Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Who ARE These Guys?!?

  • Mets 4-Dodgers 0; Mets 10-Dodgers 5:

It's inexplicable how far the Mets have climbed from the clueless bunch they were as they limped home from St. Louis 10 days ago. With a record of 4-8; panic within the fan base and calls for manager Jerry Manuel's head (strongly from yours truly); and the world crumbling around them at the prospect of a front office blowout and on-field housecleaning, they suddenly and without warning have won 8 of 9 on this current homestand and vaulted from last place into first place.

Of course this has to be taken into context.

The Cubs walked into Citi Field in similar disarray; the Braves are shambolic (and the Mets got a gift from the heavens in a 5+ inning rainout win on Sunday); and the Dodgers can't get out of their own way.

Much like the schedule; the weather; and freak injuries, there's not much that can be done about it. Just as it can be taken as an excuse when a team plays poorly due to circumstance; so too should they receive credit for doing what must be done and taking advantage of that which has been bestowed. In years past, the Mets have been derelict in one of the main tenets of being a winning team----beating up on wounded and subpar teams.

In a psychological sense, it could be said that the same "niceness" that permeates the Mets organization (as exemplified by the wishy-washy firing of Willie Randolph two years ago) seeped onto the field as they took it easy and allowed self-congratulations and arrogance to combine with the misplaced kindness to deprive them of playoff spots in both 2007 and 2008.

Other teams----winning teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Cardinals----want no part of being gentle with their opponents; they're arrogant and smug only after they've accomplished their goals rather than before and it shows in their records of success.

It's called taking care of business and the Mets have done that in the past week-and-a-half.

It's easily lost what can be accomplished when simply doing what should be second nature by now for big league players. Throwing the ball; catching the ball; hitting the ball; running out grounders; being in the right place at the right time; taking advantage of opposing teams' mistakes.

Sound easy? You'd be stunned at home many teams can't do the small things properly. It shouldn't have to be continually hammered into their heads; but if you look at the way the Braves and Dodgers have played in their forays to Citi Field over the past five days, it clearly does need to be addressed.

Much bewilderment has surrounded the Twins in recent years as to how they've maintained a playoff contender while losing stars such as Johan Santana and getting little in return; but the Twins way is taught from the bottom of the organization all the way to the top. Their pitchers throw strikes; their players catch the ball; they hit situationally; they're organized; and there's accountability----if you don't do things the "Twins Way" you don't play. Period. This was how the Orioles functioned under Earl Weaver.

It's amazing how many games can be won when performing rudimentary fundamentals correctly.

While it's too soon to get excited about the Mets string of good play and good luck, it was clearly too soon to hit the panic button in the first week (of which I am just as guilty as anyone). With that, it's not time to declare this work-in-progress as a true contender. As I said in my book (still available), they're either going to galvanize and shove it to the naysayers; or collapse completely. In the first month of the season, they've done both.

This is the same organization that blew a 7 game lead with 17 games to play in 2007, so anything is possible; and a beaten down and weary fan base is still straddling the line between excitement and suicide.

"Can we start getting enthusiastic yet?" is a familiar refrain.

Like the person desperately looking for their soulmate, thinking they've found it and having their dreams crushed repeatedly, there's a hardening of the heart that has little to do with coldness and more to do with a desire to avoid the pain that's been all too constant in the club history.

This weekend's series in Philadelphia will speak volumes as to where the Mets are.

It's understandable to smile in looking at the standings on April 28th, 2010 with the Mets sitting at the top.

So too is it acceptable to pause, look at the situation with the still fresh memories and scars of 2006-2009----both physical and mental----and wait, just to see what happens.

  • This is laughable:

Um, so now Jason Bay's defense wasn't so bad after all?

MLBTradeRumors linked this Boston Herald article about a tweaking of the way in which Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is calculated. UZR is supposed to be a more accurate way to gauge a fielder's range and value.

"Supposed to be" is the key phrase.

Were the Red Sox aware of the glitch in UZR when they used it as one of the justifications for letting Bay leave without so much as a serious attempt to re-sign him? Or was it propped up as an excuse to go with another stat zombie tenet of "run prevention"; to save a few bucks; and "prove" how smart they are? Again?

Unsatisfied with their record of success over the past seven years, so too has it been a hallmark of the Red Sox under Theo Epstein and John Henry to slam players on the way out the door under the guise of statistics and physical questions.

Bay's defense was poor; his MRI and physical examinations indicated that he was a candidate for a breakdown due to issues with his shoulders and knees. It was a sound business decision on and off the field to let him go.

Was it?

This is the fundamental problem with using these newfound statistics and final arbiter in whether or not a player should stay or go. As convenient as it is to utilize "verifiable" numbers to explain a player's "true" value, they will never, ever replace the contribution an experienced observer----yes, with subjective analysis.

Having watched Bay regularly over the first month of the season, it's clear that the smear campaign coming out of Boston wasn't just inaccurate, but it's wrong. Bay was never bad as an outfielder and with the Mets, he's been quite good. (He made a nifty diving catch yesterday.) He's faster than expected; and he's made a bunch of good plays.

