Saturday, September 29, 2012

Robert Allen Dickey

How about this man? Here's a guy who two years ago, two years ago, was in the minor leagues as a 35 year-old. Here's a guy with no ulnar collateral ligament, whose signing bonus was taken away because of it, who transformed himself into a knuckleball pitcher from a conventional pitcher, who is now a legitimate contender for the 2012 Cy Young Award. On Thursday, RA Dickey won his 20th before an electric, if not capacity, crowd at Citi. I was there, and the picture above shows the adoration the fans have for Dickey. In his comments all year, Dickey expressed equal admiration for the beaten-down Mets fan base. Here's Dickey by the numbers with one start left:

20-6, 2.69 ERA, 227.2 IP, 222 K, 54 BB, 185 hits allowed

People talk about RA as if he's the favorite for the Cy. I'm not so sure. Gonzalez is 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA and 199 K. It's close. And let's not forget Kimbrel, who closed the Mets out tonight. Kimbrel has 40 saves and a 1.04 ERA. I'm certainly hoping RA will with the Cy, as it would show the value of sticking to your craft and doing whatever it takes to compete. In addition, it would give us fans something to feel good about during the off season. In about 6 weeks, we'll find out.

As for the rest of the team, the Mets have won 7 of their last 9 after tonight's 2-0 loss to Atlanta. This recent streak comes after the Phillie debacle. Was the team rudley awakened by that embarrassment? Or has it been bad competition? Is this renewed play a sign of potential, or fool's gold? Sandy was on during Tuesday's game, and he talked about the need to add power. His overall tone seemed to suggest that he's not buying the recent success as a elixir for two and half months' worth of disappointment. He also talked about Wright and the aforementioned Dickey, essentially saying that the Mets would like to have both back, but that they can't make inappropriate decisions in the process. There will be plenty of time to see how both of those situations play out. For now, the Mets have assured us that they will not lose 90 this year, and will not finish in last place.

Back to Thursday for a minute. In walking around the park, the talk among the fans was about the charged-up crowd. It reminded all of us that if the fan base is given something, anything, to cheer, Citi will be rocking. A 20-game winner gets us going. What would a pennant race do? Maybe the more important question is, how long will it take until we can find out?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hey Ike Davis, Let's Party!

One of the funniest movies of all time, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, provides the backdrop for Mets news this week. The Mets were rained out on Tuesday, and a story broke that the Mets were disenchanted with Ike Davis, because he stays out partying too late. Ike refuted the story, saying that at most he goes to a movie after games, and TC also said he'd never observed that behavior from Ike. Anyway, that's what happens when you're 68-83, people speculate at your expense. But let's take a look at a more substantive matter with regard to the first-base situation.

The question being asked is whether Duda or Davis should be at 1B next year. Clearly, the Mets don't know what to do with Duda. Is he a LF? Is he a 1B? Is he trade bait? Looking at the numbers:

Davis is at .226, 28 HR, 83 RBI
Duda is at .245, 14 HR, 54 RBI

Let's remember that Duda spent about a month in the minors, and Ike got off to that dreadful start. Defensively, Duda does not seem to be any better at 1B than in the OF, and Ike is an above-average glove at 1B. It seems clear that Ike is the better 1B candidate. But then there's trade value. Ike would bring more back than Duda, so what is best for the Mets? Are they better with players that Ike can return, and with Duda at 1B? Is there some other possibility, such as Wilmer Flores at 1B?

Time for me to opine. I simply don't see why the Mets are entertaining any notion of keeping Duda. Talk about a round peg in a square hole. This guy cannot play the field, it's that simple. I say trade him, perhaps in a package with other players, to an AL team and be done with it. Ike is by far the better player, and trade value can be bulit by adding other players with Duda. Factor in Duda's propensity to sulk, and we have a clear case of addition by subtraction.

In other news, RA got win #19 today. I was at Citi, and I was pleasantly surprised by the respectable turnout. RA is one of the few drawing cards the Mets have. The idea that he should be traded to bring back other pieces is intriguing, however, not an idea to which I subscribe. RA is a player that, if the Mets are serious about putting out a better product next year, needs to be here and an anchor on the staff. There has been talk of trading Niese as well. Jon is a guy who could bring back value. However, they'd be giving up a young veteran whose stock is rising. The return had better be substantial.

