Tag: New York

Thurman Munson’s 22 Errors Deserved a Fool’s-Gold Glove

Seventh in an 11-part series examining the vagaries of awards voting.

You could probably find at least one undeserved Gold Glove awarded every season. The vast majority of Gold Glove recipients are repeat winners, sort of making the award like a concussion—once a player gets one, it becomes progressively easier to get more.

To be sure, most repeat winners are among the very best defenders in the league and deserve the honor, but as we saw with Jim Kaat, precedent eventually plays a big role.

As well, a Gold Glove sometimes becomes a “throw-in” for players who have had strong seasons with the bat (or on the mound). Perhaps it’s unfair to spotlight Thurman Munson for this, but I do so more for who didn’t receive the Gold Glove than who did.

Munson had already won a Gold Glove the previous year and had come into his own as one of the best backstops in the American League. In truth, no AL catcher enjoyed a truly standout season behind the plate in 1973 (unless you count Detroit’s Bill Freehan, who played only 98 games), but Munson, with a league-high 80 assists and a 48 percent caught-stealing rate, was a good choice.

Smashing a career-best 20 home runs and batting .301 didn’t hurt his cause, either, and though it shouldn’t have had any bearing on the Gold Glove vote, Thurman’s lively bat likely helped him beat out Oakland’s light-hitting Ray Fosse, who enjoyed an equally strong season with the mitt.

However, the defending AL Gold Glove winner did not follow up his 1973 campaign so well. In fact, despite making the All-Star team, Munson suffered a setback in 1974. His offense dropped across the board, finishing with a lackluster .697 OPS. Yet thanks to the virtual absence of an injury-plagued Carlton Fisk, Munson had no real competition at the plate, making his off-season with the bat look good enough at season’s end.

Even so, Munson’s “default” slugging and defending Gold Glove earned him an encore in 1974—an honor that should have gone to Ellie Rodriguez, the unsung journeyman backstopping his first season for the California Angels. (Ironically, Rodriguez had begun his Major League career with the Yankees in 1968 after toiling in their farm system for four years. But New York’s selection of Munson in the first round of the 1968 amateur draft made Rodriguez expendable; left unprotected in the 1969 expansion draft, he was snatched up by the Kansas City Royals.)

Of course, when evaluating catchers’ performances, chances and putouts—being almost exclusively the result of receiving strikeoutsare poor statistics to utilize, especially when one’s battery mates include strikeout machines Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana (ergo, Rodriguez led the league in both categories in 1974). More tellingly, Rodriguez tied Munson for the AL lead in assists with 75.

However, Munson committed, by far, a league-worst 22 errors, including a horrendous 11-game stretch in early August during which he booted seven plays (ignominiously crowned by a three-error meltdown on August 13). Yet in essentially the same amount of innings, Rodriguez miscued only seven times, giving him a glittering .992 fielding average to Munson’s subpar .974 (league average: .983).

Eighteen of Munson’s errors came on throws—that’s a lot of extra bases gifted to existing baserunners. In fact, 11 of those throwing errors led directly to unearned runs, either on the throws themselves or allowing baserunners to get into scoring position, after which they were driven home. More amazingly, five of those runs scored on errant pickoff attempts to third base—this does not scream Gold Glove.

Advanced sabermetrics were unknown in 1974, of course—and I don’t believe in getting too far into them both because many of the highly specialized sabermetrics border on the arcane and because it’s unfair to criticize in hindsight using evaluations that were unavailable at the time. However, for the sake of argument, Rodriguez’s total zone runs dwarfs Munson’s in every category, according to Baseball-Reference. Furthermore, Rodriguez’s range factor per nine innings not only far surpassed Munson’s but also outdid every other full-time catcher in the AL.

Apart from the huge disparity in errors, though, what should have tipped the scale heavily in favor of Rodriguez was his effectiveness at stopping baserunners. Ellie’s powerful arm nailed would-be thieves at a 48 percent clip—resulting in an AL-topping 56 caught-stealings, far and away the best performance in the American League. Munson’s 35 percent caught-stealing rate was next-to-last among regulars in the Junior Circuit. (Of course, the pitcher shares fault in a stolen base, but that’s still a big deficit.)

True, Rodriguez allowed 20 passed balls to Munson’s eight, which partially washes out the difference in errors—passed balls being the only key statistic that favored Thurman—but Rodriguez should be cut a little slack for backstopping the most inaccurate staff in the AL. California issued the most walks in the league—and more than 100 more than Munson’s Yankees.

With Angels hurlers missing the strike zone so often, some pitches that could have been scored wild might well have instead been rung up as passed balls. (Incidentally, Rodriguez’s 20 passed balls were a fluke; he never before or again yielded more than eight in a season.)

Despite Rodriguez’s defensive superiority in 1974, being a light-hitting catcher on a last-place team surely camouflaged him come awards time. Again, not that hitting is supposed to play a role in Gold Glove voting—even though it clearly does—but Rodriguez’s home run and RBI totals pale even to Munson’s off-year. There was no way that seven home runs, 36 RBI and a .253 batting average on only 100 hits were going to accrue votes for Rodriguez.

