Monday, February 22, 2010

This Is Why Hope Springs Eternal

For those of you who have followed Fonzie Forever, you know we were less than thrilled with the Mets this offseason. We didn't like the moves they made, didn't make, or tried to make (but failed)[1]. We didn't like the lack of commitment to a plan - to either compete or to rebuild. We didn't like the way they handled the Beltran injury situation.

It is fairly common knowledge, we think, that the general tone of most Mets-related blogging could fairly be described as snide, snarky, or negative much of the time. We've tried not to pile on unecessarily. But no matter where you come from, I don't think that anyone has been a fan of what the Mets have done over the last few months.

With all of that said, hope still springs eternal. The Star-Ledger had a little article on Sunday morning which is a great example of spring training optimism:
Jerry Manuel wasn't kidding about putting an emphasis on pitchers throwing strikes this spring.

* * *

Pitchers were paired together on a bank of mounds near the back of the Tradition Field complex -- Johan Santana with Oliver Perez, John Maine with Mike Pelfrey, etc. While one pitched, the other stood behind him with a pen, paper and clipboard and recorded balls and strikes thrown. Then they alternated.

Normally, a pitcher throwing a bullpen session will just fire away at the catcher. He has an idea of how well he's throwing, as do the coaches, but no one is counting balls and strikes.

* * *

"The guy that is performing knows now that he is being held accountable," Manuel said. "He's not just getting up there and just flinging it anywhere. He's being held accountable for throwing strikes."
Nowhere in the article does it definitively say that the Mets are going to do X or Y better this season. Nor does it delineate any goals or set any concrete performance standards. All it does is crawl into the back of all of our minds and make us think, "I wonder how much better we could be this year if this actually does something?!"[2]

Baseball is so much more than just a string of isolated offseason transactions. And now, with the snow on the ground in Flushing finally beginning to melt, we as fans are transported to Port St. Lucie, clipboards in hand, listening to the sound of Johan Santana's fastball popping into the mitt of one of our thousand catchers.

And regardless of how underwhelmed you were with how the Mets did this offseason, you've got to find yourself thinking, if only for a moment, "can we do this?"

That is the beauty of baseball. Unlike football, where the best teams win 90% of their games - the best baseball team will only win 60% of the time. In baseball, you win and lose as a team - you can't depend on a single superstar to carry you like you can in basketball.

Only in baseball are the best pitchers on the planet separated from those in the minor leagues by only the tiniest of distinctions.[3] So when you read an article like the above - is it crazy to dream? What if Oliver Perez can walk just one less batter per start? Just one. How much deeper into games could John Maine go if he threw strikes 55% of the time instead of 52%? How many more innings could we get out of Mike Pelfrey if he could pound the zone just a tiny bit more?

Tiny little incremental improvements make an enormous difference in baseball. So no matter what position your team is in, and no matter how disaffected you are by the long cold winter of disappointment, there is reason to dream.

*If anyone is interested in a little extra reading, there is an incredible article over at Management by Baseball on this topic. I am not going to excerpt it here, but I would strongly encourage anyone interested in an in-depth read on this kind of "incremental improvement" theory, or an interest in thinking critically about baseball and life in general, to click through to that blog.

[1] Bay, Garko, and Molina, respectively.

[2] However based on the effects of Manuel's hitting drill from last season, I really don't want him getting any new ideas.

[3] Think about this for a second: Tim Lincecum won the Cy Young award in 2008 with a WHIP of 1.17. Livan Hernandez struggled to remain in the majors and posted a WHIP of 1.56.

That difference, of only 0.40, is only two base runners over a six inning start. That's 12 walks or hits in an entire month, separating the Cy Young winner from a borderline #5 starter.


Ari Berkowitz said...

The sad part is, the Mets are still able to improve their club and they aren't even doing that. $4-5M and they got Johnny Gomes and Felipe Lopez, two guys who would fill voids on this team. Just imagine how much better Pelfrey would be if he would have a full season of Reyes and Lopez up the middle with Murphy at 1B and an improved Wright at third (provided that last year was some kind of crazy fluke, or Reyes is so good, he makes Wright and Castillo overperform). Gomes could provide power off the bench and spell Bay, Murphy and Francoeur.

Brian said...

Felipe Lopez and Gomes would be phenomenally good fits for the Mets right now. Why they are sitting on their hands is a mystery.

They'd be better served spending $125 million on an average team than spending $120 on a bad team, dont you think?

Ari Berkowitz said...

I wish I was Omar Minaya before the offseason had started, now with Bay on board the Mets are worse (financially, future-wise) than they were last September! You are absolutely right but for some reason or another they can't do even the simplest things, they lost Gomes to the Reds. If you take GMJ, Cora, Coste, Jacobs and Barajas' contract money and replace them with three minimum deals, you'd be able to sign Lopez for a $4.5M deal. And if we had non-tendered or traded Francoeur... But we're Mets fans and we have to deal with these idiots. At least the farm system is being run a lot better now that Ricco, Wogan and Terry Collins are running the show.