Saturday, April 19, 2014

Home Field Disadvantage

You don't have to be a numbers-obsessed Mets fan like me to realize that the team has been playing pretty badly at Citi Field over the past few years.  But sometimes the numbers help to advance and enhance the narrative.

For example, since the beginning of the 2011 campaign, the Mets have gone 105-145 in games played at Citi Field.  Meanwhile, over the same time period, the team has posted a winning mark (128-124) on the road.  Should the Mets finish the 2014 season with a losing record at home, it would be the team's fourth consecutive sub-.500 record in their home ballpark.  Not since the Mets posted six straight losing seasons at home from 1977 to 1982 has the team been so futile before its fans.

But as bad as it's been at Citi Field for the Mets over the past three seasons, it looks like it's getting worse before it's getting better.  Please allow me to explain.

Through their first seven home games in 2014, the Mets have been outhit, 70-34.  They have failed to collect more than seven hits in any game at Citi Field, but their opponents haven't had that problem, as they have mustered seven or more hits in EVERY GAME played at Citi Field this season.

The Mets have batted .160 at home this year, while reaching base at a .246 clip.  Never has any team in Mets history posted a lower batting average through its first seven home games.  To put those numbers into perspective, the league batting average is .248.  That's two points higher than the Mets' on-base percentage at home this year.  (And for the record, the average National League team is posting a .313 on-base percentage.)

But there is one thing the Mets do well at home.  They strike out.  A lot.

In seven games at home, the Mets have fanned 69 times in 212 at-bats.  That's practically one strikeout every three at-bats.  And before you say, "Well, their pitchers have a lot to do with that, smarty pants, because they're forced to bat in the National League", allow me to retort.  Mets hurlers have struck out just six times at Citi Field this season.  (First-place Atlanta has played one fewer home game than the Mets, but their pitchers have struck out eight times.)  So it's mainly the everyday players who have been heading back to the dugout soon after taking or swinging through strike three.

Shake Shack might have a tasty burger, but what Mets fans really want to taste at Citi Field are Big Kahuna victories.

Just four short years ago, the Mets believed in home field advantage so much, they used their Citi Field success as part of a marketing campaign.  But that was then and this is now.  For as bad as the Mets have been at home since 2011, they've become even more lethargic in 2014.

The trade of Ike Davis actually removed one of the few players who was hitting well at Citi Field and wasn't striking out.  Davis was 4-for-8 with just one strikeout at home.  The rest of the team has gone 30-for-204 (for a .147 batting average) with 68 strikeouts.  If those numbers look familiar to you (which they shouldn't), that's because they're almost identical to the ones put up by Oliver Perez at the plate in his five seasons with the Mets.  Perez hit .147 with 53 strikeouts in 156 at-bats as a Met.

So tell me, my astute Mets fans.  If it's considered an insult for a Mets pitcher to be compared in any way to Oliver Perez, then what is it considered when a Mets hitter is compared to him?

The Mets used to believe in home field advantage.  But Citi Field has become a home field disadvantage for the team since 2011.  The Mets simply don't hit at home.  And that translates into not winning at home.  Clearly, the only teams that are taking advantage of Citi Field are the ones who call the third base dugout home.

Joey's Small Bites: I Liked Ike

I looked up to Ike Davis, sometimes quite literally, as this photo shows.

Hi, everyone.  I'm Joey Beartran, your favorite roving reporter, culinary expert and fan of former Met Ike Davis.  That's right, I said former Met.  As in Ike Davis doesn't work here anymore.  That means we will no longer be treated to reading about Ike's mysterious bout with Valley Fever, nor will we see him play dress-up as a cosplaying cowboy.  Lest we forget, we certainly won't be seeing his Big Unit around Citi Field either.  (And please don't click on the words "Big Unit" unless you're over 18.  The last thing I want is people picketing outside the chicken nacho stand at Citi Field because I'm posting NSFW photos.  When I want my chicken nachos, I'd rather not have to wait any longer than I have to.  Thanks.)

After months of speculation, Ike Davis has finally been traded.  The former Mets first baseman will now be handling those duties in Steel City, with right-handed relief pitcher Zack Thornton and a player to be named later coming to New York from Pittsburgh.

This could end up being a great trade for the Mets, as Davis had hit just .219 since the beginning of the 2012 season.  But his Kingman-esque batting average didn't produce Kingman-esque power after the second half of the 2012 campaign, as Davis managed just ten homers in 407 plate appearances since the start of the 2013 season.

Meanwhile, the soon-to-be 26-year-old Thornton has been a strikeout machine in the Pirates' minor league system, fanning 285 batters in 252⅓ innings (an average of 10.2 K/9 IP).  Thornton has also posted a 20-9 record with 26 saves, a 3.03 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in parts of five professional seasons.  But his stock has really risen since the start of the 2013 season.  Since the beginning of last year, Thornton is the proud owner of a 2.50 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and has struck out 98 batters in 82⅔ innings.  Most impressive is his impeccable control, as Thornton has walked just 13 batters in those 82⅔ innings, giving him a phenomenal 1.4 BB/9 IP ratio and an even more eye-popping 7.5 K/BB ratio.

Let's put it this way.  Rafael Montero, who's the crown jewel in the Mets' minor league system when it comes to possessing great control and an exceptional ability to strike hitters out, has averaged 1.8 walks per nine innings pitched and has struck out 4.8 batters for every walk he's issued.  You didn't have to take Jaime Escalante's calculus class to figure out that compared to Montero, Thornton possesses better control and is more likely to strike out an opposing hitter than walk him.

No one liked Ike Davis more than I did.  When he was on, he hit some long home runs.  In fact, his final home run as a Met was a walk-off grand slam.  It was just the seventh game-ending salami in franchise history and the third that instantly turned a deficit into an unexpected victory.  But those home runs were getting spaced out a little too much, and as a result, fans were getting spaced out waiting for those big hits to come.  Davis needed a change in order to produce and the Mets needed to continue stockpiling young pitchers, either to cultivate them into a dominant force or to use them as trade bait for better hitters.

In trading Ike Davis, the Mets have taken a dive on another pitching prospect named Zack, hoping Thornton turns out to be a good melon.  Meanwhile, Davis - the one-time future for the Mets at first base - is hoping that a trip back to school in Pittsburgh will give him the education he needs to fulfill that potential.  It's a trade that should eventually benefit both teams.  I just hope it doesn't benefit the Bucs when they're playing the Mets in 2014 and beyond.

"Taking a dive?  Thornton being a good melon?  A trip back to school?  It's like I get no respect around here."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Gary Sheffield's 500th HR Almost Didn't Come as a Met

So here I am all alone on a lovely Saturday afternoon in New York while my wife is on a business trip in Phoenix.  I have two choices.  I could take advantage and go outside to enjoy the comfortable mid-70s temperatures or I could stay inside my apartment pondering statistical data about a player who spent just one of his 22 seasons in the big leagues with the Mets.

Naturally, I decided on the latter option.