As an aside, Rodriguez—who claimed to be a better stickball player in his youth than Willie Mays—actually clubbed more doubles than Munson in 122 fewer at-bats. More significantly, his 69 walks yielded a very respectable .373 on-base percentage—far better than Munson’s awful .316.

Similarly, being a light-hitting rookie catcher likely buried Jim Sundberg, even on a Texas Rangers team that had risen from last place in 1973 to second in 1974. Stepping right into a starting role, Sundberg fielded .990 on just eight errors, rang up the third-most assists, led all catchers in double plays and surrendered only nine passed balls. He, too, was more deserving of the Gold Glove than Munson, but even the most precocious freshmen hardly ever receive recognition for their defense.

Thurman Munson claimed a third Gold Glove in 1975. That award, too, is highly debatable considering an AL-topping 23 errors—the most ever by a Gold Glove–winning catcher, breaking his own dubious record of the previous year. Sundberg caught a slightly superior season with the mitt, but I’m certain voters were deterred by his horrid .199 batting average and meager run production. Sundberg’s day would come, though, as he owned the Gold Glove for the following six seasons.

Whereas Munson was ascending to stardom in 1975, Ellie Rodriguez, one of the better defensive catchers of his time, saw his wandering career wind down. He played only 90 games for the Halos that season, albeit well. Traded to the nearby Los Angeles Dodgers just before Opening Day of 1976, Ellie put in 36 games in Dodger Blue before his Major League sojourn ended.

Across a nine-year career that took him to five cities, Ellie Rodriguez always fielded well—even making two All-Star squads—yet never was officially recognized for his defensive prowess. In 737 games, he committed the same amount of errors as did Thurman Munson just in 1974 and 1975 combined.

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Yankees’ Quartet of Rookies Keeping the Team Afloat

With a 39-33 record, numerous injuries and a lineup crowded by hitters performing below expectations, it is scary to imagine where the New York Yankees would be without rookies Masahiro Tanaka, Yangervis Solarte, Dellin Betances and Chase Whitley.

With a roster full of superstars and aging veterans, it is these four first-timers who have kept the Yankees alive as the team has stumbled through the first few months of the season.

Everyone knows about Tanaka and what he has done. Unlike most rookies, Tanaka is making a lot of money. When he signed a seven-year, $155 million contract in the offseason, people around baseball blasted the Yankees for paying such an egregious price for a pitcher who had never set foot on a major league mound.

Today, those naysayers are nowhere to be found. In just a matter of months, Tanaka has become a bona fide ace. With Ivan Nova out for the year and CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda missing time, Tanaka’s dominance has meant everything to the Yankees.

In 14 starts Tanaka is leading the majors in wins, boasting an 11-1 record. His 1.99 ERA leads the Junior Circuit and is second in the majors only to the Cincinnati Red’s Johnny Cueto (1.92). Tanaka also leads all pitchers in Adjusted ERA+. With a 203 mark he is the only pitcher over 200. His 3.9 WAR is the highest of any pitcher in baseball. His 2.70 FIP puts him in the top 10. In 99.2 innings Tanaka has 113 strikeouts, a 0.953 WHIP and just 16 walks.

An All-Star Game start? Rookie of the Year? The Cy Young Award? Forget all that, this man is pitching for an MVP award, and if the season ended today, a strong case could be made that Tanaka deserves all four.

With the Japanese ace stealing the show, another rookie in the rotation has been overlooked.

At 25 years old, Whitley has come out of nowhere to become New York’s second-most reliable starter. With a 3-0 record and a 2.56 ERA in seven starts, Whitley has made himself the obvious and undeniable choice to stay in the rotation ahead of Vidal Nuno and David Phelps once Sabathia and Pineda return.

While he lacks flair, Whitley has kept the Yankees in every ballgame he has started, and that is what matters. He has allowed no more than three earned runs in a single start and has limited the free passes, allowing just four walks all year. In fact, his last start against the Toronto Blue Jays marked the first time in five games that Whitley allowed a base on balls. In 38.2 innings, he has surrendered only one homer.

With zero expectations heading into his major league debut in May, Whitley has gone from a nobody to a likely mainstay in the Yankees rotation.

Solarte is another newbie making a name for himself.

After bouncing around the minors for eight years, Solarte edged out incumbent backup infielder Eduardo Nunez after he batted .429 in spring training. Since then Solarte has firmly held down third base following Kelly Johnson’s struggles and the suspension of Alex Rodriguez.

While Solarte has certainly cooled off (he was hitting .336 as recently as May and is hitless in his last 24 at-bats), the switch-hitting product of Venezuela has been one of the Yankees’ most consistent hitters in a season that has seen star free-agent acquisitions Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, among other hitters, struggle.

Another no-name heading into the season, Solarte is hitting a respectable .268 with 14 doubles, six home runs and 29 RBI. His .761 OPS is third on the team behind Brett Gardner (.768) and Mark Teixeira (.829).

He has been a much better option to have in the lineup than Johnson and the .232 average he has put up in 54 games.

Lastly, there is Betances.

Betances came up through the Yankees’ system as a starter, but injuries and inconsistency prompted a move to the bullpen, a move that appears to have done wonders for the New York City native.

The Yankees were introduced to a brand-new Betances in spring training, one who was able to throw harder and with more accuracy. He earned a spot on the big league roster and has become a strikeout machine ever since.

