The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

A Mets Post Mortem

Let me begin by congratulating the Kansas City Royals on their first World Championship season in 30 years.  I also want to acknowledge my pre-season error when I predicted that the Royals were probably a fluke last year, and would be unlikely to repeat as A.L. champions this season.  The Royals appear to be a team whose sum is greater than the whole of their individual parts, but baseball being a team sport, they were well-constructed and expertly managed.

As for the Mets, the Royals did a fantastic job exposing and exploiting each of their weaknesses.  Specifically, a team built around starting pitching will probably be most vulnerable once those starting pitchers are removed.  In this day and age, when complete games are largely a thing of the past, this means that a bullpen cannot, then, play second-fiddle to a young and talented starting staff.

There needs to be a virtually seamless level of pitching talent from the first through the ninth innings.  After all, major league baseball is not a seven inning game.  If the manager signals, time after time, that he would rather trust his tired starters to pitch an inning longer than they should probably be allowed to instead of going to fresh bullpen arms, (and worse, if he allows himself to be talked into doing so by his spirited starters), then the final third of every game will inevitably become the Achilles heal of what should be a strategic advantage.

If I’m putting too fine a point on it, use the damned ‘pen at the beginning of an inning, not once an overworked starter has inevitably put a man or two on base.

The Mets infield defense is sub-par, and it’s difficult to imagine, quite frankly, how the Mets made it this far in the playoffs with not one above-average defensive infielder.  If your pitchers have to strike out eight to ten batters per game to keep the ball out of play (at least as far as the infield is concerned), you are A) forcing your starters to throw too many pitches through the first six innings to gain those 4-7 pitch strikeouts (vs. those one or three pitch ground-outs), and B) you are allowing the defense to become too comfortable, so that when a ground-ball is hit, the fielders are potentially less ready to make the play.

I love Danny Murphy for his bat, and yes, even though his homer total during the first-two rounds of the play-offs was fluky, the man can hit.  But an actual second-baseman (as opposed to a hitter who happens to play second-base) would be preferable to the current option.  If Murphy is allowed to move on elsewhere as a free agent, I would have to count that as a potentially positive move for the Mets, IF it results in an over-all improved infield defense (no sure thing at this point)

With the advent of sabermetrics, especially over the past fifteen years or so, a new orthodoxy has taken over most baseball teams.  Don’t run much, forget the sacrifice bunt, go for the long-ball, and take your walks.

Oddly, though, the original premise of (at least Billy Beane’s version) of sabermetrics wasn’t so much to enshrine any particular strategy as baseball’s version of the New Testament.  It was to exploit those aspects of baseball being neglected by your financially wealthier opponents. Which aspects of a given player’s skill-set were being undervalued, and how could a relatively poor team exploit those undervalued skills in the baseball marketplace?

Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson was (at the helm those aforementioned A’s teams) one of the earliest proponents of this philosophy of baseball, and translated to the (oddly) mid-market Mets, this philosophy has appeared to pay dividends in 2015.

Yet, as the Kansas City Royals have shown, there is apparently more than one way to win a World Championship.  The Royals offensive strategy, such as it is, is to play a kind of pre-1920’s baseball, when putting the ball in play, running with apparent abandon, and disrupting the other team’s game-plan (arguably the bete noire of sabermetrics) becomes the whole point of the game.

In other words, perhaps the movement of modern baseball G.M.’s to (at least appear to) embrace particular tenets of sabermetrics has become the new, already calcifying religious orthodoxy that, in turn can be exploited by a small market, 21st-century ball-club.  In effect, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

While there is not necessarily a correlation between age and the ability to adapt to new realities, it is worth raising the point that with Sandy Alderson turning 68-years old later this month, and manager Terry Collins reaching his 67th birthday next May, are they the right men to have at the helm of a team composed of players who could be their grandchildren?  Will they be able to objectively evaluate the structural deficits of this team through the baseball lens of 2015, or will their baseball strategy perpetually reflect an era that might already be coming to an end?

