Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Not Happy with the Guys who Call Nets Games:

So they did this text poll during Wednesday night’s Nets game against Detroit: other than Jason Kidd, who is the best rebounding guard in the history of the NBA? Oscar Robinson won with forty-odd percent of the vote, followed by Magic Johnson with twenty-odd percent, Michel Jordan with just slightly less of the vote than Magic, and Clyde Drexler picking up the remaining votes (not very much). The announcers said they were surprised: they didn’t think that the Big O’s generation would be familiar enough with text messaging to achieve that result.

Now, the answer to that question is clearly Oscar Robinson. Over his first years in the league Robinson averaged a triple double (ten each of rebounds, points and assists), a feat which no one, at any position, has ever even approached. Major League Baseball will probably see another .400 hitter before anyone in the NBA will average a triple double again. The Jason Kidd caveat is irrelevant: when Kidd gets ten rebounds it is a minor occasion and Kidd does it far more frequently than any other guard in the today’s NBA.

Screw the Nets guys for thinking that the Big O’s winning was due to old folks knowing from cell phones, rather than young folks knowing from the history of the NBA. I very rarely (I actually think this is a first) feel the need to stick up for my generation, but I’ll say this for us: we tend to critically examine the numbers generated by sport, and even put those numbers in some kind of historical context. We fucking know that the Big O was the probably the best rebounding guard in the NBA. We aren’t like the previous generations of sports fans who only believe in things that they saw: we understand that a sports team consists of an aggregate of parts that can best be understood by examining statistics. Young basketball fans have straight up used the internet for to do more than watch videos of dunks: we have educated ourselves about the history of the game, and tried to understand today’s game in that context. I am unbelievably insulted that the Nets announcers attributed those poll results to anything else.

Anyway, in light of that Nets game, you heard it here first: Detroit Pistons win the championship. It is delightful to watch anyone do anything as well as the Pistons have played basketball over the years. Although the West is generally regarded as the vastly superior conference, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash, the linchpins of the two least flawed teams, are both a year older and playing with teams that do not seem to have grown in proportion to Detroit. This year, Detroit has wildly improved bench and a great mix of exciting young players coupled with a veteran core that has proved unbelievably consistent over the years: it is hard to think about their team and not imagine big things.

Merry Christmas From Sam’s Met’s Blog

I have extracted the worthwhile passages from Jose Conseco’s Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits and how Baseball got Big, in order to spare my readership from the whole thing. Merry Christmas.

“Mark [McGwire] didn’t like to go out with me because the girls wouldn’t pay attention to him. They would all pay attention to me. That was mostly because of Mark. He was never the best looking guy in the world.”

On being traded from the A’s to the Texas Rangers:
“I also wonder what role the steroid issue might have played in the trade. No one in the A’s organization ever came right out and said it, but by then there were a lot of rumors about me using steroids…
“But the Texas Rangers apparently weren’t worried about that. The managing general partner at that time was George W. Bush, before he was elected governor of Texas. At that time, he was very visible in the role of team owner…Sometimes he’d come down to talk to the great pitcher Nolan Ryan who had the locker over from mine when I first joined the Rangers.
“It was understood by then that teams knew all about steroids in the game. There was no question George W. Bush knew my name was connected with steroids—the story Tom Boswell had written in 1988 wasn’t the last word on the subject—but he decided to make the deal to trade for me anyway.
“And then, not long after I got there, I sat down with Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, and Ivan Rodriguez, and educated them about steroids.
“Soon I was injecting all three of them…Bush and Tom Grieve, the general manager, would have seen all three of those guys getting bigger before their eyes, starting within weeks after I joined the team. But they never made an issue of it, or said anything to me or to any of us about steroids.
“Was I surprised that no one ever brought it up? Come on. You never really get to speak to the owners or the GM on a daily basis. They spend their days off by themselves…I never had any sort of conversation with Bush. I shook his hand and met him once, but that was about it. He was around a lot; you saw him on his way in or out, but always just briefly. We were busy practicing or playing baseball. Bush did gravitate toward Nolan Ryan a bit, probably because he was a legend, and also closer to him in age. He didn’t talk to us Latinos much.”

“I used to use that thing when we would go deep-sea fishing; if we caught a shark, I’d shoot the hell out of it with the Street Sweeper.”

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Knick Fans Have Mainly Lost Their Minds is a site that I like a whole lot since it has a lot of good statistical information along with some sensible explanations of how statistics work, and some opinions about the Knicks that aren’t completely insane. Their recent recap of Isaiah Thomas’ tenure as coach of the Knicks does a much needed job of putting things in some sort of perspective.

The point to be taken from their recap is that the team that Thomas took over was not only awful, but also old. In that situation, one thing to do is let the contracts expire and try and build from the draft, with the hopes of becoming relevant in the future. Had Thomas gone that route four years ago, the Knicks might, right now, be approaching semi-serious contention. Thomas, however, proceeded to make trades with the goal of winning immediately, some of them with draft picks, and assemble what has finally revealed itself as one of the worst rosters known to man.

It’s not as if Thomas’ employers or the Knicks fans would have had much patience for re-building at any point during Thomas’ tenure. Possibly they could have been won over by it, but the temptation of immediate wins and playoff appearances was not something felt by Thomas alone. The people concerned with the Knicks all honestly believed that making the Knicks immediately relevant could and should be attempted.

The route that Thomas went thus involved taking a number of chances, and, unfortunately, none of them paid off. This can, in part, be attributed to bad judgment by Thomas, but one has to keep in mind that, as a GM charged with turning a bad team into a winning team, while suspended over the piranha-tank that is the New York Press, it was pretty much Thomas’ job to take those chances. The Dolans gave him a handful of chips, and we all looked nervously over his shoulder as he walked to the crap table.

Thomas’ first move was the trade for Marbury. Marbury has had serious flashes of brilliance throughout his career, and there was reason to believe that he could carry a team. There was also, even then, a good case to be made that Marubury was bad for teams and threatening to chemistry, but it wasn’t as if there were dozens of super-star point guards for Thomas to choose from. Thomas’ gamble didn’t pay off, but, given the overly ambitious goal of the Knicks, it wasn’t one that Thomas was necessarily unwise in taking. Given the short-term (and ultimately more important) goal of generating buzz around the team, it was practically inevitable.

Only someone with a serious problem with depression could have anticipated how badly the Curry trade worked out. When Thomas got him, Curry was very young and had led the league in field goal percentage one year. He was seven feet tall: it defies reason that someone seven feet tall could be so incapable of rebounding. It was almost impossible not to see potential in Curry and it seems unfair to expect Thomas to have anticipated Curry’s miserablness.

Furthermore, it is not as if the Bulls, who should seem to be on the winning end of the Curry deal, are much better, right now, than the Knicks, but, at the time that Thomas took over the Knicks, the Bulls had a far more interesting and talented young roster than the Knicks have had at any point in recent history. Despite that, the Bulls are so bad this season that they lost a game to the Knicks. The Bulls are so bad that they would probably be better if they had hung on to Eddy Curry.

So why aren’t people assembling with gigantic pink-slips to demand the ousting of the Bulls management? If the Mitchell report has taught me anything, it is to be less hesitant in calling out the sports establishment for ridiculous racism. Thomas was given an extremely difficult task, and he proceeded to do it badly. Looking back over the league’s last few years, it is not exactly as if there were many sure-fire ways of catapulting the Knicks into contention that Thomas passed on. Top notch talent is extremely hard to come by—particularly when you don’t have much to offer in return. With the benefit of hindsight, Thomas’ biggest mistake was probably not mortgaging the farm to get Kevin Garnett from Minnesota—but even that would have been a risk that he would understandably have shied away from. The series of more minor moves that he did undertake worked out badly, but any move that he could have made would have been a gamble with a significant chance of failure. The Knicks roster is a mixture of bad luck and bad judgment, for which Thomas deserves a significant amount of responsibility, but in no way warrants the bitterness of the anti-Isaiah campaigns, which are very revealingly deconstructed by Basketbawful’s Evil Ted.

There is something about successful, outspoken black men who disappoint expectations that brings out an ugly edge of hatred in American sports fans. It makes what happens on the floor at Madison square garden seem relatively pretty.

Monday, December 17, 2007

PEDs Do Nothing for the Prose Muscle

Since the Mitchell Report was largely a vindication of Jose Conseco and his book, Juiced, I decided to pick it up and am now 68 pages into it.

If I injected myself with steroids for every time he uses the phrase “It just goes to show you,” I would be bigger than Hulk fucking Hogan.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Clemmens and Pettitte are Scum

At first, I was pretty excited: I’ve had lots of fun at Paul Lo Duca’s expense in the course of this blog and he just got named in the Mitchell Report. Paulie never hit for much power anyway, and I had a lot of quips planned about him asking for his money back.

The Mitchell report is part of a very strange genre of documents that collect stories and evidence of human foibles and fallibility in the form of official reports. In general, the goal of these documents is to eliminate any poignant or poetic relationship to their material, and deal only with firmly establishing facts, and use these facts to lead to pragmatic, defensible prescriptions. Occasionally, as a result of this essential hostility to a personal reality, documents of this sort offer moments that capture the human condition as poignantly as anything in literature. One such moment happens in the Mitchell report, when they quote notes from a discussion by Dodger’s officials regarding Lo Duca:

“Steroids aren't being used anymore on him. Big part of this. Might have some value to trade . . . Florida might have interest.. . . Got off the steroids . . . Took away a lot of hard line drives.. . . Can get comparable value back would consider trading. . . . If you do trade him, will get back on the stuff and try to show you he can have a good year. That's his makeup. Comes to play. Last year of contract, playing for 05.” [italics mine]

I found myself reading that over and over again. There are maybe two or three writers who could do something that good on purpose; create a situation in which two opposing principles were so thoroughly interwoven. It conveys, with beautiful efficiency, Lo Duca’s feistiness and pride, but in a voice that is almost psychopathically clinical. The clinical voice is aware of Lo Duca’s personality and is trying, in its clinical way, to fit him into their clinical plans; Lo Duca’s personality is a factor to be taken into account, either a positive or negative factor in their plans. You realize that, in the eyes of those who control him, Lo Duca is just like the horses that he famously bets on; you get the sense that Lo Duca sees this as well. If I ever saw a passage that strong in a Michael Chabon book, I would assume that he had gotten help from his mommy.

