Thursday, July 17, 2014

Broken News: Jonathon Niese Speaks!

Did Jon Niese's mouth turn him into a Royal pain?  Did he make a Giant mistake?  I say no!  (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Welcome to the latest edition of Broken News, where someone else breaks the news and then we break it some more.  In today's segment, we'll discuss Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese, who shared a few interesting thoughts about Mets fans with Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com.

In the article, Niese claimed Mets fans really want their team to win, but also questioned their loyalty.  The 27-year-old southpaw noted that Mets fans showed up when the team played well at Shea Stadium, but have largely been absent at Citi Field, where the team has mostly struggled since the park opened in 2009.

Many fans didn't know what to make of Niese's statement.  My opinion on the matter can be stated in three words:  GOOD FOR HIM!!

Niese is the third longest-tenured player on the Mets behind David Wright and Daniel Murphy.  And no pitcher on the roster has toiled longer for the Mets than Niese.  That, my friends, makes him a veteran.  And that also gives him the right to speak his mind if he sees something that bothers him.  Niese has been there, seen that.  And he's just stating what everyone else has already seen with their own eyes.

Attendance at Citi Field has dropped steadily since the park opened its doors for the first time five years ago.  Half a decade of less-than-mediocre baseball will do that to a fanbase.  Sandy Alderson said earlier this year that if the fans come to the park, the team can generate more revenue which can then be reinvested in the team.

But what is Alderson giving the team right now?  Why should fans come out to see a team that is not good right now?  Would you pay top dollar for a Broadway show in 2014 if you knew that the best actors weren't going to appear on stage until 2015?  Of course not.  But that's what our general manager wants us to do.  Jon Niese knows we're not dummies.  And he knows fans will not come out to see a struggling team.

Sandy Alderson is a patient man, and wants Mets fans to follow his lead.  Jonathon Niese is more of a realist, and knows that fans in general - not just Mets fans - don't have the same type of patience his general manager has.

I have no problem with anything Jonathon Niese said.  He spoke from the heart and he spoke the truth.  And that's what veteran players are supposed to do.  But now it's up to him and his teammates to make sure the fans eventually come back to cheer them on.  A little more winning will make Mets fans, true or otherwise, make their way back through the turnstiles.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lucas Duda Could Make First-Half History For The Mets

Lucas Duda and David Wright might share more than a high-five if Duda's power surge continues. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Lucas Duda has come a long way since making his major league debut under the tutelage of Jerry Manuel in 2010.  He's been a beleaguered outfielder that was sent down to the minors after every extended slump and he's also been a first baseman caught in a platoon with a player struggling to keep his batting average above the Mendoza Line.

But through it all, Duda has persevered.  Now, as the Mets' everyday first baseman, Duda has quietly put up some of the best first-half power numbers in franchise history.

You can laugh all you want at the statement in the previous paragraph, but it's true.  Let's take a look at all the players in Mets history who have produced 20 doubles, 15 homers and 50 RBI prior to the All-Star break.  As you can see from the chart below, there aren't many of them.


Player Split Year G PA GS 2B HR RBI
David Wright 1st Half 2008 94 432 94 24 17 70
Carlos Beltran 1st Half 2008 94 411 92 23 15 66
David Wright 1st Half 2006 87 386 87 22 20 74
David Wright 1st Half 2007 86 378 85 21 16 51
Bernard Gilkey 1st Half 1996 84 358 84 21 16 62
Robin Ventura 1st Half 1999 87 357 85 21 15 66
Howard Johnson 1st Half 1989 79 336 78 22 22 57
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/12/2014.


Only five players in club annals have managed to reach 20 doubles, 15 HR and 50 RBI before the midsummer hiatus, with David Wright producing three such seasons.  All five players went on to post incredible full seasons.

In Wright's three years achieving these first half numbers, he ended up averaging 41 doubles, 30 HR and 116 RBI per season.  The other four players also had productive full seasons, as Johnson (41 doubles, 36 HR, 101 RBI), Gilkey (44 doubles, 30 HR, 117 RBI), Ventura (38 doubles, 32 HR, 120 RBI) and Beltran (40 doubles, 27 HR, 112 RBI) put up some of the best full season extra-base hit and RBI totals in franchise history.

It should be noted that with two games to go before the 2014 All-Star break, Lucas Duda has amassed 20 doubles, 14 HR and 48 RBI.  That's right, Mets fans.  Duda is only a two-run blast away from joining this exclusive club.

When I first pondered this amazing feat immediately after Duda launched his 14th homer of the year last night, I was shot down by a gentleman on Twitter with the following tweet.


While it is true the Mets will have played 95 games by this year's All-Star break, allowing for players to pile up on cumulative stats, Duda began the season as a part-timer, sharing first base duties with the now-departed Ike Davis.  And since Davis' trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Duda has sacrificed occasional playing time to two first basemen who swing the bat from the right side of the plate.

Before his demotion to AAA-Las Vegas, Josh Satin was given seven starts at first base.  In addition, Eric Campbell has been penciled into the starting lineup ten times since his call-up from Vegas in early May.  Between Davis, Satin and Campbell, Duda has started 22 games on the Mets bench.  That's nearly 100 plate appearances Duda hasn't gotten this season.

Looking at the chart above, all five players in the 20 double, 15 HR, 50 RBI club stepped up to the plate at least 336 times before the All-Star break.  With two games left before this year's break, Duda has just 315 plate appearances.  Unless the Mets have a few 20-inning marathons against the Marlins this weekend, Duda will have come to bat fewer times than any of the members of the 20/15/50 club did in their historic campaigns, even with the All-Star Game being played later in the season than it has in the past.  All Duda needs is one homer and two RBI and he will have joined Johnson, Gilkey, Ventura, Beltran and Wright, despite the Fab Five needing more plate appearances to earn a spot in this exclusive club.

