Archive for Better than the Mets
You may have seen that one yesterday, but it’s worth seeing again.
Here’s your open thread for the night. The Devils, Islanders, Nets, and Knicks are all in action tonight, plus there’s a new South Park. Talk about whatever you want, just be cool.
But with the Mets? Some guy with the same name as me at MLBTR passed along this report from Newsday, where David Lennon speculates that Yanks’ DH Hideki Matsui could wind up in Flushing with the Amazin’s next year. Allow me to quote:
With Hideki Matsui telling friends he’d like to remain in New York above all else, as well as return to leftfield, it would be logical for the free agent to appear on the Mets’ radar this offseason.
In fact, Matsui is so eager to play the field again after a full year as the Yankees’ designated hitter that he’s also told people he would consider trying first base – a position he hasn’t played since high school.
One baseball official suggested that the limited duty for Matsui this season will work to his advantage in allowing him to return to the outfield. With less wear and tear at DH, it was a chance for Matsui to recharge, and another four months off during the offseason obviously will be a big help, too.
The Mets obviously need all the help they can get, but can Matsui hold up all year while playing in the field? In leftfield, I’m not so sure it could be done. Godzilla needed to have his knees drained a few times this year after doing nothing more than running hard around the bases. Maybe he could pull it off at first, but he’ll almost assuredly be a negative-UZR player there, likely Giambi-esque.
Of course, Matsui’s amazing production this year (.274-.367-.506 with 28 jacks) is going to make it real hard for the Yankees to let him walk away. Granting, he’s not worth his $13M salary, so it’s unlikely the team will offer his salary arbitration after the season, even though he projects to be a Type-A free agent. FanGraphs valued his 2009 production at $11M, though I would be shocked if he pulls down eight-figures next year. What do you guys think, does one year at $8M seem reasonable for Matsui’s services next year?
Just in case there were any doubts, a new poll has confirmed that the Yankees are indeed still America’s Team. In a nationwide poll of 800 respondents, Sacred Heart University pollsters found that 41.6 percent chose the Yanks for the top spot. The Red Sox came in second with 16.3 percent of the vote followed by the Braves, Cubs, Phillies, Cardinals, Mets and Tigers. If the Mets are America’s Team, that does not speak highly of our country. The margin of error for the poll was +/- 3.5 percent, and, needless to say, it’s good to be on top.
When Jorge Posada deposited a Jason Frasor pitch into the second deck at Rogers Centre last night, he became the seventh Yankee to reach the 20 home run mark. Not many teams have seven guys who hit 20 or more homers. In fact, Jorge pushed the Yankees into a tie for first place all time, with the 1996 Orioles, 2000 Blue Jays, and 2005 Rangers. At the rate the Yankees have knocked pitches out of the park this season, this feat isn’t completely unexpected.
With 28 games left to play, Derek Jeter will have plenty of chances to put his team in first place by itself. He needs just three home runs to reach the milestone, and is right on pace to hit it. Not that the Captain really cares. “I could care less if I ever hit another home run,” he told reporters. Classic Jeter. Not that he’s wrong. It’s a pretty meaningless record in the grand scheme of things. More than anything, it’s a testament to how well this offense has hit.
It doesn’t look like the Yankees will tie the record for most players with 30 or more homers, four, held by 10 teams. Unsurprisingly, four of those squads are the Colorado Rockies, from 1995 through 1997, and then again in 1999. Mark Teixeira is over 32 already, but the next closest, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon, are ate 24.
As a team the Yankees have 210 home runs, tops in the AL by a decent margin. That puts them on pace for 253 homers (254 rounding up), which would fall 11 short of the all-time record of 264 set by the Seattle Mariners in 1997. The Yankees team record is in sight, though. They hit 242 as a team in 2004. The only way they don’t reach that is if they decide to rest their starters amply in the final weeks of the season. (Which, may I add as an aside, didn’t work too well in 2006.)
Many will write off this achievement, saying the Yankees are propped up by the comfy dimensions of the new Stadium. Yet that completely discounts the bombing they’ve done on the road. Their 93 road homers also leads the league. With a team .832 OPS on the road, it’s tough to argue that they’re getting it all done at home.
The homers aren’t necessarily essential to the team’s success, but they’re sure fun to watch. The sheer number of them, both the raw totals and compared to the rest of the league, demonstrates what an offensive force the team has become — or returned to being. It’s one more fun aspect in an eminently enjoyable 2009 season.
