Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fall Out Boy

This is #4 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2010 Season.
What, exactly, makes David Wright a key Met?

Through his first 4 full seasons in the Major Leagues, David Wright was simply a picture of consistency. You could pretty much lock him in for a .310 batting average, 27-30 HRs and about 110 RBIs. And nowhere did he ever deviate from these figures.

Then came last season.

I don't know if Wright's struggles necessarily came from the lack of protection around him in the lineup, or because he was pressing within the spacious new confines of his home ballpark. In reality, it shouldn't have made much of a difference. Shea Stadium wasn't much of a hitters park either, and boasted swirling winds that bordered madness. That didn't seem to bother Wright all that much.

I think it started somewhere down the stretch in 2008. In the midst of a stretch drive where Wright's numbers wouldn't have necessarily revealed his struggles, Wright somehow got away from the natural opposite-field stroke that he made his name on over his first few seasons. I've made mention of his screwed-up swing on more than one occasion, but at some point late in 2008, it must have gotten in his head, because he started pressing, and failing in some pretty major situations, and in the end it cost the Mets some precious games that would have made a difference in the outcome of the season. Despite the fact that these late and close situations were spots he once thrived in, Wright got saddled with the "unclutch" label.

But sometimes, it's not so much if you fail, it's how you react to failing, and I get the impression that Wright's struggles may be happening because of how he reacted to failing, and the effect his failures had on the team.

It's magnified even more when you consider Wright's role on the team as the de facto Captain, a tag he's been given whether he wants it or not. For better or worse, he's the face of the franchise and has been so for several years now. He's the guy everyone looks to, win or lose. And as such, he is constantly judged on a far steeper curve than anyone else on the team.

It's not as though he doesn't care. If anything, Wright cares too much about the performance of the team and the performance of himself. You can tell that he wears the failures of '07 and '08, and the misery of last year on his sleeve. He wants to do better. But part of the problem he ran into last year is that since everyone fell around him, Wright somehow felt that it was his duty to shoulder the load all on his own, and he simply can't do that. He has to trust that the guys around him can get the job done, no matter who they may be. Yesterday, in my NL Preview, I said that Wright was the kind of player who can, on occasion, will his team to victory. And he is. But he can't be expected to do that game after game after game. It's not logical, and it makes him crazy.

It's not enough to just say that Wright's simply going to bounce back and have a great, typical David Wright season. The guys around him have to perform as well, but that's not the point. Wright has to realize that not only can he not do it all himself, but he also has to accept the fact that he's given a harsher grade, and to be perfect all the time is impossible. Failures will happen. How he reacts will go a long way to telling us what kind of season he's going to have. If he strikes out with the bases loaded and then goes on WFAN after the game and sounds like he's about to burst into tears, it's not encouraging. If he says, "We'll get 'em tomorrow" and then goes back out and gets 3 hits and 3 RBIs, then you know he'll be OK.

It's all right for him to wear his emotions on his sleeve. That's just how he is. But he can't let them consume him all the time. It's at the point where it has too much of a negative effect on his overall performance. Relax!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Things Are Looking Grim (2010 National League Preview)

It's time once again for me to capsule out how I think the National League is going to shape up for the 2010 season. If you didn't feel bad enough as Mets fans already, I don't think the upcoming season is going to bring much respite. Last year, I had a much more optimistic finish for the Mets in my head, or at least a much more exciting finish than the one we ended up with. Every year I've done this, I've picked the Mets to go to the postseason, and it really wasn't much of a stretch to think that the truth. But this year, it's a stretch. So much so that I'll save you the trouble right now and say that I'm not picking the Mets to make the postseason.

Here's what I am picking (As always, records are an approximation, give a +/-5 on the Ws and Ls):

1) Philadelphia Phillies (98-64)
There's nobody close to them in this division. Their closer situation is still somewhat of a liability, with Madson now taking the reins from Lidge, but whatever shortcomings they may have in their pitching staff (and replacing Cliff Lee with Roy Halladay isn't the dramatic upgrade everyone makes it out to be), they have the ability to outhit their mistakes. And, they're a battle-tested team that doesn't quit. Yes, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

2) Atlanta Braves (88-74)
It's fortunate that their young pitchers Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens really took major steps forward last season, because it's clear that Derek Lowe can't really cut it at the top of the rotation. On the other side, Jason Heyward is the talk of the league right now, the starting RF and probably leadoff hitter in this Atlanta lineup that features more tough outs than you might want to give them credit for.

