Curtis Granderson: The lone bright spot

Flores GrandersonIt’s no secret that the Mets offense has been terrible for the better part of the season, and that deficiency has only been magnified over the past few weeks. In the past seven games entering play Thursday, the Mets hit .193/.278/.278 as a team, with a .249 wOBA.  That’s an almost historically bad week at the plate.

What’s worse, is that that includes the 3-3 with a double performance from Steven Matz in his Major League debut.  The lone saving grace of the Mets offense this week was the much-maligned Curtis Granderson.

Granderson had one of his best weeks as a Met, hitting .370/.433/.667, clubbing two home runs in the process. His recent streak of success has lifted his season totals to .254/.349/.436 with 13 home runs and a .345 wOBA.

Given the vitriol that Granderson has garnered over his Mets career he is putting together a solid season, and on the list of Mets problems he should not even be an afterthought. As we’ve seen this week, there are far greater issues to deal with than Granderson not fully living up to the $60 million contract he signed.

So in a silver lining in what has become yet another unbearable stretch of Mets baseball, Granderson’s hot streak has saved the team from being an even bigger offensive disaster.  The activation of Daniel Murphy from the disabled list should add some form of punch, but it likely won’t be enough to bail out the Mets’ ship as it sinks.

Jacob deGrom continues to be the light in the Mets’ darkness

New York Mets play the New York Yankees in New YorkIn April when the Mets were still mostly healthy and the season was young, the club rattled off an 11-game winning streak, seemingly announcing its presence as a legitimate contender in the National League East.  But circumstances, as they often do, have changed.  With Curtis Granderson no longer producing at high levels and a disabled list that fields a better team than the actual active roster, the Mets sit at .500: 37-37.

One of the few constants this season has been Jacob deGrom; who despite poor outings against the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs at the end of April and the start May; has been fantastic in improving upon the success of his 2014 Rookie of the Year campaign. I broke down deGrom’s continued success in 2015 at Beyond the Box Score two weeks ago.

Heading into Thursday’s matinee with the Milwaukee Brewers, things seemed to have hit rock bottom for the Mets. They were riding a seven-game losing streak, calls for both Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson’s respective heads were at a zenith, and like Matt Netter wrote here earlier this morning, it was make or break time for the Mets season.

DeGrom blocked out the noise and delivered a splendid performance, tossing eight shutout innings, striking out seven while not walking a batter and allowing just four hits.  The performance lowered his season ERA to 2.15.

In a league filled with great pitching, deGrom is one of the best.  His 59 ERA- is sixth-best in the NL, while he’s second to only Max Scherzer with a 69 FIP-.  For those unfamiliar with “-” index stats, 100 is league average, and each point lower is one percent better than average (i.e.- deGrom’s ERA is 41 percent better than league average).

Without deGrom in the rotation, the Mets season could look starkly different, and it’s easy to overlook his accomplishments in the wake of a disappointing stretch for the team.  They are by no means out of the muck simply because of his mastery Thursday afternoon – a bat needs to come from somewhere – but right now deGrom gives the Mets their best chance to win every five days, and that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Can the new Bobby Parnell still be effective?

Bobby ParnellThere was a time a few years ago when Bobby Parnell was half-lovingly nicknamed Captain Fastball.  He could bring the heat – reaching over 100 mph on the gun – but had problems with control and being hittable.  As the now well-known story goes, Jason Isringhausen taught him the knuckle-curve and from that point on, Parnell took off.

After Tommy John Surgery in 2014, he is now back in the majors, and is yet to allow a run in three innings, despite being battered around in his rehab assignments.  His velocity is also noticeably down.  According to Brooks Baseball data, His fastball sits at 94.1 mph, after it was at 96.1 in his last full-season in 2013.  Parnell has also lost two miles per hour off of the curve.

As Mike Fast at The Hardball Times uncovered in 2011, one mph on the fastball at higher velocities corresponds with approximately 0.20 runs allowed per nine innings. Parnell’s RA/9 in 2013 was 3.06, meaning that if the velocity dip holds (which it likely will, as velocity stabilizes very quickly) we can expect that number to jump to the ballpark of 3.46.

