Saturday, August 22, 2015

Yoenis Cespedes vs. Bryce Harper: Who's the Real MVP?

(Photos by Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports, Jonathan Newton/Washington Post)

Bryce Harper has been the leader on the field for the Washington Nationals throughout the entire 2015 season.  He has been among the league leaders in almost every major offensive category and has put the team on his back when injuries have disabled several of his teammates.  Meanwhile, Yoenis Cespedes has only been a member of the Mets for three weeks, having spent the first two-thirds of the season playing for the underachieving Detroit Tigers.

Harper's full-season numbers dwarf the numbers put up by Cespedes in his limited time with the Mets.  So why do I think Cespedes could take a whole bunch of MVP votes away from Harper?  Former Met Mookie Wilson has a lot to do with it.  Allow me to explain.

Mookie Wilson played 12 seasons in the major leagues.  Although he had a solid career, no one would ever confuse him for a league MVP candidate.  However, after the Mets traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline in 1989, he unexpectedly became one.

Toronto, which had a losing record at the time of the trade, posted an American League-best 37-20 mark after the trade, with Wilson setting the table for a recharged Blue Jays team.  Wilson started 54 games for Toronto in 1989, with the Blue Jays winning 36 of those contests.  The center fielder, who was batting .205 with the Mets before he was jettisoned to Toronto, went on to hit .298 for his new team, scoring 32 runs and stealing 12 bases during the season's final two months.

On August 14, with the Blue Jays still under .500, Wilson embarked upon one of the hottest stretches of his career and helped push Toronto past all of its division rivals.  During a six-week period, Wilson batted .349, reaching base a whopping 64 times in 37 contests.  The rejuvenated speedster scored 26 runs and went a perfect 11-for-11 in stolen base attempts.  More importantly, he helped his team post a 26-11 record during his baseball renaissance.

When the 1989 American League MVP results were announced, Wilson surprisingly earned support from a voter, despite having played four months in the National League.  The MVP vote for Wilson tied him with Chili Davis and Mark McGwire for 25th place.  Davis earned his vote by leading the California Angels to a 91-win season - just two victories shy of the team's then-franchise record - while McGwire blasted 33 home runs and helped the Oakland Athletics win the World Series.

For as little time as Wilson spent with the Blue Jays in 1989, he provided the spark that helped his team win a division title, and he was recognized for his efforts with MVP consideration.  He was the true definition of the most valuable player on a team that had underachieved until he got there and needed his best performance to rise to the top of the division.

That brings us back to the Bryce Harper/Yoenis Cespedes conversation.  Through Friday night's games, Harper has a .330/.457/.642 slash line.  He leads the league in home runs (31), WAR (7.6), on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.  Harper is also second in the league in batting average, runs scored (85) and total bases (251).  Based on those numbers, Harper should be a leading candidate for the league's most valuable player.  But how valuable can a player be when his team has more losses than wins?

The Washington Nationals enter Saturday's action with a 60-61 record, five games behind the New York Mets in the NL East and several light years out of the wild card race.  The Nats have played horribly over the last 38 games, going 14-24 since July 6.  On that day, Harper was batting .347 with a .722 slugging percentage.  Since then, he's gone from superhuman to just slightly better than average, batting .295 with a .485 slugging percentage in those 38 games.  More importantly, Harper stopped driving in runs, racking up just 14 RBI in the 38 affairs.  And when he's driven in those runs, they've occurred mostly when the game was out of reach.  In fact, you have to go back to July 29 to find the last time Harper drove in a run in a game won by the Nationals.  That was two days before the Mets acquired Cespedes from the Tigers.

Since Cespedes became a Met, the team has gone 13-6 to overtake Harper's Nationals in the NL East.  Cespedes has played in 18 of those games, batting .316 and producing a .582 slugging percentage.  The 29-year-old Cespedes also has six doubles and five home runs during that 18-game stretch, while driving in 15 runs - or one more than Harper has driven in over his last 38 games.

