Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jenrry Mejia Sets An Unusual Major League Mark

Jenrry Mejia started the season as the Mets' fifth starter but eventually became the team's closer when Bobby Parnell, Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth all succumbed to injuries or ineffectiveness.  Since then, Mejia has pitched through sports hernias, bases-loaded situations (of his own doing) and backbreaking celebrations to record 26 saves.

After a quarter century of importing closers from other teams, Mejia has followed in Parnell's footsteps to become a rarity in recent Mets history - the homegrown closer.  In fact, Mejia's 26 saves are the most by a Mets pitcher who came up through the team's minor league system since Randy Myers recorded the same number of saves in 1988.  Mejia is now just one save away from Tug McGraw's franchise record of 27 saves by a homegrown player, a mark McGraw established in 1972.

Note:  Jesse Orosco made his major league debut in 1979 with the Mets and saved 31 games in 1984, but he is not a homegrown Met, as he was drafted by Minnesota in 1978 and pitched in the Twins' minor league system for one season before he was traded to New York for Jerry Koosman in February 1979.

Mejia might be closing in on a Mets record, but he has already set an obscure major league mark.  His 26 saves are the most by any pitcher who made at least seven starts in the same season.  In fact, Mejia is one of just three pitchers to record as many as 20 saves in a year he started seven times.


Player SV GS Year Tm G W L IP H R ER BB SO ERA
Jenrry Mejia 26 7 2014 NYM 59 5 6 89.2 96 41 38 40 94 3.81
Joe Grahe 21 7 1992 CAL 46 5 6 94.2 85 37 37 39 39 3.52
Jose Jimenez 20 7 2003 COL 63 2 10 101.2 137 62 59 32 45 5.22
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/20/2014.


A little extra research found that only six pitchers other than Mejia have recorded as many as 25 saves when they made as little as one start during the same season.  Those half-dozen pitchers are:

  • Ryan Dempster (2005 Cubs):  33 saves, 6 starts.
  • Danny Graves (2002 Reds):  32 saves, 4 starts.
  • Mike Marshall (1979 Twins): 32 saves, 1 start.
  • Dave Giusti (1970 Pirates): 26 saves, 1 start.
  • Lindy McDaniel (1960 Cards): 26 saves, 2 starts.
  • Tug McGraw (1973 Mets): 25 saves, 2 starts.

With a little over a week to go until the 2014 season comes to a close, Jenrry Mejia has joined or is about to join former Mets closer Tug McGraw in two respects.  Mejia is one save away from tying McGraw's club mark for saves by a homegrown pitcher.  Mejia and McGraw are also two of just seven pitchers who recorded 25 saves and made at least one start in the same season.

But even McGraw can't say that he made a month's worth of starts and still managed to save as many games as Mejia has in 2014.  In fact, no major league pitcher can make that claim.  Mejia stands all alone in that respect.  It may be an obscure mark, but it's as good a reason as any for a closer to celebrate.

Funky Cold Mejia is all Kool and the Gang with his celebration.  (Photo by Brad Penner/USA Today)

 

Zack Wheeler Joins A Special Strikeout Club

We already knew Zack Wheeler was special.  Betcha didn't know how special.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

On Friday night, Zack Wheeler struck out seven Atlanta Braves in six innings en route to his 11th victory of the season.  In doing so, he upped his career strikeout total to 264, passing Matt Harvey by three.  It is worth noting that Wheeler has not yet made 50 starts in the big leagues, as Friday's seven-strikeout effort came in his 48th start at the major league level.

While it is true that several Mets pitchers have struck out more than 264 batters in their first 50 starts with the team, for many of them, those weren't their first 50 starts in the big leagues.  For example, Sid Fernandez had 297 Ks in his first 50 starts as a Met, but his first start in the big show came in 1983 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Similarly, Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana both had over 300 strikeouts in their first 50 starts with the Mets (332 and 310, respectively), but of course, neither pitcher began their career in New York.

By posting 264 strikeouts before his 50th career start (with all starts coming as a New York Met), Wheeler has joined some exclusive company.  Here is the list of all pitchers in Mets history who recorded 250 or more strikeouts in their first 50 starts (or fewer, in some cases).  We are only considering those pitchers who made each of their first 50 starts as a member of the New York Mets, so a pitcher like David Cone - who made his major league debut with the Kansas City Royals in 1986 pitching exclusively in relief - can be included on the list, since each of his first 50 big league starts came in a Mets uniform.  Also, we are only looking at strikeouts recorded in starts.  Strikeout totals compiled in relief appearances (as well as innings pitched in relief) are not included in the chart below.


