Monday, March 31, 2008

2008 Preview: Bench

Although technically part of the bench, Endy Chavez and Ramon Castro have been included in the sections on outfielders and catchers, respectively.

Marlon Anderson
Chinese Zodiac: Ox
Career AVG/OBP/SLG: .268/.317/.396
Although Anderson is listed as an outfielder, he will mainly be used as a pinch hitter, a task at which he freakishly gifted. Indeed, the slightest suggestion from Willie Randolph triggers in Anderson an unstoppable urge to hit a baseball. His neighbors would frequently find him standing outside his house, with a helmet and baseball bat, after Willie Randolph’s Subway commercials had been shown on television.

Damion Easley
Chinese Zodiac: Rooster
Career AVG/OBP/SLG: .252/.329/.406
Powermind devote Damion Easley is back after a broken ankle cut short a promising 2007. Easley can play most infield and outfield positions, and adds a good power bat off of the bench.

Brady Clark
Chinese Zodiac: Ox
Career AVG/OBP/SLG: .278/.358/.387
Nothing against Brady Clark, he seems like a fine back-up outfielder, but the last spot on the Mets bench has become a frustrating mystery. Late last week, the Mets placed good hitting infield reserve Ruben Gotay on waivers, sighting his questionable defense and a recently injured ankle. The thought was that waiving Gotay was a prelude to putting Fernando Tatis, an older player who could play both infield and outfield positions, on the roster. Thus, going with Clark, a more strictly outfield reserve acquired in the off-season , came as something of a surprise. And Gotay was promptly picked up by the Braves, where he will probably be fairly disappointing… except for the .450 that he’ll hit off of Mets pitching.

2008 Preview: Bullpen

Pedro Feliciano
WHIP: 1.335
Chinese Zodiac: Dragon
Pedro Feliciano is, in my opinion, one of the more overlooked Mets. His value as a lock-down, late innings left-handed specialist is immense. One of the major criticisms of Willie Randolph’s management is his use of a bullpen, and a lot of what people mean by that is his habit of using Feliciano in random situations, for varying numbers of innings. According to occasional comments made in the media by other Mets, Feliciano is kind of a character in the clubhouse, but he gets fairly little attention of his own.

Aaron Hielman
WHIP: 1.274
Chinese Zodiac: Horse
For all the changes to the Mets rotation, both contemplated and made, using Heilman as a starter was never one of them. The theory is that Heilman has more value as a good reliever than a bottom of the rotation starter. However, even though everyone has been saying that for years, Heilman still admits that he would be happier starting. I wonder if a similar change, from the rotation to the bullpen, might be in the future of Mike Pelfrey (who has “won” the 5th starter’s job while El Duque continued to work in extended spring training), who might also benefit from it.

Scott Schoeneweis
Chinese Zodiac: Ox
Schoeneweis was a horrendous last year, although he was pitching with a severed tendon in his foot. He also claims, credibly, that the steroids he took were part of legitimate medical treatment. As I promised, if he has a good year, I will write him a letter apologizing for saying bad things about him on the internet. It still irks me that he got the deal they wouldn’t give Chad Bradford.

Joe Smith
WHIP: 1.556
Chinese Zodiac: Rat
Last season, his rookie year, Smith made the camp out of spring training, did ok for a while, regressed, got sent to the minors, and then came back to the big league team near the end of the year and was fairly unimpressive. Smith’s spring also had a disappointing start, but he heated up at the end of the Grapefruit league and made the team for a second year in a row. Apparently, he bet a stake dinner with Duaner Sanchez that he (Smith) would start the year in the minors, and Duaner would make the big league club. Aside from owing Sanchez steaks, things are looking up for Smith.

Jorge Sosa
WHIP: 1.455
Chinese Zodiac: Snake
Although Heilman remains stuck in the bullpen, Sosa is still part of the conversation about the 5th starting job. Last season, with El Duque injured and Pelfery pitching badly, Sosa came roaring out of the minors and won a nice string of games as a starter, before running into problems and being moved into the bullpen. In retrospect, Sosa’s weird little dominant streak went a long way towards masking the problems of the ’07 Mets.

Billy Wagner
WHIP: 1.016
Chinese Zodiac: Pig
Oh, Billy Wagner. On paper, Wags seems like one of the best closers in the National League, and nervous as he sometimes makes me, I am guess I am still happy to have him, over most other options. This season, the major concern with Wagner is a weekly radio spot that he has agreed to do with ESPN. Everyone’s thinly disguised fear is that it is only a matter of time before he does something like call out Reyes for a lack of hustle on the air, or otherwise lands the club in controversy.

