Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Phil Hughes, Starting Pitcher: A Scouting Perspective

With the New York Yankees recently announcing that Phil Hughes would be their number five starter, I decided to check out his start today and see what his stuff looked like in his new (old) role.

Hughes pitched 4.2 innings, allowing three runs, all earned, on six hits, while striking out five and walking one. Although Minnesota picked up a couple of runs in the first and tacked on another in the fifth (although that last one scored on a ball that Brett Gardner should have caught) it was a solid outing for Hughes. He mixed in all four of his pitches and seemed to approach the outing in a manner similar to that of a regular season start.

First of all, Hughes' mechanics, as always, look very sound and easily repeated. He has always had solid control and showed that again today, although he did benefit a bit from an umpire calling a wide strike zone. As is traditionally the case when he starts, the vast majority of balls in play against Hughes were fly-balls, a concern in a hitter's park like Yankee Stadium, but less of one this year with the newly revamped defense.

Hughes' four-seam fastball was sitting comfortably in the low-90s today and peaked at 94.

Mets and Yankees Prospect Performances this Spring

While spring training statistics are almost completely meaningless, I always try and check in on my favorite prospects and see how they did. With the regular season now around the corner, most of the young players have departed from Major League camp, so now would be a good time to see who stood out.


New York Mets

Ruben Tejada - Tejada is leading all Mets players in at-bats this spring with 56. He has hit .339/.413/.439 with seven walks, nine strikeouts and 5 extra base hits (all doubles). Tejada survived AA last year as a 19-year-old and thrived in camp this year. We already knew he could play defense but his bat was a question. He has made a ton of contact so far in the minors and that trend continued this year in camp. With Jose Reyes likely around for awhile Tejada might actually end up being the Mets second baseman once Castillo is gone.

Fernando Martinez - The top hitting prospect in the system had a big spring training, going .391/.423/.761 with

A Rotation Rotation and Musings on Velocity

Per Metsblog:

According to Marty Noble of MLB.com, a person with knowledge of the Mets pitching plans says they might move Jon Niese to the third spot in the rotation, with Maine and Perez to follow.

…if this were the case, then it looks like Pelfrey would remain in the number two spot in the rotation…either way, it appears the Mets are at least recognizing the problems behind Johan Santana in the rotation…

Original Post, 6:41 pm:

Adam Rubin of ESPN New York says Mike Pelfrey will not be starting the second game of the season against the Marlins at Citi Field.

…interesting…i wonder if John Maine will get the start over Pelfrey, and what this means for the rest of the rotation…

Pelfrey is expected to start on Friday night against the Rays at Tropicana Field, followed by Oliver Perez and Jon Niese on Saturday against the Orioles in Sarasota.

In addition, Rubin says both Omir Santos and Fernando Martinez will start the season at Triple-A Buffalo.

To follow Rubin at his new Twitter account for ESPN New York, click here.

As far as I can tell this is a non-story. It just looks to me that Manuel wanted to break up the lefties in the rotation. If the original rotation was Santana-Pelfrey-Maine-Perez-Niese, you'd have three lefties in a row. Now, it alternates. You'll still have two lefties in a row later in the year when you stop skipping the #5 spot in the rotation, but at least the second lefty will be Santana.

However, the blurb about the order of the rotation got me thinking. Provided Santana, Pelfrey, Maine, Ollie, and Niese are the five starters - is this the hardest throwing group of Mets starters we've ever seen? I decided to take a look at some average fastball velocities by year. Thank you as always, fangraphs.

Last year we had Livan Hernandez in the rotation instead of Niese, so they automatically lose to the 2010 version. In 2007 the staff was anchored by Glavine and included Orlando Hernandez in addition to the Pelfrey-Maine-Perez triumvirate. The 2006 team featured Pedro, Glavine, Trachsel, Orlando Hernandez and Maine as their top five. A quick inspection turns up no challenger in the recent years.

You might actually have to reach back a whole decade, or more (if ever) to find a Mets staff with more prodigious fastballs than this one. The 2005 team has a chance, if you remember Kris Benson or Victor Zambrano throwing particularly hard. I didn't. Benson averaged 90.2 in 2005 to my surprise, but Zambrano averaged 89.6. With Glavine, Pedro, and Kaz Ishii making up the rest of the starting five, you know they didn't bring as much heat at this year's edition.


I thought the 2002 team maybe had a chance to challenge with a bunch of one-and-done Mets in Pedro Astacio, Jeff D'Amico and Shawn Estes supplementing Trachsel and Al Leiter... but Astacio (89.6), D'Amico (87.6), and Trachsel (87) were all below my expectations. For some reason I remembered Astacio being a hard thrower - but memories fade, especially in an era of Met irrelevance.

So, with fangraphs pitch data ending at 2002, that brings us back to this year's squad. With Maine averaging 92.1 on his fastball in 2008 and 91.3 last year, he'll be around there again. Even the injured version of Oliver Perez averaged 90.0. For his career it is a robust 91.2. Although much has been made of the decline of Johan Santana, his heater averaged 90.5 last year after a season of 91.2 before that. Pelfrey leads the way at 92.6, while Niese brings up the rear at 89.6 last season.

Not that this necessarily portends a good year - throwing harder means nothing on its own - but it's something that stood out to me upon review.

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Note 1: I realize that injuries to intended starters might skew this - comparing our projected top five to the actual top five of previous years. But with Nelson Figueroa (88.2) and Fernando Nieve (92.2) the likely replacements, it doesn't really matter.

Note 2: I think the 2000 rotation might have had a chance if Leiter and Hampton threw a couple of miles per hour harder in their primes than they did by the time 2002 rolled around. The 1999 team with Orel Hershiser and Rick Reed taking 40% of the starts likely didn't have a chance either.

I would love for someone who has been around a little longer to take a shot at identifying a Mets' starting rotation who may have thrown as hard as this one. Maybe one of the historians over at Faith and Fear? Could Doc and Darling and El Sid bring the heat?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's Too Soon To GIve Up On.....

I am taking a brief timeout from my 2010 preview and Yankees/Mets writing to once again delve into prospect land. While writing my preview and listing "breakout players" I ran across many guys that I still had hopes for, but was not really confident in their ability to deliver big this season. I put them in the back of my mind for a bit and chose to write a bit about them here. There are a selection of "failed" prospects for one reason or another. In each of them I still see the potential for a long Major League career and think teams would be foolish to bury them on minor league depth charts. So here are a few players that, while not stars, may surprise some this season.


10. Andy Laroche - 3B - Pirates

LaRoche was a highly regarded prospect with the Dodgers when he posted three-straight 900+ OPS years from 2005 through 2007, a stretch that started off in high-A and ended in AAA. He capped off that stretch with a ho-hum cup of coffee in the majors and by all accounts was expected to be a solid Major-Leaguer with occasional All-Star appearances. I personally always liked his plate discipline, which was somewhere between great and spectacular, and thought he would have at least average power in the majors.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Feliciano To Be Mets' Setup Man ... Is This Good?


Well, this is interesting news.

After reading earlier this week that Pedro Feliciano wanted to be our eighth-inning guy, I was intrigued. He does have a very good track record with us - albeit primarily as a left-handed specialist. It was weird to, for the first time, consider him as more than that... but upon reflection, it might be a great idea.

“I don’t want to be the lefty specialist,” Feliciano said, according to MLB.com. “I want to be the eighth-inning guy, and I want to prove to the organization that I can pitch to righties like I pitch to lefties… I just want to leave Spring Training as the setup man.” (Source: Metsblog)

That was Friday, so I spent the weekend with this idea in the back of my mind. Fast-forward to today, and I see the following headline from the always great David Waldstein at the New York Times: "Mets Considering Feliciano For Setup Role." I thought to myself, I knew that already. That article was published at 7:31pm.

