Omar’s Players

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The talk of the Mets in recent weeks has centered around their twin aces Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey. Santana pitched a no-hitter two weeks ago tomorrow and Dickey just had a team record scoreless innings streak ended in the ninth inning of last night’s 1-hit masterpiece against the Rays.

The Mets, who most observers (including me) had losing over 90 games, have been examined with a new set of questions wondering whether they’re real contenders and if they’re going to be buyers at the trading deadline.

We don’t know yet. They’ve surprised so far and with their plate discipline and opportunistic play. With the aforementioned Santana and Dickey pitching like this, there’s no reason to think they’re going to completely collapse to the depths of their negative expectations.

One thing that’s glossed over amid the eye-opening resilience and positive vibe hovering around the team is that the majority of the good work they’ve done has been because of players that former GM Omar Minaya brought into the organization.

Minaya was called one of the worst GMs in baseball during the waning days of his tenure—an assertion that is based on indistinguishable parameters. It’s ridiculous. He had his strengths and weaknesses as a GM. In today’s game he would have to be in the right circumstances to get another chance as a GM because he’s great when making a big trade or signing a big star, drinking in the accolades at a flashbulb-popping press conference with his big smile and expensive, tailored suit. He’s fine when he’s charming people one-on-one who take his frequent English malaprops as a part of his charm. But when things went wrong he turned from the toast of the town to just plain toast.

As an assistant (now with the Padres) he’s a valuable voice to have around and has always been a sound judge of tools and talent. He has a great rapport with and understanding of young Latin players.

The players on the team now that have helped the Mets to their 34-29 record were almost exclusively acquired under Minaya’s watch.

Santana arrived via trade. Dickey was a veteran signing with a fluky pitch signed as an afterthought—but it was the Mets and Minaya who signed him. Jonathon Niese, Lucas Duda, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Bobby Parnell, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, Dillon Gee, Josh Thole and Justin Turner were all brought in by people working under Minaya.

It’s a fact.

In response to the credit I’m giving Minaya, you can expect it to be said that the scouts and developmental people were the ones who handled the young players; that Dickey was blind luck; that if Minaya was still the GM, none of the young players would be with the Mets now because they would’ve been traded for expensive veterans or not given a legitimate chance; that his faults don’t outweigh whatever positives can be mustered. It will brought up that he also signed Jason Bay and botched the firing of Willie Randolph; that he allowed Tony Bernazard to run roughshod over the club and over people; that he doesn’t have the linguistic skills to be a GM in today’s atmosphere of the rock star GM and political spinmaster who has to respond to questions with deftness and ambiguity.

It’s all true.

But I’m of the belief that if you get the blame you also get the credit. By that criteria, Minaya deserves to receive credit for this Mets team because it was put together, mostly, by him and his staff.

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Pitch Counts Irrelevant

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It’s not the number of pitches that injure a pitcher nor is it a “cumulative effect” of said pitches. That’s concocted story to sell to the masses who don’t know enough about the game of baseball generally and the biomechanics of throwing a ball specifically to understand what’s going on. Because of that, there’s a simplicity that’s presented and suggests that a number (100? 110? 115? 80? 77?) is the “optimal” number for a pitcher to throw in an outing.

Ask yourself this: does it make sense that the optimal number of pitches conveniently falls at or around 100? What are the odds that the number of pitches that a pitcher is supposed to throw is such an even benchmark?

If there was intelligent research partaken and the results implemented, what would happen if it came out that the number of pitches a pitcher could throw without fear of injury wound up being 170 or 190 or 210?

What would the reaction be?

Those are numbers I pulled out of the air in the same manner as the 100 that’s currently en vogue.

From high school to college to the minor leagues, pitchers are conditioned to throw 100 pitches. They prepare themselves to throw 100 pitches—mentally and physically—and don’t think they can go any further so they don’t go any further. They dial it down when they’re approaching their designated number and relax with the expectation (or demand) that they’ll be taken out.