Matt Wise
WHIP: 1.261
Chinese Zodiac: Rabbit
Came from Milwaukee in the off-season, seems pretty good. I don’t have much else to say about him.

Duaner Sanchez
WHIP: 1.374
Chinese Zodiac: Rooster
After Sanchez injured his arm in a taxi cab in ’06 they put it back together with screws. If Sanchez can get back, at any point, at anything like how he was pitching before he went down, it will be an immense asset for the Mets. So far, he seems ok given the circumstances: he is beginning the year in extended spring training, might be with the club shortly.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

2008 Preview: Outfield

CF: Carlos Beltran
Career AVG/OBP/SLG: .280/.354/.496
Chinese Zodiac: Snake
The other day, Beltran made a nice, diving, out-of-nowhere catch in a meaningless spring training game. Beltran’s status as a running-into-walls/flinging-himself-at-the-ground-type outfielder belongs in the ongoing catalog of sports-journalistic omissions with vague overtones of racial bias. Guys like Aaron Rowand can win a franchise’s never-ending loyalty with that type of play, but with Beltran it somehow goes unnoticed—in fairness Rowand managed to injure himself more gruesomely than Beltran has, but are you really blaming Beltran for not missing playing time with broken bones in his face? In ’06 Beltran knocked himself unconscious for a few moments while catching a ball at the wall in Huston-- the team that he left for a larger pay-check from the Mets. After the game, he was asked how it compared to a time in ’05 when he knocked himself unconscious running into fellow outfielder, Mike Cameron. Beltran said it was better: “The first time, I didn’t know where I was, but today, when I heard the boos, I knew I was in Huston.” I don’t think he gets enough credit for his sense of humor, either.

RF: Ryan Church
Career AVG/OBP/SLG: .271/.348/.462
Chinese Zodiac: Horse
In 2005, concerned over the soul of an ex-girlfriend, Ryan Church asked the Chaplin of the Washington Nationals if Jews were “doomed.” When the Chaplin implied that they were, he (the Chaplin) had his access to the clubhouse suspended-- and Church apologized. Church came to the Mets as part of the Lastings Milledge deal, where he will share an outfield with fellow Christian Carlos Beltran. In the last days of the ’07 season, Church talked trash as his lowly Nationals won games against the heavily favored Phillies and Mets, and might provide the club with some of the feistiness that they might have been missing last year. He also might make me feel really terrible for being so hard on Shawn Greene last season; Greene actually had a pretty good year—the Mets will be lucky to get that kind of production from Church.

LF: Angel Pagan
Career AVG/OBP/SLG:.255/.306/.415
Chinese Zodiac: Rooster
At some point, when Pagan was at his hottest this spring, a rumor circulated that the Mets were in the process of trading him to the Red Sox in exchange for outfielder Coco Crisp. Crisp is regarded as an exceptional fielder, but had only had one particularly impressive season as a hitter, and was underwhelming in Spring Training, while Pagan, owner of very few big league at-bats, was tearing up the Grapefruit League. Opinion on the internet was divided as to weather or not this deal would be in the interests of the Mets. A brief perusal of their statistics showed that Crisp was an established, big-league player, while, Grapefruit league aside, there was no way to tell with Pagan. Indeed, the numbers indicated that 1) the Mets should definitely take the deal if it was available, but the disparity was so great that 2) it seemed completely unlikely that the Red Sox would ever make such an offer. Sure enough, the Pynchon character for breakfast cereal trade turned out to be complete fiction. However, Pagan’s spring was good enough to earn him a job filling in for Moises Alou.

LF: Moises Alou
Career AVG/OBP/SLG: .303/.369/.517
Chinese Zodiac: Horse
Alou will miss the first months of the season recovering from hernia surgery. If he ever does get healthy, the Mets should freeze him in carbonite, ala Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, and thaw him out in case of a close pennant race, or appearances in the post season. Although he missed a ton of time with injuries last year, Alou is still the holder of the longest hitting streak in Mets history.