2010 Predictions Part 5: NL Awards and Breakout Players

MVP
1. Albert Pujols - So good, that it would be really hard to justify listing anyone else first.
2. Ryan Braun - Quietly had a huge season last year and has not hit his peak yet.
3. Chase Utley - Howard and Rollins have the hardware, but Utley has been Philly's best player all along.
4. Troy Tulowitzki - Colorado looks like a safe bet for the post-season again and he is their best player.
5. Matt Holliday - Back in NL where he is more comfortable, and hitting behind Pujols leads to many RBI opportunities.
6. Prince Fielder - Such a monster offensively, he earns his spot even though he could be traded this year.
7. Ryan Howard - 40+ home runs, 125+ RBI practically a guarantee.
8. Justin Upton - Diamondbacks may surprise some people, but only if Upton stays healthy.
9. Pablo Sandoval - The only real threat in San Francisco's lineup carried them to contention last year.
10. Hanley Ramirez - May be pitched around too much to post gaudy stats, but is a great all-around player.

Cy Young
1. Tim Lincecum - Almost as obvious a choice as Pujols, Lincecum has proven he is the best pitcher in the NL.
2. Josh Johnson - Actually expecting bigger and better things than last year, now that he is farther removed from surgery.
3. Roy Halladay - In a hitter's park for the first time, but has a great defense behind him in the easier league.
4. Clayton Kershaw - 5th in NL ERA race last season as a 21-year-old with control problems.
5. Tommy Hanson - A full season of Hanson will help ease the loss of Javier Vazquez.
6. Dan Haren - Improves a little bit every year, how much better can he get though?
7. Ubaldo Jimenez - May have the best pure stuff in baseball and knows how to pitch at Coors Field.

Rookie of the Year
1. Jason Heyward - Ahead of schedule but has the talent to handle being rushed to the majors.
2. Alcides Escobar - I'm not a huge believer in the bat, but he could win the gold glove this year.
3. Stephen Strasburg - This year's Tommy Hanson probably won't get enough innings to make a serious run.
4. Buster Posey - Should be starting for San Francisco now, but may spend some time in the minors.
5. Aroldis Chapman - Should rack up big strikeout totals but will need innings to compete for award.

Manager of the Year
Charlie Manuel - Has never managed a bad team and may actually get some credit for it this year.

Top 5 Breakout Hitters
1. Jay Bruce - Bruce has already shown huge pop, but this year he should put together a complete season.
2. Dexter Fowler - Fowler was rushed hard to the majors and survived last year, now with a chance to catch his breath he should take off.
3. Martin Prado - A career .300 hitter in both the minors and majors, Prado has the starting job to himself this year.
4. Chase Headley - The park will drastically shrink his numbers, but Headley should develop into San Diego's second best hitter this year.
5. Colby Rasmus - I'm not sure if the breakout will come this year or next for Rasmus, but when it comes expect a huge season.

Top 5 Breakout Pitchers
1. Yovani Gallardo - Last year was supposed to be his breakout season but he tired down the stretch, this year it all comes together.
2. Jonathan Sanchez - Made a lot of progress last season and there should be more on the horizon.
3. Jorge De La Rosa - Has finally started to harness his plus stuff.
4. Mat Latos - May begin year in the minors but should be San Diego's ace before the year is out.
5. Mike Adams - Career 2.53 ERA in the majors, this year he finally starts being considered one of the best relievers in baseball.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kelvim Escobar's Injury Woes Continue



Edited March 28, 2010

Once it was news that Escobar was injured and wouldn't be pitching, I basically stopped reporting on this story. He was hurt, the Mets have such an awful reputation when it comes to handling things, and we'll just wait and see when he gets back. One thing that bears pointing out, however, is how accurate Craig Calcaterra's reporting on this issue was in comparison to the news coming out of Mets camp.

On February 18th, Calcaterra pointed out that Kelvim Escobar "may be seriously hurt" and that he "isn't even to grip a baseball" right now. Mets officials downplayed this, with Mets' beat reporter Adam Rubin relaying a story from Johan Santana saying that Escobar was fine. Later that night, WFAN reported that Mets officials have declared Escobar "on schedule" with what they expected of him at this poing in the spring.

Even on that Friday, February 19th, Escobar insisted that he would "be ready for opening day" because his issue was a weakness issue and that he'd be fine.

Well, fast-forward to the present and Kelvim Escobar has not thrown a baseball since that day.

Jordany Valdespin Making Noise


A few weeks ago, we at Fonzie Forever plunged through the deep minors and discovered "intriguing" second base prospect Jordany Valdespin. We concluded:

Although it could be seen as an indictment of his talent that he has not yet reached High-A ball entering his age 22 season, his physical abilities (winning Baseball America's 'Best Athlete' award among all Mets minor leaguers) and variety of talents (speed and defense) make him an intriguing prospect.

Lo and behold, one month later Valdespin is making some serious noise around camp. He appeared in a spring training game last week against the Cardinals, but the quotes coming from Minaya and Manuel about Valdespin really caught me off guard:
Maybe the Mets do have a second baseman in their future from their system just as they have Ike Davis at first.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Heath Bell Is Awesome

We at Fonzie Forever have always liked Heath Bell. He's one of my favorite Mets of all time. We once had a great conversation with Heath Bell, which can be the subject of one of our future posts.

Today however, I am going to post an excerpt from an interview that Heath did with Yahoo Sports yesterday. In it, he sounds suspiciously like one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, Crash Davis from the movie Bull Durham.

Thank You Wikipedia: The Most Interesting Facts About the Mets

Wikipedia is great isn't it? Here are the most interesting facts I found about members of the New York Mets while doing my daily wikisurfing.


Jose Reyes received his call-up to the majors, just days before his 20th birthday, only after Rey Sanchez strained his thumb.

In May 2007, Vitamin Water was sold to the Coca-Cola Corporation for $4.1 billion. As part of his endorsement deal, David Wright was given 0.5% of the company, and took home $20 million.

And there was that time in 2006 when Wright appeared on MTV's Total Request Live with Cliff Floyd. Those were the days right?

Jason Bay debuted with the Padres on May 23, 2003, getting his first major league hit, a home run, in the 9th inning. Two days later, he suffered a broken right wrist after a hit by pitch. Success leads to punishment, always. Enjoy your complex.

Jason Bay was part of a multi-player deal in a Padres-Pirates swap in 2003. One of the players he was traded with was Oliver Perez. Yes, THAT Oliver Perez.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

2010 Predictions Part 4: AL Awards and Breakout Players

MVP
1. Alex Rodriguez - Now playing with less pressure than he has ever felt in his career and is healthy.
2. Joe Mauer - I would be a bit surprised if his power numbers repeated but he remains a superstar.
3. Mark Teixeira - A great all-around player in a very potent lineup, expect a repeat of last year.
4. Evan Longoria - He will take the next steps toward being the best hitter in the AL this year.
5. Victor Martinez - He will fall behind Mauer in the rate stats, but should beat him counting stats.
6. Kevin Youkilis - He missed a little time with injuries last year and still had a monster season.
7. Kendry Morales - Will most likely be the best hitter in the second best lineup in baseball.
8. Miguel Cabrera - A monotonous career of great years.
9. Grady Sizemore - The Indians will score a lot of runs this year and he will be the catalyst.
10. Ben Zobrist - Rated by some statistical measures as the best player in baseball last year.

Cy Young
1. Felix Hernandez - Amazing pitcher, amazing defense and voters finally starting to look at more than wins.
2. Jon Lester - Third in the AL in K's last year and has a vastly upgraded defense behind him.
3. C. C. Sabathia - Won't win the ERA title but will be among league leaders in K's and wins.
4. Zack Greinke - Will be great again but the Royals are even worse this year.
5. Justin Verlander - The king of K's will be right there again.
6. Cliff Lee - Worried about his health a bit but he should be fine in the long run.
7. Matt Garza - Should emerge as the leader of a talented, young, Rays staff.