Pitcher
No. of Starts
Innings Pitched
Strikeouts
Dwight Gooden
50
364.2
418
David Cone
50
356.0
297
Jerry Koosman
50
372.0
270
Zack Wheeler
48
280.1
264
Matt Harvey
36
237.2
261
Tom Seaver
50
382.1
251


Zack Wheeler has become just the sixth pitcher in Mets history to fan 250 or more batters within his first 50 big league starts.  And look at the other names on the list.  You have the three winningest pitchers in franchise history in Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and Jerry Koosman.  You have David Cone, who was traded away before his 30th birthday, but still managed to become the team's all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings and is also one of just four pitchers to make at least 100 starts for the team and finish his career with a .600+ winning percentage.  (The others are Gooden, Seaver and Rick Reed.)  And of course, you have Matt Harvey.  Barring any setbacks from Tommy John surgery, the 2013 All-Star Game starting pitcher should become just the second pitcher in team history to record 300 or more strikeouts within his first 50 starts in the majors.  He needs just 39 strikeouts in his next 14 starts to become Doctor K's understudy in that department.

Now, as great as Wheeler has been in getting those whiffs, he has tended to throw a lot of pitches to get said Ks.  Gooden, Cone, Koosman and Seaver all averaged at least seven innings per start in their first 50 big league starts, while Harvey is just under six and two-thirds innings per start.  Even if Wheeler pitches complete games in both his 49th and 50th career starts, he will still be under 300 innings pitched.  That's less than six innings per start.

Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Jerry Koosman and David Cone are among the best pitchers in club history.  Prior to his injury, Matt Harvey appeared to be on his way to joining them.  Zack Wheeler still needs to work on his command before he can be considered one of the best pitchers to ever don a Mets uniform.  But for now, he is becoming one of the best strikeout pitchers the club has ever seen.  And by joining Seaver, Gooden, Koosman, Cone and Harvey, he's certainly in a class that very few Mets starting pitchers have had the privilege to be a part of.
 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Breaking The Four-Games-Under-.500 Wall

At any age, Matthew Broderick has no problem breaking the fourth wall, so why can't his team break four games under .500?

In television, movies and comic books, there is a term called "breaking the fourth wall".  This term refers to fictional characters speaking directly to their viewers/readers, in essence finding their way through the imaginary wall that separates their scripted world from our reality-based universe.  A talented writer can make this wall-breaking quite entertaining (see Ferris Bueller's Day Off for an example).  However, the Mets don't have a talented writer.  And they're not exactly breaking any fourth walls.  In fact, they're having a tough time just breaking the four-games-under-.500 wall.

On June 4, the Mets lost the middle game of a three-game series in Chicago to drop their record to 28-31.  The next day, after the last place Cubs completed the sweep, the Mets found themselves four games under .500.  The Mets went on to lose their next game as well, this time in San Francisco, and failed to move back to three games under the break even point.  That game at AT&T Park began an alarming trend that is still active to this day.

Let's take a quick look at how the Mets have fared each time they've taken the field when the morning paper has reported that they're four games under .500 (since early June). 

  • June 6:  The 28-32 Mets lose to the San Francisco Giants, 4-2.
  • Jul. 19:  The 46-50 Mets lose to the San Diego Padres, 6-0.
  • Jul. 29:  The 51-55 Mets lose to the Philadelphia Phillies, 6-0.
  • Aug. 1:  The 52-56 Mets lose to the San Francisco Giants, 5-1.
  • Aug. 3:  The 53-57 Mets lose to the San Francisco Giants, 9-0.
  • Sep. 11:  The 71-75 Mets lose to the Washington Nationals, 6-2.
  • Sep. 13:  The 72-76 Mets lose to the Washington Nationals, 10-3.

That's seven straight losses in games the Mets have "tried" to pull back to within three games of the ever-elusive .500 mark.  And I have the word "tried" in quotation marks because the Mets haven't really competed in those seven affairs.  They've lost the heptad of games by a combined score of 46-8.  That's like the Seahawks defeating the Broncos in the Super Bowl and then adding a late field goal just in case.