4th Outfielder: Endy Chavez
Career AVG/OBP/SLG: .271/.311/.375
Chinese Zodiac: Horse
Particularly with the constant threat of injuries to Alou, and with the rawness of Pagan, Endy will continue to be very valuable as the Mets fourth outfielder. Chavez will be used frequently as a late innings defensive replacement, and to give the regulars occasional days off. The Mets are probably wise in their commitment to keeping Chavez as the fourth outfielder, rather than using him as a starter: while his defense is some of the best in the game, over a large number of at-bats, his hitting would probably become a minor liability.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mets 2008 Preview: Catchers

Previously, with Lo Duca and before him Piazza, the catcher was expected to be both a valuable component of the offense and one of the more media-prominent members of the team. This year marks something of a change in philosophy, as the Mets are looking to get fewer hits and quotes, in return for fewer passed balls and more thrown out base stealers.

Brian Schneider
Chinese Zodiac: Dragon
Career AVG/OBP/SLG: .252/.323/.377
I’m not sure how sold I am on the concept of a defense-first catcher. In the end, though, truly good hitting catchers are so hard to come by that perhaps the wise thing is to go with defense, which you can more or less count on, rather than overpay for a player like Paul LoDuca, who is a good hitter for a catcher but still not overwhelming in the context of major league line-ups in general. (In LoDuca’s case the issue is further confused because the two things that he excelled at, hitting for average and not striking out, are probably generally considered more valuable than they actually are) Still, half of a prized outfield prospect doesn’t exactly seem like a bargain, particularly because Schneider is already having hamstring problems in spring. I sincerely hope that Schneider is at least deeply adequate, just so that I won’t have to waste more energy cursing the Milledge deal.
UPDATE: Atlanta was able to tie the first North American regular season game in top of the nineth inning, thanks to a Paul LoDuca passed-ball, so Schneider seems like a little bit of a better idea all ready. And the Nationals won on a walkoff homer in the bottom of the nineth, so that was cool.

Ramon Castro
Chinese Zodiac: Dragon
Career AVG/OBP/SLG: 234/.310/.413
Ramon Castro’s solid hitting and defense are offset by the fact that he has never shown himself durable enough to catch a full season. What is it like being a perfect back-up catcher? Is it like going through life knowing that you excel at substitute teaching? If I were Willie Randolph I would see if I could sort of push things to the point where Schneider was more Castro’s backup than the other way around. The highlight of Castro’s spring came when he stuck a plastic cup onto Luis Castillo’s cap with several wads of bubblegum.

“I got one that can throw but can't catch, one that can catch but can't throw, and one who can hit but can't do either.”
-Casey Stengel

Raul Casanova will probably start the season as the Mets back-up catcher, while Castro recovers from a hamstring injury. Casanova is part of a group of catchers in the Mets minor league system that includes Gustavo Molina and Robinson Cancel, who have had nice spring trainings but are each regarded as some combination of bad at hitting, bad at defense, or too old to be a viable, long-term option in the major leagues. Given the frailty of Castro and Schneider, I would not be even remotely surprised if, at some point in the season, the Mets go and overpay for a scrub to fill in behind the plate. In my uninformed opinion my, the Mets fucked up miserably last year when they allowed prized prospect Jesus Flores to be taken by the Nationals in the rule 5 draft; now they have almost no prospects at catcher, and a long-term solution better than Schneider seems unlikely.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Do…I owe the New York Post…an apology?

Like most other pre-lobotomy sports fans in the greater New York area, I have come to regard The Post as fountain of lies, a journalistic shit-stain further tainting our collective unconscious (and making us pay a higher psychic price than we imagine) —and while that is not the main theme of this blog, it is an opinion that have not hesitated to express here, when appropriate.

However, when I looked at the back page of that publication this morning, I was greeted with one of the most brilliant headlines I have ever read, a headline involving two of baseball’s foremost legends, a headline that kept me grinning all the way to work, a headline that read “Conseco: A-Rod met ‘roid dealer, tried to pick up my wife.”

…if you follow the link, be sure to look at all three images in the mini-slide show. The pictures of Conseco and, especially, A-Rod are completely priceless. The article itself is kind of bad.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mets 2008 Preview: Starting Pitchers

Today I’ll be previewing starting pitchers because, after the infielders, I am most sure about the composition of the rotation.