That difference might not seem like a large bump on the surface, but with the Mets’ lackluster offense the question of whether you want Parnell to be trusted to get outs in high leverage situations is an important one.

More in the past five years than ever before, pitchers have returned from Tommy John to have success, but there are still risks associated with the surgery.  He should still be able to continue to be an effective relief pitcher, but it’s hard to envision him regularly closing games in the future.

Darryl Kile: The last man to no-hit the Mets

Darryl KileWhen Chris Heston no-hit the Mets Tuesday night, it was the first time that the Mets lineup didn’t record a hit since September 8, 1993.  The streak was the fifth-longest streak in Major League baseball, with only the Cubs, Athletics, Reds, and Red Sox having gone longer without a goose egg in the hit column.

The no-no was thrown by a then 24-year-old Darryl Kile pitching for the Houston Astros, then of the National League West.  The Mets lineup at the Astrodome that day featured a young Jeromy Burnitz and Jeff Kent, an old Eddie Murray, and Joe Orsulak batting cleanup. Butch Huskey was making his MLB debut.

It took Kile only 83 pitches to complete the no-hitter, meaning it was a Maddux – a complete game where the pitcher throws fewer than 100 pitches.

A single walk in the fourth inning – drawn by shortstop Jeff McKnight is all that stood between Kile and perfection. McKnight also scored a run in that trip around the bases, when Kile uncorked a wild pitch, and McKnight was able to get to third base, then score on an error by first baseman Jeff Bagwell on the same play. So pretty much your run-of-the-mill two-base wild pitch and E3 to score a run.

Houston Astros blog Crawfish Boxes remembered the no-no in an article last year:

“Kile was also the beneficiary of some spectacular defensive plays behind him, though. Ken Caminiti manning the hot corner and Andujar Cedeno at shortstop made back-to-back plays on hard hit balls in the top of the seventh inning to preserve Kile’s no-hitter.”

The win would improve Kile’s record to 15-6 in the first of his three All-Star campaigns.  His career, of course would come to a premature and tragic halt on June 22, 2002, when Kile was found deceased in his hotel room as the St. Louis Cardinals prepared to square off against the Chicago Cubs.

A teary-eyed Joe Girardi, then a catcher for the Cubs took the field a few minutes after the first pitch had been scheduled and delivered one of the most chilling on-field moments in baseball history.

“We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinals family,” Girardi began. “That the commissioner has cancelled the game today.”

The crowd sat in silence.  Girardi could not announce the nature of the tragedy, as Kile’s wife, Flynn, didn’t know of Darryl’s passing.

Kile, who died at age 33 from two coronary arteries which were 90% blocked.  His father died young at age 44 from a similar condition. Kile was the first active-duty major leaguer to die since Thurman Munson in 1979.

Kile had a nice career, with successful stays in Houston and St. Louis sandwiched around two bad years with the Colorado Rockies.  He was by all reports a good person, and both the Astros and Cardinals award the Darryl Kile Good Guy Award to the player who best exemplifies Kile’s characteristics: a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father, and a humble man.

Nearly thirteen years have passed since the Kile tragedy, so let us use the no-hitter thrown by Heston as a way to remind us of the legacy of a good ballplayer, and a great man.

Michael Cuddyer heating up, but offense needs more

Michael CuddyerThree short weeks ago, Michael Cuddyer was being left for dead.  He didn’t look particularly good at the plate, and the results backed that up – through May 18th, Cuddyer was hitting .239/.295/.355 in 37 games.  The two-year contract he signed during the offseason where the Mets surrendered a first-round draft pick was looking worse and worse each game.

In the 12 games Cuddyer has played since, he has raked to the tune of a .372/.449/.581 line, raising his season numbers to a much more respectable .271/.333/.409.  The power and on-base numbers are slightly below the 36-year-old’s career numbers, but they are trending in the right direction.