Say what you want about Lucas Duda.  He's a clumsy oaf.  He's a lousy interview.  He's never produced over a full season.  Depending on who you ask, all of those things might be true.  But with just one well-timed blast (and a teammate on the bases when said blast occurs), it will also be true that Lucas Duda will have engineered one of the most productive first halves with the bat in franchise history.

All this from a player who wasn't even guaranteed an everyday job at the beginning of the season.  History has a strange way of finding Mets players when they least expect it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

4,000 Wins: A Brief History of Mets Milestone Victories

Jacob deGrom's second major league win was the franchise's 4,000th victory. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It took the Mets 8,020 games to record their first no-hitter.  It took them a little longer to record their 4,000th regular season victory.  With tonight's 8-3 decision over the Atlanta Braves, the Mets have now won 4,000 times in 8,382 regular season games, becoming the ninth National League team to reach that milestone.  (Houston won 3,999 games as a National League franchise before moving to the AL West in 2013.)

In honor of this historic victory, let's look back at the other games in which the Mets clicked the thousands digit up by one.  Unlike tonight's victory, all three landmark wins came during seasons in which the Mets finished above .500 and all three occurred on the road.



Win No. 1,000:  May 22, 1976 @ Montreal

Under first-year manager Joe Frazier, the Mets got off to a quick start in 1976.  New York was 19-11 and in a first place tie with the Philadelphia Phillies through 30 games.  But the Phillies then reeled off 16 wins in their next 19 games and were well on their way to their first postseason appearance in 26 years.  During the Phillies' hot stretch in late May, the Mets struggled, embarking on four separate losing streaks of three games or more.  But on May 22, the Mets did manage to come from behind to post a rare victory at a time when wins were becoming scarce.

Trailing 1-0 at Parc Jarry in Montreal, the Mets appeared to have wasted a solid effort by Jerry Koosman.  The veteran southpaw pitched seven solid innings, scattering four hits, but left for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning down by a single run.  New York then tallied four runs in the eighth - all with two outs - to take a 4-1 lead.  Skip Lockwood tossed two perfect innings in relief of Koosman to give the lefty his 113th career win and the team its 1,000th regular season victory.

The all-time winningest lefty in Mets history led the team right to its 1,000th victory.  (Getty Images)



Win No. 2,000: May 2, 1989 @ Atlanta

In 1989, Davey Johnson's team was coming off its second division crown in three seasons.  But the Mets struggled early, losing eight of their first 12 games to find themselves in last place in the NL East after the season's first two weeks.  The team then embarked on its hottest streak of the season, winning 12 of their next 14 games.  The final win in that torrid stretch occurred on May 2, and it gave the Mets their 2,000 victory.

After defeating Zane Smith the night before, the Mets beat up on another Smith.  New York knocked Braves starter Pete Smith out of the game in the fourth inning, scoring six runs against him.  Darryl Strawberry kicked off the scoring party with a two-run homer in the first inning and Smith was sent to the showers after a single by Keith Hernandez in the fourth inning plated Mets starting pitcher Bob Ojeda, who had singled earlier in the inning.  Ojeda was brilliant for the Mets, allowing just one unearned run in eight innings.  The Mets claimed a 7-1 victory over the Braves, and in doing so, also claimed the 2,000th win in franchise history.

Before taking this winning photo, Bob Ojeda got a "W" in the Mets' 2,000th victory.  (Photo by Sharon Chapman)


Win No. 3,000: Sept. 3, 2001 @ Philadelphia

The Mets' resurgence during the final month of the 2001 season gave the city hope following the tragic events of 9/11, but New York actually began their charge back into contention two weeks before that horrific day.

On the morning of August 18, the Mets had a lowly 54-68 record and were 13½ games out of first place.  But New York won 10 of its next 14 games to cut the deficit to 8½ games as the team traveled to Philadelphia to take on the Phillies on September 3.  The Mets looked as if they were going to drop the opener of the series, as they trailed the Phillies by two runs going into the ninth inning.  But before you could say "Ya Gotta Believe", the Mets exploded for five runs in the final frame, turning a 7-5 deficit into a 10-7 lead.  Armando Benitez pitched a scoreless inning in the bottom of the ninth to save what became the Mets' 3,000th victory.  Ironically, the pitcher who got credit for the team's 3,000th win, C.J. Nitkowski, was making his first appearance in a Mets uniform in that game.  It would be his only win as a New York Met.

Why isn't C.J. Nitkowski in a Mets uniform?  Because he only wore it for win No. 3,000 and four other games. (CNN photo)

The Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves tonight to secure their 4,000th regular season win.  But everything about this win was different from the team's three previous milestone wins.  The Mets won their 1,000th, 2,000th and 3,000th games on the road.  Win No. 4,000 came at home.  Also, the winning pitcher in all three historic wins was left-handed (Koosman, Ojeda, Nitkowski).  Tonight's lucky winner was Jacob deGrom, a righty.  Furthermore, all three milestone victories came in a season that ended with the Mets having more wins than losses.  This year's milestone?  Well, let's just say the Mets have some work to do to before they can reach the break-even point.

It's been a long and crazy ride for the Mets since their first season in 1962.  After a slow start (to say the least), it took the team until its 15th season to claim its 1,000th win.  Since then, the Mets have won 1,000 games every 12 or 13 seasons.  If the current trend continues, the team will be gunning for its 5,000th regular season win sometime around the year 2027.  (They will probably fall for the 5,000th time approximately four or five years before that.)

When and where will that 5,000th win occur?  And what will the circumstances be surrounding that milestone victory?  There's no way to know for sure.  But one thing is certain.  If you consider yourself to be a long-time Mets fan, you know there's bound to be an Amazin' story behind it. 


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Lucas Duda Is Finally Looking Like An Everyday Player

Duda may lumber around the bases, but it's his other lumber we care most about.  (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Coming into the season, Lucas Duda found himself in the awkward position of being in a platoon at first base with a player who, like him, batted from the left side of the plate.  Over the first two-plus weeks of the season, Duda and Ike Davis shared starting duties at first base, with Duda penciled into the starting lineup eight times and Davis five.