Johan Santana
Chinese Zodiac: Sheep
Career ERA: 3.22
The arrival of the second best athlete traded from a Minnesota team in the last ten months catapulted the Mets from a shaky team with questions at several positions, into favorites to compete, not only in the NL East, but also for the world championship. I spent a lot of time thinking about this and decided that you probably are better off being a basketball team with Kevin Garnett than a baseball team with Santana. The logic being that in MLB there are perhaps two or three pitchers (Beckett, C.C. Sabathia) that give you more or less what you get from Santana, where as the NBA has one other player, Tim Duncan, who gives Garnett’s combination of lock-down interior defense and solid scoring near the basket; and Duncan has been proving for years that if you surround one of these guys with the right combination of jump shooters and flopping foreign role players, you can compete for the championship until you run out of fingers for rings. Still, in much the way that a KG or a Tim Duncan can improve their team on offense and defense by controlling the paint and taking pressure of their teammates, the presence of a true ace allows for a better rested bullpen, and takes pressure off both the back of the rotation and the lineup. Fortunately, aside from the loss of KG and Johan, everything else about living in Minnesota is completely awesome.

Pedro Martinez
Chinese Zodiac: Pig
Career ERA: 2.80
How will Pedro’s surgically repaired shoulder hold up? How will he adjust to being the number two pitcher on the team? How many jack-ass articles will be written in The Post about Pedro being too greedy and egotistical to come back to the Mets in ’09? Where will Pedro pitch in ’09? And how will he cope with the feelings of remorse brought on by PETA’s letter of protest? Honestly, the outlook on all of these things is good, and the reports from camp are that Pedro is almost enjoying his secondary status. And, in much the way that Santana’s dominance takes pressure of the rest of the Mets on the field, Pedro’s eccentricity and charisma should take pressure off of them in the media. PEDRO FACT: Pedro drives a black Austin-Martin with his number “45” engraved on the hubcaps.

Oliver Perez
Chinese Zodiac: Rooster
Career ERA: 4.43
Sam’s Mets Blog favorite Oliver Perez continues on his quest for some kind of consistency in ‘08. Why can’t he just be good all the time, dammit? The neat thing about Perez is that he still holds out the possibility of transforming into an ace, although the chances of this happening seem more remote every year. I suspect the same oscillation between brilliant starts and disasters. In other news, Ollie won his salary arbitration with the club, which got him a raise of something like $ 4 million. I would really like to know how he spent the night after the arbitration hearing; I hope it involved drinking tequila with Rick Peterson.

John Maine
Chinese Zodiac: Rooster
Career ERA: 4.19
At some point during spring training, one of the Mets Notes, on, was a bunch of bullshit about John Maine going on line for the first time in his life. My assumption is that a reporter saw Maine on a computer and Maine claimed he had never used one before as a joke-- either that, or it was a joke on the part of the reporter. With other ballplayers I might be more inclined to believe this, but Maine is presented as almost an intellectual by baseball standards, doing crossword puzzles and Soduku and occasionally speaking in full sentences. Apparently Maine and Perez have been playing pranks on each other in spring training, and I wonder if this is just fun and games or the seeds of real animosity between the two pitchers vying for #3 status.

The Old Duque (Rooster, or possibly Snake) vs. Big Pelf (Pig)debate took a turn for the terrible as both of them got lit up by the Cardinals on Sunday. Omar Minaya has apparently mentioned Nelson Figueroa (Tiger)and John Niese (Tiger) as possible alternatives. Although, El Duque and Pelfery will split another start before the season begins, I would have to think that any alternative is looking very good. As Dorothy Parker said, “When given a choice of bottom of the rotation starters, I always take the one I haven’t tried before.” Personally, I’m pulling for N-Fig.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mets 2008 Preview: Infielders

Going into the last week of Spring Training, I will be providing pre-views of the Mets team, not because this isn’t information that you could find on, the Post, or any one of a dozen other Mets blogs, but because this is a sports blog and sports blogs do this sort of thing. Today we are starting with infielders:

1B: Carlos Delgado
Chinese Zodiac: Rat
Career AVG/OBP/SLG: .280/.386/.549
Last year was one of Delgado’s worst, and the Mets are sincerely hoping that he bounces back. Now that Santana is on the team, a Delgado renaissance is not as essential for the Mets as it had been before. Still, there are a couple of questions surrounding Delgado’s struggles: were they the result of nagging injuries, or the fact that after the age of thirty-five, many left-handed sluggers start having trouble picking up the fastball? A guy who I met in some bar observed that all last year Delgado had been having trouble pulling the ball, which my knowledgeable source (the last game of the ’69 world series was on the tube, and this guy knew exactly what Nancy Seaver looked like) said was a problem that could be caused by a wrist injury, like the one Delgado was dealing with all last year. So, outlook: good.