In 42 innings Betances has struck out 70 batters, equating to an alarming 15.0 strikeout rate. With the whiffs have come a lack of hits and runs, as opposing hitters are batting just .133 against Betances, who is pitching to a 1.50 ERA.

In a young and often exhausted bullpen, Betances has been the guy Joe Girardi can count on day in and day out. He has been the most dependable of any Yankees reliever, and his strong performance this year should earn him a trip to Target Field come July 15.

Going into the season, no one would have thought the Yankees would have to rely so heavily on four rookies. Tanaka was dubbed a No. 3 starter. The other three were nothing more than afterthoughts, if that at all. Today, all four are key cogs in a Yankees machine trying to overcome numerous setbacks.

It’s amazing the difference a few months can make.


All stats were obtained via Baseball-Reference and are accurate as of the end of play on June 20, 2014.

Question or comments? Follow me on Twitter @GPhillips2727 to talk New York Yankees and Major League Baseball.

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Yankees Sign Relief Pitcher Heath Bell to Minors Deal

The New York Yankees have come to terms on a minor league deal with former San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell, according to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.

Bell will report to the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. According to the LoHud Yankees Twitter account, the move resulted in a demotion for minor league reliever Mark Montgomery.

The Yankees are now Bell’s third American League East team this season. Following a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks, Bell was released by the Tampa Bay Rays after he allowed 14 earned runs in 17.1 innings, giving him a 7.27 ERA to start the year. From there, Bell signed on with the Baltimore Orioles to a minor league deal but opted out of the contract.

Bell, now 36, was once a dominant reliever for the Padres, serving as the setup man and eventual successor to future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman. In 2007 he put up a 2.02 ERA in 81 appearances. Two years later, he found himself taking over for Hoffman, and the Padres yet again had an elite closer. In his three years of finishing games in San Diego he saved over 40 games each time. In total he finished with 132 saves and a 2.36 ERA over that span. 

Things went downhill for him following his 2011 season. That winter, he signed a three-year, $27 million deal to become the new closer of the upstart Miami Marlins. He has never been the same since.

He failed in Miami, recording just 19 saves while putting up a 5.09 ERA. Then-manager Ozzie Guillen removed Bell as the closer several times, leading the two to have a publicized disagreement during what was an overall disastrous season for the Marlins.

In his three seasons since leaving the Padres, Bell has a 4.94 ERA and just 34 saves. He is certainly far removed from the pitcher who won the Delivery Man of the Year award in 2010 and the National League Rolaids Relief Man award in 2009 and 2010.

Still, Bell comes cheap and with little risk. If he puts up good numbers in the minors or a current big league reliever gets hurt, the Yankees will at least have an experienced option out of the pen. If he struggles, they can just let him go.


Question or comments? Feel free to follow me on Twitter @GPhillips2727 to talk New York Yankees and Major League Baseball.

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Joe Girardi Has Yankees’ Bullpen Exceeding Expectations

A rookie closer. A bunch of minor league starting pitching prospects who never panned out. A few no-name relievers. Some kids out of the farm system.

This is what Joe Girardi has had at his disposal in the Yankees’ bullpen throughout the 2014 season. On paper that group does not seem like much. Heading into the season the pen was projected to be a major weak spot for the Bombers, but as of now, that is not the case. To the surprise of many, the pen has been strong, especially David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren and Dellin Betances.

When New York opened the season, its relief corps consisted of the four above plus Matt Thornton, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno. Since then Nuno and Phelps have joined the rotation and several relievers have come along while others have hit the disabled list.

As of May 30, the Yankees’ pen looks as such: Robertson, Warren, Betances, Thornton, Alfredo Aceves, Preston Claiborne and Matt Daley. Kelley is currently out with a back injury but has already begun rehabbing and is expected to rejoin the club soon.      

Again, there is not much notoriety here, but this pen has done an exceptional job, far better than anyone could have hoped for. According to Fan Graphs, the Yankees’ bullpen has an ERA of 3.74 in 170.2 innings pitched. They are allowing less than one HR/9 and have a K/9 ratio of 10.49, the best in baseball. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the pen has a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 2.8, second to only the Red Sox‘s pen (3.0).

As mentioned, several Yankees are standing apart from the rest.

Despite having the unenviable task of replacing the game’s greatest closer in history, Mariano Rivera, Robertson has been everything the Yankees could have hoped for thus far. He has converted 11 of 12 save opportunities, sporting a 2.20 ERA, and has 27 strikeouts in 16.1 innings.

Kelley, before going down, was doing rather well in his new role as the club’s setup man. In 16 games he is averaging just over one strikeout an inning and has a 3.52 ERA. He has also yet to allow a home run this season. At one point, when Robertson was on the DL, Kelley served as the team’s closer, recording four saves in five opportunities. He is expected to throw a bullpen session May 30.        

Warren, after making 90 career starts in the minors, has emerged as a top-notch reliever this year. With a 1.76 ERA in 30.2 innings of relief, Warren has limited opposing batters to a .225 average this season. He has also surrendered just one homer.

Nobody has stood out more the Betances. Another failed minor league starter, Betances has seen his velocity, accuracy and consistency improve coming out of the pen. With a fastball that can reach 100 mph and a devastating slurve, Betances has been able to blow hitters away, striking out 51 in 30.2 innings of work.