Rookie of the Year
1. Brian Matusz - Best combination of talent and opportunity by far.
2. Desmond Jennings - Should hit the ground running once Tampa Bay gives him the job.
3. Neftali Feliz - Has potential to be this year's Andrew Bailey.
4. Wade Davis - Struggling this spring but should be able to match Jeff Niemann's 2009.
5. Austin Jackson - Should rack up plenty of AB's and play reasonably well.

Manager of the Year
Ron Gardenhire - Twins should win the division this year even without Nathan, and Gardenhire will get plenty of credit.

Top 5 Breakout Hitters
1. Matt Wieters - Too easy.
2. Travis Snider - Struggled in the first half last year but rebounded in a big way and is just 22.
3. Matt LaPorta - Rare combination of power and bat control should lead to a big season.
4. Howie Kendrick - Only injuries have prevented him from being a right-handed Robinson Cano.
5. Gordon Beckham - A quietly efficient rookie year was a prelude of things to come.

Top 5 Breakout Pitchers
1. Brett Anderson - Was rushed to the majors last year but kept getting better, expect more of the same.
2. Matt Garza - Upped his K-rate significantly last year, and ERA drop should swiftly follow.
3. Derek Holland - A bit of a long shot but the stuff is there and the breakout will come later if not this year.
4. Brian Matusz - One of the most complete rookie pitchers in recent memory should be effective immediately.
5. Clay Buchholz - Will never deliver on the hype he once generated but should be an above average starter this year.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hisanori Takahashi Should Be This Year's Darren Oliver

The day was October 14, 2006. The Mets were in trouble. It was the second inning of Game 3 of the NLCS. The Mets were at Busch Stadium, facing the Cardinals, and Steve Trachsel was struggling. He led off the second inning by surrendering a home run to the opposing pitcher, Jeff Suppan, which made the score 3-0 in favor of St. Louis. A walk, single, and walk later, he was out of there. Who came in to save the day? None other than Darren Oliver, one of the unheralded heroes of the Mets 2006 season.

Oliver wasn't perfect, allowing two of those inherited runners to score - but that can hardly be blamed on Oliver. What happened next, however, was something which endeared Oliver to me for life. No matter what else he did, I would always be a Darren Oliver fan.

Mejia is Not Parnell

Quick blurb from Metsblog caught my eye today:
…mejia struck out Matt Diaz with a 97 mph fastball, high out of the strike zone, that diaz swung at, missed and seemingly never saw… by the way, SNY’s Gary Cohen brought up an interesting point, in that, last spring, people were raving about Bobby Parnell in much the same way they’re doing now with mejia… yet, here we are wondering what parnell’s future holds…
Well... let's see.

Jenrry Mejia is an ELITE prospect. He's got a plus plus fastball which touches 97 and with cutting action. His secondary pitches are coming along and show a lot pf promise. He's coming off a season where, at the age of 19, he dominated High-A ball and held his own in Double-A. He even struck out more than a batter per inning at Binghamton. To do this as a teenager is extremely impressive.

Bobby Parnell was not an elite prospect. He was drafted in the ninth round of the amateur draft and was given a tiny bonus. He's got a fastball which touches 99 but is flat and straight. He has no secondary pitch worth noting. Last year, he was coming off a season where he struggled in Double-A and was shelled in Triple-A as a 23 year old.

To complete the (what's the opposite of an analogy?) comparison, their spring trainings aren't similar at all either. This year, Mejia has electrified camp with a great spring, posting a 1.54 ERA over 12 innings with a K-BB ratio of 9-2 and only 7 hits. Last year, Parnell also had a great ERA of 1.88, but he supported it with a K-BB ratio of 11-10, while also giving up 12 hits. The ERA's are similar -- but the similarity ends there.

Mejia is a far better prospect, with far better stuff, and has had a far better spring. The comparison is meaningful in that they are both youngsters who posted low ERA's in a dozen spring innings... but to mention the two in the same breath is a slight to Mejia's actual (not imaginary, as in the case of Parnell) potential.

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Edit: Actually, that is harsh of me regarding Parnell. To be clear, and I've said this before, Parnell has every opportunity to become a useful reliever. Guys who can throw as hard as he can and throw strikes do not grow on trees - and they have the kind of potential that coaches dream about. If he can develop a good secondary pitch, or find a way to cut or sink his current fastball, he could be great. But the pedigree, the resume, and the percentage chance of that happening, are not as great as they have been made out to be for the last year.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Today Is a Good Day

No interesting spin, statistics, or analysis on this one, boys. Just the good news:
New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes has been cleared to resume baseball activities after doctors determined his thyroid levels have returned to normal.

Mets general manager Omar Minaya said Reyes will resume full workouts Wednesday.

"It's a good sign for us today and, hopefully, it will be a good sign for the rest of the year," Minaya said. "Today is a good day."


Most teams take the health of their star players mostly for granted, but for us Mets fans, just getting our guys back on the field is cause for celebration.

As for when Reyes will be ready, that is still up in the air:
Though manager Jerry Manuel originally said Reyes likely needed 10 spring training games to be ready for regular-season play, Minaya did not want to speculate whether Reyes could appear in the April 5 opener against the Florida Marlins.

"Let's see how things go," Minaya said. "We are not going to say he is not going to be ready, but let's see when he comes out here how he gets himself prepared. The good thing is he came to camp in excellent shape. He is excited about being here, we are excited about him being here, but as far as Opening Day goes, we don't know."

Yay!

And now, just because I am happy... a clip of one of the greatest things the Mets have ever been affiliated with, the "Jose Reyes Spanish Academy."

Chris Carter Probably Being Overlooked For The Right Reasons

Ed Ryan over at Mets Fever had a thoughtful post today asking "how is Chris Carter getting overlooked" for the first base job? He's performed very well in spring training and, with Murphy struggling, one might think he deserves a look. A good thought, but not so fast.

Carter hit .294/.358/.465 for Triple-A Pawtucket in the International League last year while the property of the Red Sox. Decent numbers on the surface. However, putting up those numbers as a 26-year-old in Triple-A is a far cry from doing so in the major leagues.

Monday, March 22, 2010

2010 Predictions Part 3: AL West

There has probably been more changeover in the American League West than in any other division. The powerhouse Angels are looking vulnerable for the first time in awhile and every single team has a real shot this year. The Mariners have made a huge turnaround, Texas has some pitching for a change and some of Oakland's prospects are coming through. With the American League East expected to send two teams into the playoffs as usual, it should be an old school race for the division title and lone birth into the playoffs.


1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 87-75

It is really rare that you are in the minority when picking a team to repeat but that seems to be the case with the Angels this year. The departure of ace John Lackey, leadoff hitter Chone Figgins and DH Vladimir Guerrero have gotten all the headlines but I do not believe that will be enough to sink this team. They already had Maicer Izturis or Howie Kendrick to fill at third, not to mention Brandon Wood and signed Hideki Matsui, who was better than Guerrero last year, to DH. Torii Hunter also missed some time last season, a rarity for him. Combine all those things and their offense should still be very good. Their rotation is a bit weaker than in the past but if Scott Kazmir turns it around the difference will be nominal. I think this team is still in the driver's seat.

The Mets Most Critical Spring Training Issue: Holding On To Figgy

Howard Megdal published a great article yesterday regarding the Mets fifth starter competition, and may have accidentally highlighted what I believe to be the most important and interesting issue surrounding the Mets this spring -- keeping Nelson Figueroa the property of the New York Mets.

(I know articles about Mejia, Ike Davis, and Fernando are much sexier, but sometimes the boring issues are the most important)

In his blog for SNY.tv, Megdal points out that the Mets have an "embarrassment of riches" competing for the fifth spot in the pitching rotation. And he's absolutely right.