To make matters worse, in the seven losses the Mets have held the lead for a grand total of one half inning.  That brief flash of hope came on a two-run homer by Daniel Murphy in the seventh inning of the Mets' game against the Giants on June 6.  San Francisco tied the contest in the bottom of the frame and scored the go-ahead runs an inning later on a two-run blast by Buster Posey.

As incredible as it may seem, that Murphy homer is as close as the Mets have come to sniffing the three-games-under-.500 mark since June 4.  For all you kids out there, that was almost 100 games ago.

The wise prophet Ferris Bueller once told us directly to our popcorn-stuffed faces, "Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you can miss it."  In the case of the 2014 Mets, the baseball season has moved pretty fast.  But if they don't find a way to break that four-games-under-.500 wall, they could miss ending their streak of five consecutive losing seasons.  And that, my friends, is nothing to twist and shout about.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Mets' Hitting Record David Wright May or May Not Want

David Wright has usually been a spectator when the home run apple has risen at Citi Field.  (Photo by Kathy Kmonicek/AP)

David Wright will be the first to tell you that he's had a disappointing season.  Entering Sunday's rubber match against the Cincinnati Reds, Wright is batting .270 with eight home runs and 63 RBI.  His .371 slugging percentage would not only represent a career-low for Wright, but it would also be lower than his .377 lifetime on-base percentage (which was .382 coming into the 2014 campaign).

Needless to say, Wright has not done many positive things to help the Mets' struggling offense in 2014.  However, he is close to accomplishing something with his bat that has never been done by a Met in a single season.

There are currently eight players in franchise history who have driven in 60 or more runs in a season that did not see the player reach double digits in home runs.  The chart below lists those eight players and adds a ninth - David Wright - with his numbers entering today's game.  The chart is sorted by runs batted in and also lists the number of home runs hit by each player during his tenure with the team.


Player
Year
Home Runs
RBI
Career HR as a Met
Dave Magadan
1990
6
72
21
Joel Youngblood
1980
8
69
38
Lance Johnson
1996
9
69
10
John Stearns
1979
9
66
46
Daniel Murphy
2012
6
65
48
David Wright
2014
8
63
230
Gregg Jefferies
1991
9
62
42
Doug Flynn
1979
4
61
5
Rey Ordoñez
1999
1
60
8


As of today, David Wright has the sixth-highest RBI total of all players in Mets history who failed to hit a minimum of ten home runs in a season.  Wright needs seven RBI in the team's last 20 games to become the second Mets player to have a 70-RBI campaign without the benefit of a double-digit home run total.  Should Wright drive in ten runs before the end of the season without hitting more than one ball out of the park, he'd set a new team record, becoming the most prolific single season run-producer of all Mets players who failed to hit 10 HR.

What makes Wright's name look completely out of place on the list above is that Wright has 230 career home runs, which are second in franchise history behind Darryl Strawberry's lifetime total of 252.  Incredibly, the other eight players listed above combined to hit 218 homers during their time with the Mets, or a dozen fewer than Wright has hit by himself.  (That number can still rise, as Daniel Murphy is still active.)

Wright owns or will own most of the Mets' hitting records, but this is one single-season achievement he probably wasn't counting on.  Dave Magadan, who hit 21 home runs in seven seasons as a Met, most likely never expected to hold on to this unusual team record forever.  But he surely never thought it would be David Wright who was about to knock him off his perch.
 

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Worst Team Money Wasn't Spent On

"What do you mean, I won't spend money?  I got you four months of Chris Young, right?"  --Papa Smirk

Going into today's matinee with the Miami Marlins, the Mets have managed to score just 520 runs in their first 137 games.  That averages to 3.8 runs per game.  At that pace, the Mets would cross the plate 615 times this season, which would be four fewer than their run total from 2013.

So how far back do we have to go to find the last time the Mets scored fewer than 615 runs over a full 162-game season?  You have to set the arrival time on the DeLorean to 1992, when New York scored 599 runs.  If you recall, that 72-90 squad was more famously referred to as "The Worst Team Money Could Buy."

That team, full of superstars and a major league high $45 million payroll, batted .235 and was the last Mets team that didn't register 600 tallies in a non-strike shortened season.  And prior to 1992, the last time the Mets scored fewer than 615 runs (the pace they're currently on for the 2014 season) was in 1983.  That year was the seventh straight season the team averaged fewer than 3.8 runs per game.  Long-time Mets fans would recognize that seven-year period from 1977 to 1983 as the Grant's Tomb era - the period in which Mets fans abandoned Shea Stadium almost as quickly as former team chairman M. Donald Grant abandoned his senses, his wallet and his ability to field a winning team.