In the end, most players can and should be on the table this winter. I don't believe Dickey and Wright should be though. I also don't see how, with no money, the Mets are going to trade their way to respectability. They simply don't have the pieces to trade. In 11 days, speculation stops and the work begins. Get your contruction hat, Sandy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The face of Moneyball

If you have not yet read the Faith and Fear in Flushing piece about the death spiral engulfing the Mets, please go here and read it. Written by Jason Fry, the story discusses previous dark periods in the franchise's history (early 80s, early 90s, and 2003). Jason points out that in those tough times, the franchise had money to invest, and therefore hope existed no matter how dismal things appeared. In 2012, we have a different situation. The team is as bad as it was in those eras (of you say "worse" I will not argue). However, there is little or no money to invest. This may not be a dark winter with the promise of spring, this may be the Mets nuclear winter. I don't disagree, Jason.

This brings me to something I have been saying for almost 2 years. Sandy Alderson was certainly brought here to produce a winner. However, and very importantly, he was brought here to reinvigorate a franchise on a shoestring budget, as he and his cronies did with the Athletics using the "moneyball" concept. Simply said, the moneyball concept refers to finding undervalued (a euphemism for "cheap") players, who hit home runs and get on base. Moneyball, using statistical analysis, says defense is less important in baseball and can be sacrificed, and views the stolen base as the creation of the devil himself. If you doubted that Alderson was going to employ moneyball here, I present Lucas Duda, the moneyball poster child.

Lucas can certainly hit the long ball, with can being the operative word. Duda has 45 walks this year in 401 plate appearances. Last year, Duda had 33 walks in 347 plate appearances. Goodness knows Lucas cannot run or play defense, and this year he will make $497,000. Folks, in the picture above, you are looking at moneyball. The Mets have a strange fascination with Duda, something I have never seen and will never see. I simply don't think the "Duda Type" is a winning type. I prefer athletes. I like guys who can produce in some way in all five aspects of the game. They don't have to be superstars. But to me, you build with guys who can contribute in multiple ways. In this sense, I like the Whitey Herzog approach. Sandy likes moneyball approach. He may be right. If you like seeing players like Duda and you're a Mets fan, you may be in luck. Personally, I find this approach to building a team disturbing, and I doubt it can be successful in the NL in this era. I think you're seeing its success rate right now on the field. In case you've been hibernating, the Mets are 19-38 since the ASB. They look bad on defense and worse at the plate. They seem to look for walks, as Bobby O says. Welcome to moneyball.

I have little to say about the product on the field. I will say that it's unacceptable on any level, in New York or in any other town. I've read the tweets and Metsblog where some say the team has not quit, it's just bad. This is the same team, the same personnel, that went 46-40 in the first half. I like TC and don't want to think that the team has quit, but it certainly looks like they have. It would be one thing if this were an aberration, a bump in the road. I don't think it is. Neither does Jason Fry. I took the picture below on Saturday at Citi. This picture says 1,000 words.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Our Pride and Joy

How about this guy? 18 wins against 4 losses with a 2.64 ERA. He also has 195 Ks in 198 innings. And he's doing all of this on a team that is 7 games under .500. It will be interesting to see how the Cy Young plays out, with RA and Gio Gonzalez leading the NL contenders. There's an interesting word, "contender". Will the Cy Young vote be skewed by the Nationals' presence among the elite, while the Mets slug it out with Miami for fourth place? The type of season the team is having really should not matter, but I think we all know that it may. If it does, that'll be a shame. Our guy deserves it.

In looking back at the St. Louis series, I have two primary observations. First, no one can convince me that the whole "Sandy Alderson/Umpire Union" matter has not impacted the Mets on the field. I think the umpires have been looking for ways to hurt the Mets (TC blew a gasket earlier over the willingness for umpires to confer on calls that ultimately go against the Mets, but not the other way). The call on Torres at first on Labor Day is another example of umpires settling a score with Alderson. I've seen that play 25 times, and I'm still not sure if Torres touched the bag. If that's the case, how can umpire Rackley be so sure? How could the play be egregious enough for Rackley to make that call, and influence the outcome of the game? Observation two- I like Familia. Of the "big 4", he's the one you hear about the least. But he throws hard, and he seems confident and determined. He kind of reminds me of Harvey. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by what I saw from him.

