Daniel Murphy’s season not all it appears to be

On the surface, Daniel Murphy has made some great strides this season towards establishing himself as one of the top second basemen in Major League Baseball.

After Sunday’s loss to the Marlins, Murphy sported a .291/.323/.441 slash line and ranked sixth or better amongst second basemen in Major League Baseball in batting average (6th), slugging percentage (6th), fWAR (1.7, 5th), and surprisingly UZR (3.1, 4th).

Murphy’s game, however has a flaw that unless fixed, will prevent him from joining the ranks of the truly elite hitters at second base like Brandon Phillips, Robinson Cano, and Dustin Pedroia: his walk rate is alarmingly low.

The problem is not only that it’s low, but that it’s taken a significant dip this season, from 5.9% last season to a career low 4.0% through 54 games played this season.

Murphy’s Isolated On Base (OBI, calculated by OBP-BA) is second lowest amongst the 20 qualifying second basemen in the majors, better than only Jeff Keppinger.[1][2]

Name AVG OBP OBI
Dustin Pedroia .333 .416 .083
Ian Kinsler .302 .369 .067
Robinson Cano .291 .347 .056
Matt Carpenter .309 .392 .083
Marco Scutaro .335 .387 .052
Brandon Phillips .296 .347 .051
Chase Utley .272 .339 .067
Neil Walker .267 .364 .097
Daniel Murphy .298 .330 .032
Jedd Gyorko .276 .338 .062
Howie Kendrick .294 .335 .041
Jason Kipnis .243 .311 .068
Omar Infante .294 .332 .038
Ben Zobrist .253 .348 .095
Jose Altuve .299 .339 .040
Dan Uggla .180 .300 .120
Martin Prado .260 .309 .049
Rickie Weeks .182 .284 .102
Brian Dozier .217 .265 .048
Jeff Keppinger .231 .237 .006

One potential explanation for this is Murphy’s aggressiveness on balls outside of the strike zone.  He ranks 5th amongst qualified second basemen with a 32.2 O-Swing%, and 9th with a 75.5 O-Contact%.

That means that Murphy is just about middle of the pack when it comes to making contact with pitches out of the strike zone, but swings at a greater percentage of balls than others.  This leads to a higher percentage of balls becoming strikes, and a lack of deep counts being worked.

Murphy is also very aggressive on pitches in the strike zone, swinging at 65% of strikes, and makes contact with 92.9% of those pitches.

The combination of swinging at a lot of balls, and aggressiveness in the strike zone seems to help to explain some of Murphy’s perennial on-base difficulties.

While he is a doubles machine, he doesn’t hit for enough additional power to make up for the lack of walks, resulting in an unspectacular .764 OPS despite a good batting average and decent slugging percentage.

Equally as troubling as the declining walk rate, has been Murphy’s increasing strikeout rate.  In his injury-shortened 2011 season, he struck out 9.9% of the time.  This season he has struck out in 14.2% of his plate appearances, up a bit from 13.5% last season.

While he is still well below the league average strikeout rate, obviously this is not good.  The more he strikes out, the less he is putting the ball in play.  Since Murphy has sustained a BABIP of .335 over the past three seasons, the spike in his strikeout rate has robbed him of 2 percentage points off his batting average last season, and 5 points this season.

Unless Murphy can get back to drawing more walks like he did earlier in his career – he posted a 6.8 BB% in his first full year in 2009 – and limiting the strikeouts, he will never really be able to make the next step and become a top tier second baseman.

Joe Vasile is a play-by-play announcer and radio host.  You can check his website out here.



[1] Who is sporting a gaudy 1.1 BB%.

[2] All data as of games played through 6/1/13.

Ike Davis: A tale of two careers

Ike Davis is easily the most perplexing player on the Mets roster right now.  Now in his fourth season since being called up in 2010, Davis has posted one-and-a-quarter good seasons, and one-and-a-quarter horrendous ones.  He has looked like two completely different ballplayers.

Davis’ early triumphs on the field have perhaps given him some leeway within the organization when it comes to his struggles at the plate.  I have been a vocal supporter of Davis during his down times, preferring to point to the .271/.357/.460 line he posted from 2010-2011 instead of the .210/.293/.415 of the last two seasons.

The stats confirm what everyone’s eyes see; Ike Davis has lost his way.  He is simply not the same player that he used to be.

Before we get into who he is now, we have to understand who he was.

Ike Davis: The Prospect Years

Ike Davis was the 18th overall pick in the first round of the 2008 MLB draft.  Upon his selection, Anthony DiComo, writing for the Mets’ official website, had this to say, “Together, Davis and [22nd overall pick Reese] Havens should start to replenish a Minor League system that, due to trades and free-agent signings, has been sapped of top prospects in general, and power hitters in particular.”

Davis was coming off of a spectacular junior year at Arizona State, where he hit .385/.457/.742 with 16 home runs in 213 at-bats.  The expectations were high and he appeared to be the power-hitting first baseman or corner outfielder that the Mets needed.

There was originally some uncertainty about his position because he played first base, outfield, and pitched in college, and besides, the Mets were drafting him more for his bat than his position.

Then he went to Brooklyn.

In 239 plate appearances with the Cyclones, Davis posted an ugly .256/.326/.326 line, hitting exactly 0 home runs.  Kevin Goldstein, then of Baseball Prospectus, in a special piece for ESPN New York from 2010 says, “He looked tentative, if not downright lost, at the plate throughout the summer, and some prematurely wrote him off.”

Now, keep in mind that MCU Park has a reputation for being a particularly nasty park for hitters, especially lefties because of the strong winds that come off the Atlantic Ocean and blow in from right field.  Even taking that into account, however, Davis’ line was troublesome at best, and it appeared as if then-GM Omar Minaya had badly flubbed the compensation pick for Tom Glavine (that’s right, the Mets got the 18th overall pick in the draft from the Braves because they signed Tom Glavine, who would make 13 forgettable starts for Atlanta in 2008 then retire).

Davis’s stock as a prospect was shaky at best, with John Sickels rating Davis as the 11th best prospect in a weak Mets system, rating him a C+.  Players ranked ahead of Davis included Eddie Kunz, Nick Evans, Reese Havens, Jefry Marte (traded this offseason for Collin Cowgill), and Brad Holt.

Sickels also offered and interesting note in his evaluation of Davis: “If he can’t hit, he could convert to pitching due to his strong arm.”

Then 2009 came around, and Davis had his coming out party.  He posted a .288/.376/.486 line in 255 PA with seven home runs in St. Lucie, leading to his promotion to Binghamton where he would go on to hit to the tune of a .309/.386/.565 line with 13 home runs in 233 PA.  This offensive explosion had Davis rocketing up prospect lists during the following offseason.