As you may or may not know, Gary Sheffield played 21 seasons in the major leagues before signing with the Mets just before the start of the 2009 campaign.  Sheffield, the nephew of Mets legend Dwight Gooden, entered his final season in the majors needing one home run to join the exclusive 500-HR club - a fraternity that guaranteed Hall of Fame induction prior to the steroid era.

It took Sheffield just six games into his Mets' tenure to club his 500th homer, as the bat-wagging slugger took Milwaukee reliever Mitch Stetter deep at Citi Field on April 17, 2009.  A joyful Sheffield trotted around the bases and received an ovation only a New York crowd could give.  But Sheffield's landmark blast might not have occurred in the Big Apple had it not been for Mother Nature's interference just seven years earlier.!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_350250/24-gary-sheffield-509.jpg
This reaction might have come in a Detroit Tigers uniform had Mother Nature not paid a visit to Shea Stadium in 2002.

Just seven years earlier, Sheffield was a member of the Atlanta Braves when the Mets' hated division rivals visited Shea Stadium for a four-game series in late June.  The Braves took two of the first three games in the series, with Sheffield providing the game-winning grand slam off Mets reliever Scott Strickland in the third game on June 26.  (That was career home run No. 327 for Sheffield, for those keeping score at home.)  The next night, Sheffield crushed a two-run homer in the first inning off Mets starter Pedro Astacio to give Atlanta an early lead.  But before the game became official, it was washed out by an early summer thunderstorm.  That wasn't the only thing that was washed out, as Sheffield's 328th career homer had to be removed from the record books as well, since the game was called before the conclusion of the fifth inning.

Because Sheffield lost a home run at Shea Stadium due to the elements in 2002, he came to New York as a member of the Mets in 2009 with 499 career homers rather than an even five hundred.  As a result, Sheffield made home run history as member of the Mets, just seven years after a home run he hit against the Mets was removed from the history books.

Today, Mother Nature is giving New Yorkers a taste of her sweetness.  But over a decade ago, she showed Gary Sheffield her other side - the side that washed out a potential home run that would have prevented him from making history in a Mets uniform.  And because of that side, I'm spending a lovely day inside my apartment sharing that story with you when I could be spending it outside with all the Gary Sheffield-loving Mets fans frolicking in Central Park.

It's a good thing I'm not as fickle as Mother Nature.

Plunks For The Memories

Jeurys Familia knows that he pitched a plunker of a game.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

If you were one of the many insomniacs who stayed up until 2:03am to watch the conclusion of the Mets' colossally important April interleague game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County near Disneyland where Gwen Stefani grew up, then you were witness to just the fourth walk-off loss on a hit batsman in franchise history.

When Jeurys Familia plunked Hank Conger in the bottom of the 11th inning with the bases loaded, he joined a small, but infamous fraternity that included Jack Aker, Greg McMichael and Scott Schoeneweis - pitchers who ended games on the road by throwing a pitch that made contact with the opposing batter.

But it's not who they hit that made Mets fans go to bed unhappy, it's when they hit them.  Of course, when you look at the short list of players who sacrificed their bodies for a bruise-off victory, maybe it's also who the pitchers hit that make Mets fans cringe.

On July 25, 1974, Jerry DaVanon of the Cardinals was hit by a poorly placed Jack Aker pitch, giving the Mets a 4-3, ten-inning loss in St. Louis.  DaVanon played eight years in the big leagues for five teams, collecting just 117 hits.  He had three homers in 574 career plate appearances.  In other words, grooving a pitch right down the middle probably wouldn't have hurt the Mets as much in that situation as throwing one into the body of DaVanon.

The Mets didn't suffer another embarrassing walk-off defeat for another 23 years.  It wasn't until Greg McMichael plunked Houston's Luis Gonzalez on August 3, 1997 that the Mets walked off the field a loser because of a hit batsman.  Granted, Gonzalez was not Jerry DaVanon at the plate, as he produced over 2,500 major league hits and 1,018 extra-base hits over his 19-year major league career.  But most of his success came after the 1997 season.  From 1998 to 2003, an average Gonzo season saw him produce a .306 batting average, 38 doubles, 32 homers, 108 RBI and 102 runs scored.  Prior to 1998, Gonzalez's average annual numbers were not quite the same (.268, 25 doubles, 10 HR, 60 RBI, 56 runs scored).  Perhaps McMichael was afraid Gonzalez would hit a walk-off double against him, explaining why he felt hitting the not-yet slugger was a safer bet.

The third time a Mets pitcher ended a game with a walk-off plunk was not a charm for New York, as Scott Schoeneweis hit San Diego's Paul McAnulty with a bases-loaded pitch in the bottom of the ninth on June 5, 2008.  McAnulty had himself a career that only his mother and Jerry DaVanon were proud of.  The former Padre played parts of five seasons in the majors, producing a fearsome .201 batting average and .325 slugging percentage.  At the time of his beaning by Schoeneweis, McAnulty had produced just 39 hits in his big league career in 214 plate appearances, numbers that clearly scared the Mets reliever in such a way that he couldn't get himself to throw a ball somewhere around home plate.  Fortunately for Schoeneweis, that wasn't the low point of his career with the Mets.  That would happen almost four months later, as he allowed Wes Helms' go-ahead homer in the bottom of the eighth inning in the last game ever played at Shea Stadium.  But hey, at least he didn't hit Helms with the bases loaded, right?  Because that would have been embarrassing.

In the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, Jeurys Familia joined Jack Aker, Greg McMichael and Scott Schoeneweis, becoming the fourth pitcher in Mets history to walk off the field as a result of a game-ending hit batsman.  Familia's victim was an unfamilar face in Hank Conger.  The artist formerly known as Hyun Choi Conger obviously changed his name to Hank to evoke fear in the hearts of pitchers and it clearly worked against Familia.  After watching all the tributes to Hank Aaron in Atlanta earlier in the week, Familia must have been spooked into grooving a pitch to another Hank, not knowing that the Angels' Hank had only produced 106 hits in parts of five seasons with Los Angeles/Anaheim/Orange County/Disneyland/Gwen Stefani.

If Familia never does anything else of importance in the major leagues, he can always say he's a member of an exclusive Mets fraternity - one that includes the unforgettable trio of Jack Aker, Greg McMichael and Scott Schoeneweis.  The bruises will heal on the bodies of Jerry DaVanon, Luis Gonzalez, Paul McAnulty and Hank Conger, but at least they will always be able to say "plunks for the memories".

Hank Conger has a boo-boo because of Jeurys Familia's boo-boo.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Eric Young, Jr. Sets An Incredible Mets Record

Forever Young does what had never been done.  (AP Photo)

On Thursday, the Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves, 6-4, giving them just their fifth series win at Turner Field in their last 19 series there.  As rare as a series victory has been for New York in the house that Ted built, the Mets had won four series there since 2008 prior to Thursday's win.  But something else happened Thursday night that was even rarer than the Mets taking two-of-three in Atlanta.  And it made Eric Young, Jr. the answer to a fascinating trivia question.

Young was a true tablesetter in the series finale, going 3-for-5 and reaching base a fourth time on a fielder's choice.  Young stole three bases for the Mets and scored all four times he reached base, becoming the first player in team history to score four runs and steal three bases in the same game.

