Monday, April 21, 2008

Beltran’s Leadership Strikes Again

When Reyes was taken out of the game against the Brewers on Friday, April 11th, Gary Cohen and Ron Darling spent a moment discussing weather it was for defensive lapses, or for not running out ground balls, before the hamstring tightness was announced. The Mets lost the next two games, which Reyes sat out. At some point, before he returned the next Tuesday, Beltran approached Reyes and gave him a pep talk in which he encouraged Reyes to be himself and to return to the exuberant ways that he had renounced after his September slump; in the wake of being generally blamed for the Mets collapse, Reyes had reported to camp committed to being more focused on baseball and less on theatrics. Particularly, he decided to eliminate his choreographed celebratory handshakes, which had drawn the ire of opponents. After Beltran’s talk, Reyes resolved to return to being the “old Reyes,” to take up the handshakes and everything. This resolution has been followed by good play for Reyes, who had good series against the Nationals and Phillies.

Nothing is as important to the Mets as a dominant Reyes, and anything that encourages this is more than welcome. At the same time the incident furthers the perception of Beltran filling the perceived leadership void, which is also fun.

If you are looking for something to feel skeptical about, you can bear in mind that Reyes’ mini-streak has come against the Nationals, who are bad, and in Citizens’ Bank Park, where Reyes has always enjoyed hitting. He hit three home runs there once in 2006, during a terrible outing by an injured Pedro. Reyes’ homeruns also were the bulk of the Mets offense. The first one, which lead off the game, lead to an exuberant celebration in the dugout. Although they were healthily behind when he hit his second, it seemed to give them new life, and again his teammates were hopefully enthusiastic. By the time he hit the third, the game was already basically lost, and the only person waiting for the triumphant Reyes on the dugout steps was infield reserve Chris Woodward; Wright, who had lead the rush to greet him after the first homerun, was off in a corner.

I’m going to vent my disappointment with myself for not having posted enough lately by pointing out that the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro is kind of a moron. He wrote a whiney column, lamenting that the Mets blew their shot at a sweep of the Phillies and attributing this to Castillo’s inability to get a bunt down in the ninth inning, with runners on first and second, nobody out, and the Mets trailing by one. After Castillo struck out, Wright popped out, and Beltran hit a ball that might have gone for a hit but was well fielded by Phillie’s shortstop Eric Bruntlett. Vaccaro claims that if Castillo got the bunt down, the entire complexion of the inning would be changed, which is sort of true: the complexion of the inning would also have been changed if Beltran or Wright had gotten a hit, or if Castillo had been able to get on base. Identifying Castillo’s inability to put down the bunt as the play that cost them the game strikes me as odd: I’d just as soon blame Beltran and Wright for not getting a hit with the tying run in scoring position in the ninth. Or, fuck it; blame Pelfrey for giving up home-runs.

People have been telling me lately that I am unreasonably impatient with bunting as a strategy, and they are probably right. But my impatience is a results form the fact that the Mets in general, and Louis Castillo in particular, seem to display an unhealthy mania for the tactic. Obviously, if you have to make an out you might as well advance the runners and in certain situations the bunt is an invaluable tool. However, Castillo seems to really love to bunt, which is odd because he’s not an utterly incompetent hitter, and he particularly excels at patience and pitch recognition, meaning that, unless he bunts, pitchers have to throw strikes to get him out. If I was Willie Randolph, I’d send Castillo up and make the opposing pitcher throw strikes until he either walked Castillo, or got him out, or gave him a pitch to hit, rather than sacrifice a competent batter in order to advance runners.

1 comment:

nigel fowler said...

After last night's deluge-precipitating bobble, perhaps Jose requires a second visit to Beltran's amiable woodshed?