Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jose's Departure

Jose should be bloody ashamed of himself not going with the 78 fucking
million dollar deal with the Mets; beloved teammates, fans; home-base,
as it were. Talk about the .05%!
-e-mail I received from a friend.

In an alternate reality, where the Mets did sign Reyes:

Fred and Jeff Wilpon are sitting around a shabbily decorated Christmas tree:

Fed: Now, I know that you wanted that bike we saw for Christmas…

Jeff: I sure did pop! It was bright red, and had ten-speeds and a bell and everything!

Fed: Well, son, I sure wish I could have gotten it for you…

Jeff: Gee, you mean you didn’t…

Fred: Well, I really wanted to…but you know how tight money has been around here, ever since we had to spend over a hundred million dollars on Jose Reyes’ contract.

Jeff: I know, pop. But a hundred million dollars sure seems like an awful lot of money, for just one ball player…

Fred: It is, son, it is. But remember, we did it for the fans.

Jeff: Golly, that’s right! The fans sure will be glad to have Jose back! Say, I don’t care about any bike! This is the best Christmas ever!

…I guess what I am trying to say is that it really bothers me when people talk about athletes making too much money. If someone is making too much money, it just seems belligerently myopic to focus on the guy getting the hundred million dollars as opposed to the guy deciding weather or not to give it to him.

On some level, I understand the idea that it would be nice if players were to accept reasonable deals, since even a very modest spots deal represents more than the vast majority of people will ever have a chance to earn in their lives, but if Jose had signed with the Mets for $78 million dollars, the Wilpons would have just pocketed the savings. If they had gotten a bargain on Reyes they wouldn’t have lowered ticket prices—they would have raised them, because Reyes being there would have made them worth paying to see. The most fan friendly thing that they could conceivably have done would be to use the savings for further player acquisitions—and their motive in doing that would be to protect their investment, by making their on field product more successful and more valuable. So, if you are asking Jose Reyes to take a nickel less than his market value, you are basically asking him to give Fred Wilpon free money. What’s that Fred? The government made you give back some of the free money that you made off of Bernie Madoff’s ponzie scheme (which you totally should have known about, you disgusting fucking nit-wit)? Don’t worry Fred, have some more free money in the form of a sweet-heart deal from Jose Reyes-- if there’s one thing that I hate, it’s seeing Fred Wilpon without a pile of money that he didn’t actually work for.

That is why it makes me happy when athletes make obscene piles of money—because at least athletes are good at something. Are you in the top 0.001% of the population when it comes to hitting a round ball with a round bat? Cool, have a giant pile of money. Fred Wilpon has such a giant pile of money that he can dispense these lesser giant piles, yet Fred Wilpon, as far as we can tell, sucks at being Fred Wilpon: he is too dumb to realize when he’s making money on a Ponzi scheme, he hires jack-asses to run his team, and he pisses on his players in the press.* If we have to live in a world where some people have giant piles of money and others don’t, I am much more ok with the giant piles of money being in the hands of those whose unique talents delight and entertain millions, than it being in the hands of actual rich people.

There is something that is sort of like capitalist pornography about athlete contracts. In the real world, people get laid through complex processes, involving longing, loneliness, lust, guilt and shame—in the pornographic world it is much more direct: you delivered a pizza to my house? Ok, let’s fuck. You have a unique and valuable skill? Ok, let’s make you rich. It’s much more exposed than the brand of capitalism that you run across in your daily life: you can look at amounts of money over years, and compare that with player statistics, and the expected value of a win, and watch it all jiggle and gyrate. The key fantasy of capitalist pornography, analogous to the big-breasted blond who just wants to blow everyone, is the spectacle of a worker with actual leverage over his employer selling his labor for the most extravagant price that the market will yield.

The Mets didn’t sign Reyes because the team stinks so much that it isn’t worth making long term investments on the big league level. If there was any cause for optimism about the club in the next three to four years, the contract Reyes signed would represent an expensive, but fair, investment—there isn’t any cause for optimism, so they let him walk. If anyone should be ashamed, I say that it’s the guy who owns the terrible team, rather than the guy who prefers not to play for the terrible team** at a discount.

*I’m alluding, of course, to Wilpon’s asinine comments in The New Yorker from the start of the season. Amongst other things, Wilpon blamed Beltran for striking out with the bases loaded to end game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. While I know that Wilpon isn’t alone in this, I’ve never gotten it: how the hell do you think that losing a seven game series comes down to one at-bat? Sure, if Beltran had gotten a hit the Mets would have won, but lots of other people could have won it for the Mets and didn’t. Fred, you fucking moron, the best parts of your rotation for that series were the mummified remains of Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez (or was he already hurt?)—game 7 was started by Oliver “the-goddam-worst-pitcher-to-ever-start-a-game-7-for-anyone,-ever” Perez, and you have the nerve to blame it on Beltran? Your take-away from that experience is “Beltran is a chocker and should have won it for us,” not “sweet zombie Jesus our pitching is fucking dreadful, how the shit did we make it this far at all?” That’s the kind of thinking that you expect from some Albanian dude who learned about baseball five years ago. What the fuck were they doing in the ‘70s, just handing out free real-estate?