The most interesting part of the article, however, was the angle that he took on the topic. After basically assuming that all the candidates are good and viable (which they are) he discussed the competition in the most important context: "given the question marks with the first four pitchers in the rotation, the team's ability to hold onto [the fifth starter candidates] has to be taken into account."

The Oliver Perez Volatility Experiment

One of the things you hear as a Mets fan over and over again is how there is a "Good Ollie and Bad Ollie." That Oliver Perez is a coin flip. That you never know what he will give you on a given night.

It can be frustrating to watch the guy sometimes, but you may be surprised to learn that Oliver Perez is not much more or less "volatile" than any other average starter.

For the purposes of this discussion, volatility simply means the size of the gap between his good starts and his bad starts. A less volatile pitcher will have, obviously, less variation between the two. I am sure that many other, smarter people have tackled this issue, but I think seeing a graphical comparison between a few Mets will be helpful.

The below chart compares three pitchers. Oliver Perez and John Maine from 2007, the last season they both pitched full seasons, and Johan Santana from 2008. I included Johan as an exemplar of what an ace looks like in comparison to two average starters.

Friday, March 19, 2010

2010 Predictions Part 2: AL Central

The American League Central has had some of the best division races the last few years, and although Minnesota looked like a clear favorite in February, the Joe Nathan injury has brought them back to the pack. Detroit had to cut costs and hurt their chances in the short term and that combined with the Twins' quietly effective off-season has created some separation between the teams. Cleveland is rebuilding and Kansas City continues to make bewildering moves so neither are not expected to be factors this year. The interesting team is Chicago, who has a very good all-around staff but several serious holes in their lineup.


1. Minnesota Twins 86-76

The Twins won the division last year despite some major hurdles. Their two best players, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, each missed basically a month of action and only two of their starting pitchers made more than 24 starts. They picked up J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, both of whom appear to upgrade their infield defense and offense. They kept the rotation completely in tact, and that could be a very good thing if Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano can stay healthy and productive. They do have plenty of capable backup starters, plus their pen was strong before Joe Nathan's injury, and should remain solid, even in his absence. This is the most complete Minnesota team in recent memory and should still be the favorites this year.

Catching Up With: Carlos Gomez

Metsblog had an interesting post earlier today discussing some former Mets farmhands which we have traded away:
Yes… Bell and Matt Lindstrom, and maybe Xavier Nady and Jeff Keppinger, are players the Mets might wish they could have back... But, all in all, Omar Minaya has traded away a TON of minor leagues, very few of which he regrets.

For instance, in the five years he has been at the wheel, he’s traded away: Ian Bladergroen, Petit, Grant Posmas, Gaby Hernandez, Dante Brinkley, Jae Wong Seo, Evan Maclane, Victor Diaz, Brian Bannister, Lastings Milledge, Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Humber and Kevin Mulvey – very few of which would even have helped with adding depth to last season’s injury-plagued roster. He traded away Mike Jacobs, who signed with the team as a free agent a few months ago; and he traded Henry Owens, who was auditioning for a minor-league job at Tradition Field last month.

Yes, I do trust Minaya’s ability to asses his young talent, which is also a credit to his staff.
Now, I disagree with some of the assessments outright. Mike Jacobs was a very useful player for a couple of years, it is way too early to tell on Gaby Hernandez, Milledge is good and has the opportunity to be great, and Brian Bannister has been a very useful player. But I agree with the concept in general -- for all the hand wringing people have done about trading away prospects, we have not traded away a lot of impact players. And it's interesting to wonder whether that is luck, or whether Minaya has just been particularly adept at judging talent.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

2010 Prospect Hub/Table of Contents

When I started my 2010 prospect overview my goal was simple. I wanted to provide more accurate, worthwhile, content than anyone else on the internet will offer for free. It was a tall task for one person, but one that I also immensely enjoyed doing. After nearly 50,000 words over 256 player commentaries and organizational rankings, I feel like I have accomplished my goal. I hope that those who have stumbled upon our humble website will find it a valuable resource and enjoy reading it.

2010 Predictions Part. 1: AL East

Last year I thought three of the five best teams in baseball were in the AL East and that could be the case again this year. The Yankees and Red Sox have rearranged their rosters a bit but both still look like serious contenders. Tampa Bay's 2009 regression was expected but they did not lose any key players off their roster and are more likely to improve this year than get worse because of their youth. Meanwhile Baltimore is slowly pushing some pieces from a prospering farm system into the majors and is making progress. Toronto played better last year than their record indicates and even without Halladay they have a lot of talent as well.

1. New York Yankees 95-67

I am projecting the Yankees to slide back to the field a decent amount this season but still lead the division. Last year their top four starters each made over 30 starts and even though they added Javier Vazquez (a very durable pitcher) I just do not expect so few injuries in back to back years. The defense should be better than last year but some offensive regression from the older players seems likely. On paper this team may appear to be just as strong as last years, but I don't think they will get quite as many breaks this season and have to "settle" for 95 wins.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

3/17 Jenrry Mejia Impressions

It was a short, six-pitch, outing for Mejia today. I had planned on a more extensive write-up but given how little I have to work with I will make this short and to the point.

Mejia was extremely impressive today, he threw five fastballs and a single breaking ball. His fastball was 92-95 with cutting action, making it easily a plus pitch. All of them were located well with the exception of his first pitch to Marco Scutaro that missed to down and to his glove-side.

The best contact made against him today came off the bat of Josh Reddick, who appeared to be sitting on a fastball and got one on the inside part of the plate. He hit it fairly hard but Mejia was able to get the pitch in on his hands enough to take most of Reddick's power away, resulting in a medium-velocity line drive right at the first baseman. Scutaro grounded out weakly to short on the second pitch of his at-bat which was also a fastball.

Perhaps the most impressive pitch Mejia threw on the day was the breaking ball to Cameron which also resulted in a weak grounder. It came in at 78 miles-per-hour (if you can trust NESN's radar gun, which actually seemed fairly accurate today) and had sharp downward bite. Although all the scouting reports I have seen say Mejia throws a slider, this looked more like a curve with slider velocity. Regardless of what it actually was, it was a plus pitch. Supposedly Mejia' changeup is his more advanced secondary option, but the one breaking ball I saw today was a Major League quality pitch.

If the Mets do want to use Mejia out of the bullpen in the majors this year, there is no doubt in my mind he is already the best option they have other than Francisco Rodriguez. However, doing so seems foolish to me. Mejia is only 20-years-old and should be sent to AA and continue to develop as a starter. The urge to put him in the pen to help in the short term is great, but look at what happened to Joba Chamberlain of the Yankees last year. The constant shifting of roles clearly had a negative impact on his development and the Mets would be wise to avoid subjecting Mejia to something similar.

Major League Baseball's Working Poor, Feat. Fernando Perez

The below clip is absolutely hilarious. It sounds a lot like a Colbert Report interview, except Fernando Perez is the one in-character.



Great lines from my new favorite non-Met:

-You know where I got this s***? Modells. Modells!

-I want to make it rain... in the club.

-Denard Span, Twins guy? He's interning - unpaid intern at the WNBA

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Fifth Starter Competition, And Why Nobody Should Be Listening to Jerry Manuel

There has been a lot of talk about the fifth starter spot this spring, but few of the reports have taken a large-scale look at the situation as a whole. So let's set the record straight and figure out as much as we can about the candidates right now. Below are the spring training statistics for the four men who are can be considered true candidates for the spot:

Fernando Nieve: 3 games, 9 IP, 12 hits, 6 runs, 5 bb, 2 K
Nelson Figueroa: 3 games, 8 IP, 4 hits, 0 runs, 3 bb, 9 K
Jonathan Niese: 3 games, 7.2 IP, 10 hits, 6 earned runs, 4 bb, 7 K
Hisanori Takahashi: 2 games, 6 IP, 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 bb, 9 K

Obviously, a few spring innings are not going to tell you much about the player posting them. What is interesting, however, is that in the four men, we have the four most hilariously stereotypical rotation contenders imaginable:


Fernando Nieve -- The Former Top Prospect, resurrecting his career
Nelson Figueroa -- The Journeyman, struggling to prove himself
Jonathan Niese -- The Real Prospect, trying to break into the Show
Hisanori Takahashi -- The Japanese League Veteran , shrouded in mystery.


