Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Building Better Pitching

Tim Britton had an outstanding piece in The Athletic today about the Mets organization's efforts to create a state-of-the-art pitching development program. Under the Wilpons, the team had been notoriously reluctant to buy into the latest trends in player development. This likely reflected some skepticism towards new technologies on their part and a certain cheapness towards investing in something that didn't pay obvious and immediate benefits. That's probably a good reason why the Mets have historically lagged behind the top organizations in developing talent. Fortunately, new Mets owner Steve Cohen sees the benefits of investing in the future. That should pay dividends for the club and its fans going forward.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Play Ball!

The Mets finished their spring training schedule today in a rather fitting manner for games that don't count, their game against the Cardinals ending in a 3-3 tie. The next time they play will be Thursday night in Washington to open the season. That game will be telecast only on ESPN, which is a real shame. I know that quite a few Mets games are likely to wind up on national tv. I'm not going to whine about each and every one of them. However, it really is regretful that the ESPN circus is taking Opening Day away from Mets fans. I guess I should be grateful that Alex Rodriguez will be in the broadcast booth and not the owner's box.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Some *Fearless* Predictions for the Season

Hey, this prediction
business is tough!
When I began writing yesterday's post, my intent was that it would be my season preview piece. After all, this is the time of year, with Opening Day approaching this week, when these pieces are supposed to be written. While you can never predict what injuries might crop up, you usually have a pretty good idea of how most of the players on your team are going to perform. This year really is different, however. There are a lot of variables in play, including some limited data for key performers. It led me to write a season preview that was relatively light in actual prediction. It also makes this New York Mets club a little more fascinating as we approach Thursday's season opener.

Friday, March 26, 2021

What Needs to Happen

I was doing the dishes and some laundry this morning, two fairly necessary but quite boring tasks. We have a Google Hub Max in the kitchen so, to divert my attention a bit, I put on last night's Baseball Night in New York from my YouTube TV DVR. I know, I know, a lot of it is mindless sports talk radio-caliber stuff, but some of it can be pretty good. Former Met Anthony Recker, in particular, can be funny and say really smart things sometimes. SNY's Andy Martino can be irritating at times, but he could be interesting, too. It depends on the day. At least with the DVR, I can skip the really dumb stuff along with the commercials.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Cracking Down on Sticky Stuff, Hefner's Positive Impact

Last year before the start of spring training, there was talk that MLB would be cracking down on the use of substances by pitchers to enhance their grip on the baseball and increase the amount of spin on their pitches. This, in turn, is one of the contributors to ever-increasing strikeout numbers in baseball. The topic took a back seat to worries about surviving a baseball season during a pandemic, but it's back now this spring as the country slowly moves towards a post-COVID world.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Some Early Thoughts on Mets Starting Pitching

As a lifelong baseball fan, I always look forward to the start of spring training. This year, of course, was extra special. The combination of the Wilpons exiting the scene and the deep roster the Mets have built over the offseason has led to increased expectations. It was cool over the last few weeks to see it all come together on a playing field, even if the games didn't really count. But, at least for me, we're now at the point of spring training where the thrill is decidedly gone. Although not every question has been fully answered, we have a pretty good idea of what players the club will take north with them. Any questions still lingering about the 2021 Mets will require real games for the answers to be revealed.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Stumbling Toward the Light

As I wrote yesterday, I'm going to shy away from writing prediction pieces for the season. I've seen too many springs where a player was absolutely en fuego, only to watch those flames quickly die out once the games start counting. I've also seen players look as just plain awful as Jeff McNeil has this spring, only to see the player rebound just fine in the regular season. And, while I think prediction algorithms are good for sparking entertaining discussion and debate, I don't put much stock in how they foresee the season going. There are just too many variables once the season gets underway to allow myself to get excited that PECOTA is bullish on the Mets' chances.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Spring Fever Dreams

Today is the first day of spring. It's always among my favorite days of the year. Although I tolerate winter pretty well, I'm absolutely not a winter enthusiast. This day always feels significant to me, even though Mother Nature often doesn't show much respect for the Vernal Equinox here in the northeast. The weather gods have been generous in 2021, giving spring a warm and sunny Opening Day after a few cold, blustery days leading up to it. Even my two dogs have taken note of the upgraded meteorological conditions, giving up cherished couch time to enjoy the warm sunshine in the yard.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Normal is Good

We're a mere two weeks away from the start of the 2021 baseball season. This is a marked improvement from a year ago when the COVID-19 epidemic had already shut down baseball. Even then, we were all only beginning to understand how much of our lives would be shut down and how long it would take to return to normal. We're not quite there yet but, if you squint hard, you can actually see normal from where we are now. For a while, it seemed that we would never get to this place.