Davis accomplished little during the first two weeks of the season.  Other than a walk-off grand slam he hit as a pinch-hitter on April 5, Davis managed to go 4-for-23 with no homers and one RBI.  Meanwhile, Duda managed a two-homer game on April 4, driving all four runs scored by the Mets in a one-run victory.  Eleven days later, Duda collected four hits and drove in two runs in another Mets victory.  It was clear that Duda was flourishing as a run producer during the first few weeks of the season, while Davis was not.  Before one-tenth of the season had been completed, Ike Davis was a former Met and Lucas Duda was the team's everyday first baseman.

Duda is now thriving at the position.  In Friday night's game, his two-run opposite-field homer off All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish gave the Mets a two-run lead over the Rangers.  It also gave him the team lead in home runs (13) and RBI (43).  Duda also leads the team in slugging percentage (.472) and OPS (.817).  Since taking over the position for himself in mid-April, Duda has not just become one of the Mets' top offensive threats, he's also become one of the top run-producing first basemen in the entire National League.

Through Friday's games, Duda's 13 homers and 43 RBI rank highly among NL first basemen.  The only players at the position with more home runs and RBI than Duda are Anthony Rizzo (17 HR, 45 RBI), Paul Goldschmidt (15 HR, 55 RBI), Adrian Gonzalez (14 HR, 53 RBI) and Ryan Howard (14 HR, 51 RBI).  Duda's slugging percentage and OPS (.472/.817) are higher than Gonzalez (.447/.769) and Howard (.398/.708) and he compares favorably to young sluggers Rizzo (.493/.880) and Freddie Freeman (.497/.883).  And in case you were wondering, Duda's former platoon partner in New York, Ike Davis, falls outside the league's top ten in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and OPS for first basemen.

Ike Davis started out well in Pittsburgh, but has fallen off over the past five weeks.  Since June 2, Davis is batting .197 with just four extra-base hits in 27 games (21 starts).  In addition, Davis has put up a pedestrian .276 slugging percentage and .602 OPS since the beginning of June.  Davis has fallen so quickly that he is now part of another first base platoon, this time with the right-handed hitting Gaby Sanchez.  As Davis has struggled in Pittsburgh, Duda has been a bright star in the Mets' lineup.

Since June 13, Duda has batted .313 with seven doubles, five homers and 12 RBI in 18 games (17 starts).  Duda is also the proud owner of a .656 slugging percentage and a whopping 1.045 OPS over that time period.  In addition, Duda has been one of the team's best clutch hitters this season, producing a .609 slugging percentage and 1.036 OPS with runners in scoring position, unlike Davis, whose numbers in those situations (.420/.877) aren't even close to what Duda has produced.

(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Finally, of Duda's 13 HR this year, five have either tied the game or given the Mets the lead.  Why is five so important?  Because that number represents the total number of home runs hit by Ike Davis all season.  In other words, Davis has as many home runs this season as Duda has clutch homers.

There's a difference between hitting a home run and hitting a key home run.  Since April 21, Ike Davis has hit three homers - all of them have been solo shots and none of them tied the game or gave his team the lead.  Over the same time period, Duda has hit ten home runs, with six of them coming with men on base and three of them tying the game or giving the Mets the lead.

Simply stated, the Mets traded the right player when they dealt Ike Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  In doing so, they finally removed the chains that had shackled Lucas Duda since he arrived at the big league level for the first time in 2010.  This is Duda's fifth season with the Mets, but it appears that this will be the first year he doesn't get sent back to the minor leagues for extra seasoning.  (Playing out of position in the outfield had a lot to do with that "extra minor league seasoning" as well.)  Duda has proven he belongs at the big league level and is quietly establishing himself as one of the top run-producing first basemen in the league.  All Ike Davis has done is become part of yet another platoon in Pittsburgh.

It may have taken him a while, but Lucas Duda looks like he's finally here to stay.  Opposing pitchers in the National League are going to wish he wasn't.
 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Just How Bad Are The Mets At Turner Field?

This has been a familiar scene at Turner Field over the years, especially when the Mets are in town.

The Mets are back at Citi Field on Friday after a 1-6 road trip in Pittsburgh and Atlanta.  But at least they won a game in Pittsburgh.  The team was swept at Turner Field, something that's become far too common since the Braves moved into their new digs in 1997.

Just how much of a house of horrors has Turner Field has been to the Mets in the 18 seasons it's been open?  The numbers are alarming.

The Mets won their first series at the House That Ted Built, taking three of four from the Braves in July 1997.  They were then swept in each of their next three series at the Ted before winning the first game they played in Atlanta in 1999.  How did they celebrate that rare win at Turner Field?  By dropping 12 of their next 13 games there, including losing all three games played in Atlanta during the 1999 National League Championship Series.

From 1991 to 1996, the Mets finished with a losing record each year.  Meanwhile, the Braves won their division in each of those campaigns (not including the strike-shortened 1994 season).  But despite Atlanta's dominance in the overall standings those years, the Mets held their own when they visited the Braves during the team's final six seasons at Fulton County Stadium.  They played 11 series at the park known as the Launching Pad from 1991 to 1996 and were never swept in any of those series.  Of course, when the Mets became a surprise contender in 1997, they were getting swept regularly in Atlanta, probably wishing the Braves had never moved out of their old park.

Speaking of sweeps, since their inaugural series victory at Turner Field, the Mets have been swept in Atlanta a whopping 14 times.  (New York has only recorded three series sweeps at Turner Field, not recording their first until 2006.)  And how have the Mets performed in the 49 regular season series they've played in the Braves' new park since it opened in 1997?  They've only won a dozen of those series, losing 34 series and splitting the other three.  That means the Mets are more likely to be swept in a series at Turner Field than they are of just winning a series there.