Clearly, Harper's spark has faded in Washington.  At the same time, Cespedes has been the straw that has stirred the division-leading drink for the Mets.  The Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs and Dodgers would all qualify for the postseason if the regular season ended today.  But neither of those teams has a player that is putting up obvious MVP-caliber numbers.  And perhaps the best of all the players on those four teams is a pitcher (Zack Greinke) who only plays one out of every five games.  Here are the top everyday players on each of those four teams and their numbers:

  • STL: Matt Carpenter (.264/.364/.465, 29 doubles, 18 HR, 63 RBI, 69 runs, 2.9 WAR)
  • PIT: Andrew McCutchen (.295/.396/.505, 29 doubles, 18 HR, 78 RBI, 69 runs, 3.8 WAR)
  • CHI: Anthony Rizzo (.292/.402/.537, 30 doubles, 24 HR, 74 RBI, 68 runs, 5.7 WAR)
  • LA: Adrian Gonzalez (.287/.361/.514, 27 doubles, 24 HR, 73 RBI, 65 runs, 3.7 WAR)

They all look pretty much the same, with no one approaching the numbers being put up by Bryce Harper.  So if the voters went by the numbers alone, Harper would be the clear-cut favorite for the league's most valuable player.  But once again, is he really that valuable if his team loses more than half of its games when he's in the lineup?

Mookie Wilson didn't win the AL MVP Award in 1989.  Similarly, Yoenis Cespedes is not going to take home the NL MVP Award in 2015.  But history shows that players who switch leagues and only play two months for their new teams can become invaluable contributors that help their clubs reach success levels they hadn't approached before the mid-season trades were made to acquire these players.  That is why Mookie Wilson received MVP consideration with the Blue Jays in 1989 and that's also why Yoenis Cespedes is going to garner the same attention with voters in 2015.

Bryce Harper may end the season as the best player in the National League.  But the best player isn't always the most valuable player.  Yoenis Cespedes has changed the dynamic on the Mets since he arrived three weeks ago.  Opposing teams have to prepare differently when facing the Mets now than they used to, simply because of the presence of Cespedes in the lineup.  Harper has not contributed to Nationals victories as much as a person with his offensive statistics should.  Cespedes has been a game-changer and a potential season-changer for the Mets.

Harper may still take home the hardware at the end of the season, but Cespedes is without question the player who saved the Mets season.  And that is what a true most valuable player should be.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mets Must Get Over The Four-and-a-Half Game Hump

If the Mets want to see this in October, they need to increase their division lead in August and September.  (AP Photo)

No lead in the division is safe in baseball.  If you were a Mets fan in 2007, then you know how true that statement is.  But some leads are more safe than others, and the Mets have proven that in seasons when they've qualified for the postseason.

The 2015 Mets currently hold a 4½-game lead over the floundering Washington Nationals.  New York has built its lead by winning 11 of its last 14 games, while Washington is in the throes of a 4-11 team slump.  But an extra inning loss to the Pirates last night prevented the Mets from increasing their lead to 5½ games.  And earlier in the season, when the Mets rolled off a franchise record-tying 11-game winning streak, they also held a 4½-game lead in the division.  However, they never went over that hump, standing pat at 4½ for nine straight days (April 23-May 1) before a loss to the Nationals on May 2 cut their lead to 3½ games.

Only twice in club history has the team held a lead in the division of more than 4½ games and failed to win a division title.  The 1972 Mets got off to a tremendous start, winning 31 of their first 43 games.  In late May, the team possessed a comfortable 6½-game lead in the NL East.  But when Rusty Staub was felled by a wayward pitch thrown by Braves pitcher (and future Met) George Stone in early June, the team crumbled.  In the three-month period from June 7 to September 7, the Mets went 34-50 and finished double-digit games behind the eventual division champion Pittsburgh Pirates.

Thirty-five years later, the Mets famously held a seven-game lead with 17 games left in the season, only to see the Philadelphia Phillies take advantage of a Mets team that suddenly forgot how to pitch effectively.  Philly won all seven of their match-ups with the Mets in the season's final five weeks and Mets pitchers allowed an unfathomable 131 runs in the team's last 19 games to cough up the seemingly insurmountable lead.

Other than the 1972 and 2007 campaigns, New York has held a division lead of at least five games in four other campaigns.  They won the division crown in each of those seasons (1969, 1986, 1988, 2006).  They also held a lead of five or more games in the wild card race in 2000 and advanced to the World Series that year.

The Mets have had leads in the division of at least one game many times in franchise history.  And since the wild card came into play in 1995, they have been the leader in that race many times.  But just having a lead in the division or wild card race after the season is well underway hasn't guaranteed October baseball in Flushing.  Let's look at five not-so-memorable instances where this occurred.

