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 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 01

Missing David Wright

WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

                                     WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

It was a special night for a special player and an even better person.

David Wright’s eyes welled up and his voice cracked as he tried to fight back tears as he addressed the Citi Field crowd there to honor him. It was a very human thing to do, which is why they filled the park one last time Saturday night to thank the man who was a better person then ballplayer, and was one of them.

”You had my back from day one,” Wright told the crowd who was there for the fireworks and cheer him because the Mets stopped playing meaningful baseball in May.

”You guys welcomed me, a 21-year-old kid from Virginia. You welcomed me as a New Yorker.”

Mets fans loved him and Wright loved them in return, and he did so by staying when others would have left, by always playing hard, by representing himself and his team with class and dignity, and by treating people with respect.

All the things fans want from their heroes Wright gave them, whether it was signing autographs, visiting children in hospitals, or posing for pictures. And, above all else, wanting to be a Met.

”I’ve always tried to picture myself in the stands or picture a kid watching me play for the first time in the stands, and tried to play the game the right way,” Wright said. ”I think that I’ve always treated the game that way. If there’s a kid in the stands that is looking for a player to try to emulate like I used to as a young kid, I wanted to be that player.”

Wright was never a ”look at me” player on the field, or a ”don’t bother me” personality off it. I spent a lot of time with Wright when I covered the Mets, and my best conversations with him weren’t always about baseball.

It was late in the summer of 2006 and the Mets had just clinched the NL East. His face was wet from sweat and champagne and he puffed on a cigar as he leaned against the rail in front of the Mets dugout. I remember asking him about the upcoming playoffs, and he said, ”I don’t know. I just want to enjoy this for now.”

We talked for a few more minutes before one of his teammates walked up and sprayed more champagne. The next year, the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining. Wright hit over .340 during that stretch, but was the go-to guy for the media covering the team. He was asked about manager Willie Randolph’s future and he was clear who was to blame: ”This was on the players.”

It didn’t matter the issue, Wright was always there for a quote, and he didn’t hold back. He had no sympathy for players who cheated with performance-enhancing drugs. Whether the Mets won or lost, and they did a lot of losing, Wright was always accessible.

When the Mets swept Chicago in the 2015 playoffs and the Cubs gave him the third base bag, I needed a quote and he answered my text. He was always good that way. When Mets public relations Shannon Forde passed away, I went to the memorial service at Citi Field and was surprised that Wright had flown up from spring training to give a eulogy.

On second thought, no, I wasn’t.

Wright never did anything to embarrass himself or the Mets, and was deeply hurt in 2011 when owner Fred Wilpon told a national magazine Wright was ”not a superstar.”

He felt slighted, again a very human emotion.

Even so, because Wright wanted to retire a Met, he re-signed with them in 2012 for an eight-year, $138-million extension and will be paid through 2020.

There are some cynics who foolishly said Wright hung on for the money and the Mets’ Citi Field party last night was a sham, for them to sell a few more tickets before getting on to the business of hiring a new general manager and starting over once again, this time without the face of their franchise.

They’ll do so because Wright’s body betrayed him.

In late-April, 2011, Wright was injured attempting to make a diving tag at third base. He remained in the game and as was his nature, he kept playing through the pain. He played for nearly a month before finally getting an MRI that revealed a stress fracture in his lower back.

He returned from the disabled list in late-July, 2011, played that year’s final 63 games. Over the next two seasons, he ended up on the disabled list multiple times with shoulder and hamstring issues.

In early-2015, Wright reinjured his hamstring sliding into second base, and during that time was diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, which causes intense muscle and nerve pain in the lower back and legs due to a narrowing of the spinal column.

He returned to return in time to give the Mets two moments to remember on the field and a demonstration of his value in the clubhouse. In his first game back off the disabled list, Wright hit a monstrous homer in Philadelphia. He also homered in the World Series.

However, there might not have been a World Series had Wright not lectured Matt Harvey on focusing on what was important. Harvey, who was coming off surgery, suggested through his agent, Scott Boras, that he should shut it down for the season to protect his arm.

Wright told Harvey the pitcher’s indecision had become a distraction and October opportunities are rare; he was the Mets’ captain and was demonstrating the leadership the team wasn’t getting from general manager Sandy Alderson or manager Terry Collins.

Wright demonstrated more leadership during a spring training game that spring in Port St. Lucie. Wright entered the clubhouse to get something from his locker when he spotted Noah Syndergaard sitting alone at a table with a plate of food.

Incensed, Wright told the rookie he should be in the dugout with his teammates watching the game, asking questions, learning things. While Wright was talking, Bobby Parnell picked up Syndergaard’s plate and dumped it in the trash.

”The winning attitude,” Syndergaard said of what he learned about the incident. ”That is something David talked to me about when the whole situation went down. It taught me how to be a student of the game a little bit more. You go out [to the bench] to try to learn something new. You don’t need to be inside eating lunch. Something could be happening that you could potentially learn from.”

In both cases, Wright didn’t bring up either incident and downplayed his role.

Jacob deGrom said it isn’t even close, but Wright, ”is the best teammate I’ve ever been around.”

The only problem is Wright hasn’t been around.

In early-2016, after only 134 at-bats, Wright sustained a herniated disc in his neck that required season-ending surgery. While rehabbing, Wright was diagnosed with a right shoulder impingement. Later that summer, Wright underwent rotator cuff surgery and all of 2017 was lost.