Obviously, the payroll level Mets ownership settles on during this off-season will go a long way towards defining this team’s future, both immediate and long-term.  What can they afford to pay, for example, outfielder Yeonis Cespedes, and what will his asking price be?  Certainly, Cespedes uninspired post-season performance (12 hits in 54 at bats with one walk and 17 strikeouts) won’t help drive up his asking price, but do the Mets commit a very substantial chunk of payroll to him, pursue a different free agent outfielder, or go another route altogether?

Meanwhile, while it would certainly be tempting not to tamper with that young, talented pitching staff, would it make sense to trade one of those arms for a highly talented position player?  After all, as we saw in this World Series, a solo homer here or there is perhaps not the best way to achieve a balanced offense.

Finally, from a Mets fan point of view (and I’ve been one now for over 40 years), it should be noted that only two Major League teams were still playing meaningful baseball on November 1st, and the Mets were one of them.  From that perspective, and for the happy memories this team provided for their fans of the playoff series against both the Dodgers and the Cubs, we have to count 2015 as among of our all-time favorite, most enjoyable baseball seasons.

Thank you, New York Mets, for all your efforts this season, and let’s look optimistically forward to the 2016 baseball season, as I’m sure baseball fans of every team will also be doing.

Let’s Go Mets!

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31 thoughts on “A Mets Post Mortem

  1. Nice blog post. I’m with Gary on this one. I lost interest in the Royals early in the season. Excellent ballplayers, but there is something about their attitude and petulant ways that made it harder and harder to tune into their games. Putting them and the Blue Jays in the same long series gave a whole new meaning to boorish. But, they sure can play ball.

    Once the Mets sent the Cubs packing, I had them winning the WS in six games. I thought that their pitchers had one more series of great left. Like Matt Harvey, I overestimated that. I KNEW Terry Collins was making a mistake when he let Harvey go back out for more, but Collins could not hear my yelling at the TV. (I need a fancier TV with more technology that lets me subscribe to the Mets dugout phone.) The Mets will be okay next year. If they are listening to me, I’d cash out on Cespedes and Murphy, while the market loves them. As you say, today’s game means that these teams need lots and lots of bullpen guys. Shoring that up will go a long way to keep those very good Mets starters strong. Not everyone can finish what they start, like Koosman and Seaver did.

    • Hi Bruce,
      Thank you very much for this thoughtful response. Between the two of us, I like your Cub’s chances next year a bit better than my Mets chances. Your young position players are probably the best group in baseball right now (especially in the infield.) As for Terry Collins, I do think he did a decent job managing the Mets during the regular season, and I’m not against the new two-year contract they gave him, but I’d be willing to bet that if the Mets are below .500 going into next year’s All-Star break, it wouldn’t surprise me if the fired him. I don’t think he handles his pitching staff particularly well; his instincts seem to me to be stuck somewhere in the mid-’80’s as far as that goes. Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one who winced when I saw Harvey come back out to start the 9th-inning in that final game.
      Take care, and thanks again (and good luck to your Cubs next season!)
      -Bill

      • Hi Bill, NY is a rough and tumble place. Combine that town with professional sports and you have a list of all sorts of possibilities. Like firing Yogi Berra and Billy Martin and Davey Johnson and… So, maybe you are right.

        As for the Cubs. I guess they are MY team, as are the boxes of artifacts from my youth. They were my first team and there’s something about that that doesn’t change. So, I claim them without any concern about “front-runner” calls. However, my daily bread is here in the bay area with the Giants and A’s.

      • Perhaps Greinke to the Giants? It could happen. 🙂

  2. Trenchant analysis, as always. Congrats on the Mets’ great run; condolences on the Series loss.
    I’m a “feelings over numbers” guy–which I don’t mean to say that I think “gut hunches” trump sober analysis, because I certainly don’t; it’s just that I’m confused by statistics and am prone to optimism–but once the Mets finished off the Dodgers, I thought they’d go all the way. I knew the Cubs were doomed because of the hype and especially the “Back to the Future” connection–another example of my evidence-free analysis.