And, in case you missed this, the source here is notes from a meeting of Dodger’s team officials. Anyone who wants to place the blame for steroids on “bad players,” and not the entire managerial and administrative culture of MLB, is completely misinformed.

Except for Clemmens and Pettitte. Fuckers. Cheaters. Hypocrites. Sanctimonious shits. Child-molesters. All-American John Wayne scumbags who were so fucking clean, and so fucking choir boy, and so godamn white and such true Yankees and good guys AND ALL THE TIME THOSE MOTHERFUCKERS WERE CHEATING AS MUCH AS BARRY FUCKING BONDS. Clemmens, who will through a fastball at your head if you look at him funny, was too much of a wimp to inject himself with the ‘roids and had to get someone to do it for him. Yankees. (Clemmens mother died of cancer and it is a big deal for him that he is very sad about…before dieing of cancer she used to turn tricks at a leper colony.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What the Hell is Wrong with People?

According to, John Maine and Oliver Perez attended the Knicks game on Monday, and were booed when they were shown on the Jumbo-tron. Seriously, what the hell?
I am not that happy with the Mets at this moment. On sober reflection, my initial optimism about the Milledge trade was unfounded/insane. They gave away a guy with some up-side, for two guys with zero-upside, who don’t seem to meet any immediate needs (ok, they needed a catcher. But they’re up to the eye-balls in outfielders. And Church is an unfortunate guy to replace Shawn Greene with.)

And the not-signing Santana or some other amazing pitcher thing is pissing me off. And I wish that Schoenwise had been busted for steroids and gotten the 50-game suspension just so we wouldn’t have to watch him for the first chunk of the season.

But, at a Knicks game, there are simply too many other things to boo; and in the context of Madison Square Garden, the Mets franchise is a paradigm of winning, responsibility and success.

The Mets were a huge disappointment and ought to have made the playoffs. I try not to be a mean-spirited fan, but I can understand the urge to hold that fiasco against all the players personally. However, the Knicks are so bad that I like the Met’s chances against them in a game of basketball.

Center: Mike Pelfry—dude is 6’7”
Power Forward: Moises Alou—played hoops in high-school.
Small Forward: Carlos Gomez-- 6’4”, athletic, fast as hell.
Shooting Guard: Jose Wright/David Reyes—young, in good shape, could probably make a lay-up.
Point Guard: El Duque—extremely competitive man; a state-mandated test once revealed that he had the highest basketball IQ in Cuba.

I would bet on that team to beat the Knicks. And if I saw Maine and Perez at Madison Square Garden, I would not boo them: I would try and see if there was an extra jersey lying around and if either of them could make a jump shot.

And of all of the Mets to boo, Maine and Perez are two of the worst. Both of them were pleasant surprises in 2007. Neither was anything like an ace, but neither of them was completely terrible. They both showed tons of upside. They are fun guys to have on a baseball team that you root for, because every game they start has the possibility of being either an amazing performance or minor disaster. The fact that they both over-performed in 2007 was the only reason that the Mets got to go through the worst collapse in sports, as opposed to just spending the season in second place. And, in the face of a non-Santana ’08, they are the closest thing that Mets fans have to a reason for not being completely depressed about the state of the pitching.

Basically, if you feel so strongly about the Mets that you are booing Ollie and Maine on the jumbo-tron, you better be at the Garden because you are waiting to go to Penn Station to catch an Amtrack to Atlanta, where you are going to burn down both Turner Field and Tom Glavine’s house.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quiz Answers

These are the answers to the Catcher Quiz, sorry they’re so late:

Garry “the Kid” Carter (e), the Chick-Track incident was one of many that contributed to the deterioration of the Championship team’s chemistry.

Paul “Captain Red-Ass” Lo Duca: (b), rumors are that Lo Duca might be headed to Toronto, where he will have lots of off days to peruse the racing form as the Jay’s back-up catcher.

Mike Di Felice: (a), trying to set that woman’s ass on fire is the most memorable thing that Di Felice has ever done.

Ramon Castro: (c): An incident in a Pennsylvania Hotel is the only part of this backstop’s career that can be described as “Kobe-esqu”

Mike Piazza: (d), Piazza’s attempts at suing Belle and Sebastian were short-lived, due to complexities of jurisdiction

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Knicks are Awful; Milledge is Traded

The major crisis with the New York Knicks, at this point, is that the fans and commentators are running out of bad things to say about them, but the team keeps on getting worse. Everyone has been going on for years about how awful the Knicks are, but the Knicks, undeterred, find ways to sink to new lows. I wish we hadn’t been that hard on them before: that way it might be possible to put games like last night’s in some kind of sane perspective.

I like that Nate Robinson hit a three-pointer in the last second of the game to bring the score to 59, one point above the Knicks’ franchise all-time low. That is the best you can say about the Knicks right now: certain players (Nate among them) are not as insanely horrible as one might have expected based on last year.

According to The Post, Milledge just got dealt to the Nationals for Catcher Brian Schneider and Left Fielder Brian Church. I swear on Casey Stengle’s grave that the following conversation happened:
Phoenix Park Bar, during the Met’s pen-ultimate game. I had left work to catch what I hoped were going to be the last frame’s of John Maine’s no hitter. The no-hit bid was still going on at the time, and another Mets fan and I were having good thoughts.

Mets Fan: And this guy on the Nationals guaranteed a sweep of the Phillies.
(we both know the Nats lost the first game)
Sam: That’s awesome. The Met’s should trade for the guy who said that. Who was he?
Mets Fan: Ryan Church.
Sam: The Mets should totally get him. What position does he play?
Mets Fan: Outfield.
Sam: huh. I guess that could be a problem…

I’m intrigued. I guess I think that pitching is a more important upgrade than whatever they hope to accomplish with this deal, but Church and Schneider both seem like good guys to have around, and I’m not sure what they really could expect from Milledge. I could see him going on a tear and putting up near all-star numbers, but mainly because stuff like that happens to the Mets. I can also envision him turning into a fairly average big-league outfielder. I will be intrigued to see the first time he plays against the Mets, particularly if he gets to bat against Billy Wagner.

John Maine and Oliver Perez: a long day’s journey into VORP

On Baseball Prospectus, if you go to the Team Audits, you can find hitters listed by VORP. VORP is a stat that is used to try and figure out how much a player contributed to in relation to a fictitious “replacement player,” and the stat tells you how many more runs the team scored because a particular player, and not a typical minor-league call up, was at that position. David Wright lead the Mets with 81.1 runs more than a hypothetical minor-league third baseman, followed by Carlos Beltran who was responsible for 51.1 more runs than a hypothetical center fielder; unfortunately for the Mets, the hypothetical minor-league center fielder was unavailable, and they had to call up Carlos Gomez, who was last on the team with a VORP of -4.4.

The stat can be calculated to figure out the effectiveness of pitchers as pitchers—which is useful. In the following discussion I am considering the offense of pitchers, and so my comments have to be taken less as referring to what the stat says about the players and more as what the players say about the stat. Of the Mets hitters John Maine ranked an even zero, which is to say that the average minor league pitcher should have provided exactly as much offense as John Maine: not a shock since it is widely acknowledged that John Maine is a bad hitter even as pitchers go. Tom Glavine (5.2), Jorge Sosa (2.5), El Duque (.8) and Brian Lawrence (.8) all provided slightly more offense than the potential minor-league replacement. Oliver Perez had the worst VORP as a hitter of any Mets pitcher with -1.4, which I found interesting, because, while Perez’ swing is ugly, he does occasionally get his hits and the announcers talk benignly about his efforts at the plate, even going so far as alluding to using him as a pinch-hitter in extreme situations. Perez, indeed, particularly seems like a good hitter compared to Maine, who is, as I mentioned, known as a particularly bad hitting pitcher.

The table on baseball prospectus also lists the player’s batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage (total bases over at bats, used to get an idea of a hitter’s power). For Perez, all of these numbers are .161, which means he did not hit a lot, never walked, and only hit singles. Maine’s numbers are .109/.194/.164, which means that while he hit less frequently than Perez, he walked occasionally, and hit for a little bit of power; specifically, he walked five times and hit one homer.