Prior to Thursday, the only Mets with as many as four hits and two steals in a single game were Bob Bailor, who accomplished the feat on September 8, 1982 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Luis Castillo, who scored five runs and stole two bases on June 27, 2008 versus the Yankees.  That was also the game Carlos Delgado produced a club-record nine RBI.

The only time an opposing player ever manufactured a four-run, three-steal game against the Mets was on July 1, 1998, when Toronto's Shannon Stewart turned the trick in a 15-10 shootout lost by the Mets at the Skydome.

Congratulations to Eric Young, Jr. on defining what a tablesetter does.  He stole three bases to set up run-scoring opportunities and he crossed the plate four times, almost single-handedly defeating the Braves.  In doing so, Young became the first Met in history to put up those numbers in the same game.

In the words of the late, great Mel Allen, "How about that?"

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hark(ness), The Herald Davis Swings

If you were at Citi Field today as I was, you witnessed a thrilling conclusion to the Mets-Reds affair.  With the Mets trailing, 3-2, going into the bottom of the ninth, Juan Lagares, Anthony Recker and Ruben Tejada all reached base to start the inning.

Up stepped Ike Davis, needing a long fly ball to tie the game and a base hit to perhaps win it.  What he did was even more exciting.

Slam!  Let the boys be boys!  (Photo by Howard Simmons/NY Daily News)

Davis' long blast off the Subway sign in right-center turned a potential heartbreaking one-run loss into a scream-until-you-lose-your-voice three-run victory.  The walk-off grand slam gave the Mets a 6-3 win over the Reds and put them in position to sweep Cincinnati on Sunday.

But Ike Davis' game-ending homer was more than just a fantastic moment in this young season.  It also was one of the rarest moments in the 53-year history of the team.  Please allow me to elaborate.

Davis' walk-off grand slam was only the seventh such home run hit by a Mets player in franchise history.  Tim Harkness was the first Met to smoke a game-ending salami, accomplishing the feat against the Chicago Cubs at the Polo Grounds on June 26, 1963.  Just forty-four days later, Jim Hickman also victimized the Cubs for a walk-off grand slam at the Polo Grounds.  The killer H's were the only two players in team history to end games with four-run homers until 1980, when Mike Jorgensen took the Dodgers' Rick Sutcliffe deep at Shea Stadium.  Six years later, Tim Teufel hit a grand slam against Tom Hume of the Phillies at Shea, a feat that wasn't seen again at the Mets' former home until 1991, when Kevin McReynolds blasted a bases-clearing shot over the wall versus the Montreal Expos.  It took another 22 years before Jordany Valdespin became the sixth Met to end a game with a grand slam, taking the Dodgers' Josh Wall over the wall at Citi Field on April 24, 2013.  Less than 365 days after Jordany took a spin around the bases, Ike Davis became the seventh slammer.

Obviously, becoming the seventh player to hit a walk-off grand slam in Mets history puts Davis in select company, but four of the other six players who ended games by putting a four-spot up on the scoreboard did so when their respective games were tied.

Hickman, Jorgensen, Teufel and Valdespin each turned tie games into four-run victories with their powerful swings.  That means Harkness, McReynolds and now Ike Davis are the only players who can claim snatching a victory from the jaws of defeat by walking off with a grand slam home run.  And each player did so at a different home park, with Harkness turning a 6-4 deficit into an 8-6 win at the Polo Grounds, McReynolds blasting away at a potential 5-4 loss by slamming the Mets to an 8-5 victory at Shea Stadium and Ike Davis erasing a 3-2 Reds lead with one swing of the bat, giving the Mets a 6-3 win at Citi Field.

Harkness.  McReynolds.  Davis.  Three very different players playing in three very different eras.  But all produced one very similar result with three well-timed swings of the bat.  And it was a result that made Mets fans across the generations leave the ballpark feeling slam-tastic.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Joey's Unhappy Recap: A National Disaster On Opening Day

Hi, everyone.  This is Joey Beartran.  In addition to my roving reporter and culinary expert duties for Studious Metsimus, I occasionally write a happy game recap.  More often than not, that recap comes on Opening Day, but today's season opener was anything by happy for the Mets and their fans.

Everything started out happy for me and my Studious Metsimus colleagues.  We attended a tailgate outside the ballpark where we had a tasty burger.  And that, my friends, was the extent of our happiness.

Happy days are here again.  Then the game started.

Oh, sure, the Mets took an early 3-0 lead on a home run into our section by Andrew Brown (I didn't have my glove with me so I let some kid catch it).  And yes, after a poor second inning in which he allowed a long two-run homer to Adam LaRoche, Dillon Gee settled down to retire 15 consecutive batters.  But you have to consider this.  Dillon Gee wasn't going to pitch a complete game.  And Andrew Brown was the Mets' offensive star.

You had a feeling this wasn't going to end well.

Once Gee was removed from the game in the seventh inning, the bullpen pitched as if every Nationals hitter was named Eddie Gaedel.  Entering the game with the Mets still leading, 4-3, Carlos Torres threw four straight balls to pinch-hitter Nate McLouth.  Then Scott Rice came into the game and thought he was playing Horse.  That's the only explanation I can see for Rice throwing four consecutive balls to Denard Span - he didn't want to get saddled with an "H".

The back-to-back free passes allowed the Nats to tie the game.  And somewhere in the dugout, Dillon Gee sulked.

Dillon Gee walks dejectedly off the mound in the seventh.  Many other Met pitchers would follow suit.

The Mets eventually got out of the inning when Jose Valverde (reliever No. 3 in the inning) struck out Mr. National himself, Ryan Zimmerman.  After retiring the side in order in the eighth, Valverde was in line to pick up the win after Juan Lagares gave the Mets a 5-4 lead with a home run in the bottom of the eighth.

But these are the Mets.  And even though they're the most successful Opening Day team in big league history, they still found a way to send the sellout crowd home disappointed.

Down to their last out, the Nationals tied the game in the ninth off Mets closer Bobby Parnell.  Then Washington scored four runs in the tenth off Jeurys Familia and ex-Nationals pitcher John Lannan.  The big blow came off Lannan, as the southpaw allowed a three-run homer to Anthony Rendon.  In six years with Washington, Lannan won 42 games.  Looks like he won another one for them today.

By the time David Wright hit a meaningless two-run homer in the Mets' half of the tenth (the third time in six seasons Wright has homered in the Mets' home opener), the number of empty seats outnumbered the number of filled ones.

All you need to know about this game is that Dillon Gee allowed four hits and two walks in six and two-thirds innings.  Then six relievers combined to give up five hits and four walks in just three and a third innings.  And oh yeah, Curtis Granderson went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and the first base combo of Ike Davis and Lucas Duda both went 0-for-2.  The Mets as a team struck out 18 times, led by Eric Young, Jr., who fanned four times.  I mean, if he wanted to wear a golden sombrero so badly, he could have just borrowed Ballapeño's rally sombrero and painted it gold.