    I didn’t think the Royals were flukes last year, but again, my optimism often colors my judgment.
    There’s always next year. I’ve been saying that since I was a senior in high school.

    • Hey Smak, I guess any reasonable manager / GM has to balance out the feelings vs. numbers approach, meaning that I think that while they need to follow where the objective, analytical evidence leads them, I don’t think they then have to be become enslaved to stats. Sometimes they know more about the state of mind, for example, of a player in a certain situation that might lead them to disregard the metrics altogether. Perhaps too much is made of the either/or approach regarding “feelings” over “numbers” these days. To a certain extent, I think humans simply love tribalism, because then they have an excuse to throw stones at other humans. It’s in the DNA, I guess.
      The Royals are probably the most tenacious team I’ve seen in years. I have no problem with their loyal fans getting a chance to celebrate a championship for the first time since Reagan’s merry band of mercenaries, with Ollie North as the face of the franchise, were planning to sell weapons to Iran to illegally fund the Contras in Nicaragua. Ah, those wild and crazy ’80’s!
      Thanks for the kind words,
      Bill

  3. I think you have raised an interesting point about sabrmetrics reaching the level of orthodoxy, which I could probably natter on for leventy-leven sentences about. I found your musings on Daniel Murphy interesting, and I agree with them for the most part–I think Murph is a valuable guy to have around, a guy who can give you 400 good PAs a year and give you three or four starts a week. That said, he is (as you noted) just awful defensively, and especially in the middle of the infield. Murph is very useful, but someone is going to pay him like a very good everyday player, and that team needs to fire its GM.

    • Thanks, WK. I agree that since there is a shortage of middle infielders that can hit a bit, some team will probably overpay for Murphy. In a way, he did the Mets a favor by having a poor World Series. If he’d hit in the Series like he did in the first two round of the post-season, it would be much more difficult for the Mets to be left to explain to their fans why he was allowed to leave Queens.
      I appreciate the comments,
      Bill

  4. Fine post, Bill. You are exactly right at the Royals exploited the Mets’ weaknesses.

    I keep thinking back to when Tejada was injured. That moved Flores back to short, opening the way for Murphy at second, greatly weakening the defense at the middle. Also, although the Mets never would’ve gone to the playoffs without Yoenis Cespedes, he seemed a liability in the field to me. In game four, I think it was, he missed the cutoff man twice and failed to make a critical catch.

    Overall, I think Collins did an amazing job. Until the series, it seems that most of his decisions seemed to work.

    On to next year!

    • Thanks, Daniel. Overall, the Mets defensive shortcomings were bound to catch up with them sooner or later. I’m wondering how (and if) they’ll address those concerns during the off-season. As for Collins, I’ll give him credit for being the manager on a team that came together in the second half of the season, after the trades made by the G.M., and the return to health of a couple of key players. Generally, though, I don’t think he really made much of a positive or negative difference on the club. If Washington had played up to their potential, the Mets might have been an after-thought anyway. But most managers are just a year-to-year concern, anyway, so Collins job security probably largely depends on how the Mets perform during the first half of next season.
      Nice to hear from you,
      Bill

  5. glen715 on said:

    How did you predict the Mets to do this year, Bill? I don’t remember.

    Terry Collins too old? No. Irrelevant. The players like him, he likes the players. I think you were kidding about that.

    After the Yankees fired Casey Stengel after the 1960 World Series, using his age as an excuse, he said to the press, “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 years old again.”

    Then, two years later, he went and managed the Mets.

    Age has nothing to do with anything.

    The Mets got to the World Series, which, to me, is ALWAYS an achievement, win or lose. (Unless you happen to be the YANKEES, of course.) Terry Collins deserves all the credit in the world, and to think otherwise would be ridiculous. A great manager, maybe the best Mets manager since Gil.