**Everyone is saying "well, you have to understand why the Mets don’t want to sign such an injury prone player,"—but maybe you also have to think about why an injury prone player wouldn’t want to sign with the Mets. If you’re Jose, you have to know that the ultimate success of your career is going to come down largely to how healthy you can stay. And I think that Jose probably has every reason to feel that his best chances for doing that lie with a team called “not-the-Mets.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

This Long Post about Mike Pelfrey is Brought to you by Unemployment!

It was way back in the early days of April: the Mets, against everyone’s expectations, had been scoring runs, but had lost a couple of games behind rotten outings from Mike Pelfrey. After about two hours of listening to callers on the Steve Summers show complaining about Pelfrey’s lack of mental toughness and demanding that he be ought-righted to the glue factory, I had had enough: I called in and very calmly pointed out that the season was all of six days old, and that if we were going to assume that Pelfrey would stink all season we might as well assume that the Mets were going to average 6 runs a game as well, which wasn’t going to happen either. In time, I said, the Mets offense would return to mediocrity, and Pelfrey would go back to being a ‘B+’ pitcher. Steve conceded my point, and admitted that overreacting in the early days of the baseball season wasn’t exactly reasonable, but they had to talk about something, already.

It’s humiliating enough call the Steve Summers show in the first place. It is infinitely worse to have your point proved epically and disastrously wrong. Thanks, Mike.

In 2011, Pelfrey’s contributions to the Mets have ranged from putrid to mediocre. His performance (and the lack of an immediately available alternative) is just good enough to justify continuing to give him the ball; his history is just good enough to offer some increasingly faint hope that he has a run of above average games in him. I still disagree with Steve and his callers and think that Pelfrey’s problems have less to do with his mental state and the stress of being named ‘ace of the staff’ in Santana’s absence, and more to do with his just not being all that good at baseball, but at this point it’s a minor difference: Pelfrey stinks, and the only reason to keep running him out there is because someone has to pitch.

But how much does Pelfrey really stink? Are we harsh on him in light of the fact that every year from 2006 on was supposed to be the year that Mike Pelfrey blossomed into an innings-eating #2 starter? Are we unreasonably kind to him because while he might be a stiff, at least he’s our stiff? How much does he stink compared to other people who are routinely tasked with being the starting pitcher in professional baseball games?

Baseball Prospectus’ Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) is a statistic that tells how many games a team has won by using that particular player, rather than a hypothetical replacement player from the minor leagues or some other team’s discard pile. It is a counting stats (like runs home runs, or innings pitched) rather than a rate stat (like batting average or ERA)—so it is playing time sensitive. The replacement player isn’t league average or real--he just stands for the level of production that you could reasonably expect to get without really trying. So when they say (and they do say) that Mike Pelfrey has a WARP of 0.3 it means that the Mets have won three tenths of a game more behind Mike Pelfrey than they would have behind Joe McSucksatbaseball.

Mike Pelfrey’s WARP of 0.3 has him tied for 9th on the team with Pedro Beato and Dillon Gee. No regular starter on the Mets has a lower WARP. Gee, however, has taken six fewer starts to accumulate his three-tenths of a win above terrible, so Mike Pelfrey’s claim to worst starter on the Mets is pretty rock solid. Jon Niese leads the Mets with a WARP of 3.3; Chris Capuano (2.2) and then R.A. Dickey (1.1) round out the Mets pitchers who have more than one win above replacement to their credit. This, children, is why the Mets aren’t very good.

The Mets start Mike Pelfrey because they don’t really have any choice but to start Mike Pelfrey: its not like they have a ‘potentially good’ pitcher in the minor leagues whose progress Mike Pelfrey is impeding, or any money burning a hole in their pocket waiting to be turned into a ‘league-average’ pitcher. It’s not like their continued devotion to Mike Pelfrey is going to cost them a shot at the pennant (their devotion to five starting pitchers who are not much better than Mike Pelfrey did that long ago). I got to wondering: where would Mike Pelfrey, long believed to be a potential second or third starter on a decent team, fit on other teams pitching staffs? Is there a team in the National League who could improve their rotation by starting Mike Pelfrey?


