April 2011

On Mets, hospitals and inspirations

You may recall a piece on Mets.com last month detailing the inspirational story of Jeriel Rodriguez, a 13-year-old cancer patient who struck up a friendship with Carlos Beltran and his wife, Jessica. If not, I’d suggest giving it a read.

Earlier this week, Jeriel was admitted to a local hospital in Falls Church, Va. for another round of chemotherapy. Jessica Beltran, who regularly communicates with the boy through Facebook, found out about it, prompting Carlos Beltran to make the drive Wednesday morning from Washington, where the Mets are playing, to Falls Church.

The previous day, he and his Mets teammates made their annual pilgrimage to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where they paid their respects to wounded veterans. They also made headlines, of course, due in large part to last year’s media fiasco involving Beltran, Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. At the time, Beltran took heat for not making the hospital visit with his teammates, though he later revealed he was doing work for the opening of his baseball academy in Puerto Rico.

For that misunderstanding, he was criticized. Yet when Beltran quietly takes time out of his morning to visit a 13-year-old cancer patient, it is a footnote. That’s wrong.

On this day, to one boy at least, Beltran was a hero. And that’s something worth noting.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Are the Mets the worst defensive team in MLB?

Though advanced defensive metrics can be a faulty way to measure success, they also have an important place in today’s game. Among the more respected of them is John Dewan’s Runs Saved, which measures precisely what you might imagine it measures. Runs Saved is a cumulative stat taking into account a fielder’s range and ability to convert a batted ball into an out, along with his effectiveness completing position-specific tasks such as turning double plays or throwing out would-be base stealers.

Heading into Wednesday’s play, the Mets ranked dead last in the Majors with -26 runs saved, meaning their defense had cost them 26 runs over the first three weeks of the season. Only one position player, Angel Pagan, had a positive Runs Saved total (so keep that in mind before bashing Pagan for his slow start at the plate).

To compare, the second-worst team in baseball was the Phillies, with -18 runs saved. The best was the Rangers with +14 runs saved.

FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating (a metric similar to Runs Saved) tells a similar story, showing the Mets with a -7.4 UZR through 18 games, third-worst in the National League. Among the foremost culprits are David Wright, Willie Harris and Carlos Beltran, who possess UZRs of -2.9, -2.9 and -2.2, respectively.

(It’s worth noting that the Mets rank 17th in baseball with just 10 fielding errors on the year — if nothing else, a condemnation of traditional defensive statistics.)

The struggles have been both telling and (the Mets hope, at least) somewhat aberrational. The Mets were an above-average defensive team last season, thanks in large part to Pagan and Ike Davis, one of the best defensive first basemen in the league.

Right now, though, they’re simply not repeating that performance. And it’s costing them runs.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Did Mets pull the plug on Emaus too soon?

Imagine, for a moment, that the Mets gave up on David Wright after the first 10 games of his big league career, in which he batted .216 with one home run and a .635 OPS. Imagine they shunned Jose Reyes after he hit .209 with one walk and one stolen base over his first 25 big league games in 2003. Imagine they scratched Jon Niese off their plans after he posted a 7.07 ERA during his cup of coffee in 2008.

Usually, rookies struggle. For every Mike Stanton in Major League history, there are a dozen others who crawl out to slow start. All of which is to say that perhaps the Mets should have given their former starting second baseman, Brad Emaus, more of a chance.

Emaus is in no way as talented as Wright, Reyes or even Niese, but — as the Mets went out of their way to say in Spring Training — he had the tools and Minor League track record to become a productive regular. To that end, the Mets named him their starting second baseman over Daniel Murphy, Luis Castillo and Justin Turner, promising him enough playing time to prove himself.

Then Tuesday, after 14 games and 37 at-bats, the Mets suddenly decided that Emaus wasn’t good enough. They designated him for assignment, likely ending his tenure with the organization, and recalled Turner to take his place.

Let me preface this by saying that I would have had no issue with the Mets naming Turner their starting second baseman back in Spring Training — he had the most impressive spring of any of the candidates, along with an adequate Minor League resume. But the Mets committed themselves to Emaus, so it’s only fair to stay committed now. Emaus certainly played poorly (his 14.8% line drive rate explains away his .214 BABIP), but lots of rookies play poorly at first. If the Mets thought he was good enough to start at second base, why not give him at least two or three full months to prove himself? Why not now, in what most consider a rebuilding year for the Mets?

The Mets have yet to explain or defend their decision; that coverage will come later on Mets.com. But this is a puzzling lack of consistency from the new front office, which was supposed to be more broad-minded than the old regime.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

How to avoid getting Tulo’d

Sifting through the carnage of a four-game series sweep here, I began wondering if the Mets had any chance to stop the hottest player in baseball, Rockies shortstop  Troy Tulowitzki, who went 10-for-16 in the series with a home run in every game.  Mets catcher Josh Thole likened it to “watching Bonds in his prime.”

“You throw it up there and hope he pops it up, I don’t know,” Thole said. “He hits a home run to right, he hits a home run to left. He’s hit a lot of good pitches. He’s locked in. I don’t know, throw it down the middle, see what he’ll do with it? When you’re going like that, you’re going. I don’t know what other way to put it for the guy. He had a great series.”

More often than not, the Mets elected to pitch to Tulowitzki, most notoriously with two men on and a base open in Wednesday’s one-run loss.

He homered, of course.

It was an epic series for Tulowitzki, but nothing entirely new for one of the game’s top young players. Down the stretch last season, Tulowitzki hit an unfathomable 14 homers in one 15-game stretch, carrying the Rockies on his shoulders during a 10-game winning streak.

