About this time last year, we were still reveling in the remarkable season that Rookie-of-the-Year Pete Alonso had, led by a remarkable barrage of 53 HR, which set a rookie record and led the major leagues. I decided to analyze each at bat leading to all 53 of Alonso’s home runs. Much to my surprise, he covered a lot of the plate, in particular the outer half, and from low to up in the zone. What looked like a hole was the inner part of the plate, although perhaps this was him being pitched away more than his inability to cover the inner half. Although the 2020 season classifies as “unusual” relative to any major-league season any of us can recall, it was still worth the effort to review the 16 home runs Alonso had in 2020.
Like last year, I watched each home run pitch multiple times in order to see the entire context of the pitch he hit out. In 2020, SNY displayed a K-zone box (much to my viewing unhappiness, but great for this work), making charting the location a lot easier. Like with my previous analysis, this article will feature a five-zone map to locate pitches (inner upper, inner lower, outer upper, outer lower, and middle middle) instead of the conventional 3×3 matrix. Factors looked at include the pitcher throwing arm, count, home v. away, NL v. AL, and inning the HR occurred. Unlike last year, pitches leading up to the home run were not considered. Part of the goal is to see what, if anything, changed from 2019 to 2020 seasons.
Comparing these two seasons is of course difficult for obvious reasons, but also because the numbers are quite imbalanced. Everyone could see the outward frustration with Alonso’s at-bats in 2020, with a tendency to chase outside, even way outside, to the point he looked like a minor leaguer. Interestingly, Alonso was on pace to have 30 or so fewer strike outs in a projected 2020 full season relative to 2019. So many of the at bats looked like he was totally lost, which magnified the agony to watch, but a strike out is a strike out. Other things were really similar, too, on an adjusted basis including games played and at bat totals.
As the accompanying figure shows, and unlike last year, nearly 60% of Alonso’s home runs in 2020 came on pitches to the inner half of the plate. There is clearly no concern whether Alonso can cover the inner half, he can. Similar to last year, his home runs came equally in both the upper and lower part of the strike zone against fastballs and breaking pitches. He hit about 70% of the homers in 2020 against right-handed pitchers, which is similar to 2019. Nearly two-thirds of Alonso’s homers came against NL pitching. He hit one more home run on the road than at Citi Field.
Some aspects of his home run at-bats in 2020 caught me a little by surprise. In 2019, Alonso hit the most home runs in the first inning (first at bat), followed by an even distribution in later at-bats. By comparison, Alonso was most prolific in the middle innings in 2020, hitting 50% of his dingers in innings 4-6 (second and third at bats) with an even distribution between his first and last at bats. Alonso continues to be most homer proficient seeing fewer pitches in an at-bat, with 80% coming with fewer than four pitches, and nearly 50% coming on a 0 – 0 count. He clearly was hunting first pitches. This expands a bit further to count, where he was much most effective on even counts (this was biased by seven of 16 HR coming on 0 – 0) or ahead in the count.
It is sort of easy to drop the hammer on Alonso’s sophomore season relative to his 2019 Rookie-of-the-Year campaign, especially in light of the “breakout” season by Dominic Smith. However, Alonso still had a pretty solid effort despite looking like he was pressing non-stop for the magic of 2019. He was on track for a 43 HR season and the accompanying RBIs. Yes, there was a more than 100-point drop in OPS, but he still finished with 123 OPS+. I would have been ok with that OPS+ and adjusted “on-pace” numbers. Alonso mashes homers at home, on the road, against lefty or righty pitching, up or low in the zone, and on the inner and outer half of the plate. That is a weapon this team needs. My reading is that it is not time to bail on Alonso in any way.
We’ve reached that time in the hot stove season where real news is a bit hard to come by, which leads to rampant speculation about personnel for next season or picking apart details from last season. Even in Queens, where we have. Anew owner and made a move for the pen, there is still a lot of work to be done in the next 60 days or so. The charm of new ownership will never go away – we all know Steve Cohen has plenty of cash to take the team in a variety of directions, but there is not much concrete yet to analyze in terms of the 2021 season. Still a few recent things could use some thought.
