March 18, 2005

Amazin' Subjugation Part 2


This is part two of a 2005 Mets preview, looking at offense and making the case the Mets are better than Phillies fans want to believe.

Center fielder Carlos Beltran is as much of a sure bet as any free agent signing. He’s 28, clutch and gifted in five areas. He'll give Mets fans plenty to cheer about for many years.

In looking at this year's version of the Mets over last season, the biggest difference won't be Beltran, but an existing group of supporting players that are great candidates to improve.

Let's take a look at the Mets lineup:

1 Jose Reyes SS
2 Kaz Matsui 2B
3 Carlos Beltran CF
4 Mike Piazza C
5 Cliff Floyd LF
6 David Wright 3B
7 Mike Cameron RF
8 Doug Mientkiewicz 1B

INF
Leading the list of players with a great chance to improve is Japanese star Kazuo Matsui, who moves back from shortstop to second this season. Trying to live up to high expectations, Matsui was a bust both leading off and playing short.


Kaz Matsui is a candidate to improve in 2005.

Before going down in August and September with injury, he finally started to figure it out at the plate in July, hitting .336 for the month, along with .500 SLG. Though he's not a power hitter, he's a good doubles hitter with decent speed at his position. Matsui, for all the criticism last year, has an outstanding chance to improve, will be playing his natural position, and will assume a more suitable role, No. 2, in the Mets lineup.

The same goes for Jose Reyes, who moves back to shortstop after an injury-plagued campaign in which he missed over 100 games. Reyes is only 21, still learning, and still filling out. He has virtually no power at all, but as a switch hitter with lightning speed at the top of the lineup, he can become as much of a pest as Juan Pierre in Florida. In 52 games, he stole 19 bases. This spring, he’s healthy and currently leading all players in stolen bases.


Jose Reyes

Moving over to the hot corner, you have to get excited about a guy Peter Gammons confidently labeled "Scott Rolen II." Before getting the call to the majors, David Wright solidified his status as the best hitter in the minor leagues last year. He led the Eastern League in BA for most of the season, ranked 9th in the entire minor leagues with .341, then proved he could do the same in the bigs, hitting .291 with 14 HRs. He was easily the Mets best player at the end of the season.

Scouts see him more, so I'll defer to stats.inc for an abbriviated report:

He hits the ball to all fields, does equally well against righthanders and lefties, and hits for both power and average. He shows rare patience at the plate for a 22-year-old. Big league pitchers do not intimidate Wright, and he does an excellent job of working deep into counts. He has a knack for getting big hits, and his power should increase as his body matures.


Here's what he did in 69 big-league games:

69 G .293 BA .332 OBP .525 SLG 14HR

I often sing the praises of Mike Lowell in Florida, calling him the NL East assassin for his ability to pummel his rivals. But at this stage in the game, I'd take Wright over any third baseman in the East, including Lowell.

Piazza
Now a look at the big man, baseball's all-time leading home run-hitting catcher and best player ever from Norristown, Pa. While the other players I've mentioned have a chance to improve, Mike Piazza doesn’t. Even my grandmother knows he’s on a sharp downward slide of his career and poses a huge liability behind the plate and on the base paths. He insists on trying to make it work behind the plate to end his career as a backstop, but his knees and father time are working against him. He's averaged only 389 at-bats over the past three seasons.

But for some reason, he hits .102 points higher when he's behind the plate instead of at first. Does that mean he'll have a better line this year? Who knows. It's such a weird statistic, who can predict it.

Last year was his worst offensively in terms of BA in a horrible, laughable year for the Mets at first base. They tried everything, and got nothing.

Still, at 36, Piazza's still an above-average offensive catcher with the ability to mash to the opposite field. I look for no more than 20 home runs out of big Mike, catching about 100 games, finishing in the middle of the pack in win shares from NL East catchers.