Overall, including the postseason, the Mets have a 52-101 record at Turner Field, for a .340 winning percentage.  To put that into perspective, let's go back in time - way back - to a time when the Mets played their home games at the Polo Grounds.

In 1962 and 1963, when the Mets called Manhattan home, the team put up the worst two-year stretch of any team in the modern history of baseball, going 91-231 in their first two seasons.  New York won 56 games at the Polo Grounds during their two-year residence there, losing 105 times.  That's a winning percentage of .348 at home when the team was playing the worst baseball of any team in the history of the sport.  It doesn't take a math major to figure out that the '62 and '63 Mets - two of the all-time worst teams in baseball - had a better chance to win at the Polo Grounds than the Mets of the last two decades had at Turner Field.

And in case you forgot (which is possible considering the Mets' misfortune in the standings since they moved to Citi Field), since the Braves moved to Turner Field in 1997, the Mets have actually had winning teams in nine of the Ted's first 17 seasons, including three postseason appearances and a berth in the 2000 World Series.  But despite being successful in approximately half of the seasons since Turner Field opened for business, the Mets have played like their expansion counterparts whenever they've stepped onto the field in Atlanta since '97.

The Braves will be leaving Turner Field after completing their 20th season there in 2016.  Atlanta will be moving into a new ballpark in Cobb County once the team's lease runs out at their current park.  The Mets only wish their lease had run out sooner.  It would have saved them a lot of heartache over the past two decades.
 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cutch and Go (Big Pelf)

Andrew McCutchen would've looked good in orange and blue, right?  It could've happened...

When the Mets lose in heartbreaking fashion, as they did Friday night in Pittsburgh, I tend to think of what might have been.  Did Daniel Murphy's caught stealing prevent the Mets from a potential big inning?  Could a Terry Collins ejection in the 10th provide the spark for an extra-inning rally?  Tonight I'm not thinking of those questions.  Instead, I'm going back a decade to see what might have been had the Mets not gotten swept by the Pirates in a doubleheader in late September.  Confused?  You won't be after reading this.

On September 19, 2004, the Mets and Pirates were both finishing out the season knowing that they were all going to playing golf in October rather than baseball.  New York and Pittsburgh were both near the bottom of their respective divisions entering the Sunday doubleheader at PNC Park.  Aaron Heilman and Ricky Bottalico combined to pitch a two-hitter against Pittsburgh in the first game.  The Mets lost, 1-0.  In the second game, New York's Kris Benson (the Bucs' first overall pick in 1996) got rocked for six runs against his former team.  The Mets lost both games to the Pirates, and ended the season with a 71-91 record.  Pittsburgh ended up with one more win than the Mets, finishing the year at 72-89 (they did not make up an earlier rainout).

The Mets earned the ninth overall draft pick by finishing 20 games under .500, while the Bucs got to select 11th in the 2005 June amateur draft.  New York drafted Mike Pelfrey.  Two picks later, Pittsburgh chose Andrew McCutchen.  Yeah.

So had the Mets split that late-season doubleheader with the Pirates in 2004, they would have finished the year with a 72-90 record, while the Bucs would have posted a 71-90 mark.  New York would have picked after Pittsburgh, rather than before them.

Would the Mets have drafted McCutchen had Pelfrey been taken off the board?  Would the Pirates have gone with Big Pelf had they been presented with that opportunity?  No one will ever know.  But it sure is interesting to consider how different these teams could have been had they flip-flopped their draft choices in 2005.  And that could have happened had the Mets played better in just one of two "meaningless" games against the Pirates at the tail end of the 2004 campaign.

We should all hope McCutchen doesn't continue to haunt the Mets the way he did Friday night at PNC Park.  And more importantly, we should all hope the Mets don't have any more heartbreaking losses that make me come up with crazy "what might have been" scenarios such as the one presented here.

Let's go Mets.  And go Big Pelf...

Wow, someone actually bought that shirt?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ron Hodges Leads a Bevy of Backup Backstops

Ron Hodges spent a dozen years with the Mets, but most of them were spent on the bench.

Most Mets fans know that Ed Kranepool played 18 seasons in New York, spending his entire major league career in a Mets uniform.  But only one other player spent as many as a dozen seasons with the Mets without ever wearing another big league uniform.  And that player spent more time on the bench than he did on the field.  It seems like there was always someone in front of him on the depth chart, but that doesn't mean he wasn't one of the more valuable players on the team.

Ron Hodges was a Met from 1973 to 1984, beginning his career on the "Ya Gotta Believe" Mets and playing his final game just as the Mets started to believe in contention once again.  During his first three seasons in New York, Hodges served as Jerry Grote's backup.  Once Grote was supplanted behind the plate, John Stearns became the team's No. 1 catcher.

The late '70s and early '80s saw Stearns and Alex Treviño splitting time as the team's catcher, with Hodges serving as the club's third option.  Finally, once injuries took Stearns out of the picture and a blockbuster trade for slugger George Foster removed Treviño from the equation, Hodges became the Mets' starting catcher in 1983.

Hodges' 11th year in the majors produced his first season with 300 or more plate appearances.  But by then, Hodges was 34 years old and wasn't nearly as mobile behind the plate or as productive with the bat (0 HR, 21 RBI) as he was as a part-timer from 1973 to 1982.  Rookie Mike Fitzgerald took over the gig behind the plate in 1984, relegating Hodges to the bench and eventually his release following the '84 season.

Ron Hodges didn't play much in his twelve seasons as a Met, but he did endear himself to fans with his patience at the plate and his grittiness behind it.  Despite a .240 career batting average, Hodges reached base at a .342 clip, making him one of just four players in Mets history to have an on-base percentage at least 100 points higher than his batting average.  The others are Wayne Garrett (.237 BA, .348 OBP), John Olerud (.315 BA, .425 OBP) and Robin Ventura (.260 BA, .360 OBP).

