The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Chipper Jones”

How the Mets Will Win 120 Games in 2013

As a Mets fan, it would be easy to succumb to the reality-based prognostications of the so-called “experts.”  Many of them believe the Mets will win somewhere between 70-79 games, finishing in the bottom half of the N.L. East.  Keep in mind that the Mets won 74 games last season, their fourth straight fourth-place finish in the N.L. East.  (The Mets haven’t finished in last place since waaaayyyy back in 2003.  So there’s that.)

Well, I say not so fast, guys.  After all, Spring Training is upon us, and hope (if not necessarily logic) springs eternal.  I am fully convinced that the Mets will lose no more than around a forty games this year.  Here’s how.

1)  Manager Terry Collins guided the Mets to 77 wins in 2011, three more than last season.  I’m sure he’s learned from his mistakes, so he should easily get those three wins back.  +3

2)  Johan Santana won just six games last year (including the Mets first no-hitter in history.)  His career 162-game average has been 15 wins per season.  After on off-season doing nothing but drinking V-8 Juice and firewalking, he should be back to his old winning ways.  Add nine more wins to the column.  +9

3)  Matt Harvey said in one of his first media appearances this spring that his goal is to win 20 games this year.  Matthew is 6’4″, 225 pounds, so who are you or I to argue with him?  Last year he won three of ten starts, but averaged over a strikeout an inning, and posted an ERA+ of 141.  So, obviously, he’s talented.

Davis and his new Hawaiian Bib

Just  another Yankee cry-baby

Also, the Mets have a history of grinding their young stud pitchers into the dust (see:  Wilson, Paul, and Pulsipher, Bill, among others.)  Therefore, don’t expect any namby pamby, New York Yankees “Joba Rules” for Harvey.  If he can get his shirt on, them By God, the boy should pitch.  He ain’t no droolin’ little baby.  Add 17 wins to last year’s three, and you have your 20-win season, Matt.  +17

4)  Ike Davis slugged an impressive 32 homers and drove in 90 runs last year, despite hitting a Dave Kingman-esque .223.  How did he manage to hit for such a low average?  Basically, he swung as hard as he could on every single pitch, sometimes finishing his swing even before the pitcher had decided what to throw.  No worries, for Ike Davis claims that his goal this year is to be much more selective at the plate.  He wants to draw as many as 100 walks (compared to last year’s total of 61.)  Davis’ WAR last year was an abysmal 0.7.

But we all know that WAR loves walks the way the N.R.A. loves hollow-point bullets.  Therefore, all those extra walks should result in a WAR of, say 5.0, which is Davis’ entire career total to date.  (That’s five wins above replacement, for those of you scoring at home.)  If we round up last year’s WAR to 1.0, this means Mr. Davis should expect to help the Mets win four extra games in 2013.  +4

English: Chipper Jones

Chipper Jones can’t hurt us anymore

5)  Chipper Jones has finally retired.  In a normal year, the Mets could expect to be defeated, not by the Atlanta Braves, but by Chipper Jones himself, at least three times per year.  Chipper should go into the Hall of Fame in five years wearing a New York Mets cap, because if you take his career production against the Mets away, he becomes just some guy named Larry.  +3

6)  Power of Positive Thinking should not be underrated.  Just this morning, for example, my car wouldn’t quite start.  It was an unusually cold morning here in Greenville, and she just didn’t want to turn over.  At first, I was angry.  Then I realized that with a little positive thinking, I could “will” her to start up.  So I waited until the count of three, then tried again.  Still nothing.

It was then I noticed the gas needle lying flat in the red zone.  Not a drop in the tank.  Granted, this sounds a lot like the Mets current outfield.  But then I remembered there might be a little gas left in the plastic canister I use to fill my lawnmower in the warmer months.  Sure enough, there was just enough in there to pour into my car’s gas tank to get her started.

Terry Collins

Terry Collins understands the power of positive thinking

Now, I know what you might be thinking.  “But Bill, we have no spare high-test outfielders we could just drop into our outfield.”  To which I would respond, “Why are you mixing gas cans with outfielders?  What does one have to do with the other?  I don’t get the analogy.”