Batting Win Shares 2004
1. J Estrada ATL C 15.6
2. P Lo Duca LAD/FL C 10.1
3. M Piazza NYM 1B 10.1
4. B Schneider MON C 7.0
5. M Lieberthal PHI C 5.3

That list might look very similar, although I argue Johnny Estrada was a one-season wonder and got more hype than necessary because of his high BA. Where'd his power go after the all-star break?

OF
When I first heard about the Beltran signing, my first thought was "They already have a center fielder." For about a week, I thought GM Omar Minaya was trying to fit too many square pegs into round holes, and one of the players being shoved around was Mike Cameron.

I thought this was a big deal at first, but it’s not. Cameron is an equally good center fielder as Beltran, and shifting over to right field, one of the least significant spots on the field, should be cake.

Offensively, he’s inferior to Beltran mainly because he strikes out way, way, way too much: 142 times last year, and became less selective with his pitches, walking just 57 times, his lowest since 1998.

Still, Cameron is a good example of how the holes in your game become craters because of the constant scrutiny of the NY media. Underneath the criticism is a pretty good line. Thirty home runs was a career best and lead all Mets. Fans see the bad BA (.231), and all those strikeouts, but ignore this guy hit a home run every 16 ABs and stole 22 bases. If he can combine last season’s power, and get that average back up to around .260-.265, the Mets are in business. The addition of Beltran to the lineup will make Cameron better. I look for those walks and RBIs to go up and see him as another candidate to improve.

Over on the other side, I’ve been waiting for Cliff Floyd to improve for too long, but his body now resembles a used GMC Jimmy: Good power if you can get it started.

I drafted Floyd onto my fantasy team last season, thinking he was a good sleeper, but right out of the gate he went on the DL. He still managed to get about 400 AB, but he’s far from outstanding anymore and seems to be sleepwalking through the rest of his career. Maybe they can still get you 20 HR if they ask real nice. There will be worse outfielders next season, but Floyd projects in the bottom third.

Bench
So-so bench but potentially deep with outfielders. I like former-Phillie Eric Valent as a fourth outfielder. He’s like a left-handed version of Jason Michaels but with slightly more pop. He had a good season filling in for Floyd. Miguel Cairo is a capable middle infielder. The rest of the bench will likely include C Jason Phillips, INF Chris Woodward, maybe Andres Galarraga and OF Kerry Robinson. OF Victor Diaz will likely start in AAA.


Former Phillie Eric Valent

An offense built to win
Say what you will about Piazza, Floyd and defensive-specialist 1B Doug Mankiewicz. I like the Mets combination of power and speed. I like Reyes, Matsui and Beltran hitting 1, 2, 3 and believe Beltran was the missing piece.

I'm confident the Mets will contend all season and somewhat confident they will win the NL Wildcard.

March 17, 2005

Amazin’ Subjugation


The bullheaded refusal by Phillies fans to admit the Mets will be good this year has become a joke, brought on by the shock and jealousy that Carlos Beltran, the best free agent, and Pedro Martinez, the best free agent pitcher, will be playing in Queens.

This is the first of a two-part series on why the Mets are the real deal. Mike Berquist, writing for "A Citizen’s Blog," will offer a counter-perspective later this afternoon.

Remember what you were like in seventh grade, when you wanted the cute girl in gym class to notice you? What did you do? Think hard. I know what I did. I shoved her and called her names. Man I was smooth.

In baseball, they don't get much prettier than the sissies in the Big Apple, and there's nothing anguished pundits of second-tier teams love to do more than smack the Yankees around like school girls.

Now we've come to 2005, when the other NY team, the Mets, are the big spendors, courting slightly less pretty, nonetheless superstar players Carlos Beltran and pitcher Pedro Martinez. Together, teamed with improvements across the board, I maintain they'll lead a 1-2 punch that should be enough to get the Mets back to the postseason.

Before I get to the good stuff - predictions based on recycled stats nobody understands - for newcomers to BPF, I'm speaking as a Phillies fan that believes his own team is underestimated. I still argue the home team will finish below the Mets and Braves and out of the playoff picture (thus opening a whole new can of worms on the Marlins. Save your hatemail for when I can start a new thread.)

