Monday, November 29, 2004

Hey Doc

Although not as glamourous as the Pedro Martinez rumors, there was another story about the Mets this weekend that is just as important. On Saturday, the excellent Mets beat writer Adam Rubin of the Daily News reported that the team had rehired prominent doctor/model David Altchek to replace their doctor Andrew Rokito.

Just before the 2002 season, the Mets auctioned the rights to be the official medical staff of the team and eventually signing a three-year deal with th
e New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases (NYUHJD) that paid them roughly $4 million. As a result, Altchek, the team physician for over 10 years, was let go. At time, the general manager Steve Phillips admitted that the change was at least partially motivated by profit.

"We feel that we have a stronger business relationship with this deal as well as maintaining the high quality of care for our players," Phillips said in February when he announced the switch. "There was no lack of quality care given by David Altchek."
In addition to the revenue, the Mets also received the services of the Andrew Rokito-led group from NYU Medical Center-Hospital for Joint Diseases at no cost. In return, the hospital got the exclusive right to "promote itself as the the team's official hospital" as well as "free tickets and periodic visits from players." Obviously the switch was met with skepticism and criticism from people around baseball like union officer Gene Orza, super-agent Scott Boras and several players, including fan-favorite Turk Wendell:
"These arrangements suggest the medical care is not based on a person's expertise but on the depth of his pockets," said Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

"It's certainly a sign of the times," Boras says of selling team physician rights. "But it's hard to believe a team might sacrifice the best possible medical care for a small amount of revenue."
"If you've got a $90 million payroll," Wendell said of the Mets, "are you going to go with the highest bidder or someone you know is the best possible doctor? No knock on those (NYU) doctors, but if you have a guy who knows the players and their (medical) history and they like him, why change?"
Faced with the criticism of subjecting their players to substandard health care in order to make a few extra dollars, the Mets went on an all out public relations "damage control." Emphazing their pledge to provide the best health care for their players had not been at all compromised by these arrengements, David Howard said the following:
"To suggest that we would place the health and well-being of our most valuable asset at risk for the sake of a sponsorship agreement is absolutely ludicrous. We have received extraordinary health care, because we did our due diligence in looking for the best possible care," Mr. Howard said of the deal with the New York University-Hospital for Joint Diseases. "At the same time, when we make a decision like this, we put an extraordinarily powerful stamp of approval on that medical entity. The health-care providers recognized this first."

After an inordinate amount of injuries over the last three years, there is no denying that the team regret ever signing that deal. Although Jose Reyes' hamstrings and Vladimir Guerrero's bad back diagnosis have received the most publicity, the problem has had even deeper consequences. Fellow Met blogger 3AM, did some research on the topic and found out by going through the MLB transactions that the Mets have had a lot of injuries in the past two years:

4/12/04 - Placed OF Cliff Floyd on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right quad.
4/08/04 - Placed RHP Scott Erickson on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring.
9/05/03 - Placed Jose Reyes on the 15-day DL, retroactive to Sept. 1, with a sprained left ankle.
8/19/03 - Placed OF Cliff Floyd on the 15-day disabled list with a sore right Achilles' tendon.
7/07/03 - Placed LHP Al Leiter on the 15-day disabled list with inflamation in his knee.
6/14/03 - Placed LHP Mike Stanton on the 15-day disabled list with torn meniscus in his left knee.
5/27/03 - Placed OF Timo Perez on the 15-day diabled list with a strained right calf.
5/22/03 - Placed INF Jay Bell on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin.
5/16/03 - Placed C Mike Piazza on the 15-day DL with torn groin.
5/11/03 - Placed RHP Scott Strickland on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right groin.
3/28/03 - Placed RHP Grant Roberts on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendonitis

Moreover, not only have Met players suffered a lot of injuries, but they have also been slow to recover, sometimes even because of team doctors' misdiagnoses. Since taking over in 2002, Rokito and his team has misdiagnosed Met players at least three times. First in September that year when he told Franco that he was suffering from a garden-variety case of tendinitis. Then when he misdiagnosed Reyes' stress fracture and allowed him to continue playing even though he was injured. The final straw for Met brass was probably when relief pitcher Mike DeJean was cleared to pitch even though the "technician and doctor who originally examined the MRI found a break."