So basically, the 2014 Mets are scoring at a pace that's been seen just twice by the franchise in nearly 40 years.  And both low-scoring periods have been associated with some of the lowest moments in the club's history.

But not all is gloom and doom.  On the flip side, this year's pitchers have allowed just 533 runs, putting them on pace to give up 630 runs in 2014.  That would be the lowest total in a non-strike shortened season since 1990, when the team allowed 613 runs en route to a 91-71 campaign.

Although pitching wins championships, a little hitting and run-scoring helps as well.  Both the 1969 and 1986 championship teams boasted pitching staffs that allowed fewer than 600 runs.  Of course, those two teams combined to outscore the opposition by 296 runs.

The 1992 squad was the last team to score as little as the 2014 club has.  That was known as "The Worst Team Money Could Buy".  This year's squad is about to become "The Worst Team Money Wasn't Spent On".  The front office has a lot of work to do during the off-season to make sure future Mets teams don't have "The Worst Team" moniker attached to them, regardless of how much money can or won't buy.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Daniel Murphy Could Win a Batting Title by Default

By not swinging his bat, Daniel Murphy could become the Mets' second batting champion in four seasons. (AP Photo)

Prior to being placed on the disabled list with a strained right calf, Daniel Murphy was having one of the best years of his career at the plate, leading the Mets in several offensive categories, including batting average, hits, runs scored and doubles.  Murphy wasn't just one of the best hitters on his own team, as he also ranked in the league's top ten in all four of those categories.

Although Murphy's .301 batting average wouldn't normally contend for a batting crown or even rank him in the league's top ten, the abundance of quality pitching in the National League has made Murphy an unlikely contender for a batting title.  And as unusual as it may seem, he's become a bigger contender since he got hurt.

Prior to his calf injury, Murphy played in 126 of the Mets' first 131 games before missing Tuesday's affair against the Atlanta Braves.  Two days later, the second baseman was placed on the 15-day disabled list.  On Tuesday, Murphy stood 16 percentage points behind National League batting leader Justin Morneau, who was hitting .317 for the Colorado Rockies.  The next seven players in the batting race were Ben Revere (.311), Andrew McCutchen (.307), Aramis Ramirez (.304), Yasiel Puig (.303), Matt Adams (.303), Jonathan Lucroy (.302) and Josh Harrison (.302).  Those players were all ahead of Daniel Murphy, who ranked ninth in the NL with his .301 batting average.

But since August 26, everyone but Josh Harrison has gone into a mini-slump.  Whereas Harrison has increased his batting average from .302 to .308, a 1-for-11 skid has dropped Morneau to .311, which still leads the very weak-hitting National League.  Similarly, Ben Revere has fallen from .311 to .307, while Andrew McCutchen has dropped two points from .307 to .305.

The other four hitters who were ahead of Daniel Murphy in the batting race have also fallen on hard times, with Ramirez (1-for-his-last-14), Puig (1-for-22), Adams (3-for-25) and Lucroy (3-for-18) all slipping under .300 since Murphy got hurt.

Without playing a game all week, Murphy has gone from ninth in the NL batting race to fifth, trailing only Morneau, Harrison, Revere and McCutchen.  He has also shaved six percentage points off Morneau's lead, as his .301 average is now only ten points behind Morneau's league-leading .311 mark.

Daniel Murphy is eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday, September 9.  But his strained right calf may not be healed by then.  Should Murphy be done for the season, perhaps his .301 average might be enough to earn him the National League's batting title.  Murphy's 568 plate appearances are already 66 more than the minimum required to qualify for the crown.  Plus, he's already passed four players who were ahead of him in the race without adding a single at-bat to his totals.  He just needs to pass four more, three of whom are dropping back in the pack.

It would be a strange way to win it, but Daniel Murphy's injury could help him attain an unexpected batting title.  In other words, Murphy's calf strain could end up being his best break.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Decline of Wright-ian Civilization

There's no arguing the facts.  David Wright is not the player he used to be.  (Photo by Nick Laham)

David Wright is in serious decline right now.  There's no other way to put it.  Since signing his eight-year, $138 million contract prior to the 2013 campaign, Wright has played in 233 games, batting .286 with 26 HR, 114 RBI, 111 runs scored and 23 stolen bases.  That's in nearly two full seasons of baseball, folks.  If you look at what Wright did in 2007 alone (.325, 30 HR, 107 RBI, 113 runs scored, 34 steals), it's quite clear that the Mets' third baseman has dropped off considerably at the plate.

