Nov 15

DeGrom Wins Cy Young Based On The Eye Test

In what was hardly a surprise, Jacob deGrom was the runaway winner in the National League Cy Young Award today.

In the end, deGrom’s Cy Young Award was less about analytics than it was about domination. The Mets’ ace dominated the voting like no game this season, collecting 29 of 30 first-place votes by the Baseball Writers Association of America – Washington’s Max Scherzer got the other – to become the sixth Cy Young Award winner in franchise history.

After a summer of debating over the value of wins and losses and pitching WAR, it all boiled down to nobody coming close to how easily deGrom handled hitters this season and in the process set a Major League record of closing the summer with 29 straight starts of giving up three runs or fewer runs.

Only once in 32 starts did he give up more than three runs. Once.

”I really do love competing, that is why we play this game, to go out there and compete,” deGrom said. ”Just every fifth day, it’s your day, and you want to stay out there as long as possible and try to put your team in a position to win. My thought process was, ‘Take the ball every fifth day and continue to try to put this team in a position to win and control what you can control.’ ”

What deGrom couldn’t control was the chatter about whether wins still matter in evaluating a pitcher’s effectiveness. Roger Clemens once told me a great pitcher will find a way of winning a game when things fall apart for his team. DeGrom finished at 10-9 with a major-league low 1.70 ERA (easily the most definitive statistic for a starter because it measures runs allowed which goes the furthest in determining whether a team wins or loses).

DeGrom’s ERA was the sixth lowest for a starter since 1969, when the mound was lowered as Major League Baseball tinkered to generate more offense.

There are other numbers that matter in evaluating a pitcher, such as 269 strikeouts in 217 innings pitched, and averaged 6.8 innings per start. DeGrom gave up a league-low ten homers, had one complete game, compared to Tom Seaver’s 18 complete games in his first of three Cy Young Award seasons. Dwight Gooden and R.A. Dickey are the other Mets to win baseball’s premier pitching award.

Despite his dominance, deGrom was frequently victimized by a porous bullpen and an offense that only gave him 3.5 runs a game, the worst support in the game for a starter. Overall, the Mets ranked 12th in the National League in scoring, and such paltry support was the genesis of the pro-analytic conversation after deGrom said winning the Cy Young Award was something that meant a lot to him.

At 30, deGrom is in his prime and will become a free agent after this season. He made $7.4 million this year and Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who was deGrom’s agent two weeks ago, has said it is a priority to re-sign him.

”Jacob clearly established himself as the best pitcher in baseball for 2018,” said Van Wagenen. ”His consistency and competitiveness were unmatched. I’ve always been impressed with his professional and dedicated approach on and off the field in addition to being a tremendous teammate.”

DeGrom’s ten victories are the fewest ever by a Cy Young Award winner in a non-strike-shortened season.

”This was one of my goals,” deGrom said. ”The team didn’t end up where we wanted to be this past season, but you kind of set personal goals, and I think being able to accomplish something that has been a dream of yours is just something special. To be a Cy Young Award winner, you’re in great company, and it truly is an honor.”

And, deserving based on the eye test, not by any new wave thinking.

Oct 31

Four Items On Van Wagenen’s Plate

New general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said there are 11 parts to his plans to remaking the Mets. He wouldn’t elaborate what they were, but it is believed he touched on one when he said he wanted Mickey Callaway to return as manager.

I’m speculating the following four are on his list:

Increase the Payroll: They should come in no higher than $160 million. Given the money they’ll save with David Wright’s retirement ($15 million for this summer) and what insurance will pick up with Yoenis Cespedes not likely to return before July, offset by raises earmarked for Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Conforto, and Brandon Nimmo and what the Mets might do in upgrading their bullpen, don’t expect them to splurge on free agents Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.

The Mets are expected to bring back second baseman Jeff McNeil to a raise and need to bring in a center fielder, a catcher and perhaps a first baseman, not to mention a significant reliever. Whether that reliever is top shelf or middle tier, it will cost.

Keep the Rotation Intact: The Mets entertained trading all of their starters last season, and are expected to keep them all this winter. DeGrom and Syndergaard will get hefty raises. Since they aren’t anticipated to do a bullpen game for the fifth slot, they’ll need a fifth starter. Is it Seth Lugo, Jason Vargas or Robert Gsellman, or somebody from the minors?

Van Wagenen will confer with Callaway, John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi this week to get a handle on the rotation. The rotation is potentially the team’s strength and the first four must be kept, but it will increase payroll.

Improving the Lineup: Don’t expect the Mets to dive deep into the free-agent or trade markets despite the optimism Van Wagenen and COO Jeff Wilpon portrayed. The Mets must upgrade at catcher and I don’t see them tendering a contract to Travis d’Arnaud. First base is a concern and decisions must be made on Peter Alonso or Dominic Smith, or will Van Wagenen fool around with Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores or Todd Frazier? If the Mets are serious about winning now they must improve catcher and first base. They could have traded for Paul Goldschmidt from Arizona, but that boat sailed when they picked up his option yesterday. The radio call-in shows in New York were filled with callers chiming for Machado, but that would be a horrible mistake.

I was against signing Cespedes because the money would have been better spent on filling the numerous holes the Mets have and still do. Considering Machado is reportedly due twice as much as Cespedes, think of all the improvements the Mets could make.

Upgrade the Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Joe Kelly are the most enticing names in the market. Of course, all will want long-term, expensive contracts. Former GM Sandy Alderson failed to build a bullpen and consistently used the scrap-heap approach. Van Wagenen has to sign a name reliever, and that discounts the possibility of a reunion with Jeurys Familia. Rookies Tyler Bashlor and Drew Smith, and Lugo or Gsellman all pitched well last season at times.