Looking to solve the injury problem, the Mets have replaced trainer
Scott Lawrenson, who had been on the major-league staff since 1996, and now team doctor Andrew Rokito with Ray Ramirez and the aforementioned Dr. Altchek. One can only hope that these changes will put an end to the Mets' many injury woes.

***

For more information on the Mets' medical staff, and recent injuries, check Metsblog.com's recent interview with BP's medical reporter, Will Caroll.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Who's on First?

As I mentioned before, first-base has not been has not been an asset for the Mets ever since John Olerud left. Well, the next prospect in our list is hoping he gets the chance to change that.

4. Ian Bladergroen


Another product of the 2002 draft, Ian Bladergroen was signed as a "draft and follow" in 2003. Listed at 6-5 and 210 pounds, the left-handed hitting Bladergroen fits the profile of the typical slugging first-baseman

Age 20 285/354/416 21 XBHs 21/51 bb/so 274 ABs [R]
Age 21 342/397/595 29 XBHs 25/54 bb/so 269 ABs [A-]

After a decent start in the New York-Penn League, Bladergroen finally showed why he earned the nickname of "The Blade" during his time with the Capital City Bombers in 2004. Before going down with a wrist injury in July, the Lamar product was helping the Bombers post the highest winning percentage of any full-season team in the minor leagues this year. Hitting for power and average, Bladergroen did more than turn a few heads around the league. Here is what opposing manager Ken Joyce said about him:

"He was aggressive and would chase a bit like a young slugger," said Charleston (W.Va.) manager Ken Joyce, "but he had a real nice swing and legitimate big-time power. His swing path put the bat in the (strike) zone for a long time."
With more than 40 percent of his hits going for extra-bases, there is no denying that Bladergroen, has tremendous power potential. At age 21, he is neither young nor old for the Sally League but like Bowman before him, the only question is how his plate discipline will hold up at at the higher levels. Here is what John Sickels, ESPN's minor league expert, says about him in his Down the Farm mailbag section:
His plate discipline is only adequate (25 walks, 52 strikeouts in 261 at-bats), and there are some concerns about his ability to make contact and work the count effectively against more advanced pitching. He doesn't have a great glove, but if he hits they will find a spot for him. We need to see how he holds up against pitchers who know what they are doing, but so far his career is off to a fine start.
Among the leaders in most of the offensive categories and on pace to brake the Cyclones' RBI record, Bladergroen's season was cut short on July 1st after injuring his left wrist. To repair damaged cartilage and ligaments on it, he underwent surgery which according to team doctors would take eight weeks to heal and another eight to rehab. Scheduled to begin next season at the pitching friendly Florida State League, he'll get a chance to prove this "Blade" hasn't lost its edge.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Hot Corner

Just a few months ago, the Mets had one of the best farm systems in baseball. However, the asinine trades of the July deadline combined with the promotion of David Wright, hit the farm system hard. Although there are few bonafide blue chip prospects left, the Mets do have some interesting prospects in the low minors. So without further ado, here are, in my opinion, the five best prospects in the system:

5. Shawn Bowman

For 42 years, the Mets' search for a thirdbaseman had been nothing short of puzzling and frustating. After going over 128 third-sackers without much success, the Mets finally found an answer for their hot-corner woes in phenom David Wright. Although not as hyped as Wright, the Mets do have some interesting prospects down in the minors in Aarom Baldiris. Shawn Bowman and recently drafted Nick Evans. Of the three, Bowman probably has the most potential, and that is why he comes in at number five in the list.

The Mets signed Shawn Bowman after drafting him in the 12th round of the 2002 draft from high school in Canada. Originally drafted as a shorstop, he's made a quick and seemless transition to third base impressing scouts and fans alike. According to a scouting report in NYFO's website:

"Hands down Bowman is the best defensive third base prospect I can ever remember seeing", says one NL scout. "In fact, if he continues to better himself at the plate, he's got the defensive skills to move David Wright over to first base, that's how good that kid is. He looks like Brooks Robinson."
No, the Mets are not moving Wright out of third base. But the fact that someone, anyone thinks Bowman could potentially be able to move "the franchise" to 1b speaks volumes of the defensive prowness Shawn Bowman posseses. The hot corner has typically been a source of great offensive production over the years, so if Bowman has any chance of displacing Wright, he'll have to do a little more than play defense.