Maine had a total of 6 hits, to Perez’ 9, but broke exactly even with the hypothetical minor leaguer—compared to whom Perez cost the Mets 1.4 runs (a hypothetical minor league pitcher, of course, would have allowed way more runs, 24 to be exact, than Ollie did, so the 1.4 runs that he didn’t hit don’t really matter). In the end this is just another illustration of the general point that on-base and slugging are, according to the new metrics, the major ways in which hitters can help an offense, as opposed to hitting for average. It also, I guess, makes a point about the particular ways in which hitters get to be overvalued based on average. A casual fan would have had a 30 percent better chance of seeing Oliver Perez get a hit of any sort than John Maine; indeed, if they had seen Maine’s lone homer, they probably would have developed an even worse opinion of him, since the event was so wildly celebrated in a way that made a point about its extreme unusualness. Of course, the fans were right to celebrate it: it was good for the fifty-odd points of slugging percentage that propelled Maine’s VORP to zero.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Kevin Mitchell and the Case for Chemistry

I recently read The Bad Guys Won which is an extremely light-weight chronicle of the 1986 Mets. Not surprisingly, its model of baseball is quite different from the statistical model of the sport that I have been paying attention to lately, and it is full of stuff about how the Mets success was related to their in-your-face attitude and particularly strong performances were triggered by vendettas or special showings of character. It views the raucousness and looseness of the clubhouse as a primary factor in the team’s success, and one could get the impression that the pitching and hitting were incidental. Another view would be to say that they were a group of very good players, who happened to spend most of a championship season boozing and skirt chasing—and consider the boozing and skirt chasing, not as a reason that they won a championship, but as a factor in their not having won more. Although, as The Bad Guy’s Won points out, the major factor in the Mets having not repeated was that team was quickly disassembled after 1986.

One of the guys who comes out well in that book is Kevin Mitchell. Mitchell was a versatile rookie and valuable contributor on the 1986 Mets; he was also a former gang member with gold-teeth and scars form gunshot wounds. In the early ‘80s, when they were both prospects, he tried to murder Daryl Strawberry over a game of pick-up basketball and he was a central participant in most of the brawls that the ’86 team were involved in. (a future post will discuss the change in standards for troubled, African-American rookies and will be called “Kevin Mitchell Makes Lastings Milledge Look Like a Punck”)

In a move that has to be recognized as an exceptional piece of baseball jack-assery, even from the franchise whose history includes the Midnight Massacre, Mitchell was traded for Kevin McRynolds after the championship season. The logic behind this move was awful: management perceived Mitchell as a corrupting influence on Strawberry and Gooden and wanted him away. As far as it is possible to tell about these things, that seems not to have been the case at all: Mitchell seems not to have had much to do with Strawberry and Gooden off of the field, and indeed, to have mainly put his troubled past behind him. The author of The Bad Guy’s Won sees the move as a fiasco because Mitchell was a beloved clubhouse presence and a “gamer.” They see the loss of a well-liked player, who was the unofficial club-house barber and always “played hard” and “wanted to be there” as indicative of a trend that would rob the team of its character and leadership and prevent it from winning further championships; they mention in passing that Mitchell would go on to win an MVP. McRynolds, who they obtained in exchange for Mitchell, performed well but not exceptionally over the next couple of years.

I would venture to say that the reason not to have traded Mitchell was because he was a rookie with a 124 OPS+, who could play every single infield and outfield position. That is a really valuable player. If 1986 Kevin Mitchell were available in 2007, and the Mets were able to get him in a package for Pelfry and Gomez I would be extremely happy. I think it is easy to be a good clubhouse presence when you OBP .344 as a rookie and hit 22 doubles to go along with twelve dingers; one wonders if the Mets were more hurt by the loss of their unofficial barber or the loss of an extremely versatile defensive player, showing all the signs of developing into a dangerous big-league hitter.

Mitchell’s stats from 1986 show a likely future MVP candidate; stories about his volatility and past show a player whose latter years might indeed be marred by “an indifferent attitude as well as other distractions.” However, while Mitchell would eventually win an MVP and latter sport an attitude that took away from his play, all the evidence is that he fit in very will with the Mets of 1986. Teammates from ’86 still speak of him fondly, and The Bad Guys Won contains much evidence that he had found a comfortable place on the club. Mitchell was a key part of the rally that ended in the grounder through Billy Buckner’s legs, and one wonders if his latter “bad attitude” had its origins in his “gangster past” or in his rejection by the club for which he had performed well and fit in with his teammates and coaches. One gets the feeling that once the Mets shipped him off as a bad influence, Mitchell was treated as such by all of the clubs that he eventually played for, until their perceptions eventually came to match the reality. Indeed, the case for chemistry is resurrected somewhat when one considers that if Mitchell had stayed a Met, he might have gone on to be even better. It is really too bad that the Mets let him go in a trade that they came up with out of racism and stupidity.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Not that sorry to lose Tom Glavine (and now I kind of hate him)

Ok, it is not as if they are easily going to find anyone to pitch those 200 innings any better than Toothless Tom did, but that has more to do with the thinness of the pitching market than Glavine himself.

A silver lining is that now we won’t have to deal with knowing that the ace of the staff (probably the ace for practical purposes, certainly for publicity ones) will certainly go into the Hall of Fame wearing the cap of the Atlanta fucking Braves.

I would feel a lot more sympathetic towards Glavine if he had not been obviously willing to go back to the Braves after last season. The only reason that he didn’t was because the Braves did not extend him an offer—if they had, he would have won his 300th for Atlanta.

It is idiotic to blame the Mets collapse on Glavine; his performance in the last game was the least of many, many problems, and should never even have been an issue. However, they had a realistic enough chance to force that one game playoff until half way through the first inning. They were still in the race until Glavine delivered the worst game of his entire career.

It is not as if he was sort of bad in that last game, giving up seven runs over three innings. He gave up seven runs, and recorded ONE out. He made Jose Lima look like Nolan Ryan. And it’s not as if, after that horrendous performance, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Tom Glavine, you personally hammered the last nail into the coffin of the 2007 Mets and then promptly went and signed in with the Atlanta Braves…screw you, man.

I just hope he’s saved the actual worst game of his career for the first time that he faces the Mets.

....thanks for the memories, though.

"You gotta have a catcher...

or else you'll end up with a lot of passed balls."
-Casey Stengel

Minaya said on the call that Castro "could be an everyday guy," prompting a spontaneous, tongue-in-cheek remark from Castro's agent Seth Levinson, also on the call. "You should have told us that before we negotiated a contract."

Good Bit on Bonds

The fact that this was one of the first things that I got when I googled “Barry Bonds,” which I guess means that people have been reading it, is one of the first things in a long while that gives me some sort of vague sense of hope. I really couldn’t have done better myself. She even gets points for blithely working in a reference to a semi-obscure gangster movie: “The feds have made Bonds into Al Capone, when he's more like Pookie than Nino Brown.”

Saturday, November 17, 2007


“David Eckstein is 4'10" and appears to suffer from borderline albinism. Despite this, he is a mediocre MLB shortstop. After he throws the ball to first base, it looks like he needs to lie down from exhaustion. He also runs hard to first base, as most baseball players do.Baseball analysts have interpreted this data to be somehow indicative of something more powerful than mere "tangible" baseball skills, perhaps residing somewhere deep in the (non-human?) DNA of David Eckstein.”
-Fire Joe Morgan.

You should go here and read everything that they have to say about Eckstein. I used to find it quite funny, until I learned that the Mets want him to play 2B. Now it just scares me.

The fact that the Mets want this guy, the fact that Comrade-Coach Randolph is “an admirer of Eckstein's spunk” opens up levels of disgust with people in power that would probably be new to me if I hadn’t come of age in Bush’s America.

So far the ’08 team is looking horrible. Good thing you didn’t pursue A-Rod, you assholes…

[In fairness they want Eckstein for 2B, which makes a little more sense than shortstop. He still is 1) not good and 2) way worse that Castillo. Please, please, please, Omar, don’t get Eckstein. Re-sign Valentin. Call up Anderson Hernandez, try Gotay out full time, anything]

A Quiz! What Fun!

In honor of the massive downgrade at backstop that is Yorvit Torrealba, can you match the Mets catcher with the career OBP and crime?

1) Garry Carter
2) Paul Lo Duca
3) Mike Di Filice
4) Ramon Castro
5) Mike Piazza

a) .287/Arrested for trying to set a woman’s ass on fire with a cigarette lighter in a nightclub, and then punching a parking lot attendant in the face.
b) .338/ Problems with gambling and younger women. Never arrested, thus a “good citizen.”
c) .310/ Plead “no contest” to a charge of misdemeanor indecent assault, spent a year on probation.
d) .377 (holly crap, was this guy good)/ No criminal or unsavory activities. Did have a “Belle and Sebastian” song named after him, which is, for a professional athlete, sort of worse.
e) .335/ Fined $200 for littering after he left 4,000 Chick Tracts on Darryl Strawberry’s lawn.

Post guesses in the comments section. I’ll put up answers latter in the week

Disappearance Explained:

Poor guy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Recent Activities of Starbury

Reading over the previous post, I realize that I failed to place Stephon Marbury’s mysterious departure from the Knicks in any kind of context and that someone relatively oblivious to Knicks basketball might have gathered the impression that this was just some relatively normal guy who decided to go AWOL. Let me assure you that this is not the case, and offer a brief review of things that Steph has been up to in only the last six months:

THE STARBURY 1’s: Stephon released a line of inexpensive ($15-20) basketball shoes. He spent a lot of the time promoting the line over the summer. The idea was to provide a good looking shoe, which underprivileged fans (mostly kids) could reasonably afford. This is actually a very good project—most great NBA players spend a lot of time selling ultra expensive shoes, to relatively poor people, with commercials that make it seem as if owning a $100+ pair of sneakers is part of some journey to self discovery. Doubters point out that Stephon Marbury shoes would never move at Air Jordan prices, and some people have said that they are very cheaply made, but I actually give Steph a lot of points for this one. While a lot of basketball players make a big deal about having come from strained circumstances, Stephon is very unique in having actually attached his name to a product designed for underprivileged fans.

PROMISED TO MOVE TO ITALY: Stephon and family went to Italy and had a great time. Steph said that once his contract with the Knicks was up, in two years, he would move to Italy and play in the basketball league over there—he said that he absolutely was going to do this and compared himself to David Beckham.