  • In 1970, the defending World Series champion Mets held a two-game lead in the division when the calendar turned from June to July.  They ended the season six games behind the division-winning Pirates.
  • In 1984, the Mets were 4½ games ahead of the Chicago Cubs on July 27.  They lost 11 games in the standings after that date to finish 6½ games behind the first place Cubs.
  • The 1990 Mets were alone in first place as late as September 3.  But a 14-16 finish doomed them to second place, four games behind the division champion Pirates.
  • Eight years later, the 1998 Mets held a one-game lead in the wild card race with just five games left in the season.  They lost each of their last five games to finish 1½ games behind the eventual wild card-winning Cubs.
  • In 2008, one year after blowing a seven-game lead with 17 games to play, the Mets were on top of the NL East by a season-high 3½ games on September 10.  They were also 2½ games up on the Milwaukee Brewers for the wild card as late as September 20, when the season was down to its final eight games.  They failed to qualify for the playoffs.

What do the 1970, 1984, 1990, 1998 and 2008 Mets have in common?  Neither of them were able to stretch their division or wild card leads to more than 4½ games.  That's the same number of games the current Mets haven't been able to surpass in their quest to fight off the Washington Nationals.

The New York Mets have rarely missed the playoffs when they've had a lead of at least five games.  Only the 1972 and 2007 Mets know what it's like to watch the postseason on television after having such a lead.  But give the Mets a lead in the division or wild card race of more than seven games at any point in the season and they've never failed to crash the postseason party.

Entering Saturday's game against the Pirates, the 2015 Mets have been in first place for 64 of the season's 131 days.  They've held a 4½-game lead in the division for 11 of those days.  They've yet to hold a lead of at least five games.  History tells us that increasing that lead would subsequently increase the Mets' odds of making the playoffs.  If the lead were to grow by just three more games, the Mets would be in rarefied air - air that has only been breathed in by the 1969, 1986, 1988 and 2006 Mets.  Those were the only four teams that held a division lead of more than seven games.  You may recall those teams by their other name - NL East champions.

If the 2015 Mets want to join those squads as division champs, they just need to get over the 4½-game hump.  The longer they wait to get over it, the more nerve-wracking the final seven weeks of the season will be. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Lucas Duda Could Shatter Two Mets Home Run Records This Year

There has certainly been a lot of this for Lucas Duda at Citi Field this year.  (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Lucas Duda has been the top power hitter for the Mets over the past two seasons, blasting 51 home runs since the start of the 2014 campaign.  Duda's 95 career homers are the already the fourth highest total among left-handed batters in team history.  The only other lefty-swinging sluggers ahead of him are Darryl Strawberry (252 HR), Ed Kranepool (118 HR) and Carlos Delgado (104 HR).

Given good health and a multi-year contract, Duda could one day find his name at or near the top of the leaderboard of most of the team's power-hitting categories.  But Duda may very well shatter an odd team record this year, especially if he continues to turn Citi Field into the House That Luke Built.

Entering Monday's series opener against the Colorado Rockies, Duda has hit 18 home runs this season at Citi Field.  The only batter in Mets history to hit more than 21 homers at home in a single season is Darryl Strawberry, who jacked 24 dingers at Shea Stadium in 1990.  The only other Mets sluggers to surpass Duda's current total at home in one year are Dave Kingman (1982), Howard Johnson (1989, 1991), Todd Hundley (1996), Cliff Floyd (2005), Carlos Delgado (2008) and David Wright (2008).  Keep in mind that those batters accomplished their home run totals over a full season, while Duda still has nearly two months of home games to add to his total.

Duda has a total of 21 home runs this season.  So if 18 of those have been hit at Citi Field, that means he's hit just three homers on the road.  If that seems like a large disparity between home and road homers, that's because it is.  In fact, no player in Mets history has ever hit as many as a dozen more homers at home than he did on the road in one season, and only nine players have hit as many as seven more, as seen in the chart below.

Total HR
Home HR
Road HR
Darryl Strawberry
Jim Hickman
David Wright
Marv Throneberry
Steve Henderson
Hubie Brooks
Carl Everett
Cliff Floyd
Kevin McReynolds

Prior to the recent road trip to Miami and Tampa Bay, Duda became the first Met to hit nine home runs in an eight-game stretch.  All of those home runs were hit at Citi Field.  Duda hasn't gone deep on the road since June 18 in Toronto.

Lucas Duda is already the Mets' all-time leader in home runs at Citi Field with 55, despite not making his Citi Field debut until the final month of the 2010 campaign.  David Wright is the only player within striking distance - he has 46 - and no one else has hit more than 30.

