Tagged: NL East

Hallelujah, the Mets pitchers finally have a hit!

It took 40 games and 65 at-bats, but a Mets pitcher finally has a hit. Unfortunately (at least for comedic purposes), it wasn’t Bartolo Colon who broke the streak – though he did his part in contributing 11 outs to the cause. Nor was it Jenrry Mejia, who aside from being unable to get through a lineup more than once, swings as wildly as an unlatched, rusty gate during a hurricane. And no, it wasn’t Jon Niese, the owner of a .205 batting average last year and who I reckoned the staff’s best hope for salvation.

Nope, the pitcher to finally end the record-setting futility was Jacob deGrom. Who you say? Jacob. deGrom. A 25-year-old rookie making his very first appearance in the big leagues, in the final tilt of a subway series no less. And how did he do it? With all the skill left over from his former days as a shortstop at Stetson University, singling in the third inning – his first at-bat in the majors.

So what if it came against Chase Whitley?!* Though it came way too late to prevent the Mets’ motley crew of hurlers from establishing the longest hitless streak to start a season in Major League history, deGrom’s single ensured the pitchers no longer have to collectively worry about challenging the all-time longest hitless streak for pitchers – a 100-year record set by the 1914 Cleveland Naps, who contrived to go 0-for-92 (!) during one especially putrid midseason stretch.

If only deGrom could possibly have batted more for New York, perhaps then he’d have left with a debut win. His ungrateful teammates however, only scratched 2 more hits all night (in related news, Dellin Betances is a monster out of the bullpen). Poor deGrom then, who went 7 innings while allowing only four hits and two walks and striking out six, was unfortunately awarded a rather tough-luck loss.

I’ve got your back Jacob, even if your horrible offense doesn’t.

A couple of other things to note concerning this special occasion;

– If Jacoby Ellsbury had gotten just a minutely better jump out in center field, that ball is being caught. Seriously, it lands within a few feet of him. Now Ellsbury and the Yankees are probably overly-conscious of the consequences of laying out considering his brittle injury history, hence why he didn’t dive, but I prefer to believe that Ellsbury was simply in too much shock to comprehend fully what was happening. The poor guy probably wasn’t expecting the ball to leave the infield if contact was made at all.

– This is no way makes up for the shocking haircut (or lack thereof) deGrom is currently sporting.  I can absolve him of blame for the silly spelling of his surname – that isn’t his fault after all – but that hair… It’s like some nasty cross between Clay Buchholz, the 2010 version of Tim Lincecum, and Jeff Samardzija. Mind you, if he pitches anything like the latter, fans at Citi Field will soon be coveting his gnarly tresses to place in lockets over their hearts (this is how depressingly weird I imagine life as a fan of the not-so-Amazin’s to be).


* If you were looking for well-known starting pitchers, this game was not for you.

On The Bump: Rafael Montero

As the season progresses (and sadly, as more and more starters succumb to Tommy John surgery), many a young pitcher will be called up to make his ML debut. To introduce some of the more intriguing first-time starters then, I’ve a new segment: On The Bump. Consider these posts your cliff notes, a cheat sheet if you will, for looking good at the local sports bar in front of your friends, annoying your significant other at home, or purely for feeling smug whilst sneakily watching MLB.tv on your iPhone at work. Whatever floats your boat, you’ll be prepared at least. 

Who is this guy? The Mets’ No. 2 prospect behind Noah Syndergaard, that’s who! Out of the Dominican Republic Montero signed with the Mets at the relatively late age of 20 back in 2011. Despite his late introduction to professional ball stateside however, the diminutive righty has shot through the farm system to become one of the more polished pitching prospects in the game. 

What has he done? Montero split the 2013 season between Double-A and Triple-A, compiling a total of 156 innings and 150 strikeouts to go with a combined 12-7 record and 2.78 ERA in his 27 starts. Pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in Triple-A, Las Vegas’ Cashman Field, Montero greatly aided his prospect status with 88.2 innings of sub-3 FIP ball – he had a 2.87 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and surrendered only two homers in nine home starts. Having started 2014 back in the PCL, the 24-year-old has done nothing but impress once again; prior to his promotion he was 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 41 2-3 innings, and tossed 5 1-3 hitless innings (98 pitches) in his last start – a win over Salt Lake. He also started the 2013 Futures Game at Citi Field for the World team

How has he done it? Though slight of build, he possesses as close to a perfect delivery as any in the game, an easy and repeatable motion from a three quarter arm slot that truly benefits his performance. According to Marc Hulet of Fangraphs ‘[Montero’s] strengths as a pitcher are his above-average command and control, which help all three of his pitches play up. He possesses a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup.” Sounds dead-on: while he doesn’t overpower batters (though he can reach back for some 95 mph heat if he needs it), thanks to his sound mechanics, that great command of his fastball and slider in particular has allowed him to dominate his minor league competition thus far. 

