, not these Mets) by hitting singles, doubles, triples, and home runs. They prevent runs by accumulating strikeouts, avoiding walks, and inducing put-outs. These, too, are statistics. Statistics represent events that determine the outcome of a game. Sure, whether or not David Wright thinks Angel Pagan (great name or greatest name?) is a raging jerk might affect Wright’s performance, but it remains inevitable that his play – as documented by statistics – will affect the level of his team’s success. As I hope you can see, Cohen’s thesis statement is totally incorrect.

In addition to the content, I also found Cohen’s tone more than a little obnoxious. More specifically, his condescending “the more you actually watch the game” rubbed me the wrong way. As many of you may know, a common stereotype amongst the old-school baseball contingent is that those advocating statistical analysis don’t actually watch the games themselves. Instead, it is usually implied and often said that we watch games through the box score, or perhaps in some Matrix-like alternate reality. I’m very (overly?) sensitive to this implication, but I can’t help how I feel. So, to Mr. Cohen and anyone else who thumbs their nose at advocates of objective analysis, I say this: For every stat geek that evaluates players based on nothing but VORP and SNLVAR, there’s a baseball romantic that judges exclusively on a player’s hustle and the look he’s got in his eye. The ultimate goal is to meet in the middle. Until we get there, however, I’d appreciate it if the subtle derision of the statistically-inclined community for its entirely valid (and often accurate) approach to evaluating baseball came to an end.