This time around Sickels had Davis (by then a full-time first baseman) as the fourth best prospect in the system, behind Jenrry Mejia, Wilmer Flores, and Fernando Martinez.  He was also now a grade “B” prospect who projected as a solid regular player who could hit for power, but not a star, a point stressed by Sickels.  He also made sure to comment that Davis had a “fine glove” at first base, but that he needed approximately 400 at bats in Buffalo before he would be ready for major league action.

After hitting .364/.500/.636 in Buffalo to start the 2010 campaign, the Mets decided that it was time to call him up and ditch Mike Jacobs, and he’s been with the ball club ever since.

But even at that time, there were some questions about Davis’ game.  The same Goldstein piece noted that Davis had some pretty drastic platoon splits in the minors from 2009 through his call up.

AB HR BA SLG
vs. LHP 139 4 .237 .381
vs. RHP 323 18 .331 .598

Goldstein, who now is the Pro Scouting Coordinator for the Houston Astros, had an overall positive take on Davis, but with a caveat, “The future is certainly bright for Davis, but I wouldn’t expect too much until next year.”

Ike Davis: Fast Times at Flushing High

On April 19, 2010, Ike Davis finally got the called up to the major leagues and would make his debut against the Chicago Cubs that night.  He singled in his first at bat against Randy Wells and added an RBI single off lefty reliever Sean Marshall later on in the game en route to a 2-for-4 performance, making him the toast of Citi Field.

It was mostly roses for Davis for the remainder of the season, which resulted in a respectable .264/.351/.440 line with 19 home runs and a 10.4 UZR, good enough for 3.1 fWAR and a seventh-place finish in the rookie of the year balloting.

And what of Goldstein’s note of Davis struggling against lefties?  All Davis did was hit southpaws to the tune of a .295/.362/.443 line, though that was perhaps elevated by a crazy .388 BABIP.

Regardless, things were looking good for Davis, who seemed to be the “real deal” and part of the long-term solution for the Mets at first base.

It was for good reason then, that fans got excited about Davis’ lightning fast start in 2011, where he hit .302/.383/.543 with seven home runs in his first 36 games.

Unfortunately those would be the only 36 games Davis would play that season.

After a collision with David Wright chasing a routine pop up in Houston, Davis suffered a bone bruise and cartilage damage in his ankle, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.

While Davis was in the process of coming back to earth a little bit (he hit .207 in nine games in May before the injury after hitting .337 in April), Mets fans eagerly awaited to see what 2012 would bring  for their young first baseman.

Ike Davis: The Bad and the Ugly

Davis seemed to be on the fast-track to becoming a fan favorite and cornerstone of the franchise at first base entering the 2012 season.

That all began to change on February 21, 2012, when a routine spring training physical returned some troubling results.  The following is the press release issued by the Mets on March 3rd:

“Ike Davis underwent a routine physical exam after his arrival in PSL.  The exam included an abnormal chest X-ray.  Following additional tests here and in NYC, pulmonary and infectious disease specialists have concluded that Ike likely has Valley Fever, which is expected to resolve itself over time.  Ike is not contagious, is not taking any medication for his condition and does not currently exhibit any of the outward symptoms associated with Valley Fever.  However, Ike has been instructed to avoid extreme fatigue.  No additional tests or examinations are pending, but Ike will have a follow up exam when the team returns to NYC in early April.”

The Mayo Clinic’s website notes that it takes months to fully recover from Valley Fever, and “fatigue and joint aches can last even longer.”

This spelled trouble for Davis, especially when you take into account that the career of the once-promising Conor Jackson was destroyed by this disease, but more on that later.

So to say that it wasn’t surprising when he got off to a slow start in 2012 is an understatement.  On June 1st he was hitting .169/.228/.295.

Then slowly but surely things started to turn around for Davis.  He hit .264/.363/.563 in June, regressed to .221/.257/.537 in July, then came back strong in August posting a .287/.370/.517 line, and finished hitting a respectable .242/.373/.527 in September.

His final line for the season was .227/.308/.462 with a career-high 32 home runs and 90 RBIs.

Once again, the Davis’ hot second half left a feeling of hope in Mets fans’ hearts; that maybe he could be back to his former self.

That hasn’t happened though, and after Sunday night’s game, Davis’ season line sits at an atrocious .158/.246/.250, and a trip to Las Vegas inches closer each and every day.

This heat map created by Mark Simon of ESPN (@msimonespn) shows Ike’s 2013 struggles in a fun, colorful way.

Ike Davis & Conor Jackson: It’s the Valley Fever, stupid!

Remember when I said we’d talk more about Conor Jackson later?  Well now is the time.

I was originally only planning on writing about Jackson in the capacity of his Valley Fever and how that destroyed his career.

Then I talked with Jim McLennan over at the Arizona Diamondbacks blog www.azsnakepit.com, and quickly discovered the similarities between Jackson and Davis run a little deeper than that.

For one, both were part of draft classes that produced players that their teams’ respective fan bases were excited for.  The 2003 Arizona Diamondbacks draft class produced the “Three Amigos;” Jackson, Carlos Quentin, and Jamie D’Antona, while the Mets had Davis, Reese Havens, and Javier Rodriguez in 2008.

Jackson, who was selected 19th overall as a first baseman/outfielder, absolutely tore it up in the minor leagues, hitting over .300 at every level, while displaying plus plate discipline.  After the 2005 season, Baseball America ranked Jackson as the number 17 prospect in all of baseball.

“I wouldn’t have called him a superstar – not, say, a Justin Upton type,” said McLennan.  “But we had every expectation he would be a solid and reliable major-league hitter.”

That sounds eerily similar to Sickels’ evaluation of Davis.

Also much like Davis, Jackson’s first two seasons (2006-2007) in the major leagues were promising.  He hit .288/.368/.453 over his first two seasons and seemed to be on his way to becoming a cornerstone of the Diamondbacks franchise.

After another nice season in 2008 (which involved a slight tail off towards the end), the expectations for Jackson were huge, then he stopped hitting.

In 30 games in 2009, Jackson hit a paltry .189/.264/.253 before it was discovered that he was suffering from Valley Fever.  He would miss the rest of the season recovering.

When Jackson returned the following season, he was ineffective at the plate, hitting .228/.336/.333 in 42 games with Arizona before earning a one-way ticket to Oakland.  His power had evaporated.  A Pat Andriola article at Fangraphs noted, “Jackson’s line drives have been more of the Juan Pierre variety than that of Albert Pujols.”  Balls that once fell in for extra bases now found themselves nestled in the webbing of outfielder’s gloves.