SAID THE KNICKS WERE ON THE VERGE OF A CHAMPIONSHIP: When he was asked if he would follow through with his Italy plan even if it seemed as if the Knicks were on the verge of a championship he said, “I think we’re on the verge of a championship now.” That is the craziest thing on this list.

CAME OUT IN MILD SUPORT OF MICHAEL VICK: Steph bucked the sports establishment party line, and introduced the possibility that Michael Vick’s dog fighting activities did not necessarily mean that Vick was the son of Satan. He pointed out that other behaviors that are not overly kind to animals (he mentioned deer hunting) are more or less accepted in our society, and suggested that the revulsion to dog fighting had to do with its association with hip-hop culture. I don’t support Michael Vick at all, but you have to see Steph’s point. The outrage over Vick seems kind of odd, when you consider that over the last winter the vice-president of the god-damn country, while probably drunk, went out to shoot some birds that had been bread in captivity for the express purpose of being released right in front of a group of probably drunk white-men with guns. Of course, the vice-president actually shot an old man by mistake and Stephon got mercilessly blasted by the media for having said anything non-condemning about Vick.

HAD TO TESTIFY IN COURT ABOUT FUCKING A KNICKS INTERN IN HIS TRUCK: The fact that this was part of a lawsuit by a different woman brought against Isaiah Thomas made me speculate on Thomas’ innocence, since the Marbury/truck/intern episode seemed more scandalous than relevant. The intern had previously been dating Marbury’s cousin. The truck was parked outside of a strip-club.


UPDATE: Looking over my Starbury list, one might get the impression that African-American athletes who try to break the mold (sell cheap shoes or point out that Michael Vick doesn’t have a monopoly on animal cruelty) are subjected to a myriad of degradations (like having to testify about intern/truck sex) and forced into a lot of weird ideological positions (like becoming Christian/Italian) as part of an effort to reconcile themselves with their public and their consciousness of the world—although these efforts are likely to cause the athlete to appear even more absurd and further their alienation. Then I was going to say something sarcastic about how this is obviously not the case and I’m sorry for misleading you, but fuck it, here is the un-ironic truth: the racial situation in this country is a god damn travesty, and all of us, every mother’s son, should be FUCKING ASHAMED.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I guess, in times like these, we Mets fans need to stick together. So if you see famous Met fan Stephon Marbury wandering around the city with a kind of a dazed look on his face, you should probably say something supportive (“At least you’re a better husband than Jason Kidd…well probably”) and offer him directions back to the Garden.

According to the Post, with whom Stephon actually has a surprisingly decent relationship, the Knick’s point guard got on a plane out of Phoenix (where the poor Knickerbockers are going to get just brutalized by the Suns in a little while) and headed back to New York—for reasons that are unclear. Now, in sports, it is kind of a big deal that the guys on the team are supposed to travel with the team and hang out with the team unless some very emergency/life-or-death stuff is happening; this is so much the case that when Roger Clemens signed a deal that allowed him to miss road-trips with the Yankees to spend time with his family, certain people started talking about the collapse of Western civilization. The logic with Clemens was that the guy was so damn good that he could make his own rules (he turned out not to be…but that joke was on the Yankees, good times); Starbery is not Roger Clemens (this is actually the great tragedy of the man’s life) and likely to be in a lot of trouble/not a Knick any more.

Steph is simply not as good at basketball as he thought he was—and just how crazy this relatively simple revelation has made him is an interesting commentary on the state of our athletic culture. Stephon entered the NBA in 1996, and ever since then has been making a specious argument that he is one of the very elite players in the game. He simply isn’t. His numbers aren’t that great, and teams always improve their record after he leaves. It is ok to be worse at basketball than Michael Jordan—Stephon Marbury is a good basketball player, perhaps even above average in the NBA. But he never seems to have quite gotten his head around the idea that there is no shame in not being the absolute best—in being a good (not great) pass-first point guard, playing limited minutes, or, in certain situations, coming off of the bench. Stephon could obviously have been an amazing role-player on a great team; but the philosophy of motivational posters has very little to offer role-players, and very little encouragement for those players who need to make terms with their mediocrity to succeed.

In 05-06, when Steph was in the process of getting Larry Brown run out of New York, he came through with the claim that he was the best point guard in the NBA. This claim was ridiculed at the time, and Marbury, whose play has deteriorated while other guard’s play has maintained and even improved, has to wish that he’d kept his mouth shut. Tonight, Marbury’s Knicks will get eaten alive by Steve Nash’s Suns, and the fact that Nash has been considered (by manny) the best player in the NBA, let alone point guard, since approximately the time of Steph’s comments, might have something to do with Marbury’s absence.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Jose Reyes: a statistical reflection

According to the Moneyball/Sabermetric school of thought, the single most important statistic for a leadoff hitter is their On Base Percentage, also known as “not making an out.” The “not-making-an-out” percentage is, in fact, considered the most significant aspect of any hitter, but it takes on an even more extreme importance for the leadoff man, for the simple reason that they come to bat most often, and are presented with the most outs that they can try and not make. The knock on Jose Reyes at the start of his career was that he didn’t get on base enough; stat-guys hated early Jose Reyes, because they knew his speed would continue to entice managers to leave him in the lead-off spot, while his low OBP would continue to hurt his team; the silencing of Reyes critics had almost entirely to do with his raising his On Base Percentage.

Fun fact: in 2006, in which Reyes was very good, and in 2007, which Reyes started very well and ended kind of horrifically, he put up exactly the same OBP of .354; the average OBP for NL shortstops in 2007 was .337, David Ortiz led the majors at .445 and David Wright came in eight in the major leagues at .416. In 2007, Reyes got three fewer hits in 34 more at-bats—his OBP stayed the same because he drew 24 more walks. In September, when he got about six to ten fewer hits than he had in any other month, he still managed to walk eleven times; it was his second lowest walk total (he walked only 9 times in July), but he never got higher then 14 walks in any given month. Thus, I think Mets fans have reason to be significantly encouraged by the fact that Reyes was able to keep his walks-totals relatively consistent, even in the depths of a bad hitting slump.

Perhaps even more encouraging than the walk totals were the developments in the penultimate game, which was marred by a near brawl that resulted from the Marlin’s player’s perception that Reyes was acting showing them up and acting like a jack-ass. Do you know what else increases a hitter’s OBP? Getting hit by a pitch. It is now becoming apparent that Reyes’ season long habit of celebrating with teammates on the dugout steps was, in fact, the result of a deep Sabermetric understanding of the game.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Coaches vs. Managers

The start of the NBA season has provided the opportunity for certain reflections on the differences between the role of baseball manager and basketball coach, which, when considered practically, cause recent happenings amongst the management of various New York teams to be appear bizarre.

The advent of Sabermetric thinking in baseball has led to many new conclusions, some of them controversial and difficult to accept (such as the non-existence of clutch, and the fact that weather a ball put in play is caught or falls for a hit is a piece of luck that has absolutely nothing to do with the pitcher) and others that are fairly intuitive—in this latter category I would place the revelation that the manager has a minor effect, if any, on the outcome of a baseball season. This is intuitive, because all that a manager in baseball really does is determine the batting order, set the rotation and decide on which relievers to use; occasionally they will put on the hit-and-run, or have a hitter bunt, but these situations come up relatively rarely. Success or failure in baseball has almost entirely to do with the individual battle between pitcher and batter. Having good or bad pitchers or hitters will outweigh good or bad management; there is no statistical evidence that certain managers, by virtue of their presence, leadership, or teaching are able to get their hitters to hit more and their pitchers to throw more strikes. If the Mets were able to obtain Johan Santana at the expense of being managed by the 9th caller on the Mike and the Mad Dog show, they would be idiots not to accept.

The basketball coach, however, would seem to have a more significant role in determining his team’s fortunes. Different coaches employ different scoring and defensive strategies; the coach determines which five players will be on the floor at any given time, and they will occasionally stop play to give their players very specific instructions about where to run, who to guard, and what to do in response to specific, possible actions on the part of the opposing team—and all of these things could have an effect on the outcome of the game that was more or less independent of the skill of the players. Furthermore since basketball involves players working closely together, precisely timing passes, rebounds and shot attempts, it might not be wrong to consider the impact of “intangibles” like “chemistry” and “teamwork”—and again it seems that the coach could have some effect, by either creating or failing to create an environment that leads his players to work well together; in baseball, whenever someone is talking about chemistry or teamwork it is a generally a sign that you can stop paying attention.

As a result, the commotion surrounding Torre’s departure from the Yankees struck people with a serious statistical interest as a little bit weird. Torre had the distinction of being the highest paid guy ever at a job that was fairly irrelevant, so good for him. He had shown himself to be reasonably be good at it and has some ability to deal with Steinbrners and A-Rods and the New York media—all good accomplishments, but perhaps not seven million dollars worth of accomplishments. You can definitely argue that seven million dollars is too much money to pay a guy for a job that is fairly unimportant; you could also argue that the Yankees have all the money in the world, and that there was no good reason to not bring back Torre, since he had clearly shown himself to not be horrible—mainly you can argue that a new manager is WAY less important to the Yankees (and every other baseball team ever) than a new starter and maybe another arm or two out of the bullpen.

However, it is particularly interesting to contemplate the irrelevance of the departed Torre, and contrast it with the possible relevance of the contract-extended Isaiah Thomas. Every year that Torre managed, the Yankees made the playoffs—and even if the manager is irrelevant, it is impossible to say the Torre’s teams were not successful. Thomas has turned the Knicks into a disaster on pretty much every imaginable level—not only has he coached the mediocre players that he himself assembled (and mortgaged the franchises’ future to assemble) to a loosing record last year, but he then managed to drag the franchise name through the mud of a really embarrassing lawsuit.