We've got righties and we've got lefties. We have old and young. We have hard throwers and soft-tossers. It's great.


Who else is in favor of tossing Pelfrey, Perez, and Maine overboard and just going with these guys? At the very least, we could have an interesting Mighty Ducks-style story on our hands. Especially if we include Ryota Igarashi, aka "Swallows Man."

Storyline aside, there is one very important issue. The most important issue, in fact, one which I believe that the beat writers and bloggers have been avoiding for the most part:

What are our goals for this season and beyond, and what do each player offer us to help us toward that goal?

If our objective was to "win now" we could hand the job to the best pitcher, toss the other three in the bullpen, and promote Jennry Mejia right away.

If our objective is to play for 2011, we should send Jon Niese to Triple-A and plug whoever will sell the most tickets into the fifth starter slot.

If, as I imagine, our objective is somewhere in between, the picture becomes less clear, and it is important for us to consider what each of the players offer. It appears that the Mets consider Takahashi and Nieve as candidates for the bullpen, but not Figueroa. According to Brian Costa of the Star-Ledger, Fernando Nieve is the only candidate who is out of options and cannot be sent to the minor leagues without clearing waivers. Each player also offers us a different potential ceiling and floor for their performance.

The one person whose input we should not be taking into account is Jerry Manuel. This is not because I don't like Jerry - in fact, I think he's not a bad manager. However, it is inherent in his position that he wants to win NOW, without regard to the future development of our prospects and without regard to service time and free agency. I don't blame him. If my job depended on how the Mets performed in the first 40 games, I would probably do the same thing. This is precisely why we need to adhere to the manager/GM system which we allegedly have in effect. Manuel, despite all his sneaky comments to the press, particularly about Mejia, shouldn't have much, if any, input into the final shape of our roster.

All of these players are much more than their spring statistics would indicate, but delving into each would take another post altogether. But knowing just the basics, a few things are clear. Fernando Nieve and Hisanori Takahashi will be on the roster Opening Day. If I had it my way, both would be in the bullpen and Nelson Figueroa would be the fifth starter. Jon Niese would have a few months to hone his craft in Triple-A.

This option allows us to a) retain all our players, b) allows Niese to mature as a pitcher, and c) gives Figueroa the shot at the rotation that everyone thinks he deserves. Just as importantly, it moves two potentially powerful forces to the bullpen. Seeing as most pitchers are more effective when relieving rather than starting, Nieve and Takahashi could potentially provide a huge boost to our weakest unit. Takahashi, in particular, would provide us with a second left-handed option in addition to Pedro Feliciano.

A bullpen of Frankie Rodriguez, Pedro Feliciano, Sean Green, Ryota Igarashi, Nieve and Takahashi is deep and provides a variety of different looks.

For the best chance of winning now, holding on to our player properties, and allowing Jon Niese to reach his potential, this arrangement seems to be the obvious answer.

Dear Angel Pagan

Thank you for crushing that walk off home run today to make me look smart.

Yes, it is only pre-season.

But the haters won't hesitate to hold against you the one bad play you made in the outfield last week. So how can they deny your clutch, awesome, game winning smash today?

Haters.

You did a good job. And just as importantly as the home run - I'm proud of you for laying off that tough 2-1 fastball. That took a lot of discipline. I'm sure that fastball looked fat on the way into the plate, but you waited and watched it sail by as a ball.

Way to go, Angel. I look forward to seeing you patrol centerfield for all of April. And don't listen to the haters. We've got your back.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is Fernando Martinez An Option In Center Field?


Well, if John Harper of the Daily News has his way, perhaps. Harper suggested in an article yesterday that the Mets would be better off starting Fernando and pushing Angel Pagan to the bench. This idea could not be dumber.

Harper prefaces his suggestion by pointing out to us that Angel Pagan made a mistake in Thursday's exhibition against the Red Sox. He continues:
When I later asked another Mets player about it, he tapped a finger against his head and walked away. Enough said.

For that matter, we saw enough of Pagan's baserunning adventures last season to know that no amount of coaching is going to keep him from making costly mistakes at times.

The point is, now that Jose Reyes is apparently going to join Beltran on the disabled list to start the season, the Mets need to rethink their options. Specifically they need to think about a way to make their lineup more dynamic, as well as less prone to the mistakes that were killing them last season even before all the injuries.
Yes, Pagan caught the ball in a bad position to throw. But let's not lose our heads here - it was one play in a spring training game. Who knows why it happened?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jason Bay and The Problem With RBI's, Part 2


Earlier today, I posted a blog which discussed the uselessness of using RBI as a measure by which we should evaluate Jason Bay. Since then, I've had several people approach me and tell me that my logic is silly. I'll admit, I did not do a very good job of explaining exactly what I was trying to say in the last blog. So let me try and do so here:

Jason Bay has been a fine player throughout his career, but the idea of him being a run-producer is a totally overblown. His value, of which he has plenty, rests in the things he has been able to do well over the years - draw walks, hit for power, etc. - but evaluating his career based on his RBI totals is misleading. In the same token, evaluating his performance in 2010 based primarily on whether or not he as able to do as advertised (i.e. drive in runs) will be a mistake. He is not an "RBI guy" the same way that nobody is. RBI are primarily about opportunities.

Jason Bay, based on the work we've done here in comparing him to other players, is likely to see his skills decline soon and sharply. When that happens, his RBI totals, which will likely remain decent, will be emptier and emptier.

As a side note, I learned tonight that his full name is Jason Raymond Bay. Is there any way we can get people to start calling him Jay Ray Bay? Because I love it. Others seem to have discovered this already (like the excellent Ted Berg) but I haven't heard it catch on yet.

Baseball Reference provides us with a wonderful tool which can help take some of the mystery out of being an RBI guy. For each player, they provide their RBI total in comparison to the RBI total of the average major leaguer in the same number of at-bats. According to his Baseball Reference page, Jason did very well last year:

Bay: 119 RBI
Average major leaguer: 72 RBI

That would seem to confirm that he's a run producer, right? Well, not so fast. In addition to the total number of RBI, they provide us with the number of players that were on base for their at bats. For the average major leaguer, it was 401, but for Jason Bay, it was 445. That does not account for the disparity, but it does narrow the gap. Observe the following:

Bay's RBI Percentage: 10.98%[1]
Average ML RBI Percentage: 6.92%

Obviously, Bay had a great year for driving in runners last season - but it was his best year ever. Here are the percentages, going back in time, for Bay versus the average:

2008: 9.17%
2007: 8.05%
2006: 9.20%

ML average was 6.95%, 7.17%, and 7.30% each of those years.

So Bay has always been consistently slightly better than average at driving in runs. But that is just because he is a better than average hitter. It is not because he has some special skill for driving in runs. He bats in the middle of a lineup behind a speedy leadoff man and a two-hitter who probably bunts the runner to second or third a good percentage of the time. When you bat cleanup, the entire offense is engineered around YOU driving those runs in.

It does not stand to reason from the above numbers that someone could distinguish himself from the rest of the world of good hitters by being particularly good at driving in runs. To demonstrate this, here are the same numbers for some guys who you might not consider to be "run producers":

Carlos Lee, 2008: 11.91%
Jorge Cantu, 2009: 8.65%
Alex Rodriguez, 2004: 9.05% (in his first "super chokey" season in New York)
Bobby Abreu, 2009: 9.26%
Michael Cuddyer, 2009: 8.49%
Nick Markakis, 2009: 8.51%
Ryan Garko, 2008: 9.25%

The above list includes a lot of guys from a lot of different fields. Some are stars or near-stars, others are stable veterans. Some, however, are even KNOWN FOR their inability to drive in runs - most glaringly, Alex Rodriguez in his first season in New York.