Jackson only managed to hit .232/.312/.323 in 204 post-Valley Fever games – as compared to .287/.367/.443 beforehand – and eventually retired this spring after spending time in Triple-A for the White Sox and Orioles.

Ike Davis: Staring into the Crystal Ball

So now that we know all of that, what does any of it mean?

Well, while Davis has gone through stretches in his professional career where he as looked completely lost at the plate and turned it around, there is no reason to believe that he can do it again.

Given how bad he has looked at the plate this season (and for most of 2012), and the nature of the disease he suffered from, it doesn’t seem like there’s any hope of Davis returning to his former self.

And this is coming from the guy who wrote this just over a month ago.

I would like nothing more than to be completely wrong about Davis.  I truly wish that he starts to turn things around, that when Davis said he, “Definitely felt better,” after Saturday’s games (where he collected his first hit in eight days) that it’s not just a sound bite for the media.  I want Ike Davis to be successful not only because it would help the team, but to make up for all the booing, the jeering, and the bewildered stares into center field after yet another strikeout.

At this point, it’s just not going to happen, not without major mechanical changes to his swing and stance.  Even then it would be a long shot.

Davis, who was once seemed destined to join Mets folklore alongside players like Cleon Jones, Jerry Koosman, and Edgardo Alfonzo, now is destined to be the Mets version of Conor Jackson.

I’m still hoping I’m wrong.

Joe Vasile is a play-by-play announcer and radio host.  Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP and check his website out here.

Daniel Murphy and the hot streak fallacy

Daniel Murphy is on fire.

Coming into Sunday’s matchup with the Cubs, Murphy was riding a 7 game hitting streak during which time he is hitting .500 (14-28) with six extra base hits, five runs scored, and four RBIs.  This recent offensive explosion has brought his triple slash to .301/.337/.455.

On Sunday, Terry Collins decided to move Murphy up to the leadoff spot in the lineup, presumably to take advantage of Murphy’s hot streak.

While that might seem like a good idea, it is a misguided move that is oft repeated by managers across Major League Baseball.[1]

By adhering to streaks and making decisions based on who has the so-called “hot hand,” managers put too much stock into small sample sizes and instead ignore things like the talent of the hitter or pitcher.

All streaks are too small to matter.

Statistically speaking, Murphy has just as good of a chance of getting a hit Sunday as he did two weeks ago when he was “cold,” it’s just now, his BABIP is adjusting itself back to the mean, giving off the appearance of a hot streak.[2]

One might argue that Murphy may have a mental edge when stepping into the box when he is on a hot streak, and that affects his approach at the plate and therefore, the outcome of the at bat.

But there is no evidence that this is the case.

For one, if it was the case, then you’d certainly see hitters get into more prolonged streaks, right?  After all, by that argument, their mental edge at the plate would lead to them making better contact and getting more hits, leading to more of the same.

Also, the sample sizes that we’re talking about when we discuss hot or cold streaks are too small to be able to separate any perceived mental edge out from simple random variation.

The same goes for hitter vs. pitcher statistics.

Former catcher and current Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond had a reputation for being Tom Glavine’s nemesis throughout his career.  In 48 at bats against Glavine, Redmond hit .438 with a 1.075 OPS.  Redmond’s career numbers in those categories were .287 and .700, respectively; pretty good for a guy who never was a regular starter, but nothing that suggests he should have owned a future Hall of Famer like that.

While it is entirely possible that Redmond saw the ball well out of Glavine’s hand, or that there was some sort of mental aspect at play, the sample size is insufficient to determine if Redmond truly “owned” Glavine or if the impressive stats are a result of random variation that would be corrected with a larger sample size.

Note that there is a distinction that needs to be made here between individual pitcher vs. hitter splits and lefty-righty platoon splits.  The platoon splits are based on a much larger sample size and in most cases will stabilize within a season or two.  They are therefore much more reliable when it comes to predicting the success of a matchup.

So what should a manager make of streaks?

Nothing.  When a manager starts a player against a certain team because he’s had success in the past against that team or in that stadium, he his making a mistake based on the misuse of statistics.  The manager should play a player based on whether or not he gives the team the best chance to win on that given day.

If Juan Lagares is 0-for-his-last-9, but has traditionally hit lefties well, then starting him against a lefty like Travis Wood is a good idea, while sitting him because he’s “cold” is not.  The Mets won Sunday partially because Terry Collins ignored the fact that Lagares was cold and played him anyway.

If Collins adhered to that strategy more often and more strictly, the Mets might be a marginally better team, especially when combined with the other changes I’ve suggested.

Joe Vasile is a play-by-play announcer and radio host.  Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP and check his website out here.


[1] Although with the lineup Collins used Sunday, Murphy’s OBP skills can justify putting him in the leadoff spot, but this is not the reasoning that Collins used, which is what makes it misguided.

[2] Further reading on how long it takes statistics to stabilize, Baseball Prospectus did a nice article on that a few years back.

Terry Collins and platoon players

Creative and new ideas and solutions often seem to come along as a result of limitations.  Limitations are what forced Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta to architect ‘Moneyball’ in Oakland in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

After the rest of the league seemed to catch up with the A’s in the mid-2000’s, they came storming back with a vengeance last season, surprising everyone and winning the AL West crown.  That division title sent a message to the rest of the league: Moneyball is back.

3,000 miles away in Queens, another team is dealing with a set of limitations, and they could learn something from the club in Oakland.

Last season Bob Melvin, the A’s manager, was able to maximize the talent on his roster by utilizing 3-4 platoons at a time.

One which worked particularly well was the platoon of lefty Brandon Moss and righty Chris Carter at first base.  The two combined for 37 home runs, 91 runs batted in, and an OBP of over .355.  That is arguably more production than either player would have individually.

The same can be said for the Seth Smith/Jonny Gomes/Yoenis Cespedes shuffle in left field and designated hitter.

By taking advantage of the relative strengths of the players on the roster, Melvin guided the A’s to 94 wins and gave the mighty Detroit Tigers a run for their money in the ALDS.

And then there’s the team from Queens.

That team has struggled, partially because their manager, Terry Collins, hasn’t done what Melvin did to maximize the talent on the roster.

Take Collin Cowgill.  He was a guy who hit .318/.412/.432 against lefties in 2012, and only .233/.277/.233 against righties.

Collins gave him equal playing time against lefties and righties.  If he had been used as the right-handed hitting half of a center field platoon with say, Jordany Valdespin, there could have been some decent production out of center field.