Very few Mets players, regardless of the ballpark they call home, have hit the majority of their round trippers in front of the home fans.  But Lucas Duda is trying to go where no Mets slugger has gone before.  With seven more homers at Citi Field this season, he will become the first Met to hit as many as 25 HR at home in one season.  And as long as his road homers don't outnumber his home blasts by more than three during the season's final two months, he will be the first to hit at least 12 more home runs at home than he hit on the road in franchise history.

Lucas Duda has gone from a player who wasn't assured an everyday job at first base entering the 2014 season to the most prolific home run hitter in Citi Field's seven-year history.  And that turnaround could cause several chapters in the Mets' records books to be rewritten after this year.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Dog Days of Summer Might Be Happy Days For the Mets

The Mets hope to provide both bark and bite in the month of August.

The dog days of summer are upon us.  And while the month after the All-Star break is usually the time when some baseball teams start to fade, this is the time when the Mets have to heat up if they want to pass the Washington Nationals to claim an unlikely division title.

The month of July was supposed to be the big test for the Mets.  New York faced all three National League division leaders in the month (Washington, St. Louis, Los Angeles) and two of the league's wild card contenders (San Francisco, Chicago), yet still managed to record more wins than losses in the month, going 13-12 to keep their playoff hopes alive.  The Mets managed to gain 1½ games on the Nationals in July, as Washington stumbled to an 11-13 record in the month.

Now that the calendar has shifted to August, the schedule becomes much softer for the Mets.  They began the month with a thrilling, come-from-behind, Duda-powered victory over the Nationals, and after tonight's series finale against Washington, the schedule is loaded with sub-.500 team after sub-.500 team.

Beginning with Monday's game against the Miami Marlins, the Mets play 31 games over the next five weeks.  The only teams they face that currently have a winning record between tomorrow and Labor Day are the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles.  New York will host Pittsburgh from August 14-16, followed by a two-game series in Baltimore on August 18 and 19.  However, it should be noted that the Pirates have a losing record on the road (25-26), which is where they would find themselves when they take on the Mets at Citi Field in two weeks, while the Orioles are above .500 with a 53-50 record, or half a game behind the Mets, who are 54-50.

That leaves 26 out of 31 games against the likes of the Marlins, Tampa Bay Rays, Colorado Rockies, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox between tomorrow and September 6.  The combined record of those five teams is 225-296, which suits the Mets just fine, as they have been feasting this season against teams they have a better record than, going 35-20 against those clubs.

While the Mets play just five of their next 31 games against teams that are currently below .500, the Nationals have to play ten games against the Dodgers, Giants and Cardinals - all on the road - between tomorrow and Labor Day.  Those three teams are a combined 53 games above .500 and are 105-57 in their home games.  It should be noted that the Nationals are three games under .500 on the road this year.

The Mets have suffered some heartbreaking losses this year, but have still managed to remain in the hunt for their first division title since 2006.  They survived July, gaining ground on the first place Nationals despite playing an arduous schedule.  Over the next five weeks, the pendulum swings decidedly in their favor, as they face second division team after second division team - teams that shipped off several of their best players at the trade deadline - while the Nats have to travel to face some of the best teams the league has to offer.

The hottest days of the year could feature some of the best baseball played by the Mets since the team moved to Citi Field in 2009.  The Mets must take advantage of their upcoming soft schedule if they don't want to melt away in the N.L. East standings.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fun Facts About Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe

Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe were traded by the Atlanta Braves to the New York Mets yesterday for minor leaguer pitchers John Gant and Robert Whalen.  The trade instantly gives the Mets a credible third baseman who can actually hit in Uribe.   (Sorry, Soup.  You may be good food, but you're a lousy hitter.)  It also gives the Mets versatility with Johnson, who can play multiple infield positions as well as the outfield.

Okay, all that you know.  It's not my duty to regurgitate what others have already written about the two newest Mets.  Rather, it falls upon me to share what you didn't know or what you would not have thought of asking, mainly for fear that someone would think you were a weirdo or a forty-something who lives in your mom's basement and craves more meat loaf.

So let's not dilly-dally any longer.  Ladies and gentle-Mets, I present to you some fun facts about Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe.

Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson celebrate a home run by Uribe against Washington.  Uribe loves to face N.L. East pitchers.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Out of the first 1,000 Mets to appear in a Mets uniform, Johnson was one of the most common surnames, while Uribe had never been seen on the back of a Mets jersey.  In fact, when Kelly Johnson makes his Mets debut, he will be the eighth Johnson to play for the Mets (this doesn't include all-time club leader in managerial wins and division titles, Davey Johnson).  Kelly Johnson will join Bob W. (1967), Bob D. (1969), Howard (1985-93), Lance (1996-97), Mark (2000-02), Ben (2007) and Rob (2012) in the fellowship of the Johnson ring.  The surname Johnson will also tie Jones as the most common last name in club history.  For all you kids out there who like to keep up with the Joneses, those players' first names were Sherman (1962), Cleon (1963, 1965-75), Randy (1981-82), Ross (1984), Barry (1992), Bobby J. (1993-2000), Chris (1995-96) and Bobby M. (2000, 2002).

Newton's Third Law of Motion states that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."  The same can be said for the two newest Mets.  For every Johnson that has donned a Mets uniform, there have been no Uribes.  In fact, Juan Uribe will become just the third Met to have his last name begin with the letter "U", joining Del Unser (1975-76) and Lino Urdenata (2007).  When Uribe plays his third game for the Mets, he will pass Urdenata into second place for games played by a "U" player, as Lino appeared in only two games as a reliever and amassed a grand total of one inning pitched for the 2007 Mets.  How uncommon has it been for a Met to have his last name begin with the letter "U"?  Let's just say there have been as many Mets players to have surnames beginning with a lower case "d" (Matt den Dekker, Travis d'Arnaud, Jacob deGrom) as there have been upper case "U" guys.

Even in this era of free agency, it's rare to have a player suit up for every team in the same division.  Octavio Dotel, who began his career as a Met in 1999 and played for a major league record 13 teams, couldn't manage this feat.  Neither could Mike Morgan, Ron Villone or Matt Stairs, despite the fact that each player played for a dozen different franchises.  But not only has Kelly Johnson accomplished this rare achievement, he played for all five teams within a division in a span of less than two years.

The Arizona Diamondbacks traded Johnson to the Toronto Blue Jays on August 23, 2011.  He then signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Rays on February 5, 2013.  Ten months later, he signed a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees, who then traded him to the Boston Red Sox on July 31, 2014.  Thirty days later, on August 30, 2014, he was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles.

So let's review the stops made on Le Tour de Johnson.  On Closing Day 2012, he was a member of the Blue Jays.  He then played the entire 2013 season with the Rays, followed by a three-team pit stop in 2014, splitting time between the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles.  That's all five American League East teams in exactly 23 months (his last game with Toronto was on October 2, 2012 and his first game with Baltimore was on September 2, 2014).  Perhaps his familiarity with the A.L. East is one of the reasons the Mets acquired him, as the team plays the Rays, Orioles and Red Sox in August and square off against the Yankees in September.  Johnson can exact a modicum of revenge against the A.L. East squads that spurned him.

Speaking of reasons why the Mets acquired these two players, Juan Uribe has always been a good major league hitter, smacking 20+ homers in four separate seasons.  (By comparison, only six players in Mets history have produced four or more 20-HR campaigns while in a Mets uniform - Darryl Strawberry, Mike Piazza, David Wright, one of the eight Johnsons [Howard], Dave Kingman and Kevin McReynolds.)  But in addition to his prowess in power, Uribe has always handled N.L. East pitching extremely well.

Uribe has started 155 games in his career against the four teams he will now face the most (Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington).  That's just about a full season's worth of games.  Against those four teams, Uribe has a .279 batting average and a .439 slugging percentage, which is higher than the lifetime .255/.419 numbers he has put up against all the other teams he's faced.  He's also produced 62 extra-base hits in 606 at-bats against the four teams - an average of one extra-base hit every 9.77 at-bats.  He averages an extra-base hit every 11.0 at-bats against every other team.  It should be noted that beginning next Friday, 35 of the Mets' last 60 games are against N.L. East teams.

Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe have been brought aboard to fill a few holes in the offense, which has been downright offensive at times.  Anyone can spit out numbers (kinda like I just did in that last paragraph), but who's going to tell you about the abundance of Johnsons and the dearth of Uribes in Mets lore?  How are you going to compete against Gary Cohen and Howie Rose in next year's edition of "Beat The Booth" if you don't know about the Tour de Johnson?  And before you say that Uribe's an old fart who will only be competitive in a hot dog eating contest against Bartolo Colon, not only is Uribe a slayer of cured meats, but he's also a slayer of the N.L. East, having terrorized pitchers in the division for the equivalent of a full season.