2B: Luis Castillo
Chinese Zodiac: Rabbit
Career AVG/OBP/SLG:.294/.368/.358
If this was, like, five years ago the right side of the Mets infield would be ridiculous good. As it is, every time a ball gets hit between first and second, the doctors at the Hospital for Special Surgery start dreaming of new golf clubs. I love what Castillo brings to the team, in terms of his offensive skill set, patience at the plate behind Reyes, and a sort of hustle-ey, veteran-ey, vibe that he gives off. He just seems about as durable as a $2 umbrella. I find it really odd that he was able to get such a long-term deal. FUN FACT: the foul ball that Moises Alou was trying to catch during the Steve Bartman incident was hit by Luis Castillo, who went on to draw a walk in the at-bat. I’m sure they’ll get to spend lots of time reminiscing, when they’re both on the disabled list.

SS: Jose, Jose Jose—Jose, Jose
Chinese Zodiac: Pig
Career Avg/OBP/SLG: .284/.330/ .426
Other than the obvious, injury related issues (who will play in left field, who is the 5th starter?), Jose and the collapse are perhaps the team’s biggest question going into the season. Obviously, Reyes will be better than he was in September. On a larger level, the collapse calls into question just what the Mets have in Reyes, forcing us to examine the possibility that Reyes might simply be a good player, having a few exceptionally good years, rather than a great player, metamorphosizing into a legend, as we had been inclined to believe earlier. Clearly, this year will be pivotal in answering these questions. Venturing a guess: I think Reyes will be awesome.

3B: David Wright
Chinese Zodiac: Dog
Career AVG/OBP/SLG:.311/ .388/ .533
For all that went wrong in ’07 there is the consolation that David Wright is clearly turning into one of the profoundest hitters in the game, and, even after the acquisition of Santana, the young offensive talents of Wright and Reyes remain the most exciting thing about the Mets. In his stupid auto-biography, Juiced, Jose Conseco blames a lot of his problems on the fact that he, a Latino, came up with the A’s at the same time as Marc McGuire, and they were cast into racially stereotypical roles, Conseco the swarthy rogue, McGuire the all-American Wunderkind, for marketing purposes. Might something similar be happening on the left-side of the infield in Flushing? Hopefully not. Conseco claims that he and McGuire injected each other in the buttocks with steroids before nearly every A’s game. Is an eroticized fantasy of Wright and Reyes doing likewise lodged deep in the subconscious, under the gelled hair, of more than a handful of a certain sub-set of Mets fan, as they drive their muscle cars down the L.I.E. to the gym?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

5th Starter: Big Pelf vs. Old Duque

The rotation is clearly the strength of the club, to the extent that the concerns about the bullpen and the health of the line-up do not yet strike one in any particularly ominous light. Santana is Santana, and Pedro, Maine and Perez are as good a bunch to have following him as you could realistically hope for. But, as good as that group is, the precise identity of the fifth starter, when he is finally needed, remains uncertain.

The candidates for the job are, at this point, Mike Pelfrey and El Duque, each of whom has their own unique and glaring downside. El Duque, as far as it is possible to judge these things from reading lies in the papers, seems to be totally over the hill, and I am not even remotely sold on Mike Pelfrey as a guy capable of getting big-league hitters out on a consistent basis, over an extended period of time.

WHIP (Walks + Hits/Innings Pitched) is a newish metric for evaluating pitchers that is fairly brilliant in its simplicity. WHIPs around 1.10 are considered extremely good. In the Minor Leagues, Pelfrey has generally managed to get by with a WHIP of slightly over 1.30, however during his brief stints in the big leagues his WHIP has been over 1.70 which is strikingly worse. Admittedly, the most recent of these was his best, as he finally won a couple games late last season; but any relatively new pitcher is liable to occasionally foil an offense that hasn’t seen his stuff before. Reports of him from the minors, and the occasional good inning in the Big Leagues give one significant cause for hope-- but the discrepancy between his potential and the results he has achieved in the Majors is glaring enough to lead one to believe that he either suffers from a severe form of stage fright, or his stuff is in some liminal range of quality and becomes ineffective against Major League hitters. Whatever his problem, his results so far in spring training do not support the conclusion that it has been corrected.