So, Torre had an unimportant job and was kind of good at it, and got fired/given an offer he had to refuse. And Isaiah Thomas has a job that probably does matter, and is measurably awful at it, and got a contract extension.

Weird, right?

(I actually sort of like Zeke, but that’s just because I know that I wouldn’t find the Knicks more amusing if they won...and because I also don't give a fuck about all those white people)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Oh Fuck It, Let’s Sign A-Rod

This is kind of an apology. As either of my reader’s might remember, I actually started this blog with some scathing words about David Wright saying in spring training that he would be willing to move to accommodate the acquisition of Mr. Rodriguez. My response to this was to question, not only Wright’s intelligence and sanity, but also the ethics of the newspapermen who were willing to feature the headline prominently (“Wright: I’d Move for A-Rod”) at the risk of fatally shocking Mets fans.

At the time that I wrote that first post on this blog, I was by no means a professor of A-rodology, getting most of my information on that person from the back-page of the New York Post. Even that is no excuse, and should, in fact have quickly revealed the flaws in my anti-A-rod thinking: everything said in the Post is either a lie or irrelevant, and frequently both; since the Post’s running implication was that A-rod was somehow to blame for the less than optimal performance of the Bronx Bombers, it should have been instantly, and manifestly, obvious that the only decent thing about the team in the Bronx was, in fact, Alex Rodriguez..

At the time of the first post on this blog, I also had some peculiar notions about clutch hitting (I thought it existed), which contributed to my feeling that Rodriguez would not do any good for the Mets. Particularly, I believed that the October stage would prove too much for A-Rod. I did not in know that A-rod’s career post season numbers are not actually all that bad and that he has only been truly awful in the last handful of post-season series for the Yankees; I had not reflected that the New York media’s perception of A-rod as a choker in the post-season (and post-season stats in general) was based on a ridiculously small sample size-- although if I had I probably would have remembered that small sample sizes are truly awful sources for any sort of information, and my A-Rod conversion would have begun much sooner.

Simply put, A-rod is the best hitter in baseball, by a lot. EqA (Equivalent Average) is an ultra-complicated stat that aspires to measure the total level of a player’s offensive contributions, with corrections for the league’s overall level offensive talent; it takes into account base-running, but not defense. It was designed to look sort of like batting average, in a failed attempt at not scarring off old baseball men. League average is always .260; A-Rod led the AL with an EqA of .340—the only person with a higher EqA in baseball was Barry Bonds, who gets a boost because he gets a walk pretty much every time he bats with runners on base.

VORP (value over replacement player) is the number of runs that a player contributed, over the average offense of someone at their position (again, not adjusted for defense). A-Rod led all of baseball, with a VROP of 96.6. I could go on, or discuss his traditional stats (which aren’t too shabby, either), but my point is that it is pretty much impossible to argue that A-Rod is not the best hitter in baseball. If you choose to believe that the best hitter in baseball becomes psychologically incapable of performing in pressure situations and the playoffs, you are welcome to do so; to me, it seems that his dubious play-off stats are likely the result of a small sample size, and the fluctuations in performance that occur with all baseball players.

Now, just because A-Rod is the best hitter in baseball, it does not follow that the Mets ought to sign him. The Mets are relatively good offensively—their weakness is pitching. If there were any particularly good free-agent pitchers on the market, or if the Mets were particularly strapped for cash, a case for not signing A-rod could easily be made; however, neither of these things are the case. The pitching market is very thin this off-season, and the Mets have a ton of money to burn. In addition to revenues from the network (SNY) and the seats and all the rest of it, they will get $20 million (or 2/3 A-Rods) a year from Citi bank, for playing in Citi Field; also Pedro and Delgado’s expensive contracts will be coming off of the books after 2008 which gives them some long-term flexibility. As it stands, the single best way to make any team better, right now, is to get Alex Rodriguez—the Mets can afford to do so, and almost certainly should give it a shot. And with A-Rod hitting in the middle of the Mets line-up they will score enough runs to be able to use Mota and Showenwise whenever the hell they feel like it; when Alou gets injured, and they are forced to go with Gomez, they won’t really have to worry about the massive drop off in offense; they could think about letting LoDuca go, and signing a defensive catcher.

Unfortunately, just because the Post said that David Wright would be willing to move over for A-rod last spring, that does not mean that there is a particularly logical place for D-Wright to go. The re-signing of Alou (a weird move anyway, because Alou WILL spend half the season injured) bodes really badly for the signing of A-Rod: if they did not have Alou they could think about putting Wright in left field. As it is, the options seem to be either first or second base. I have a feeling that Wright at second would end badly, although I don’t really have a lot of evidence to go on. Unless there is a really compelling reason to think that Delgado will be much better than he was in ’07, putting Wright at first, and getting rid of Delgado, either through a buy-out or a trade, seems like it might be the way to go-- I am very sad to say this, because I really like Delgado, but he was truly awful last year. An infield of Wright, Castillo, Reyes and A-Rod… it makes that Howard-Utly-Rawlins jive that they have going on down in Philly seem sort of quaint.

Moving Reyes to second, and letting A-rod play Shortstop is a rotten idea, because it would be too obviously a slap in the face to Reyes, who fared badly at second (and expressed an overall distaste for the position) after the advent of “Colorado” Kaz Matsui. Of course, if one wanted to run the team with ruthless efficiency, they could sign A-Rod and let him play short, and then try to deal Reyes for someone like Santana, C.C. Sabathia, or Fausto Carmona—but this is a course of action that I do not support in the slightest.

The defensive positioning seems kind of minor, though, compared to what is at stake. A-Rod is ridiculous good, and the best upgrade available—he would pretty much make a place in the playoffs a lock. As I said in the title of the post, fuck it, let’s get this guy. And give David Wright a chest-protector for Christmas.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Miscellaneous Post-Season Observations:

First off: hell yeah, Kaz Matsui. I feel very good about the big hits that Kaz got in game two to sink the Phillies; it seems like fitting closure to the troubled Kaz-Mets relationship. It was nice that Kaz could help avenge the team that he utterly disappointed—and I think that the fact that he did it in a way that was not actually useful to the Mets at all (i.e., he could have hit a lot against the Phillies in the regular season and hurt their playoff chances) reflects nicely on the horrible treatment that Kaz got at Shea. I had these thoughts before it happened, and actually spent the morning of game two trying to visualize Kaz coming up big against the Phillies—I was picturing a game winner off of Bret Myers in the ninth, but I’ll still take credit for having predicted a brilliant Kaz performance.

Whenever I watch a relief pitcher in the playoffs, I hope he gets lit-up, resulting in a decrease in trade value, and making him more likely to end up on the Mets.

Earlier in this blog, I might have implied that Bob Feller is either a hypocrite or a moron. This is probably true, but I approve of his recent threat to show up at a Cleveland Cavaliers game wearing a Pistons hat. This was made in response to Cavaliers Superstar Lebron James attending the Indians-Yankees series wearing a Yankees hat. It was revealed, when King James was questioned re: hat, that he had grown up a Yankees fan, because he rooted for all the teams that consistently won championships in his youth, the Cowboys, Bulls and Yankees. While I am not very dogmatic about fandom, and feel that people should root for whoever they want to (unless it’s the Braves, Yankees or Phillies) I think that just rooting for frontrunners is a kind of voluntary admission of an utter lack of character—which in this case jives with my overall perception of Lebron James. James is about as good at basketball as you can possibly be, but, more than another heavily marketed sports figure, James projects an aura of pure success that is almost hostile to any ideological concerns. When former minor NBA player John Amaechi came out of the closet and wrote a book about it, James was quoted as saying that he would not feel comfortable hearing such an admission from a teammate, for the peculiar reason that keeping one’s sexual orientation secret would violate the level of trust necessary in a basketball locker-room. In essence, James would never want to hear about a teammate coming out because James feels that being in the closet in the first place is a violation of trust; James is hostile to admissions of homosexuality because he is too accepting. Fortunately, before people confused themselves trying to figure out what he meant, and if it could possibly be anything other than a very underhanded and gutless way of supporting the somewhat hateful status quo while claiming a moral high ground, Tim Hardway went and said that he hated gay people, which was a significantly easier sentiment to dissect. Anyway, I hope that Feller follows through with his threat; leading James to wonder for about a second and a half what that weird old man in a Pistons hat was doing at a Cavaliers-Heat game.

John Amaechi/politicol correctness footnote: After Amaechi came out, a gay friend of mine asked me what his career numbers had been like, since he knew that looking them up was the sort of thing that I would do. I told him that they had not been very good at all, and added “but it’s probably pretty hard to put up dominant numbers when you’re going to gay bars every night and getting fucked in the ass with a paper bag over your head.” My friend said, “you know, I really wasn’t cool with what you were saying until you got to the phrase ‘paper-bag.’”

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Scott Schoenewies: Took Steroids, Still Sucked

I guess I feel vindicated. I am fucking infuriated that they signed this guy for three damn years, and let Chad Bradford go because three years was too long of a contract for a relief pitcher: the Mets were Chad Bradford away from a playoff birth.

Gilbert Arenas (whose blog is excellent)feels very strongly that the Marc Ecco/Barry Bonds baseball/ asterisk incident is a travesty for a variety of reasons, some of them valid and some of them unhinged. I pretty much agree; I think that Ecco’s involvement is moralistic, pompous and obnoxious. First off, the thin pretense of making his judgments a popular decision is crummy and degenerate: of his three options, the asterisk is the only one that could ever conceivably be chosen by a popular vote. Shooting something to into space could never appeal to a large enough mass of people: the voters have been told by the baseball establishment, the media, themselves, and even Mark Ecco’s stupid poll that the ball is valuable, they want to keep it on earth—relinquishing it to the void of space would never gather enough popular support. Also, doing nothing to it is not an interesting enough option to get people to vote for it en-mass. Because the poll was conducted by voluntary participants, the only people likely to vote were those who felt that Bonds had tainted the legacy of baseball, and that his ball needed to be marked by an asterisk, to ensure his infamy into the age of the robot ball-player.