This silliness didn’t apply to Johan Santana on Friday night in his no-hitter for the Mets. He had adrenaline keeping him turbo-charged and he wasn’t expecting to be pulled while he was chasing history. If fact, he was lobbying to stay in the game. The faux confrontation between manager and pitcher is something that many pitchers do in a face-saving gesture without the actual desire to stay in the game. It’s an act performed within the knowledge that their manager/pitching coach is going to tell them to take a hike and yank them regardless of their insistent protests.

A pitcher doesn’t hurt his arm because he surpassed a pitch count. A pitcher hurts his arm when he throws “too many” pitches after he’s physically tired. When I say “physically tired” I don’t mean his arm. I mean his legs, hips and back. Throwing a baseball again and again with the force required to generate fastballs at maximum velocity does not come from the arm. The energy starts at the bottom and rises to the top. It’s a chain and if any part of that chain—the legs, hips, midsection—is compromised then there will be increased stress and demand on the other parts. If a pitcher is lagging mechanically, many times it’s not a lapse in his motion or that he forgot what he was supposed to be doing, it’s that his body is no longer responding to what repetition has trained him to do. Muscle memory will keep a pitcher’s mechanics mostly in line throughout a game. Occasionally, when their quirks are altered, it causes a lost release point; a lack of command and movement.

It doesn’t cause injuries.

When the legs are tired and he still needs to generate enough of that force to throw a ball at 90 mph, the power has to come from somewhere and that somewhere is his arm. That is what leads to overstress and injuries.

Pitch counts make life easier for the GM, manager, pitching coach, pitcher and organization because there’s a ready-made excuse that eliminates all analysis. If a manager chooses to pull a pitcher it’s easier to say, “He’d thrown 110 pitches and that’s his limit,” than it is to say, “His mechanics were out of whack; his legs were tired; he was laboring and I pulled him.”

It takes experience to notice the deviations between the way a pitcher loads up and throws when he’s in the first inning and when he’s in the eighth. To the naked eye, they may be imperceptible for someone who’s not close enough—practically or theoretically—to see it. A guy sitting on his couch with a load of charts doesn’t have that experience; nor does a doctor who can explain why a pitcher is able to torque his arm and create that power yet doesn’t know baseball or baseball players.

When I say pitch counts are ridiculous, it’s not due to some old-school perception of toughness and a desire to return to 1968. It’s due to that fact that they’re ridiculous because they’re presented in a wag the dog exercise of self-righteousness to feeding the media. They have nothing to do with protecting the pitcher, the club’s investment or anything else.

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The Santana No-Hitter From Soup To Nuts

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Let’s go point-by-point on Johan Santana’s no-hitter.

The call at third base.

Umpire Adrian Johnson called Cardinals’ outfielder and former Met Carlos Beltran’s would-be hit foul when it was fair. He blew the call, but it wasn’t as blatant as it’s being made out to be, nor was it the opposite of Jim Joyce’s blown (and gutsy) call from two years ago on Armando Galarraga’s imperfect/perfect game. Joyce called it as he saw it in spite of the situation and not all umpires would’ve done that. Umpires know the circumstances during a game, but their training is such that they’re highly unlikely to openly let it influence a call. It might’ve been subconscious, but we’ll never know one way or the other. Johnson himself probably doesn’t know for sure.

It happens though. One of the best and most respected umpires in history, the late Harry Wendelstedt, preserved Don Drysdale’s consecutive scoreless inning streak by ruling that Dick Dietz didn’t try to get out of the way on a Drysdale pitch that hit him. Drysdale was able to extricate himself from a jam and continued his streak.

It’s possible that Johnson was hoping the ball would be foul to keep the no-hitter intact, but that doesn’t make it a preplanned decision.

As for the idea that it tarnishes Santana’s accomplishment, you can find any instance in baseball and diminish it. Did the 1985 Royals deserve their World Series win after it was helped along by Don Denkinger’s mistake on a Jorge Orta ground out in game 6 as the Cardinals were on the verge of winning the World Series and wound up losing that game and game 7? They won game 7 by a score of 11-0 as Bret Saberhagen pitched a complete game shutout. The Royals won the World Series. It wasn’t handed to them.