Philadelphia Phillies:

Pelfrey’s 0.3 WARP would put him in 10th place on the Phillies, tied with Joe Blanton, who went into the season as the Phillies fifth starter—and then got hurt after making only six starts. The Phillies did give eleven starts to Kyle Kendrick, who has a WARP of -0.1. On the other hand, Roy Haladay (5.5) has provided as much WARP as the Mets top two starters put together. Vance Worly (1.6, 14 starts) would be the third best pitcher on the Mets.

Atlanta Braves:

Pelfrey would be the 12th best pitcher on the Braves, tied with reliever Scott Linebrink. No one who has started more than two games for Atlanta has a lower WARP.

Washington Nationals:

Mike Pelfrey would rank 9th in WARP, tied with Ross Detwiler, who has pitched in eight games and made three starts. In five starts Yunesky Maya accumulated 0.1 WARP. Mike Pelfrey would not necessarily crack the Nationals rotation.

Florida Marlins:

Mike would rank 12th on the Marlins, between Leo Nunez/Chris Volstad (0.4) and Ross Detwiler (0.2). Volstad is a starter and wroth almost exactly as much as Pelfrey (sorry, Chris).The Marlins have given 13 starts to players with lower WARPs than Pelfrey’s: Jay Buente (1 start, 0 WARP), Elith Villanueva (1 start, -0.2) Clay Hensley (25 games, 5 starts, -0.2) and Brad Hand (8 starts, -0.4). Pelfrey might be a fifth starter for the Fish, but probably not.


Milwaukee Brewers:

Pelfrey would be in a tie for 11th best Brewer with reliever Sean Green. You might remember Green from such crappy Mets teams as last year’s and the one before that. But then again you might not, because he was hurt for a lot of that time, and wasn’t memorable or interesting when healthy. No one who has made a start for the Brewers has a WARP lower than 0.7—that belongs to Marco Estrada who has mainly been a reliever. Chris Naversson and Randy Wolfe are the worst regularly starting Brewers at 1.7 WARP.

St. Louis Cardinals:

Pelfrey would fall between Octavio Dotel (0.4) and former Met Raul Valdes (0.2) at 10th best on the Red Birds. However, he could probably find a job as their fifth starter. While their top four starters are all comfortably Better Than Pelfrey (BTP), guys like Kyle McClellan and Edwin Jackson have made multiple starts and yielded negative WARPs.

Cincinnati Reds:

Pelfrey would be ranked 9th, with Cuban reliever Aroldis Chapman. Again, Pelfrey probably could pitch for the Reds, where Edison Volquez (16 starts, 0.2 WARP) and Bronson Arroyo (24, -0.2) have been given multiple opportunities.

Pittsburgh Pirates:

Pelfrey would be tied at 9th with Chris Leroux, and worse than anyone who has made more than two starts for the Bucos.

Chicago Cubs:

Palfrey would be tied with Casey Coleman and Kerry Wood for 11th best Cub pitcher. Not only did the former start nine games, but the Cubbies have given 15 starts to Randy Wells, who has pitched to a WARP of -0.3, making the Cubs yet another team who could probably give innings to Pelfrey without dragging down the quality of their rotation.

Houston Astros:

Pelfrey shares his 0.3 mark with Jordan Lyles, Brett Myers and Nelson Figueroa (!!), and it is good for 7th best on the team. Brett Myers has made exactly as many starts as Pelfrey, with the same uninspiring results. N-Fig racked up his 0.3 in eight games and five starts. I don’t even know if he is still on the team nor do I especially care: I imagine that Astros management feels pretty much the same way. Henry Sosa started one game and managed a WARP of 0 and is the only pitcher to start for the ‘Stros with a WARP below 0.3, so Pelfrey could be Houston’s fifth starter without anyone noticing that anything had changed.


Arizona Diamondbacks:

The D-backs also have a large-ish 0.3 club: Micah Owings, Joe Patterson and Juan Gutierrez; it is good for 8th best on the team. Owings (the pitcher who will occasionally pinch-hit) started four games and Snakes have given a total of 18 starts to pitchers with negative WARP value, so the Snakes could probably use Pelfrey as a fifth starter—making the fact that they lead their division all the more surreal.

San Francisco Giants:

If Pelfrey were a Giant, he would be tied with relief pitcher Dan Runzler as the 11th best pitcher on the team. He would be being out-pitched by former Met Guillermo Mota (0.4). He would be out pitching Barry Zito (9 starts, -0.3 WARP). He would not be starting regularly.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Pelfrey would share the 8th rank on the Dodgers with Rubby De La Rosa and Jon Garland, both of whom are starting pitchers. No one significantly worse than them has made multiple starts, so, again, Mike Pelfrey could slip into the back of the Dodgers rotation without anyone noticing.