Last night, as the 8th inning rolled around at Citi Field, the oh-so-familiar guitar strains of “Enter Sandman” echoed across the stadium. The crowd around me roared, and for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, Billy Wagner jogged out to the mound in a Mets uniform.
In this one inning of work, Wagner dazzled. He hit 96 on the Mets’ gun and 95.4 according to Pitch F/X. He threw his change-up with a velocity separation of around 8-9 miles per hour, and his slider had bite. He also threw all three pitches for strikes and struck out two Braves while facing the heart of the Atlanta lineup.
For the Mets, Wanger puts them in a tough spot. The team still owes him around $2.5 million this year and holds a $10 million club option with a $1 million buyout. Because they have Francisco Rodriguez locked up for the next few years, the team will not pick up that option. Because they are a little tight on cash, the team would love to unload Wagner, and the market for hard-throwing lefty relievers is always robust.
Early rumors indicate that the Rays and Marlins are interested in Wagner. Jayson Stark notes, however, that the price tag — in essence, $2.5 million for one month — is far too high for those two teams on the fringes of playoff contention. If the Mets’ goal is to off-load salary by trading Wagner, the team won’t be inclined to ship money down to Florida.
Meanwhile, according to reports, Wagner has been placed on waivers that are set to expire today at 1 p.m. If the right team claims him, Wagner is willing to waive his no-trade clause. “You want to win a World Series, that’s for sure,” Wagner said. “If I’m fortunate enough to be asked to come and join a team that has a great chance to win the World Series, that is something that definitely I’d think about.”
So which team, searching for a lefty reliever and with cash to spend, may be World Series-bound this year? Well, one would have to look only about 11 miles away from Citi Field to find a trading partner for the Mets. Brian Cashman, pick up the phone.
This is, of course, not a novel idea. Mike Silva suggested a Juan Miranda-for-Billy Wagner swap and Bart Hubbuch has been pushing a trade to the Bronx as well. The Yankees could be, to borrow a phrase, a perfect fit for Billy Wagner. They have the cash, the potential mid-level prospect and the need for him. Let’s make a deal.
One often-repeated criticism of the Yankees is their relative inability to beat teams over .500. They are, after all, just 24-29 against those opponents, while they’re 40-13 against their weaker counterparts. Intuitively, this seems like a bad indicator of things to come. Once you get to the playoffs those sub-.500 teams are out of the picture. How can the Yankees expect to win if they can’t beat the better teams?
As it turns out, a team’s ability to beat other winning teams doesn’t mean much, at least so far as World Series titles go. As Darren Everson of The Wall Street Journal notes, of the nine champions this decade only four have had winning records against teams over .500. “The typical profile of a World Series champion in recent times is a club that cleans up on the weak and breaks even against everyone else.” So perhaps this isn’t the problem we’re making it out to be.
As Calcaterra muses, it’s probably a coincidence. I tend to agree. Baseball is like a biathlon, starting with a six-month marathon and concluding with a three-week sprint. Teams that fare well in the marathon might not handle the sprint so well, and vice versa (the Wild Card has allowed more of the latter to get into the playoffs). Combine that with the natural streakiness of baseball and you have a recipe for a postseason which does not necessarily reflect the 162-game season we all live and die through.
Not that it stops Craig from speculating:
The article doesn’t speculate about why this might be. Coincidence is almost always the best answer when one encounters weird and/or counterintuitive stats like this, but chalking stuff up to coincidence is boring, even if accurate. Because of this, let’s concoct an untestable yet moderately-satisfying hypothesis: Due to the 162-game regular season, teams that win the World Series are, by definition, marathon winners, not sprinters, and the mark of a marathon winner is somoene who knows when to conserve energy and when to put the hammer down. This is not to say that teams roll over for good competition. Indeed, as the article notes, the winners play even the toughest competition at something just less than .500 ball, which ain’t too shabby. It’s merely to suggest that on some subconscious level, the best teams know that all wins count for the same amount during the regular season and that it simply takes less energy to beat a bad team than a good one and act accordingly.
Really, though, it’s coincidence.