In comparison, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander has 50 strikeouts in 71.1 innings. Those same hitters have a miniscule .143 batting average against Betances. Add a 1.47 ERA and it is safe to say Dealin’ Dellin has become the Yankees’ best relief pitcher.

For Girardi, it has been a challenge not to go to Robertson, Betances, Warren and when healthy, Kelley, on a daily basis. Robertson has come in for three four-out saves in the month of May alone, and Warren and Betances are tied for the most innings pitched out of the bullpen.

“There’s times you just have to give guys days off,” Girardi said earlier this week. “That’s all you have to do. I’m trying to do that.”

Warren said his manager has done a fine job of doing that so far.

“There are certain days where you’re like, I could pitch, but I’d rather not just because of the way your arm feels. Joe’s been great at that. He kind of reads it to see how we feel, and he’ll sort of take the decision out of our hands.”

Betances echoed that thought as well: “Joe told me, if you ever need a day or feel sore, (say something). I told him I feel great. He’s communicating with me, trying to give me days whenever he can.”

Regarding his new shutdown reliever, Girardi wants to be careful with his workload, saying, “We’re trying not to kill Betances.”

Girardi, in his use and development of this no-name, no-experience pen, has done a phenomenal job. Very few people thought there was any potential here, but Girardi has brought this bullpen past the point of potential. The majority of this pen has proven to be reliable, some even dominant, and that is now the expectation when the starting pitcher leaves the game.        

All stats were obtained via Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted and are accurate as of May 30, 2014.

Question or comments? Feel free to follow me on Twitter @GPhillips2727 to talk New York Yankees and Major League Baseball.

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Relief Options Still Exist for New York Yankees

With David Robertson heading to the disabled list and an already young and inexperienced bullpen, the New York Yankees must explore the several relief options that still remain on the free agent market in an attempt to upgrade their roster.

While the likes of David Phelps, Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley, Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno have held their own through the start of this young season, the Yankees lack relievers with both veteran leadership and closing experience. Even when Robertson returns, manager Joe Girardi may sleep easier with a more established setup man in his pen than Kelley. He could probably use an experienced arm in the middle innings of games. 

The players mentioned here are by no means All-Stars, at least not anymore, otherwise they would have found a team by now. Instead, they could provide veteran leadership and a safety net should Robertson and his fellow young relievers hit a skid along the way.


All stats were obtained via Baseball Reference. 

Question or comments? Feel free to follow me on Twitter @GPhillips2727 to talk New York Yankees and Major League Baseball. 


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The New York Mets Need to Start Adding Starting Pitching Prospects to Bullpen

The New York Mets need to adjust their philosophy on how to build a major league bullpen, and that starts with transitioning some of their starting pitching depth into relievers.

Mets fans have been conditioned to despise this philosophy because of its failure with Jenrry Mejia, as well as from witnessing how the New York Yankees mishandled the briefly promising Joba Chamberlain. However, the track record of starting pitchers beginning their careers as relievers is relatively successful.

The St. Louis Cardinals are perennial World Series contenders and usually have among the best bullpens in baseball because of this philosophy.

Adam Wainwright is currently among the best starters in baseball, but he began his big league career as the Cardinals’ closer, and as most Mets fans likely remember, ended the Mets’ 2006 playoff run.

This season, their bullpen includes top starting pitching prospect Carlos Martinez, as well as the dominant Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal was an elite starting pitching prospect, but he has found a home in the Cardinals’ bullpen as a star.

Lance Lynn is their No. 3 starter, yet in his rookie season in 2011, he started just two games in the majors while coming out of the bullpen in 16.

The Cardinals are able to do this because they have a consistent supply of power starting pitching prospects, giving the organization depth that most teams would love to have. Under general manager Sandy Alderson, the Mets have accrued some of the best starting pitching depth in baseball, yet they still have one of the worst bullpens.

Mets fans dream of a future rotation led by Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard, but that leaves only two spots for Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese, Mejia, Rafael Montero and any of the other promising young starters in the system.

Gee doesn’t become a free agent until 2017, and Niese is one of the best bargains in baseball with his team-friendly contract running through 2018. Both have proven they can be effective starters for entire seasons and also don’t have the type of pitching arsenals that project to greater bullpen success. As long as they are healthy and on the roster, they will be in the rotation, but if pitchers like Montero and Syndergaard pan out as stars, both could be valuable trade chips.

Mejia is a wild card, as he is a rare case of a pitcher who has consistently succeeded when healthy as a starter but has struggled every time he’s been used as a reliever. He has also never thrown over 100 innings in a season, so there are major questions as to whether or not he could hold up physically under a starter’s workload. As long as he is healthy, the Mets should use him in the rotation, but because of his size and injury history, his future could still be in the bullpen.

While Mets fans have been spoiled in recent years with the success of pitching prospects, specifically Harvey, it is also possible that Syndergaard, Montero and maybe even Wheeler do not pan out as starters. Pitcher health is also very fickle, as arm injuries can ruin careers quickly.

The Mets’ depth has them prepared for injuries and busts, but that doesn’t mean that they should keep their most talented pitchers in the minors as starters. The Cardinals have proven that transitioning young pitchers between the rotation and bullpen doesn’t ruin arms, and at some point the Mets will need to make decisions about whom they try to move to the bullpen.