So that's it, Mets fans.  Although this past weekend's rainy weather left before the first pitch was thrown, the game itself was still a washout.  It's never a good thing to write an unhappy recap.  It's even worse when it comes on Opening Day.  Let's hope I don't have to write too many of these in 2014.

Washington's Bryce Harper goes down in the second inning.  The Mets would do the same eight innings later.

The Best On The Worst: R.A. Dickey

Some men dare to dream.  And when they do, it's amazing what they can accomplish.  For example, Jim Abbott was born without a right hand, but despite the obvious hardships he faced as a pitcher, he still managed to remain in the big leagues for ten seasons and pitched one of the most unlikely no-hitters in history.  Similarly, William "Dummy" Hoy played 14 seasons professionally, collecting over 2,000 hits and stealing nearly 600 bases.  Hoy was able to have a successful career despite being legally deaf.

Both Abbott and Hoy overcame physical obstacles to become two of baseball's most inspiring success stories.  But not every player has had to persevere through those types of challenges in order to achieve success in the big leagues.  Some players have to conquer mental obstacles, while others have to deal with repeated bouts of rejection.  Many players can't handle those pressures.  But some do.  And in conquering those demons, those players not only make their own baseball dreams come true, but help others achieve their dreams as well through their stories.

One such player was told he couldn't succeed so many times, he had to reinvent himself as a baseball player, suffering through constant failure and disappointment before his patience finally paid off.  And in doing so, he became one of the most beloved and respected players in the history of the New York Mets.

That grip means you're about to get knuckled by a beloved former Met.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Robert Allen Dickey, for all intents and purposes, had a great year in 1996.  He was drafted in the first round by the Texas Rangers and was a member of the United States Olympic baseball team that won the bronze medal.  The future looked quite bright for the Tennessee native, and quick stardom (not to mention a growing bank account) was all but assured for the All-American pitcher.

Texas had offered Dickey an $810,000 signing bonus, which the right-hander was happy to accept.  But the arm attached to that right hand became a bit of a concern for the Rangers after the team trainer noticed it was dangling at an odd angle in a photograph published on the cover of Baseball America.  Before long, Dickey's offer of $810,000 had shrunk to $75,000.  What was the reason for the steep drop in signing bonus money?  A physical revealed that Dickey's right elbow did not have an ulnar collateral ligament.  In plain English, Dickey's elbow should have gone kaplooey every time he threw a baseball.

Eventually, Dickey did sign with the Rangers for the reduced amount, then spent half a decade toiling in their minor league system waiting for his first call-up to the major leagues.  That call finally came in 2001, with Dickey making the long-awaited jump to the Rangers in late April.  Dickey pitched well in relief in two of his first three appearances, but took the loss on May 7 when he allowed six runs against the Chicago White Sox.  The defeat came four days after manager Johnny Oates had resigned from his position.  His replacement, Jerry Narron, wasn't as supportive of Dickey as Oates was.  Dickey was sent back to the minors immediately after the loss.  He would never pitch for Narron again.

Jerry Narron continued to manage in Texas through the 2002 season while Dickey watched from Oklahoma as a member of the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate.  Although Dickey pitched well for the RedHawks, going 19-14 with a 3.92 ERA, he was never promoted back to the Rangers during Narron's tenure as the team's skipper.  But once Narron was fired and replaced by Buck Showalter prior to the 2003 campaign, Dickey was afforded a second chance.  Showalter was the Rangers manager for four seasons, and Dickey spent time with the team in each of those seasons.  However, he never quite became the star the Rangers expected when they selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 1996 draft, going 16-17 with a 5.49 ERA from 2003 to 2005.  Dickey made one and only one appearance for the Rangers in 2006, and it was one for the history books - for all the wrong reasons.

On April 6, 2006, Dickey was removed from his first start of the season after coughing up six home runs to the Detroit Tigers, tying a major league record.  The rough outing came a year after Dickey had converted from a conventional pitcher to a knuckleball pitcher at the behest of Showalter and pitching coach Orel Hershiser.  Ten years after seeing his bonus money drop from $810,000 to $75,000, Dickey was seeing his odds of remaining in the big leagues drop as well.  The knuckleballer was demoted once again to Oklahoma and never pitched again for the Rangers.

From 2007 to 2009, Dickey would pitch in the Brewers, Mariners and Twins organizations, but continued to rack up more frequent flyer miles than innings pitched at the major league level.  Dickey spent time in the minors in all three seasons before the Twins decided that they would not re-sign him at the conclusion of the 2009 campaign.  At the age of 35, Dickey had won a grand total of 22 games at the major league level and had posted a lifetime 5.43 ERA.  But he was now at a crossroads in his career, having fared poorly as a conventional pitcher and as a knuckleball pitcher.  Would any team be willing to take a chance on a pitcher in his mid-30s who had never been a consistent major league pitcher regardless of how he threw the ball?  One team would.  And that decision ended up changing Dickey's life forever, only this time it was finally in a good way.

How could Omar Minaya say no to this face?  (Photo by Jeff Roberson/AP)

Ten years is a long time for a player to get a second chance at success.  By the time the 2010 season rolled around, R.A. Dickey had gotten third chances, fourth chances, almost as many chances as he had wins.  Cast aside by the Rangers, Brewers, Mariners and Twins, the New York Mets became the latest team to give him a shot to achieve his lifelong dream.  The Mets had just come off a forgettable 2009 campaign in which they were decimated by injuries and poor play, finishing the year with a 70-92 record - their first losing season in five years.  Eleven pitchers started at least five games for the Mets in 2009, but just one pitcher (Mike Pelfrey) made more than 25 starts.  Clearly, Dickey had as much a chance as any pitcher had to make the Opening Day roster.  That is, until he became the first player cut in spring training.

Dickey opened the season not in New York, where the Mets opened the season against the Florida Marlins, but in Buffalo, as a member of the Triple-A Bisons.  Dickey started eight games for Buffalo, but his most memorable start came on April 29 against the Durham Bulls, when he allowed a hit to leadoff batter Fernando Perez, then proceeded to retire the next 27 batters.  The near-perfect game caught the eyes of the Mets' front office, and when the struggling Oliver Perez was removed from the starting rotation in mid-May, Dickey was called up to take his place.  He would never be sent back to the minors again.

After posting a 4-2 record with a stellar 2.23 ERA at Buffalo, Dickey proved his minor league dominance was not a fluke, going 6-0 with a 2.33 ERA in his first seven starts with the Mets.  Dickey's hot streak was contagious, as the Mets won 24 of 34 games after he made his debut.  But the 2010 Mets were a very streaky team, and just as soon as they became unexpected contenders, they regressed back to their 2009 selves.  This time, it was the offense that failed to wake up after hitting the snooze button one too many times.  Dickey had a brilliant month of July, posting a 1.51 ERA in six starts and holding opposing hitters to a miniscule .259 on-base percentage.  But as great as Dickey was in July, his teammates were the exact opposite, scoring just 13 runs in the six starts.  A month that should have produced many victories for Dickey saw him and his teammates emerge victorious just once, and Dickey needed to shut out the Cardinals into the ninth inning to earn that one win.  Three starts later, not even an anemic offense could prevent Dickey from earning a near-historic win.