Why is he pitching in the majors? Primarily because Jenrry Mejia, after a couple of decent enough starts to begin the season, has lately proven he can’t work through a big league lineup effectively more than twice (he can ‘moonwalk’ off the mound after striking out a batter to end the inning however). To wit, Mejia was limiting opponents to a .193/.258/.246 line in their first plate appearance of the game, a somewhat-palatable .245/.365/.415 triple slash the second time around, but a disastrous .405/.500/.595 clip the third time through. Combine his dicey injury history (the 24-year-old has already undergone two operations on his right elbow, including Tommy John surgery in 2011), with the Mets’ horrific relief corps (they’ve deployed both Jose Valverde and Daisuke Matsuzaka far too plentifully for a team with any self-respect), and a trip to the bullpen was log in the cards for Mejia – opening up a rotation spot.

What they’re saying: Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman gave his departing stud a nice endorsement on his way out the door – “With Rafael, he’s able to locate to both sides of the plate, commands his off-speed stuff. He throws every pitch over the plate for strikes. If he falls behind in the count, he’s capable of throwing his changeup, his breaking ball over for strikes at any time. He’s always ahead in the count and the kid really knows how to pitch.” But c’mon, what was he really going to say? The objective Hulet, in his pre-season write-up of New York’s top 10 prospects deemed that “Montero cannot challenge the ceilings of Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard but he has the potential to develop into a solid mid-rotation starter.” That’s a darn sight better than Mejia anyway.

Worth a follow on Twitter? Unfortunately not. As far as my not-so-extensive search indicated, Rafael Montero does not have Twitter, or even Instagram. He does however, have a very poorly maintained fan page on Facebook – which has so far garnered a whole 23 likes. Go Rafael!

Anything else? He’ll be squaring off against Masahiro Tanaka, who is currently the proud owner of a 2.57 ERA and perfect 5-0 record, so is unlikely to pick up the ‘win’. If he manages to notch a hit and break the Mets pitchers’ collective 0-63 streak though, he’ll be a winner in my eyes no matter what he does on the mound.

No way Jose: a Twitter sampling of Fernandez-related grief

ESPN’s Stats and Info group knew something was up:

How else could the abysmal San Diego Padres offense, Jedd Gyorko in particular, suddenly be able to touch up one of the game’s best pitchers? Something had to be wrong. Of course, Ken Rosenthal broke the news:

The exact nature of the injury was in fact, the dreaded elbow discomfort. Miami’s ace was placed on the 15-day DL, underwent an MRI scan in LA., and sent back to Florida. Cut to the five stages of Fernandez-related grief…

1. Denial

2. ANGER!

3. Bargaining

4. Depression

5. Acceptance

All we know for now, thanks to Marlins manager Mike Redmond, is that the MRI revealed a right elbow sprain. ‘Sprain’ would imply ligament trouble, as opposed to a ‘strain’ more commonly associated with muscle injuries. If the worst is later confirmed, and Fernandez joins the epic list of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery this season, robbing us of one of the game’s most exciting young talents (way more so than Matt Harvey last year I’d argue, well, Dan Symborski has the appropriate response covered:

Please, Lord, say it ain’t so. Don’t take away Jose.

The not-so-Amazin’ Mets: Colon and Co. are still hitless

Rather than providing a Bat-Flip Royale update yesterday, like I eventually did, I was initially planning on explaining a hunch. I had the first sentence all ready to go, but for some reason or other, held off on typing. As it turned out, avoiding proclaiming “tonight will be the night a pitcher records a hit for the New York Mets” was a good decision; once again, the historically bad group failed to notch a hit.