The same goes for right field and Marlon Byrd and Mike Baxter, although both of these men have less drastic splits than Cowgill and Valdespin.

Then there’s first base.  Perhaps it’s time to think about instituting a permanent platoon at first, since Ike Davis can’t figure out how to hit southpaws.  It might be a good idea to go to Vegas to find his platoon partner, either in the form of Zach Lutz or Josh Satin.  I’d be more inclined to go with Lutz because of his power, his ability to also play third base and corner outfield positions, and is a bit younger.  Also his fragility would not be as big of a factor in a part-time role.

Obviously a few roster moves would need to be made first for this to happen, Lutz and Cowgill would have to come up, meaning two players, most likely Juan Legares (who Collins plans to platoon with newly acquired Rick Ankiel) and Justin Turner would have to go down.

Keeping in mind the optimized lineup from last week, adding the platoons in, here are the two regular lineups for the Mets:

Lineup vs. LHP Lineup vs. RHP
 
David Wright Mike Baxter
 
Lucas Duda Lucas Duda
 
Zach Lutz John Buck
 
John Buck David Wright
 
Daniel Murphy Daniel Murphy
 
Marlon Byrd Ike Davis
 
Collin Cowgill Rick Ankiel
 
Pitcher Pitcher
 
Ruben Tejada Ruben Tejada

Not exactly lineups that will strike fear into the mind of any pitcher, but it could serve to help the Mets win a few extra ballgames this year and lift the team from a laughing stock to one with at least a semi-respectable record for the roster they have to work with.



[1] Before you go and slam me for this lineup in the comments, this was a very difficult one to put together.  If Tejada can get hot, I can see putting him leadoff, dropping Wright to 2nd,  slide Duda behind Murhpy, and put Byrd in the 9 spot.

Lucas Duda leading off and Terry Collins

Last Wednesday, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal wrote an interesting piece, suggesting that Lucas Duda be the Mets leadoff hitter.  That, combined with Friday night’s decision to bat Justin Turner in the 5th slot in the lineup got me thinking.

What would a sabermetrically optimized lineup look like on the 2013 Mets?

So, let’s use The Book, by Tom Tango, Michael Lichtman, and Andy Dolphin to construct the optimal lineup for the 2013 New York Mets.

Leadoff Batter

Traditionally speaking, the leadoff batter is thought of someone who is speedy, doesn’t have a lot of power, should get on base a good amount of time, but OBP is secondary to speed.

While The Book agrees that power is not important out of the leadoff batter, it says that OBP is the most important stat.  The lead-off batter comes to the plate more times per game than any other batter; so naturally, a high OBP guy will contribute greatly at this spot.  Additionally, speed is not as valuable in front of power hitters as it is in front of singles hitters (where you have a better chance of going first-to-third on a single or scoring from second on a hit to the outfield).  The lead-off batter should also be one of the three best hitters on the team, although with the Mets, after the top 2, there are slim pickings.

So, with all that in mind, in an optimized lineup, the Mets leadoff hitter is Mike Baxter.  Before you start to riot, keep in mind Baxter has a career .349 OBP (above the league average of .330) and doesn’t provide a large power threat.  He can also play passable defense in an outfield which currently features Lucas Duda and Marlon Byrd on a regular basis.  Baxter’s best opportunity to contribute to the team is in the capacity of a leadoff hitter.  There is no reason why one of the team’s best OBP guys is relegated to bench duty while Byrd is making Justin Turner look like Pete Rose.

The Two Hole

Once again, traditionally, the second spot in the lineup is used for a bat control guy; someone who will put the ball in play to advance the leadoff hitter into scoring position for the middle of the order to drive in.  If you’re Jerry Manuel, you bat your second baseman here.

The Book claims that the #2 hitter comes to bat in situations with roughly the same importance as the #3 hitter, only more often.  Therefore, it concludes, the #2 hitter should be better than the #3 hitter, and one of the three best hitters on the team.  Since the #2 hitter bats with the bases empty more often than anyone else behind him in the lineup, he should also be a high OBP guy.

 

This is where the Mets should be hitting Duda.  He takes a lot of pitches, has a walk rate hovering around 20%, and can hit the ball a country mile.  Collins has been frequently using Daniel Murphy in the two hole, but when you compare Duda’s .417 OBP to Murphy’s .325, it’s hard to justify giving away an extra out every ten at bats.

Number 3 hitter

This is where you put the best hitter on the team, right?

Wrong.

This is where you put the fifth best hitter on the team.  Better hitters should be in the fourth and fifth spots than the third, because these batters come to bat in more important situations (e.g. – with men on base) more often than the three hitter.  If you have a player who lives and dies with the homerun ball, and doesn’t do much else; this is the spot for him.

For now, let’s pencil John Buck in here and move on, but if Ike Davis ever turns it around, this is his spot.

Cleanup

Traditionally, you put your best power hitter here, regardless of batting average or any other stat.  This guy will bop 30+ home runs for you.

The Book agrees and disagrees.  You put one of the top three hitters on the team here, preferably the one with the best slugging percentage.  The cleanup hitter comes to bat in the most important situations of any batter in the lineup.

David Wright and his .542 SLG take the cake here.

The Number Five Guy

Usually this is where you see guys who either are former or future cleanup hitters.

In an optimized lineup, this is where the fourth best hitter goes, provided he is not a guy who relies on homeruns (then put that guy third).  This batter can provide more value to the team with singles, doubles, triples and walks (because there is someone in scoring position when he comes up more often) than the third hitter can.

Daniel Murphy fits that profile well.  He is a good hitter, but doesn’t necessarily have the power or on base skills that would see him slotted in the one, two or four spots in the lineup.

Spots Six and Seven

At this point, amongst regular players all there is left to choose from is Ike Davis, Juan Legares (or whoever Collins decides to put in center field that night), Ruben Tejada, and the pitcher.

Conventional wisdom says you would just order the remaining guys in order of best hitter to worst hitter, but The Book says to employ a different strategy.

It says that a speedy player who doesn’t deserve a spot higher in the lineup would be optimized in the sixth spot in the lineup.  The speed of the player would work well in front of the singles hitters that usually fill out the bottom of most orders.

Using that wisdom, you would put Juan Legares in the six-hole.  Legares has struggled mightily in a 16 plate appearance sample in the majors, but he figures to improve upon his .067/.176/.067 line as he adjusts to the major league game.

Unfortunately, the struggling Davis throws a monkey wrench into this equation, because of the many things he is; singles hitter is not one of them.  Since he is such an all-or-nothing player (at this point anyway), it would make sense to put Davis in the six spot and drop Legares down to seventh.  Legares’ speed will still play well there and the high-strikeout Davis will be less likely to hurt the team by failing to move a runner over because he’s trying to deposit one onto the Shea Bridge every swing.