In addition to being half of the "my career OBP is 100 points higher than my lifetime batting average" club, Garrett and Hodges were also instrumental in one of the most pivotal defensive plays in club annals.  On September 20, 1973, with the Mets needing a win over the first place Pirates to move to within half a game of the division lead, the two teams squared off in an extra-inning affair at Shea Stadium.  Garrett started the game at third base, while Hodges began the game on the bench.  But in the tenth inning, manager Yogi Berra inserted Hodges into the game and moved Garrett from third to short.  Three innings later, with Richie Zisk on first, Bucs' rookie Dave Augustine lifted a long fly ball to left field that just missed being a crushing two-run homer by inches.  Instead, it bounced high off the wall into Cleon Jones' glove.  As the Mets' shortstop, Garrett cut off Jones' throw to the infield and fired a strike to Hodges, who tagged out Zisk to prevent the Pirates from taking the lead.  Hodges' tag saved the game (and perhaps the season) in the top of the 13th inning, just minutes before his run-scoring single gave the Mets a thrilling extra-inning victory.  True to his title as backup catcher, Hodges remained on the bench for the rest of the 1973 season, with Jerry Grote starting every game during the Mets' amazing run to the NL East title.

Hodges was the Mets' elder statesman of the backup catching crew, but there have been some others who have been produced some memorable moments.  Below are five of the backup catchers whose names became part of Mets lore.


Duffy Dyer

After a one-game tryout with the Mets in 1968, Duffy Dyer was the Mets' third-string catcher in 1969.  But back-to-back doubleheaders in mid-August created the need for just the second start by Dyer on the season.  Dyer capitalized on the rare opportunity, hitting a three-run homer to turn a 2-0 deficit against the San Diego Padres into a 3-2 lead, which was also the final score.  The Mets were nine games behind the first place Cubs entering the game.  They were eight games out after Dyer's well-timed blast led the Mets to victory, a win that began a stretch in which New York won 36 of 46 games to overtake Chicago.

Dyer played with the Mets until 1974, but like Hodges, he was only the team's No. 1 catcher in one season (1972).  Dyer was a member of two pennant-winning teams, but never caught a game in the Fall Classic.  His sole postseason appearance in a Mets uniform came as a pinch-hitter in Game 1 of the 1969 World Series, grounding out for starting pitcher Tom Seaver.  Dyer batted .219 in 375 games as a Met, but had his brightest moment as a Met very early in his career.  That bright moment helped steer his teammates toward their improbable first World Series championship.


Mackey Sasser

Just prior to the beginning of the 1988 season, Mackey Sasser was traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Mets.  Sasser played five seasons in New York, beginning his career with the Mets backing up future Hall of Famer Gary Carter and ending it as the No. 2 guy behind the team's soon-to-be single-season home run leader Todd Hundley.  In between Carter and Hundley, Sasser was the team's No. 1 catcher for one year.  And in that one-year opportunity, Sasser did something with the bat that no Mets catcher had done before him and only two Mets catchers have done since.

In 1990, Sasser played 100 games for the Mets, finishing the year with a .307 batting average.  In doing so, Sasser became the first catcher in team history to bat over .300 in a year in which he played more than half the team's games behind the plate.  (Since then, only Mike Piazza and Paul Lo Duca have been able to duplicate Sasser's feat.)  But Sasser's infamous inability to throw the ball back to the pitcher without double and triple pumping caused the Mets to look past his productive bat and look forward to Hundley as the team's top catcher.  Rick Cerone and Charlie O'Brien split catching duties in 1991, and Hundley took over the job in 1992.  Sasser finished his Mets career with a .283 batting average in 420 games.


Todd Pratt

If starting catcher duties were determined by overexuberance, then Todd Pratt would have had a steady job for his entire career.  Pratt was a Met from 1997 to 2001, never collecting more than 160 at-bats in any of his five seasons with the team.  But he was always the first player to celebrate a key hit produced by one of his teammates.  Pratt's premature celebration in Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS caused Robin Ventura's game-ending drive over the right field wall to forever be known as the Grand Slam Single.  And who can forget Pratt jumping for joy outside the Mets dugout on June 30, 2000 after Mike Piazza's three-run homer capped a miraculous ten-run inning against the Braves?  But Pratt's biggest moment as a Met allowed his teammates to celebrate one of his titanic blasts.

With Piazza sidelined with a thumb injury, Pratt temporarily took over starting duties for the Mets as the 1999 NLDS returned to Shea Stadium for Game 3.  With New York needing one win to wrap up its first postseason series victory in 11 years, Pratt stepped up to the plate with one out in the bottom of the tenth inning in a 3-3 tie.  Arizona had their closer, Matt Mantei, on the mound when Pratt lofted a high fly ball to straightaway center field, 410 feet from home plate.  But Gold Glove center fielder Steve Finley mistimed his jump, allowing Pratt's blast to clear the wall just over Finley's glove.  The homer gave the Mets a 4-3 win and a date with the Atlanta Braves in the League Championship Series.  To this day, it remains the only postseason series-ending home run hit by a Met in team history.  And it was by far, the most memorable of the 18 home runs hit by Pratt in his five-year career in Flushing.


Ramon Castro

Ramon Castro was never the team's top catcher in his four-and-a-half years with the Mets.  In his first year with the team in 2005, he was the backup catcher to all-time team legend Mike Piazza.  He then backed up Paul Lo Duca in 2006 and 2007, and was Brian Schneider's caddy in 2008 and 2009.  Castro had a powerful bat, and it was that bat that provided his two biggest moments as a Met.  Neither moment helped the Mets make the playoffs, but both blasts did give fans hope that the team would be playing in October.  Of course, one of those long fly balls didn't exactly leave the park.