When it comes to rooting interests, New Yorkers can be a fickle bunch. “Which team is doing better?” many will ask before picking a favorite. While the Yankees currently rule the New York roost, it wasn’t always this way.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, this town was a Mets town. While the Yankees were unlovable also-rans, the Mets were lovable winners. The 1986 captured the hearts and minds of New Yorkers, and even Yankee fans could cheer over a Bill Buckner error and a Met victory over the Red Sox. Howard Johnson, Mookie Wilson, Darryl and Dwight, Lenny and Keith all ruled the city.
By the time the early 1990s rolled around, both teams were rather directionless. The 1991 Yankees finished in 7th, 71-91, 20 games out of first place. The 1993 Mets were even worse. They finished 59-103, their worst finish since 1965.
As the mid-1990s rolled on, the Yankees turned in one of baseball’s truly historic runs. They captured four World Series in five years, and the last came at the expense of the Mets in the first Queens-Bronx Subway Series. In 1997, the Yankees and Mets started to face each other during the regular season too, and those games have also served as something of a barometer of New York success.
For the first few years of Interleague Play, the Yankees dominated. They took two out of three from the Mets in both 1997 and 1998 before splitting the first six-game set in 1999. The Bombers took four out of six in both 2000 and 2001 before another split in 2002. In 2003, the Yankees swept all six games. In 2004, the Mets finally won the season series. Three straight splits followed that, and then last year, the Mets again won four of the six contests.
This year, though, saw the Yankees totally dominate the Mets. It was the first year that either team won five games, and outside of the 2003 sweep, this season marks the Yanks’ best Subway Series showing. While the Mets and Fernando Nieve managed one victory, the series wasn’t that close.
Offensively, the Yankees crushed a depleted Mets team. The Bombers hit .271/.378/.514 with 44 runs scored an 11 HR. In 249 plate appearances, they drew 34 walks and struck out just 29 times. Teams that walk more often than they strike out don’t lose. The Mets, meanwhile, hit .196/.291/.299 with just 17 runs scored — eight of those in the first game of the series — and just four home runs. They struck out 53 times in 222 plate appearances and walked just 23 times.
The pitching numbers stack up similarly. Yankee pitchers threw to the tune of a 2.83 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP; Mets hurlers allowed 6.84 earned runs a game and sported an ugly 1.74 WHIP. Ironically, Johan Santana’s effort in a game two weeks ago at Yankee Stadium was the worst of the series. His nine earned runs in three innings pretty much set the tone for the series.
I don’t like to gloat too much about baseball games in season. It’s bad karma, and it’s unsportsmanlike. After this weekend, though, Yankee fans are feeling pretty good about their team. In a city with two new stadiums, in a city with baseball fever as one team struggles with injuries and a poorly-constructed roster and the other battles a tough division, in a city in which both teams are within spitting distant of first place, it’s good to be king, even if just for a few months.
It was almost one of those night. Joba Chamberlain couldn’t find the plate in the third and ended up tossing over 40 pitches that frame. Brett Tomko couldn’t get outs, and when Joe Girardi smartly went to Mariano Rivera in the 8th, Rivera nearly gave up the game.
But in the end, it all came down to one pitch, one play and one outcome I’ve never seen before. On a 3-1 pitch against a closer sporting a 0.59 ERA and no blown saves and with Derek Jeter on second and Mark Teixeira on first, Alex Rodriguez swung and lifted a lazy pop up behind second base. Luis Castillo, a three-time Gold Glove winner, drifted back under the ball as A-Rod slammed his bat down and K-Rod pumped his fist.
Fate though would not end the game so easily. Luis Castillo simply dropped the ball. He just flat out dropped it. The ball wasn’t really in his glove. It sort of bounced off of his glove and then fell to the ground along with the Mets’ second baseman. The only way to describe this play is by watching it. It was simply stunning.
As Castillo struggled to gather himself, Mark Teixeira, the game’s unsung hero, was dashing from first base on a pop up that should have ended the game. Instead, he slid across the plate ahead of the throw. Teixeira’s dash showed why the best players just know that running hard and hustling wins games. It’s the cliche of grit, but it worked. Somehow, somewhere, the Baseball Gods smiled on the Yanks, and they won 9-8 on a night marred by bad pitching, another bad Nick Swisher play and a Red Sox victory in Philadelphia.
Outside of this insane victory, this game didn’t feature many Yankee highlights. The team scored nine runs but seven came on four home runs. Joba had nothing tonight. He couldn’t find the plate in the third, and the bullpen again had to put together 15 outs. Brett Tomko showed us why he started the season in AAA, and even Mariano faltered in a non-save situation. His season ERA in those situations is now around 5.72.