    Glen

    • I predicted the Mets to win about 84 games, and maybe (if things fell into place), maybe challenge for the wild card. They beat my expectations by six wins, and the collapse of the Nationals was nearly impossible to predict. As for Collins, I think he did a decent job overall this year, but his presence isn’t worth nearly as much as a Noah Syndergaard fastball. The players deserve all the credit. Collins makes out the lineup card, and gets out of the way, which is the best thing he can do.
      Thanks, man
      Bill

  6. Great write up Bill. Maybe the trade that never happened for Carlos Gomez will be more of a necessity, as you sort of suggest towards the end of your post, to maybe let go one of the golden arms and hopefully avoid what happened to the Nationals this year.

  7. I don’t know either team well, but like you Bill, it seemed to me that the Royals were significantly better than the Mets in most areas other than starting pitching, and the Mets’ starters weren’t so much better as to overcome those deficiencies. The Royals might be the only MLB team with enough speed and contact hitting skills to make their style of offensive play work.

  8. I loved the way Collins stuck with his starters longer than most managers. Harvey showed no signs of tiring. Amazing how backwards baseball has become with all of the saber metrics. Here you have starting pitchers such as Colon and Niese and Collins is shuffling them around like they’re short relievers. If you stay with Colon for an extra inning in game 4 maybe you don’t have to go to Clippard, who is a waste of time. But no! He’s the “8th inning man” That’s his job!

    And that’s why today’s generation can’t handle a manager and starting pitcher manning up and going for the complete game. WHEN HE HAD GREAT STUFF. He was dominant in the 8th and there was no reason to believe he would falter. Plus who are you bringing in? Mariano? Familia is one of those lightning in a bottle relievers. It wasn’t written in stone that he would have been one, two, three. I remember a time, way back in the late 80s, when a delicate genius manager went to his closer in the 9th inning. So does Kirk Gibson.

    That’s why baseball, the way it’s played today, is a staid, joyless affair best personified by that automaton of an announcer, Joe Buck.

    • Hey Keith,
      Well, I for one still enjoy watching baseball, and don’t consider it a staid, joyless affair. I also don’t think today’s generation is any different from any other generation, excepting that they seem to receive a lot of criticism from people who pretend that things were generally better back in the day. But I remember hearing that same criticism of players during the ’80’s as well, so I guess there’s something intrinsic in human nature (at least regarding baseball fans) who feel a need to paint the past in a more favorable light than the present, regardless of the era.
      Regarding Harvey, he has what, one complete game to his credit? Was there ever any doubt that at some point in this last game, that he would have to be relieved at some point? Then the question becomes, when should Collins pull the trigger? While I don’t necessarily believe every relief pitcher should always pitch exclusively in some pre-determined role, we can’t make the bullpen go away altogether, either. So why not bring the ‘pen in with no one on base, instead of waiting until a runner or two has already reached base, then make the change? “Manning up” is not the issue. Utilizing the players you have as effectively as possible, rather than pretending that baseball is some sort of paleolithic masculine ritual is how you win ballgames, as the Mets found out the hard way this time.
      Thanks for the comment,
      Bill

  9. I thought Collins showed guts by letting Harvey start the 9th. I had killed Harvey for the maxed out innings dust up in September but I gladly admit that I was wrong about him. He showed me something by demanding to stay in that game. That’s the way it should be. Half the time these relievers (Including Familia of late) come into the game bringing a can lighter fluid with them. True it didn’t work out for Harvey but there was no reason to believe he didn’t have three outs left in him. There have been plenty of great starters who faltered in the Series. Don Newcombe had a terrible Series record. Steve Carlton lost Series games. Dwight Gooden wasn’t that good in 86. (although we subsequently learned why) There’s only one Mariano. Familia isn’t even Wade Davis.

    All of that said, the Royals were a better team than the Mets and probably would have found a way to win at home in a game 6 or 7. It sticks in my craw, however, that the Mets weren’t even to hit their starters.

    At first I thought that this loss wasn’t as difficult to take as the Subway Series loss but now I’m not so sure. In 2000, except for the first game, it never felt as if the Mets were in it — they basically played from behind. In this series they played from ahead and blew leads in sickening fashion. I realize it’s an improbable gift that they made it this far, but still, it’s going to take an offseason of football and basketball immersion to get over it.