3) New York Mets (83-79)
They'll be better than last year, they have to be, but they, unlike the Phillies, may continue to struggle to overcome their shortcomings in the pitching staff. There are far too many questions in the starting rotation for anyone to feel especially confident in their ability to contend all the way through the season. But I pick them 3rd because players like David Wright, Jeff Francoeur and Jason Bay are the kind of players that can on occasion will them to victory. Also, because I just feel that they are better put together than the Goddamn Florida Marlins.

4) Florida Marlins (82-80)
One game worse than the Mets. I'm sick of this group already. I don't like them, their Shortstop, their 2Bman or the fact that they take a little too much pleasure in beating the Mets. Sure. Continue to celebrate beating up on a .500 team and keep pretending it's 2007.

5) Washington Nationals (77-84)
They'll hit, that's for sure. Can they pitch is another matter altogether.

1) Milwaukee Brewers (89-73)
I really have no idea who comes out on top in the Central, so I go with the Brewers, who seem to me as good a choice as anyone. They have a ton of thunder in their lineup, and that's just looking at Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun alone, and some good young pitchers that appear ready to break out. So, why not the Brewers?

2) St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
The Cardinals, I suppose, are everyone else's chic pick to win the Central, primarily because they have Big Al and retained Matt Holliday, and Carpenter returned to form and Wainwright emerged as a star. And for all I know, they may very well win the division again, but if you ask me, I think this whole group is getting to be a little stale.

3) Cincinnati Reds (83-79)
They may finally turn that corner that everyone seemed to think they would turn last season. They had a rash of injury problems and a lot of inconsistency out of guys like Jay Bruce who they felt would carry the load for them a bit. And I still don't trust their bullpen. But I think that they have the pieces there to make themselves respectable once again.

4) Chicago Cubs (80-82)
That's respectable, something I don't necessarily think the Cubs will be. Considering their ace, Carlos Zambrano, went from being considered one of the game's best to now someone barely hanging on, constantly thrown in trade talks, I think there's more than just a few problems going on in Cubsland. And guys like Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez seem to be major injury liabilities.

5) Pittsburgh Pirates (73-89)
It's one thing to have a small market team, constrained by budget concerns. It's another thing when that team is constantly run ass-backwards. The Minnesota Twins basically blow the Pirates shit out of the water every year because they're well-run and contend. The Pirates are just run like idiots. They make the Mets look good by comparison. So, here they are again. Some young guys who might perform (McCutchen), some retreads nobody wants (Church). They won't be good, again, but they won't finish last.

6) Houston Astros (68-94)
Ladies and Gentlemen, the winner of the Most Boring Team in the National League!

1) Los Angeles Dodgers (95-77)
Hard to pick against them with their lineup and pitching staff. And with guys like Loney, Kemp and Ethier still young, I don't think they're going to fade quite so soon. In fact, I think this may be the year they finally break through.

2) San Francisco Giants (89-73) (Wildcard)
Best pitching staff in the league, led by Tim Lincecum, followed up by Cain and Sanchez. Somehow, this group of pitchers led a mostly punchless offense to 88 wins and contended right down to the end. This year, with guys like Pablo Sandoval (you can't not have Sandoval, "Kung-Fu Panda" on the All-Ballclub Team) maturing, I think they'll be able to push themselves past the Rockies and into the Wildcard spot in the NL.

3) Colorado Rockies (88-74)
Sneaky Dangerous would be the best way to describe the Rockies. They don't jump out at you on paper, but they hang around the fringes, just enough so you forget they're there. Then, come September, they all seem to catch fire at once. 2 times in the last 3 seasons they seem to have done this. They're a bit of a chic pick to win the West, though I don't think they have the ability to outhit the Dodgers nor the ability to outpitch the Giants.

4) Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)
They'll try hard to not be counted out, but they don't have the ability to contend with the thunder in this division.