The Mets fan must curse Tulowitzki. The baseball fan must marvel at him.

“He had a tremendous series,” backup catcher Mike Nickeas said .”That’s as good as I’ve seen a guy, as hot as I’ve seen a guy. He’s locked in. You just have to try to let him get his hits at the right time.”

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Can No. 13 be lucky for the Mets?

It’s no real secret, but Major League Baseball just officially released order for the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, which begins June 6 and runs three days. The Mets pick 13th, six spots lower than when they selected Matt Harvey a year ago. They also have the 44th overall pick as compensation for the Yankees signing Pedro Feliciano. Their second-round pick is 71st overall, then they make a selection every 30 picks thereafter.

It will represent the first real test for Mets vice president of player development and amateur scouting Paul DePodesta, who has spent most of the last three months visiting Draft candidates around the country. He and general manager Sandy Alderson will look to atone for some of the organization’s Draft mistakes of the past.

Then again, not all of the team’s recent selections have been bad. Though they have whiffed on top picks such as Eddie Kunz and Kevin Mulvey, the Mets have scored with selections such as Ike Davis, Josh Thole and Jon Niese.

As for Harvey, last year’s seventh overall pick? So far, so good. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-hander has struck out 17 batters in 11 innings for Class A St. Lucie, giving up eight hits, four walks and no runs. He has also flashed the high-90s velocity he showcased in Minor League camp this spring, leading Alderson to say: “Those are positives, definitely.”

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

No more No. 44 for Isringhausen

Before flying to New York to join the Mets, Jason Isringhausen went to dinner in Port St. Lucie, Fla. on Sunday night with rehabbing outfielder Jason Bay. Among the topics discussed was Bay’s uniform No. 44, which belonged to Isringhausen from 1995-1999.

It is not uncommon for players, when joining a new team, to purchase their old uniform numbers with gifts, or even cash. Yet back in Spring Training, Bay said he would be willing to give up his number free of charge for Isringhausen, who also wore No. 44 throughout most of his 11 seasons with the A’s, Cardinals and Rays.

Bay again offered up the number on Sunday night.

“He said if you really want it, you can have it,” Isringhausen said.

But Isringhausen, citing the hassle of switching uniforms mid-season, declined. Instead, he wore No. 45 on Monday night, with no plans to change.

It is worth noting that Isringhausen’s status with the club remains tenuous, while Bay is under contract through 2013.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

L.I. Ducks sign Duaner Sanchez

Chatting at Sun Life Stadium earlier this month, one Mets official told me he disliked going to Miami because it brought back memories of Duaner Sanchez’s taxicab accident, which derailed the 2006 Mets and, in some sense, was the catalyst for everything that has happened to this franchise since. With Sanchez, perhaps the Mets reach the 2006 World Series, beat the Tigers, enter 2007 with more swagger, make the playoffs again, and so on and so forth. The Phillies never become the Phillies. And the Mets never become, well, what they’ve become.

(For more on Sanchez, check out this story from Mets.com in the spring of 2007.)

I bring this up now because of how far Sanchez’s star has fallen. The independent Long Island Ducks announced Monday that they have signed Sanchez to pitch out of their bullpen. Sanchez last pitched in the big leagues for the Padres in 2009, spending last year kicking around the Minors and independent leagues.

“We are happy to bring Duaner … aboard this season,” says Ducks president Michael Pfaff said in a statement. “[His] talents and experience will certainly help bolster our club.”

It’s difficult to see that and not imagine what could have been for the Mets.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

A wild game with plenty to note

I don’t usually do this, but Saturday’s game carried enough intrigue that I feel I need to empty my notebook here. Of note:

  • Francisco Rodriguez took the first at-bat of his career, whiffing on five pitches. He estimated that he has not even taken batting practice for 13 years.
  • Manager Terry Collins opted to go with Rodriguez for a four-out save instead of turning to Tim Byrdak, who was warm and ready to face left-handed batter Matt Stairs.
  • Speaking of the bullpen, Taylor Buchholz appears to be the seventh-inning guy of preference, though Collins has not told him to expect that role.
  • After Daniel Murphy pinch-hit for Chin-lung Hu in the sixth inning, it might have made sense for Collins to keep Murphy in the game at second base. But Collins instead replaced Murphy with Brad Emaus in a two-run game, citing Murphy’s simple lack of experience at second.
  • The Mets finished 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position, after going 1-for-17 in such situations in their previous two games.
  • Ike Davis was hit on his right pinkie finger with a pitch, but stayed in the game and said he was fine.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Who’s the best hitter of them all?

When John Maine was a Met, he and Mike Pelfrey used to spend hours bragging about his exploits as a hitter. But perhaps, so to speak, there’s a new sheriff in town. Rapping out three singles in Tuesday’s game, Chris Young became the first Mets player ever to record two hits in an inning, and the first to record three hits in a game since Tom Glavine back in 2005.

It was a freak occurrence, of course, for a .152 career hitter who has never had more than seven hits in a season. But it happened, and it was the talk of the clubhouse afterward.

“I didn’t realize he was such a good-hitting pitcher,” David Wright said. “It just makes Pelfrey look that much worse.”

Leading Pelfrey to shoot back: “I’m not going for average anymore. I’m swinging for the fences. Don’t miss down the middle.”

Pelfrey, for the record, is an .093 career hitter with 17 singles and two career doubles.

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.

Which new Met excites you most?

So a 2-1 start in Miami has charged this team and its fans with some much-needed optimism. Which begs the question — which new player excites you most? (Couldn’t include everyone on the poll, since nearly half the Opening Day roster was not here in September. )

—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.