On August 30, 2005, with the Mets competing for a wild card spot after three consecutive losing seasons, New York welcomed wild card leader Philadelphia to Shea Stadium for the first game of a critical three-game series.  The Mets trailed the Phillies by a game and a half entering the series opener, and trailed them, 4-3, going to the bottom of the eighth inning.  But Castro's three-run homer off Ugueth Urbina gave the Mets a 6-4 lead, and allowed the Mets to pull to within half a game of the wild card lead.  The Mets failed to make the playoffs in 2005, just as they failed in 2007.  But Castro did everything he could to try to push the Mets toward October in the latter year.  New York was down by a touchdown after Tom Glavine allowed seven first-inning runs to the Florida Marlins, but the Mets scored a run in the bottom of the first and loaded the bases with two outs for Ramon Castro.  A grand slam would have cut Florida's lead to 7-5, and Castro almost granted Mets fans with their wish, but his deep fly ball off Dontrelle Willis settled into the glove of left fielder Cody Ross just shy of the left field wall.  Castro hit 33 home runs in nearly five years as a backup catcher for the Mets.  The team's history might have been very different had he hit 34.


Omir Santos

Here's the only backup catcher of the five that technically wasn't a backup.  Omir Santos was a Met for just one season (2009), but because of an April injury to starting catcher Brian Schneider, Santos was afforded the opportunity to catch for the Mets.  With Schneider out, Santos was supposed to split his playing time with Ramon Castro.  Instead, he parlayed one memorable moment into becoming Schneider's backup, causing Castro to become expendable after nearly five years with the team.

In the month following Schneider's injury, neither Castro nor Santos started more than four consecutive games for the Mets.  On May 23, when the Mets visited Fenway Park to take on the Boston Red Sox, it was Santos' turn behind the plate.  The Mets were trailing by a run going into the ninth inning and were down to their last out when Santos hit a two-run homer off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, or so he thought.  Originally, the umpires ruled that the ball hit off the top of the Green Monster and came back into play, forcing Santos to settle for a long double.  But after further review, the ball was correctly ruled to be a home run, giving the Mets a 3-2 lead, which the bullpen held on to after the Mets infield made several stellar defensive plays in the bottom of the ninth.  A week after Santos' heroics, Castro was traded to the Chicago White Sox.  Once Schneider returned from the disabled list, the right-handed hitting Santos became part of a catching platoon with the lefty-swinging Schneider.  Santos ended up leading all Mets catchers in games played in 2009, but he was never the No. 1 guy behind the plate in his only year with the team, a year in which he produced 22 extra-base hits and 40 RBI in just 281 at-bats.  Of course, one of those extra-base hits and two of those RBI were slightly more memorable than the others.


A big tip of my Mets cap goes out to Mike Geraghty, who suggested the idea for this piece in honor of long-time Mets backup catcher Ron Hodges, as today is Hodges' 65th birthday.  If you haven't done so yet, you can follow Mike on Twitter at @IguanaFlats.  You'll be glad you did.
 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Baseball Memories On Father's Day

As we reach another Father's Day, let's take a break from discussing the Mets' recent ups and downs (mostly downs).  Today is not a day to discuss why Sandy Alderson continues to play musical chairs with the Mets' bullpen, nor is a day to talk about how the Mets' loss total is only surpassed by the Cubs, Padres, Diamondbacks and Rays.  Today is a day to reflect on a special man in our lives.

He is the man who more than likely showed us how to throw our first curveball, took us to our first ballgame and showed us the proper way to order a ballpark hot dog (which I seem to have forgotten once prices passed the $4.00 mark).  I'm talking about fathers.

As we have had many Father's Day memories, both pleasant and not so pleasant, the Mets and Major League Baseball have also had a number of noteworthy moments on Father's Day.  Here's a small sample:


       HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!       HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!       HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!


On Father's Day 2004 (June 20), Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. hit the 500th home run of his career at St. Louis' Busch Stadium.  At the time, he was the youngest player to reach that milestone.  Making it more fitting, Ken Griffey Sr. was in attendance to help celebrate his son's momentous occasion.

Nothing like a little Griffey love to get this post started.

On Father's Day 1997 (June 15), Major League Baseball instituted its first Home Run Challenge to benefit prostate cancer research.  Now in its 18th season, the Home Run Challenge has raised over $40 million in the hopes that a cure can be found for this devastating disease that affects millions of men worldwide.

(Note to all men reading this.  Please go to your doctors and get checked. Early detection can save your life, enabling you to share many Father's Day moments with your loved ones.)

Early prostate cancer detection is serious business.  Even if it is a pain in the ass.

In one of the most ill-fated trades in Mets history, beloved members of the 1986 World Championship team Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell were traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Juan Samuel on Father's Day 1989 (June 18).  Samuel would have a tumultuous time playing center field for the Mets during his short stay at Shea and was later traded for another dud, Mike Marshall.  Dykstra would become an All-Star in Philadelphia and helped lead the Phillies to the 1993 World Series.  McDowell pitched seven more seasons after the trade and would become famous to Seinfeld fans for his role as the man who spit the magic loogie on Kramer and Newman when they confronted Keith Hernandez after a Mets loss. 

Just as Tom Seaver's trade is known as the Midnight Massacre, this day should be known as The Day The Hotfoot Died.  On a lighter note, sales of Jheri Curl products increased in the New York metropolitan area ... by one.

"Let your Soul Glo..."

Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies pitched a perfect game at Shea Stadium on Father's Day in 1964 (June 21) when he defeated the Mets by the final score of 6-0.  Bunning struck out ten batters en route to becoming the first National League pitcher to pitch a perfect game in the 20th century and the first pitcher in the modern era to throw a no-hitter in both leagues.  He pitched his first no-hitter in 1958 as a member of the Detroit Tigers.

Hall of Famer Jim Bunning made Shea Stadium's first Father's Day game a memorable one.

Please forgive the abundance of Phillies pictures in this post.  It is unintentional and is not meant to dampen your Father's Day festivities in any way.  If so, the photo beneath the next paragraph should bring a smile to your face, especially if you are a long-time Mets fan.