5) San Diego Padres (69-93)
Only slightly more interesting than the Houston Astros.

NL MVP: Ryan Braun, MIL
NY CY YOUNG: Johan Santana, NYM (I'm going to keep picking him until he wins one)
NL ROY: Madison Bumgarner, SF

NLDS: Philadelphia over San Francisco, Los Angeles over Milwaukee
NLCS: Los Angeles over Philadelphia

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Elevator

This is #3 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2010 Season.
Once again, we have a repeat appearance in our list of Key Mets players for 2010.

Out of the 3 pitchers I've listed so far, Mike Pelfrey probably stands the best chance of bouncing back and having a successful season. On the other hand, he also stands the best chance of being sent down to the Minor Leagues to get his act together.

I was pretty well convinced, at the start of the 2009 season, that Mike Pelfrey was going to build on his success from 2008 and become the clear #2 in this rotation, with the continued potential to become a #1 or a #1A with Santana. But while Pelfrey had his moments, and there were certainly stretches where he looked good, the numbers never materialized and Pelfrey ultimately fizzled out, leaving us with no clue as to what to expect from him in 2010.

Something was always never quite right with Pelfrey last season. Even when he looked good. It all started off with him falling off the mound on Opening Night at Citi Field, then getting up and allowing a hit to the opposing pitcher which led to a 3-run rally against a team with no offense. There was the start in San Francisco where he kept balking. There was the other game where he kept muttering the pitch he was about to throw. There were more balks, and more problems, and it just kept mounting to the point where you were left shaking your head. Just another case of anything that could go wrong that ended up going wrong in 2009.

At least he stayed healthy.

Pelfrey's Spring in 2010 hasn't exactly been encouraging either. He's mixed good starts with alarmingly bad starts, and there hasn't been an in between. He's either been good or totally horrible. I realize he's been experimenting with new pitches, but he's not really instilling much confidence in a fan base that's not very confident to begin with. I've spoken with Mets fans who are actually rooting for Pelfrey to have a miserable season because they don't like him and want him gone from the team. One more bad season out of him, and these people may yet get their wish. It's pretty evident that the talent is there for Pelfrey. His performance in '08 and in certain moments last season showed us that he's not a total dud. But to that end, you can't do any better than lump him in with Maine and Perez as guys the Mets are selling high to us on based on what's tantamount to half a really good season and mixed results otherwise.

On the other side, there's the camp that thinks last season was just a "correction" for Pelfrey, and this season he's going to break out. I have a tendency to lean towards this side, with caution, and here's why: I've made mention previously about the whole "pitchers exceeding their inning total of the prior year" theory that so many people like to bring up. Pelfrey seems to me to be a prime candidate of this theory at work. So, for that matter, does Cole Hamels in Philly. Measure these two pitchers against each other and you'll see a similar pattern.

Cole Hamels: 227.1IP, 14-10, 3.09, 193H, 196K, 78BB (not including postseason) after 183IP in 2007.
Mike Pelfrey: 200.2IP, 13-11, 3.72, 209H, 110K, 64BB after 72.2IP in 2007 (plus more in the minors)

Cole Hamels: 193.2IP, 10-11, 4.32, 206H, 168K, 43BB
Mike Pelfrey: 184.1IP, 10-12, 5.03, 213H, 107K, 68BB

Both pitchers regressed after vastly exceeding their innings pitched total. There's something to this. Just look at Justin Verlander in Detroit. People wrote him off after a lousy 2008 following huge workloads in'06 and '07 and he responded with a career year in 2009. If you believe this theory, then you more than likely believe that Mike Pelfrey is going to have a very good season in 2010, probably much closer to that stretch in mid-2008 when he looked like he was going to be one of the NL's best pitchers.

I feel like he can do this, however I worry about his head (much the same way I'm sure Philly fans worry about Hamels' head, but then again, fuck him). They say that Perez is a headcase, but man, this guy looks like a psychologist's dream, between the palm-licking and the teeth gnashing and talking to himself on the mound. He needs to relax. He's not quite so down on himself as Maine tends to be, but when he gets in his head, that seems to be where his trouble starts. When he relaxed and trusted his stuff, and used his pitch progression to set everything up, that was when he had success. I just wonder whether or not he really has it in him to relax and trust his stuff.