The asterisk is fucking stupid. Look, one hundred years after the fact I know that Ty Cobb was a racist motherfucker; I also know that he probably bet on and fixed a game or two; I know this despite the fact that there was no interest or effort made by the baseball establishment or anyone else to keep either of these aspects of Cobb’s history in the public consciousness-- the latter fact was actively suppressed by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who banned all the Black Sox participants for life, in order to avoid the disastrous fallout that would come from the utter disgrace of the best (white) baseball player of all godamn time. I somehow think that people will be able to remember the doubts about Bonds and his record for as long as there is an interest in the sport.

And really, Marc Ecco, how do you see the asterisk functioning? Eons in the future when archaeologists or aliens uncover the Hall of Fame, do you actually imagine some pith-helmet wearing motherfucker picking up the ball and saying “well, other artifacts indicate that this was a baseball, part of a vaguely incoherent game played on a diamond shaped field—however, the presence of the branded on asterisk indicates that the player who hit this ball might have done so with the aid of performance enhancing drugs.” Does this strike you as fucking likely? If that is the scenario that you are preparing for, they should start branding all of Babe Ruth’s bats with a hotdog, just so the future archaeologists will have more insight into our ancient sport. Or are you more thinking: “look, son, that asterisk got on the ball after Marc Ecco bought it and let people vote on the Internet.”

In conclusion, Scott Schoenewies is a crappy pitcher, a fact that was completely unchanged by his taking steroids. This, and several other things, indicates that the relationship between taking steroids and not sucking at baseball is a little more complicated than any idea that can be effectively conveyed by an asterisk.

If Scott Schoenewies feels like proving me wrong and being amazingly damn useful for the Mets next year, I’ll send him a letter of apology.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What was it like?

Examining recent history, I feel as if I ought to have turned this blog into some kind of anatomy of despair a week or so ago, and the posts in that time should paint a grim portrait of futility and desperation climaxing in the Sunday’s fiasco. Indeed, the progression of recent games seemed almost exquisitely calculated for baseball fan torture: the ray of hope that lasted with the lead, finally replaced with resignation, and then despair following Perez on Sunday, only to be suddenly re-kindled with Maine’s no hit-bid, followed by the perfectly disastrous game on Sunday.

The termination of the Met’s seasons raises ‘important’ questions that I would like to think Sam’s Mets blog’ had been in a unique position to answer: what does it feel like to be on the bad end of the worst collapse ever, in sports? What does it say about you when your team fails so miserably? What can be learned from the absolute depths of baseball misery?

First off, and one of the reasons that these questions are not readily answered, I have to say that denial and selective perceptions of reality play a significant role. On some level, I think everyone who closely followed the Mets saw the seeds of futility all along, but chose not to pay them too much attention. There were problems with the team, the inability of the offense to pick up the pitching, the occasional ineffectiveness of the bullpen, the perceived lack of spirit on the squad, that were there all along. Everyone remembered the 2006 Mets, the energy, the rallies, and the excitement. We knew that we weren’t getting that this year, but chose to emphasize the fact that the team was in first—the extent to which that might have also been true of the players is impossible to determine. Indeed, the coverage, both among blogers and print journalists, always hinted at a need for the team to pick things up—but felt that the failure to do so would hurt the team in the playoffs and not the regular season. Much of the difference between ’06 and ’07 was chalked up to an improved NL east, yet at the same time the other contenders, the Braves and the Phillies, were both demonstrably flawed teams, and nothing really made the notion of either of them surpassing the Mets seem like a certainty. Indeed, up until the final game, the possibility of success had never been completely removed, and it was always easiest to focus on that possibility, rather then the unpleasant options.

On a personal level, the 2007 baseball season was when I began to develop a minor interest in advanced baseball statistics, particularly the ones relating to the debate about the existence of clutch hitting. At some point, it became reasonably clear that I was looking for some sort of excuse for the Mets players, for a model of the baseball world that would attribute their shortcomings to bad luck rather than a deficiency of character or ability. In other fans, I think a similar anxiety expressed itself in the debate about Willie Randolph’s competence.

Perhaps, for me, a final moment of despair happened last week when I realized that I was on the Knicks website, looking up the date of the first game of the season; when I saw what I was doing, I somehow finally understood that things with the poor Metropolitans had gotten very, very, bad indeed.

Posted late (Blame my neighbor's wireless)

This was written between the pen-ultimate and ultimate games of the season:

At some point it occurred to me that I have a valid passport, a little money in the bank account: hop a buss to LaGuardia, get on the first plane out of the country, away, anywhere where it would take only a minor act of will power to never learn the results of tomorrow’s game, or at least put it off until I had had time to grasp its irrelevance, to realize that my self and the game were separate, independent things, to be able to view it as a random, incidental occurrence.

It was an idea that was amazingly tempting and viscerally repulsive-- perhaps because I knew, from the instant that I had it, that there was no conceivable way that I would actually act on it. Still the realization that I had it in my power to step away, to turn my back on baseball, completely disassociate myself from whatever despair or triumph tomorrow might yield, was at once sobering and awkward.

There was something seductive in the idea of completely uprooting myself from something that I had followed so closely—abruptly amputating something that had almost become part of me; the idea of knowing nothing at all about tomorrow’s outcome seemed weirdly reminiscent of freedom.

For, after all, what really are the Mets? Are they simply the record, the box score? The twenty-five men on the roster? Perhaps. Also the coaches, the players in the minor league, the administrative offices, Omar Minaya, the Wilpons. Gary Cohen, Howe Rose, are not entirely Mets, but then again, perhaps they are more the Mets than the team itself, since it is mainly through their accounts (and not the Mets themselves) that the team reaches the world. Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling have to be considered in a slightly different light since they are former players, and helped form part of the history that had makes the franchise what it is. Are Wally Backman in his trailer, Doc Godden in prison, Roger McDowell-- now the Braves pitching coach, still Mets? The images of them in blue and orange, the memories that they still evoke, are, perhaps, more real and vibrant than whatever they might be currently doing with themselves.

And then there are the fans, the seething unwieldy mass that calls the team into existence. It is their capitol that ultimately finances the Mets, through tickets, hotdogs, and commercial time. More important, perhaps, than any financial investment, is the emotional investment, the desires and fears that they have projected onto the ball club. All of them see the team in a marginally different light, experiences the team in a slightly different way—and what could the team really be, other than the aggregate of all these feelings, the amalgamation of the impression that it leaves in the minds of its followers.

Then again, there is the feeling that all that is grotesquely too complicated; that the Mets are, in fact, merely the instant of play, in the moment that it happens. They are men standing on a field, and if we, and they, attach a certain importance to certain of their actions, if when one of them goes to a certain place we call it a ‘run,’ if when a ball is caught or falls we view it as either a success or a triumph, it is a dimension and a vocabulary that we have created ourselves, and that reflects but vaguely on the actuality of the situation: that a man in a uniform has been either aided or hindered in his efforts to run around in a circle.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Uncanny Mets

With things going this bad, you start looking over you past for moral failings, superstitiously asking what you could ever have done to deserve this. Magical thinking sets in: a week ago, the author of this blog put on a Mets hat, and, when they won, kept it on until they lost on Monday. This initial reaction is a rebellion against the realities of the situation: that the fan is completely powerless and there is no correlation between the fan’s desire and the team’s success, perhaps even no correlation between a team’s desire and their success, that, finally, the outcome rests on chance and convergences and levels of complexity, that, perhaps, no individual can fully control or imagine.

Of course, it is hard to argue that if the Mets were simply a better ball club they wouldn’t be in this position. If the bullpen was simply better pitchers, who recorded a few more strikeouts, the four games that they need to clinch the division might have been won long ago. Perhaps, sadly more to the point, if Jose Reyes were simply a better ball player, if he had spent more of the last month on the base baths, things could very easily have never reached this stage. The MVP chants that greet Wright have a sinister subtext: they hint that Reyes has been playing poorly.

The fact that the team’s folding has coincided with a Reyes-funk cannot be overlooked. When the team is playing at its full potential, Reyes is unquestionably their MVP. When the team has succeeded lately, it has come from the RBI abilities of Wright and Alou-- both are great hitters and valuable players. However, when he is playing well, Reyes single-handedly opens up a dimension of the Mets that no other team in baseball has, and gives them an enormous advantage against almost any opponent. In their optimal state, Reyes is the engine that drives the Mets; in the month of September, Reyes has stolen five bases, and been caught four times.

Indeed, in the long run, Reyes is the reason that, no matter what happens in next three days, it still won’t be insane to think that the Mets might win a World Series in the not too distant future: the running game can be a huge asset in the post season, when pitching is superior and runs are at a premium. Reyes’ ability to conjure runs out of very little could be decisive in the playoffs…if the Mets get near the playoffs, and if Reyes ever fucking gets on base again.