Age 18 121/216/152 1/13 bb/so 0 HRs 33 ABs [R]
Age 18 203/260/268 10/49 bb/so 0 HRs 138 ABs [R]
Age 19 258/338/449 39/121 bb/so 19 HRs 396 ABs [A=]

Signed in late August of 2002, Bowman had to wait a year to make his professional debut in Kingsport last year. Although he was quick to adapt to his new position, he struggled mightly at the plate failing to hit for power or average. In 2004, after correcting some mechanical flaws, Bowman was promoted to the Capital City Bombers, the Mets low A ball affiliate. There, he finally showed tremendous power from day one. Bowman, one of the youngest players in the league, hit 19 HRs on his way to a breakthrough season and posted a better OPS than David Wright did at the same age and league:

Bowman, Shawn. Age 19 [A-]
258/338/449 19 HRs 37 XBHs 39/121 bb/so 396 ABs

Wright, David. Age 19 [A-]
266/367/401 11 HRs 43 XBHs 76/114 bb/so 496 ABs

When evaluating prospects, aside from age and league, two things come into my mind: Control of the Strike Zone, and Power. These two skills tend to be the best indicators of whether or not a players' minor league statistics will translate to big-league success.

The most important quality in any player is Plate Discipline. It can break or make a prospect. Although there are some exceptions, the reluctance to take walks will usually stall player's development at higher levels as pitchers will usually use a hitters' aggressiveness against him. Generally it is believed that if a player walks in 10% of his at-bats, he has adaquate plate discipline. Here's how both Bowman and Wright did based on this rule of thumb:

Bowman 0.098 BB/AB
Wright 0.153 BB/AB

Advantage Wright.

The next quality a prospect must possess to be considered an "elite" prospect is Power. Given that many prospects initially possess only gap power and develop HR power as they mature , its usually not a good idea to focus solely on home run total or slugging percentage, especially in the low minors. For that reason, some people use XBH% to determine which player has the better power.

Bowman 0.363 XBH%
Wright 0.326 XBH%

Advantage Bowman.

Though he hit for more power, Bowman's season wasn't as good David Wright's. Superior plate discipline gives David the edge here, but by no means does it diminish the former's season. Although strikeouts are a concern [he struck out in almost a 1/3 of his ABs], his excellent defense, and tremendous power potential combined with his young age make Shawn Bowman one of the most intriguing prospects in all of baseball. If he is able to cut his strikeouts and walk just a tad more, there is no telling where he'll end up. Who knows? Maybe even playing third base for the New York Mets.

Rule V

I started doing a Rule 5 preview, but when researching for it, I found that the Blue Jay's excellent blog The Batter's Box had one. So instead of writing one myself, I advice you check out theirs instead.

If thats not enough, Rotoworld's Matthew Pouliot chimes in with a Rule 5 preview of his own. Enjoy.

Monday, November 22, 2004

baseball etc

Its official. Benson is a Met. While that was pretty much old news, Kevin Czerwinski, who seems to have a love/hate relationship with the team, clues us in on some Met news:

In other news, Minaya said that the Mets can approach filling the void at first base via free agency or trade, though the club has not had discussions with representatives for former Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado. He added that he wouldn't necessarily wait until the Winter Meetings to try and improve the team.
Minaya seems to have subtle ways of pissing me off. How can you not have called Carlos Delgado's agent? I'm sorry, but when you spend weeks trying to acquire Steroid Sammy, there is no excuse for not calling Delgado.
Minaya also said that he expects the coaching staff to be named shortly, likely on Tuesday. Manny Acta, Mookie Wilson, Sandy Alomar, Sr. and possibly Guy Conti are all expected to join pitching coach Rick Peterson.
Well....it sure beats Larry Bowa. Click the link, I promise you won't be dissapointed.