There were whispers Wright would never play again, but he wasn’t ready to call it a career. He was determined to play again, to have his daughters, two-year-old Olivia Shea and four-month-old Madison see him play, even if they didn’t know what they were seeing.

Wright could explain it to them later.

Before the weekend, Wright said: ”As a young player … you think you can play forever. For me, unfortunately, my body is not allowing it to happen.”

However, the Mets wanted to give Wright one more moment in the sun. Overanxious, Wright swung at the first pitch and grounded out to third in a pinch-hitting appearance Friday night.

Last night was choreographed.

When the Mets took the field, Wright ran out to third base, but his teammates stayed behind. Next, Jose Reyes ran out to shortstop and the two embraced. Suddenly, it was 2006 again, and the two teammates who were supposed to play together for decades were back in their twenties.

Wright, who needs two hours of stretching and exercises just to get ready to play, reached his goal of starting one more game. Few players leave the game on their own terms, and Wright didn’t, either.

”I am at peace with the work I’ve put in,” Wright said. ”I’m not at peace with the results. I want to keep playing.”

Wright finished with a .296 average, 242 homers, 970 RBI, .376 on-base percentage and .867 OPS. He is unquestionably the greatest player to begin and end his career with the Mets. His career was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before the injuries, but Wright never lamented his misfortune. He never made excuses. He just kept working harder.

He didn’t want to go out that way, but he didn’t beg for this weekend. He earned this weekend.

“If you’re not a person like David Wright is, you don’t get to get honored like this,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “These guys are going to play baseball for a small part of their lives, and then they have to be human beings the rest of it. They should all look up to David in that regard.”

And, Wright knew what he meant to the Mets.

“It’s been a long road to get to that goal, but the love and the support I’ve received from inside the organization, outside the organization has been first class, and words can’t express the gratitude I have for everybody,” Wright said. “I said it when I was a younger player and I’ll say it again: I truly bleed orange and blue, and throughout this process, the love and the support and the respect from inside and outside the organization have meant the world to me. Thank you to everybody involved, and you’ll never have any idea how much it means to me.”

If you have any sense of compassion, all you had to do is look into Wright’s red eyes as he held the microphone and addressed the crowd, even the cynics.

His words choking back the tears, Wright said: ”To the fans, words can’t express my gratitude and appreciation for always having my back. You’ve accepted me as one of your own, and that right there is a tremendous honor.

“This is love. I can’t say anything else. This is love.”

Sep 17

As Season Winds Down, Mets Should Consider Cutting Back On Pitchers

Jacob deGrom is competing for the Cy Young Award, so the Mets won’t limit him during his final two starts. However, they might ease up on the gas when it comes to the rest of their rotation.

However, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz – all of whom have been injured – could benefit if their innings are reduced.

“We have to do everything can to make sure a June doesn’t happen again,” manager Mickey Callaway said of the Mets winning only five games in June. “Because it derails your whole season.”

Syndergaard has thrown 135.1 innings; Matz has thrown a career-high 140 innings; and with seven innings tonight in Philadelphia, Wheeler has logged 182.1 innings this season.

Wheeler, 12-7 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, leads the majors with eight victories in the second half.

“He’s obviously had a great season, is in a very good spot health-wise right now, and we’re going to pay attention to him probably the most,” Callaway said.

That’s because Wheeler has had an extensive injury history, with Tommy John surgery keeping him out of the majors in 2015-16, and a stress reaction ending his 2017 season in July.

Wheeler needed to prove two things this season, 1) that he could stay healthy, and 2) that he could pitch up to his expectations. He’s done both, and with nothing else left to prove, it wouldn’t hurt for him to be shut down, or at least throw a minimum of five innings.

 

 

Aug 20

The Mets Put Smith It Position To Make Error

Zack Wheeler now knows what Jacob deGrom has felt like most of this season with the Mets wasting another one of his solid starts and coming away with a no-decision. Wheeler has been one of the Mets’ bright spot in this dark season and watched his team lose, 2-1, in 13 innings to the San Francisco Giants, Monday at Citi Field.

I GOT IT, YOU TAKE IT. (AP)

I GOT IT, YOU TAKE IT. (AP)

The Mets were beaten because two pop-ups fell in against the shift in the seventh, and Dominic Smith – playing left field – collided with Amed Rosario for a run-producing error.

“It’s frustrating when you make your pitch and there’s no result,’’ Wheeler said. “We should have had somebody there.’’

Wheeler said the shift gives and takes away, “and it’s part of the game.’’

What shouldn’t be part of the game is to have a first baseman play left field. That has the disaster written all over it. Manager Mickey Callaway threw Smith under the bus and put most of the blame on Smith.

“It’s inexperience,’’ Callaway said. “He hasn’t done this a lot. He has a learning curve he has to go through. That’s an easy play for our team and we messed it up. We cost ourselves the game tonight with fundamental stuff.’’

Smith played deep on the play and called for the ball late.

“I called it way too late,’’ Smith said. “That’s on me.’’

No, it’s on the Mets, who played Smith in left field, instead of his natural first base. Seriously, don’t the Mets already know all they need to know about Wilmer Flores, who is not their first baseman of the future?

The Mets have been telling us Smith is their first baseman of the future, and with the season long since over, he should be getting at-bats at the position. This is mismanagement at its highest.