The Mets had been a season-high 11 games over .500 as late as June 27.  Six weeks later, they were back at .500, struggling to stay relevant in the National League wild card race.  On August 13, the Mets hosted the three-time defending NL East champion Phillies at Citi Field, with Dickey squaring off against Cole Hamels.  Both pitchers brought their A-games to the mound, putting zero after zero on the scoreboard through five innings.  But in addition to the zeroes under the "R" column for both teams, the Phillies also had a zero under the "H" as well, as Dickey had held Philadelphia hitless through five.  The 35,440 fans in attendance were all aware that no Met had ever tossed a no-hitter as Dickey and the Mets entered the sixth, an inning that would begin with Dickey striking out the light-hitting Wilson Valdez.  But a soft single by Dickey's mound opponent, Cole Hamels, ended his quest for baseball immortality.  Hamels' hit would be the only one produced by the Phillies all game, as Dickey went on to pitch a complete game won by the Mets, 1-0, on a sixth-inning, RBI double by Carlos Beltran.  It was the first complete game and first shutout for Dickey since August 20, 2003.

Dickey's one-hitter - the 35th in Mets history - pushed the Mets' record to 58-57.  The team would spend just three more days above the break-even point the rest of the season, finishing the year with a 79-83 record.  Dickey's final numbers (11-9, 2.84 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 104 strikeouts, 174 innings pitched) were all easily career-bests and earned him his first multi-year contract, giving him financial and job security for the first time in his 14 professional seasons.  It also guaranteed he would start the 2011 season in a team's starting rotation for the first time in five years.

The 2011 campaign - his second as a Met - would begin with Dickey allowing an unearned run in a victory over the Marlins.  But that was as good as it got for Dickey during the first two months of the season, as the right-hander was inconsistent over his next ten starts, going 1-6 with a 4.90 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.  Dickey finally turned things around on June 5, pitching eight innings of one-run ball against the Atlanta Braves to earn his third victory of the season.  But once again, the Mets' bats became dormant whenever Dickey took the mound, only this time it lasted for more than just one month.

Beginning with his fine performance against the Braves, Dickey posted a 2.74 ERA for the remainder of the season and had an exceptional .285 on-base percentage against him.  But despite regaining his ability to keep his opponents off the scoreboard, the Mets weren't doing much to put wins in his pocket.  Dickey won just five of his last 20 starts in 2011, even though he allowed two runs or fewer in 12 of those starts.  Here's a perfect example of how frustrating it must have been for the veteran pitcher in 2011.  He allowed no more than six hits in 11 of his final 20 starts, but earned the victory in just one of those games.

The Mets didn't earn many victories either in 2011, completing their third consecutive losing season with a 77-85 record under first-year manager Terry Collins.  The 77 wins represented a two-win drop-off from the previous season, Jerry Manuel's last as the team's skipper.  Although Dickey surpassed 200 innings for the first time in 2011 and finished the year with a respectable 3.28 ERA, he could only manage an 8-13 record.  It was the first time Dickey had reached double digits in losses in a single season.

Although the Mets had a quiet off-season leading into the 2012 campaign, it was far from quiet for R.A. Dickey.  Dickey embarked on a quest to scale Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for women and girls in Mumbai who had been sexually abused or were at the risk of being exploited.  Soon after he successfully completed the long trek, Dickey released a tell-all memoir, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.  The book touched upon his ascension from minor league journeyman to his time with the Mets, as well as his own sexual abuse he suffered as a child.

Dickey's time as a media darling did not stop there, as he was prominently featured in the documentary, Knuckleball!  By the time the curtains had opened on the 2012 season, the whole country knew about R.A. Dickey, not just baseball fans in New York.  Dickey's off-season exploits thrust him into the spotlight for the first time in his career.  His performance on the field made sure he stayed there.

Dickey won his first two starts of the year in 2012, defeating the Braves at Citi Field and the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.  But his third start, also against the Braves, was a disaster.  Pitching at rain-soaked Turner Field - soggy conditions are like kryptonite to Dickey's super pitch - Dickey allowed eight runs in 4 innings, the most runs Dickey had allowed in a game since August 20, 2008, when he gave up an eight-spot as a member of the Seattle Mariners.  It was also one more run than he allowed in the record-tying six-homer game against the Tigers in 2006.  Looking back on his effort, Dickey had one thing to say about pitching in adverse weather conditions.

"I hate the rain," Dickey said matter-of-factly.  "I'm like the Wicked Witch of the West.  Water is no good."

Three days after his poor start against the Braves, Dickey attended the premiere of Knuckleball! at the Tribeca Film Festival, where he mingled with fans and taught children of all ages how to throw his signature pitch.  He did not seem like a man who had just pitched his worst game in four years.  Rather, he was at peace with himself and his effort, and seemed eager to get back on the mound to erase the bad taste left by the Braves.

Yeah, that's me (a child of all ages) getting knuckleball lessons from Mr. Dickey.  Jealous?

Four days after the film premiere, Dickey was back on the mound to face the Marlins at Citi Field.  This time the weather conditions were far more knuckleball-friendly, as Dickey held Miami to one run in seven innings to earn his third victory.  Dickey continued to roll along, and by mid-May, he was 5-1 with a 3.75 ERA.  But beginning with his start on May 22, Dickey's efforts were becoming superhuman, proving that the liquid kryptonite he endured in Atlanta was just a thing of the past.

From May 22 to June 18, Dickey won all six of his starts, allowing two runs (one earned) in 48⅔ innings for a microscopic 0.18 ERA.  Dickey wasn't just keeping opposing teams off the scoreboard with his knuckler.  He was keeping opposing hitters off-balance as well, using impeccable control not usually associated with an erratic pitch to strike out 63 batters while walking only five.  Included in his sizzling stretch were back-to-back complete-game one-hit shutouts.  Dickey became the first pitcher to accomplish that feat since Toronto's Dave Stieb, who threw his consecutive gems in September 1988.  In addition, Dickey became just the second Met to manufacture three complete-game one-hitters in his career and the first since Tom Seaver, who pitched five one-hitters as a Met.  (David Cone participated in three one-hitters, but needed relief help in one of them.)

Dickey's dominance took a brief early summer hiatus from June 24 to July 24 as he allowed five runs or more in four of his six starts.  He also gave up two runs in an unexpected relief appearance.  But Dickey did have one memorable outing during this period, appearing in his first All-Star Game.  The knuckleballer pitched a scoreless inning in the Midsummer Classic, striking out the Angels' Mark Trumbo and inducing an inning-ending double play from eventual Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

After his one-month "slump", Dickey returned to his early season form.  From July 29 to August 31, Dickey allowed just 36 hits in seven starts while striking out 51 batters.  He also produced a 1.73 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and earned four wins.  Included in this stretch was his fourth and fifth complete games of the season and his third shutout.  Dickey would end up leading the league in both categories.  Dickey's first September start produced his 18th win of the season, making him the Mets' first pitcher to surpass 17 victories since Frank Viola in 1990.  Viola won 20 games that year, becoming the fifth pitcher in Mets history to attain that lofty win total.  By season's end, Dickey would become the sixth.