Also, if you have some time, check out THT to find an excellent analysis on the Benson signing by Met fan Studes.

Finally, why do I get this feeling that Theo is going to end up with JJ Davis this offseason? Speaking of Davis, I'm working on a rule V [yes, I'm going to keep calling it this] preview. Hopefully, I'll have it up by tomorrow.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Coming to a ballpark near you...

The deadline to protect players not on the 40 man roster was Saturday and not surprisingly, the Mets didn't protect Blake McGinley. Considering all the dead weight on the roster, I think this is a pretty bad idea and the first strike against Minaya. Having said that, I understand why he wasn't protected. The Mets are not a performance analysis type organization and they don't believe that minor league statistics predict major league performance with any reliability. Does this excuse the refusal to lose Blake? Absolutely not. Good organizations don't depend solely on one set of evaluations to make decisions. Good organizations don't throw away minor leaguers with excellent statistics just because Wayne Lydon and Todd Zeile need to be protected. Good organizations give a chance to guys like McGinley. Then again, no one said the Mets were a good organization...

In other news, the Mets signed Kris Benson yesterday to a 3-year, $22.5 M deal. Certainly they overpaid, but as always, those 2 or so million won't prevent them from signing anyone. Benson is no ace, and his ERA seem awfully high for a guy who's going to make more than 7 million the next three years, but this isn't a "typical Met signing." For starters, Benson, unlike some other Met pitchers [Glavine, Trax I'm looking at you] is young and has some potential. He has pretty good stuff, including a filthy curveball and a 90+ fastball. More importantly, his peripherals last year were pretty good. His DIPS ERA was 3.80, easily one of the best in baseball. Basically, he throws strikes, doesn't walk many and doesn't give up that many HRs. With the help of Shea, a hopefully better defense, and Uncle "10 minutes" Rick, this could be a good signing. Here's what Dan Szymborski's ZIPS say about him:

Benson, Kris - 2005 ZiPS Projection (30)

-----------------------------------------------
W L G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA
-----------------------------------------------
9 10 27 27 164 164 73 14 56 113 4.01

Finally, Jose Reyes and Victor Diaz have been dazzling in their Winter League debuts. Through the 19th, our "main man," as Avkash likes to call him, was hitting .358 with a 438 OBP, a HR, a double and 2 walks in 14 ABs. Reyes also had 2 hits in yesterday's game, but I don't know in how many ABs. Equally impressive was last year's rookie of the year, Victor Diaz who through 42 ABs is hitting a robust .357 with a 449 OBP, 3 homers and a 6/12 bb/so ratio.

PS. I finally got around adding some links to other Met and baseball blogs. Check them out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I hate Minaya

Sorry, I haven't updated anything, but I've been quite busy lately. Moreover, these Sosa rumors have me completely depressed. Ugh.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Delgaaaadit ™

Ever since John Olerud left to Seattle at the end of the magical 1999 season, first base has been a huge problem for the boys of Flushing. The Mets have tried everything and everyone to replace the excellent production Olerud took with him. A fallen star, two catchers, a couple of third basemen, and several outfielders have all tried but eventually failed to replace the popular first-baseman. At no point was this more evident than during the past season, in which the Mets got perhaps the worst defensive and offensive production at 1b in the history of the game:

2004
275/361/471 All 1b
237/326/268 Mets' 1b

Yes, that was not a typo. Mike Piazza, Jason Phillips, Todd Zeile, and Craig Brazell among others were truly that awful. So awful in fact that even Joe McEwing, he of the 59 OPS+, slugged for a higher percentage that the pathetic collection of Met first-baseman did in 2004. To this McEwingesque offensive display was added the the star-crossed Mike Piazza experiment. Needless to say, this move was a total failure since not only did Mike not hit as a 1b, he was also unquestionably the worst defensive first-baseman in the majors this year. I guess the best thing you could say about this group is that since they were so awful both defensively and offensively, there is no possible way the Mets couldn't be better at first base next year. Moreover, given that there is no other position at which the Mets would have more potential for an upgrade than first-base, and no one in the farm system that could be viewed as a long-term solution, Minaya has to make acquiring a first-baseman the club's biggest priority. So who should they acquire? Glad you ask.

