Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 26, 2010
BASEBALL: Around The Horn
Mets: The Mets' season has had a Perils of Pauline character to it, with the team kicking into gear whenever Jerry Manuel is closest to getting fired. Manuel's the classic replacement-level manager - he brings some things to the table and takes some things off the table, and probably any number of other managers would have the same results - so I still think he's not the core of the problem and not worth replacing unless you have a better candidate lined up. Of course, much of the inconsistency is just another way of saying that (1) this is basically an around-.500 team that could win 85-88 games if it gets some breaks and lose 90 if a bunch of things go badly, (2) the Mets are 16-9 at Citi Field, 6-14 on the road, (3) they've played 16 one-run games, a very large number, and gone 5-11 in them. The home/road split is more pronounced and less random than quality of opposition; they're 14-4 against the Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Braves and Cubs, scoring 4.5 runs/game and allowing 2.8, but 6-15 against the Marlins, Nationals, Cardinals, and Reds, scoring 4.2 runs/game and allowing 4.6. The biggest difference? The Mets have allowed 13 homers at home (0.52 per 9), 27 on the road (1.34 per 9). They've also batted .268/.350/.417 at home, .223/.287/.351 on the road, including 19% more doubles per plate appearance at home, 38% more walks, and three times as many triples.
Jose Reyes' big game last night was an especially encouraging sign, along with the hot streak that suddenly has Jason Bay hitting .307/.395/.472, second on the team in OPS to Ike Davis. And Japanese import Hisanori Takahashi has been a revelation. The bad news: Jeff Francouer, batting .457/.535/.857 entering the 20-inning marathon in St. Louis, has hit .137/.186/.214 in 129 plate appearances since then, dashing hopes that he might have a Jose Guillen-like prime in him. Fortunately for Frenchy, Carlos Beltran's still out, Fernando Martinez is batting .244/.300/.378 at Buffalo, Gary Matthews flopped to the tune of .182/.250/.218, and Nick Evans has been buried at AA Binghamton (where he's hitting .284/.360/.518) after a disastrous 2009. But there's still Chris Carter, 27 years old and a career .307/.380/.514 hitter in the minors; Carter's mostly a first baseman, but he's played some outfield, and can his glovework out there be any worse than Francouer's bat has been?
Mariners: Ichiro is on a pace for 236 hits and 33 RBI. If you're wondering, that would tie Richie Ashburn for the second-lowest RBI total by a guy with 200 hits (even Willie Keeler managed 44 RBI the year he hit 207 singles and 9 extra base hits), second to Lloyd Waner, who drove in just 27 runs as a rookie in 1927 on 223 hits. But at least Waner scored 133 runs; Ichiro's on a pace for (a team-leading) 77. The Mariners have gotten just nothing from Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman or their catchers, plus of course Ken Griffey has been playing as if he's already encased in bronze. Figgins has been possibly baseball's second-biggest disappointment this season, after Grady Sizemore.
For all that, the Mariners' defense is still above average, which makes this even more bizarre: in 36.2 innings over 5 starts, Cliff Lee is 2-2 with a 3.44 ERA - despite the most staggering perhiperal stat line I have ever seen: no HR, one walk and 32 strikeouts. If you're wondering, only two pitchers since 1883 have averaged less than 0.5 HR and 0.5 BB per 9 in a season of 30 or more innings - a rookie pitcher named Johnny Podgajny for the 1940 Phillies (2.83 ERA, 35 IP, 0 HR, 1 BB, 12 K; he would finish his career with a 0.78 K/BB ratio) and Dennis Eckersley in 1990 (0.61 ERA, 0.2 HR, 0.5 BB, 9.0 K).
Rangers: Vladimir Guerrero, home: .385/.412/.688 road: .258/.299/.323. Yeah, moving to Texas was a good career move. There is definitely still room on the Justin Smoak bandwagon - Smoak still looks like a promising prospect, but strike yet another one against overhyping rookies without adequate consideration of the adjustment period they sometimes take.
Astros: Cutting Kaz Matsui is the first step, and as I noted before the season, it makes all the sense in the world for this team to deal Oswalt, Berkman and Lee if they can get value in return. Unfortunately, Lee in particular has been doing everything possible to ensure he and his enormous contract have no trade value (10 extra base hits, 9 GIDP). Oswalt has been pitching some of the best baseball of his career (8.9 K, 2.4 BB per 9); he's 32 and has some real miles on him (3.81 ERA the last two years), but he's been in the league a decade and never had a losing record or worse-than-league ERA. He's worth an investment for a contender.
Angels: Brandon Wood is looking increasingly like the next Brad Komminsk or Mike Stenhouse, a guy who was the real deal in the minors but just can't get it done in the big leagues. Hopefully, he'll eventually turn it on, as guys like Bill Robinson and Gorman Thomas did after repeated flops. Sooner or later, you stay healthy through enough opportunities, talent will out. Then there's Howie Kendrick, who looks more like the next Brent Gates: there may yet be a batting title in there somewhere, but for now it's time to admit that Kendrick has been playing for 5 years and has a career .328 OBP.
Phillies: The league-wide doubles average is down a bit from April, but it's still close enough to historic highs to make it worth watching to see if Jayson Werth can make a real run at Earl Webb's 79-year-old record of 67. Somebody gets ahead of Webb's pace every year in the early going, but Werth is way ahead now, an 83-doubles pace (22 in 43 games).
Twins: For once, he'd deserve it: if you were giving out MVPs right now, hands down it would go in the AL to Justin Morneau, batting .383/.497/.701. NL is a tougher nut: Andre Ethier's batting .392/.457/.744 with 38 RBI in 33 games and is second in total bases to Werth, but Chase Utley is a second baseman who's played in 24% more games batting .307/.429/.587, albeit in a bandbox.