Ralph Kiner was always the king of malapropisms.  From classic lines such as "if Casey Stengel were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave" and "all of his saves have come in relief appearances", Ralph mangled words and phrases with grace and dignity.  One of his most famous quotes came on Father's Day as well, when during a Mets broadcast, he said "on Father's Day, we again wish you all a happy birthday!"

R.I.P. Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy.  You will always be missed.

One final note before you go have a catch with your son or daughter.  Mets fans are well aware of the fact that no pitcher in franchise history had pitched a no-hitter before Johan Santana turned the trick on June 1, 2012.  But prior to Santana's gem, the Mets had had numerous no-hitters pitched against them, including the perfect game tossed by the aforementioned Bunning in 1964.  Before Santana accomplished his historic feat, the Mets weren't the only team who had never pitched a no-hitter.

The only team currently without a no-hitter to its credit has also been around since the 1960s.  The San Diego Padres have gone 44 years since their inaugural season in 1969 and have never had a no-hitter pitched for them.  Hmm, Padres.  That's Spanish for Fathers.  (And it's also the team the Mets are playing today.)  On that note, I can't think of a more fitting way to end this than by wishing all you fathers out there a Happy Birthday!  (I mean, Father's Day!)


       HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!      HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!      HAPPY FATHER'S DAY! 
 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Don't Blame The Bullpen, Blame The Bats

Don't worry, Jenrry.  It's not you or your armpit that stinks.  It's the team's hitters. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Saturday night, the Mets took a 4-3 lead against the Giants into the bottom of the ninth inning.  Closer Jenrry Mejia was called upon to protect the precarious lead, but he proceeded to allow two runs to San Francisco, turning what would have been a satisfying victory into an ugly defeat.

The loss was the 16th suffered by a Mets bullpen that has combined to record 15 saves.  The Mets are one of just four teams in baseball whose relievers have more losses than saves.  The other three are the Colorado Rockies (12 losses, 11 saves), Chicago Cubs (12 losses, 11 saves) and Tampa Bay Rays (12 losses, 9 saves).  Prior to last night's victory over the Dodgers, Colorado had lost eight straight games and 18 of their last 24.  As for the Cubs and Rays, no team in the National League has fewer wins than Chicago, and Tampa has the worst record in all of baseball.  But as unfortunate as the Rockies, Cubs and Rays have been with their bullpens, none of them can match the Mets' 16 relief losses, which are the most by any bullpen in the big leagues.

In addition, last night's game was the Mets' 17th one-run loss of the year.  That's 17 losses by the smallest margin out of their 34 overall defeats, or half of their losses.  The Mets lead all of baseball with their 17 one-run setbacks.  No other club has more than 14 losses by a single run.  And the team with exactly 14 one-run losses is Cincinnati, a team that made the postseason last year but is one of this year's biggest disappointments with a 28-32 record entering Sunday's game.  Another of baseball's most disappointing teams is the Boston Red Sox, who are also under .500 after winning the World Series in 2013.  Not by coincidence, the Red Sox have the most one-run losses (13) in the American League.  But neither Cincinnati, Boston nor any other major league team can say half of their losses have come by a single run.  Only the Mets can claim that.

Six different pitchers (Jenrry Mejia, Kyle Farnsworth, Jose Valverde, Carlos Torres, Jeurys Familia, Daisuke Matsuzaka) have recorded at least one save for the Mets this year.  All six have also been saddled with at least one blown save in 2014.  And that's not including Bobby Parnell, the team's closer going into the season, who blew his only save opportunity before being lost for the year.

With all that negative statistical analysis, you'd think I'm blaming the bullpen for the Mets' inability to put up a few extra wins this year.  But it's the exact opposite.  It's not the bullpen I'm blaming, it's the bats.

Unlike recent seasons, the relievers are actually posting a lower ERA (3.51) than the starting pitchers (3.74).  And many of the relievers' losses this year have come when they've pitched beautifully.  For example, when the Mets lost to the Phillies in 14 innings a week ago, seven relievers combined to allow two runs (one earned) in 9⅓ innings.  But the bullpen got tagged with a loss in the Phillies' eventual triumph.  And yes, it was one of the Mets' MLB-leading 17 one-run losses.

Similarly, on May 9, when the Mets entertained the Phillies at Citi Field, the bullpen was stellar, allowing just one run on three hits in 6⅓ innings of work.  But that lone run was the decisive tally in the Mets' 11-inning loss to Philadelphia.  A one-run loss.  Again.

Those games are just two examples of how the Mets bullpen has been more than adequate this season even if the boxscore continues to show losses for the relievers and one-run defeats for the team.  The two losses to the Phillies have another thing in common.  The bats went to sleep after the starter was taken out of the game.  In the May 9 contest, New York scored one run on just four hits in the seven innings following the departure of starter Jenrry Mejia.  The team was 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position once Mejia was sent to the showers.  Similarly, in last week's 14-inning loss to Philadelphia, the Mets were shut out over the last nine innings, going 0-for-7 when they batted with runners in scoring position.

Last night's game was no different, as the Mets went 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position.  However, all three hits came when starter Bartolo Colon was still in the game.  Once the bullpen was called upon to protect the Mets' lead, the hitters decided to call it a night, going 0-for-9 over the last three innings.  As a result, the lack of an insurance run or two allowed the Giants to chip away at the Mets' lead.  And the end result was a loss by the bullpen and another one-run loss for the team.

Here is the Mets' recipe for playing baseball these days, a recipe that has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Mets fans.


  • Get an early lead.
  • Mix in a hit with a runner in scoring position.
  • Add a relatively strong effort by the bullpen.
  • Stop hitting when the lead appears safe.
  • Watch the bullpen allow no more than two runs in a one-run loss.
  • Repeat.

No team should have more losses from their bullpen than saves.  But the Mets can claim that dubious distinction.  Furthermore, no team should lose half of its games by just one run.  The Mets are alone in that regard.