Right now, both Syndergaard and Montero need to remain starters. The Mets are strict with their innings limits, increasing them every year with the hopes that the starters will eventually build up the strength to handle 200-inning seasons in the majors.

Montero pitched 155.1 innings last season, so he should pitch around 180 innings this year. Syndergaard only pitched 117.1 innings, so the Mets likely won’t let him throw more than 150.

If the Mets move either to the bullpen too soon, they won’t come close to their innings limits, which will impact their futures as starters. However, as both approach their limits, and if the Mets are contending in the summer, the team shouldn’t hesitate to move them to the major league bullpen.

Pitchers such as Jacob deGrom should start getting time in the bullpen as soon as possible or should be added to the Mets’ bullpen later this month if they pitch well to begin the season.

The group of prospects below Montero and Syndergaard still project as starters in the long term, but they lack the same ceilings and are much more likely to be relievers throughout their careers.

DeGrom is the most promising of the group, as he could be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter in the future. However, he has the type of pitching arsenal that could make him a well-above-average reliever soon.

When pitchers are moved from the rotation to the bullpen, their stuff often ticks up because they can exert more energy per pitch rather than saving their stamina over the course of a start. DeGrom currently has a mid-90s sinking fastball, but this already very good pitch could conceivably become devastating if he is moved to the pen.

Verrett’s stuff could also tick up if moved into a bullpen role, although less so than deGrom’s. He currently averages around 90 miles per hour with his fastball and complements it with a tight slider.

If Verrett added some velocity to his fastball by working out of the bullpen and combined it with his slider and pitchability, he could be a better option than many of the Mets’ current relievers.

Cory Mazzoni is currently out with a minor injury, but he should be used in the bullpen when he returns, as he could be major league ready very soon.

Darin Gorski is a left-handed starter currently in Double-A Binghamton, but there is no reason he shouldn’t be working as a reliever. He is 26 years old and has dominated Double-A, but he struggled mightily in Triple-A last season.

With all of the starters ahead of Gorski on the Mets’ depth chart, he will likely never start in New York. The Mets need to capitalize on all their talent, and seeing if Gorski can have a career as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen is a logical move.

Fans often cite pitchers such as Vic Black and Jack Leathersich as part of the future bullpen. While they very well could be, there is a great misconception among fans about reliever prospects: Most of the best relievers in the majors came up as starters.

When a pitcher is working out of the bullpen in the minor leagues, it is usually because he is not good enough to start or he has a major hole in his game (poor command, lack of a third pitch, small frame). Starting pitching prospects are much more valuable than relieving prospects, so teams keep pitchers in the rotation as long as they can.

Leathersich and Black were both starters in college, but because of command issues and awkward mechanics, they were quickly moved into the bullpen upon entering the minors. Pitchers like deGrom and Verrett are still starting games in the minors because they are deemed good enough by the Mets as starters, yet their long- and short-term value to the Mets could be greater as relievers.

Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera was exclusively a starting pitching prospect upon entering the big leagues, as was former Met Billy Wagner. While I’m not saying that any of the Mets prospects will be as good as Rivera or Wagner, some starters find a home in the bullpen once transitioned.

The Mets haven’t had a good bullpen since 2006 when they last made the playoffs, so clearly they’ve been doing it the wrong way.

Dedicating a significant amount of money to building a bullpen is risky and often ineffective. Relievers are often overvalued on the open market, as their performance varies on a year-to-year basis. For example, Ramon Ramirez and Frank Francisco were both stud relievers prior to joining the Mets, but became relatively useless upon arriving in New York.

The best bullpens in baseball come from the teams with the greatest organizational pitching depth. The Mets are now one of those teams, but their weak bullpen is still holding back their success.

It might be a little early to expect the Mets to call up pitchers like Verrett and Gorski, but deGrom should be a member of the bullpen by the end of April.

Sometimes pitching prospects flame out or develop injuries when moved back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, but those things could happen to any pitching prospect. The Cardinals have proven that bringing up starters as relievers doesn’t ruin them or prevent them from becoming starters in the long run.

The Mets’ starting pitching depth is great, but it needs to be utilized in the near future to help fill out the major league bullpen if the Mets want to have any hope of relevancy this season.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

You can follow Sean on Twitter at @SCunninghamPG.

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4 Reasons to Be Optimistic for New York Mets’ 2014 Season

The New York Mets have had little reason to be optimistic for the past few years, but this year has the potential be different.

Mets fans have been conditioned to be pessimistic through years of disappointment, and this wasn’t helped following a devastating loss on Opening Day. Bobby Parnell will miss significant time due to injury after just one game, a huge blow to an already shaky bullpen.

Fans can also be pessimistic due to the fact that the Mets still don’t know who is the long-term starter at first base and because Matt Harvey will miss the season after being New York’s biggest star in 2013.

Despite these reasons to be pessimistic, fans trying to find the bright side shouldn’t have to look too hard.

Next season may be a more realistic time to discuss contending for a playoff spot, but playing in October is definitely possible this year. The Mets will need a number of breaks to go their way, but they have the pieces in place to at least be in the conversation for a wild-card spot.