    • Part of why Harvey now demands to stay in games (even when he obviously has little left in the gas tank) is precisely because of that firestorm over the innings limit his agent advocated for him a while back. I don’t think Harvey should have received as much criticism as he did at that time because baseball is a business, and it’s simply unrealistic to expect a player to act otherwise. But it is Terry Collins job to do what is best for the team, and leaving a starter in an inning too long, then bringing in the relievers with men on base, makes less sense than having a relief pitcher start the inning from scratch. That should be the game-plan to begin with, since nobody expects Harvey or any of the others to throw a complete game. Instead, Collins appears to be trying to guess when his starters have had enough, which is generally when they’re already in trouble with multiple men on base. If the relief pitching isn’t that good to begin with, then why make their job that much more difficult?
      The losses in this series were sometimes excruciating, but since I never expected them to get this far to begin with, I basically resigned myself to whatever fate awaited them anyway. I am very interested to see what Alderson & Co. do over the next few months to address their shortcomings, though.
      Thanks for reading, and for the comment,
      Bill

  10. Norm Coleman ty cobb on said:

    William:Am an avid reader of your work, you hit a grand-slam with today’s piece.

    Warm regards,

    Norm Coleman

    “Our organization is willing to offer assistance to bring your show to Detroit and Lakeland, Florida.” – David DombrowskiPresident, General Manager and CEO, Detroit Tigers Click here to view Norm’s most recent letter from David Dombrowski

    http://www.tycobb367.com

  11. Congratulations to the Mets and their fans. I’ve been a Yankee fan for about 60 years but right now I think the Mets have the better future with all their potentially great starters. Hope they can avoid the injury jinx. When will Wheeler be back? I think you’re right that with a better bullpen and middle infield defense, they can be a power for years to come.

    • Thank you very much, Bob. As you are a Yankees fan, it’s really nice of you to express such kind words for the Mets, so thanks again for that. I think Wheeler will be back sometime relatively early next season, but as things stand now, he’ll be competing for the 5th-slot in the rotation, which is pretty cool from a fan’s perspective. You never know how things will go in the future, but yes, there does appear to be good reason to be optimistic about the Mets next couple of years.
      Thanks, Bill

  12. Very sorry, Bill. I really enjoyed watching the Mets this season (especially those pitchers!) … and I think they’re a team with some very good seasons still ahead.

    I think you are right about the sub-par fielding being part of their doing-in. I really thought A-Rod gave some of the best analyses during this Series. (I can’t believe I just typed that, although he clearly “gets” the game better than many players.) And, before Game 1 he said: “If the Mets can catch the ball, they can win.” And, he was right to a certain extent … it was the fielding that was such a disappointment.

    And, that scrappy Royals team was awfully good.

    It was a good run … now time to get some rest, because spring training is right around the corner. 🙂

    • Thank you, and yes, I do think the Mets should have some good years ahead, if they can keep their pitchers healthy, and go out and get some guys who can really catch the ball!
      Take care, Bill

  13. I’m am so very sorry Bill. As much as I love the Royals style of play, their “bean-ball” style and hypocrisy when the tables are turned was a turn off. Also a few of their pitchers, for lack of a better term, are assholes. They PLAY the game the right way but frankly don’t know how to act. Needless, I was pulling for the Mets all the way.

    • Well, I have to admit that Moustakas rubbed me the wrong way, and frankly, I didn’t exactly get to like the Royals very much, though I have to admit they were one tenacious opponent.
      Thanks, man
      Bill

  14. Thanks for this nice, positive spin on the Mets, who truly had a great year despite the outcome. The Royals were on a mission, and no one was going to stop them.

    • Yeah, I have to agree with that. It was just their year, and even when they made mistakes, they didn’t seem to come back to haunt them the way the Mets mistakes fatally ended their season.
      Thanks, and hope you are well these days,
      Bill

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