On September 27, as the Mets closed out their home schedule, Dickey took the mound against the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, who were on their way to a record 20th consecutive losing season.  Dickey struggled early, allowing run-scoring hits to Rod Barajas and Jordy Mercer in the second inning and a solo homer to Barajas in the fourth.  But Dickey recovered quickly, striking out five of six batters soon after the Barajas blast.  The Mets, meanwhile, did everything they could to give Dickey a lead to work with, scoring a total of five runs in the fifth and sixth innings.  The big blow came in the sixth, when David Wright launched a tiebreaking three-run homer off Bucs starter Kevin Correia.  Dickey went on to pitch seven and two-thirds innings, matching his career high by striking out 13 batters.  But Dickey's landmark win was very much in jeopardy in the ninth after reliever Jon Rauch gave up a two-run homer to Alex Presley.  With the lead down to one, manager Terry Collins summoned Bobby Parnell to close out the game and preserve Dickey's victory.  Parnell retired both batters he faced, eliciting a massive roar from the crowd (which only slightly drowned out the fans who were finally able to exhale) and earning Dickey his well-deserved 20th win.

Dickey, being an expert wordsmith as well as a talented knuckleball artist, had much to say after achieving what no one thought possible entering the 2012 campaign.

"Growing up, you just want to compete, and then once you have the weaponry to compete, you want to be really good, and then when you're really good, you want to be supernaturally good.  For me, there's been this steady metamorphosis from just surviving to being a craftsman, and then, ultimately, the hope is to be an artist in what you do.  This year is kind of representative of that for me."

The 2012 Mets finished the year with an unspectacular 74-88 record, but Dickey's season was one for the ages.  Dickey posted a 20-6 record, to go with a 2.73 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.  Dickey also led the league in strikeouts (230), innings pitched (233⅔), complete games (5) and shutouts (3).  Not bad for a pitcher who worked his magic for a sub-.500 team.  In fact, Dickey became the first 20-game winner on a losing team since 1997, when Roger Clemens won 21 games for the 76-86 Blue Jays and Brad Radke earned 20 victories for the 68-94 Twins.

Dickey's five complete games were the most by a Mets pitcher since Dwight Gooden completed seven games in 1993 and his three shutouts were more than any Met had produced in a single season since 1992, when David Cone also twirled three such gems.  But no pitcher in Mets history can match one aspect of Dickey's stellar campaign.

By winning 20 games for a 74-win team, Dickey earned 27.0% of the Mets' wins in 2012.  Although not quite on par with Steve Carlton's 1972 campaign (Carlton earned 27 of the Phillies' 59 wins in 1972), Dickey's feat allowed him to become the pitcher who accounted for the highest percentage of his team's wins in club history, surpassing Tom Seaver's record of 26.8%, accomplished in 1975 when "The Franchise" earned 22 of the Mets' 82 wins.

Dickey's 20th win was just the chocolate sauce on his ice cream sundae of a season.  The cherry on top came in November, when Dickey won the National League Cy Young Award in a landslide over Clayton Kershaw and Gio Gonzalez.  Dickey became the third Met to win the award, joining Tom Seaver (1969, 1973, 1975) and Dwight Gooden (1985).  But like all satisfying desserts, eventually we reach the end and are left wanting more.  Only with R.A. Dickey, Mets fans never got another taste.

After picking up Dickey's $5 million option for the 2013 season, the Mets traded the popular pitcher to Toronto for catcher Travis d'Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard, two of the most valuable minor league jewels in the Blue Jays' organization.  Since the trade, d'Arnaud has become the Mets' No. 1 catcher.  And by the summer of 2014, he should be calling pitches at Citi Field for Syndergaard, whose vast repertoire has impressed all those who have watched him pitch.

Although Dickey's first year in Toronto produced a mediocre 14-13 record, it was still two more wins than any Met earned in 2013, as Dillon Gee led the team with a dozen victories.  One thing that didn't change as a result of Dickey's departure was the Mets' win total, as New York posted its second straight 74-88 season in 2013.  Ironically, that was the Blue Jays' record as well in Dickey's first season with the team.

In just three years with the Mets, R.A. Dickey went from being a reclamation project to a Cy Young Award winner.  He began his career in New York as a relatively unknown player to Mets fans, and ended it as one of the most beloved personalities in franchise history.  Dickey charmed fans with his approachability and candor.  He was also a media darling, eschewing the clichés of the modern athlete for well-thought-out responses that were both refreshing and unique.  Needless to say, the erudite pitcher was missed by all those who crossed paths with him on and off the field.

One such person who had a strong connection to the former Met is Taryn Cooper, a highly respected Mets blogger and podcaster who has been a fan of the team since she was a young girl.  Both Dickey and Ms. Cooper majored in English literature as collegians, making Ms. Cooper's connection to the pitcher extra special.  Here is her story.

"Friend and fellow blogger Jason Fry (one half of Faith and Fear in Flushing) probably said it best, when he said, 'If R.A. Dickey didn't exist, Mets fans probably would have made him up.'  And if you are a Mets fan, and don't get that, you may need to be schooled in some Mets history.

Because I got that statement.  Though Sidd Finch was an April Fools' Joke, the idea of a French horn playing, yoga enthusiast, quiet, reflective man who threw a 160+ mph pitch appealed to Mets fans, and still does to this day.  Why is that?  Because Mets fans like the underdog.  That's why stories like the Hendu Can-Do walk off home run still resonates 30+ years later. 

And R.A. Dickey was the underdog, the guy with a hard luck story who faced obstacles every step of the way, yet persevered and won.  Not only did he win, he certainly was the best on the worst.  He won 20 games for a 4th place team.  He not only won 20 games, he did so with a quirky pitch AND in a year that he published an autobiography where he stated that he would probably never WIN a Cy Young Award.  He did that year as well.

Even the story of R.A. Dickey couldn't be fully savored by Mets fans though.  That's why he sticks with us.  We wanted to celebrate his accomplishments Opening Day 2013 at CitiField.  But we were not allowed that opportunity because he was the centerpiece in a trade in what could possibly be one of the best trades in Mets history.   He wasn't bitter.  He took the high road as Dickey normally did.  What else could he do?

That didn't stop Mets fans from loving him and supporting him, no matter what the team.  If you think about it, Robert Allen Dickey was his own self-made media mogul.  He was on several television shows, he wrote a book, he was in the center of a documentary based on the pitch he threw, and he was a Twitter personality.  What Mets fans truly appreciated was his likability and accessibility to the fans.  He is a self-proclaimed Star Wars geek, which is a faction in and of itself.  He wasn't a cliché-ridden interview, he had carefully thought out responses and talked literature with his fans.  Heck, he and I even talked about Shakespeare and Hemingway, and I told him at a book signing that I'd love to take a class on Faulkner that HE taught.  See, no other baseball player let alone any Met would know what the heck I was talking about.  He did, though.  