Few fanbases need reasons to be optimistic more than the Mets, so presented on the following slides are four reasons to be optimistic about the team’s 2014 season.


All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.

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Prospects That Have Impressed During Spring Training for the New York Mets

The New York Mets sent down a number of their top prospects earlier this week, but many made an impression that should excite fans moving forward.

Talent evaluators around baseball have lauded the Mets farm system this offseason for having high-end prospects such as Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud and Rafael Montero. These prospects should be in the majors in the near future (if they aren’t already there), but some of the team’s lower level prospects were impressive prior to being sent down to minor league camp.

Below are the most impressive prospects who are no longer on the big league roster. I haven’t included Syndergaard, d’Arnaud or Montero because they are still in major league camp, and I excluded Cesar Puello because I wrote about his impressive performance Wednesday here.


Steven Matz

Steven Matz pitched just two innings this spring, but he exhibited the tools of a prospect that could skyrocket up prospect rankings this season.

Matz has battled injuries since he was drafted, as he pitched in his first minor league game in 2012 after being picked out of high school in 2009. In 2013 he was able to put together his first full season while pitching in Low-A Savannah, where he had a spectacular season, pitching over 100 innings with a 2.62 ERA and a 1.166 WHIP.

This spring, Matz showed scouts and fans why he has the ability to be an impact pitcher in the near future. Coming from the left side, Matz has serious velocity with feel for both a changeup and curveball, although both secondary offerings need serious work. Chris Mellen of Baseball Prospectus took note of Matz last August, as he clearly came away impressed with the Long Island native.

Matz continued his impressive showing this spring, as he surrendered just two hits and one walk while striking out five in his two innings of work. Two innings is such a small sample, but the overpowering stuff Matz exhibited is a great sign moving forward.

While Matz’s injury history and delivery bring up concerns, his stuff is unquestionable. Whether it be as an elite reliever or a potential rotation arm, the future looks bright for the Mets’ young lefty.


Brandon Nimmo

Brandon Nimmo has always had the look of a top prospect, as he is a tall and projectable left-handed outfielder with a smooth swing. His lack of high school experience and rawness as a player has always meant that his path to the majors would be slower than most prospects, meaning that every sign of development is crucial for the Wyoming native.

This spring, Nimmo looked the part both on and off the field, and could be ready for a breakout season in 2014.

Nimmo came into camp looking much bigger and stronger than previous years, yet by all accounts was still fast enough to play center field. This is important for the Mets, as they clearly want to keep him in center as long as possible, as MetsMinorLeagueBlog’s Toby Hyde noted:

Nimmo maintaining his speed while he gains muscle during his development is crucial to his value as a prospect, as his bat becomes much more valuable if he’s able to play center field.

Nimmo also showed great signs at the plate this spring. He has always exhibited a patient approach at the plate, but his issue has been how he fails to drive the ball and struggles against lefties. In a game earlier this spring, Nimmo ripped a single to right field, driving the ball even though it did not result in an extra-base hit.

Hyde noted how this single by Nimmo displayed a new approach, as Nimmo was able to pull and drive the ball:

This hit was a great sign, as was Nimmo’s performance throughout all of his at-bats in major league games. He went 3-6 while getting hits off of lefties and looking comfortable at the plate against high-level pitching.

While all of his hits in big league games were singles, he showed the ability to drive the ball well in B-level games, as Adam Rubin of ESPN tweeted:

Nimmo should start the season in High-A St. Lucie, but if he continues developing and starts complementing his patient approach with more power at the plate, he could force his way to Double-A Binghamton and a potential call-up in 2015.


Kevin Plawecki

Kevin Plawecki rose to prominence last season with his tremendous performance at both Low-A Savannah and High-A St. Lucie, and has continued to show off his hitting prowess this spring.

Plawecki is still a work in progress behind the plate, but he should be able to remain a catcher, although he will likely never be an exceptional one, defensively.

As a hitter, Plawecki doesn’t have great raw power, but he makes consistently hard contact and should develop into a solid doubles hitter with a high average. As a catcher, that is a very valuable asset to have.

Plawecki’s performance in spring training indicates that his domination of the lower minors was not a fluke. Before official games began, the Mets played an intrasquad game, and as Adam Rubin documented, Plawecki lined an opposite-field single off of prized pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard:

Syndergaard was dominant that day, but Plawecki showed that his contact-oriented approach could stand up to elite offerings, and is a good sign for his development as he heads into the upper minors.

Plawecki also ripped a double in against the Atlanta Braves in a big league game, getting the barrel on the ball and pulling a rope down the line, which you can see in the below video.

The most important part of Plawecki’s growth moving forward is defensively, as his bat appears as if it will continue to be solid, regardless of the competition. Whether it is as a trading chip or as a fill-in if d’Arnaud can’t stay healthy, Plawecki is an important part of the Mets’ future.


Amed Rosario

While Amed Rosario wasn’t a part of the big league camp, the reports on him so far are very promising as they show how much improvement he has made.