At first glance, Cuddyer’s hitting line may appear to be lackluster, but when you take into account that the average left fielder in Major League Baseball is hitting .250/.312/.393, we see that Cuddyer has performed six percent better offensively than average at his position.  Throughout the course of 600 plate appearances, Cuddyer is on pace to create 10 more runs than the league average left fielder.  We know that those 10 runs roughly correlates to one win during the course of the season.

The danger of extrapolating like this, of course, is that it assumes Cuddyer will continue to produce at the same level – for better or worse – as he has through the first part of the season. For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that that does hold true.

Does this additional win contributed by Cuddyer make the $21 million he received this offseason worth it? With the cost of one win above replacement on the open market being in the range of $5-9 million, depending on your source, the answer appears for now to be yes. Remember that the average player is worth about two wins above replacement, pegging Cuddyer’s projected value as three WAR this season.

The question of surrendering the 15th overall draft pick being worth it largely comes down to how each individual’s subjective value of the pick.  In signing Cuddyer, the Mets firmly planted themselves in win-now mode, which means the pick takes on less value in their mind.  Prospect-enamored fans might point to that and balk at giving up a minor league piece for a veteran on the downside of his career.

One thing is certain, and is that the Mets are a team desperately in need of offense from wherever they can get it from.  Entering this season, Cuddyer was going to be relied on to be a big part of the team’s offense, and he got out of the gate slow.  That he’s begun to pick it up over the past two weeks should help, but the Mets are going to need a lot more than just him.

All stats current as of June 4th and are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Joe Vasile is the Assistant GM and Voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League.

Power finally showing up in the bats of Lucas Duda, others

Lucas DudaAfter a slow start to the season in the power department, Mets hitting coach Kevin Long said that he wasn’t worried, and the home runs would come.

And come they have.

Over the past seven days, Mets hitters have clobbered 10 home runs, tied for fifth-most in baseball in that time.  Lucas Duda has five alone, Michael Cuddyer – who everyone was writing off for dead a week ago – has two, and Ruben Tejada, Wilmer Flores and Noah Syndergaard have one each.

For a team that has been so offensively challenged for the first part of the 2015 season, this most recent development is encouraging to say the least. Let’s just hope they can keep it going.
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Hansel Robles needs a bigger role in the bullpen

Hansel RoblesSince his call up from Triple-A Las Vegas on April 25th, Mets reliever Hansel Robles has proven to be deserving of a spot in a major league bullpen.  For the most part he has come in in low-leverage situations and has excelled.

He is striking out 10.57 batters-per-nine, and issuing 2.35 walks-per-nine.  Robles throws gas, averaging 95.3 miles per hour with the fastball, paired with a mid-80s slider.

But Robles, who thus far has proven to be a better pitcher than either Carlos Torres or Buddy Carlyle, has not been used by Mets manager Terry Collins since Monday.  If nothing else, he has proven to be deserving of some more challenging assignments.

Of the eight games in which Robles has appeared, six of them are qualified as low-leverage outings, meaning the pressure on Robles to perform was low in the context of the game. Especially with a young reliever, after thy prove to be effective in low-leverage spots, the time to challenge them with higher leverage assignments comes.

Now with Carlos Torres getting Fernando Nieve-like work out of the bullpen, Robles’ time to step up into a bigger role – if only temporary – has come.  Collins, who is not a great bullpen manager, would be wise to start to shift innings he would normally give Torres to Robles.

Gut Reaction: Mets 2, Cardinals 1 (14)

The Mets won their third straight game, this time over the St. Louis Cardinals behind strong pitching from their ace Matt Harvey.  Lucas Duda came through with an RBI single in the fourth inning to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. Jeurys Familia came into the game to try to get the save in the ninth, but could not, suffering his first blown save of the season. John Mayberry Jr. came through with the walk off infield single in the bottom of the 14th inning.

  • After seven shutout innings and 97 pitches, Terry Collins had to decide whether or not to leave Harvey in the game. He left him in. The gamble paid off.
  • With the eight scoreless innings tonight, Harvey now has a streak of 16 consecutive scoreless innings and no wins to show for it. Harvey appears to seemingly be taking the cause to #KillTheWin by himself.
  • The game was the first extra inning game of the season for the club, becoming the last team in the MLB to play extra innings.
  • Kirk Nieuwenhuis is still bad. Erik Goeddel is still good.
  • Dos Torreses pitched well in the extra frames, hurling 3 1/3 shutout innings combined.