The meltdown in Philadelphia has me mesmerized. Sure, the team took a hit with attendance like all other teams, but even with a quite high payroll of $177M, players had prorated salaries and only about $100M payrolls in 2016-2018. The impression fans have been told is that the Phillies were in strong shape to start spending big time, as the acquisition of Bryce Harper intimated. Are there more financial issues than we all thought?
Two things about the status in Philadelphia could play into the Mets hands. First, and about which much has already been debated, is the free agency of J.T. Realmuto. It hardly seems a team with simmering financial issues would all the sudden turn around and dump the fortune it is going to take to bring back Realmuto. Although the Phillies finished a shade above the Nationals and Mets, there wasn’t a lot to be excited about such that making a huge catcher investment would take priority of fixing a rotten bull pen that was reminiscent of the 2019 Mets bull pen. While the Mets seem to be focusing on James McCann, it seems reasonable to expect that Sandy Alderson and Cohen have his number easy to find.
A second thing that is breaking now stems from a controversial report by Buster Olney indicating that the Phillies may be listening about trades for Zack Wheeler. Although the Phillies owner later said he wouldn’t trade Wheeler for Babe Ruth, it is fair to imagine that all this reads more like a story about the Wilpon-led Mets of yesteryear. Deep down we always knew the crazy stories, whatever they were, had more than a kernel of truth backing them. It is interesting to imagine what a trade for Wheeler might look like for a pitcher with 4 years and near $100M left on a deal. Even if this is all errant hogwash, the question remains, would the Mets eat all the contract and part with talent if that was on the table, whether it be Wheeler and the Phillies or some other starting pitcher? My guess nearly every Mets fan reading this would add the battery of Wheeler and Realmuto without even considering it further.
Unrelated to all this, and which caught my attention from the personnel perspective, was the recent mock draft results by Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo for MLB.com. In the mock draft, Callis got the Mets at position 10, and took prep center fielder James Wood (IMG Academy, Florida), who is presently committed to Mississippi State University. In a quick digging through scouting reports from a couple of places, if the 18-year-old, 6-foot 6-inch, 230-pound Wood made it to the Mets, they would be crazy to pass on him. I know the general rule is to draft the best you can regardless of position, but this would seem like a case to get a desperately needed super-projectable talent into the system at a position the team has lacked in, well, forever. Although Winter Meetings are cancelled, the time to start seeing big moves is now at our doorstep, and all the talk about major player moves, in association with a vaccine for Covid-19 makes me think an exciting first year for the Cohen-Alderson duo with actual baseball fans in the stands could be reality.
Funny where inspiration comes from sometimes. After pondering a number of topics worth spending time researching and writing about, my best friend – and consummate life-long Mets fan – asked me what my thoughts were on the top five moves that new owner Steve Cohen has to make in remaking the team. Not even a full day into the job Cohen deserves a lot of credit for making a move I did not see on the horizon, but needs to be lauded for, by restoring full salaries for Mets employees. Few things will garner ground-up enthusiasm than caring for your people. Of course, the talk of hiring Sandy Alderson was on the docket well before closing on the team Friday, and almost certainly was critical in greasing the skids to get buy-in from the “ownership class.” Given these are done, let’s move on from them.
1. Take stock of the team. Cohen just laid out $2.4 billion for this team, so before doing anything significant just because he is wealthy, Cohen and his confidants need to take full stock of all aspects of the team from hospitality to dealing with Robinson Cano. With Alderson as a trusted leader now, he needs to appraise all aspects of the baseball side of the team. How long will it take to do this? I would guess with all the parallel activities that must also go on, probably a month or two to get to situational awareness, but much longer in reality. Having experience running a big outfit, Cohen almost certainly will be able to begin to see the internal business side of the team pretty quickly in order to eliminate the rot, and begin to reshape for his purpose. Alderson should be able to take stock of the big-league team and the pipeline, but much has changed in the two years he has been gone. In all of this, the byline should be “don’t panic.”