Eighth and Ninth

Traditionally, you put the worst hitter in the lineup eighth, and then put the pitcher ninth.

The Book flips that around.  The benefit of putting the worst position player ninth is that he can interact with the top of the lineup better than a pitcher can (e.g. – will be on base for the best hitters more).  The Book calculates that this strategy results in two extra runs per year, which may not sound like a lot, but it could be the difference in a ball game.

So it goes whoever’s pitching eighth and Ruben Tejada ninth.

Here’s a comparison of Friday night’s lineup against Atlanta vs. the optimized lineup;

5/3/13 vs. Braves Optimized Lineup
1 Ruben Tejada Mike Baxter
2 Daniel Murphy Lucas Duda
3 David Wright John Buck
4 John Buck David Wright
5 Justin Turner Daniel Murphy
6 Lucas Duda Ike Davis
7 Marlon Byrd Juan Legares
8 Andrew Brown Shaun Marcum
9 Shaun Marcum Ruben Tejada

There are some major differences here, but the benefit of switching to this optimized lineup would be minimal, but significant.  The Book says that going with this optimized lineup would result in an extra 10 to 15 runs per year, roughly translating to one win throughout the course of the season.

Seems like a radical change to only get one extra win for, right?  Well, if Willie Randolph used an optimized lineup in 2007 or Jerry Manuel in 2008, we’d all be reminiscing about the three years in a row that the Mets made the playoffs, and Scott Schoeneweis would just be remembered as another bad Omar Minaya contract, and not as a man we have an irrationally deep-seeded hatred towards.

The name of the game is wins.  If the manager is leaving wins on the table for silly reasons like “this is the way it’s always been done, so we can’t deviate from that”, he is not doing his job as best as he can.

Joe Vasile is a play-by-play announcer and the host of “Ball Four with Joe Vasile” on 91.3 FM WTSR, airing from 12-1 p.m. on Tuesdays.  Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP and check his website out here.

Bobby Parnell and fixing the bullpen

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Mets bullpen is bad.  The pen’s 5.28 ERA is second worst in all of Major League Baseball.  They also rank in the lower half of the league in HR/9 and in the lower quarter in K/9.

While Terry Collins deserves his fair share of the blame for his utterly confusing bullpen management, the modern “norms” of bullpen usage deserve to shoulder at least some of the burden.

What norms do I speak of?  The closer’s role and the silly idea that is engrained in the minds of most baseball folks that he is to be used only in ninth inning save situations.

There is perhaps nothing more detrimental to the functionality of a bullpen than taking your best reliever and pigeon-holing him into only pitching in a certain inning, regardless of game situation.

Before I go and introduce my solution, here’s a quick introduction to the Leverage Index.  The Leverage Index calculates the, well, leverage of the game situation when a reliever is used.  The higher the Leverage, the more important the situation is in the game.  Simple stuff.

That being said, my solution to the Mets bullpen woes is to abolish the closer role altogether.  You simply take the best reliever on the team, in the Mets’ case Bobby Parnell, and make him the ace reliever.  This means that you bring him in for the highest Leverage situations, whenever they may occur.  A lot of times that will be in the ninth inning, sometimes it will be the seventh or eighth.

Jonah Keri explains uses numbers and research to explain this concept very well in his book, Baseball Between the Numbers (page 69):

“Over the span of 2000 to 2004, the median maximum Leverage was 1.66.  Once the game situation has a Leverage exceeding 1.66 – meaning a situation where allowing a run to score has a 66 percent more impact on the likelihood of winning than it did at the start of the game – it becomes one where we should consider bringing the ace [reliever] into the game.”[1]

Reconstructing the Mets bullpen to operate without a set closer might be the best option for the team to get the most out of the limited abilities of this year’s version of the ‘pen.

Collins would have more flexibility when bringing in a reliever, and, more importantly it would allow the team’s best reliever to pitch in the highest leverage situations, helping the team to win more games.

Now this is hardly a new theory; in the 70’s and 80’s the ‘ace reliever’ was used for multiple innings and in these high leverage situations.  Mike Marshall, Bruce Sutter and Dan Quisenberry are examples of pitchers used in this fashion.

It was not until the 90’s when pitchers like Trevor Hoffman, Billy Wagner and Mariano Rivera came along that the closer’s role changed to what we know it to be today.

But has this adherence to silly and arbitrary labels really cost the Mets in terms of wins?  Unfortunately we don’t have to go back too far to get the answer.

Let’s take the April 25 game against the Dodgers.  Please.

As you may recall, the Mets lost that game 3-2 after Scott Rice surrendered two runs in a 1-1 game in the ninth inning (Ike Davis would homer in the bottom of the ninth for the other Met run).  After the Dodgers had taken a 3-1 lead, Terry Collins went to the bullpen to bring in Bobby Parnell to mop up the mess.

But by that time the damage had been done.  Instead of inserting Parnell at the beginning of the inning, when the Leverage Index was 2.26, Collins opted to stick with the inferior Rice because there was no save situation; and heaven forbid you use your closer in a non-save situation.

As a result, Nick Punto doubled, Adrian Gonzalez advanced him to third on a groundout, Matt Kemp was intentionally walked, Andre Ethier singled Punto in, Parnell came in, Juan Uribe drove home Kemp with a base hit, and the inning was ended when Ramon Hernandez grounded into a double play.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, used their best reliever, Kenley Jansen in the eighth inning, the highest leverage situation (1.79 LI heading into the inning, but it escalated to 3.65 by the inning’s end).  Jansen was able to retire the Mets without allowing a run, and ended up getting the win when the Dodgers rallied off Rice in the ninth.  Don Mattingly brought in the second-best available reliever, Proven Closertm Brandon League, to get the save in the bottom of the ninth; a slightly lower leverage situation (1.71 LI).

One could make the argument that even if Parnell had started the ninth, there’s no guarantee that he wouldn’t have allowed the Dodgers to score as well, but one thing is undeniable: Parnell gives the Mets a better chance to win the game than Rice and his 15.1% walk rate and 88 mph fastball does.

The Dodgers won because they used their best reliever when the most was at stake, and the Mets didn’t.

How many games does the Mets bullpen have to blow before something new is tried?  How many times do we have to watch the 7th best reliever on the team surrender a lead in the seventh or eighth because the closer has to be used in a save situation?  Why does Scott Rice have 13.1 innings pitched while the much better Bobby Parnell only has 9.1?  How long does this madness have to go on before it’s over?