In other news, there's a report out that the Mets will lose $23 million this year, less than the amount the lost last year (estimated at around $45 million). Naturally, this is due to a lower payroll this year. I wish this could be good news, but if they're still losing money with a lower payroll, do you think they'll be encouraged to spend more in 2013? If you do, you're quite an optimist. The report also suggests that the Mets may have $21 million to spend this winter, though Metsblog places that figure at $10 million. These assumptions also assume that the big ticket guys are still with, or being paid by, the club. If salary relief can be had by shedding any combination of Bay/Santana/Francisco, then there may be more to spend. But in any case, the reality is that the Mets need 3 outfielders, new relievers, and a catcher. $10 million or $21 million will not fill these needs adequately, and internal help may not be coming for position players. Even if the Mets re-sign Shoppach (I think they should), he's going to cost some of the money referenced above.

The moral of the story is something that should not surprise us, but we all hoped would not be the case. Building a contender is going to be a lengthy process. It may be expedited after 2013 when the payroll commitments subside, but we're going to have to be patient. Yes, I know Sandy says they can get better right away through trades. I think that's wishful thinking. Maybe I'm just not an optimist.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Nice job by the Mets in Miami, sweeping a Marlins team that truly looked like it was ready for the black tees (except Reyes, who clearly wants to beat his old comrades). With the sweep, and the Phillies losing in dramatic fashion to Chipper (er, the Braves), the Mets are tied for third in the division. Maybe that means something and maybe it doesn't, but one thing for sure, when Oct. 4 rolls around, it won't matter if the Mets finish third, fourth, or fifth. One thing that will matter though, both now and going forward, is the looming decision on what to do with David Wright.

The immediate future is well known. The Mets hold an option for 2013 on Wright, an option that is voided if Wright is traded (meaning he basically cannot be traded at this point). What should the Mets do? They can try to work out an extension this off season, or exercise the option and keep DW for 2013 (at least part of the season). I'm sure that Alderson is aware of the fans' attachment to their third baseman, which is clearly stronger than the attachment was to Reyes. But Alderson is running a business, not a dating service. This is going to be tough. Let's look at some numbers, since Sandy and Company cling to the idea that baseball is all about numbers.

Wright is a lifetime .302 hitter, with 200 HR and 803 RBI over 9 seasons, That's about 22 HR and 90 RBI per year on average. From 2005-2009, Wright hit over .300 each year. In 2010 and 2011, Wright hit .283 and .254 respectively, and is hitting .317 more than 3/4 of the way though 2012. His power numbers peaked in 2007 and 2008, with 30 and 33 HR in those years. He has 17 HR this year, and projects to about 21 HR when the season is over. David will be 30 this December.

By comparison, Chipper is a lifetime .304 hitter, and averages 24 HR per year, along with 86 RBI. The statistics are strikingly similar, though Chipper has posted them over a 19-year span, 10 more years than Wright. How about Wright compared to Beltre? Over 15 years, Beltre averages .279, 22 HR, and 80 RBI. I used Chipper and Beltre since they're among the elite 3B in the game. Wright compares favorably to them. The key is in the years in the league. Chipper and Beltre have been able to put their numbers up over 19 and 15 years, and if the Mets were sure that David could replicate that consistency,  Sandy's job would be a lot easier. Signing David for 5-6 more years would then make sense. But there are no guarantees.

As I mentioned above, this is going to be a tough decision. Fan sentiment has to be considered, since fans buy tickets. If you have watched Wright this year, you've seen a tailing off in the back half. Is this because there is no support for the man, and they're pitching around him, or does David wear down as time goes on? Will this trend, if it is one, exacerbate as David gets older, making a financial commitment to him less sensible? How about the "opportunity cost"? If the frugal Mets pay Wright $16-$18 million per year, is part of the analysis that the money could pay 3 decent players at 3 positions?

I don't have an answer. Part of me says the Mets have one of the best at his position, and he's still young, so pay him and build around him. That's the bigger part of me. But a smaller part of me is gun shy, looking 3-4 years out and seeing a bad contract tied to a deteriorating player. Maybe that's the Met fan in me.

What would you do?