We also saw Nick Swisher misplay a tough liner. He’s had a rough few days. We saw the Yanks go 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position, and outside of the final play of the game, we saw the Yanks unable to score except via the long ball.
For now, though, it doesn’t matter. After a crushing set in Boston, the Yankees did what they had to do. The team may have taken an unorthodox route to the victory, but in the end, a W is a W is a W. Andy Pettitte will take on Fernando Nieve later this afternoon, and while I went to bed last night furious at the Yanks, tonight, I will just shake my head and accept the win. Two hands, Luis. Two hands.
Hanging up above my television is a framed version of the United Countries of Baseball map produced in 2007 by Nike. The map shows Yankee territory stretching from the city up north through upstate New York and western New England. The Mets seem to lay claim to Northern Jersey. Well, as rosy as that might sound for the Amazin’s, a new study says that’s just not true. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 44 percent of New Jersey baseball fans cheer for the Yankees while just 21 percent pull for the Mets. While the Phillies enjoy 75 percent of the support in South Jersey, their statewide fan base encompasses just 20 percent of Garden State baseball fans.
In another poll put together by NY1 News and Cornell University, the Yankees trumped the Mets in the Big Apple. Citywide, the Yankees can lay claim to 34 percent of those polled while the Mets just 25 percent. Another 34 percent do not have a loyalty, and six percent root for both. Take that, Mr. Met.
The 13th Annual Subway Series kicks off tonight, as the second place Mets come to the Bronx to take on the second place Yankees. The Yanks are 37-29 all-time against their crosstown rivals in interleague play, 20-13 at home. This year they bring a 34-26 season record into the series while the Mets come in at 31-27. Each team comes in limping, as the Yanks were just swept in heartbreaking fashion up in Fenway, while the Mets just lost two extra inning games at home to the Phillies.
In honor of this year’s renewal of the Subway Series, let’s take a look at how each squad compares to each other on a position by position basis.
Starting Pitchers this Weekend
Friday: Joba Chamberlain vs. Livan Hernandez
These two are sporting identical WHIPs (1.40) and similar ERA’s (3.79 vs. 3.88), but the difference is that Joba is still cutting his teeth at this level while Livan is enjoying his best year since 2004. Throw in Joba’s ability to actually strike guys out (8.3 K/9 vs. Livan’s 5.5), and I think we have a winner. Advantage: Yanks
Saturday: Andy Pettitte vs. TBA
With John Maine hitting the DL, the Mets aren’t sure who will start tomorrow. It could be prospect Jon Niese (6.57 ERA in 5 career starts), AAA starter Nelson Figueroa (5.15 ERA in 40 career starts), or swingman Fernando Nieve out of the pen (4.20 ERA in 11 career starts). Whoever they decide to throw out there will be inferior to Pettitte, despite his highwire act. Advantage: Yanks
Sunday: AJ Burnett vs. Johan Santana
Santana’s last five starts: 4.64 ERA, .848 OPS against. Burnett’s last five starts: 4.13 ERA, .839 OPS against. Just sayin’. Advantage: Mets
Catcher: Jorge Posada vs. Omir Santos
Ex-Yankee farmhand Santos did a tremendous job filling in while the Mets’ other catchers were injured, and has yet to relinquish the starting job. Despite that, he’s got a .298 OBP and a 90 OPS+ Posada’s sitting at .380 and 151, respectively. Advantage: Yankees
First Base: Mark Teixera vs. Fernando Tatis
The Mets ran into some bad luck, as Carlos Delgado went down with hip surgery after putting up a .914 OPS in 26 games. After a brilliant comeback last season, Tatis has filled in for Delgado with a .732 OPS, 2 homers, 9 XBH and 12 RBI this year. Texiera has a .745 SLG with 4 homers, 11 XBH and 13 RBI. In his last 12 games. Next. Advantage: Yanks
Second Base: Robinson Cano vs. Luis Castillo
The poster child for ill-advised contracts, Castillo is actually having himself a nice season right in line with his career averages. Of course that constitutes a 91 OPS+ and a -10.7 UZR/150 at the keystone corner. Robbie Cano is also having a year in line with his career averages, putting up a 107 OPS+ with a 1.3 UZR/150. It would be nice if he weren’t hitting fifth, though. Advantage: Yanks
