Saturday, February 26, 2005

 

Prospecting

The inspiration for posts have not been frequent of late and has lead to some silence on Metsmerized. Luckily, Baseball Prospectus released its list of their top 50 prospects and John Sickels did a list of the top 20 Mets prospects.

For the BP list, they did not give commentary on the list so it was hard to gauge their reasoning. Obviously, we know they value skills and numbers over tools, but the list left me with a lot of questions. For example, they rated Matt Cain behind Jered Weaver even though Cain has dominated at High A, pitched well at Double-A and is younger! This makes no sense to me. If you were going by tools, you could make the argument if you thought Weaver had better stuff, but Cain has already put up numbers in professional baseball. From reading the BP prospect roundtables, they seemed to be all over the place in determining the list and not as consistent as past years. I would like to know if they do a vote, or if it is a consensus or if one person takes the commentary and makes the list.

As a Mets fan, the on thing that jumps out at you is Kazmir is ranked one spot ahead of Yusmeiro Petit. As I commented in an earlier post, it would be interesting to see how BP rated Petit and Milledge as opposed to Baseball America where Milledge was #1 and Petit #2. As I hypothesized, they had Petit ahead of Milledge but I was pleased to see Milledge at #19. Although Milledge has a rep as toolsy guy, he did have an enormous year in 2004, too big for BP to ignore. Although Delmon Young is #2, the difference between him and Milledge is not that large. In fact, you could argue that Milledge has a higher ceiling because he has speed and is a better fielder. Right now, Milledge is comparable to a guy like Rocco Baldelli due to his lack of plate discipline. Obviously, Baldelli would be nice, but if he can work on the walk rate, he could become closer to Carlos Beltran. His future will be exciting to follow.

Similarly, it is nice to see Petit get some love from BP but it isn’t surprising. This is a huge year for him and if he succeeds at Double-A, he will be on the fast track to Flushing while silencing critics who say he lacks “stuff.”

Only one Yankee, Eric Duncan, made the list and I was surprised to see him at #13 right ahead of Kaz and Petit. His line of .254/.366.462 in the Florida State League is not that impressive, but the walk rate is impressive and that must’ve been what clinched it for him; however, his line of .260/.351/.479 in the first part of the year at Low A is nothing special either, Milledge’s were far more impressive but Duncan walks a lot more.

As for Sickels, he has Petit and Humber rated ahead of Milledge, which is surprising and somewhat curious. Sickels does not speak too highly of either though, giving Petit a B+ and saying he thinks he is the #21 pitching prospect. His criticism of Petit and Milledge are what you would expect and what I have outlined before, but apparently he sees their shortcoming as larger obstacles than most.

On the plus side, he speaks glowingly of Gaby Fernandez and from what I’ve read, I have become very excited about this guy. He is a ways off but another guy worth following. I enjoy tracking the Mets farm system and was so dismayed when they made the “Black Friday” trades and a big reason was because I had enjoyed following those guys. On a side note, I saw the Justin huber is now being moved to first base primarily thereby diminishing his value and making that trade a little easier to swallow.

Looking at the Sickels’ list, it is apparent the Mets system lacks depth but is top heavy, particularly in the pitching department. The assessments in BP and by Sickels are fair. The BA top 100 prospect list will be released Monday and will provide an interesting point of comparison.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

 

In The Papers

While things are a little slow as spring training is yet to get into full swing, the Sunday papers treated us to some excellent Mets content.

The New York Times gave us the first feature I have seen yet on Yusmeiro Petit. He is really an intriguing prospect who is a source of disagreement between scouts and performance analysts. It has been well documented, and is discussed in this article, that Petit does not throw very hard. For the most part, his fastball operates in the high-80s, usually not enough for a righty to be considered an elite prospect. Then again, you cannot argue with results. In the Florida State League (a known pitchers league, granted) he had 62 K in 44 IP and a 1.22 ERA, this was after dominating the Sally League for half a season and earning an invitation to the futures game.

The most interesting tidbit from the article is from catcher Joe Hietpas:

In the two games Petit pitched for Binghamton last season, catcher Joe Hietpas watched a string of opposing batters whiff on 88-m.p.h. fastballs. Puzzled, Hietpas started to quiz the batters on how hard they thought Petit was throwing. "Everyone guessed 95 miles per hour," he said. "I can't explain what he does out there, but guys cannot pick up the ball. They're completely deceived."