Monday, March 15, 2010

On Notice

This is #2 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2010 Season.
This is the 4th season that The Ballclub has been naming their 5 Key Mets Players for the upcoming season, and this is now the 3rd time that I've had to name John Maine as one of those Key Mets. It's become a bit of a repetitive pattern that I'm starting to get a little tired of.

It's been a long time since Maine was giving us that "Aw, shucks" look in the Outfield prior to starting Game 1 of the NLDS in '06. Since then, Maine has tantalized us and then baffled us, to the point where I considered him at an official crossroads following a 2nd straight injury-plagued season in 2009, someone who, like most of the team, we've been sold high on based on what was basically an exceptional half season in 2007.

I'd like to think I'm wrong. But Maine has, to this point, yet to prove me right. We know what he's capable of when he's healthy, he's someone who certainly has shown he's capable of being a solid starter. But does he have the ability to hold up? Moreover, Maine has this tendency to be so down on himself when he doesn't do well, that you're also left wondering if he really has the mental makeup to succeed, or if this stuff is piling up in his head and somehow holding him back. It's a far cry from the kid I considered to have "Saturn Balls" following a pair of ice-in-the-veins performances in the '06 Postseason.

Maine is in a rather similar situation to Oliver Perez, although it's a bit more precarious considering that Maine has not only battled inconsistency, he's battled injuries for two years now, and he lacks the security of tenure and a guaranteed contract. On the upside, he's not viewed as quite the albatross that Perez is, because most people seem to point to the fact that he's been injured so often.

But, then, that's what makes him so key.

Like Perez, the Mets are basically handing him a starting spot without any real backup plan. And not only has he been injured, but when he's healthy, he's only been somewhat effective over the past 2 years. There are flashes of brilliance, but more often than not, it seems like he's making those annoying 5-6 inning starts where he gives up 3 runs and leaves because he's walked too many guys or couldn't put a batter away with 2 strikes. He's not quite so maddeningly or spectacularly ineffective as Perez, so we don't seem to notice it quite as much, but it's there, and right now it's a little too much to simply ignore it. If it happens to start up again, the Mets are in quite a bit of trouble. We saw a bit of it just yesterday, when Maine came into the game against the Marlins, got 2 quick outs, and then followed that up by giving up 3 walks, 3 hits and 5 runs in an inning that basically sunk the Mets.

Surprisingly, Maine came away from this particular outing rather pleased, which is odd because a) there wasn't much to be pleased about and b) Maine usually treats these bad outings as though they were the end of the world. Shirts vs. Blouses gave Maine the "Death Cab for John Maine" nickname 2 years ago, for what reason, I'm not quite sure. But it seems to fit him because of his hangdog, almost depressive nature when things go bad for him. I almost think he should switch his entrance music from "Seek and Destroy" to something a bit more appropriate like "Marching Bands of Manhattan" or even "Black Hole Sun." Just tell it like it is a bit more if that's how the story's going to end. After a string of 8 or 9 straight 6IP, 6H, 3ER, 5BB, 5K outings, I think we're all ready for some Death Cab.

Of course, there's one other thing he could do. He could get his act together, pitch like we know he's capable of pitching, put up another 15-win, 3.80 ERA season and finally solidify the #3 spot in the rotation. Get your name off of Stephen Colbert's board up there.

I really don't know which one we're going to get. That's part of the problem.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The All-Ballclub Team, 2010 Edition

This is now the 4th year we or I have put together the All-Ballclub team, and it comes with some degree of turnover each year. But this year, we may see markedly more turnover than normal. The All-Ballclub team appeared to be somewhat cursed in 2009, or if nothing else, a case of the blahs. It took quite a bit of hemming and hawing, but I finally arrived at what I think is a suitable list for the 2010 All-Ballclub team.

You can click here for a refresher on what the All-Ballclub team is all about. And you can click here to see the original editions of the All-Ballclub team.