Colorado Rockies:

Pelfrey’s 0.3 brothers on the Rockies are Houston Street and Aaron Cook (12th on the team) and the latter has been used exclusively as a starter. Kevin Millwood, Clay Mortenson and Greg Rryolds have all started games while yielding negative WARP values, so Pelfrey might provide (gasp!) an upgrade.

San Diego Padres:

In San Diego, Pelfrey shares his 0.3 with relievers Luke Gregson and Kevin Spence, where it ranks as the eleventh best on the team. Anthony Bass, normally a reliever, made one spot start and has accumulated a 0.1 WARP. Other than that, the lowest WARP for a Friar who has started a game is Wade LeBlanc’s 0.6, accumulated in six starts.

So, according to WARP, in the National League, the Diamondbacks and Rockies would improve their rotation with Mike Pelfrey, while the Cardinals, Cubs and Reds would likely do so. The Astros and Dodgers could slot him in without anyone noticing. On no NL team would Pelfrey be better than a fifth starter.

Obviously, this is a very cursory analysis that leaves out lots of factors, among them health. On some clubs the guys who are BTP are injured, or might get injured, and those clubs would not necessarily turn away from Mike Pelfrey in disgust. WARP is clearly not the be-all, end-all of a player’s value, but I think in this instance it gets the point across, and the point is this: Mike Pelfrey exists on exactly the cusp of how bad a pitcher can be before they stop letting them pitch. Pretty much every single team in the National League has found a way to give four out of five games to a pitcher who is better than Mike Pelfrey. According to Baseball Prospectus’ WARP, out of 122 pitchers who have thrown over 100 innings in the major leagues in 2011, Mike Pelfrey is ranked 114th. Mike Pelfrey has been having a horrible, horrible season.

I guess you have to assume that the Pelfrey will be better next year, because there really isn’t any way for him to be any worse. On the one hand, it all isn’t terribly important: it doesn’t really matter who you’re fifth starter is, if the rest of the rotation is good. Some of the teams who have been giving the ball to guys who are worse the Pelfrey are doing just fine for themselves. On the other hand, Mike Pelfrey is clearly a fifth starter or worse this season, and even if he bounces back somewhat, the Mets need to find themselves some reliably BTP starters before they can even think about contending.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pacquiao vs. Cotto: Part 1

After much intrepid internet research, my friend Javid found a Filipino barbeque place called Tito Rad’s, on 49th St. and Queens Boulevard where $20 would get you two beers, some unexplained “appetizers,” and, most importantly, a place to watch the Manny Pacquiao fight on pay-per-view. Living in New York these days, you get accustomed to 1) there being at least one of any type of ethnicity-place that you can imagine somewhere in the five boroughs and 2) being able to locate them on the web pretty easily; but if there is a Filipino sports bar somewhere, they have a lousy web-presence, since Javid had been looking for them all week, and Tito Rad’s was all that he could come up with.

Once we had a place to watch it, I gave myself over to eager anticipation of the fight. Indeed, all week I had been feeling excited, to an extent that surprised me, since I am not much of a boxing fan at all, and know little about the sport. As Saturday progressed, I became increasingly happy at the prospect of watching it, as well as irrationally nervous that we would find some way of missing it anyway. I mentioned this to Javid, while we were waiting for some friends of mine to arrive from New Jersey before heading out to the restaurant, and he said that he had been looking forward to the fight all week as well.

The obvious reason for the anticipation was simply Manny Pacquiao. Sometimes an athlete comes along whose combination of extreme talent and intense personal charisma allows them to utterly transcend the boundaries of the sport. Babe Ruth is the classic example; it kind of hurts me to say it, but Derick Jeter is a contemporary one. Pacquiao is definitely in this category: a devastating boxer in a number of weight classes, he possess an almost thoroughly unprecedented combination of speed and power, as well as a charming, smiling demeanor. Pacquiao is a true national hero in a way that it is hard for Americans to understand—possibly because there hasn’t really been anyone who fit the bill for the entire nation since the aforementioned Bambino. Filipinos are probably, as a nation, far more heavily invested in Pacquiao than Dominicans are in Pedro Martinez. Pacquiao’s post-fighting career will almost certainly take him into elected office; he has made movies and lately has been talking scripts with Sylvester Stallone; and his band was scheduled to play in Las Vegas immediately after the fight, regardless of the result.

Additionally several fates rested on the outcome of the contest. A victory for the Pacman would cement his place as one of the all time great boxers and set him up for a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.; while a loss would certainly signal the beginning of the end of his fighting career and everything that it had meant. Miguel Cotto, Pacquiao’s opponent, was well known and respected in fighting circles, but not to the general public: a victory would put him in a position to become one of the most prominent faces of boxing.