Maybe Petit has an inherent ability that is hard to quantify. Maybe he is fat, so is Bartolo Colon. Maybe he doesn’t throw hard, neither does Greg Maddux or Tim Hudson. I’m not saying he is going to be as good as these guys, but there are exceptions to every rule and just because he is a chunky soft tossing righty doesn’t mean he can’t be a stud. Until he starts getting hit, I am not going to doubt him. He has given no reason for anyone to doubt him yet. Binghamton will obviously be a major test and will go a long way towards silencing the critics.

The Daily News gave us a nice feature on David Wright, one of what will probably be many over the next decade. There is really nothing bad you can say about this guy. In fact, he is almost too good to be true. Maybe when he becomes a little more recognizable he may not be as accommodating as he has been thus far, but he has been unbelievably gracious and humble as he deals with the outsized expectations of NYC. The acquisitions of Beltran and Pedro should be most beneficial for Wright because he will not be the focus of attention he would’ve been without these signings. The only bad thing I’ve heard about him is that apparently he is a George W. Bush fan, but maybe you like our president so if you do, Wright is perfect. If he is smart, he may want to keep that quiet in this city as it might hurt his stardom a little bit.

Newday provided us some continuing coverage of the Willie “Stalin” Randolph team rules controversy. The one that has drawn the most attention is the no facial hair rule except for moustaches. What I think is hypocritical about that is that Randolph happens to have a moustache. I think it is possible to look presentable with facial hair, but I am not the manager.

I don’t know what to make of these new rules. Part of me thinks they are kind of dorky and I wish the Mets would try and take the Red Sox tact of being the anti-Yankees. Then again, it is not surprising that Randolph is bringing in some Yankees influence and if it means more victories, I am fine with it. That is probably how it will work with the players. If they are winning, no one will be complaining, but if there is some trouble in paradise, that is when we will start to hear some grumbling.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

 

Minky's Glove is Worth Ten Wins! No, Not Really

As many of you have probably seen, ESPN.com has been doing their annual off-season series of “Hot Stove Heaters.” They are all extremely subjective and in my mind, often frustratingly stupid. While I tend to err on the side of sabermetrics, I like to think that I am willing to keep an open mind to other arguments and I can be swayed by non-sabermetric arguments, as long as there is some degree of statistical evidence to back up whatever claim is being made.

Earlier this week, Eric Neel wrote a “Hot Stove Heater” proclaiming Doug Mientkiewicz the best defensive first baseman in the game. In this case, my beef was not with this claim for two reasons. First, Eric Neel is one of the few writers who is able to skillfully toe the line between an understanding of sabermetrics and colorful writing that can illuminate the non-statistical side of baseball. Second, even though Neel did not get into it, statistical evidence (beyond fielding percentage) does support the claim that Mientkiewicz is if not the best, one of the best defensive first baseman in the league and calling him that is not so ridiculous. Conversely, calling Juan Pierre the best base stealer in the league was absolutely ridiculous, but that is for another time. But I digress.

What jumped out at me about this article was a quote by our favorite GM included in the following excerpt:

Minaya figures first base is undervalued in the market place and in the minds of the average fan. "People take the position for granted," he said. He looks at a guy like J.T. Snow of the Giants, a smooth, graceful glove who "saves the Giants 10 games a year," and he anticipates something similar for his club with Mientkiewicz.

So J.T. Snow saves 10 games a year with his glove. As my friend Ted said, “So that is why the Giants are so good! I thought it was Bonds’ hitting, but apparently it is Snow’s glove.”

It’s possible that Omar was speaking off the cuff and didn’t think much about what he was saying, but even speaking in complete hyperbole that is such an outrageous statement it makes me question Omar’s judgment. It is statements like there that bother me about non-statistical analysis. There is no basis for this statement whatsoever and people often take it at face value. In fact, I am a little disappointed that Neel did not take him to task for it, but I guess that was not the point of the story.

Analysts have gone to great length to quantify defense, and it is far from an exact science. But there is no way that any fielder is worth ten wins a season, particularly at first base. Maybe Omar was saying that Minky, versus eight fielders and no first baseman at all, was worth ten wins. If so, that might be true. However, it is not possible that Minky is worth ten more wins than anyone else good enough to make it on a major league field as a first baseman, even our good friend Mike Piazza.

Maybe Orlando Cabrera is ten wins better than me at shortstop, but that is neither here nor there. And maybe I am making too big of a deal of a seemingly innocuous statement, but I just could not get over this statement, not could I get over the fact that it was printed at face value. But if Omar is speaking the truth, that means the Mets are an 81 win team even before you factor in the additions of Beltran and Pedro and a full season of David Wright.