The 2009 Ballclub Player of the year is a new addition to the All-Ballclub team, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Ballclub's pitcher of the year for 2009 is also a new member, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners.
  1. Carlos Beltran****
  2. Ryan Braun*
  3. Endy Chavez****
  4. Carl Crawford***
  5. Jermaine Dye****
  6. Yunel Escobar***
  7. Prince Fielder**
  8. Matt Garza**
  9. Curtis Granderson***
  10. Zack Greinke*
  11. Ken Griffey, Jr.***
  12. Josh Hamilton***
  13. Felix Hernandez*
  14. Ryan Howard****
  15. Orlando Hudson*
  16. Torii Hunter****
  17. Ubaldo Jimenez*
  18. Matt Kemp*
  19. Clayton Kershaw**
  20. Jason Kubel*
  21. Tim Lincecum***
  22. Evan Longoria*
  23. Joe Mauer****
  24. David Ortiz****
  25. Jonathan Papelbon****
  26. Alexei Ramirez**
  27. Hanley Ramirez***
  28. Jose Reyes****
  29. Mariano Rivera****
  30. C.C. Sabathia****
  31. Pablo Sandoval*
  32. Johan Santana****
  33. Travis Snider*
  34. Denard Span**
  35. Ian Stewart**
  36. Ichiro Suzuki****
  37. Justin Verlander*
  38. David Wright****
  39. Kevin Youkilis**
  40. Clay Zavada*
    Emeritus in Moustachness: Sal Fasano.
Note: Stars indicate the number of times this player has been named to the All-Ballclub Team.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Portrait of an Idiot

This is #1 of 5 Key Mets Players for the 2010 season.
What, you're surprised?

It seems like every season we go through this ridiculous speculation about Oliver Perez and which one will show up. You could try the every other year argument, except that Perez blew that out of the water with a beyond putrid 2009 season that began with him getting shelled and lambasted by me, and ended with him on the DL, where he might have done the Mets a greater good.

2006, 2007, 2008, whatever. It's more like an every 3-year thing with Perez, when he goes out and somehow is focused and hits his spots and the numbers fall into place for him. Then, we start to believe that he's somehow worthy of the praise that's heaped upon him.

Of course, he usually goes out and runs a 7-11, 4.86 season to follow it up.

I said it last year and I'll say it again here: Oliver Perez is a loser. And he's the worst kind of loser, because he's a loser with talent. He has a fine array of pitches, but no real head for when or how to use them, and what ends up happening is he just rears back and throws, and when that happens, he usually ends up missing with all his breaking pitches, and relies on his fastball. And when you see Oliver Perez's fastball 2-3 times per at bat, eventually, you'll be able to get around on it. And most Major League hitters have.

Oliver Perez is like the Elephant in the Room for the 2010 Mets. There's a lot of pressure to succeed being placed on a guy who amounts to a giant question mark. Moreso than anyone else, they're stuck in a position where they have to use him. There's no particularly suitable replacement to be found, or at least not one who's any more or less trustworthy (Nelson Figueroa, anyone?) The reports are solid, at least from what you've heard. He's worked hard to stay in shape and keep focused and consistent on the field. The result, through one spring start against the Nationals, however, was not encouraging. Only the Mets could somehow seem to find a silver lining. Sure, Perez got lit up for 5 runs and 7 hits in 2+ innings, but, hey, he sure looked good out there!

I'd like to see that line fly in late April when Ollie gets lit up by the Dodgers.

At some point, this charade is going to have to end. I'm not sure why there aren't more people putting more heat on Perez, because, again, the Mets are placing a large share of their chances for success on him. And I'm not at all confident in their ability to survive if he's the Ollie of any other year that isn't 2007. If you needed to feel any less confident, there's the little nugget I heard on Sunday while listening to Ollie's start on WFAN. It was either Howie Rose or Wayne Hagin talking, but one of them mentioned that even Scott Boras had yelled at Perez over his performance last season. When your agent, especially someone as client-driven as Boras, is riding you, you know you need to step it up.