Furthermore, boxing itself is a sport in obvious crisis. In addition to being hurt by the limitations of the pay-per-view market, it is currently fighting for those pay-per-view dollars with mixed martial arts events, whose growing popularity is eating away at boxing’s fanbase. Boxing needs superstars to connect to the general public, preferably in the heavyweight class, and no heavyweight has drawn much attention since Mike Tyson. Welterweight Oscar de la Hoya had pretty much been boxing’s meal ticket until he got dismantled by Pacquiao in a non-title fight; if Pacquiao could win a title as a welterweight against Cotto, the resulting fight against Mayweather would have the chance to be a defining fight for a new generation of boxing fans. Indeed, regardless of the outcome, if Pacquiao vs. Cotto was in any way a particularly good or interesting fight it would do a good deal to assure boxing’s immediate future and forestall the kick-boxing/jujitsu/grappling masters at the gates.

So, in regard to all these questions, the fight contained the thrill of an election: we had entered a phase of total uncertainty, but, at the end of a defined interval, we would, necessarily, have answers.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Who am I?

What famous director is shooting this ballgame? Post your answers in the comment section. Send a description of your favorite director filming a ballgame to and I’ll put them up as well.

Alright, camera 1, I want you to stay focused on the pitcher’s eyes; camera 2, I want you to stay focused on the batter’s eyes. Now, in the moments leading up to the pitch we are going to franticly cut back and forth between camera 1 and camera 2, then a quick cut to camera 3, which will have been focused on the batters hands, and stay with camera 3 for only the split second when the bat is actually being swung. Now, someone call up Ennio Morricone and see if he can do anything with “take me out to the ballgame.” Oh, and for the post-game interviews I want all the Latino players to use fake Irish accents, and all the white guys to pretend that they are Mexicans.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Game 6

“No! I am not Alex Rodriguez, nor was meant to be…”

I watched an inning or so in the local pizza place. The guy behind the counter argued that the Post-season had been rigged in the Yankee’s favor and he claimed that the dimensions of new Yankee stadium were illegal according to an obscure rule in Major League Baseball. A friend of his, a customer at the pizza place, had worked on the lights at the new stadium, and he said that the Stienbuners paid off more people than anyone else in the state of New York.

After this, he went into a sadly predictable anti A-Rod rant. If he were given the chance, he would not ask for more than $2,000 a game to play baseball because he, the pizza place guy, loves to play baseball; he did not understand why it had to be all about the money. He was also annoyed that A-Rod identifies himself as Dominican when he was actually born in the States; the pizza guy is Italian American, loves Italy, couldn’t be prouder of his heritage, but is also proud to acknowledge himself as an American first. I submitted, at this point, that while A-Rod’s claims about his heritage did not necessarily speak highly of him, it was only to be expected because A-Rod is clearly mad, but the pizza place guy remained hardened to A-Rod’s plight.

I like A-Rod because so many things about him--Kabala, Buddhism, the centaur pictures, the photo shoot of him making out with his image in the mirror, the steroids, Madonna, Kate Hudson-- seem calculated to fly in the face of the things that it is easy and pleasant to believe about people who are extremely, extremely good at baseball.

My feeling is that the truth is that A-Rod, and very few other players in the history of the game, posses a quality related to their extreme excellence that place them somewhat outside of the ordinary human understanding. Ted Williams was like this: he feuded with the Boston media, remained aloof from fans, and had his body frozen by a bunch of delusional crooks.

The pizza place guy judges A-Rod by the standards of the pizza place and by these standards A-Rod inevitably fails; the specious process of relating the experiences of A-Rod, baseball superstar, to his own experience as a pizza place guy is somehow important to how the pizza place guy perceives with the world and defines himself. This is ok—it does not make much more or less sense than what most people think about their lives, but it also does not lead him to wise opinions about player evaluation in baseball.

Later, I was watching Matsui come to the plate in my apartment. As he stepped in, the camera cut from a shot of Matsui’s face, to a shot of a fan with a poster with Matsui’s number and a picture of Godzilla, and then the camera cut directly back to Matsui’s face. The Godzilla on the poster seemed strangely childish, a young and whimsical monster, and I realized that it must be hard for Matsui to interpret the weird racial/cultural meanings of this image, and hit major league pitching all at once. Immediately after that, I realized that it was preposterous to think that Matsui had seen the Godzilla poster-- I had only been lead to that conclusion by the grammar of the camera. The truth was that Matsui probably could not see into the crowd at all, do to the lights, and there was little chance that he could focus on an individual poster-- in all likelihood all of his attention was focused on the positioning of the defense, if he was not completely taken up by some inner process, only understood by himself. However, from a life time of watching movies and television I had learned that a shot of a face, followed by a shot of a thing, followed by a return to the face, means that the owner of the face is thinking about the thing—I was so accustomed to this, that, for an instant, I had been completely sure that I knew what Matsui was thinking about, and I felt completely comfortable in applying my own values and beliefs to what I imagined were Hideki Matsui’s experiences.