New York's bullpen is not perfect.  No team's bullpen is.  But the relief corps shouldn't have to shoulder the blame for what the real problem is with the Mets this year.  The team is just not hitting.  They hit enough to put several men on base, then they hit the snooze button just as it appears they're putting a rally together.

Last night's loss and the two losses to the Phillies in May were microcosms of what's plagued the Mets all year.  The bullpen does its job, but the hitters don't do theirs.  It's the reason why players like Travis d'Arnaud (the only player in baseball with 125+ plate appearances who has yet to reach double digits in both runs scored and RBI) get sent down to the minors.  And it's the reason why the Mets are struggling to remain relevant in an otherwise mediocre NL East.

If the Mets were 14-11 in one-run games instead of 8-17, they'd be alone atop the division.  Instead, they're struggling to stay ahead of the Phillies for last place.  Batting .231 with runners in scoring position and having more strikeouts (143) than hits (129) in those situations have a lot to do with the Mets' shortcomings this year.  And don't get me started on the Mets' .159 batting average with the bases loaded or their .128 average with runners on second and third - a situation that is easier to score a run on because there is no force play at any base, unlike the bases loaded situation.

Don't blame the bullpen for the Mets' late-inning losses.  The relief pitchers have done their job better than you think.  Direct your vitriol straight at what passes for the Mets' offense these days.  The team's lack of timely hitting is leaving a bad taste in all of our mouths.  And that's most certainly a recipe for disaster.
 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Curtis Granderson and the Not-So-Sweet Sixteen

Curtis Granderson looks spooked at the plate.  Could the ghost of Jason Bay be haunting him?

On Wednesday, Curtis Granderson delivered two hits in the Mets' 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs, giving him 1,201 for his career.  It was not the first time this season Granderson hit the 1,200 mark in a lifetime offensive category.  However, the other category wasn't exactly something to be proud of, as on May 6, Granderson struck out for the 1,200th time in his career.

Entering tonight's series finale against the Cubs, Granderson is the owner of 1,231 strikeouts and 1,201 hits.  How rare is it for a player to have more strikeouts than hits when he has that many of both?  Well, the first player to end his career with more strikeouts than hits when he had at least 1,200 of both didn't play his last game in the majors until 1986.  And since this player (a former Met) retired, just 16 other players - including Granderson - have joined him.

Here are a list of those players, which include Curtis Granderson and the other not-so-sweet sixteen.  This list includes a Hall of Famer, a few All-Stars and probably more current and former Mets than you would like.


Player
Final Year
Career Strikeouts
Career Hits
Career HR
Career RBI
Dave Kingman
1986
1,816
1,575
442
1,210
Reggie Jackson
1987
2,597
2,584
563
1,702
Jesse Barfield
1992
1,234
1,219
241
716
Cecil Fielder
1998
1,316
1,313
319
1,008
Jay Buhner
2001
1,406
1,273
310
965
Jose Canseco
2001
1,942
1,877
462
1,407
Dean Palmer
2003
1,332
1,229
275
849
Greg Vaughn
2003
1,513
1,475
355
1,072
Richie Sexson
2008
1,313
1,286
306
943
Troy Glaus
2010
1,377
1,375
320
950
Pat Burrell
2011
1,564
1,393
292
976
Mike Cameron
2011
1,901
1,700
278
968
Jim Thome
2012
2,548
2,328
612
1,699
Jason Bay
2013
1,216
1,200
222
754
Adam Dunn
Still Active
2,280
1,574
449
1,128
Ryan Howard
Still Active
1,474
1,226
322
1,003
Curtis Granderson
Still Active
1,231
1,201
223
633


Notice that just about everyone on the list was a middle-of-the-order power hitter.  But Granderson hit at the top of the order for much of his career and has surpassed 25 homers in a season just three times, hence his low RBI total.

Also notice that four of the 17 players (Kingman, Cameron, Bay, Granderson) called Shea Stadium and Citi Field home for parts of their careers.  It could have been seven out of 20, had Darryl Strawberry (1,352 strikeouts, 1,401 hits), Jeromy Burnitz (1,376 strikeouts, 1,447 hits) and Jose Valentin (1,294 strikeouts, 1,348 hits) struck out just a little more in their respective careers.  But just like the hitters who actually did make the list, Strawberry, Burnitz and Valentin were cleanup-type power hitters (Valentin had five straight years of 25+ homers from 2000 to 2004), something Granderson is not.

If Curtis Granderson were a prototypical power hitter, perhaps his high strikeout rate would be more acceptable.  Likewise, if Granderson had more seasons of elite home run totals, his low hit count could be forgiven.  But Granderson is not Dave Kingman, Reggie Jackson, Jose Canseco or Jim Thome.  He's not even Jesse Barfield or Pat Burrell, for that matter.  The closest player he resembles on the list above is - here's that name again - Jason Bay.

Although he tried his best to fulfill the lofty expectations that go with a lucrative four-year contract, Jason Bay fizzled quickly as a Met.  During his time in New York, Bay had more strikeouts (258) than hits (231), despite having fewer strikeouts (896) than hits (927) before coming to the Big Apple.  He also hit 26 or more homers in five of the six seasons before his first year in New York.  Then he hit a grand total of 26 homers in three years as a Met.  Because of his low home run totals and high strikeout rate, Bay found himself in the dreaded New York doghouse - the same place Granderson appears to be heading.

Curtis Granderson is a nice guy.  But being nice doesn't get you anything in New York if you're paid to hit home runs, then proceed to strike out ten times for every long ball you hit.  (Granderson has hit six home runs in 2014, while striking out 64 times.)  We saw it before with Jason Bay.  We don't need to see it again with Curtis Granderson.

There are 151 players in major league history who collected at least 1,200 hits and 1,200 strikeouts.  Of those players, only 17 had more strikeouts than hits.  Curtis Granderson is one of those players.  And if he doesn't want to go down the road taken by Jason Bay before him, he'll need to get himself off this list pronto.