Accountability Or Posing

Books, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Uncategorized

There was talk—specifically from Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen—that the club should consider demoting Mike Pelfrey.

Given the righty’s struggles so far this season; that he has remaining minor league options; and the new era of accountability with the Mets that has taken hold, it’s not a totally ludicrous idea to ship a veteran—albeit a young veteran—to the minor leagues to straighten himself out.

Would this be a positive maneuver for the mets? Would it do more harm than good? And would it be seen as an overreaction to take a relatively proven starting pitcher like Pelfrey and send him down?

Because the Mets supposedly have an “extra” starting pitcher with Dillon Gee and Chris Young healthy (for now), they can conceivably look at the six (Pelfrey, Gee, Young, Chris Capuano, R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese) and say that Pelfrey’s been the worst of the group and, based on performance and not a scholarship for the past (or time served—this is the Mets we’re talking about), he should be demoted.

Putting him in the bullpen makes no sense; nor does it make sense to use Gee out there.

So what to do?

I don’t see sending Pelfrey to Triple A as a viable option at this point. The Mets reactionary dumping of winter darling and vaunted Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus was indicative of the short window of opportunity certain players are going to get under the new regime; 42 plate appearances and out was neither fair nor was it an accurate gauge of what Emaus can and can’t do. Mets assistant GM J.P. Ricciardi drafted Emaus while he was GM of the Blue Jays, presumably he knows what he is; if what he is is the hitter we saw in those 42 plate appearances, the Mets: A) should’ve halted the outside rhetoric of what a steal they got; and B) shouldn’t have given him the 2nd base job to start with.

Pelfrey did win 15 games last season and should’ve been an All Star.

Yes, he’s inconsistent; yes, he gets flustered and implodes; but he’s a big, workhorse starter who will be an innings-gobbling and durable entity on a good team.

GM Sandy Alderson has preached that name recognition, contractual status and ancillary factors won’t influence his decisionmaking. He’s acted in accordance with that statement in releasing Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo and by dispatching Emaus so quickly. But to send Pelfrey to the minors would be too much too soon. A bad April isn’t cause to embarrass the opening day starter to that degree. Sending him to Buffalo won’t do him much good with the issues that currently plague him. Plus, what difference should it really make to the Mets now as anything other than florid showmanship to exert the front office’s authority on the veteran players?

He’s not pitching poorly due to a lack of effort. That would be grounds for immediate demotion. He’s off to a bad start and a large part of it is clearly mental—he feels he has to step up and take the place of the injured Johan Santana, something he’s not capable nor equipped to do. His problems appear to be in his head and with his mechanics.

I wouldn’t have gone the route of manager Terry Collins when the built-in excuse from Friday night was that Pelfrey’s bout with the flu  was a large factor in his poor outing; if he wasn’t healthy enough to pitch, he shouldn’t have pitched; and he was fine for the first few innings before the wheels came off.

It was a weak caveat from the manager designed to protect; it wound up looking like an after-the-fact bit of whining because that’s what it was.

There are times to take a strong stand and perhaps even issue the threat of demotion; there’s nothing wrong with putting a little scare in someone who might have gotten a bit too comfortable in his station, but now’s not that time for Pelfrey.

If he pitches poorly throughout May and casts the pretense of one who’d benefit from such a wakeup call, then fine; but to do it now is a bullying tactic that won’t do any good. If sending him down is a consideration, they shouldn’t do it until the warm weather comes and a greater basis upon the move can be reached.

Besides all that, Young’s not going to stay healthy; so the point is moot.

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Mets Dump Brad Emaus

Books, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

After 42 plate appearances; a .162 batting average with no power; and a .262 on base percentage, the player that some were suggesting could  be the Mets version of hitting the lottery as the Marlins did with Dan Uggla in 2006, is gone.

Or maybe not gone.

It depends.