If you think that’s harsh, I’m sorry, but it’s true. New York’s pitchers – though proficient on the mound, even without nominal ace Matt Harvey and wunderkid prospect Noah Syndergaard among their ranks – are now setting records for ineptitude at the plate.

Entering Saturday’s tilt with the Colorado Rockies at (the very hitter-friendly) Coors Field, the Mets staff had been tied in terms of futility with the 1914 St. Louis Browns, whose pitchers went hitless in their first 45 ABs of the season*. When Jenrry Mejia grounded out to end the third inning though, the title was theirs alone – the not-so-Amazins’ pitchers were then officially off to the worst offensive start for the position since modern-era (from 1900 onward) scorekeeping began.

Rk G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF
1 Jon Niese 5 12 7 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 4 5 .000 .364 .000 .364 0 0 0 1 0
2 Zack Wheeler 6 11 8 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 4 .000 .111 .000 .111 0 0 0 2 0
3 Dillon Gee 6 15 12 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 5 .000 .077 .000 .077 0 0 0 2 0
4 Bartolo Colon 5 10 9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 1 0
5 Gonzalez Germen 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
6 Daisuke Matsuzaka 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
7 Jenrry Mejia 6 15 15 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
8 Carlos Torres 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Team Total 28 66 54 3 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 6 28 .000 .100 .000 .100 0 0 0 6 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/6/2014.

As the above table shows, the situation is all sorts of ugly. The aforementioned Mejia has been an unvarying offender, as he’s gone 0-for-15 on the year with six strikeouts. His one career hit came over four years ago, so there’s not much hope for drastic improvement there. Bartolo Colon‘s forays at the plate, despite having warmed many a heart with some of the GIFs of the year thus far, might somehow inspire even less optimism than Mejia; the 40-year-old has incredibly struck out in 66.7% of his at-bats so far this season, and hasn’t gotten a regular-season hit since June 10, 2005. He has 1o total in 17 major-league seasons. Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee have both drawn a walk and secured two sacrifice hits, but done nothing else aside from kill (rare) Mets rallies.

Which brings me to Jon Niese, the principal cause for my optimism yesterday – the starter who I was ready to dub the chosen one, who would finally end the barren streak. Heading into Mondays matchup against Nathan Eovaldi and the Marlins, the 27-year-old had somehow drawn walks in four of his eight trips to the plate, and boasted a career .161/.251/.189 triple slash line. Surely, surely, he had it in him to finally scratch a hit and halt the record continuing on?

Nope. Instead Niese struck out twice in his three at-bats, lowering his 2014 OBP to .364, and pushed the collective failure to a stunning 54 at-bats. Yordano Ventura for goodness sakes, he of an AL team, has single-handedly logged more hits than Mets pitchers this season thanks to his hit against San Diego yesterdayIt almost goes without saying that the group are still firmly rooted to the bottom of the National League positional splits table**.

Yes, the pitchers aren’t the only Mets struggling at the dish – Travis d’Arnaud (.195 batting average), Curtis Granderson (.185), Ruben Tejada (.195), and Eric Young (.214) are actually all paid to hit believe it or not) – but with such anemic offensive production elsewhere in the lineup, the Mets can ill afford to literally make an automatic out every time through the lineup. The fact of the matter is, hits from pitchers do often matter: Three of the top four NL teams in pitcher batting average last season—Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Atlanta—made the playoffs, something Mets GM Sandy Alderson surely must have been hoping for when he told staff before the season he expected 90 wins. They need to get on the board, and soon, but with Mejia due up again tonight, and the team’s best hope Niese facing Cole Hamels on Sunday too, it might be a while yet until the pitchers get off the schneid.

Good job I held off on making my bold prediction eh?


* The Atlanta Braves’ pitchers came closest in recent times, having started 0-for-39 in both 2008 and 2011.

** Which is slightly surprising in itself; I did not expect a team employing Tim Lincecum to be at the summit, though the Giants are almost exclusively there thanks to Madison Bumgarner‘s April grand slam. Meanwhile, I would have guessed the Dodgers, with the handy Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and when he returns, Clayton Kershaw, would have been nearer the top. Instead, they’re languishing in 11th, at least in terms of hitting for average.

It’s getting Uggly in Atlanta.