Despite results, Lucas Duda still needs help against lefties

Lucas DudaDuring the offseason, it was frequently brought up that Mets first baseman Lucas Duda has been a dreadful hitter against left-handed pitching throughout his career.  This was first mentioned when speaking of a need to acquire a platoon partner for Duda, and then once Michael Cuddyer and John Mayberry Jr. signed, the idea of a platoon with those three was floated.

Now those critics have been silenced somewhat, with Duda coming out of the gate strong against southpaws, posting a .456 wOBA in his first 38 plate appearances against lefties.  While the results have been great thus far, but Duda is far from having solved his woes against lefties and could probably still use a platoon partner.

Background

We know from The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin that a sample size large enough to give us a reliable result for the prediction of a left-handed batter’s skill against a left-handed pitcher is 1,000 plate appearances.  That is to say, that at 1,000 PA, a lefty’s skill against same-handed pitching would be from 50% skill level and 50% league average factors.

In 2015 in nearly 2,900 PA, left-handed batters have posted a collective .295 wOBA against left-handed pitching.  We will use this as our league average wOBA for all calculations moving forward for several reasons. The first is that the sample size is more than sufficient to determine the number’s accuracy. The second is that FanGraphs doesn’t combine year-to-year league average stats, and the yearly variations in the wOBA formula make it beyond my abilities to come up with a true average of multi-year samples.

Determining True Talent

Duda’s .456 wOBA against lefties comes 1.9% from his actual skill level, and 98.1% from the league average.  What this means is that Duda is due for a substantially large regression back toward the mean of his true talent level.  The question then remains what is Duda’s true talent against left-handed pitching?

By running a quick regression on Duda’s stats from this year, we get that his true talent level is that of a .298 wOBA hitter.  We can reasonably expect that from this point on in the season, that Duda will see his wOBA against lefties regress toward that .298 mark. If he receives the same number of PA against lefties in 2015 as he did in 2014 (125), we can expect his wOBA to end up somewhere close to .346.

Of course, working with small sample sizes such as we have been is usually not a good thing.  To get a greater snapshot of Duda’s true talent against left-handers, we will now look at his career wOBA against lefties and regress that to get a better handle on his true talent.  In Duda’s career, he has amassed 507 PA against lefties, and owns a .289 wOBA.

Through this regression, we are able to estimate Duda’s wOBA skill against lefties to be .293.  Using the same set of circumstances as two paragraphs ago, we can more accurately estimate that Duda’s end of year wOBA against lefties to be .342.

While that is nothing to scoff at in terms of an end-of-season result, it is of little value when trying to predict future performance. There is very little reason to believe – outside of the eye test – for us to think that Duda’s skill has changed at all against lefties, he’s just been getting more lucky relative to the league average.

Conclusion

Moving forward, we should expect Lucas Duda to have a wOBA skill of approximately .293 against left-handed pitching.  In the 2014 season, six players with enough at bats to qualify for the batting title posted a wOBA from .290 to .296: Xander Bogaerts, Austin Jackson, DJ LaMahieu, Jason Castro, Elvis Andrus, and Adeiny Hechavarria. Not exactly offensive juggernauts.

If we can expect Duda for the rest of this season, and for future seasons moving forward to be a .293 wOBA hitter against lefties a platoon mate must be found. They might already have that player on the roster in Mayberry or Cuddyer, or he might be waiting in the minor leagues.  Maybe it is a trade acquisition or a free agent.  With a team that already possesses such a dearth of offense, weakening the lineup further by having Duda in the middle of it against a lefty is not an option.

Joe Vasile is the Assistant GM and Radio Broadcaster for the Fayetteville SwampDogs. He also is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score.  Follow him on Twitter:

Gut Reaction: Phillies 3, Mets 1 (5/8/14)

Matt Harvey was not his usual dominant self, allowing three runs to the rival Philadelphia Phillies in six innings, getting tagged with his first career loss against the Phillies.  Ryan Howard looked like the dangerous hitter of old, going 2-3 with a home run, 2 RBIs and a walk.