The only thing these players have in common is that, in the year I looked at their statistics, they had good offensive seasons and hit in the middle of their batting orders. If you hit well, and if you are afforded opportunities, RBI's will come. The glorification of Jason Bay as a run producer is little more than a sportswriter's fantasy.

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[1] The percentage is the (number of RBI) / (the number of runners on base + plate appearances). Remember, in every at bat, you can not only drive in the runners on base, but you could also hit a home run and drive yourself in.

Jason Bay and The Problem With RBI's

Joe Posnanski published a blog yesterday in which he discussed a recent Bill James essay entitled "The Attribution Problem." The essay can be found in the Bill James Gold Mine 2010. Posnanski relays the concept of the essay:
We attribute the victory won by the team to the individual pitcher — and then conclude, based essentially on that attribution, that the pitcher is the key to victory.

That sums it up pretty well, doesn’t it? The win is all about sleight of hand. Pitchers don’t win games, and pitchers don’t lose games — that should be obvious to everyone. But people decided a long time ago just the opposite: That pitchers do win and lose games.
It is a concept that many of us are already familiar with, both in baseball and in life. We do not always give credit to the things that REALLY help us succeed - sometimes we give credit to things or people that are more obvious, and sometimes we just don't know what is responsible for our success.

Baseball is a truly wonderful place for us to be open-minded and critical of our thought process. Unlike life, we can reconstruct sequences and we have solid records and numbers which we can point to which tell us exactly what happened.

Posnanski's article, however, really focuses on the concept of the "RBI guy."[1] Statistically-minded writers have long been downplaying RBI's as a way to judge the value of players (and correctly so) and this article is more of the same. However, I always like reading Posnanski's take on things and here he adds an interesting tidbit to the conversation.

At the outset of the article, Posnanski asks you to choose one of two options. (1) Your team could have more hits than the opponent or (2) Your team could hit three or more home runs. Which of those two options would give you a better chance of winning? You may be surprised to learn the answer:

Teams that outhit their opponents won 80.3% of the time.
Teams that hit three-or-more homers won 78.4% of the time.[2]

The point is not that RBI on their own are good or bad, but rather, that you should be adding the best players to your team regardless of that single, ephemeral statistic. RBI are good, but hits and on-base percentage are better. RBI is useful, but defense and baserunning is, too.

Punch "Jason Bay" and "Run Producer" into Google, and you'll get thousands of hits. If you limit the search to January 1st to the present, you get 247 hits. He had 119 RBI last season, and has averaged 31 homers per year in the last four seasons. However, Jason Bay was not, and is not, the solution to our problems. As Bill James succinctly stated in his essay:

If you add a low-average power hitter to a bad team, the low average power hitter will lead the team in RBI — and the team will score fewer runs, not more.

That is what I fear with the Bay sitation. Although the Mets will find it almost impossible to be worse than last season offensively, I worry that the addition of Jason Bay will lead to gaudy but unproductive power numbers. With a lineup that is so top-heavy (with Reyes, Beltran and Wright all elite producers) Bay is going to have a ton of opportunities to drive in runs.

But with a low average (only .267 last year), Bay is a feast-or-famine hitter entering the twilight of his career. In watching the games this year, I worry that we'll see a lot of two- or three-run home runs when we do not need them, and a lot of strikeouts in games that are close. At the end of the year, Bay is going to have his 100 or 120 RBI, but I doubt that our offense will be much more productive.

---------------------------

[1]From the article:
Teams don’t score runs because they have uniquely talented RBI men. Teams score runs because more often than their opponents, they put together a string of useful offensive plays — walks, hits, stolen bases, hit-by-pitch, beating out double play grounders, taking extra bases, advancing on throws , on and on and on. That, most of the time, is what lead to runs.* The RBI guy cannot do it himself except with solo home runs. And teams don’t win games by hitting solo home runs. No, really, they don’t.


[2] The usual caveats apply here of course. It's not a scientific study, the numbers only apply to 2009, and the "three home runs" option does not mean that your team necessarily hit more home runs than the other team.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ridiculous

Homeless Man: Boethius once said, 'It's my belief that history is a wheel. "Inconsistency is my very essence" -says the wheel- "Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don't complain when you are cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away.'

Tony Wilson: ...I know.

- 24 Hour Party People



As Joe Posnanski pointed out a few days ago, Met fans like myself are simply accustomed to failure. That there always seems to be a black cloud hovering over Flushing. But I never seriously considered if we were cursed.

It's one thing for a Met team to be ridiculously terrible (40-120 is still the all-time worst record in a season[1]) or to underachieve when a championship was in our sights (1987-90, 1999, 2000, 2006-08). That's nothing.

3/12 Aroldis Chapman Impressions

I had a chance to watch Aroldis Chapman pitch for the first time since he signed with the Reds and came away with some strong impressions. When I recently ranked him #16 overall among prospects I did so completely off of scattered reports and that rank was a bit of a guess, because of how little information I have. While I do look at stats to help evaluate prospects, I also do pay attention to what I can see with my own eyes. Despite a poor camera angle and... we'll call it interesting... production choices I was able get a better idea of just what type of player Chapman is.

First of all, the fastball. With no radar gun at my disposal I was relying on the broadcasters telling me a few registered at 98 MPH, and he certainly appeared to be throwing hard. The thing that struck me the most though was how much movement he had. The pitch had substantial arm-side run on it that was very obvious, even from the well off-center view I had. If he is throwing legitimate upper-90s heat with that kind of life it is one of the best fastballs on the planet.

Medical Opinion: Reyes' Thyroid Condition

The following article was written by Fonzie Forever contributor Hector Perez. Hector is a fourth year medical student and big-time Mets fan. We thank him for his awesome insight into this issue.[1]

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Jose Reyes is going to miss at least two to eight weeks for abnormal thyroid levels. Most readers are probably wondering why the long, variable recovery time and why Reyes needs to give up baseball entirely for the remainder of his recovery period. Some of the answers are contained within, but allow me to preface this article by saying that I have no knowledge of the intricacies of Reyes’ illness and, in particular, the clinical reasoning that went into the decisions passed down by the Mets team doctors. I have some clinical knowledge as a current Medical student, so I’m going to attempt to work backwards and try to evaluate best case and worst case scenarios for Reyes, using assumptions based upon the little we do know about the case.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Memo to Mets Fans and Bloggers: Calm Down About Reyes

To: Mets Fans and Bloggers
From: Fonzie Forever
Re: Reyes' Overactive Thyroid
Date: March 11, 2010

-----------------------

Guys - take a deep breath.

I realize we live in a day and age where there is a 24 hour news cycle, where news and quotes are streamed instantly to our PDA's and where those who yell the craziest things from their virtual rooftops get the most attention. But please. Relax.

Yes, we got some bad news about Jose Reyes and his thyroid condition. Yes, Metsblog is reporting that Peter Greenberg, Reyes' agent, says it will "likely take 2-8 weeks" his thyroid levels to stabilize. I'm with you guys in that this is a terrible, unexpected thing to happen so far as our chances this season are concerned.

However, I call shenanegans on the media frenzy which has surrounded the allegedly "conflicting" statements issues by Reyes and by the Mets. Most media outlets reacted to the seemingly incongruous statements by the two parties with almost unbridled glee. More bad news for the Mets? And it's injury related? And we can spin this as organizational dysfunction? Hooray!!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

2010 Top Prospects Part 11: Organizational Rankings

Regarding the minor leagues, the question I get asked more than any other is: how good is [my favorite team's] farm system? Well, every year I like to put together a little ranking of all the organizations to answer that question. Since I have spent roughly the last two months working on ranking individual players (256 in total), I actually have the perfect tool to answer that question. I developed a point system, giving each organization a certain amount of credit for each player I took the time to single out. I will not go into great depth over how much each prospect was worth, but as a couple of examples, Stephen Strasburg (#1 overall) was worth 15, Ryan Westmoreland (#50 overall) was worth seven and Tanner Scheppers (#101 overall) was worth two. After totaling up these scores, here is how the teams broke down.


1. Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays simply lap the field when it comes to prospects, putting 3 guys in the top 12 overall and 7 in the top 100. Desmond Jennings is clearly the team's top prospect but they also have an impressive group of pitchers coming through the minors. Given how much talent already on hand for the parent club, and how loaded its system is, it looks like Tampa Bay will be competitive for a long time.

The Talent Is On The Doorstep


Two days ago the Times ran a great piece on the Mets farm system entitled "The Mets Future Suddenly Feels Far From Barren." The piece was written by David Waldstein, who Metsblog recently gave props to, calling him "smart" and that he is "doing a terrific job." I'd tend to agree.

Here are some snips:
Manager Jerry Manuel has been raving about the prospects who he thinks could help the Mets this season — like 20-year-old Jenrry Mejia, who has drawn comparisons of sorts from Manuel and Dan Warthen, the pitching coach, to both Mariano Rivera and Dwight Gooden...

The promising first baseman Ike Davis already has 12 total bases in 13 at-bats, including one towering blast that Manuel said was hit as far as any ball he has seen at Port St. Lucie. Manuel said Davis could also prompt him to rethink plans to send him down to Class AAA Buffalo if he continues to hit the way he has...

If Josh Thole, a young hitter with a sweet swing and a burning desire to improve, continues to learn his position, he is likely to be the Mets’ catcher of the future.

* * *

And finally, Fernando Martinez, who may be the best of the team’s prospects, hit two solo home runs and had four hits in four at-bats.

* * *

Only six games have been played, and this is the time for the young players to take the field. As spring training progresses, more at-bats and innings will be taken up by the veterans as they prepare for the regular season. But with Mejia, Davis, Thole and Martinez, the Mets’ future may not be as bleak as it appeared a year ago.


It's a short - but very good - read. Waldstein seems to take a good objective look at things, especially in the way he referred to Fernando Martinez. It's easy to forget about F-Mart this year, with all the hype around Davis and Mejia, and maybe that's a good thing.

For the spring, in case you are wondering, Martinez is hitting .588/.556/1.176 and leads the team in total bases.

And even if you don't think that any of these players are going to be world-beaters and all-stars, it's hard not to agree with Manuel's assessment when he says:

“What happened last year is that those guys were, like, a year away,” Manuel said. “And now if anything were to go wrong in terms of questions of depth, we’re seeing some young players come up and play extremely well...

The talent is on the doorstep,” Manuel said. “It’s not in the living room, but it’s right there waiting.”

And although I think I join a majority of sabermetrically inclined Mets fans when I say I'd prefer to see Mejia starting in Binghamton rather than setting up in Queens - it is undeniable that these prospects all seem to be blossoming at the same time.

From the blue-chippers who have a chance to become stars someday (Mejia, Martinez) to players who have a decent chance of being good regulars (Davis, Thole, Havens, Niese) there is opportunity. And just as importantly, there is a whole crop of players who could be useful parts and cheap - including guys like Parnell, Kunz, Takahashi, Figueroa, and Gee.

The talent is on the doorstep, and it will be interesting to see how much is there.

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[1] Ok, I didn't really look hard. Or at all.

Monday, March 08, 2010

2010 Top Prospects Part 10: Right-Handed Starters

Pitching prospects are one of the most coveted assets in baseball today. You can never have too much pitching (particularly starting) and if you can develop a pitcher out of the minors they will be much cheaper than signing a free agent. Every team in baseball has a few pitching prospects that they like and sorting through all of the noise to figure out which ones stand out is difficult. Add to it the extremely high attrition rate for the position and any list you come up with is going to be volatile. My list for right-handed starters is significantly longer than all of the other positions (and I could have easily gone much farther) because there are just so many guys that have a chance to be serious contributors in the majors.

Pt. 1: Catchers
Pt. 2: First Baseman
Pt. 3: Second Baseman
Pt. 4: Shortstops
Pt. 5: Third Baseman
Pt. 6: Corner Outfielders
Pt. 7: Center Fielders
Pt. 8: Relievers
Pt. 9: Left-Handed Starting Pitchers


1. Stephen Strasburg - Nationals (1)

If you could build the perfect pitcher in a lab, the result would very closely resemble Strasburg. Physically he is ideal; tall enough to get excellent leverage on his pitches but not so tall that his coordination suffers. He has a lightning quick arm and is an excellent athlete for a pitcher. He also has outstanding makeup. After not even being drafted in high school he committed himself to getting in better shape and working on his craft. The end result is that he is now the best pitching prospect in recent memory. In the past few years the only examples of pitchers that can even be compared to Strasburg when they were prospects are Felix Hernandez, Mark Prior and Josh Beckett, but Strasburg has a higher ceiling than any of them.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Myth of Eddie Kunz


When Eddie Kunz was drafted by the Mets in June of 2007, the story was already written.

Aaron Heilman, despite his good statistics, blew it in 2006 and was not a reliable big-inning pitcher. Chad Bradford had departed for Baltimore. Pedro Feliciano was a lefty specialist. And most importantly, Duaner Sanchez had been lost in that ridiculous cab accident.

With Billy Wagner's contract set to expire in 2009, Kunz would be ready to inherit the role just as Wagner left. So when the Mets drafted Kunz, it was convenient - it was perfect - to anoint him as the closer of the future.

However, reality did not (and never will) bend to fit within some preconcieved storyline. Marty Noble over at Mets.com recently took a look at Kunz and discussed his lack of progress:
But since Kunz became a professional, games beyond the season's first have been challenging in the same way, as the movement that should be his ally becomes an enemy. Walks have become too much a constant. He pitched 61 innings in 40 appearances with the Mets' Triple-A Buffalo affiliate last season. He struck out 38 batters, about what would be expected from a ground-ball pitcher. But he also walked 31, a total that would be expected from Nolan Ryan as a high school freshman.

* * *

The Mets patiently wait for Kunz. They know what they saw in 2008, when he saved 27 games for their Double-A Binghamton team. They saw enough then to summon him to the big leagues for an under-fire test after their bullpen had disintegrated. Kunz might have taken the eighth-inning job then had he distinguished himself. But his four appearances (2 2/3 innings) produced a 13.50 ERA that stains his numerical resume.

* * *

"It hasn't come as quick as I would have liked," he said Wednesday. "But I'm learning. I'm getting better. Each year I get more comfortable and more confident."

The article ends optimistically, but truth be told, there is not much reason to believe that Kunz can ever develop into an impact player.

According to fangraphs, his fastball, which he throws over 90% of the time, rings in at almost 93 miles per hour. That's about it for the good, however.

In addition to being a one pitch pitcher, he just hasn't been successful in the minor leagues. After a decent season in AA back in 2008, when he posted a 2.79 ERA despite a 1.32 WHIP and mediocre peripherals, he was beat up in AAA last year[1].

Last year's performance in AAA was disheartening to say the least. He put up a 5.02 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, striking out 38 batters and walking 31 in only 61 innings. A deeper look into the numbers provides more of the same.

He posted a good but not great ground ball rate in AAA, inducing ground balls 60.8% of the time[2]. He may have a been a little unlucky in that he allowed a home run on 21% of his fly balls, but was aided by a very low .258 BABIP. His FIP was 5.28, but once again, the far most disconcerting statistic is his 4.48 walks per nine innings.

If there is any silver lining to the Kunz situation, it might be his performance against right handed batters. In 162 plate appearances last season, Kunz held righties to a .191 batting average against and induced 11 double plays.