It has been 8 games worth of surprises for the Atlanta Braves. After losing Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm to free agency over the offseason, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery in consecutive spring starts, and being forced to choose between Aaron Harang and Freddy frickin Garcia for the fourth, let alone the fifth, spot in their Opening Day rotation, the club currently leads the majors in starter’s ERA – their mark of 1.37 more than half a run better than the second-place Detroit Tigers. On the other side of the coin however, their offense – aside from the newly minted Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons – has so far been abysmal; The Upton brothers have cumulatively struck out 24 times in 62 plate appearances. Jason Heyward is batting .188. The team ranks 27th in slugging percentage (.331), 28th in OBP (.264), and last in runs (19). Things haven’t exactly been helped by Fredi Gonzalez‘s questionable lineup construction, but it’s clear something needs to change – in a much more competitive NL East than the walkover the division was last year, the rotation simply won’t be able to keep such a flailing offense afloat for much longer.

Speaking of flailing, Atlanta’s much-maligned second baseman Dan Uggla might well be the first to be sacrificed should the #Barves’ offensive woes continue. Signed to a 5-year, $62.5 million deal back in December 2010 after being acquired from the then-Florida Marlins in exchange for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn, the burly keystoner’s numbers have worsened in every year in ATL. After launching 27 home runs or better in each of his four years in Florida, notching a cumulative wRC+ of 118, and accruing 15.6 WAR (all while being paid just $14,286,000 total), Uggla has since hit only .213/.321/.401 as a Brave, and thus become one of the fans’ two whipping boys (along with B.J. Upton), the pair emblematic of Atlanta’s endemic failure to make consistent contact on offense, and frequent miscues in the field – both of which have doomed in the playoffs the past two seasons. 

It is at this point I should point out that Uggla’s 2013 was so particularly disastrous, even with his $13 million salary, he didn’t actually make the postseason roster; during the regular season, he had been an abject disaster at the plate, striking out 31.8% of the time on his way to hitting just .179 – the second lowest average for any Brave in Atlanta’s near 50-year history (Jody Davis, a catcher, notched the lowest mark – .169 in 1989), all whilst similar struggling in the field – not even his vaguely playable 2013 OBP of .309 could save Uggla from getting bench splinters when you factored in his -5.9 UZR. By the end of the year the 34-year-old had acquired -1.3 WAR in just 136 games.

 

Perhap to be expected of someone seemingly sliding down the aging curve so precipitously, not much has improved in 2014 thus far – Uggla is hitting just .194 early on, with a truly horrid .188 OBP and 15 wRC+. Even his trademark power has disappeared, his isolated slugging mark of .065 a disaster when considering how the slugger has also yet to take a walk in his 32 plate appearances. Small sample size be dashed, it’s truly apparent that Uggla is toast, in need of replacing – and pronto – if Atlanta are ever going to kickstart their potentially above-average offense into gear. Fortunately, should they eventually recognize that the $26 million they still owe Uggla over this year and next is a sunk cost, they already have just the man for the second base job.

Down in the minors at Triple-A Gwinnett, Tommy La Stella is drawing rave reviews from scouts –  per Baseball Prospectus‘ ‘What Scouts Are Saying: April 10th, 2014‘ one talent evaluator noted of the 25-year-old:

One of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues and yet you don’t hear many people talk about him. I get that he’s older and not going to win a Gold Glove at 2B, but what stops him from becoming the next Matt Carpenter? Look at the numbers, recognize the approach, and watch the swing, and it’s clear he is something special.

That’s a pretty ringing endorsement considering how Carpenter finished fourth in NL MVP voting last year in his first season as a full-time regular. But it’s true; the pair profile extremely similarly through their minor league careers, La Stella’s four-year average line of .328/.412/.495 actually comparing favorably to Carpenter’s .299/.408/.450 triple slash over the same span. Judged by Fangraphs to have “fringe-average” defensive skills, the 25-year-old would be a considerable upgrade over Uggla in the field, and with “a strong left-handed swing with good bat speed and excellent hand-eye coordination… a good eye and a patient approach,” a welcome contact-conscious addition to the whiff-happy Braves*.

It’s somewhat incredible already that he wasn’t called up to replace Uggla last year given his production, nor made the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, but after 8 games it should be clear; this shouldn’t even be a matter of whether the Atlanta offense needs a boost (which it most certainly does) – At this point, Uggla needs to find himself a seat, it’s Tommy La Stella’s time to surprise.