In 2009, Wright's drop-off in the power department was attributed to the spaciousness of the newly-opened Citi Field.  Although Wright produced just 10 homers that season, he made up for it by batting .307.  He also smoked 39 doubles and stole 27 bags.  Five years later, Wright is having another powerless season (8 HR in 121 games through Friday), but he is not contributing in other facets of the game like he did in 2009.

Wright has just 26 doubles and no triples this year.  To put that in perspective, Wright has never completed a full season (min. 150 games played) with fewer than 36 doubles and he has yet to have a season (regardless of how many games he played) with nary a triple to his credit.  Wright's six steals in 2014 would also fall well short of his career-low over a full season.  The third sacker has never stolen fewer than 15 bases when he's played 150 or more games.  Even when he missed 60 games in 2011 with a stress fracture in his back, he still managed to swipe 13 bags.

For the year, Wright is batting .268 with 34 extra-base hits.  Only 26.4% of his 129 total hits have gone for extra bases.  Compare that to what he did in first ten seasons in the big leagues, when 38.0% of his hits were doubles, triples or homers.  In fact, in every season Wright has played at least 150 games, he's had a minimum of 64 extra-base hits.  He's barely halfway to that total now.  And he's only missed eight games this year, so barring injuries or an unexpected benching, Wright will play in at least 150 games in 2014 and come nowhere near his usual extra-base hit totals.

Now let's look at slugging percentage.  Rather, let's look at some of the slugging percentages put up by a few seemingly random big league hitters this year.  Then let's look at the guy listed at the bottom of the chart below.


Player
SLG
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
.448
253
223
37
71
15
1
4
29
5
.439
563
524
68
175
33
2
6
42
46
.439
533
460
77
125
18
7
15
52
19
.415
506
467
74
137
27
3
8
38
23
.405
401
341
57
88
20
3
8
42
16
.401
532
476
58
132
25
2
10
55
34
.399
539
491
76
147
34
6
1
25
27
.391
325
302
41
91
16
1
3
22
12
.388
503
469
66
126
24
7
6
44
49
.388
327
304
39
75
10
3
9
33
17
.383
530
491
70
142
18
11
2
27
57
.379
295
272
25
69
9
5
5
27
2
.374
206
187
19
52
8
2
2
16
4
.371
530
482
48
129
26
0
8
56
6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/23/2014.


After posting a .506 career slugging percentage from 2004-2013, David Wright is slugging just .371 this year.  That's lower than the slugging percentages put up by non-slugging speedsters like Jose Altuve, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Denard Span, Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon.

Even Jose Reyes - who's not having a typical Reyes season with three triples and 23 steals in over 500 plate appearances - is slugging higher than his former infield partner.  And speaking of former Mets, did you notice Justin Turner, Angel Pagan and Endy Chavez on the list as well?

Let's put it this way.  Wong is better than Wright (Kolten is better at slugging percentage, that is), and Rougned Odor is also a better "slugger" this year than the Mets third baseman.  Clearly, when Odor beats Wright, then you know Wright's season stinks.

All jokes aside, there is nothing funny about David Wright's decline in 2014.  The seeds were planted in 2009 when Wright's opposite field approach at Shea Stadium failed to translate to Citi Field's cavernous power alleys.  Then the normally injury-free Wright began to miss extended periods of time, missing a total of 110 games in 2011 and 2013.  This year, Wright has managed to stay on the field, but his batting average is suffering.  And since he's getting mostly singles when he does hit, his slugging percentage is also taking an unsightly dip.  And we haven't really gotten into the drop in stolen bases.  But when Wright's stolen base total (6) is three less than the number put up by soon-to-be-retired octogenarian Yankee captain Derek Jeter (9), then nothing else needs to be said on that topic.

David Wright still has six years and $107 million left on his contract.  By the time that contract expires, Wright's name should be at the top of just about every lifetime offensive category for the Mets.  But if Wright's 2014 offensive output becomes the norm over those six remaining seasons, did the Mets really get what they paid for?  It's a question the Mets front office is going to have to deal with quite a bit if the decline of Wright-ian civilization continues.