2. Begin to manage personnel decisions. After Cohen understands the state of the team he just bought, he and Alderson need to begin addressing personnel moves. Focusing on the baseball side of the team, a critical decision will be dealing with the search for a general manager. Most folks think that it is time to move on from the Brodie Van Wagenen experiment, a decision I am in complete agreement with. Regardless of the status of player and coaching personnel, a general manager that has the full confidence of Cohen and Alderson needs to be in place. The trade for Edwin Diaz and Cano was so bad, along with signing of Jed Lowrie, that there simply is no way Van Wagenen can remain in charge. Add the terrible clubhouse and media relations, and all that remains is burnt embers. With declining the options for Frazier and Ramos and making a qualifying offer to Marcus Stroman, there is no need for panic moves between the lines until the general manager his brought on. A new GM needs to be a baseball master, equally comfortable shifting from advanced scouting to advanced analytics. More than one beat writer has mentioned that the analytics staff will see a major growth with new ownership. Without doubt, this should be done before making a number of player personnel moves. On that front, all doors should be open to improve the team once a plan is in place. Alderson once wanted to build a perennial winner; now is his chance, but it will not happen without a clear plan.
3. Develop a “Mets Way.” In the past, especially with the hiring of Van Wagenen, there was a thought that he would usher in a bottom-to-top overhaul of the team resulting in the consistent messaging across all levels needed to make sure players are being guided by strong principles. That did not happen. In the panic to fulfill the errant notion that this team was in a “win now” state, Van Wagenen robbed and pillaged the system, with no obvious plan beyond the next game, such that we have a pile up of talent in multiple positions and emptiness at others. What we got was a team with people playing out of position because of a desperate need to get their bat in the game, with some of those players learning positions at the big-league level. This has to end and the sooner the better, so that a balanced team, filled with players prepared to go, is the end result. It is time to build the team as an holistic enterprise where every person should be developing their skills along the way (including bunting!). The Mets Way should primarily emphasize respect for the name on the front of the jersey, not just the back.
4. Do not buy in to the panic of the “win now” myth. It took all of about zero seconds before the call came for fixing the team by going after J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer (among others) and laying out huge money for team-crippling back-loaded contracts. Every Mets fan wants winner in Queens and the sooner the better. However, a new Mets Way designed to get sustained success has to take precedent over the misguided panic of “win now,” which is the exact reason the team is where it presently is. There clearly is a good amount of talent on the team, but still with significant gaps, some large enough (such as starting and relief pitching) that a single off season will not be sufficient to remedy. The Braves are a strong team with incredible players at most positions – the sooner we realize that the distance between them and us is pretty significant the better.
5. Nurture fan relations. It did not take much time for a long-suffering fan base with a strong disdain for ownership to go from frowns to smiles when the news first broke about Cohen being interested in the team, only to go back to frowns after the first offer fell through. The smiles returned for real when a miracle occurred with an agreed offer. That’s already yesterday’s news now. Even with the sense of relief with Cohen taking ownership, it sure would be nice to see the goodwill go much further. Cohen is a Mets fan first. We no longer need to wake up daily with “sell the team” on our lips – and having that be a reasonable excuse for virtually every problem on the team. It is time to see more Mets stuff at Citi Field, including major recognition for Gil Hodges and a full court press to get him in the Hall of Fame. While it seems the stadium will look like a re-do of a stadium that had exactly zero to do with the Mets for some time, it sure would feel better to see more recognition of our history, including a much better appreciation for the fans that keep the enterprise moving.
Incoming ownership faces a string of critical roster decisions beginning immediately, with Steve Cohen having virtually no time to get a handle envisioning what has to get done before he even walks in the door. So, in light of recent articles on the topic, let’s dig in and see my vision for the team next year. I do not bring a “win now” mentality to the team despite a wealthy owner. Instead I see the Mets more aligned with being genuine contenders in the 2023 season, so it’s time to field a decent team, while trying to make a winner down the road. Furthermore, this free-agent class is not much to talk about, and getting in a hyper competitive chase for Realmuto and Bauer seems fruitless.
The Mets finished in last place in 2020 and last won more than 90 games 16 years ago. Every year a clamoring fan base declares “this is the season,” although that never materializes. As a result, my position is that the 2021-22 seasons are more a rebuild; there simply is too much work to do. The plan is to fortify the team to be competitive without saddling a team, which is two to three years off, with brutal contracts to players that will be in decline in a couple years.
Looking around the diamond, solving the problem of position-player imbalance will almost certainly result in the loss of one or more fan favorites in order to build a complete team. It is necessary and fans should not be troubled because it is not tenable to keep multiples of the same players stacked and blocked, retarding their own growth and value. Perhaps the most glaring issue of this is at first base, where the team boasts the capacity to have two young major-league starters, both on the same time to free agency, but only one first base. Keeping either on the bench is a poor solution, especially when one or the other could get a lot in return.