The point being, you can’t underestimate the power of positive thinking, even if you can’t quite quantify it.  But I successfully drove the three miles to the neighborhood Spinx on just a whiff of gas.  If each mile represents just one Mets win, then that should conservatively mean an additional three wins for the Mets this year.  +3

7)  Inflation is currently increasing at an annual rate of about 2%.  You can’t defeat the laws of economics.  If inflation is 2%, then the Mets win total should increase by about that rate this year.  Two-percent of 74 wins (last year’s total) is 1.48.  If you round 1.48 to the nearest whole number, you end up with 1.00.  But we’ll round it up to 2.00 because we are optimists, and hyper-inflation could be just around the corner.  By next month, we might be pushing wheelbarrows full of hundred-dollar bills around just to buy our daily bagel and coffee.  So there’s two more wins right there.  +2

8)  Jason Bay is gone.  If you believe in addition by subtraction, as I do, then Bay’s bye-bye should be worth at least two additional wins this season, don’t you think?    +2

9)  In an embarrassing oversight on the Mets part, you may recall  last season outfielder Mike Baxter played 54 games in the outfield before the Mets coaching staff realized he wasn’t wearing a baseball glove.  The seven broken fingernails in three weeks puzzled the team trainer until late July, when finally Mr. Met, the team mascot, pantomimed catching the ball with his face.  Baxter, it turns out, never played baseball as a kid, and is only doing so now so his dad would “finally leave me alone about hanging around the house all the time.”  This year, the Mets broke down and purchased an actual baseball mitt for Baxter on eBay (ironically, a Jason Bay model), for just $13.99, autographed, with a C.O.A.    +1

10)  Over the 51 years of the history of the Mets, they have averaged 76 wins per season.  As they say, all things revert to the mean.  If you’re up a bit too much one year, or down a little more than usual the following year, chances are, the ship will right itself and return to the mean.  Today, my six-year old son broke only two things.  The day before, he broke six things.  Tomorrow, then, I fully expect him to break four things, because that would be him just reverting to the mean.  The Mets are more or less broken right now.  Last season, they won just 74 games.  The year before that they won 77 games.  The year before that, it was 79 wins, and the year before that, 70 wins.

So it seems reasonable to assume that, at a minimum, you can add two wins for simply reverting to the mean.  +2

Now, if you add up each of these carefully thought-out additional wins, I believe you will be forced to come to the same conclusion as I have, that the Mets can’t help but win 120 games this season.

Give or take several dozen wins.

Happy Endings: The Art of Going Out On Top

Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once it was announced that Andy Pettitte was going to come out of retirement to pitch yet another season for the Yankees, the first thing I thought was, why bother?  What does he have left to prove?  He has 240 regular season wins to his credit, plus another 19 playoff game wins.  Pettitte will turn 40-years old in June.  Why take the risk of potentially embarrassing himself in front of his fans?

Meanwhile, Chipper Jones is heading the other way, recently announcing that 2o12 will be his final season in the Majors.  When he was healthy enough to play, Chipper (who turns 40 in April) put up some decent numbers last season.  Again, though, one has to wonder why it is even necessary to attempt one more season.  Like Pettitte, Jones has had a long and distinguished career, so why risk going out with a sub-par performance?

This led me to consider how few players in baseball history have retired at or near the top of their game.  After examining the final seasons of many of baseball’s best players, the answer is damn few.

If Pettitte had decided to stay retired, his final performance in 2010, an 11-3 record in 21 starts with a 3.28 ERA (and an ERA+ of 132), would actually qualify as one of the finest final season performances by any pitcher in baseball history.

Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves

Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similarly, if Chipper Jones had retired after last season when he swatted 33 doubles to go along with his 18 homers, 70 RBI and OPS+ of 123, he could have held his head high.

This is not to say that Chipper or Pettitte will perform terribly in 2012, but baseball’s long history of final performances is one long, ugly indictment of playing one season too many.

Having said that, here are eight random final season performances that were actually quite impressive.  In some cases, the player was forced into retirement due to physical reasons.  In other cases, the player had become so controversial that no team would sign him, regardless of his ability to remain productive.

Albert Belle

Albert Belle (Photo credit: Keith Fujimoto)

1)  Albert (Joey) Belle – You remember him best, perhaps, as the infamous sociopath who tried to run over some kids with his car on Halloween night.  You might also remember that Belle was one hell of a hitter during his career.  As far as I can tell, Belle is the only player in history to drive in at least 95 runs in every one of his full seasons in the Majors, including 103 in 2000, his final season.

In 2000, Belle cranked 37 doubles to go with 23 homers and a .281 batting average for the Orioles.  His OPS was .817.  While not one of his greatest years, it was far superior to the average final season of most Major League sluggers.  He retired at the age of 33.

Photograph shows Eddie (Edward Stewart) Plank,...