In addition, news that Met pitcher Steve Trachsel will be sidelined six months or more changes my opinion a little. The frontrunners to replace him are Matt Ginter, Jae Seo, and Aaron Heilman. It's not going the be the world's best No. 5 starter, but I still have the Mets penciled second in the East and as the NL Wild Card. My prediction for the NL East is thus

1. *Braves
2. Mets
3. Phillies
4. Marlins
5. Nationals

*(default ranking)

And they will finish something like this:

1. Braves -- GB
2. Mets 5 GB
3. Phillies 7 GB
4. Marlins 11 GB
5. Nationals 16 GB

The great debate on the NL East has occupied many a lunch break by bloggers, but it's melted into same tired song and dance in regards to the Mets. Counting them "out," and counting the Braves and Marlins "in," has become as much of a cliché as calling Kris Benson the most overrated and overpaid pitcher in baseball.

Enough already. I'd love to see the Mets fail as much the next WIP caller or Reading Eagle subscriber, but the tired charade is starting to sound like a Modell's sporting goods ad piercing holes into my brain:

Upset your team didn't get the best free agent on the market? Don't wallow in self-pity any longer! Join the legions of fans and get "I Hate the Mets: 2005 Edition." Inside, you'll find dozens of new favorites, as you continue to dodge reality and refuse to admit the Mets are better than you'd like!

Need a quick comeback to put amazn_mook_10 in his place? Try these instant Kris Benson classics on for size!

"Benson! Ha! What an overpaid jerk!"

or …

"Benson! Ha! That sex-crazed wife is sure to ruin that clubhouse!"

Now that's solid. Want more? THERE'S MORE! Need a zinger with a capital "Z"? Then you need "Zambrano!" He led the American League in walks last year, and only pitched there for half a season. It's AMAZING!


Where the Mets will finish
It's as tough a prediction as any in baseball, deciding how the Mets will do. The entire NL East is a tough call this year. Surely, the Mets are the most improved in the division with the duel additions of Beltran and Pedro. And like the Phils and chucklin' Charlie, they enter the season with a new skipper, Willie Randolph.

As managers go, the brightest minds in baseball can't forcast the outcomes. However for players, stats and trends often can. The problem the Mets have in shedding doubt is they play in the media capital of baseball, where holes can become craters. Even my grandmother knows Mike Piazza can't catch anymore. Even my grandmother knows there are question marks in middle relief. But ask a baseball guy to name the biggest hole on the Royals, it might take a while (perhaps because every player on the field and in the dugout might fit that bill.)

In Queens, I say the big holes will be filled by even bigger strengths. For that, I'll have part II of "Amazing Subjugation," tomorrow.

That should give me enough time to look over Mike's stat-based Met predictions and manipulate them to fill out the rest of my little pro-Met article.

March 15, 2005

The Phurnace: Phils trim roster to 47


This is the first installment of "The Phurnace," a Phillie-centric look at what's happening around the baseball world. That's blogger code for "There's nothing original to write about today."

Bucktrot, Roberson, others optioned
The Phillies made eight roster cuts Monday. Pitchers Keith Bucktrot and Zack Segovia, 3B Juan Richardson and OF Chris Roberson were optioned to the minor-league camp.

John Castellano, an All-Star with Reading last season, C Tim Gradoville, who hit a game winning hit Sunday in Clearwater, long-time Reading outfielder Jorge Padilla and RHP Francisco Butto were re-assigned to the minors.

Wendell Magee update
Where is former Phillie Wendell Magee these days? Brian C. Engelhardt, writing for readingphillies.com, checks in with the former Phillie, who’s currently out of baseball and looking to get back in the swing. In 2004, Magee played for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League. Since 2000, he's walked a thin line between the majors and AAA with a couple different organizations, including those free-swinging Tigers of 2000-01.

For a time in the mid-'90s, Magee was considered the Phils centerfielder of the future.

Lefty ranked 35th-best in new book
Steve Carlton is the lone Phillie on a list of the 100 best players of all time in the new book "Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Baseball?" by Elliott Kolb. Lefty ranks 35th all-time on a list noticeably missing Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn.