Rosario is a polarizing prospect in baseball, with many believing he could be a first-division talent. Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks tweeted that he believes Rosario would be a high first-round pick in this years upcoming MLB draft if he were eligible, as he is the same age as many high school seniors:

Rosario is raw, and as a teenager he has many holes in his game that he needs to fix before he can start rising quickly through the Mets’ farm system. Because of how raw he is, Amazin’ Avenue’s Jeffrey Paternostro’s scouting report of Rosario from last year makes sense. Paternostro was very critical of Rosario’s swing, writing about how it had multiple moving parts that led to a long uppercut swing, which could hurt his hit-tool as he ascends through the minors.

This shouldn’t be concerning as Rosario was 17 at the time, but as an 18-year-old this spring training, the reports on his swing have vastly changed. Jeff Moore of Baseball Prospectus scouted Rosario earlier in March and wrote (subscription required):

…he showed good bat control and a short swing for someone with such long limbs. He was able to stay inside the ball, and during the opposite-field portion of his round of batting practice, he did not settle for just going the other way. He drive [sic] the ball to right field with authority.

Paternostro scouted that Rosario elongated his swing so he could have an uppercut and sell out for power, but Moore’s report shows that Rosario has not only cut down his swing, but he also is still able to drive the ball and project as a power prospect.

Moore’s report is significant because while he gives a glowing report of Rosario, he is extremely critical of Mets prospect Gavin Cecchini, whom he believes should no longer play shortstop. Moore provides an unbiased perspective, and by showing that he is not afraid to be critical with his write up of Cecchini, fans should be all the more optimistic about Rosario.

Rosario should start the season in the New York Penn League with the Brooklyn Cyclones, and seeing whether his swing has truly shortened and if he can produce on the field should be one of the most intriguing stories in the Mets’ farm system in 2014.


All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.

You can follow Sean on twitter at @SCunninghamPG.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Ike Davis Screams at Reporter, New York Mets Need to Cut Ties This Spring

On Monday morning, New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis was agitated when an injury he failed to disclose to the team last season was uncovered. Anthony DiComo of MLB.com tweeted the series of events that followed:

The aforementioned report was by Mike Puma of the New York Post, who wrote:

Ike Davis concealed an oblique injury from Mets officials for most of last season because of bad timing and the fact he was struggling and didn’t want to surrender his spot in the lineup, the beleaguered first baseman told The Post on Sunday.

Monday morning, Davis encountered Puma and was not pleased with the fact that he ran the story, as DiComo tweeted:

Davis then proceeded to refute the report to the media, as tweeted by Adam Rubin of ESPN:

Before Monday, there was a solid argument that the Mets needed to trade Davis. After this outburst, it appears as if Davis’ tenure in New York could (and should) be over.

Davis has been a distraction the past two seasons, and this outburst only added to the drama. The Mets needed Davis to hit for power in both 2012 and 2013 if they wanted any chance to win, but for the most part, he let them down.

While he hit an impressive 32 home runs in 2012, most of them came in the second half while the team was out of contention. Even with the late-season power surge, he ended the season with an unremarkable 1.1 fWAR. In comparison, Marlon Byrd had an fWAR of 4.1 in 2013 while hitting 24 home runs, exhibiting how little Davis brought to the table in 2012 outside of his power.

In 2013, Davis got off to a slow start once again, but unlike the previous year, he was never able to come out of his power slump. He was an embarrassing presence in the Mets’ lineup, finishing the season with a pathetic minus-0.1 fWAR in 103 games.

Both seasons the Mets and their fans waited through Davis’ terrible performances with the hopes that he would tap into his monstrous power, and that waiting has been a major distraction. Now, with a comparable player (albeit with a less high ceiling) in Lucas Duda also vying for the first base job, Davis’ potential power is no longer worth the distractions he brings to the team.

As Andy Martino of the New York Daily News has reported all offseason, the Mets have been trying to trade one of Davis and Duda in order to remedy their first base situation, with the team’s preference being to trade Davis.

I predicted last week that Davis would get traded during spring training. Now, with the news breaking that Davis not only viciously disrespected a member of the media but also possibly lied to the team about his health last season, the Mets may lower their asking price and are even more likely to deal their slugger prior to the season.

Many fans still cling to the idea that Davis is the Mets first baseman of the future, drooling over his power potential and sometimes slick defense. While he may still have a solid major league career ahead of him, the Mets need to cut him loose now, as a positive future in New York seems unlikely.

Davis harmed the Mets last season by hiding his injury, and has single-handedly kept the Mets from winning games the last two seasons by being a near-automatic out in the middle of the order for weeks at a time. The Mets need to realize that Davis’ light-tower power is not worth his baggage, and that with Duda in the wings, it is time to move on.

Hopefully, Davis goes on to have a great career, but after all he’s been through in New York, his best chance to succeed is elsewhere.


All statistics courtesy Fangraphs.

You can follow Sean on twitter at @SCunninghamPG.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Bartolo Colon’s Biggest Role for the New York Mets: Mentoring Rafael Montero

The New York Mets signed Bartolo Colon in part to help fill the void left by Matt Harvey’s injury at the top of the rotation, but his most important role could be how he mentors prospect Rafael Montero.

Colon has been around seemingly forever, and at his peak was a power pitcher that racked up big strikeout totals.

However, despite his overpowering offerings early in his career, he didn’t produce ERA totals expected of an elite pitcher. Prior to last year, he pitched to an ERA below 3.40 on just one occasion (in 2002, when he had a 2.93 ERA).