Hey, at least if Uribe doesn't work out as a hitter, he can always manage the team for a day, as he did last year for the Dodgers. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Mets Should Just Say No to Justin Upton

Stop making eye contact, you guys.  You might make us think something's brewing here.

With less than two weeks to go until the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Mets are in sore need of a bat or three.  Well, duh.  That's all anyone is talking about these days.  And one team that keeps popping up as a potential trade partner for the Mets is the underachieving San Diego Padres.  The Padres supposedly upgraded their entire outfield this past off-season, adding Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton in an attempt to give a quick adrenaline boost to their offense.  The only problem was that the rapid shot of energy faded before the season began.

San Diego ranks 20th in the majors in runs scored and only the Mets (.233) and Seattle Mariners (.235) have a lower team batting average than the Padres (.238).  And no one - not even the Mets - can claim a lower team on-base percentage than the .294 OBP being produced by the Padres.  Because of their putrid offense and middle-of-the-pack pitching (3.91 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 1.30 WHIP), the Padres enter the day with a 42-49 record, just two games ahead of the last-place Colorado Rockies in the NL West and 3½ games in front of the Miami Marlins for the second-worst record in the entire league.

Without question, the Padres will be sellers at the trade deadline, just months after first-year general manager A.J. Preller bought the farm, the cows and both Upton brothers.  One player who might appeal to the Mets is the younger (and better) Upton sibling, Justin, whose 15 homers and 49 RBI are more than any current Met has recorded this season.  And although his .254 batting average is just okay, it would be only be surpassed by Daniel Murphy's .272 mark out of all the everyday players on the team.

On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer, even though Upton would just be a rental player, as he is in the final year of a six-year contract he originally signed with Arizona back in 2010.  The Mets wouldn't be committed to paying him beyond this season, just as outfield prospect Michael Conforto inches his way closer and closer to the big league squad.

But there are many reasons why the Mets should just say no to Justin Upton.  Here are a few of them.

Do you remember Richard Hidalgo?  He was traded to the Mets in mid-June 2004 and became an overnight sensation.  New York won its first four games with Hidalgo in the lineup, pushing the team above .500 for the season.  A week later, Hidalgo embarked upon a one-month home run tear.  From June 27 to July 29, Hidalgo batted .308 with 12 HR and 24 RBI.  He hit home runs in five consecutive games to begin the month of July, making him the first and only Met to homer in five straight contests.

Hidalgo sounded like a good buy, but before long, it was the Mets saying goodbye to him.  Take away his hot month and Hidalgo batted .189 with nine homers and 28 RBI during the rest of his short Mets career.  Hidalgo was the epitome of the streaky hitter, much like Justin Upton is today, and Hidalgo's cold streaks - like Upton's - tend to last longer than his hot ones.

During his first two months as a Padre, Upton was one of the best hitters in the league, batting .307 with 12 HR and 37 RBI.  Upton also posted a .545 slugging percentage, a .913 OPS and collected hits in 38 of his first 51 games, which included 15 multi-hit games.  But since the calendar turned to June, Justin has hit more like his brother Melvin, batting .179 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 37 games.  In the same time period, Upton (Justin, not Melvin) has nearly twice as many strikeouts (45) as he has hits (24).

This is nothing new for Upton, as he batted .301 with 13 homers in his first 53 games last year with Atlanta, then proceeded to bat .252 with 15 homers over his next 100 games.  The year before that, in his first season as a Brave, Upton tore the cover off the ball in his first 25 games, batting .304 with 12 HR and 19 RBI.  He then faded over the next four months, batting .244 with 12 HR and 45 RBI over his next 109 games.

Upton was a product of his ballpark when he played in Arizona.  From his first full season with the Diamondbacks in 2008 until his final year in the desert in 2012, Upton batted .311 in his home ballpark.  He managed just a .244 batting average on the road in those five seasons.  He also had just 41 homers in nearly 1,300 at-bats on the road from 2008 to 2012, while taking advantage of his home park in Arizona to hit 65 home runs in 63 fewer at-bats.

Ever since he left Chase Field, his strikeout totals have gone through the roof.  In his six seasons as a Diamondback, Upton surpassed 140 strikeouts just once, fanning 152 times in 2010.  Once he left Arizona, Upton became a human whiff machine, striking out 161 times in 2013 and topping that with 171 Ks in 2014.  So far in 2015 with the Padres, Upton has fanned 96 times, putting him on pace to strike out a career-high 173 times this season.  To put that in perspective, half of the Mets' everyday players are on pace to reach triple digits in strikeouts, but none of those players are whiffing at an Uptonian pace, as Lucas Duda leads the team with 92 punchouts.