Photograph shows Eddie (Edward Stewart) Plank, pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2)  Eddie Plank – “Gettysburg”  Eddie Plank, unlike the vast majority of highly successful pitchers, Plank did just fine in his last season in the Majors.  Although his record in his final season in 1917 (pitching for the St. Louis Browns) was just  5-6, he posted a sparkling 1.79 ERA in 131 innings.  His ERA+ was an outstanding 147.  Clearly, this 41-year old future HOF’er had something left in the tank.  But he wisely decided to call it quits after that final season.

3)  Reggie Smith –  One of the most underrated players in baseball history, and one of the top 50 players not in the Hall of Fame, Smith enjoyed his final hurrah in 1982 at the age of 37 while playing for the San Francisco Giants.  Entering ’82, Smith was just four homers shy of 300 for his career.  He ended up slugging 18 while playing his home games in Candlestick Park, a notoriously difficult park for hitters.

Smith’s triple slash line in ’82:  .284 / .364 / .470, with an OPS+ of 134, were remarkably similar to his overall career numbers:  .287 / .366 / .489, OPS+ of 137.  In other words, Smith was about as productive in his final season as he had been in any previous average year.  That’s not at all a bad way to go out.

4)  Tony Gwynn– Even in his final season at age 41, was anyone really surprised that Gwynn batted .324?  Granted, he played in just 71 games in 2001, but his OPS+ during those plate appearance, 127, was pretty close to his career OPS+ of 132.  Gwynn was essentially the same professional hitter at age 41 as he had been much earlier in his career.

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers unif...

Jackie Robinson swinging a bat in Dodgers uniform, 1954. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

5)  Jackie Robinson –  Given the relentless abuse heaped upon him day after day, year after year, it’s a wonder he played as long as he did.

Robinson was already 28-years old when he debuted in the Majors in 1947.  He played a solid decade before retiring after the 1956 season at the age of 37.  During this decade, he was a career .311 hitter who scored at least 99 runs in each of his first seven seasons.  His career OPS+ was an excellent 131.

In his final season, despite playing in just 117 games, Robinson drew 60 walks while striking out just 32 times, posting a .382 on-base percentage.  He posted an outstanding dWAR of 1.9, and a respectable overall WAR of 4.6, third best on the 1st place Dodgers.  He also finished 16th in MVP voting, not a bad way to end a legendary career.

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inn...

Will Clark preparing to bat during seventh inning of 12 August 1992 game between San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Game boxscore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6)  Will Clark – Will “The Thrill” Clark was one of my favorite players of the late 1980’s into the early ’90’s.  He played with intensity, had a beautiful left-handed line-drive swing, and was nimble around first base.  His career OPS+ of 137 is the same as the aforementioned Reggie Smith, and is better than those of Hall of Famers Bill Terry, George Brett, Al Kaline, and Paul Waner.

His final season in the year 2000 did nothing to blemish his fine career.  In splitting his season between Baltimore and St. Louis, Clark posted a fine triple slash line of .318 / .419 / .546 and an OPS+ of 144 in 507 plate appearances.  His overall WAR was a respectable 4.1.  Retiring at the age of 36, Clark certainly went out at the top of his game.

7)  Mike Mussina –  That rarest of rare pitchers, Mussina decided to retire after winning 20 games for the first time in his career (at age 39) while pitching for the New York Yankees in 2008.  As far as I know, no health issues would have prevented him from returning for yet another season at the age of 40.  Clearly, he decided he’d had enough.

Those 20 victories pushed his career total to 270, and probable induction into the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and Hall of Famer ...

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and Hall of Famer in a 1961 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  Sandy Koufax – Koufax and Mussina are the only two pitchers since 1920 who retired after posting 20-win seasons.  Mussina did it out of choice.  Koufax was forced into retirement due to chronic pain in his elbow.

It’s interesting to speculate how much longer Koufax would have pitched had he not suffered from this lingering pain.  Would he have eventually bounced around like Steve Carlton in his final years, trying to recapture lost glory?  And if he had tried to pitch while declining in effectiveness year after year, would his legendary reputation have become diminished over time?

Regardless, Koufax’s final season in 1966 at age 30, pitching for the L.A. Dodgers, was the single finest final performance in baseball history.  En route to his third Cy Young award over four seasons, Koufax posted a 27-9 record, a 1.73 ERA (which led the league for the fifth straight year), 27 complete games in 41 starts (both of which led the league), 317 strikeouts, and a ridiculous ERA+ of 190.  His WAR was 10.8, matching his career high set in 1963.

I think Neil Young had it correct when he said it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Regarding Chipper Jones and Andy Pettitte, it remains to be seen if their final seasons will match those listed above, or if their respective final seasons were one year too many.

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