They need to sign one of the four because they desperately need a closer. Bringing back Familia would be a step back. The Mets have plenty of inexperienced hard-throwing relievers, who didn’t distinguish themselves last summer. They have a half-dozen hard-throwers but need at least two or three to show something during spring training.

These four items say the Mets aren’t ready to win now. And, there are at least seven more issues to go.

 

Oct 30

Van Wagenen And Wilpon Gloss Over Conflict Of Interest Issue

Both former-agent and new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon glossed over the conflict-of-interest issue at today’s Citi Field press conference.

As a player agent for Creative Artists Agency, Van Wageman’s responsibility was to negotiate the most lucrative contract for his clients. As the 13th general manager in Mets’ history, his responsibility is to build a team, which isn’t always in the best interests of the players he’s worked for over the past 18 years.

It was one of the first questions asked this afternoon, and before Van Wagenen could answer, Wilpon interrupted and claimed he spoke with the Commissioner’s Office and Major League Players Association chief Tony Clark and said, ”we have provisions in Brodie’s contract to deal with any conflicts of interest.”

What those provisions are, neither Wilpon nor Van Wagenen would say. Van Wagenen, who, as expected, appeared polished and highly professional, said: ”The goals between players and management are more in line than people think.”

How so, Van Wagenen wouldn’t elaborate, leading to speculation there’s still believed to be a cobra-mongoose relationship between the two sides.

This summer, Van Wagenen said the Mets should sign his top client Jacob deGrom to a long-term extension and reiterated that today: “I believe Jacob deGrom is an incredible talent and I hope to keep him for a long time.”

As deGrom’s agent, the pitcher undoubtedly shared highly confidential information with his agent, such as how long he plans to say; what he would sign for; his problems with management and manager Mickey Callaway; issues with his teammates; and issues with playing in New York, all which the player wouldn’t want Mets management and ownership to know.

However, Van Wagenen is now part of Mets’ management, and since he can’t un-hear something, what will he do now?

Oct 29

It’s Official: Mets Name Agent Brodie Van Wagenen As New GM

The New York Mets are rebuilding again and in a most unusual way. The Mets announced today their next general manager will be Brodie Van Wagenen, who is the agent for Jacob deGrom and Yoenis Cespedes.

Van Wagenen, the son-in-law of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong, will be introduced Tuesday afternoon in a Citi Field press conference. Van Wagenen beat out former Texas and Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin, and Tampa Bay senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom.

The Mets get points for creativity, but if this doesn’t work out there’s no telling how far back the organization will fall. Especially if things fall south with deGrom and Noah Syndergaard.

”Brodie is an extremely knowledgeable, creative, progressive and collaborative leader, who I’m confident will lead us toward sustainable success,” Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said in a statement released by the team. ”I’m very excited for our fans to hear and see the direction Brodie outlined for us.”

Wilpon’s father, Fred, was reportedly behind Melvin, but ultimately was sold on Van Wagenen, citing his character.

”Jeff brought forward an array of candidates and we all agreed that Brodie’s high character, blend of analytics, scouting and development ideas illustrate why he will be successful in this role,” Wilpon Sr., said.

Van Wagenen is an unknown commodity and admits this will be a challenge.

”I’m beyond excited and motivated to take on this new challenge,” said Van Wagenen, who has a reported four-year deal. ”I want to thank Fred and Jeff for believing in my vision and abilities. I look forward to beginning the progress of getting the Mets to contend for a championship year after year.”

Van Wagenen’s first challenge is to get the Wilpons to spend, notably on his former client, deGrom. During the All-Star break, Van Wagenen said the Mets should offer deGrom a pricey extension. Now, he’ll find himself sitting across the table with one of his former colleagues at the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) arguing against a landmark deal.

That change in Van Wagenen’s responsibilities at the negotiating table also raises the potential of a conflict of interest, and that concerns the Major League Baseball Players Association. 

”I won’t tell you how many calls or how many texts I have gotten,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said at the World Series over the weekend. ”I will simply suggest to you that our membership is paying attention.”

So are a lot of people in the industry as this is more than just hiring a new general manager, but the Mets taking a tremendous gamble.

 

Oct 16

Mets’ GM Search Hitting On No Cyclinders

Fred and Jeff Wilpon have promised autonomy in the past to GM candidates in the past, but it never materialized. They are saying they are offering it this time, but aren’t close to making a decision on a new hire and their dismal season ended just under three weeks ago.

Several reported candidates have even refused interviews because they don’t believe the hype coming out of Queens.

The whole process is dysfunctional. How so? The trio who shared the GM position last year after Sandy Alderson left – John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi – aren’t candidates, but are in the interview process.

I still haven’t figured out how that works.

Jeff Wilpon gummed up the process even further by saying he wants to retain manager Mickey Callaway. Would any candidate who really wants the job be willing to go against his new boss?

Not likely.

Ricciardi and Minaya are suggesting candidates to the Wilpons, but would they really endorse somebody who will want to get rid of them?

Not likely, on that one, too.

The gap between two candidates, 35-year-old Tampa Bay senior VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom and Milwaukee’s 66-year-old advisor Doug Melvin, is wider than the 31 years that separate them.

What candidates are going to be attracted by the Mets saying they don’t want to spend in the free-agent market, have no pieces to trade, and are seemingly ambivalent in analytics?

Not many, to be sure.

It was a long summer and figures to be a long winter.