The Mets designated Brad Emaus for assignment today and recalled Justin Turner. What that means is that Emaus has to pass through waivers and, after ten days if he’s unclaimed, the Rule 5 selection will be offered back to the Blue Jays; if they refuse or decide to work out a trade with the Mets, he can stay with the club where they’ll be free to send him to Triple A Buffalo—technical details culled from MLBTradeRumors.

On the bright side for the Mets, the way Emaus hit, it’s hard to see anyone claiming him and having to keep him on the big league roster; the Blue Jays may not be interested in taking him back either, so he’ll stay a Met.

I was skeptical when all this talk about Emaus began after the Mets claimed him. His minor league numbers are eye-catching, but lightning strikes like what happened with the Marlins and Uggla are exceedingly rare. Emaus did have an on base percentage .100 points higher than his putrid batting average, so he has ability to work the count and get on base; and his defense at second was better than advertised.

But what were the Mets expecting here?

Assistant GM J.P. Ricciardi drafted Emaus when he was the Blue Jays GM, so he knows him. Presumably the Mets front office wasn’t as excited about him as the numbers-crunchers were. It takes more than numbers to evaluate a player and perhaps Emaus can still be a productive big leaguer; he isn’t one now.

I understand the impatience of the Mets in this case; it’s a signal that they’re not beholden to a Rule 5 pick if he’s not performing up to big league standards; on the other hand, would it have hurt to give him another 40-60 at bats? He seemed overmatched, but if they liked him so much to give him the starting job out of spring training, he warranted a longer look that this.

The Mets will say all the right things: “We liked and still like Brad”; “He’s got a lot of ability, but needs more minor league seasoning”; “This is not a reflection on the player, but we need someone to help us now.”

All are reasonable. But they don’t make much sense in the long term scheme. This team is going nowhere in 2011. Brad Emaus or Turner playing second base isn’t going to affect fan attendance one way or the other. If the Mets truly believe in Emaus, they should’ve at least given him 20 more at bats. Who was it going to hurt?

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I published a full excerpt of my book here.

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Viewer Mail 4.18.2011

Books, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the commenter who called me an idiot and my retort:

I can hear this dude sizzlin’ and fizzlin’ after that beatdown…

He never got back to me. Strange.

Fart (for real) writes RE Curt Schilling‘s Hall of Fame candidacy:

Check out Schilling’s Twitter, 3/20/2011: “Do I think I am a HOF? No.”
He’s not going to whine like Blyleven did. Smart move that might work in his favor.

He certainly ain’t getting in first ballot – those regular season stats are just sad for a HOF candidate. Nice WHIP and K/BB, and 3000 K’s, but Blyleven had all of that and more, and needed 14 ballots to get in. Then 2014-15 are loaded with sure things like Pedro, Johnson, Maddux, Glavine. Schilling may be the pitching version of Mr. October, and I say he gets in eventually, but he’s going to have to wait in line. Still, based on the tweet above, I expect him to keep his trap shut about it.

I think Schilling’s using reverse psychology trying to be Mr. Humility and appear as if he’s this common man who was pleased to have his opportunity to do his job—a job that happened to be in the spotlight.

It’s the Joe the Plumber fallacy.

One thing that has to be accounted for is his success in the steroid era; that’s something Bert Blyleven didn’t have to deal with. Blyleven was suffering from the perceptive indifference that voters had toward his mediocre record; the prevalence of statistics, a well-presented case for his enshrinement and a grass-roots movement got him in.

Schilling’s silence/openness about the voting may depend on how close he gets on the first couple of ballots. If he’s an “eventual” candidate who gets enough votes to foretell a groundswell of support growing incrementally until he’s inducted after 6 or so years, then he’ll be quiet. If he gets 40% of the vote the first year and it dwindles, he’ll start squawking. Loudly.