Monday, March 15, 2021

A Tale of Two Pitchers

In yesterday's post, I wrote about the Mets' effort to construct a bullpen for 2021 without resorting to spending a pile of money on established relievers. For an example of how that approach can go astray, we don't need to look any further than Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances, pitchers who will be pocketing a cool $17 million of Steve Cohen's hedge fund profits between them. Those two would have to meet the absolute wildest hopes for their performance to even approach earning that pile of cash. While I don't begrudge any player for signing for big bucks — who wouldn't if we were in their place? — if I could reallocate that money with a snap of my fingers, I wouldn't hesitate to do so.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Building a Better Bullpen

Given the scattershot nature of spring training telecasts, it's been difficult to judge the performance of Mets pitchers so far. This is particularly the case for relief pitchers, who you're only going to see for an inning, even when a game is on tv. That holds true for Miguel Castro, the young pitcher acquired from the Orioles by Brodie Van Wagenen last season. I've personally only had the opportunity to watch the man pitch once. I liked what I saw, but I understand that it's folly to extrapolate a good inning into a potential full season's performance.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Welcome to the New Dead Ball Era

The newly updated
MLB baseball
Much of the talk around baseball this spring has centered around changes that MLB has made to the ball in an effort to bring the home run numbers back down from their historic highs last season. MLB claims that the changes made were relatively minor, but players are concerned that the changes could prove significant. Since top home run hitters receive more money, a leaguewide drop in home run totals could mean less money in player contracts next year. Right now, no one knows exactly what will happen. It's hard to tell by what's happening in spring training, as players are still honing their swings, and the baseballs currently in use are mostly leftovers from last year.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Surviving Carlos Carrasco's Sore Elbow

An old baseball adage is that you can never have too much pitching. This spring, it didn't take the New York Mets very long to prove the wisdom of this saying. Now likely to begin the season without Seth Lugo, one of their best relievers, and Carlos Carrasco, their #2 starter, the depth the Mets put together this winter is already being tested. Fortunately, the Mets seem in a pretty good position to survive these setbacks. Not that it's ever ideal to lose key contributors for any length of time, but having a deep and flexible pool of pitching to draw from is going to be key for any team hoping to make some waves in 2021.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Bullpen Is Still a Work in Progress

There's been much discussion in the local media about some of the Mets' relievers this spring. This isn't surprising, as the bullpen is probably the biggest question mark for the club in the early going. The questions run from closer Edwin Díaz on down, but one of the biggest questions is certainly who will be the most frequently used late-inning setup men. Only Trevor May and Aaron Loup look like locks for those jobs currently, while many other candidates jockey for the other slots.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Minor League Delays and Prospect Development

The original plan for Minor League Baseball this season called for Triple-A teams to begin playing in early April, while the lower-level affiliates would wait until May to get their seasons underway. The reasoning behind this was that COVID-19 protocols limited spring training to Major Leaguers and Triple-A ballplayers. The other minor leaguers wouldn't even report for their spring training until those players departed at the beginning of April.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

ESPN Is Bad for Baseball

I've been debating with myself on whether to write this post at all since Thursday's game against the Nationals was broadcast by ESPN. I'll admit right at the top that I'm not a fan of either ESPN or FOX baseball broadcasts. Mets fans are lucky because we've been spoiled over the years with our team's exceptional tv and radio broadcasts. From when I first tuned in a Mets game on WOR in 1969 to SNY's coverage over the last few years, I've invariably felt that the game was always front and center. Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner, Gary Cohen, Howie Rose, or any of the others calling a game, it was obvious that they saw their job as facilitating a fan's enjoyment of the game. The game itself was always the star of the show.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Launch Angles, Spin Rates, and Bucking the Trend

It wasn't all that long ago that I didn't spend any of my time pondering the finer points of pitchers' spin rates or batters' launch angles. I think about them a lot lately. It's not that these are recent innovations in baseball. We've understood for a long time that the ability to impart spin on a baseball caused the ball to move in some combination of the horizontal and verticle axes, dependent on the spin. This, in turn, makes the pitches more difficult for the hitter to square up. We've also known that home run hitters incorporated an uppercut in their swings to hit more balls in the air and, hopefully, out of the park.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Marcus Stroman Was Impressive in His Spring Debut

I'm not one to make too much of spring training appearances for pitchers. Often in spring games, pitchers are working on getting ready for the season rather than concentrating strictly on getting outs. For instance, if he's working on sharpening his slider, he's going to throw it a lot, even if the hitters are looking for it. Early on in the spring, batters are still searching for their timing, which may allow a hurler to get away with pitches that will be sent into deep orbit once the season starts. As tempting as it is, when I am watching spring games, I try to get more general impressions of players' performances and stay away from reading too much into stat lines.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Defense is Mostly Work and Commitment

When I started watching Major League Baseball in the late 60s - early 70s, defense was valued over offense. At least on competitive teams, you were only likely to see teams trying to hide bad defenders at first base and in left field. The reason was fairly simple. It was an era dominated by pitching. If bad defense cost you runs, it was more difficult to get them back when your team came to bat. Particularly in the key up-the-middle positions of catcher, second base, shortstop, and third base, elite defenders with almost comically low offensive stats were tolerated in a lineup. It wasn't uncommon to have another automatic out or even two hitting in front of a pitcher.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Why Signing Sam McWilliams Really Mattered

Tim Healey had an article in Newsday yesterday about Sam McWilliams, signed by the Mets this winter to compete for a spot in their bullpen. The Mets elected to ink McWilliams to a Major League contract, although the tall righty had never pitched an inning in the majors and has only 44 innings in one season at Triple-A. He didn't even excel at that level, with an ERA north of 8.  The decision to outbid other teams for McWilliams was based not on track record but rather on analysis and projection. If you're thinking to yourself that this is the kind of move the Wilpons never would have signed off on, you're almost undoubtedly correct. Indeed, this signing was one of the first indications this winter that things were changing for the Mets.

The Defense Doesn't Rest

A renewed emphasis on defense would be a good thing for the New York Mets. Mike Vaccaro had an interesting column in the New York Post  abou...