In order to capture an audience’s interest, telecasts try to get the audience to identify with the player as much as possible; they accomplish this through a series of codes that they have adapted, perhaps subconsciously, from movies and television. This makes for interesting broadcasts; it also encourages people to participate imagine a sympathy with ballplayers that has no basis in reality whatsoever.

In other words, what if baseball telecasts were directed by Werner Herzog? If they were, I think that the pizza place guy would have a totally different opinion of Alex Rodriguez.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Jerry Manuel: So you wanted me to fix your roof?
Omar Minaya: Yeah, I’d do it myself, but I am exhausted after spending all day on the phone with the Cubs trying to re-acquire Aaron Hielman.
Jerry: You’re a madman…. Anyway, do you have any tools?
Omar: Sure, here they are.
Jerry:Um… this is one of those plastic Fischer-Price toy toolsets.
Omar: I have some really good tools only I have lent them to the Wilpons.
Jerry: I hate to say this, but I really don’t think these are going to work.
Omar: Just make do for now! And when I get my good tools back, everything is totally going to be awesome.
Jerry: I mean, there is no fucking way that I am going to be able to successfully fix your roof with these things. Do you think you could go out and get some other tools?
Omar: And be stuck with TWO sets of tools when the Wilpons return my original ones? I think not!
Jerry: The idea that I would be able to fix your roof with these things is laughable and insane.
Omar: Jerry, there aren’t any tools out there that are better than the tools that we will be getting back. Get to work.
Jerry: So when will the Wilpons return your tools?
Omar: There is no timetable yet, but probably mid August.

Jerry: Not only the Phillies, but also the Marlins and the Braves, have done a better job of fixing their roofs. The few remaining fans of your roof hate you on a deep, personal level.
Omar: But we’re better than the Nationals, right?
Jerry: Having a better roof than a man who lives in a cardboard box is not something to be proud of.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dangerous and Insane

Much as I have previously supported Jerry Manuel, and much as I do like some of the things that he has done, tonight, in his post game interview he exposed a line of thinking seems dangerous and insane-- to the extent that if someone were to advocate removing him, I could not say that they did not have a point.

Specifically, I have generally liked the way that Manuel has used the shiny new bullpen: his willingness to use K-Rod in non-save situations speaks of a flexibility of thinking, a capacity to look beyond the specious statistic of the Save, that speaks well of Manuel’s managerial abilities. On Tuesday, however, after Sean Green allowed two walks and the tieing run in the seventh, he opted to leave him in the game to give up a decisive three-run homer. The Mets never scored again, and suffered a depressing three-run loss.

When asked about the bullpen’s failure in the post-game interview, Manuel said that it did not bother him, because these types of meltdowns were inevitable in a bullpen (this is actually true, see Mets--2008, and also Mets—2007), as much as his club’s inability to score an extra three runs over the last three frames (this is also true—the Mets inability to score in the final innings has gotten to be depressing and weird). However, while both these statements are true, taken together, the way that Manuel put them, they yield a line of thinking that seems deranged at best, and sneaky and disingenuous if seen in a less sympathetic light.

Manuel should have taken Greene out—and even if he thought that his club should have come up with three more runs, there was no sane reason to put that theory into test, when he could have kept the lead or the tie by managing the bullpen more aggressively. There was no reason to test Sean Greene’s metal in a game which, while played in April, counts every bit as much as a game in September.

It is less flattering to think that Manuel deliberately chose to deflect attention from the aspect of the game that he screwed up (bullpen management) by bringing up the aspect of the game that everyone has been whining about in the papers—namely the Mets’ inability to hit in “clutch” situations. If Manuel had removed the struggling Sean Green, and then Green’s replacement had screwed up, Manuel would have been blamed for making a bad choice—if he left Greene in to give up a mere four runs, then the obvious culprit becomes the Mets’ well documented inability to hit late in games or with runners in scoring position. When you find your in-game decisions influenced by the ravings in The Post and the fear of blame, you are failing at one of the extremely few responsibilities of a manager. Yeah, the Mets could hit more, but Manuel also straight-up goofed with the bullpen—which is fine, as long as he admits it.