Norm writes RE the Mets:

I realize it’s somewhat unfair and cliched to pile on Alderson and his exec assistants at this juncture, but this whole thing is beginning to smell as bad as I feared it would.
The picking up of Emaus is symptomatic. Not that he is necessarily a bad player,or that he wasn’t worthy of a Rule 5 pickup. Just that it is a bad sign for JP to pick up a player he scouted and probably signed as a Blue Jay GM: I know this happens all the time, but it’s indicative to me of a lazy GM who ‘knows’ his ‘own’ players better than he does players from other teams and organizations. Add it to the genuine unease I feel at Alderson’s smarminess (although I loved the battle of pomposity between him and Francesa) and his pointless hiring of two ex GMs to, in essence, pick up players from scrap heaps (as the team has no money to sign or trade for expensive players) and I feel that we are in an Isiah as GM situation.

The Mets had a choice: either get aggressive and do what they did under the prior three GMs—something ridiculous like offer $200 million for Cliff Lee; or wait out the bad contracts, look for bargains and start rebuilding the organization from the bottom up.

They were smart to do the latter.

Brad Emaus‘s numbers in the minors are excellent; the Mets don’t have a second baseman; he’s worth a legitimate look instead of the reactionary, “two weeks and begone”. It’s understandable for scouts/executives to cling to players they believe in. Sometimes it works out.

I’m no basketball guy, but you can’t compare Sandy Alderson to Isiah Thomas. Thomas had no success whatsoever anywhere as an executive in any capacity; Alderson has had success and, at the very least, has a plan.

I was a frequent critic of J.P. Ricciardi as a GM even though I thought he was better than people suggested; Paul DePodesta was an atrocious GM, but he’s shown his attributes as an assistant with the Padres and Athletics.

Because someone failed as the boss doesn’t mean they have no discernible use.

The Mets weren’t going to be good this year regardless of expectations, hopes, and fantasy. It’s a bridge year where the barn will be cleaned out of rats and excrement. No more, no less.

Max Stevens writes RE the Mets and the doubleheader loss to the Rockies:

How much longer do you think it will be before Terry Collins‘ head explodes?  I suffered through both games of that doubleheader yesterday and felt really envious of the Rockies.  They execute.  They don’t make mental errors.  They come to play every night.  They battle back.  They’re everything the Mets are not.  I understand that they simply have much more talent on their roster right now than we do, but the Mets just don’t look prepared.  I thought Collins was all about preparation and “playing the game the right way.”  And those stands at Bailout Park looked really empty.  It reminded me of going to games at Shea in the late 70s when there were maybe 3000 people in the ballpark and you could hear the players talking to each other on the field.  Let the rebuilding begin sooner rather than later…

Collins, like Alderson and his people, isn’t stupid. He knows what the talent level is; of course that doesn’t preclude them from playing the game correctly—and there’s no excuse for not being able to throw the ball pitcher to catcher; screwing it up twice was unconscionable. Fundamentals have to be established from the bottom up.

Every team has their gaffes and the Mets have the penchant for making other teams look good. The Rockies are well-schooled and run by Jim Tracy, but it wasn’t long ago that they were dysfunctional and staggering with Clint Hurdle fired and GM Dan O’Dowd in the final year of his contract. Had they not caught fire when Tracy took over, O’Dowd would’ve been gone after the 2009 season.

This panic is misplaced. The Mets are what they are. They’re essentially starting over; to think that the new regime would walk through the door and have everyone playing the game correctly immediately was a classic overreach of change being the cure-all. It’s not.

They’ll have to suffer this season and regain the trust of the fan base. There’s no other way.

****

Purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

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Sifting Through The Wreckage At Turner Field

Books, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Uncategorized

Considering its history as a house of horrors, why should this weekend be any different for the Mets at Turner Field for their series with the Braves?

You can run through the litany of things that have gone wrong already—read the New York newspapers for the slice and dice; listen to Mike Francesa tomorrow for the savage and vindictive postmortem—I don’t need to get into that; it’s predictable and tiresome.

I’m here to say the following: Don’t be surprised.

Don’t be surprised at all.

In your heart-of-hearts, were you expecting anything different from the Mets this year? Really?