This fanbase may be cynical at times.  But R.A. Dickey brought out the best in us.  He made us see that even in darkest times, we could believe that good times were around the corner.  I just wish he was around to share in the very bright future of the team."

Dickey celebrates his 20th win in 2012.  The fans, to this day, celebrate him.  (Photo by Barton Silverman/NY Times)

Over the years, the Mets have had several extended stretches of success.  But they have also suffered through their share of lean years.  And when the team has played poorly, fans have latched onto individual players.  After all, it's much easier to root for an athlete who plays hard than for a team that hardly plays.  During the Mets' seminal years, Al Jackson, Jim Hickman and Ron Hunt gave fans a reason to believe in the team, even as they were losing at an unbelievable rate.  When Shea Stadium was mockingly referred to as Grant's Tomb, Lee Mazzilli, Hubie Brooks and Dave Kingman shared the last laugh.  And during the time when the Mets were the worst team money could buy, Todd Hundley and Rico Brogna gave fans more bang for their buck.

The current incarnation of the Mets has produced five consecutive losing seasons.  Attendance has dropped steadily at Citi Field since it opened its doors for the first time in 2009.  But in the three years R.A. Dickey called the park home, fans had a player they could easily root for. 

Walt Disney once said, "If you can dream it, you can do it."  R.A. Dickey was a dreamer who always believed in himself and his ability to perform on the mound, even as the game was telling him otherwise.  Setback after setback would have quashed many player's dreams.  But not Dickey.  A competitor since birth, Dickey refused to stop dreaming.  And after many years of hardships, his dreams finally came true.

R.A. Dickey is a great American success story who just happened to write his greatest narrative as a member of an unsuccessful team.  In 2010, the Mets took a chance on the struggling knuckleball pitcher, trying to find lightning in a bottle.  Within two years, Dickey guaranteed that his story would have a happy ending.  Stories like that are the stuff dreams are made of.

Note:  The Best On The Worst was a thirteen-part weekly series (that's "was", as in you just read the final chapter) spotlighting the greatest Mets players who just happened to play on some not-so-great Mets teams.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 6, 2014: Todd Hundley 
January 13, 2014: Al Jackson
January 20, 2014: Lee Mazzilli
January 27, 2014: Steve Trachsel
February 3, 2014: Rico Brogna
February 10, 2014: Skip Lockwood 
February 17, 2014: Ron Hunt
February 24, 2014: Craig Swan 
March 3, 2014: Hubie Brooks 
March 10, 2014: Joel Youngblood 
March 17, 2014: Jim Hickman 
March 24, 2014: Dave Kingman

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Magic 8-Ball Predicts The 2014 Mets Season

It's almost time to begin another 162-game journey with the Mets.  But will it be a journey that leads us to unexpected happiness or another season of "been there, done that"?

At Studious Metsimus, we always want to know in advance what the Mets are going to do prior to Opening Day.  We figure that if there's something to look forward to during the upcoming season, we should be prepared for it.  Similarly, if there's something we wish we didn't know, we should also share it with our readers.  Why should we keep all the yummy disappointment to ourselves?

Since the end of the 2013 campaign, the Mets have added two new outfielders in Chris Young and Curtis Granderson.  Young is signed to a one-year deal because the Mets want to be winners of this year's Marlon Byrd Award.  That's the honor given to the front office who gets lucky with a reclamation project for one year, then trades him away for prospects at the trade deadline, hoping he signs a multi-year deal the following season with a division rival (preferably the Phillies) who foolishly overpays for his services.  Granderson was brought aboard with a four-year contract because the Mets want to prove that not every power-hitting outfielder who comes to Citi Field on a four-year deal is going to turn into Jason Bay.

In addition to Young and Granderson, the Mets added 40-year-old Bartolo Colon to be the team's temporary replacement for the injured Matt Harvey, as well as the club's elder statesman and nutrition consultant.  This probably also explains why Harvey is adamant about returning before the end of the 2014 season.  Not because he wants to be the oldest guy in the clubhouse (which he won't be for many years), but because he doesn't want to trip over empty KFC buckets in the clubhouse.

Will the Mets' new additions cause the team's fans to party like it's 1986?  Or will they get over this off-season's acquisitions almost as quickly as Cole Hamels racks up losses against the Mets?

The answers to those questions and more are the reasons why we have awoken our Magic 8-Ball from its yearly hibernation.  So sit back, relax, make yourself some chicken nachos (not necessarily in that order - we realize it would be difficult to make yourself a snack after you've sat down and begun to relax), and prepare yourselves for the wise words that can only come from a quick shake of the Studious Metsimus Magic 8-Ball!  Take it away, M8B!

Oh, sorry about that.  I won't make that mistake again.  So let's jump right into it, Magic 8-Ball.  What are your thoughts on the team this year?  Do you think they'll be competitive in the NL East?

My bad.  How do you feel the Mets will fare in the division in 2014?

 You do realize there are only five teams in the NL East, right?

Let's move on.  The Mets signed Chris Young, Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon to free-agent contracts during the off-season.  Which of the three players do you think will have the greatest impact at Citi Field?

Wow, you seem quite sure of yourself.  Why do you think it's absolutely Chris Young?

I don't understand.  What does his proximity to Shake Shack have to do with his value on the team?

Okay.  I think we're beyond fat jokes here.  Everyone's doing them.  You're better than that.

I'll forget I ever asked that question.  Now, Magic 8-Ball, if you were manager Terry Collins, who would you want to have a bounceback season from the most?

Zack Wheeler?  Are you crazy?  Wheeler had a great rookie season, going 7-5 with a 3.42 ERA.  Why would you think Terry Collins would want him to bounce back?  What is he bouncing back from?

I see your point.  So let's shift back to the offense.  Ike Davis and Lucas Duda both spent extended periods of time at AAA-Las Vegas, yet still managed to strike out a combined 203 times at the major league level.  They drove in a total of 66 runs for the Mets, so for every RBI they produced, they struck out more than three times.  Now they're both vying for playing time at first base.  What's the easy solution for this conundrum?

If only the batting-helmeted one was still active and not about to turn 46 this coming August.

That's another outstanding point, Magic 8-Ball!  You're on a roll today!

Alas, Tejada is no Jose Reyes on the field.

You're quite the savvy sphere!  Let's try a lighter question now.  David Wright was just named the face of MLB.  If baseball named other players as the arm or leg of baseball, which players would those be?

Excuse me?  What are you talking about?  Did I say something wrong?

So because you're an armless, legless face, that means no one can ask you a question about those body parts?

You're a little too sensitive for a Magic 8-Ball, you know that?  So I'm not getting anything from you on this topic?

I guess that's better than nothing.  So one more question on an individual player before I ask you for your prediction for the Mets' record in 2014.  What do you think Matt Harvey will do to stay occupied during his year of rehab and recovery from Tommy John surgery?

What's that?

I didn't know he was trying to take your job.  Oh, wait.  You're talking about that tweet he put out predicting that Harvey Day would happen in 2014.  I honestly don't think you have to worry about him challenging you in the prognosticating profession.