Is he ever going to be an in-his-prime and lean Barry Bonds or Kevin McReynolds in terms of left field defense? No. Is he a statue out there who's going cost his team games? No.

The Red Sox gloss over their own faults to proffer this arrogant and pompous condescension of knowing better than everyone else. It's fueled their success; it's also crafted their failures.

The stat zombie method of analysis is not analysis. Crunching numbers and knowing formulas (that are still in the process of being "perfected") doesn't replace experience in understanding the nuance of what goes on during a game.

This new ideal of "run prevention" was profiled by Will Leitch in last week's New York Magazine----link; I emailed Leitch to point out how faulty the premise is, he didn't respond, which was disappointing. He answered me previously when I expressed my displeasure at his suggestion of Billy Beane taking over as Mets GM last year.

It's a shame that debate is muzzled with shouting down and ignoring the protests to that which is contextualized and outright wrong.

Much like the daily changes of the PECOTA "projections" (and everyone seemed to be finishing at or close to 81-81 in said "projections"----link), we're going to continue to see the alterations of the irresponsibly created formulas to bolster decisions that could just as easily be explained away with the statement, "we didn't want to pay him; we wanted to try something else". Instead, teams like the Red Sox do what they do; willing and able to take the credit, but shielding themselves from the responsibility with propaganda.

It's a foolproof way to maintain a veneer of genius. But I know the truth; and said truth is leaking out day-by-day as the numbers are increasingly "perfected" by way of changing their story.

  • Take the message and put aside the messenger:

Had it been someone else that gave the withering critique of struggling Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez, it may have been accepted as the analysis of a former player who understands the breadth of Vazquez's battle against himself and the perception of his unsuitability to pitch in New York.

Instead, since it was the polarizing Curt Schilling, it's dismissed as the ramblings of an obnoxious and narcissistic man who loves nothing better than to listen to his own voice; see it in print; and revels in the attention he receives.

But what about when he says something that makes sense?

It happens more often than you realize that Schilling's self-serving rants are peppered with kernels of truth and intelligent analysis. Yankee fans loathe him because he was a Red Sox and because he's Schilling (which has a definition unto itself); because of that, they're ignoring the message behind what he said----the possible accuracy in his assessment of Javier Vazquez's prospects for succeeding in his second go-round in New York.

The entire context is available here----ESPN Story and it's almost verbatim what I said when the Vazquez re-acquisition was consummated.

Here are the relevant quotes:

"It is easier to pitch and be successful in the National League than it is the American League," Schilling said on 1050's show with Seth Everett. "If anyone thinks that Javier Vazquez is going to be different the second time around than he was the first time I think they are fooling themselves."

"Here's the thing about Javy and I tried to preface this, but the negative always drowns out the positive," Schilling said. "I love the kid. He has phenomenal stuff. I thought he was a superstar when he was in Montreal, but I think you are kidding yourself if you think the second time in New York will be different than the first time. I'm not sure why that would be."

As controversial as Schilling is, there's no way to pigeonhole him. The same quote that Catfish Hunter uttered about Reggie Jackson can be applied to Schilling:

"He'd give you the shirt off his back. Of course he'd call a press conference to announce it."

Yankee fans reacted with rage at Schilling's statements regarding Vazquez in what was more of a reflexive response rather than fervent disagreement with what he said. Even the most hard-core Yankee fan and positive thinker is probably echoing the Schilling sentiments in their minds, though they're loathe to admit the fear; and even more repulsed by the idea of agreeing with Curt Schilling about anything.

It's there though; and as talented as Vazquez is, until he starts pitching up to snuff, the questions will be asked if it's nothing more than New York that's the problem.

  • Viewer Mail 4.28.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Ryan Howard:

I guess the signing of Howard will now trigger a discussion of Werth and whether the Phillies will let him go for budgetary reasons. Seems like he'd have market value.

Jayson Werth is going to have many, many suitors in the off-season and I don't see how the Phillies will be able to afford him now unless they backload the deal very heavily until after Brad Lidge and a couple of others are off the books; and Werth is not going to give the Phillies a discount. He wants to get paid, and someone's going to pay him.

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols:

This makes life for Cardinals fans very, very difficult.

Now I officially hate Ruben Amaro.

I would dearly have loved to have seen and heard the reaction to this in the Cardinals executive offices. They have no choice but to pay Pujols, but now the dollar amount presumably will have to double what the Phillies gave to Howard. That's not the responsibility of the Phillies, but I have to believe that they heard from the commissioner's office about this.

Paul Lebowitz's 2010 Baseball Guide is available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here.

Read what I wrote about Javier Vazquez and a bunch of others stuff before the fact.

It's creepily accurate.


Jeff said...

Hot dog! Meet the Mets!

Jose Reyes AND Jason Bay acting like... well, Jose Reyes AND Jason Bay. I dig it.

P.S. I can hear Red Sox fans keening all the way from the Chi. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

She-Fan said...

The Mets are on a roll. Maybe they'll actually live up to your prediction in the book. Re: Schilling. I don't think Yankee fans are discounting what he said about Vazquez. We just hate the messenger - a lot.