Kolb backs up his list with numbers and facts, and includes players from the Negro Leagues. Featured contributors include Bob Costas, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. The book was released mid February and is available for as low as $10.50.

Prior, Mauer article worth reading
Aaron Gleeman’s baseball and sports blog is exceptional and it's taken far too long to add it to my blog roll. His latest article is on the reoccurring injuries to Cubs pitcher Mark Prior and Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who were taken 1-2 in the 2001 draft.

Both Prior and Mauer were considered Hall of Famers in the making but have suffered significant injury setbacks. Yesterday, the Cubs announced that Prior will be out indefinitely with an elbow problem, and the team says it’s different from the one that sidelined him last season. Mauer, trying to make a go of it this spring, is testing a surgically repaired knee.

Said Gleeman:

"... the almost parallel stories of Mauer and Prior, both bursting with potential and plagued by injuries, serve as yet another example of something we had more than enough examples of in the first place: There is no such thing as a sure thing in baseball."

Can someone please tell that to Ed Wade.

March 14, 2005

Fans anticipate D.C., Philly rivalry


Forget home run records. Great rivalries, like Boston-New York, brought baseball back from the dead, and now that D.C. is back in the fold, it's time for the Phillies to draw lines in the sand.

Washington Nationals blog, www.ball-wonk.com, posted a poll to decide the top rival for the capital's new team. The Phillies earned the most votes in a landslide - 48 percent. Atlanta and New York each earned 19 percent, while Florida, perhaps the biggest thorn in the division, earned just 14 percent.

Bring it on, baby: What it means to have baseball in D.C.
The District of Columbia was the obvious choice for Montreal's relocation, bringing baseball back to the tradition-rich city for the first time in 33 years.

The move was harder than anticipated, however, with what seemed like a decade of feet dragging from baseball, and late roadblocks from D.C. city council on the issue of financing a new stadium.

For now, the Nationals will settle for playing the next three seasons in RFK Stadium. It would have been a smoother transition had baseball selected Las Vegas or some other city. Las Vegas, a growing city with no major sports team, seemed ready to adopt a franchise and put up a team in a privately-funded park.

But with baseball back in the Beltway, the east coast landscape certainly becomes crowded. If the Orioles suffer most from having a franchise on their doorstep, the Phillies, with enough of a buffer zone to feel no effects, are getting the best deal of any team in baseball: a new geographic rival and a visiting fan base with a lousy home park.

Whether the team has staying power has yet to be determined, but any doubts on whether the Nationals would garner initial fan interest have been answered. The Nats have collected checks from more than 20,000 season-ticket holders. In comparison, the Expos were lucky to draw 10,000 a game and had no traveling fan base to speak of.

This winter, fans in D.C. have gotten to know their new team, and it's not a bad bunch. The Nats project as a .500 team next season, and are a few pitchers away from fielding a legitimate contender. Dig those new unis, too.

A word of advice for Nats fans as they prepare for their first season. Don’t leave any sharp objects lying around when you watch the Marlins games.

BPF reporting from Clearwater


BPF writer Martin Smith reports from Clearwater, under the brilliant sunshine, clear blue sky and slight breeze. It's enough to make folks back home sick.

Martin Smith / BPF Writer
What a day to watch my first baseball game of 2005. After a few u-turns, there's finally a new Spring Training home for the Phils. Bright House Field is a beautiful, small, modern stadium, the kind of facility where you can head to the concession stand for a soft pretzel and a $4 beer and not miss a pitch.

Bright House features Hooters ball girls on the left and right field lines, a grass bank in the outfield where you can sit on a blanket to take in the game, and Frenchy's Tiki Bar Pavillion in left for consuming large amounts of beer.

The Phils won the game before a sold out crowd. The winning hit was by pinch-hitter Tim Gradoville, who singled with the bases loaded.