In terms of assets, depth, and needs several things are clear. The Mets are desperate for pitching, principally starters. As it stands, 2021 has Jacob deGrom at the top of the rotation, but turning age 33 in the season; he is also the greatest asset on the team. David Peterson jumped out of the gate and performed well beyond expectations, but in 24 AA starts had an ERA of 4.19. He is still really only a 5th or 6th starter at best. Outside of that, the rotation is absent, leaving 3 or 4 big league pitchers to be acquired to even staff a rotation. Syndergaard cannot be included in this discussion because of Tommy John rehab and a certain innings limit if he returns. Overhauling a rotation in one off season with all new ownership and front office and beginning with a team that finished in last place tells me one thing: go slow, so slow in fact that much to the anguish of the fans, Jacob deGrom will be traded in the first of two blockbuster deals; the Dodgers need him badly, so this painful trade will be for either Walker Buehler or more likely Dustin May (and prospects), both controllable for a long time. The Dodgers get several years for a clear win-a-Word-Series-now starter, while the Mets have the next ace in the making. I also add Trevor Cahill (4 years at 12 million per year), Julio Teheran (4 years at 10 million per year), and Jake Arrieta (2 years at 10 million per year) to the staff hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. Peterson can remain the number 5 starter, and learn from the veterans. The bull pen is will stay as is, with Seth Lugo returning as part of the “who has the hot hand” 7th, 8th, and 9th innings with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia.
For the infield, first base has depth and assets with significant control. Both Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso are tradeable, and one needs to go. The next blockbuster of my off season is trading either (and a couple prospects like Mark Vientos and someone below 10) for Nolan Arenado (and taking on his salary) and Josh Fuentes. In the thin air of Denver, Smith or Alonso will be great, but the Mets are too lefty hitting, so this trade keeps Alonso in Queens. The Mets get a third baseman who should be a star through his contract giving the Mets multiple seasons still in his prime when the Mets are ready. Second base will be manned primarily by Jeff McNeil, with an aging Robinson Cano getting about 250 at bats from second base and anything else as a designated or pinch hitter. With third base under control (buying out Frazier), it is time to make Andres Gimenez the starting shortstop, being backed up by Luis Guillorme; Amed Rosario is traded for prospects. Let’s not forget the Mets number one prospect, Ronny Mauricio, is also a shortstop.
The last bit of business is the spine of the team. In center field, I sign Jackie Bradley Jr. on a 5-year deal at 16 million per year, similar to the deal for Lorenzo Cain. Signing Bradley solves the center field issue until Pete Crow-Armstrong can start sharing time and learn from a gold-glover. Unfortunately for many fans, J.D. Davis will no longer be an every-day player. Instead, he will take the super-utility role, serving as depth for left field, right field, third base, and anywhere else the team needs. For catcher, I sign Mike Zunino for four years at $10 million per year, pick up the extension on Robinson Chirinos, retain Tomas Nido, and buy out Wilson Ramos. This will buy some for Franciso Alvarez to come up and take over from Zunino.
This team should be pretty good with obvious holes still. The pitching staff is a work in progress all around except for a future of May and Syndergaard, who needs to be extended. I think Lugo is best in the bull pen. There are plenty of runs to be had with this line up, but the starting roster is admittedly still too lefty dominant, especially so if the Rockies want Alonso over Smith. The best news is that besides the Arenado contract which ends at his age 35 season, there are no long-term commitments here, and the payroll of about $180M leaves ample room for in-season trades, and the need to get Conforto and Syndergaard signed, perhaps Nimmo as well.
Looking ahead, say 2023, I see a team that has the following starting roster by position: catcher, Zunino, Alvarez; 1B, Alonso; 2B, McNeil; SS, Gimenez (or Mauricio); 3B, Arenado; LF, Nimmo; CF, Bradley Jr.; RF, Conforto.
No, that was not a typo. And of course, it is not going to happen, but it should. One problem with poorly constructed teams is the notion of players being stuck in positions that are not suitable for their skills set, a topic that has been covered here, even recently, in an article by Chris Dial. Effects of this are seen immediately as an increase in errors, poor live-time decisions, and surrendered runs. All that leads to the obvious outcome of game losses. Unfortunately, this problem extends to second baseman Jeff McNeil, who has been errantly penciled in as the Mets every-day third baseman.