Carlos Delgado
344 /470/664 123/104 bb/so 41 HRs 99 XBHs 569 ABs
279 /408/540 111/136 bb/so 39 HRs 71 XBHs 574 ABs
277 /406/549 102/126 bb/so 33 HRs 69 XBHs 505 ABs
302 /426/593 109/137 bb/so 42 HRs 81 XBHs 570 ABs
269 /372/535 69/115 bb/so 32 HRs 58 XBHs 458 ABs

Over the last 5+ years, Carlos Delgado has been one of the best kept secrets in baseball. A left-handed slugger, Delgado combines both power and patience to be one of the elite hitters in the league. According to ESPN's scouting report, he has "enourmous power to both alleys" and "shows patience in search of his pitch," having drawn more than 100 walks in four of his last five seasons. In 2003, he led the league in walks, RBIs, OPS, OPS+ and several other offensive categories in way to another MVP type season. Delgado, who missed a total of only 30 games from 1999 to 2003, was finally hit by the injury bug this season. After a decent April, a rib-cage injury slowed him down in May and eventually landed him on the DL through June. After missing about 30 games, Delgado came back to the Blue Jays' lineup and he came back with a vengance hitting .305/.408/.625 with 22 homers, 16 doubles and 63 RBIs after the All-Star break.

Despite his outstanding numbers, signing Delgado is not a slam dunk. Age, health, Shea are legitimate concerns as to why signing him wouldn't make the most sense. However, the biggest hurdle the "Delgado to the Mets" movement faces is the price. How much is Carlos Delgado worth?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Bright Tangerine Cuban Sunset

Back in July when the Mets were "battling" for first place, the then general manager Jim Duquette made a signing that not a lot of people remember. I'm talking about the signing of Cuban pitcher Alay Soler. So who is this Cuban fireballer and what are the chances he'll succeed? Well, I did a bit of research and this is what I found out.

Soler, an ace with the Cuban national team, last season was 10-4 with a 2.01 ERA in 125 1/3 innings, with 28 walks and 102 strikeouts. He defected to the US in November of 2003 and after outbidding the Reds, Devil Rays and Cubs for his services, the Mets signed him to a 3 year deal worth 2.8 million dollars. At the time, Duquette had this to say about him:

"Soler is a big strong right-hander with a power arm," GM Jim Duquette said. "He has command of all of his pitches -- fastball, curveball, changeup and a slider. We are happy to add a player with Alay's international experience to our organization."
Moreover, Jorge Oquendo, the Reds' Latin American scouting director, and someone who has followed Soler very closely, had this to say about the Cuban:
"He's an outstanding pitcher," Oquendo said. "He's a Roger Clemens-type pitcher. He throws his fastball 93to 96 mph. He throws a splitter at 88-89mph, and he's got an outstanding changeup. He's got three solid pitches, with command."
Obviously, we should take these quotes with a grain of salt. After all, the track record of great Cuban pitchers in the major leagues is not encouraging and scouts do tend to hype foreign talents. Off the top of my head, here are some of the stats of the more recent high-profile Cuban defectors who have pitched in the majors:

4.16 era 1404.1 ip 102 era+ Livan Hernandez
3.96 era 876.1 ip 116 era+ Orlando Hernandez
3.86 era 359.1 ip 115 era+ Danny Baez
4.86 era 241.1 ip 95 era+ Jose Contreras
6.55 era 44.0 ip 66 era+ Adrian Hernandez

I'm not sure we can reach any conclusions about Soler using only five pitchers. But if the paths of these pitchers are an indication, his upside is a slightly above average innings eater 4th starter and his downside is a journeyman pitcher. Given that the financial commitment was pretty insignificant [to the Mets anyway], I think signing Soler was a good gamble. According to what I've read, the Mets are planning to starting Soler at Binghamton [AA] and they are hoping he makes a quick ascension through the system.