The only small alteration I’m willing to make in my team prediction for them this year is that they could possibly be worse than 73-89.

Did you believe Chris Young would stay healthy? That Brad Emaus would turn into Dan Uggla? That Mike Pelfrey would seamlessly step up into the number 1 slot in the rotation? That the changes in culture and strategy from the front office on down would come into effect immediately?

Young hasn’t been healthy since 2007 and even then he wasn’t durable—he tired out by August; now he’s already on the disabled list. The Mets and Young are making his bout with biceps tendinitis sound like a positive because it’s a different injury than that which he experienced before. To me, this is a problem in and of itself. If a player has repeated injuries to the same area of his body, at least you know what it is; if he starts injuring other areas, you have to worry about the prior issue and the new issue.

Young will pitch when he pitches, but he won’t pitch much and you’ll never know when another trip to the disabled list looms.

As for the other stuff? I’ll lift from The Dark Knight when Alfred consoles Bruce Wayne/Batman with the entreaty to endure the inevitable pain to reach his desired end.

Did you think there wouldn’t be casualties in the teamwide sense as the Mets start over under a different regime? That they were going to vault into contention—in a rough division—based solely on new management, adherence to fundamentals and statistics?

They’re not good. This year is a bridge year in which they’re going to comb through the entire structure, see what they have; what they want to keep; and whom they’ll dispatch.

Accept it. 2011 is shaping up to be an on-and-off field disaster. Teams recover quickly with a plan and intelligent management. The quick-fix strategy didn’t work under Omar Minaya and they’re trying something else.

A smooth and easy transition was fantasy.

Endure.

On the other side, Braves fans shouldn’t take a doubleheader sweep of the Mets as a cure to all their early season ills. A lot of teams are going to look good against the Mets this year.

Much of the focus for the Braves has been the bullpen/lineup decisions of manager Fredi Gonzalez.

Gonzalez expressed his reasoning for batting Jason Heyward sixth here—link.

I understand where he’s coming from in his decision to bat Nate McLouth second. Many want Heyward to bat second, but I wouldn’t bat him second either; my concern moving forward would be that Gonzalez is going to stick with his lineup out of a resolute stubbornness; managers—especially new managers—need to set lines in the sand as to what their limits are; some would view an early change as caving to overt public pressure and a sign of weakness that can be exploited later on by players, media and fans. If Gonzalez acquiesces so quickly in a belief that Heyward batting sixth is the right thing to do, then where does it end?

It’s not machismo, it’s calculation and it’s a mistake. It takes more courage to change something that’s not working rather than stick to it out of a sense of obligation and worry about the perception.

I don’t think Heyward should be batting sixth; his on base skills and power are going to waste with the weaker parts of the batting order behind him. He’s going to walk a ton and see few pitches to hit.

Here’s my Braves lineup:

1. Martin Prado-LF

2. Freddie Freeman-1B

3. Chipper Jones-3B

4. Jason Heyward-RF

5. Brian McCann-C

6. Dan Uggla-2B

7. Nate McLouth-CF

8. Alex Gonzalez-SS

You can flip-flop McCann and Uggla based on lefty-righty issues, but I see Uggla as a Graig Nettles-type when the Yankees in the late 70s, early 80s heyday had him batting sixth. Sixth is a pure basher slot for a flawed bat—which Uggla is. He strikes out a lot; gets on base; and has power.

Gonzalez batting eighth should improve his on base percentage and possibly raise the number of baserunners when the lineup turns over. If McLouth starts hitting, then perhaps move him up in the lineup. This is a suggestion to jumpstart both McLouth and Freeman and it removes Heyward from the wasted sixth spot.

Let’s see how long Gonzalez clings to his template when there are smarter configurations right in front of him.

****

Purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

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Managing The Spring

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training
  • If Ron Washington speaks and no one listens, does he make a sound?