All runners on board were there via walks as the AA and AAA ball players finished the game. It was a sloppy ending that saw Geoff Geary struggling to retire anybody and Jim Deschaine play a game he would love to forget. Deschaine dropped a fly ball to left that was costly, and later forgot to run from first base when Ryan Howard lined a double left.

Before the reserves filled the field, the regulars provided some fine play. Bobby Abreu walked his first two times at bats, and Jim Thome followed each with long home runs. Placido Polanco had great at bats, lining-out on a vicious drive snared by third baseman Andy Marte, and later roping a single and homering to left. Another offensive star was Chris Roberson, who likely will play in Reading this year. Roberson beat out a bunt for a single, and also stretched a routine single into a double with head down speed.


Bobby Abreu: Solid as a rock in right.

The guy that impressed me the most was super prospect third baseman Andy Marte of Atlanta. Marte made the defensive play of the game, and also matched Thome with two long home runs. Where will the Braves find a position for Chipper Jones with this player on the horizon? Chipper can't play left field, and first base has young Adam LaRoche and fabulous favorite, Julio Franco.

As we left the ballpark, finally visiting Diamond Outfiitters (there were lines to get in throughout the game), I looked back to the field to see Marlon Byrd taking extra batting practice. We exited the ballpark and most of the Hummers were gone from the players parking lot, but entering the lot was Eude Brito. So next to number 77 on our spring training program is Eude's autograph. What a great day!


BPF favorite Carlos Ruiz with his name in lights.

March 13, 2005

Late-inning heroics pace Phils past Braves


Tim Gradoville, a catcher with Clearwater and Lakewood last year, hit a two-out, two-run pinch-hit single in the 10th inning to lead the Phillies past the Braves 10-9.

Armchair analysis
Like the game last week, I saw a game decided in the late-innings by young pitchers and defense. The Phillies got out to an early lead when Jim Thome hit a pair of two-run homers, and Placido Polanco hit his second two-run shot in two days. Most of the regulars were replaced after the fifth inning. Both teams traded a couple unearned runs, one off a bobbled flyball by Phillies leftfielder Jim Deschaine. Adrian Herrera, trying to close it out for Atlanta, walked the bases loaded and gave up the single to Gradoville, just as the teams were running out of players.

Looking good
I often say the preseason doesn't mean a whole lot, especially for the veterans, but I'm kidding myself if I didn't say Placido Polanco is picking up where he left off last year and looks sharp early on. From my vantage point, watching the game on a 17-inch television in Schnecksville, Pa. and nursing a Diet Cherry Coke, he appears to be in great shape and seems determined to win back a starting job. And over at Yankee camp in the other split-squad game, there was encouraging news that Pat Burrell went 2-2 with another double.

Pitching concerns
Whether or not the Phillies are saying it, there's early concern about the starting rotation. Vicente Padilla will miss at least two weeks with elbow tendonitis, and already Gavin Floyd, their plan-B, will see action. After Floyd, the waters get dangerously shallow.

This spring, I believe the Phils are searching for an emergency arm that can get the call-up and produce, and are giving mid-level prospects Keith Bucktrot and Robinson Tejeda a lot of looks.

Bucktrot, ranked 5th-best prospect in the organization a year ago by "Baseball America," looked bad once again. Larry Anderson nailed the problem when he pointed out Bucktrot was too slow in coming over the top with his pitches, giving hitters, particularly left-handers, all day to read him. It doesn't help that his fastball has no movement. Bucktrot surrendered two earned runs including a home run in 1 and 1/3 innings yesterday.

Robinson Tejeda throws hard and can make hitters chase, but can be very wild, as he was with Reading last year. Tejeda hasn't looked bad in the two televised games, and struck out two more yesterday, but he also hit a batter hard in the back.

Geoff Geary
A good game pitched by Geoff Geary will be the first I've seen. He struggled again yesterday, giving up three hits and two runs, but earned the win by dumb luck. He's very hittable and shouldn't make the team.

Pedro Liriano and Edwin Moreno pitched the first 4 2/3 innings, each surrendering two runs.

In all, there hasn't been much to get excited about from the young pitchers this spring.