The Mets had been in first place for the better part of two years, yet to suddenly share it with the Phillies, to replace nervous optimism with a sense of impending doom, feels weirdly familiar, like a return to native state. Indeed, Freud associates an unpleasant feeling that he refers to as ‘the uncanny’ with a sudden regression to an earlier state of psychological development; one of the frequent features of these earlier states is magical thinking, the belief that wearing a hat might influence a ballgame.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

“Like the opposite of icing on the cake."- Billy Wagner

Screw the post-season, the Mets are making history. Think about it: teams make the playoffs all the godamn time; someone does it nearly every year. No team in the history of Western civilization, has ever, even once, failed to make the playoffs, while holding a seven game lead in mid-September; the Mets have a really good chance at being the first. They are not satisfied with routine, or traditional achievements, they are striking out for new, never-before-accomplished goals, opening new frontiers of failure.

You knew that they were kind of screwed when Minaya sighted Philip Humber’s work in the college world series as a reason to feel confident giving him the ball for his first career start in a critical game in a Pennant race. That’s sort of like if the good guys were in a Martial Arts competition and they decided that the guy that they would send to fight the Black Ninja would be the guy who was really good at “Mortal Combat.”

Actually, Minaya’s college world series line about Humber isn’t as dim as all that, and gets at one of the arguments against clutch performers: major leaguers are the elite, and represent a miniscule fraction of aspiring athletes-- to even be considered to appear near a major league baseball team, you need to have proven yourself on all other level’s of the sport, you have to have already faced pressure and shown that you can handle it. It is not as if, at the time that it happens, pitching in a high school championship is more intense, for its participants than pitching in the major leagues, or a pennant race. In fact, the highschooler (or collegian, or little leaguer) is in some ways under more pressure, because they know they need a good performance in order to ever be considered for a gig in the majors. It seems sort of ridiculous that there could be ball players who advanced through the minors, oblivious to their surroundings, coasting completely on natural talent, and feeling no sense of urgency until they end up in a critical situation in the majors. Once you’ve made it to the major leagues things are kind of all-right, even if the Post calls you a choke artist. First off, you get to call yourself a major leaguer and then even Joe Smith makes a couple hundred grand a year. He is a year younger than I am, the losing pitcher in last night’s game, and he could still afford, if he was so inclined, to hire me as his personal sub-sub-librarian.

Unfortunately, I suspect that the decision to go with Humber had less to do with the an understanding of the flaws in the concept of clutch and more to do with a desire to ape the successes of the Yankees that has been with the Mets ever since they hired Casey Stengal (also, see Matsui). Someone in the front office was looking over at the Bronx and happened to notice the success that they were having with unproven, young arms; they formed a committee, looked over some scouting reports, and, by the last week of the season, decided to give it a shot. In fact, I can imagine the conversation pretty clearly:

Omar Minaya: Willie, it’s ok, we’ll let you use Humber on Wednesday, but you have to follow the Philip Rules.
Willie Randolph: um…ok…Philip Rules?
Omar: Yeah, the Philip Rules.
Willie: Right… um…what are the Philip Rules?
Omar: uh…well… how about putting him on a pitch count?
Willie: Rick Peterson’s the pitching coach, fucking everyone is on a pitch count.
Omar: and…hmm… how about he gets, like, eight days between starts or something?
Willie: Well, the seasons only lasts another five days…
Omar: Right. So don’t use him again for another eight days.
Willie: Yeah, you got it, shouldn’t be a problem.
Omar: So I have your word that you’ll stick to the Philip Rules? Even if it causes tension in the clubhouse?
Willie: uh…yeah.
Omar: and do you…do you think you could do something for me? You think, when you talk to the media, you could maybe mention the Philip Rules to them? Sort of explain what it’s all about?
Willie: um…no. I’m not gonna do that.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fire Joe Morgan

These guys are just hopping mad that sabermetric analysis isn’t taken seriously by mainstream baseball analysts and have recently become one of my favorite internet sports commentators—to the extent that they have the downside, along with Get Your War On, of being the only thing that makes me laugh out loud at work. Actually, there is something basically similar about Fire Joe Morgan and Get Your War On, in that they are both fueled by being ferociously bitter about a state of things that is deeply inevitable—refusing to tone down their level of anger despite the fact that they are clearly pissing in the wind-- although Sabermetrics seem to be doing a little better than the idea of a sane American foreign policy

Recent games

On one hand, the Mets have managed to survive any number of weird catastrophes and hang on to a two and a half game lead above the Phillies; on the other hand they seem to have chosen pretty much the worst time imaginable to slowly unlearn the game of baseball and expose the glaring, pitching-related weaknesses of the team. It’s funny, the team that we have been watching for the last week is pretty much exactly the team that we should have expected out of spring training—a rotation of question marks and old guys, neither of whom go that deep into games; a relatively -to- atrociously weak bullpen, that features Aaron Heilman as the strongest set-up man for Billy Wagner; and a potent enough offense to club their way past either of these shortcomings.

All of which becomes a lot less reassuring when you consider that the Mets have found their recent vindication against the Florida godamn Marlins who sort of seem like they are giving a presentation to their kindergarten class called “How I spent my summer on the bottom of the NL East.” People talk a lot about an obscure concept called fundamentally sound baseball, and that you need to play it, and the Marlins are a perfect example of why: whatever fundamentally sound is, the Marlins aren’t it. I’m mainly thinking of the eight unearned runs that the Mets were able to score behind Pedro. If the race stays close with Phillie, you really couldn’t ask for anything more than to close the season out against these guys, yet the Mets (chiefly the ‘pen) were still able to find ways to keep the Marlins in the games.

In the middle of all of this, Lastings Milledge went out and made himself tradable for a lot less pitching, by leaving the dugout to yell at the umps an unusually high (twice) number of times, following an ejection. You can almost say this is a good thing, since it might make them less likely to trade him in the first place, and then he might develop into a really good player, and then it will be good that they didn’t trade him. But, it is starting to get really obvious that someone needs to be traded for pitching, in fact, it seems more and more that they should have traded someone for pitching a while ago. Given that, Milledge is probably the guy to go, since they have Beltran signed to a long-term deal, Endy Chavez, perhaps Moises Alou, as well as the prospects Carlos Gomez and Francisco Martinez. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Milledge-- I want the club to keep him around, and next year he could be very important for them, since neither of the outfield prospects seem especially ready; but I am pro-pitching, and favor doing anything reasonable in the off-season to get some sort of reliable middle-inning relief.

But no one gets traded for pitching until the off-season, and the Mets have to handle the next week, and whatever might come after it, with the relievers that they have. And, we have the rest of the season (the part that wasn’t especailly important) to prove that those guys are, on occasion, capable of being effective.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Steroids, part IV

I can practically guarantee that at some point, some twenty-second century Foucault-type historian will write a thesis about how the debate and policies about steroids in MLB quaintly prefigured the radical changes that would follow in professional sports. For, whatever one thinks of steroids and steroid users, they are just the very beginning and the future will offer ways to alter and enhance athletes and human beings that are, at this point, completely unimaginable.

It might, for example, become possible to graft the muscle memory from a Sandy Cofax directly into the brain of an aspiring athlete, thus teaching them pitches in hours that otherwise would have been learned over an entire career. Perhaps, vast advancements will be made in the field of prosthetics, and the next three hundred game winner will do it in record time with an untiring robot arm (purists will suggest that he get an asterisk). Modern scouting, vastly more involved than anything that has existed before, will seem antiquated and vague when players have earpieces, or even screens projected onto their sunglasses, not merely giving them information on the history of the opposition, but also calculating the trajectories of balls, as they are hit in real time, adjusting for the wind. Robotic eyes (think Terminator) might lead to the re-birth of the .400 hitter.

The very nature of the ball player could change: the future might offer (hopefully) the opportunity to see an entire squad of cloned Ty Cobbs facing off against an entire squad of Bob Gibsons. At some point someone will isolate (or think that they isolated) the “clutch hitter” gene, and the next A-Rod will be guaranteed by the lab to hit with runners in scoring position, or you get your money back. Parents, frustrated in their own careers, will spend evenings trying to decide weather their unborn outfielder will hit for power or average, and weather they should spring for the speed gene, or put all their money in hand-eye coordination—it would be nice to get the leadership trait, but that one costs extra.

Exactly what will happen, and how it will be integrated into baseball, is of course ridiculous to attempt to predict. There will always be a minor culture of cutting edge modifications being illicitly introduced in sport; a crisis of a different order will occur if and when some form of modification (such as gene therapies, or prosthetics or something else entirely) becomes pervasive in the general population. Once people in general have become modified, the debate about what sort of modifications will be acceptable in athletes will take on a new dimension and will probably be followed very shortly by a new home-run record (and stolen base record, and life time batting average, etc.).

Of course, putting on the Twilight Zone-goggles, it is not hard to imagine a future where hormone and gene therapies, prosthetics, and mechanical implants have endowed the general population with supper-human physical abilities, and athletes are the only segment of the population that is left in their ‘natural’ state. Kept as some reminder of the ‘original’ humanity for the general population, these beings will compete at twentieth century games in twentieth century bodies: over time, their relationship to the evolving species will more closely resemble that of horses to breeders, trainers and jockeys.

Call Me Marlowe...

…not because I secretly wrote the works of William Shakespeare, and not because I’m a hard boiled detective who has coffee and cigarettes for breakfast and whisky for lunch--while there might be some truth to both those characterizations, I am, at this moment, the Marlowe that has gone to, and come back from, the heart of darkness.

Sam, of ‘Sam’s Mets Blog’ fame, attended The Lawrenceville School for the last two years of his secondary education. At some point during the summer, an alumni e-mail list yielded an offer to attend a Yankees game with other alumni for what seemed to be a minimal cost—being generally interested in New York sports, particularly of the baseball variety, passing up this offer seemed foolish. After some consideration, I actually decided that watching a team that I despise while listening to a bunch of ageing preppies discuss their golf games and trying not to get Bud Light all over their polo shirts was an experience that I could take a pass on, and never mailed them a check. But they sent me a ticket anyway, and I decided that I might as well go.