  • Jonathan Papelbon came on to get the save in the ninth, and Daniel Murphy reached to lead off the inning to bring the tying run to the plate.
  • After Dilson Herrera led of the top of the third with a double, Terry Collins asked Harvey to bunt him over rather than swing the bat.  Harvey couldn’t do it and the Mets failed to score. Another reason not to bunt.
  • The Mets bats looked sluggish, perhaps effected by the second off day of the week, perhaps by being lulled into a false sense of security against the hapless Phillies.
  • Cole Hamels’ win was the first he registered against the Mets since the 2012 season.

Bartolo Colon’s dominance overshadows historic pace of Mets staff

Bartolo Colon 2At 42 years old, Bartolo Colon’s career is in its third act. Act one featured a young flamethrower with the Cleveland Indians, the Montreal Expos, the Chicago White Sox and the Anaheim-then-Los Angeles Angels. It was in this opening act that Colon was crowned the American League Cy Young Award winner in 2005 after going 21-8 for the Angels.

Act two was more melodramatic. Colon was often injured, and ineffective when healthy. After making 29 appearances over two years with the Angels following the Cy Young season, he moved on to a seven-game stint with the Boston Red Sox in 2008, and tossed 12 games for the White Sox in 2009.  He was all but finished as he was out of baseball for the 2010 season.

Act three began in the Bronx in 2011, when Colon resurfaced with the New York Yankees, pitching well enough to make 29 appearances (26 starts) and posting a FIP under 4.00 for the first time in a half-dozen years.  He had notably gained weight in his absence from the game, and had reportedly undergone a stem cell treatment in his rotator cuff and elbow.  That procedure was deemed permissible by Major League Baseball.

A pair of one-year contracts with the Oakland Athletics led Colon to upping with the Mets for two years prior to the 2014 season.  Now at an age where most pitchers have already hung up the cleats, Colon only seems to be getting stronger.  After registering his fifth win of the season against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday, Colon deservedly began to garner national attention for his performance.

What most of those reports failed to mention, was that it is not only Colon posting staggering numbers this season – it is the entire Mets pitching staff. Without a doubt, the Mets have had the best pitching staff in baseball so far. In fact, with a team history so rich in terrific pitching, this year’s staff is performing at a level rarely seen in baseball history.

Much of the praise directed at Colon centers around his incredible 34 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which would smash the record currently held by Phil Hughes of the Minnesota Twins who had an 11.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2014.

As a team in 2014, the Mets staff has the fewest number of walks in all of baseball, issuing just 52 free passes through 28 games.  The team’s 1.91 walks-per-nine is the best in baseball with the Chicago Cubs staff in a distant second place at 2.19 walks-per-nine.  The team-wide 4.23 strikeout-to-walk ratio is once again the best, with the Cubs again being in second with 3.89.

Both the team walks-per-nine and strikeout-to-walk ratios would smash team records, set in 1988 at 2.53 and 1990 at 2.74, respectively. In the live ball era, only four teams have had better walks-per-nine numbers: the 1933 Cincinnati Reds (1.70), the 1920 Pittsburgh Pirates (1.78), the 1932 Cincinnati Reds (1.78), and the 1920 New York Giants (1.90).

Major League baseball teams have recorded better strikeout-to-walk ratios 19 times, all coming from 1877-1884.  In those days it took eight (!) balls to walk a batter, although in 1884 the National League reduced that number to six.

In all likelihood, the Mets pitchers are not going to continue on this other-worldly trajectory for the duration of the season. It is intriguing, though, given that strikeout and walk rates are the quickest statistics to normalize. Going into the season, the pitching was said to be the Mets strong point, but nobody quite could’ve expected this.

Joe Vasile is the Assistant General Manager and Voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs.

Judging Kevin Long’s performance as hitting coach

Kevin LongThe extent to which a coach really impacts the results on the field is often discussed, and usually no conclusion is made one way or the other.  One camp asserts that coaches make the philosophical, motivational and physical adjustments to get the most out of players, and the other retorts the players will play how they play regardless of coaching.