Shortstop: Derek Jeter vs. Alex Cora
Cora’s .286 AVG and .385 OBP are right there with Jeter’s .298 and .370 marks, but The Cap’n has more than a 50 point advantage in slugging. Jeter’s also got him beat on defense, with a 6.4 UZR/150 compared to Cora’s -35.7. I know Alex Cora wins games, but dude, it’s Derek Jeter. Maybe if Jose Reyes was heathy, this would be a different story. Advantage: Yanks
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez vs. David Wright
Finally, we have ourselves a bit of a competition. Wright leads the lead in AVG (.362) and OBP (.458), and his .984 OPS is top ten in the NL. He’s also sixth in the bigs with 17 steals. Show off. A-Rod‘s been back from his hip injury for over a month now, and even though he hasn’t yet hit his stride, he’s still fashioned a .393 OBP and a .458 SLG. We know A-Rod will be great soon enough, but Wright is great right now. Advantage: Mets
Left Field: Johnny Damon vs. Danny Murphy/Fernando Martinez
The Metsies generally run old buddy Gary Sheffield out to left, but since the series will be played in the Bronx, I imagine he’ll be serving as DH. The Murphtinez Monster has managed a .234-.317-.341 line this year with Murphy doing most of the heavy lifting. Damon’s hit .286-.361-.537 and is in the midst of the best offensive season of his career. Neither contingent has been anything special defensively in 2009, so let’s call that part a draw. Advantage: Yanks
Center Field: Melky Cabrera vs. Carlos Beltran
Melky’s riding his now annual post-April swoon, while Beltran is simply one of the greatest players in the game today, regardless of what Steve Phillips thinks. .341-.431-.561 with Gold Glove defense in center? I’ll take two. Advantage: Mets
Right Field: Nick Swisher vs. Ryan Church
Boneheaded plays aside, Swisher has been tremendously productive at the plate this year, posting a .394 OBP with a .538 SLG. Church has been hampered by injuries as usual, but has a 1.103 OPS in an extremely small sample size since returning. Church is better than he’s been, Swisher isn’t as good as he’s been, but both are quality players. Let’s call this one … Advantage: Push
Designated Hitter: Hideki Matsui vs. Gary Sheffield
Matsui’s one of those guys that just when you think he’s dead, he goes on a tear. He’s hit .260-.350-.475 compared to Sheff’s .250-.380-.427 output, so they’re right in line with each other. Luckily for Godzilla, defense doesn’t count at DH. Advantage: Push
Bench: Frankie Cervelli, Angel Berroa, Ramiro Pena, Brett Gardner vs. Brian Schneider, Wilson Valdez, Danny Murphy/Fernando Martinez, Jeremy Reed
The nature of the beast calls for the Mets to have a more usable bench than the Yanks, although Gardner’s proven to be somewhat useful as a reserve. But still … Advantage: Mets
Setup Crew: Al Aceves, Phil Coke, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Brett Tomko, Jose Veras vs. Pedro Feliciano, Sean Green, Fernando Nieve, Bobby Parnell, Brian Stokes, Ken Takahashi
It’s pretty cool how the two pens are constructed in basically the same way, with a young phenom (Hughes & Parnell), veteran swingman (Tomko & Stokes), kinda low leverage but sometimes high leverage middle guy (Robertson & Green), pitchability multi-inning guy (Aceves & Takahashi), hard throwing wildcard (Veras & Nieve) and, of course, the LOOGY (Coke & Feliciano). The Mets’ non-closer bullpen ERA is 3.44, but the Yanks’ is 4.87. Just imagine if JJ Putz wasn’t so craptactular/hurt. Advantage: Mets
Closer: Mariano Rivera vs. Francisco Rodriguez
K-Rod’s been everything the Mets could have hoped for and more, nailing down every save and pitching to a 0.61 ERA. Mo’s struggles have been well documented, but he’s still the man and gets the job done. Call me biased, but I’m not willing to declare Mo dead yet. I’m not going any lower than … Advantage: Push
* * *
So I have the final tally at seven for the Yanks, five for the Mets, and three draws. Given all the Mets’ injuries this year, I don’t think there’s any question that the Yankees are the best team in town right now. Everything lines up nicely for them, so hopefully they can pull out a pair of wins, assuming Santana is an automatic loss.
Photo Credit: CNYcentral.com