I mentioned to El Guapo last week that someone out of these 3 middle of the rotation guys has to come through this season. Someone has to come through, because if they don't, the entire season may as well be flushed down the toilet. I keep saying it, and I think I may be repeating myself a lot this season, because there's no safety net. The 2010 Mets basically hinge on the performance of these 3 pitchers, and we all know who they are, and they all have their own issues, be they injury or head-related, and Oliver Perez is front and center on that list. Be a man, come through, show your talent, then the Mets do well. Be the same loser we saw over and over again, and we're in for another long season.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

First Class Person

About a year ago, I wrote about Greg Prince of Faith and Fear's book, something I considered to be a very solid definition of what it is to be a Mets fan. There is a certain amount of passion, pride and complete and utter insanity in following the Mets year after year, even as they look middling or embarrassing, because you know that for every 1993 or 2009, there's a 1999 or 2006 waiting somewhere in the wings.

As Mets fans, we come from all different cloths and walks of life, and sometimes we find ourselves thrown together rather randomly, and it's in such a way that I found a man named David Nolan.

For those of you who aren't familiar with my non-Baseball life, I work at Theater for the New City in Manhattan. Baseball, especially Mets Baseball doesn't run especially deep there, except within the confines of my office. Even then, you wouldn't know much about my being a Mets fan except that I had a printout of a snow-covered Shea Stadium that was e-mailed to me as a Christmas card by the Mets some years ago. It was, for the random Mets fan who would come through my office, a good conversation piece.

I knew David Nolan first as a veritable encyclopedia of Sound. Whether it was his work at any number of NYC Radio stations, or concert venues, or his mind-boggling collection of sound clips and live recordings, the man knew everything there was to know about sound recording, engineering and archiving. He helped me out innumerable times on a variety of projects, from pulling sound clips from the internet or sneaking me into WNYC's studios to record voiceovers amidst the mess of Danny Stiles' records. He helped me out so many times, I almost felt I was imposing on him. I mentioned this to him once, and he told me, "This is my hobby." For David, this was the sort of thing he loved doing most.

David and I were always friendly, mainly because David was a friendly person by nature. But it was over the Mets where David and I truly became friends. I don't remember exactly when or how I found out that he was a Mets fan. I only recall one evening at the 11th Street Bar when El Guapo and I were watching the Mets. David lived on the block, and I happened to see him passing by on his way home. The game was on, and he decided to stop in and have a drink with us and catch a bit of the game. It was right around the time of that year's Subway Series, and I mentioned that I was going. He said he hated me. Over the course of time, this scene would repeat itself. We would be in the bar, watching the game, and David would happen to pass by. Usually he would walk by, look in, see me, and then keep going. Then he'd double back and come in, usually for a quick drink, and then head home. Depending on the weather, he'd have his very sharp, 1999-style Mets jacket on. One particular instance, Game 2 of the Dodgers series in '06, he stayed for the remainder of the game. In parting, he would always give me the peace sign, which I always took as his trademark.

When The Ballclub started in '07, I kept it mostly hidden from my day-to-day life. I figured that it was a different world, the Theater and the Mets. I started to plug it here and there once an audience developed. I was surprised to find that among the readers was David Nolan, and more than that, he was an ardent fan. He often told me that he found what he read here to be better than what he could read in most newspapers, and that I'd certainly be able to find a career in journalism if I wanted to. David had a reputation as a harsh critic, so his praise was never lost on me. It's always nice to know that your work is appreciated by peers you have a great deal of respect for.

David also looked out for me as a person. In addition to all the times he helped me with shows, he also looked out for me on the job front. For a period of time, I was looking for a new job. David, who worked for the 92nd Street Y, was constantly on the lookout for a position that I could fill.

The last time I saw David was at TNC's annual Benefit. It was a formal event, far more formal than David or I are used to attending. Both in formalwear, we cracked a few prom jokes before the conversation turned to the Mets. He mentioned that he hadn't renewed his plan; out of the 15 games he had, he only made it to about 6 or so. I told him that I had renewed mine, and we should get to a game together this season. He told me that he definitely wanted to watch a game with me. Sadly, David passed away last Thursday, unexpectedly. A husband and father, David's wife, Joy, came to TNC the following day and told me I need to continue to write this blog. With his passing, not only did the TNC community lose a great person and a great friend, but the Mets also lost a great fan. It's unfortunate that I won't get to have the chance to catch that game with him. But I know that wherever he is, he'll be watching. And his wife will be following the Mets and this blog in his stead.

Rest in Peace, Dave. I'll toast you with my Opening Day beer in April.