October baseball here we come!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

 

McEwing, More Like McSucking

As anyone who has read this blog before knows, I hate Joe McEwing. Not as a person mind you, I’m sure he is a good guy, but as a player. Yes, being able to play eight positions is charming and it will always make you a fan favorite, particularly when you look like you are trying really hard. But let’s be honest, he cannot hit and no amount of positional versatility is going to compensate for that.

In the last three seasons, his OPS have been .538, .600 and .609. He is 32 so it is not likely that these figures are going to improve. In those three seasons, he has had a combined 655 plate appearances. It is inexcusable that the Mets have allowed him to come to the plate, on average, over 200 times in each of the last three seasons.

Fortunately, the Mets seemed to have realized this and have signed a bunch of potential back-up middle infielders, which is essentially what McEwing has become despite his ability to moonlight at every other spot on the diamond. While not glamorous, the battle for the Mets bench will be one of the most intense of the spring.

I’m assuming the Mets will carry 12 pitchers, so that leaves five bench spots. Going in, we know that both there is going to be a back-up catcher. Most likely, that will be Jason Phillips but Ramon Castro will have a punchers chance to win the job after Phillips’ disastrous 2004.

As for the outfield, my homeboy Eric Valent is almost assured of a job although I worry that he will not be able to duplicate his promising 2004 season. There will be a fifth outfielder as well, and Ron Calloway seems like a likely candidate despite a .437 OPS for Montreal last season. He makes McEwing look like Clue Haywood. This also depends on when Cameron comes back and how they decide to use Victor Diaz. If Cameron is healthy, having Valent and Diaz as your back-ups is a little dangerous because neither can play center, although both Cameron and Beltran can so that might be the line-up. It all depends on whether or not the Mets want Diaz playing everyday in Norfolk or backing up in the bigs. This will be a tough decision and I am in favor of latter. In some ways, I want to see Cameron take his time coming back so we get a better sense of what Diaz can do. For some reason, Calloway is on the 40-man roster so I am led to believe Omar has some sort of man crush on him from his time in Montreal. That, or he lost a bet. Kerry Robinson and Gerald Williams are both on the NRI list and are equally horrible options.

On the infield, that leaves two more back-up jobs and one of the certainly is going to be a middle infielder. If Andres Galarraga, another NRI, seems healthy, it appears that he might get a shot to be Minky’s platoon partner. He’s old, but he has put up a line of .306/.371/.459 against lefties over the last three years. I have a hard time imagining he will be able to replicate this, but I have been wrong before.

That would leave one spot for Miguel Cairo, Marlon Anderson, Chris Woodward and McEwing. While Cairo has played about 20 games at short in his whole career, it would stand to reason that he will get the job and the rest will be in Norfolk. Plus, the Mets have the added bonus of Matsui and Reyes being able to play both second and short so having a versatile back-up is less important. Besides, Reyes will get hurt at some point so one of these other guys will get a shot.

Wow. What seemed like a complicated position battle wasn’t so complicated after all.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

 

The February Blues

I’ve got it. The February blues. Sports fans talk about it all of the time, and I’m sure most of you reading this have them as well. The NFL is done, March Madness is weeks away and opening day in Cincy is almost two months away. The Duke-Carolina game tonight was a nice respite, but we all know we’re waiting for Pedro to take the hill in Cincinnati and begin what should be the most exciting season in years. How good the Mets will be remains to be seen, but they will be exciting. Pedro came to camp early for god’s sake, and David Wright was excited about it. Then again, I think Wright would be excited if you kicked him in the groin.

Luckily, for those of us who are desperate for Mets news, here is a little update that someone posted in the comments section on Mets Blog. It gives some details about Piazza’s recent wedding.

Joe McEwing married the two, played the organ, served as the flower girl and was the DJ at the reception. He didn't do any of them well, but was hired because of his versatility.

Cliff Floyd pulled a hammy during the Electric Slide.

Zambrano hurt his elbow doing the Macarena.

Armando Benitez choked during the main course.

When asked how it was that his daughter was the one to catch the bouquet, Art Howe responded, "She battled."

Mike made it very clear to his new bride that he was not willing to try new positions.

Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo showed up to the wedding uninvited, but stuck around for a while, as Piazza was unable to throw them out.

When the bride threw the bouquet, it inadvertently landed in the arms of Doug Mientkiewicz. He refused to give it back, stating that it landed in his hands and it was his right to keep it.

Those who have been reading this blog have sensed my distaste for McEwing, in my next post I will break down the Mets bench situation which is as up in the air as the bullpen and show just how bad McEwing is. Even if he is a good DJ.