Rangers manager Ron Washington didn’t appear to be totally on board with the concept of making Neftali Feliz a starter; now that Feliz has expressed a desire to start and the Rangers higher-ups, GM Jon Daniels, et al. want him to start, Washington is now saying that he wants an experienced closer to replace Feliz if the young righty does indeed move to the starting rotation.

You can read details of this here on MLBTradeRumors.

Washington wants an established closer?

Yeah?

So?

No disrespect to Washington, but he’s not exactly a strong voice in the Rangers hierarchy. In fact, I question whether they listen to him at all.

Washington’s main attributes are his ability to survive and that the players like him and play hard for him. Apart from that, he doesn’t contribute anything strategically to the Rangers’ wins or losses; if anything, his pitching changes harm the team’s chances for winning a particular game and he’s always on the verge of doing something stupid.

He’s not a good field manager, but the Rangers have won with him and he’s overcome the failed drug test in 2009 to keep his job and was rewarded with a pennant and contract extension.

It’s not a remote experience for teams to win without a strong manager; the Rangers could conceivably have won with a mannequin modeling a uniform placed in the corner of the dugout; the Diamondbacks under Bob Brenly won the World Series in 2001 and won 98 games in 2002—Brenly was the equivalent of a laid off crash test dummy, but he knew enough to let the players play and stay out of the way.

Do you think the Rangers are going to start looking for a relief pitcher now before seeing what they have in Alexi Ogando or another pitcher who could handle the role?

Washington’s desires are politely heard…and ignored. He has no say in what’s going on with the Rangers. It’s not nice to hear or say, but it’s true.

On another note regarding the Rangers search for a closer, why didn’t they keep Rich Harden and try him as the closer if they intended to shift Feliz to the rotation? Harden should be a closer anyway; he strikes people out and can’t stay healthy as a starter. He can’t be more injury-prone as a reliever than he is as a starter and maybe knowing he only has to go for one inning or so would benefit him physically.

There’s talk that Mets manager Terry Collins wants to name journeyman Luis Hernandez as his opening day second baseman and release Luis Castillo immediately.

I have no problem with releasing Castillo; in fact, I’m wondering why the Mets don’t do it now to give Castillo a better shot of hooking on with someone else. There’s no need to drag it out and be vindictive if the end result is known and unchangeable.

With Hernandez, he’s emerging as the lesser of evils—at least in the eyes of the manager.

Rule 5 pickup Brad Emaus is hitting .200; Daniel Murphy is hitting well, but his defense must not be up to snuff if he’s behind Hernandez; Jordany Valdespin was killing the ball and got sent down; Ruben Tejada would be my choice but it sounds as if he’s going to be playing shortstop in Triple A to prepare to possibly take over for Jose Reyes.

The reality of Hernandez is that he’s going to be 27; is a slightly above-average defender at second; doesn’t steal bases; and has been an okay hitter in the minors; in 290 career plate appearances in the majors, he’s a .245 hitter with a .286 OBP and a .298 slugging percentage.

Collins is walking a fine line with the Mets in his first spring. On the one hand, if Hernandez is the player he feels has earned the job, then he has to go with his gut; on the other hand, the player has shown little upside in comparison to the others.

In another tightrope situation, Collins is trying to maintain credibility with the players when it comes to Oliver Perez. Perez was told that he’d get a few starts; if that didn’t work, he’d receive a fair look as a lefty specialist.

On WFAN recently (I can’t remember who it was who said it), but Collins was paraphrased as saying he told Perez he’d give him an opportunity in a variety of roles and if he’s going to maintain credibility with the rest of the clubhouse, he has to hold to his word.

As much as Perez is reviled in the Mets clubhouse, he’s still one of the players; for Collins to bow to expediency, give way to inside and outside pressures and dump Perez before living up to his promise, it would do more harm than good with the other players.

He’s making the best of the circumstances and I understand where he’s coming from, but I can’t see this movement to name Hernandez the everyday second baseman working. Considering the circumstances surrounding the Mets, that too might do more harm than good.

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