October 10, 2007
In the quest to identify the real killer of the Mets' season, Ryan McConnell links to a Tim Marchman analysis that aptly demonstrates that the Mets' bullpen problem was not - in the aggregate - overwork caused by starters not going deep enough in games, although Marchman (1) doesn't address the extent to which individual relievers wore out and (2) doesn't deal at all with the bullpen's actual performance. McConnell also breaks out the abysmal performance of fifth and spot starters used by the Mets this year.
There are always multiple causes of failure, of course. Reyes certainly rode off the bridge in the last two months of the year. But the offense as a whole can't be blamed; despite struggles at Shea, the Mets finished 4th in the league in runs scored and just a hair (5.46 R/G to 5.40) behind the Phillies for most runs scored on the road.
Anyway, one culprit (I'll return if I get a chance to look at individuals) was the decay of the team's previously spectacular defense in the season's closing months. Let's break out the decline of the pitching staff by its component parts: homers, walks (excluding intentional walks, but including HBP, which are the pitcher's fault), and strikeouts (the parts entirely under the pitchers' control) per 600 plate appearances month by month, vs. four elements more under the fielders' control: opponents' batting average on balls in play, extra bases (1 for a double, two for a triple) per 600 balls in play, batters reaching on errors per 600 balls in play, and double plays turned per opportunity (a rough measure of DP divided by (singles + walks + HBP + ROE). All sourced here.
As you can see, while the trendlines do show some negatives, especially in the walks/HBP column, the overall picture does not show a dramatic change in the pitching staff over the course of the season, and even shows some improvement (largely Pedro-driven) in HR and K in September. But the trendlines for the parts that are more the responsibility of the defense do show a drastic decline over the season, especially the final two months - hits on balls in play way up, doubles and triples way up, errors up sharply, double play balls never recovering the April-May levels when Valentin was in the lineup. Reyes is doubtless responsible for some of this as well (possibly Wright too, who played spectacular defense early in the year) but I have to think a lot of the blame for the doubles and triples figure in particular comes from two sources that were simultaneously responsible for keeping the offense in the game: the return of Alou in place of the fleet-footed Gomez and Chavez in left, and a hobbled Carlos Beltran in center (the Mets' defense in right was bad all year).
I find it difficult to believe that outfield defense could be responsible for a lot of the increases shown in the table. I mean, are there really so many balls that Chavez would have gotten to and Alou didn't? Or a non-injured Beltran as opposed to an injured Beltran? Just seems doubtful to me.
BTW, speaking of the bullpen, I've seen some rumblings that Mariano Rivera might test the waters in free agency. I don't expect that to occur, but if it did, do you go after him?
Mariano's first choice will be the Bronx, but he will play the field. He was clear on the consequences when they refused to negotiate during spring training. Still, Yanks or a team without a closer figure to be the high bidder.
The Yanks could face a mass exodus, especially if Torre is shown the door. I don't think Joe is a great field tactician, but he is popular with the players and they may see his exit as a reason to leave. I am not sure about Mattingly, but Girardi will not have any where near the success in the Bronx as he had in Florida and will not measure up to Torre in the win column.
Good analysis, but I too don't think that over the short amount of time Alou was in left, that doubles would have gone up that signficantly without balls actually being hit harder. The pitchers were giving up rockets, tired or not. Maybe patterns developed after a full season, or maybe other teams discovered the Mets pitchers tipping pitches.
No matter the answer, I know that finding what went wrong will provide little solace to Mets fans! What a disaster.
The double play thing was noticeable towards the latter half of the season. The disparity between the number they turned and the number they hit into was seemingly huge.
Irish, I don't think one player would say, "I'll take less money and leave because Joe Torre is gone." I think they would be crazy to not test the waters. Can you imagine the screaming going on if the Mets manage to land Posada and Rivera? Or the Red Sox get Rivera? Letting Papelbon back into the rotation?
I believe that a decline in team defense was one of the main contributors to the Mets' awful finish.
From what I saw the decline was twofold: balls falling in that would have been caught earlier in the season (as I saw it Endy didn't have a great return after the hammy went); and VERY poor team defense; the art of throwing the ball where it needs to go and the player on the other end of the throw catching the ball and doing something with it, that sort of thing. There were any number of poor defense in-play decisions, missing cut-off men and the like, and of course Reyes' several lapses in concentration. Beltran earned a mention, too, with some bad plays. The Mets just weren't executing; they played tight when it mattered most.
The Mets were a slightly underpowered team anyway, with DelGato probably in dcline and with Valentin gone, and with Green getting regular time in right field; the last thing they needed was for the defense to sag. But it did and now I'm watching the Rockies.