Monday, February 07, 2005

 

Omar Says Maggli-No

First off, I want to apologize for my delinquency with Metsmerized of late. As I’ve mentioned before, I just moved and began a new job, and the new job has been a lot more hectic than I originally expected. Hopefully, I can back on schedule starting now.

So the big news in baseball this week (besides the Yankees inking Buddy Groom) is the Tigers signing Magglio Ordonez, a player long thought to be on the Mets radar this offseason. When I first read about this contract, I honestly thought it was a typo. Five years $75 million with the potential to be worth $105 million over seven years to Magglio, Beltran is suddenly looking like a steal.

There was a time when the consensus in baseball was that Magglio might have to take a one year deal or an incentive laden multi-year deal a la Pudge Rodriguez, his new teammate. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, whatever you think about Scott Boras as a person, the guy is good at his job.

Yes, there is a clause that allows the Tigers to void the contract if he has a recurrence of the knee injury he had last season and it lands him on the DL for more than 25 days; however, what if he doesn’t have a recurrence, but the injury has debilitated him so that he is no longer the same player? He could also make it through the season and then have a recurrence the follwing year, or better yet, re-injure it with less than 25 games remaing. Yes he is a year younger, but he is getting more years and money per year than Carlos Delgado.

Not to sound like a whiny Mets fan, but I definitely get the sense that there is a double standard in the media when it comes to the Mets. Can you imagine the outcry in the media if the Mets made this deal? They would be accused of just trying to buy a division title and that they don’t know what they are doing. When the Tigers spend money like they did on Pudge, Percival and Magglio, they are applauded for trying to spend their money to win to put the best product on the field. All three of those are questionable contracts and when you consider what happens if Pudge and Magglio meet certain clauses in their contracts, those could look like two of the worst in baseball in about two years. I’m no Will Carroll, but catchers, and outfielders with horrific knee injuries tend not to age well.

Often, the best measure of a general manager is not the moves the make, but the moves they don’t make. In this case, kudos to Omar for backing off this red flag. The Mets have had plenty over the years and they don’t need another.

Other thoughts…
• The Mets have updated their 40-man roster, and I just don’t get it. McEwing stays, and Garcia his .371 OBP is a non-roster invitee. To be honest, this is more about McEwing that Garcia. The Mets need to cut this guy loose. If they want a nice guy who tries hard, I’m available and I would play for a lot less than the league minimum if they let me. I once played every position in an IM softball season, so I’m versatile just like Super Joe.
• Ramon Castro is also on the NRI list for the Mets. This guy hit 18 bombs in 2002 and I wonder if Jason Phillips is feeling the heat a little bit. While I don’t like the idea of spring training dictating position battles, this could be an interesting one to watch.

Note: I realize my font is larger than normal, for some reason the blogging program is not letting me make it smaller. The readers with poorer vision will benefit I guess.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

 

Fearless Forecaster

All has been relatively quiet on the Mets front since last weeks Mientkiewicz deal. Mets fans and writers are so used to action this offseason that is seems like rumors are flying for the sake of rumors. At this point, it seems as though the team the Mets have now is the one that is going to enter the season. Obviously, they are going to be better than last season’s squad in which my boy Eric Valent made a great case for team MVP. The questions is, how much better? I figured I’d look into Bill James pythagorean method (with help from Baseball Prospectus PECOTA) to try and figure out how much better.

Last season the Mets were 71-91. They scored 684 runs and allowed 731 runs.

To review, the pythagorean formula is:

Winning Percentage= Runs Scored^2 / (Runs Scored^2 + Runs Allowed^2)

So, for the Mets it was: 684^2 /
(684^2 + 731^2) = .467


When you multiply .467 by 162, you get 75.6, which means the Mets underperformed their pythagorean projection by about 5 games. Now the problem is figuring out how much better their run differential will be.

I like to think of myself as a relatively objective Mets fans so I will try and maintain that objectivity in my projection; however, I know that as a fan, it is hard to not envision a best case scenario. If you think I am being to conservative or too optimistic, please let me know.
I will go position by position to try and decipher where the Mets will gain and lose runs. I will be using VORP, which is designed to measure “the number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances.” My estimates are not the most scientific, but they should be decent approximations.