Currently, Soler is pitching for the Leones del Escogido of the Dominican Winter League. He's made two starts and his numbers so far are pretty impressive: 3.00 era 9 ip 1/17 bb/so . In his first start, the Cuban right-hander provided a glimpse of why the Mets are so high on him by striking out the 1st six hitters to face him. He struck out 10, walked no one and allowed only one hit through 5 shut out innings. If he continues to mantain that K/BB ratio, not even Al Leiter's veteran leadership will be able to keep Soler from getting a spot in the rotation.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Jim Thome? No problem!

Last time I wrote an endorsment for the liberation of Blake McGinley because I feared that the Mets might not realize what they have in him. Well, it turns out I, as usual, was wrong. Kevin Morgan, one of Minaya's assistants and the Mets' minor league director, has noticed and has nothing but praise for the southpaw. He tells Marty Noble on the 11/4 Baseball America write-up:

"He's not overpowering, but he has above-average command," Morgan said. "His curveball is his best pitch, particularly against lefthanded hitters. He throws a changeup and a fastball and mixes them intelligently. And we like what he's shown us lately."

Given that his best pitch is a curveball which gives left-handed fits, you'd expect McGinley to be some sort of left-handed specialist. After all, bullpen specialization has become a fashionable trend, as more teams have become aware of the platoon differential and constructed their bullpens around potential late-game matchups. While tedious to the average fan, this strategy does have its merits. However, one of the problems with exploiting such game plan is that there are only so many roster spots and having a LOOGY usually is taxing to a bullpen. Ideally, when looking for a left-handed specialist, you want one who is death against LHB but good enough against righties that you don't have to take them out after one or two batters. So, is McGinley one of those guys?

"He's still learning," minor league director Kevin Morgan said. "We don't want to limit his experience. We know he handles lefties. The more righthanded hitters he faces, the better he'll be against them."
Oh did I mention that he usually goes 2+ innings? Yep, the guy can pitch. It'd be in the Mets' best interest to give this guy 50-70 innings next year and groom him to become Mike "Game Over" Stanton's successor. Not only will he be better, he'll also be cheaper too. Free Blake McGinley!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Free Blake McGinley!

As you might already know, after 14 seasons with the club, John Franco will no longer pitch for the Mets.

The Mets told me I’m not in their plans on the field, and that’s fine. Sometimes you have to move on.... It’s been 15 years, and who knows, maybe later on I’ll come back again.
Not bringing Franco back was a no-brainer so I'm not willing to give the Minaya clan any credit for that. However, if they are able to resist going the "proven veteran" route, and instead give a youngster a chance to at least compete for the job, all might not be lost. Instead of foolishly wasting money on someone like Steve Kline, I want the Mets to give Blake McGinley a chance.

Blake McGinley

1.46 era 12.1 ip 3/16 bb/so 0 hr [winter leagues]
4.05 era 26.2 ip 7/28 bb/so 1 hr [AAA]
3.72 era 72.2 ip 15/83 bb/so 9 hr [AA]
1.02 era 79.1 ip 20/83 bb/so 0 hr [A+]

Although his ERA has been climbing up, the thing to look for are his peripherals [K/9, BB/9 and K/BB] which prety much have remained constant. With a very healthy K/9, you would expect Blake to throw some serious gas, right? Well, wrong. Here is what JJ Cooper of Baseball America said about him when 3AM asked about him:
To quote someone I asked about McGinley "He may NP his way all the way to the big leagues." It's impossible to explain McGinley's success, as he has fringy stuff, no trick pitch and not even a particularly deceptive delivery, but something's working very well. You can't deny that K:BB ratio, so he gets a chance next year to prove he can do it against Double-A hitters.
http://www.baseballamerica.com/chat/112103metschat.html
To me, there is nothing worse than watching a pitcher, especially a reliever, nibble around the strikezone. I have always believed that pitchers who have the ability to get ahead and stay ahead of hitters have an advantage. I believe Blake McGinley is one of those pitchers. Whether Blake McGinley is on the opening day roster next year or not should go a long way towards clarifying what direction the Minaya Mets are taking.

voila

Given the lack of Met blogs [ha] and my complete apathy for accounting, I've decided to create a blog of my own.