I don't want to seem all doom and gloom on this, or make it sound like I don't think there is no chance of Kunz becoming a productive member of the Mets bullpen - but the odds are stacked heavily against it.

The fact of the matter is that the Mets selected a college reliever in the first round of the MLB draft because they NEEDED a reliever and they thought that with his heavy ground ball, that he might be ready to contribute sooner rather than later. College relievers are generally bad bets, and ones with mediocre college walk and strikeout rates are even worse[3].

I hope that Kunz can either a) add a second pitch or b) lower the walk rate, because without either one (or perhaps both) he'll never make it in the major leagues. He was never as bright a prospect as he was made out to be, but hopefully one day he can shine in Queens nonetheless[4].

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[1] I realize that a groundballer will get by with a higher WHIP than a strikeout pitcher.

[2] Thanks as always to minorleaguesplits.com.

[3] To contrast, Drew Storen, selected in the first round by the Nationals last year, is an excellent prospect. In his age 21 season at Stanford, he posted a BB-K ratio of 8-66, with a WHIP of 0.98. This in contrast to Kunz, who posted a BB-K of 18-37 and a WHIP of 1.06. Storen is undoubtedly the better prospect and was drafted earlier in the first round, but he is the rare kind of college reliever that a team might want.

[4] And let's also hope that his unfair hype isn't held against him. To get a productive reliever who can induce ground balls is useful - even with a draft pick at the end of the first round. He will be what he will be, regardless of what the hype machine has to say about it.

LiveBlog: Spring Training, March 7th

First Inning:
Not holding the walk to Maxwell against Perez that much. It was on a 3-2 pitch and he didn't get the call on a close 2-2 pitch earlier in the count.

Ian Desmond looks like a hell of a player. After going 0-2 because he was taking pitches to let Maxwell steal, he went with a pitch outside and took it the other way for a hard single. Great play.

Mike Morse hit that home run about 150 MPH out of the park. Big guy.

Gary Matthews Jr. looks like he's having a lot of fun out there.

Second Inning:
Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur don't look very athletic out there. Neither does Luis Castillo, who watched his second consecutive ground ball roll by.

Oliver Perez is not throwing very hard. I realize that it is spring training, but he's only registering 87-88 on the gun right now. The one thing I really like about Perez today is that he isn't falling off toward the third base bag after each pitch like he used to. He's following through toward home and looks strong.

Love the back to back walks by Bay and Murphy! Bay still worries me - he looks so unathletic - but he's got a good batting eye.

AND a walk to Francoeur?! Must be spring training.

AND Cora with a sharp single?

AND AN INSIDE THE PARK GRAND SLAM BY OMIR SANTOS?! Yeah. This is spring training. On a side note, great comment by Ron Darling: "Little-league, inside the park home run for Omir Santos - he gets an ice cream after the game."

Third Inning
Nice to see Ollie back out there, but the Mets defense betrays him again. Jason Bay just looks awful out there. If Luis Castillo could field a ground ball EVER, Perez might have two or three less runs allowed.

Fourth Inning
First look at Ken Takahashi.

Wow, I love this guy already. Strikes out the side!

Four pitches, works at a good pace, and throws strikes. He's obviously not going to be this dominant forever - but he's the kind of pitcher you can watch even when he is not wildly successful. He'll pound the zone, pitch smart, etc. I like it.

Nelson Figueroa, Brooklyn native, being interviewed right now. He's such a smart, tough son of a b... it's impossible not to root for him. There are several differing views on Figgy and how he'll be this year(36 years old already) but you have to root for him.

Fifth Inning
What is Ralph Kiner talking about?

My Dad just learned who Ian Desmond is today, but wants to trade Jose Reyes straight up for him. Sigh.

Catching Up With: Lastings Milledge


It feels like it's been ages since we last saw Lastings Milledge in a Mets uniform, but believe it or not, he suited up for our team as recently as 2007. He is now entering his age-25 season, and many believe that it is going to be a make-or-break year for the young outfielder.

Lastings had a productive year for the Nationals in 2008, posting a 731 OPS with 14 homers and 24 steals. Although his hitting and fielding didn't meet expectations, it could be considered a successful year for any 23 year old to have done what he did. But with Lastings, for some reason, people expect more.

It goes without saying that last year was a struggle. After going 4-for-24 to start the year and getting demoted to the minor leagues, Lastings broke his hand and was traded from Washington to Pittsburgh. After stinging AAA to the tune of a .333/.425/.433 batting line, he was called up to the Pirates for good on July 31st.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Who Is This Guy?: Jenrry Mejia

From seemingly out of nowhere, Jenrry Mejia arrived at Pt. St. Lucie determined to save the Mets bullpen. Jerry Manuel, noting his damn naaaaasty cutter, basically proclaimed that Mejia is the second coming of Mariano Rivera. Mejia's endearing response to that was: "When I saw that in the paper, I said, 'Whoa, Mariano what?'"

Who IS Jenrry Mejia, exactly?

- Mejia was born on October 11, 1989. Yes, 1989. He was born on the same day as Michelle Wie. Unlike Michelle, Jenrry was born in Santo Domingo.

- Baseballprospectus lists Mejia at 6'0" and 162 pounds. He bats and throws right-handed. Mariano Rivera is 6'2", 185, in case you were wondering.

- Jenrry has always been Mets property: He signed with the team as an international free agent on April 4, 2007. He went 2-3 with a 2.47 ERA that year in the Dominican Summer League.

- In 2008 he played for both the Gulf Coast Mets and the Brooklyn Cyclones, obtaining a 5-2 record with a 2.89 ERA over 14 starts.

- In 2009 he was promoted to A-ball, going 4-1 with a 1.97 ERA before being called up to AA Binghamton where he regressed a bit, going 0-5 with an ERA of 4.47 in 10 starts. However, he struck out 47 batters in 44.1 innings.

- After starting in 40 of his 47 minor league appearances, Jerry Manuel is looking at Mejia as a possible 8th inning reliever.

- But definitely not as a bat off the bench: Mejia has a lifetime batting average of .000 in 10 plate appearances. He struck out five times but totally walked once. Fist poundage!

- He wore Pedro Martinez's number (45) in Pt. St. Lucie.

- Baseball America thinks he's the 56th best prospect in all of baseball.

- Save us Jenrry. Save us.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

LiveBlog: Spring Training Game 1: Mets 4, Braves 2

Baseball, baseball, BASEBALL!

Liveblog baseball!

Here is today's starting lineup:

Mets
1. Jesus Feliciano – LF
2. Ruben Tejada – SS
3. Gary Matthews Jr. – CF
4. Mike Jacobs – DH
5. Mike Hessman – 3B
6. Ike Davis – 1B
7. Chris Coste – C
8. Jason Pridie – RF
9. Luis Hernandez – 2B
Nelson Figueroa - SP

Oh...well that's...nice. Apparently rain was in the forecast in Pt. St. Lucie so all of the starters were left to their hotel rooms to not catch pneumonia. Better safe than sorry! Prevention and Recovery this year!

Daniel Murphy 2.0 - Adjusting to Adjustments

Daniel Murphy, among others, were interviewed yesterday on WFAN by well-known radio peronality Mike Francesa. I'll tell you what - I've heard Murphy talk before but I really enjoyed listening to his interview. In addition to NOT letting Francesa trick him into saying anything he didn't want to say[1], I was very impressed with the attitude adjustment that I heard from him.

When Murphy burst onto the scene in 2008, many people penciled him in as a starter in 2009. We at Fonzie Forever were not as optimistic[2]. But still, all winter and spring, we heard about Murphy's work ethic, determination, and so on[3].

In yesterday's interview, however, Murphy no longer sounded like this world-beating grinder who would just grind the heck out of any pitcher, ball, or player in his path. Of course, he still sounded determined, which is wonderful. But he also sounded like he had finally embraced the true give-and-take of the major league level - the realities which go beyond making your self the best you can be.