Catcher-This is one position where the Mets stand to gain a lot of runs. Essentially, his at bats will be replaced by Mientkiewicz as Piazza and Minky will be manning catcher and first whereas last season it was Piazza and Phillips. But to keep it simple, lets say Piazza reaches his projected VORP of 24.2, that is a gain of about 30 runs over Phillips miserable 2004.
Difference: +30

First base-Unfortunately, a lot of the gain at catcher will be lost at first because Minky can’t hit like Mikey. While Minky’s projected VORP of 12.7 seems conservative, the odds of him putting up 29.9 (Piazza’s 2004 figure) are slim; however, a VORP of 20 is realistic if he stays healthy.
Difference:-10

Second base-Hard to say, but Reyes and the other knuckleheads who manned second were pretty awful last year and Matsui was coming into his own when he got hurt. If Kaz reaches his projection of 25.9, it would be a gain of about 10 runs for the Mets.
Difference: +10

Shortstop:A complete wild card. I would not be surprised by anything Reyes done this season. PECOTA has him pegged for a VORP of 12.7. I am going to declare this a loss for the Mets as Reyes has done nothing to indicate he is the star he was supposed to be.
Difference: -5

Third: Wigginton and Wright were a good combo, Wright alone should be better; however, Wright and Wiggy combined for a VORP of 42.5, if Wright does that alone it would be fantastic. I’ll call it a push.
Difference: 0

Left field: Another big question mark. Which Cliff Floyd will show up this season? The real unknown is how much he will play. PECOTA foresees an upgrade in 3.1 runs for Floyd this season. I’d like to think that he can at the very least replicate his performance last season; however, it should be noted that his primary replacements (Spencer and Valent) played quite well in his absence so I will call this one a push as well.
Difference: 0

Centerfield: Holy improvement, Batman! Cameron’s VORP in 2004 was a respectable 27.0, Beltran projects a VORP of 51.6. Enough sa id.
Difference: +25

Right field: As I said in a previous column, if Cameron puts up the same season in right, his VORP would be lower due to higher offensive expectations in right. Luckily, the Mets rightfielders last season were about as productive as Danny Heep with the exception of the three weeks when Hidalgo did his Manny Ramirez impressive. Therefore, Cameron won’t have to do much to hold it dow but a small gain is possible.
Difference: 0

Bench: Who knows? Just not having McEwing should be worth about five runs, right?
Difference: +5

Pitching: Pitching is a little tougher to predict. While there are five main starters, there are always others who get starts over the course of the season. So I am going to be less scientific here and use the 731 runs allowed last season as a starting point. With the addition of Pedro and hopefully a healthy Benson and Zambrano, it would seem the Mets should be better, but it is hard to be confident of this.

While everyone would agree that Pedro is an upgrade of Al Leiter, Leiter did have an ERA of 3.21 in 174 IP so Pedro might not be that much of an upgrade. Glavine was great in the first half, but mediocre in the second. There is no reason to be confident in the health of Benson and Zambrano, but that could be where Rick Peterson comes in. Trachsel will most likely be Trachsel. For the record, PECOTA is not particularly optimistic about the starters beside Pedro, predicting a total VORP of 40.2. Ouch. Fortunately, it predicts a VORP of 53.3 for Petey. Also, with the bullpen a huge unknown, it is hard to predict an upgrade in pitching so I will essentially call it a push. The fan in me will predict a gain of 5 runs.
Difference: +5

Based on this, the Mets will score 55 more runs than they scored last season. That would bring their total to 739. If they allow 5 fewer runs, that would be 726. To review:

Winning Percentage= Runs Scored^2 / (Runs Scored^2 + Runs Allowed^2)

Therefore, 739^2 /
(739^2 + 726^2) = 546121 / (546121+ 527076) = .509

Then, if we multiply .509 by 162 we get 82.4, and improvement of 11 games of their actual record, but only a gain on 6 games in their pythagorean record. This might seem disappointing, and maybe I am being too conservative; however, it should be noted that the total VORP projection for Beltran and Pedro is 104.9. Ten runs of VORP is equivalent to about one win. Essentially Beltran and Pedro alone are worth the ten extra wins the pythagorean method predicts, that is, if everything else remains equal. To be honest, that looks like it could be the case. For every improvement at one position, I foresee an equivalent drop off at another.

Then again, we also know that their are other mitigating factors in a pythagorean record, and while the Mets underperformed last season, they could over perform by the same amount next season and have about 87 wins, enough to vault them into the playoff hunt. Also, the Mets defense should be a lot better and could be worth a few more runs on its own.

So who knows, all this excercise taught me is what I already know. The Mets should be a winning team, and if all goes well, they could win 90 games. Like I said, feel free to let me know if you think my methods or projections are idiotic. I encourage an open discourse at Metsmerized.


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