To accommodate pitching with a bunion on his foot, El Duque has altered is trademark delivery (a consolation, if he doesn’t make the team, is the knowledge that even if he had we would still be missing out on his high leg-kicks). Altering a pitcher’s delivery is something that is not lightly undertaken, and does not uniformly yield good results. He recently pitched in a simulated game, in which he never threw harder than 81 mph and got taken deep by a bunch of minor leaguers. Even if he had been throwing effectively this spring, you would have to think that it would only a matter of time before he got injured again, forcing them to call on Pelfrey or someone worse.

Writing the above paragraph, however, fills me with a weird sense of déjà vu: this isn’t the first time that old age and frailty have lead people to pronounce Old Duque finished, and they haven’t been right yet. Last year, he was actually sort of the second best pitcher on the staff, after John Maine; his WHIP was 1.17.

If Pelfrey was a young pitcher who I really believed in, I would advocate seeing what the kid can do and trying to find another club willing to see if El Duque can still work his age and logic defying magic. As it is, don’t think there is really any choice other than to wheel El Duque out to the mound and see what happens—not so much on the strength of what he seems capable of now, but because of what he has done in the past, and how little reason there was to expect it then.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

HOW can you tell, you Son of a Bitch?

AS best as I can tell with out anybody of consequence confirming or denying - or, for that matter, returning a phone call/e-mail - there's sweeping validity to a rival tabloid's report that James Dolan met recently with Donnie Walsh in Indianapolis to discuss taking over the Knicks as soon as the season is over.
-Peter Vecsey

Monday, March 17, 2008

NRI watch:

Ruben Tejada went 1-3 on Sunday to put his batting average at .500. In the same game Nelson Figueroa allowed one run over four innings, to bring his Spring Training ERA down to 3.38.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

At the Kobe Bryant Museum

In case you were too busy watching spring training to notice, today was national “blog good things about Kobe day,” initiated by Hardwood Paroxysm. This is my contribution (sincere apologies to Donald Barthelme):

We went to the Kobe Bryant Museum and wept; more than any other museum, the Kobe Bryant Museum induces weeping—the statistics proving this are kept in a little white-note book, in the breast pocket of the director’s shirt, and he takes them out, almost apologetically, so that people will feel less alone in their tears and uses them to argue for increased federal funding. The holdings of the Kobe Bryant Museum consist principally of three hundred thousand pictures of Kobe Bryant.

In the foyer of the Kobe Bryant Museum is a seventeen foot-tall picture of the Infant Bryant, having recently slain two snakes that snuck into his crib. To the Infant Bryant the snakes are merely unexpected playthings. In a caption, the snakes are identified as Mambas. The booties on the feet of the Infant Bryant are Nikes.

The Kobe Bryant museum is made from a translucent polymer that was designed specifically for the building. The polymer was dropped off by forty technicians, who came on a boat from Japan, all wearing throwback Lakers jerseys. The Museum rises from the ground at a 60 degree angle; to stand in any of the sharply angled rooms gives one a sense of standing on a precipice. The architects relate this to the majesticness of Kobe Bryant’s jump shot.

In the basement of the Kobe Bryant Museum carpenters uncrated new pictures of Kobe Bryant. The huge crates stenciled FRAGILE in red ink…

The guards at the Kobe Bryant Museum carry buckets in which there are stacks of clean white pocket handkerchiefs. Even brief exposure to one of Kobe’s game winning shots, or a passing glimpse of devastating drive to the lane, may induce weeping. In a room replaying highlights from the 2002 championship, people stand in the flickering glow of the tubelight and weep.

Those who are caught by Kobe’s eyes, in the various publicity stills, room after room, are not unaffected by the experience. It is like, people say, committing a small crime and being discovered at it by your father, who stands in four doorways, looking at you.

On a plaque: “Kobe Bryant’s wife Vanessa was the only person in the world to ever own a Lamborghini Murciélago with an automatic transmission.”

Standing in front of a podium a man with a sad, sonorous voice explains: “rotated a mere ninety degrees in either direction the number eight becomes the symbol for infinity. Set beside the number one, the singular, the individual, the phallus, the subjective- we are presented with the image of all things, encapsulated in one instant. This is a theme that will reappear throughout the work of Bryant.”

People started at tiny pictures of A-I, LeBron and Shaq. These and other small pictures hung alongside extremely large pictures of Kobe Bryant.