Speaking of dangerous and insane, Steve Somers is an escaped mental patient who is, for reasons thoroughly beyond my understanding, allowed to host a late-night sports talk show on WFAN—which I feel compelled to listen to, like a teenager playing with an infected pimple. His deal is that he calls out Latino players for not hustling, while doing something that is approximately a Jewish-psychiatrist/Jerry Seinfeld shtick. For the last week and a half he has been going on and on about Beltran’s lack of hustle as evidenced by the two (count ‘em—TWO) recent times when he failed to slide, when he probably should have slid (Beltran is hitting about .400—for as long as he does that, he can ride around the bases in a fucking unicycle), while extolling the hustling virtues of Daniel Murphy—I like Murphy as much as the next guy, but if he ever turns into a gold glove fielder hitting .400, let me know.

…also his show features a clip that is dialog from The Untouchables set to music from The Godfather—which is like incest or something. The quote is DeNiro going on about how “every man who gets to be a certain age should have enthusiasms” which is a great quote to use as a hook for a radio program about baseball, but the music just makes it…wrong.

J.J. Putz had his first real screw up as a Met today, giving up the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth. I await the back page of tomorrow’s New York Post with interest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In case you were wondering, they go together terribly:

Sam: You know, I might be exactly the millionth fan to watch a Mets game while having gin and a bagel.
Sam’s Roommate: Could be.
Sam: You have to figure that, more than any other franchise, the Mets tend to draw the gin and bagel crowd.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ranking starts by Mets pitching:

Since the Mets have only played seven games so far, I can still remember pretty much what happened in all of them. I thought it would be interesting to rank the starting pitching in each game, and see if there is anything to learn from doing this. If I am feeling really industrious, I might update this list as the season progresses:

1) 4/12: Johan Santana vs. Marlins: the Met’s ace went seven innings, striking out 13 for his highest K total as a Met, and walked only one. The Mets lost the game anyway, largely do to an even more dominant performance by Florida’s Josh Johnson and an error by Daniel Murphy that led to the Marlin’s only runs.

2) 4/11: Livan Hernandez vs. Marlins: “brother of El Duque” pitched 6 2/3 innings, before giving up two runs in the seventh, allowing six hits while striking out four and walking three. This is probably the high end of what the Mets can except from their fifth starter, who, at this point in his career, is regarded as durable and “not all that bad” rather than “good.”

3) 4/6: Johan Santana vs. Reds: Santana only went 5 2/3 innings, largely because he needed a large number of pitches to get through the first. In the sixth, he gave up two hits and a run scored on a sacrifice fly, but this just let the Mets show off their shiny new bullpen. Murphy, who Santana would go on to throw under the bus* for costing them the game in Santana’s next start, won this one for Johan with a home run and an RBI groundout.

4) 4/10: John Maine vs. Marlins: Maine gave up two runs in five innings, both on solo home runs. The home runs aren’t great, and neither is the shortness of the outing, which is only ranked this high because Maine pitches on a team with Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez.

5) 4/8: Pelfrey vs. Reds: Big Pelf got clobbered in the first inning, giving up four runs, but steadied after that, allowing no more runs to score over the next four innings. A lot of people are happy with Pelfrey for bearing down after a difficult first, but I prefer to blame him for a dreadful inning that the Mets were only able to overcome by scoring a lot of runs.

6) 4/9: Oliver Perez vs. Reds: Ollie pitched three scoreless innings; he also pitched another inning and a third where the Reds scored eight, giving up five hits and five walks. This was an abysmal outing on a couple of levels, and should probably be ranked dead last.

7) 4/13:Mike Pelfrey vs. Padres: For giving up a home run in the first ever at-bat in the Mets new park (something that had never happened in the entire recorded history of baseball), Pelf gets credit for the worst start of the season, at least until someone else does something shockingly dreadful: your move, Ollie. Peflrey only lasted five innings, and gave up five runs.

*If, as the New York Post seems to believe, “throw under the bus” means “tell a reporter about a thing that happened in a baseball game.”

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Nate the Great and Mike Piazza

Whenever someone like Johan Santana comes from one of the provinces to play in New York, there is always a slew of articles and discussions about weather they can handle the intense media scrutiny. This is almost always a big waste of time: the Johans of the world exist on a plane of greatness that is all their own and they are going to dominate-- no matter how many Joel Shermans ask them stupid questions while they are waiting to take a shower.

This is not to say that the New York media has no impact: there is a second class of sports hero who achieves its greatness through a combination of dominance and narrative—and in these instances, the media becomes, not merely the lens through which the greatness can be perceived, but the actual author of the greatness. This frequently leads to the uncouth spectacle of the media, like so many Frankensteins (the scientist, not the monster), feverishly trying to rip apart the creature into which they had just laboriously managed to breathe life. Mike Piazza, formerly of the Mets, and the Knicks’ Nate Robinson are both good examples of this phenomenon.