Indeed, from the outset of this adventure, a basic similarity struck me between the Yankees and The Lawrenceville School. Both of them seem like some aging gambler who has spent the last thirty years stacking the deck, and yet somehow manages to believe that their continued winning is a result, not of the actions that they took to alter the odds in their favor, but of their skill at the game. The Lawrenceville School attracts rich kids, and provides them with an exceptional education and a resume that colleges drool over; if they somehow manage to succeed in life it is because of the strength of character that was instilled in them by the school. The Yankees get the best/most expensive free agents that they can, and win due to the discipline and pride that comes with the pinstripes.

Shea seems like a quaint and antiquated appendage of the military industrial complex, and I am not exactly prepared to offer any excuses for it, but it is, at the very least, quaint and antiquated, and, quite frankly, a little bit crummy: the neon baseball-playing stick figures on the outside belong very clearly to a graphic style not entirely current, the banners of great Mets that hang in the concourse around the stadium seem musty and dated. The whole thing seems like it belongs more in the province of whimsy and World Fairs: junior is merely in the boy scouts, at this point, and if that will eventually take him to Vietnam, well, that is on the horizon, and not specifically the spectacle that we are presented with.

To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, Yankee Stadium is what the whole hep world would be doing on a Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. The stadium is indeed a truly impressive, beautiful building, but the architecture of the place also serves to make the individual seem small and irrelevant. Met fans have, through decades of disappointment, had some sort of realism drummed into their skulls and their relationship to the team is equal parts adoration and anxiety (not dissimilar to the emotion referred to as love); Yankee fans, however, are sustained by some kind of raw fanaticism and belief. The most telling illustration of this is that, in Yankee stadium, whenever a Yankee bat makes contact with a ball the fans cheer fanatically until the second that it is caught, or lands in foul ground—Met fans have generally learned to withhold judgment until the completion of the play. In someway more diverse and proletarian than their Met counterparts, Yankee fans are more universally in team colors, and more uniform and dogmatic in their relationship to their team.

The social aspect of the evening was actually significantly better than I had expected. Due to an atrocious lack of planning, the Lawrentians were supposed to meet in Stan’s Sports Bar, which was more packed than the rush-hour train that had brought me there, and thoroughly un-navigatable. The primary beer that they serve is the Bostonian Sam Adams, and I assume that three or four times a season someone is struck by the irony of this-- tonight was my turn; eventually, however, I noticed a sign, hung among the bad paintings of Thurmon Munson and Derrick Jeter, proclaiming that Sam Adams was the only good thing to come out of Boston (I think I disagree with both aspects of that statement). I failed at finding my fellow alumni, and went into the Stadium on my own. When I eventually found my seat, the other alumni actually turned out to be more or less reasonable and inoffensive people—although I hedged my bets by not paying too much attention to them.

The worst aspect of the evening occurred when I was trying to get into the stadium: they would not let me in with my messenger bag and directed me back to Stan’s where I had to pay seven dollars to check it. Why they could not have paid a little more to have someone search my bag (I can’t fucking believe that this country has reached a point where I fucking want people to search my bag) is entirely mystifying and infuriating, but if I were to find out that Steinbrenner was a silent partner in the bag-check business, I wouldn’t be surprised. This was actually responsible for both of my reasons for leaving the game quite early: firstly I didn’t want to try to retrieve my bag anywhere near the time of the mass exodus from the stadium, and also I left my niccorette in it—you can’t smoke at all in Yankee Stadium, whereas in Shea they’ll let you light up in the weird walkways that run along the outside, overlooking the dismal bay.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Waiting for El Duque:

Reporter: Does this make...
Hernandez: I don't know.
Reporter: I didn't even ask you the question.
Hernandez: It's the same. Every day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Steroids, part III

Perhaps one person in fifty or a hundred is endowed with the abilities, both physical and mental, necessary to play baseball or any other sport on a professional level. For the vast majority of people, to watch any professional sport is to watch (and evaluate, criticize, demean, condemn or approve) people doing things, throwing a ball at ninety miles an hour for a strike, throwing an ephus pitch, hitting a ninety-mile an hour ball out of the park, beating the catcher’s throw to second, leaping in the air or flinging one’s self precisely at the ground to catch a fly ball, that they are almost existentially incapable of doing. An enormous part of the appeal of professional sports in a capitalist society is the affirmation that they provide, for the fan, of a hierarchy that is perceived to exist amongst human beings. The fan is on the outside, looking in, watching the few, the privileged and the gifted compete at their games. By enjoying a baseball game, a fan makes a statement that they are ok with both the existence of the hierarchy and also with their place at the bottom of it. By deriving pleasure from the experience of being a ‘have-not’ when it comes to pitching, speed on the base paths, or slugging ability, they are tutoring themselves in how to enjoy being a have-not in regards to other things: money, land, and political power.

A seemingly erroneous perception about steroids is that they threaten the existence of this hierarchy and that ‘just anyone’ who takes steroids will become able to play professional sports. This is quite provably false: firstly, steroids have little effect at all unless they are combined with a rigorous work-out regimen. Furthermore, a close follower of the game will have observed that a player’s innate ability still seems to account for more of their successes or failures than their chemical intake: Guillermo Mota was on steroids at the time, but he still made a crappy pitch in game two that cost the Mets the 2006 NLCS; lots of players have taken steroids, but only Barry Bonds has hit more home runs than anyone else.

Still, the perception exists that steroids have the potential to serve as an equalizer and confer the coveted athletic abilities on ‘just anyone’ and the idea that they have the power to threaten or destroy the hierarchy of natural gifts must be responsible for much of the negative reaction against them, since the affirmation of this hierarchy is much of what draws fans to the game in the first place. The tragedy, of course, is when aspiring players buy into the fallacy-- when ‘just anyone’ actually goes and takes steroids in the vain hope that they will make it will make them a ball player, and finds themselves, at the end of the day, still not a ball player, but beset, nonetheless, with the medical problems that come from using steroids; indeed, it is mainly on behalf of this ‘just anyone’ that MLB is obliged to take drastic action to eliminate steroid use.

It is interesting, in the context of the above observations, to point out that some of the earliest and most widespread use of steroids occurred, with the blessing of the State, on Soviet Olympic teams.

Mets vs. Phillies

I had these thoughts the first time this happened, but then they swept Atlanta and things seemed to be looking up. Now however, that they have twice, twice goddammit, faced the Phillies, the team which, all year, they have had the most emotional incentive to beat, with a chance to pretty much eliminate them from post-season contention, and they haven’t even beaten them one time out of seven. It is things like this, that lead you to severely question weather or not the team has the ‘will to win,’ the ‘mental toughness,’ ‘bullpen,’ or whatever else it takes to make a serious post season run. Looking at this morning and seeing Brian Lawrence listed as the starter, leads you to wonder if they’ll even make the playoffs.

I actually attended the fiasco that was the end of the season series with Philly. Looking over the box score, there is an impressive symmetry of numbers: for every strikeout that Perez got, he gave up a walk; for every run that the Mets scored, they committed an error. Their level of play was basically miserable, but they still had the game weirdly within reach, thanks to a three run Beltran homer, until the bullpen, specifically Guillermo Mota, imploded and eliminated any chances the Mets might have had of a comeback. The bullpen is the definite, glaring weakness of the team, and one questions Randolph’s sanity for returning to Mota miserable outing after miserable outing, but, really, who else has he got? Mota has been terrible, but its not like there is some really good reliever hanging out, forgotten, in the Mets pen, that Willie Randolph is refusing to go to out of stubbornness…well, there is Joe Smith…

The problem, though, is that the Mets are not quite this terrible against teams other than the Phillies, and one can’t help but think that this goes back to Jimmie Rollins’ much publicized statement that the Phillies, and not the reigning champion Mets, were the team to beat in the NL East. This afforded everyone on both teams a nice opportunity to talk tough in spring training, and gave the beat reporters a couple free inches of minor news; it also created an extra incentive for both teams to play well against each other. In these games, the games where there was something intangible at stake, in addition to the games in the standings, the Mets played pathetically. These games, against the upstart Phillies, seem to be the closest that the Mets have faced in the regular season to a playoff atmosphere, where they will be forced to come through with the season on the line.

The notion of the ‘clutch performers’ is not taken very seriously by Sabermatricians; apparently, if you do the math, it all boils down to chance. Indeed, if this were a different sort of blog, I would probably turn to the strange kabala of statistics and match-ups to try and account for the Phillies dominance of the Mets. As it is, I can only hope that the Sabermatricians are right, and that my feeling that this is an erratic, gutless, and nervous team, unable to perform under pressure, is grossly uninformed. The Mets have enough of a lead, and an easy enough schedule the rest of the way, that they will, almost certainly, end up in the playoffs; but in the NLDS, a short series played under pressure, I am not particularly fond of the Mets’ odds.

Of course, the Phillies still have a more than decent shot at the post-season, via the wild card, in which case I would have to revise my prediction of a first round exit for the Mets. If the Phillies do, in fact make the playoffs, I think that the only thing to expect would be the NL East teams contending for the NLCS. If this does come to pass, I actually like the Mets odds: the Mets are a historically unlucky team, but Philadelphia is one of the more cursed cities when it comes to professional sports, and the Phillies regular season dominance of the Mets seems like it could be only setting the Phillies up for an extra excruciating post-season defeat--in much the same way that Smarty Jones, the last championship caliber thing to come out of Philadelphia, won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, leading the citizenry of Philadelphia to wager on him heavily for the Belmont, in which he was fairly unimpressive.