Only time will tell.  Until then, here’s to Greg Burke coming in with two on in a tie game in the seventh.

Joe Vasile is the host of “Ball Four with Joe Vasile” on 91.3 FM WTSR in Trenton, airing Tuesdays from 12-1 p.m.  Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.

Defending the struggling Ike Davis

It’s the time of the year when everybody seeks out the guy who seems to be struggling the most, says he sucks, and then calls for him to be traded.  The culprit this year: Ike Davis.

Coming into Sunday’s matchup with the Nationals, Davis owned a .161/.254/.321 slash line and was striking out in 28.6% of his plate appearances.  Pretty ugly numbers, especially when you consider his slow start last season.

This has lead to articles, such as Matt Meyers’ at ESPN New York, claiming Davis as the poor man’s Carlos Pena, and many comments on this site as well as others saying that he has been a disappointment, a chronically slow starter, not a part of the future, and needs to go.

This kind of talk is silly and needs to stop.

Now.

Other than being a complete overreaction to a whopping two weeks worth of games played, it completely ignores the other factors that have hindered Davis’ production.

For exhibit A, I present his 36-game sample in 2011.  Slow starter?  I think not.  A .302/.383/.543 slash in April and parts of May disprove that pretty quickly.  In a more limited sample in 2010, the slash line is very similar.

So, now we come to the case of his terrible start last year.  I am 100% willing to write off last year as a lost season for Davis, ignoring everything that he did, even if the 32 home runs hit help to make my point.

Why?

Davis suffered from a nasty bout of Valley Fever during spring training, a disease that derailed the promising career of recently-retired Conor Jackson, and has been known to be deadly.  As a matter of fact, in the 1950s and 60s, the United States military tried to develop it as a biological weapon, originally as an incapacitant, than later as a lethal weapon.  It is still on the CDC’s list of Biological Select Agents and Toxins.

When that is all taken into consideration, ANY wrong that Davis did at the plate last year could and should be excused (with obvious exceptions being anything mechanical not attributed to the illness).

As for this year, let’s all chill out over a 15-game sample.  If it ends up being mid-May and he’s still hitting like Jeromy Burnitz circa 2002, then there may be reason for legitimate concern, but right now is the time to be calm.

I understand the frustrations with Davis’ production, but if we, as fans, simply give it time, Davis could bloom into the player the Mets hope he can become.

Until then, we’ll have to deal with being frustrated by weak groundouts to second base, line drives that go right at fielders, and a high K-rate.

And for those of you saying Ike can’t hit lefties and is a platoon player at best, may I point you in the direction of a terrific article by Mark Simon, who talks all about Davis’ adventures against southpaws.

Follow Joe Vasile on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.

Daniel Murphy, John Buck and other small sample size stories

Every time I see or hear somebody freak out about how a player is doing early on in the season, I’m reminded of this song.

The incredibly small sample size that we have available to us right now is not enough to tell us anything significant about players and the seasons that they will have.  Here’s a few of the biggest small sample size benefactors/victims on the Mets so far.

Daniel Murphy:  Murphy has started 2013 with a bang, posting a .381/.413/.690 slash line through 11 games.  He is helped greatly by his .389 BABIP.  There is nothing in Murphy’s batted ball profile that suggests that this is even remotely sustainable for any length of time.  As a matter of fact, Murphy’s xBABIP is .293, a number which is actually slightly below his career average.  Expect Murphy to come back to earth a little bit and for the home run power to subside slightly, but still post solid numbers as he regresses back to the mean.

John Buck:  It should come as no surprise that Buck’s early season success is a mirage.  Any time a career .236/.303/.410 hitter posts a .317/.318/.780 slash, there is something up.  Looking at his .217 BABIP, that clearly isn’t the source of his success.  Maybe it’s that pesky 28.6% HR/FB ratio.  Yeah, that’s it.  Buck’s career HR/FB ratio is 12.8%, and the 28.6% mark puts him in Barry Bonds ca. 2003 territory.   It is only a matter of time before Buck turns back into a pumpkin (his batting average has dropped 58 points in the past two games), and Travis d’Arnaud will be here to save us from watching Buck aimlessly whiff at sliders in the dirt every other trip to the plate.

Ruben Tejada:  Finally someone who should actually improve by regressing to the mean.  Tejada’s .294 BABIP is not too far off from the .308 xBABIP that he sports, and a walk rate over 11% would be nice to keep up, although that is unlikely.  Although the offense will likely not improve much, defensive improvements should make Tejada a better player going forward.  Last season, he had a UZR of 0.9, meaning he played average to slightly above average defense at short.  This year, he already has a UZR of -3.0, meaning he has been God awful in a small sample.  Assuming that he improves enough to play scratch defense for the rest of the season, and he keeps hitting the way he is, he could post a WAR of over 2 this season, which would be a first for Tejada.

Ike Davis:  I could have done an entire article on the struggles of Ike Davis and why they are not as big of a deal as people seem to think they are.  Instead, I’ll try and contain myself to one paragraph.  This is an open-and-close case of the BABIP Gods taking out their wrath on Mr. Davis.  His current xBABIP: .309.  His current BABIP: .154!  That, my dear readers, is what is called bad luck.  Has he had some ugly at bats this year?  Yes.  Does that make a lick of difference?  Maybe.  Davis has been looking a little better at the plate over the past few games, and is drawing plenty of walks.  Eventually his luck will change, and the ball will be “hit where they ain’t” and fall in for hits.

Matt Harvey:  I like Harvey as much as the next guy, but to say he’s not due for some struggles is foolish.  He has exactly 13 major league starts under his belt, and his electric performances this season haven’t exactly come against offensive powerhouses.  His WHIP is 0.55, his ERA is 0.82, and opponents sport a .160 OBP against him.  He should have a successful year, but obviously, the pace he is going at now is unrealistic to sustain throughout the season.

Greg Burke:  The sidearming righty has some nice peripheral stats, including 11.12 K/9 and a 1.62 FIP, even though is BB/9 is a high-for-the-bullpen 3.18.  I put him on this list for one reason; his 4.76 ERA.  If Burke can sustain these peripheral stats, which, considering his deceptive motion to the plate and his stuff (particularly his wicked up-chute slider) is possible, that ERA should plummet in the coming weeks.  If that becomes the case, Burke could go on to be what the Mets thought they had in Sean Green.

Follow Joe Vasile on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.

Can Jonathon Niese be an ace?

In a season where there might not be a whole lot to cheer for, outside of the inevitable debuts of Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler and the continued maturation of Matt Harvey, something that Mets fans can take pleasure in is watching homegrown southpaw Jon Niese try to take the next step forward and bring himself into the next tier of starting pitchers.