Finally, check out this stat provided to us by the incomparable Michael Baron on Twitter.
One of the reasons the Mets are winless when they trail late in ballgames is the fact that as bad as they've been at the plate throughout the entire season, they're even worse in the late innings.  In the first six innings of games, the Mets are collectively batting .242 with a .391 slugging percentage.  That's not very good, but it gets progressively worse from innings seven through nine.

In the seventh inning, the Mets have a .215 batting average and a .310 slugging percentage.  That goes down slightly to .214/.307 in the eighth inning.  And in the ninth inning, those numbers go down to .197 and .281, respectively.  We're not talking about just the ninth innings when the Mets are facing the opposing team's hard-to-hit closer.  We're talking about every ninth inning situation - when the Mets have the lead, when they're tied and not facing the closer, when they're being blown out.  In every possible situation, the Mets just can't hit in the late innings of games.  And adding Justin Upton wouldn't change that very much.

Upton was a very good late-inning hitter in Arizona, batting .282 and posting a .460 slugging percentage in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings from 2008 to 2012.  Since 2013 - his first year away from the desert - Upton has batted .240 in late inning situations and has seen his slugging percentage in those spots drop from .460 in 2013 to .404 in 2014 to just .389 this year.  While it is true that a .240 batting average and .389 slugging percentage are better than what the average Met has done this year in the late innings of games, it's still not an acceptable mark for a player making over $14 million this year.  (Upton's .240/.389 marks in innings seven through nine are also slightly lower than what the Mets have produced in innings one through six.)  More importantly, it's not nearly enough production for a player who would be brought in to recharge the batting order's batteries, costing the Mets several good minor league prospects to acquire a player of his caliber.

Justin Upton is an above-average major league player.  But he's just not good enough to give the Mets what they need to overcome the season-long doldrums they've had at the plate.  He's not the same hitter he was in Arizona, he's too streaky and he's no longer a good hitter when the game is potentially on the line.

What the Mets need is a player who hits in any park, is consistent at the plate and does not wilt under the late-inning pressure.  The onus to find that player or players will fall on Sandy Alderson's shoulders.  The player who should not be at the top of his shopping list is Justin Upton.  The team would be better served to shop at a different store as the trade deadline approaches.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Jeers: Where Everybody Knows Your Trainer's Name

A week ago, the Mets embarked on a West Coast road trip after being swept by the Chicago Cubs at home.  The trip began with the Mets sitting a season-high 4½ games out of first place in the National League East.  However, after a 4-2 sojourn in Los Angeles and San Francisco, coupled with Friday night's "welcome home" win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Mets now find themselves just two games behind the first place Washington Nationals with two games to play before the All-Star Break.

Normally, that would be enough to cause even the most pessimistic Mets fans to crack a smile, or at the very least show off their best Lucas Duda grin.  But no.  The Mets just had to mess up Steven Matz's first month in the big leagues by allowing him to pitch last Sunday at Dodger Stadium after he complained of stiffness near his left armpit following his masterful debut appearance on June 28.

That's the left one.  The armpit he pitches with.  (Well, you know what I mean.)

Some of the blame for the injury could be placed on Terry Collins, who allowed Matz to throw 110 pitches in his debut and 101 more in his second start, after Matz had yet to surpass 100 pitches in any of his 15 starts with AAA-Las Vegas earlier this year.  But that would be the easy person to blame.  It's a lot more fun to blame Mets trainer Ray Ramirez.

See that press release up there?  That snippet was at the very bottom of the formal announcement made by the Mets when Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph decided on the team's coaching staff shortly after both men were hired to be the club's general manager and manager, respectively.  It was just an afterthought.  And look at some of the pertinent information on it.

  • Ramirez earned a Master's Degree in Sports Medicine.
  • Ramirez was certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association three decades ago.

Ramirez got a Master's Degree to do what he's doing for a living.  And he's been certified to put Mets players on the disabled list since a time when most of his current Mets victims weren't even alive.  No wonder this was all listed at the bottom of the press release.  The Mets didn't want us to know they were bringing in Dr. Death himself.

Dr. Death (as he's been called on Twitter by many trainer-phobic Mets fans) has never been liked by the masses since the team moved to Citi Field in 2009.  Anyone who has attended the Mets' home opener each year can vouch for that, as the most thunderous boos are usually reserved for Ramirez during the pre-game introductions.