If he had put his mind to it, Johan Santana could probably have been a better catcher than Mike Piazza; I don’t think that there is any doubt that he could have been a better baller than Nate (I see him as a point guard, getting around 15 points a game, to go along with seven each of rebounds and assists)-- yet both of those players are or were far more important to the identity of their team than Santana is to the current Mets. Both were poorly regarded players (Piazza taken miserably late in the draft* because it was widely believed that he could never field or hit and Nate nearly a foot shorter than many of his fellow players) who went on, not only to have productive careers, but to lead their teams; both embraced their role as hero-of-the-everyman, winning over the fans of the franchise in ways that the Santanas, despite (or perhaps because of) their dominance, will never be able to.

Piazza, of course, was a superstar when he came to New York, but during his time here he inevitably found himself in the center of the team’s most intense situations: his feud with Clemmens, the rumors about his sexuality, his quest for the catcher’s home-run record, and his towering home-run in the first game played in New York after 9-11. Nate is more directly engaged with the fans than any of the other Knicks: he encourages the crowd to cheer during games, part of his free-throw routine includes a salute to acknowledge people that he met playing on-line video games, and he will occasionally take the microphone before games-- to either thank the fans or apologize for the state of the team.

The spotlights that the two men inhabited, however, existed before they arrived and will still exist, focused on other players, when the two of them have faded into obscurity. The narratives existed, and were only waiting for the people willing to act them out; the crowds existed and were only waiting for the appropriate object on which to focus their affection.

It is in light of this fact that I would point out that both men probably took steroids. Only one boy, in the entire high school, can be cast as Hamlet in the school play; and while many might crave the attention, the odds will always favor the ones who need it and are willing to either flirt with the drama teacher or poison their own fathers in order to get their Stanislavsky on.

Nate’s juicing, of course, is purely a matter of my speculation. Nate’s shortness, particularly on a court with other NBA players, is so obvious that it is easy to miss the fact that he is built like a sawed-off Schwarzenegger. Additionally, the frenzy that he gets into when he is either at his best or his worst is, at least, suspiciously similar to the thing called ‘roid rage. Finally, as someone “5’9” in sneakers” trying to have a career in the NBA he would have to be insane (or insaner) to not do everything in his power to give himself an advantage—such as bulking up with performance enhancing drugs.

Even though they have yet to accuse him of juicing, and thereby soiling the immaculate purity of the game of professional basketball, the New York media has never lacked reasons to abuse Nate Robinson. Rather than dwell on the delightful awesomeness of the crazy little man who carved himself a niche in the NBA, they have chosen to berate him for being macho and immature: vilifying him for his role in the 2006 brawl with the Nuggets and calling him out for taking too many impossible shots. I remember reading an article in The Post from the 06-07 season that contrasted the juvenile antics of Robinson with the steadiness and dedication of Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury. As recently as last week, The Post ran an article about how Nate should be suspended for an altercation with New Orleans’ Chris Paul, in a rare game that Knicks actually won.

Paradoxically, while Nate fights too often, Piazza did not fight enough. Piazza (who was never openly accused of steroids during his playing time, either) was always called out for being too soft and seen as something of a prim Donna and a metro-sexual (at best) wuss. Again, the New York press opted not to worship the player that had come out of nowhere and achieved greatness, and instead set about diligently trying to dynamite the statue that they had helped to erect themselves.

It seems that one of the principals of late capitalism is that “we the people” are to be denied our folk heroes. Adulation is reserved for the LeBron James’ of the world, the god-like players with whom we manifestly have nothing in common. The players that we might relate to, the ones who acknowledge that they are living out all of our dreams, must always be reduced to tragic, incomplete figures: their flaws, either manufactured or magnified, taking up far more ink than the tale of how one of us conquered the world’s brightest stage.

*In thinking about what different animals the NBA and MLB are, it is worth noting that Nate was taken late in the first of only two rounds of the NBA draft, while Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round of the MLB draft, meaning that nearly two thousand players had been drafted ahead of him. Additionally, while the NBA draft covers the entire world, the MLB draft only applies to domestic players: Latin American players are generally signed by sweaty men with sunglasses, a radar-gun, and a brief-case full of cash. Of course, the two drafts are not actually analogous events: the equivalent to Piazza’s late drafting in Nate’s biography, was when he made his college basketball team as a walk-on, having gone to school on a football scholarship. When Nate was taken in the first round of the draft (fellow Knick David Lee was actually the very last pick of that first round) it was sort of like a 62nd round pick, on the strength of a good showing in the lower levels of the farm system, being called up to triple-A.