McNeil has been a fabulous breath of fresh air as part of the exciting freshman- and sophomore-level big leaguers that have rapidly made a considerable difference on the team. The infusion of young talent has given the Mets an air of success, enough so, that many projections put this team at or near the top of the NL East. A week ago, that excitement could not have been more palpable; a week later the team looks like it is drowning. So-so starting pitching, terrible relief pitching, hitters out of sync, and poor defense from out-of-position players are already taking a heavy toll.
One of the players stuck in this defensive quagmire is McNeil. When he was announced early on he would be manning third base, the news was widely received with a lot of enthusiasm, although I thought there was room for this to be tempered. Of course, McNeil has a minor league track record of playing third base, but to call him a third baseman by training would be errant. He’s logged many more innings at second base, his natural position, and one he excelled at after making the jump to Queens. All that accomplishment was set aside after Brodie Van Wagenen traded for Robinson Cano, putting McNeil as odd man out for a defensive position.
Snap to today. McNeil has already shown that major league third base is not a dumping ground for hurt or out-of-position players. The team surely should have learned this lesson after the agony of watching Wilmer Flores “play” third base, or Eric Campbell, or an injured David Wright, or any other experiment dropped there. McNeil already leads the majors in errors with four in seven games, but that number very easily could be seven. Pete Alonso bailed out two quite wayward throws that exposed Alonso to incoming runners, and a generous official scorer in Boston who gave a hit on a grounder McNeil mishandled and then threw poorly right after. Either of his actions should have been enough to charge an error.
Simply put, third base is a lot different than play at second. The time is so much more contracted given the length of the throw, which McNeil is clearly struggling with. Reflex time is shorter given where most people play third base; balls come much faster. Third base also opens the door to having to field bunts and swinging bunts by forcing a charge followed by an off-balance throw. I do not think McNeil is big-league ready to play third base, especially in a season where every game counts 2.7x relative to a full season game.
At 3-7, the team is heading for life support in a hurry. As previously written, the Mets typically start out seasons rather poorly across the first 60 games. Now is the time to fix the McNeil issue quickly. Luis Rojas has shown he can bench Cano for defensive reasons, and has dropped him low in the batting order. It is time to move McNeil back to where he belongs at second base for about four games per week, and platoon him twice a week in the outfield. Cano can platoon at second and DH. Andres Gimenez grades out at 60/80 in the field and 60/80 for arm. He is a “left-side” guy. In moving McNeil to second base, I would put Gimenez at third base and let him take this over, as he is seriously blocked at shortstop with Amed Rosario and Ronny Mauricio. Around-the-horn with Gimenez, Rosario, McNeil, and Alonso has the making for something strong.
With Spring Training 2.0 now underway at CitiField, the sense that actual baseball being played in 2020 is palpable. No doubt, misgivings about putting people together in the midst of a spiraling pandemic still run deep, especially with Mike Trout, the game’s best player, seriously questioning his participation – and for good reason. Nevertheless, baseball is only a few weeks away from its unusual 60-game season. So what do the Mets look like after the first 60 games played in the last five years? Let’s find out below.
The first thing to consider in this exercise is why focus on the start of the past five seasons as opposed to the final 60 games, which would align better with the time of the year. No super good comparison exists for what is about to happen for such a 60-game stretch, but the start of the season makes the most sense. The main reason for looking at season starts is that all teams have the same record and are tied for first place. By the time 100 games have elapsed so many factors are baked into the records that just focusing on time of year is not smart. By 100 games each division will already have lost one, two, or three teams from real competition, injuries have potentially put a large stamp on a team, and it has been shown that the first 60-game (say two months) record poorly correlated with the end of season record for baseball teams in general. Basically, a huge amount of variation is imposed on the record based on short streaks. Records only begin to stabilize after 60 games and really only become super stable after four months of games as shown here: https://community.fangraphs.com/when-do-the-standings-matter/
In the 5-year stretch from 2015 through 2019, the Mets have never been in first place after 60 games, although they were essentially tied for first in 2015 (0.5 games back having played one more game that the first-place Nationals). Of those five seasons, they would have been essentially out of the post-season in 2017-2019; in 2015 the Mets were National League Champions, but would not have made the post season after 60 games despite being 0.5 back in the East. The only season the Mets would have made the post season in the first 60 games in recent times is 2016, when they were 8 games over .500. Looking at the compiled record for all five seasons in this analysis, the Mets were 147-153 for a .490 winning percentage. The standard deviation is +/- 3 games.