Over the past three full seasons, we’ve seen Niese take some giant steps forward, improving his stock from fourth starter ceiling to a bona-fide number two starter and de facto ace of the Mets staff.  He has done so by cutting his walk rate from a decent 3.21 BB/9 in 2010, to a stingy 2.32 BB/9 in 2012, while maintaining a strikeout rate of more than seven per nine innings.

The peripheral stats have always, at the major league level, indicated that Niese was a better pitcher than his win-loss record and ERA indicated.

He struggled with incredibly high BABIPs in his first two full seasons, posting a .324 mark in 2010 and .333 in 2011.  For this reason, Niese had never been able to perform close to his FIP or xFIP marks.  For example, in 2011, he posted a 3.38 xFIP, yet his ERA ended up at 4.40.

Last year, however, it all changed for Niese.  Opponents had only a .272 BABIP, his ERA was better than his FIP, and he seemed to finally have everything click.

While it may be easy to simply write this off as luck or regression to the mean (the mean here being the .300 BABIP that serves as the approximate midpoint on the normal distribution), it is likely that a simple change in Niese’s approach is responsible for a significant portion of the improvement.

The most significant change for Niese last season was a lesser dependence on the four-seam fastball and a heavier dependence on the cutter.

In 2011, 54.9% of the pitches Niese threw were four-seamers, and his cutter accounted for 17.2% of pitches.  In 2012, the four-seamer was only used 49% of the time, and the cutter was up to 27.8%.

Good thing too, because last season the cutter went from his worst pitch (-6.9 runs above average according to PITCHf/x) to his best (10.6 runs above average).

To put that in perspective, it was the best cutter in baseball last season by that metric.  The next best belonged to Yu Darvish, whose cutter was valued at 7.3 runs above average.

The increased reliance upon such a dominant pitch could very well be responsible for the giant step forward Niese appeared to take last season, as well as his early season successes in 2013.

If Niese can demonstrate that the success of his cutter last year was no fluke, and can maintain a reasonable BABIP (somewhere in the .285-.305 range), there is no reason to doubt that he can indeed take another step forward in 2013 and become a legitimate ace, instead of just the by-default ace he is now.

For those doubting the possibility of Niese blossoming into an ace, here’s some of Baseball-Reference’s player comparisons for him; Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren, and Roy Halladay.  Not bad company at all.

A farewell to Johan Santana

June 1, 2012 is a night permanently engrained in the memory of all Mets fans.

Just like our parents, or grandparents, or even some of us might remember where they were when Kennedy got assassinated, Mets fans will always remember where they were when Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in franchise history.

For me it was at the Fireplace in Paramus.  I was working that night, on the side of the counter that you couldn’t see the TV from.  When the game first started I glanced over at the television and actually thought, “I bet they get their no-hitter tonight.  I’ll be at work, not able to watch, and they’ll get it.”

I went on working, not paying any attention to the game, just occasionally glancing at the score.

At 9:51 pm I received the following text message from a Yankee fan friend:

“So you guys finally got one.”

I quickly rushed over to the TV, turned off the soccer game that the cooks had put on and switched to SNY.  There was the line score: 8-8-0 for the Mets and 0-0-0 for the Cardinals.

It had finally happened, and I missed all of it, but I didn’t care.  The Mets had finally, after 50 years, thrown a no-hitter, plus I knew I’d be able to see the game for the next 50 years on Mets Classics.

He was never the same pitcher after the no-hitter, earning Terry Collins some undeserved criticism from fans who thought Santana shouldn’t have been allowed to throw 134 pitches, a career high.

Forget that these same fans would probably crucify Collins if he took Santana out and the bullpen allowed a hit.

***

When I speculated in my first piece for Mets 360, “What 2013 holds for Johan Santana,” that he would no longer be a Met in 2014, I expected that he would have one last go-around, one last chance to take the mound at Citi Field, for the fans to show their appreciation for him, and all he’s done for the team.

I was wrong.

Santana’s time as a Met, and perhaps as a major league pitcher, is over.  An MRI showed that Santana has sustained a second tear in the capsule in his throwing shoulder, which will likely require surgery, wiping out the 2013 season for Santana.

This is a somber day for Mets fans, for many of whom Santana occupies a very special place in their hearts.

In his Mets career Santana went 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA, including a league leading 2.53 mark in 2008, his first season in Flushing.  He also posted 7.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and 11.6 fWAR.

Santana also pitched two of the greatest games in Met history.

One was the aforementioned no-no, but the first was arguably even more important.

It was the 2008 season, and the Mets were once again in the process of blowing a division lead.  They needed Santana to beat the Marlins on the second to last day of the season on three days’ rest to live another day.

Coming off a then career high 125 pitches, Santana hurled a gem; limiting the fish to three hits over nine innings, striking out nine and earning a game score of 87.

Oh, and he did that with a torn meniscus in his knee which required surgery after the season.

That game symbolized Santana as a pitcher, and was indicative of the time he spent on the Mets.  He was gutsy.  He was a fiery competitor.  He was great.

But now he’s gone, and all we’re left with are the memories of Santana’s triumphs.

Thanks for the memories, Johan.  We’ll appreciate you more than you’ll ever know.

Follow Joe Vasile on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.

Analysis of the Mets announcers: The historical edition

The following article is the final part of a three-part series analyzing the Mets announcers, and is a joint effort by Charlie Hangley, Jim O’Malley and myself.  The sections on Tim McCarver and Ralph Kiner were written by Jim, Charlie contributed the parts about Lindsey Nelson, Steve Albert, Steve LaMarr and Lorn Brown.  I wrote the sections on Bob Murphy and Fran Healey.  I also compiled all of the contributions and edited them together.  For the other articles in this series click here and here.

You could not have grown up a baseball fan on Long Island and not known that Channel 11 belonged to the Yankees and Channel 9 belonged to the Mets.  Phil Rizzuto belonged to the Yankees but Ralph Kiner belonged to the Mets.

Teamed up with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy, he’s been with the Mets since the beginning.  He always had a story about one of the game’s greats and could always put something that was happening in the game you were watching into historical perspective.  He taught us Baseball History.  It really didn’t matter that sometimes he wouldn’t get the new player’s name right.  He knew who had done it before: Minnie Minoso or Hoyt Wilhelm. After a while, these players were part of what you knew about the game too.

His signature phrase when a homerun was hit was “Going, going, gone…goodbye!”.  When the Mets won, he’d return for the post-game show called “Kiner’s Korner”.  And we’d watch the “happy recap”.  It didn’t matter that sometimes he wouldn’t get his thought completely out.  He didn’t work off a script; he would just read his scorecard and talk about the game.