NRI Watch Continues:

Nelson Figueroa's ERA has balloned to 3.86. Ruben Tejada's average climbed to .556, and he picked up his 3rd RBI.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pitching Coaches say the Darndest Things:

Initially, John Maine did not see himself going into the phone booth, putting on a cape and flying.”
-Rick Peterson [Italics mine]

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tejada Disappoints

Ruben Tejada's average has shrunk back to .500. Figueroa's ERA is still 0.00

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Jermy Brown, Chad Bradford and Moneyball

The recent retirement of Jeremy Brown, a minor league catcher for the Oakland As, attracted an unusual amount of attention, since the drafting of Browne, a fat college player who no one else thought was a big leaguer, is one of the central events of Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ book about the Oakland As, their manager Billy Beane, and their surprising ability to stay competitive, through the use of cutting edge statistics, despite having only a fraction of the resources of most baseball teams. Since Beane’s model rested heavily on optimal use of the draft, many have used Brown’s retirement to voice the opinion, largely held in baseball circles, that the “moneyball model” is stupid, and fans of statistical analysis are starting to call these critics stupid in return.

It is peculiar how much Moneyball is a rallying point in the debate about statistics and baseball. On the mainstream side of things, the book is met with a resentment that is altogether unnatural and weird; as a response to this hostility, the book’s adherents adore it with a fervor that is as cult-like as anything on this side of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. In attempting to deconstruct the mainstream hostility to Moneyball and statistical analysis, the stat minded frequently refer to a dichotomy between the complex realities revealed by statistics and the stories that sports writers like to write, which are pleasantly familiar to the audience, and easy to tell.

For all the conversation surrounding Moneyball, it is almost always assessed on the strength of its arguments, and seldom, if ever, regarded as a literary work, which is a shame. As much as anything else, Moneyball owes its strange power to being exceptionally well written and marvelously told. And, as a literary work, it rests largely on fugues derived from one of the classic sports stories: the story of the athlete who, due to some clear and glaring disadvantage, was generally deemed unfit to play but, in the end, proved everyone wrong.

It is the story of Beane’s minor-league roommate, Lenny Dykstra, short and psychotic, who rushed past the athletic and charming Beane into the major leagues; it is the story of fat Jeremy Brown, drafted in the first round; it is the story of Scott Hatteberg, whose knees were too shot to go on catching and looked to be out of baseball until the Athletics reinvented him as a first baseman; and it is the story of Chad Bradford, and his weird and wonderful sub-side-arm delivery.

Watching Bradford pitch has always evoked, for me, a very child-like quality of joy. Perhaps, there is something inherently whimsical about the submarine motion of his arm—mainly there is the quizzical thought, as he drops his hand to the ground “oh, no that’s not how your supposed to do that,” and then he whips the arm up, (whoops-zip), sending the ball looping towards the plate-- the simple delight in seeing something so far out of the ordinary; the living proof that cats can be skinned in many ways.*

Michael Lewis’ chapter on Bradford is one of the great pieces of baseball writing of our generation—perhaps the best thing that can be said about it is that it truly does justice to its subject and provides Bradford with a background and aura appropriate to his unique place in baseball. And, indeed, if other players mentioned in Moneyball have faded or disappointed, Bradford still ranks as a legitimate success for whatever philosophy brought him into prominence in the big leagues.

Whatever else it is, Moneyball is a good book that tells a good story—a highly subjective account of some people and some things that they did. It is not a manifesto, but a brief history of the Oakland Athletics and their manager, that describes how some of their thinking influenced some of their actions. If there is anything in particular to be learned from the book, it is that the As were generally rewarded for seeking a new perspective on player evaluation through the use of statistics: but what they sought, and what they found, was not a dogmatic or all encompassing program, but rather a different point of view—which, like other points of view, provided both illuminations and lapses, and has evolved and altered with the passing of time.

And at the end of the day, as is the case with the mainstream commentators approach to statistical analysis, it is always disheartening to have to watch the old guard reject the chance at a new perspective so haughtily, and cling so fervently to their well worn dogmas in response.

*Clearly, I am strongly prejudiced in favor of Bradford, since he pitched for the Mets during what is now considered a magical season. But a lot of the magic was enabled by the fact that they led the NL in bullpen ERA. (Scott Schowenwise & Guillermo Mota: I hate you)

It's a good thing Pagan has been hitting...