>Snicker<  You really didn't just say you were "quite shaken" after reading Harvey's tweet, did you?  A Magic 8-Ball being shaken?  >Chuckle<

Okay, I'm sorry.  Final question.  What do you think will be the Mets' final record in 2014 and where will they finish in the NL East?

Aw, come on!  Can't you give the Mets an extra win so they can at least finish the year with a .500 record?

And on that note, I think it's time to pack away the Studious Metsimus Magic 8-Ball in a box, preferably a dark one with no air holes, and not let it out for another year at the very least.  Hmmm, I wonder what Matt Harvey is doing right now...

Enjoy the upcoming baseball season, Mets fans!  And as always, please help control the snarky sphere population.  Have your Magic 8-Ball spayed or neutered.


Hey, kids!  The Magic 8-Ball has made predictions before.  To see what it said prior to each of the previous four seasons, please click on the links below:


Joorray for Jenrry!

The late Nino Espinosa would be proud that Jennry Mejia is in the Mets rotation.  What else would he be proud of?

John Lannan imagined himself as the Mets' fifth starter in 2014, but got an "oh, no" from his bosses.  Similarly, Daisuke Matsuzaka pressed his luck for the spot, but all he got was a whammy.

The race to fill the fifth slot in Mets starting rotation is now over, as Jenrry Mejia has locked up the coveted role, pushing Dice-K off the 25-man roster and sending Lannan to the bullpen.

The news of Mejia's inclusion in the rotation comes four years after former manager Jerry Manuel made a foolish comparison between Mejia and Mariano Rivera, then rushed the then-20-year-old to the majors, only to see the promising right-hander wilt under the big league spotlight.  Poor performances and a magnetic attraction to injuries kept Mejia to 55 innings pitched at the major league level from 2010 to 2012, before a late-season call-up in 2013 showed what he was capable of when not rushed into service by a gangsta manager who was clearly wearing the wrong prescription glasses.

Mejia started five games for the Mets in 2013, posting a solid 2.30 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.  His 27-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio was a significant improvement from what Mejia accomplished in his previous stints with the team (30 strikeouts, 29 walks in 55 innings).

Daisuke Matsuzaka could potentially be brought back to start for Jonathon Niese if the disabled lefty can't make his scheduled start on April 6, but that's still up in the air.  One thing that isn't is Jenrry Mejia's status with the Mets.  For the second time in five seasons, Mejia has made the team out of spring training.  He wasn't ready for the big show in 2010.  Now with four extra years of minor league seasoning, Mejia has his health (mostly) and his outstanding repertoire intact.

It will be quite interesting to see if the former top pitching prospect can became a mainstay in the Mets rotation.  He's certainly earned the right to do so.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Milestones Within Reach for Members of the 2014 Mets

On Monday, the Mets will begin their 53rd season of play, looking to begin the season with a 1-0 record for the 35th time.  New York's .654 winning percentage in season-opening games is tops in the majors, ahead of the Baltimore Orioles, who are second with a .580 success rate on Opening Day.  (For the record, the Mets are 27-25 on Opening Day II, a dropoff from their won-loss record in Game 1s, but still not bad for a team that's nearly 400 games under .500 in all other games played.)

The Mets would like to continue their team success on Opening Day in 2014, and obviously would like that magic to spread to all other games throughout the season, unless if the Wilpons have been secretly replaced by Rachel Phelps, the "owner" of the Cleveland Indians in Major League.

While the team attempts to put big numbers up on the scoreboard and the win column, several of its players are also close to reaching significant individual milestones.  Some of the milestones will get honorable mentions on the Citi Field scoreboard and will cause the players who reached them to receive standing ovations.  Unfortunately, some other milestones will be embarrassing to the players and will cause them to send me direct messages asking me not to share those moments with their friends or loved ones.  To which I say, "Stop striking out so much, Ike, and I wouldn't have to write about you approaching the 500-strikeout plateau in well under 2,000 at-bats!"

But I digress.

Anyhoo, here are the milestones that your favorite Mets players should have no problem reaching at some point during the 2014 season.  And once those players reach those numbers, please feel free to share them on Twitter before anyone else gets a chance to do so.  That way your friends can either marvel at your Mets knowledge or call you the biggest geek they know.  Enjoy!

Attainable Individual Milestones (Position Players)

Ike Davis better not set any new club records for striking poses with his eyes closed after striking out.

David Wright:

  • Needs 31 home runs to surpass Darryl Strawberry as the Mets' all-time leader.
  • Needs 53 plate appearances and 263 at-bats to knock Ed Kranepool down to No. 2 in both categories.
  • Needs 17 stolen bases for 200 and 19 steals to be ahead of every Met not named Jose Reyes or Mookie Wilson.
  • Needs 1 hit-by-pitch to end Ron Hunt's four-decade reign as the team's top punching bag.

Daniel Murphy:

  • Needs 11 home runs and 8 steals to become the 11th Met to attain 50 HR and 50 SB.
  • Needs 18 doubles to enter the Mets' all-time top ten in that category.
  • Needs to reach double digits in homers and steals to prove 2013 wasn't a fluke season.

Ike Davis:

  • Needs 33 homers to reach 100 and to set a single-season career-high.
  • Needs 19 doubles to reach 100 and to still be well behind Daniel Murphy and David Wright in two-baggers.
  • Needs 89 strikeouts for 500 and just as many boos.
  • Needs 1 good season to avoid being traded or demoted.

Curtis Granderson:

  • Needs 20 runs scored for 800.
  • Needs 1 double for 200.
  • Needs 1 double to become the 11th MLB player in the last 50 years to reach 200 doubles, 80 triples and 200 homers.
  • Needs 1 decent season to have a better Mets career than Jason Bay.

Ruben Tejada:

  • Needs a whole lotta luck.

Attainable Individual Milestones (Pitchers)

Bartolo Colon almost fit within the borders of this photo.  Almost.

Jonathon Niese:

  • Needs 7 wins for 50.
  • Needs 97 strikeouts to enter the Mets' all-time top ten.
  • Needs to stay off the disabled list, please.

Dillon Gee:

  • Needs 19 starts for 100.
  • Needs 130 strikeouts for 500.
  • Needs to repeat his second half of 2013 and stretch it out for both halves of 2014.

Bartolo Colon:

  • Needs 11 wins for 200.
  • Needs 50 strikeouts for 2,000.
  • Needs to turn Harvey Day into Día de Colon.
  • Needs to stay as far away from Shake Shack during his bullpen sessions.

Zack Wheeler:

  • Needs 6 wins to have more career victories than Matt Harvey.  (For that matter, Noah Syndergaard needs 13 victories to join Wheeler in that respect.)

Bobby Parnell:

  • Needs 2 games for 300.
  • Needs 14 saves for 50.
  • Needs 22 saves to finally knock Braden Looper out of the Mets' all-time top ten saves leaders.
  • Needs to not turn his neck whenever he gives up a long fly ball.  (It's probably not leaving the park anyway and he's still recovering from neck surgery.)

With just 22 saves in 2014, Bobby Parnell will cause Braden Looper to walk right out of the Mets' top ten.  Let's go Bobby!!