Even though I only was able to listen to Bob Murphy call Mets games on WFAN for the final three years of his career, he is the reason why I am pursuing a career in sports broadcasting.  The combination of Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen was perhaps the best announcer duo in the major leagues.  Murphy’s smooth and easy delivery and seemingly infinite knowledge of the Mets made even the most mundane games seem important and compelling.  For an 8-year-old me, there was no greater pleasure than turning the radio on in my room to stealthily listen to Murphy call the last few innings of a game after my bed time.

Lindsey Nelson, the third member of the original Mets broadcasting team, was more than a collection of loud sport coats.  Lindsey was a pro’s pro.  He was hired as the “national” (i.e. “recognizable”) voice the Mets needed, to go with the baseball-centric Bob Murphy and requisite ex-jock Ralph Kiner.  Nelson had a distinctive voice and was familiar to anyone who ever listened to or watched a Cotton Bowl game in the 50’s & 60’s.  He was hard-working, researching his subjects thoroughly and embracing every assignment as the privilege it was to be calling it.  Most would say that THE distinctive voice of the Mets belonged to Murphy.  You won’t get an argument from me, but for the first 17 seasons of the Mets’ existence (1962-78), the Mets’ ID was Lindsey Nelson.

Lindsey left the Mets at about the same time everybody else — Tom Seaver, Dave Kingman, Rusty Staub, most of their fans — did, taking over the play-by-play of the San Francisco Giants.  His replacement was a junior member of the broadcasting Royal Family, Steve Albert.  Albert was eager, excitable and tried to be clever.  It didn’t really work:  I found him to be mostly annoying during his four seasons behind the mic, his voice and inflections were a pale imitation of big brother Marv.

At about this time, the decision was made to move Murphy to the radio side full-time and pair him with Steve LaMarr, whose tenure I enjoyed immensely.  His voice was kind of a lower case Vin Scully, his delivery just as smooth.  I could never understand why they didn’t hang onto him.  Meanwhile, joining Kiner on the TV side was the clueless Lorn Brown.  The running joke in ’82 went something like this:  “The answer is ‘ball 3.’  What’s the question?”  “What — according to Lorn Brown — do you call a ball in the dirt on a 1-2 pitch?”  That should be all you need to know about the egregious Mr. Brown.

Luckily for the fans, Brown did not last long in this role.

Tim McCarver came to the Mets just as they were re-emerging as a power house team in the eighties.  His distinctive diagnosis of the game and precise descriptions of what a player or manager was attempting to do was an education in itself.  He spoke to us about the inside game.  What was Davey Johnson trying to do?  Why was Keith Hernandez positioning himself there? Why was Gary Carter calling for a specific series of pitches?  He didn’t just call the players, he tried to tell you why something was going to happen next because of what happened before.

Couple all this with some excruciatingly bad puns and you get a distinctive personality.  An example was how he explained how the shortstop and the second baseman were communicating to each other if the runner at first attempted to steal: if Wally Backman formed and “o” with this mouth and that meant Rafael Santana “you” covered the bag and if Backman closed his lips that meant that he “me” would cover the bag.  From that point on, you could watch them and know what was going to happen.

Sometimes he might have gone on a bit too long but because the Mets were so good, it didn’t matter too much.  He was explaining how some of the best players in the game were playing the game.

A year after McCarver joined the Mets announcing crew, Fran Healy began his 21-year tenure as a color commentator.  How he lasted that long, I will never know.  His coarse, froggy voice led one commenter on Ultimate Mets Database to say, “Not only is he the worst announcer in Mets history, he may be the worst in baseball history. His voice has the effect of a fork on a chalkboard, only sometimes it is a lot worse.”  While that may be a bit harsh, Healy was almost universally hated by the fan base, and rarely – if ever – offered actually intelligent analysis of what was going on.

In a moment that perfectly summed up his abilities as a commentator, he once suggested that if there was nobody covering second base on a steal attempt, that the catcher should throw the ball into centerfield.  The only entertaining part about Healy was the obvious tension between him and Keith Hernandez in the waning years of Healy’s employment with the Mets.  Luckily for the eardrums, and sanity, of Mets fans everywhere, Healy was not brought over to SNY, where the Mets’ crew of Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Hernandez has blossomed into one of the best in the bigs.

Follow Joe Vasile on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP and Charlie Hangley at @CharlieHangley.

Who should be David Wright’s replacement?

According to doctors, David Wright suffered a strained intercostal muscle in his rib cage while carrying the country on his back playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and will be re-evaluated after three to five days rest.

Manager Terry Collins is not optimistic about Wright’s chances of playing on opening day, citing a similar injury sustained by Daniel Murphy in February, which he has yet to fully recover from.

Collins noted that the team will look internally for options to fill the void at third base.  Leading candidates include Zach Lutz, Brian Bixler, Brandon Hicks and Justin Turner, who is battling his own injury problems.

Perhaps the most intriguing option of the bunch is Lutz (if by intriguing, we mean the one that can hit).

All jokes aside, Lutz may be the Mets’ best option as a replacement for Wright.  Already 26 years old, Lutz has been posting gaudy numbers at AAA over the past few seasons.

Last year Lutz hit at a .299/.410/.496 mark in 72 games at Buffalo, posting a very impressive 14.3% walk rate.  In 2011 he posted a 1.014 OPS at AAA.

Minor league numbers like that are usually enough to earn a player a spot on the roster, but Lutz has the misfortune of being a corner infielder, so he is blocked at third and first by David Wright and Ike Davis, respectively.

The fact that Lutz has struggled with injuries hasn’t helped either; 2012 was the first season Lutz eclipsed 70 games played since 2009.

Unlike Reese Havens, however, Lutz’s injury problems haven’t hampered his ability to flat out hit.

While he’ll never be a superstar power hitter, Lutz undeniably has a higher ceiling than Turner, Bixler or Hicks.

For this reason, Lutz deserves to go north with the team and open up the season at the hot corner, assuming he can stay healthy for the last two weeks of spring training.

In a season which the Mets will not realistically contend, it is better to give Lutz a chance to show what he has at the major league level, and possibly accrue some trade value.

If Lutz can perform well in Wright’s absence, it would not be surprising to see Sandy Alderson shop him around in exchange for outfield help, much like he did with Jefry Marte when he swapped him for Collin Cowgill.  The difference here is that if Lutz can prove he can hit in the majors, he could bring back more value than the less-experienced Marte.

This is a make or break season for Lutz and the Mets.  If the team is to get any value out of him, be it on the field or in a trade, it is imperative for him to be the opening day third baseman.