Well, that didn't take long.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Two Assholes

Mathew Wallace, of Newsday, is really annoyed that the Mets put out an add campaign last year that sort of implied that they would win, and then had the nerve to loose. He thinks that the Mets are old and bad, and that if they don’t win this year, next year everyone will be traded and fired. He poses this question: “Can the addition of Santana, who can help out only once every five days, really cure all that ailed the 2007 Mets, the failures of heart and discipline and character?”

Well, no, Santana can’t do that, and when the Mets compete for the “heart and discipline and character” pennant they just might be screwed. But Wallace seems to be confusing “heart and discipline and character” with “a bullpen.” And the failures of the bullpen are something that Santana actually could cure, since he will (hopefully) do a good job of pitching innings that otherwise would be pitched, badly, by the bullpen. And if the pitchers in the bullpen pitch fewer innings, than they might do a better job in the innings that they do pitch. So Santana does have a really good chance to help the Mets in one of the areas most closely associated with the collapse, even by only playing once every five days…as most people with a passing familiarity with the game of baseball are aware.

Utility infielder Scott Spiezio, formerly of the Cardinals, has a weird goatee that he dies red and a hard rock/grunge/metal band called Sandfrog, and he hit the Mets really hard in the 2006 NLCS. Now he has been release by the Cards, after a warrant was issued for his arrest, following a wild night of drinking, driving, fighting, and hiding in closets. My favorite: “As the two men were helping Spiezio, he began vomiting. Parisi asked Spiezio why he couldn't make it to the toilet. Angered, Spiezio grabbed Parisi and began wrestling him. Parisi tried to protect himself and Spiezio said, 'You know I can kick your ass.'”

Sandfrog’s web page is just a black screen, so I guess that means they are more into Metal than the other stuff.

For more on these and other stories, take a look at “It’s Mets for Me” which also has a good picture of a man throwing a kitten.

RUBEN TEJADA WATCH: Tejada is now hitting .750 with two RBIs.

Thomas Pynchon moonlighting at Baseball Prospectus:

"Slugging first baseman Yonder Alonso has yet to go deep."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Ruben Tejada is Hitting .500 (but he needs to work on his RBIs)

10. Ruben Tejada, 2B/SS
DOB: 9/1/89
Height/Weight: 5-11/165B
ats/Throws: R/RAcquired: NDFA, 2006, Panama
2007 Stats: .283/.401/.367 at Rookie-level (35 G)
Year In Review: A previously obscure Panamanian, Tejada put up a .400+ on-base percentage in the Gulf Coast League in his stateside debut.

The Good: Tejada earns high praise from Mets officials for his advanced approach (he walked more than he struck out) and his baseball intelligence. He has a line-drive bat and uses all fields, and he shows excellent fundamentals defensively.
The Bad: Unlike most Latin American teenagers, Tejada isn't especially toolsy. He has little power or projection for any, and his speed and arm are both no more that average, leaving him with the likely profile of a second baseman in the end.
Fun Fact: Tejada hit just .186 with the bases empty, but more than doubled that with a .377 mark with runners on base.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday second baseman and ideal No. 2 hitter in the lineup.
Timetable: Tejada might lack upside, but his polish is more than enough to handle a full-season debut at Low-A as an 18-year-old.
-Baseball Prospectus

BP ranks Tejada as the tenth best prospect in a system that they think is awful. Their blurb about him interested me, because you have to love the high on-base percentage, and I think it’s neat that what he has going for him is an “advanced approach,” “baseball intelligence,” and “polish,” when he is only 18 years old. And his high walk totals and lack of power seem somewhat a-typical. Since the Mets will need a new second basemen in the next couple years, I had thought about saying something about him here, but then I figured “Nah, what’s the use, he’ll probably just get traded for something, or rot in the minors, so why get folks’ hopes up?”

Well, if I had mentioned him, I would have seemed smart when he drove in the winning run in today’s game against the Braves. In his only at-bats of spring training (so far), Tejada went 1-for-2. Still, you’d think he should have more than one measly RBI to go along with that .500 average…

I did, however, mention Nelson Figueroa, a finesse pitcher who hasn’t been in the majors for a while, but had a good run in Winter Ball this off-season. So far in Mets camp, Figueroa has pitched three innings and allowed no runs, three hits, no walks, and 2 Ks. Hope I’m not jinxing him by pointing that out…