 

*Awesome geeky stat of the day: in La Stella’s four minor league seasons, he has accrued 1012 plate appearances, and walked 113 times compared to just 89(!) strikeouts. Uggla had his 90th strikeout by June 19th last year – in his 67th game of the season no less. 

 

An Inconvenient Truth; Ryan Zimmerman belongs at 1B.

Finally, there appears to be some resolution in the nation’s capital. After saying on Sunday that Ryan Zimmerman merely had inflammation in his right shoulder, not structural damage, and that he expected the 29-year-old to remain at the hot corner for the remainder of the season, new Nationals manager Matt Williams admitted to 106.7 The Fan FM on Monday night that his third baseman actually has an arthritic shoulder, and might soon see time at first base if the move were to keep him off the DL.

Williams’ admission came off the back of another ghastly throwing error by Zimmerman in the fourth inning of Saturday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves, an errant toss that allowed Andrelton Simmons to reach on what was an otherwise routine grounder, a run to score on the play, and the floodgates to open; Stephen Strasburg would allow another run in the frame on a Julio Teheran single and four more in the fifth, knocking him from the game as the Nats fell to their 15th loss to the Braves in their last 21 games against their division rivals. 

That particular play on Saturday was a microcosm of the struggles Zimmerman has experienced since undergoing major shoulder surgery in November 2012. Previously an excellent defender – he averaged 11.1 UZR per year between 2007 to 2010, winning the NL Gold Glove award in ’09 – Zimmerman’s fielding value had already dropped off from its Evan Longoria/Adrian Beltre-like peak to a more league-average level during 2011-2012, before falling off a cliff last year; his horrific 2013 mark of -14.0 UZR in 1245.2 innings wasn’t far off the -16.8 number put up by the statuesque Miguel Cabrera, the loopy throws resulting from his sidearm motion frequently pulling Adam LaRoche off the first base bag – and occasionally putting the first couple of rows of spectators in danger too.  Playing shallower in order to shorten his throws to first didn’t help his rating much either; as Davey Johnson picked up on last year, Zimmerman’s taking a couple of strides closer to the batter has severely diminished his range, allowing more ground balls to get by than ever, and additionally dragging Ian Desmond further over from short. 

Within a couple of years then, the Nationals have witnessed their star groundball-vacuum become a complete defensive liability. It’s not like the Nats can simply bench Zimmerman either. Since becoming the first player the Nationals took in the draft after the team relocated to Washington, chosen out of the University of Virginia with the fourth overall pick in 2005, he has been the rock of their lineup, collecting two Silver Slugger awards on his way to a career .286/.352/.477 triple slash line. Throw in his six-year, $100 million contract extension – signed after an injury-shortened 2011, but only kicking in this past week – which will lock him through his age-34 season too, and it’s clear Washington aren’t about to declare Zimmerman simply a sunk cost. 

All things considered, there’s never been a greater time to move Zimmerman to first base; positional incumbent Adam LaRoche isn’t the player who the Nats re-signed after a monster 2012, and is in the last year of his contract. Anthony Rendon played third in college, so could feasibly slide around from second. Danny Espinosa, benched last year in favor of Rendon, could ably fill in at the keystone. On days facing lefties, such a construction might actually be an improvement given how Espinosa has hit southpaws better than LaRoche (he has a .258 average, .332 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage as compared to LaRoche’s .244/.300/.429 line). 

Yes there are downsides to such a plan – the team would be dreadfully thin in terms on infield depth, LaRoche would be wasted, and there would be extra pressure on Zimmerman’s bat at the less physically-, but more statistically-demanding position of first – but at this point, after putting off such a move last year, the transition is long overdue. . Putting his shoulder, and therefore his bat, and thus the $100 million still owed to him, back at third is a recipe for disaster – and not just for those fans behind first. Even with the ascension of Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond, not to mention the addition of Jayson Werth, the Nationals still need Zimmerman; though he might not be the franchise cornerstone of a couple of years ago, he is still a vital part of their offense – and someone crucial to their chances as a postseason contender.

Williams’ words today then mark a welcome recognition of an inconvenient truth. Whether he follows through in committing to such a less-than-ideal situation remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure; the ticket holders behind first base will be grateful if he does.