A lot has been written here at Mets360 over the years about the Mets finishing strong in recent seasons. Excellent articles from earlier this year looked to see if the end-of-season player performances translated to a success “hangover” in the next season, which you can read about here http://mets360.com/?p=39968 and here http://mets360.com/?p=39976. The research showed no real correlation. Looking at this from a team perspective reinforces that analysis. In the past five seasons, the Mets have an outstanding record in the last 60 games of the season, playing .560 ball or better in four of the five seasons; only the terrible 2017 season did the Mets play poorly to finish the season with a winning record of .367. The compiled record for the last 60 games is 167-133 for a .557 winning percentage. Reviewing the first 60- from last 60-game record shows the team with a 70-point improvement. One can debate the string of causes for such a consistently dramatic difference in performance, but it seems to be real.
What does all this mean for this crazy 2020 baseball season if it actually materializes? I am inherently skeptical of how past seasons predict future seasons because the variables are so many such that a team with different players and managers playing other teams with different players and managers from season to season should not be correlated. That said, patterns that develop for a team are broadly worthy of consideration if there is a team philosophy in how it is run that might bend the course of play. This analysis indicates the Mets need to really step up their game this season and make the most of every out in order to be competitive. One positive will be the weather, with no games played in snow. Add the reigning Cy Young and Rookie of the Year award winners and that is certainly special. Here’s hoping the Orange and Blue flip the recent pattern and start with a .560 winning percentage!
No matter what your preferred model was for predicting the outcome of the National League East this year, what seemed clear is that most really envisioned a dogfight between the Mets, Braves, and defending World Series champions Nationals. With a new skipper and reigning Cy Young and Rookie of the Year winners, there was plenty of Orange and Blue excitement on the way. With all that potential excitement, there was another amazin’ thing that this summer was going to bring as well: the retirement of Jerry Koosman’s number 36. No player of significance had donned this jersey since Koosman.
Last year, the Mets seemed to make an about face with respect to recognizing the history of the team, with much of the bally-hoo surrounding the long past due recognition of Tom Seaver with the renaming of the street address of CitiField and announcement of a statue that many fans have clamored for. Additionally, it was made known that the threshold for retiring numbers was lowering for players, which had been essentially linked to going to Cooperstown in a Mets cap. Right away one can envision 8 being retired in honor of Gary Carter, with a short string of numbers having been talked about like 16, 17, and certainly 5 for recently retired Captain David Wright.
But 2020 was “supposed to be the summer of Jerry” borrowing from a classic episode of Seinfeld. Koosman sits in the long shadows of Seaver and Gooden, but he was arguably the best left-handed starter in Mets history, racking up 37 bWAR in 12 seasons as a Met (career 57 bWAR), with only two of those seasons possessing an ERA+ less than 100. Retiring 36 is long overdue.
The highlight of Koosman’s tenure in New York was the 1969 World Series, winning Games 2 and 5, while pitching 17 2/3 innings and only allowing a total of 7 hits. One of the most iconic images in Mets history is a leaping Koosman embraced by Jerry Grote after his complete game win to seal the ’69 Championship. That game is easily available to watch from many sources and familiar ground to most Mets fans, especially in the over 50 age group! But what about Game 2, a game most people barely recall?
Game 2 never gets the respect it deserves; quite frankly it was as important, if not more important than Game 5. Tom Seaver had lost Game 1, setting the tone for what could have been a quick slide out against the mighty 109-win Orioles. Reviewing Koosman’s performance in Game 2 interested me, so after finding a cruddy video, my goal was to chart this the best way I could given the limited, fuzzy, black-and-white video. His 8 2/3 inning (26 outs) start was absolutely tremendous.