As his career progressed, Colon was met by both health issues and suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs, and has had to adapt his style of pitching drastically as he’s aged.

His fastball could no longer overpower hitters, so he started pitching to contact, throwing his low-90s fastball and not much else. In 2013, he pitched to an outstanding 2.65 ERA using this strategy for the Oakland Athletics (despite resembling a bowling ball).

The scout quoted by the New York Post‘s Mike Puma sums up why Colon has remained an effective pitcher into his 40s.

So where does Rafael Montero fit into this equation?

The young right-hander, who will likely make his debut this season, is a much different pitcher than Colon was for most of his career. Montero has an average to above-average fastball, sometimes touching 95 but usually sitting around 91-93, along with a flat slider and fringy changeup. Both of his secondary offerings still have room for improvement although neither flashes plus potential.

Montero’s calling card as a pitcher, and what makes him a likely major leaguer, is his outstanding command and pitchability—the same traits that led to Colon’s successful 2013 campaign.

Scouts have either pegged Montero’s best-case scenario as being a No. 3 starter but becoming a back-end starter more likely, or as a reliever due to his small frame and max-effort delivery.

While Bartolo Colon wasn’t always a control pitcher with fringe-average secondary offerings, he is an example of a pitcher who has overcome a lack of size, poor frame and imperfect mechanics to become an exceptional pitcher at the major league level.

Colon is listed at 5’11”, 265 pounds and Montero is listed at 6’0”,170 pounds. The two pitchers share a lack of height but are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of a pitcher’s ideal frame.

Colon is well overweight, and it would seem that his lack of athleticism and conditioning should harm him on the mound. Montero is seen as too small, a pitcher who puts his entire body into his pitches and who therefore could wear down under a starter’s workload as a result.

Both Colon and Montero also have flawed mechanics, as both use high-effort deliveries causing them to max out on all their pitches—another trait that can lead to injuries given a starter’s workload. Colon puts an unnecessary amount of strain on his arm during his delivery, failing to capitalize on the force he could generate from his large body.

Montero’s delivery is quite different than Colon’s. Like Colon, Montero puts plenty of strain on his arm, but unlike Colon, he has poor balance while approaching the plate.

Doug Thorburn of Baseball Prospectus specializes in pitcher mechanics when evaluating prospects, and he explained his displeasure with Montero’s mechanics in a chat in November:

I think that Montero’s mechanics are a big problem. The blatant over-the-top might overcome the height restrictions of his size, but his delivery is definitely not built for a big workload. Besides, I would prefer that a pitcher have extension at release point rather than downhill plane (which is often overrated) – and such egregious spine-tilt actually robs him of that extension.

As explained above, there is a reason Montero is not among the best prospects in the game despite his high level of performance. However, there once was also plenty to dislike about Colon, who probably generated the same concerns in his earlier days.

The Mets would love for Colon to repeat his 2013 performance for the next two years. But they will also be pleased if Montero can pick Colon’s brain and utilize his best asset (pitchability) on the way to becoming one of the best control pitchers in the league if he can avoid injury.

Montero is generally overrated by Mets fans because of his numbers at the minor league level, since his success is due in large part to his ability to not only hit spots, but also his knack for generating weak contact.

While prospects such as Zack Wheeler are hyped because of their natural ability and easy mid-90s heat, Montero is much more advanced in the nuances of getting hitters out. However, getting outs at the minor league level is a much easier task than it is in the big leagues, where hitters are much harder to get off-balance.

With Bartolo Colon’s advice, Montero can potentially take the next step in terms of learning how to pitch to big league hitters while getting away with his flat slider and fringe-average changeup. As evidenced in the below video, Colon has mastered the ability to get the ball over the plate and to force hitters to beat him.

Throwing strikes should not be an issue for Montero, as he has exhibited throughout his career the ability to put the ball wherever he wants to.

There is a difference, however, between the ability to throw strikes and the ability to get hitters out, with which Colon can help Montero. This is especially an issue specific to both Colon and Montero, who are both fastball-heavy pitchers with smaller statures.

Shorter pitchers often have trouble with giving up home runs as their fastballs lack the downward plane of taller pitchers, making it easier for hitters to lift pitches they square up.

Colon had the benefit of pitching in a massive ballpark in Oakland but took full advantage of the expansive outfield by pitching to weak, fly-ball contact. Citi Field is smaller, although still sizeable, and Colon will need to adapt his strategy slightly in the coming years.

It is this type of nuance that Montero can learn from Colon, being able to adjust to the ballpark, hitter and situation in order to generate the desired contact from the hitter.

Even if Montero is able to paint the corners of the plate with his fastball consistently, he will still need to win the chess match against the hitter to avoid long balls and short outings.

Montero may always be held back by health problems and forced to the bullpen due to his size and mechanics, but up to this point in his career, he has proven his doubters wrong at every level. If Montero continues to work hard and to master the art of pitching under the tutelage of Bartolo Colon, he could be a very good pitcher for a long time.

I wouldn’t bet on Montero ever becoming a front-line starter, but based on his track record and feel for pitching, I wouldn’t bet against him either.

If Montero truly wants to be successful at the major league level, he should listen to every word Bartolo Colon says about pitching.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

You can follow Sean on twitter: @S_CunninghamBR.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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