While it is true that good players make a coach look good, great coaching can have a great and measurable impact on individuals and teams. With great coaching, one can go from wild college reliever with an ERA over nine in Division II ball and no scouts paying attention to you in May, to pitching in Rookie Ball for the New York Yankees in June.[1]

When the Mets hired Kevin Long, for years revered as one of the top hitting instructors in Major League Baseball, to be their hitting coach during the offseason, the move was largely lauded.  If anyone could muster the maximum amount of punch out of the seemingly mediocre lineup that the Mets have, it was Long.

Some were quick to dismiss Long’s past success, owing to it coming in Yankee Stadium, one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the MLB.  Additionally, when Robinson Cano and prime Curtis Granderson are in your lineup, it’s easy to look good.

Coming over to the much more pitcher-friendly confines of Citi Field would prove a challenge for Long, even with the now twice moved-in fences.  As we now flip the calendar page to May, it seems a good time to evaluate Long’s performance.

Consider the table below, which accounts for all Mets hitting during the months of March/April in the Sandy Alderson era (2011-2015). Pitchers have been excluded from the data.  The 2015 data excludes the 8-2 loss to the Washington Nationals Thursday night, as the numbers on FanGraphs have not been updated as of this writing.

Year PA HR R SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
2015 762 16 94 10 9.30% 16.40% 0.130 0.283 0.250 0.326 0.380 0.313 102 3.5
2014 953 16 106 25 9.20% 23.00% 0.104 0.290 0.231 0.309 0.335 0.289 86 1.5
2013 926 26 116 12 9.80% 20.60% 0.162 0.278 0.239 0.317 0.401 0.315 103 3.2
2012 836 18 89 6 10.00% 22.10% 0.128 0.347 0.278 0.353 0.407 0.333 113 3.2
2011 970 23 116 21 8.80% 19.30% 0.148 0.295 0.252 0.324 0.400 0.318 102 2.4

A few things immediately jump out here.  One is that the great success in the 2012 season was driven by an incredibly high .347 team BABIP through the first month of the season.  That is pretty obviously fluky, confirmed by the team finishing the season with a .301 BABIP.  So, take the 2012 slash line with a grain of salt.

Another thing that sticks out is how awful the offense was to begin the 2014 season.  Though that is the reason Dave Hudgens was fired, so it shouldn’t be that much of a shock.

The last thing is how noticeably things have improved year-over-year with Long as the hitting coach.  In fact, one could make the argument that this is the best offensive start the Mets have gotten since the 2011 season – a squad featuring Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and a pre-ankle injury and Valley Fever Ike Davis.

There is nothing in the numbers to suggest that the Mets as a team are getting overwhelmingly lucky, nor is there a reason to believe that they can’t at very least sustain their current level of offense throughout the season.  As the David Wrights and Travis d’Arnauds of the world return from injuries, others will likely slow down or go down in some kind of proportion.

The encouraging thing with this club is that while they have been slightly more aggressive this year than during the Hudgens era, they have decreased their O-Swing % leading to an increase in Contact %.  This has led to an increase in balls in play, and explains how with virtually the same number of home runs and a fall off in BABIP, the team batting average has increased nearly 20 points.

Long doesn’t deserve all of the credit for the improvement – the addition of Michael Cuddyer, a non-slumping Granderson, and a somewhat productive Wilmer Flores have all helped – but Long’s fingerprints are all over the renaissance. Strikeouts are down without sacrificing walk rate. Even when making outs, the team is driving the ball with authority.

If the Mets are going to make a run at the playoffs, Long is going to need to keep producing results like this.

Joe Vasile is the voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs of the Coastal Plain League.

 


[1] Right-handed pitcher Deshorn Lake had a 9.72 ERA at the University of Mount Olive in 2014. He came for the Fayetteville SwampDogs at the end of May, where pitching coach J.D. Jackson altered his approach to pitching. By June 28th, Lake signed a professional contract with the New York Yankees and debuted in the Gulf Coast League in July.