But even if the plethora of injuries or the misdiagnosis of other maladies have nothing to do with Ramirez (let's just say they do), it's obvious that there's something wrong with the team's strength and conditioning practices when they lead to so many trips to the disabled list for those unfortunate souls who wear a Mets uniform for a living.

Let's just say this about Ray Ramirez.  People know his name.  And if you're doing your job correctly as a team trainer, no one should know who you are by name, even if you have your own baseball card that says your name is "Ray Ramirez, Trainer".

Dr. Death before receiving his PhD in deathdom.

When Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo wrote "Where Everybody Knows Your Name", the song that became the classic theme to the long-running television show, "Cheers", they had no idea that the song could also be applied to Ray Ramirez.

The song's co-writers began the catchy ditty with the following lyric:

"Making your way in the world today
takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries
sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?"

Ramirez took everything he had to make his way in the world today.  The problem is that now he's adding to Mets fans' worries by breaking Mets players.  To be honest, it would sure help a lot if Ray Ramirez just got away.

Mets fans know Ray Ramirez's name even though he's just the team's head trainer.  Fans shouldn't know his name.  And unlike the song, those fans are not always glad he came.  When Ramirez tends to a fallen Met, the troubles are all the same.  We just want to go back to a time when no one knew the trainer's name.  (For the record, the trainer prior to Ramirez was Scott Lawrenson.  I'll bet you had forgotten his name.  It's probably because he did his job properly.)

Like many other players who have been knocked to the mat and stayed down, Steven Matz won't be coming off the 15-day disabled list in 15 days.  As a result, there will be no cheers for Matz at Citi Field anytime soon.  But there will continue to be jeers directed at the Mets and Ray Ramirez in particular for the way the team conditions its players.

Sometimes it seems as if Dr. Death is the only person on the team who never gets injured.


On a related and sad note, Roger Rees, who played Robin Colcord on "Cheers", passed away last night at the age of 71.  The late actor gained fame as the title character in "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby", a role that earned him the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 1983.  Everybody will always remember Roger Rees's name.  May he rest in peace.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Mets and Their Unprecedented Home/Road Splits

There's no place like home for the Mets.  It's a different story on the road, where they're wicked awful.

The Mets just completed an eight-game road trip this afternoon in Milwaukee, taking the finale against the Brewers after dropping the first seven games of the trip.  The win improved the team's road record to 11-26, which serves as a mirror image to the club's 26-11 home mark.

As bad as the team has played away from Citi Field, the Mets' .297 winning percentage on the road is not the lowest in team history.  That "honor" belongs to the 1962 through 1965 squads, who played no better than .259 ball away from home in any of those four seasons.  However, those first four Mets squads were also lousy at home, posting sub-.500 records at the Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium as well.  This year's Mets have a .703 winning percentage at Citi Field.  How impressive is that figure?  It's higher than the .700 mark posted by the 1988 Mets, which is the highest full season winning percentage in club history.

The difference between the .703 winning percentage posted by the Mets at home and their .297 mark on the road is a whopping .406.  If that seems like an unusually large difference, that's because it is.  In fact, no past Mets team has ever come close to that lopsided of a home/road split.

Home Wins
Home Losses
Road Wins
Road Losses
Home Win %
Road Win %

It's more than likely that the Mets' winning percentage at home is not sustainable for the rest of the season.  Similarly, the team will probably play better than .297 ball on the road over the next three months.  So let's say the Mets play .500 ball at home for the rest of the season, which would be a huge drop-off from the .700-plus ball they've played at Citi Field so far this year.  That would give the Mets a 48-33 home record at season's end.  Similarly, if they find a cure for their road doldrums and split their remaining 44 games away from Flushing, the Mets would finish 33-48 on the road.

A 48-33 mark is a .593 winning percentage, while a 33-48 record is .407.  That's a difference of .186, which would tie the 1989 Mets for the third-greatest difference between home and road winning percentages.  Should the Mets go 23-21 at home and 21-23 on the road the rest of the way, they would match the 1963 club with a .210 difference (49-32 is a .605 winning percentage, while 32-49 produces a .395 mark).

After losing 18 of their last 21 road games, the Mets finally won a game on the road today, taking the series finale against the Brewers, 2-0.  They'll need more of today's good fortune and less of what they did over their previous 21 road games to avoid becoming known as the Jekyll and Hyde of all Mets teams.