Koosman threw 102 pitches for his 26 outs, yielding an incredible 3.92 pitches per out, or about 12 pitches per inning. In six of the eight full innings Koosman pitched he threw 10 or few pitches. The game was different then to be sure. He pitched to contact, relying on superb defense from Ed Charles, Bud Harrelson, and Ron Swoboda in particular. Fifteen of the 26 outs were fly balls or line drives, seven outs came on ground balls, and he had 4 Ks. Of his 102 pitches he threw 61 for strikes (including those pitches leading to outs), utilizing the zone up, in, and away; he definitely was not afraid to pitch in, perhaps spurred on by an aggressive Grote calling the shots. He threw the fastball up and down changing planes along with changing arm slot. He set up on the first-base side of the rubber.
Koosman used about an even split between breaking pitches (mostly curve balls from what could be seen or heard from the announcers) and fastballs. Facing 31 batters, he led off 15 fastball first pitches and pitching backwards 16 times. His use of the whole zone, change in setting up batters, change of speeds, and a wicked breaking ball kept a roster of hitting monsters off guard and out of sync the whole game. He only let up 11 foul balls for the whole game. The Orioles mustered one run from five runners in the game on two singles and three walks. Batters 30 and 31 were walks, so really it was more like two singles and a walk. He posted a no-hitter through six innings. The Orioles never had fewer than three hits in a home game in 1969. The only thing one could say is what an amazing gutsy performance from the 25 year old, and one that changed the entire momentum of the World Series, bringing home an unlikely road split to New York for Games 3 through 5.
In modern times, Koosman almost certainly would have been selected MVP given his Game 5 effort, despite the hitting heroics of Donn Clendenon. Koosman was a fabulous Met and ranks high in the pantheon of players in our history. Retiring 36 in his honor is so the right thing to do. Here is to hoping that the Mets put this off another year so that next season the ceremony can be done with all the pomp he deserves.
In the absence of baseball, survival strategies for managing the pandemic reign supreme. As a scientist, it is hard to imagine the pathway for getting teams in isolation enough to play anytime soon. Rather than making another rear-looking assessment of past incarnations of Mets or thinking about some pathway to a 2020 season, here is a recommendation for eating some time as all of us are doing. Astute watchers and fans of English football – or sports fans dying to see anything on television these days – will know I lifted this title from the incredible Netflix documentary series entitled “Sunderland ‘Til I Die,” which chronicles the trials and tribulations of the Sunderland football club in the past couple of years. Hearing about the series from someone who gave it a rave review, coupled with a desire to kill some evening time rang a bell, so on it went with the simplest of expectations: to watch a cool sports series that people seem to love. For me, the football World Cup is “must see,” but beyond that, English football (or the MLS) remains only a passive interest when other preferable options are exhausted. I figured that Sunderland was a town somewhere in England, which Google Maps confirmed. Why it would be the center of a hugely popular major TV epic was unknown, but worth finding out.
The show is a phenomenal product, well worth the time to watch. It does not matter that it is about “football,” or some team you’ve never heard of, because the story uses football as a vehicle to document the insanity of ups and downs of sports fandom. The filming is awesome, the characters so compelling, and after a number of episodes, the story hit me right in the eyes as not only about Sunderland AFC, but about the New York Mets, more specifically the arc of the team and our rabid fan base. What is so cool about the series is that it is a complete look at the team from inside the front office, to inside the homes of fans, to game day coverage in the stands and field of play, to the local watering hole afterwards.
Following Sunderland through two seasons (2017-2019) makes it current in terms of cultural relevance; thankfully it can be binge watched. In this time frame there are ups and downs, ownership issues, changes in front office philosophy, managing personnel from stars with egos to the kids dying to earn a spot, and on-field events that all resonate so strongly with the Orange and Blue. One would be forgiven for thinking all this was actually about the Mets, but with names and places changed to protect the anonymity of those not authorized to talk. No detailed spoilers if you haven’t seen it.
Outside of the daily goings on, what really stuck with me is the incredible working-class fan base, who live and die by their team. Also, not all fans root the same, which can be seen here at Mets 360, where we have a range from eternal optimism, to realism, to pessimism. Underneath all that is one thing however: like the fans of Sunderland AFC, each of us loves the Mets to the marrow no matter how the range of outward expressions look. We follow, chat, write, analyze, cheer, and criticize, but in the end it still all adds up to “New York Mets ‘til I die”. So take a recommendation and fire up this series while you have time and just enjoy the hell out of it. I’d be curious if those that see it feel the same as I do about the proximity to the Mets.