Does the blown call ruin Mike Baxter’s catch in the seventh inning? No.

The Cardinals had ample opportunity to break up the no-no after the mistake. They didn’t.

Santana and the Mets earned their moment.

The history of the Mets.

With all the great and very good pitchers that have come and gone from the Mets—Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, Pedro Martinez, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Nolan RyanDavid Cone, Jerry Koosman, Frank Viola—it’s a testament to the luck involved with pitching a no-hitter. That it was Santana who accomplished the feat sweetens the moment more than if it was done by a journeyman who will never be heard from again.

The pitch count.

This obsession with pitch counts served to leave fans worrying about what Mets’ manager Terry Collins was going to do with Santana as his number rose further than it ever had in his career. A similar instance occurred with the Yankees in 2010 as CC Sabathia reached the eighth inning with a no-hitter against the Rays and after it was broken up, manager Joe Girardi needlessly said he was going to pull Sabathia rather than let him throw too many pitches, no-hitter or not. Sabathia himself was bewildered and it would’ve been interesting to see whether Girardi would actually have done it.

It’s possible that he would have and the only result would’ve been to bolster the assertion that he’s a puppet of management and slave to his ridiculous binder of arbitrary numbers.

Collins was right in leaving Santana in to finish the game. The players support Collins, but that support could’ve been destroyed with one paranoid and silly move in taking his pitcher out as he was going for history. Adrenaline carried Santana past any exhaustion and he appeared to get stronger as the game went along. Collins is the same manager who justified his removal of Jose Reyes from the final game of the season in 2011 after Reyes bunted for a base hit to preserve his batting title. It turned out to be Reyes’s final game as a Met, but Collins didn’t know that then. The club wanted to keep Reyes and Collins basically said after the fact and in response to the criticism that he wasn’t going to ruin his relationship with Reyes for one play in one meaningless game. To be sure an old-school manager like Collins didn’t like what Reyes did, but he let it go for the good of the franchise. He did the same thing with Santana. Whatever happens from now on, happens.

Social media egomania, self-involvement and what “I” would’ve done.

The word “I” is in quotes because I’m not talking about myself.

Twitter became a world of the media inserting themselves into the narrative as to how the Santana no-hitter was affecting them as if we care; as if it matters.

Gonzo journalism worked for Hunter S. Thompson because he innovated it and was good at it. Others are doing it now and doing it poorly. Nobody cares how the Santana achievement affects David Lennon, Bob Klapisch, Howard Megdal, Joel Sherman, Ken Davidoff or anyone else.

But it’s all about me-me-me-me-me-me. It’s ego, arrogance and nothing else.

Yankees’ fans were doing it as well. There was an aura of the maintenance of bullying and “dominance” over the “little brothers”. The tone was “Yeah, have your moment but remember who’s in charge here.”

The Yankees are in charge of nothing and until Mets’ fans and the organization as a whole pushes back against this perception that the Yankees’ money and history is a foundation for such a logically false statement, it’s going to continue.

There were also those who said something along the lines of, “I’d take Santana out because the season is more important than one game.”

It’s not absurd to say that the Mets had to keep an eye on that game and an eye on the rest of the season, but to suggest that it was an no-brainer to pull him is the epitome of the ease of decisionmaking on social media for those who aren’t making the decisions. They’re not the ones who have to face the player in question (Santana), his teammates, the fans and the media after making such a monumental maneuver. The Twitter experts have all the balls in the world sitting nude in front of their computer and expressing what they think they would’ve done but would probably not have had the nerve to do; nor would they ever be in a position to do it, rendering the point moot.

It was a great night for the Mets and any amount of contextualization and obnoxiousness isn’t going to ruin it regardless of how hard the perpetrators try. They have their no-hitter. It’s in the record books as such and it won’t be taken away. Ever.

*NOTE: Those winding up here searching for the naked video clip of a Mets player following the no-hitter, I had embedded it but the content was removed from Youtube due to copyright infringement and I deleted it because the video was no longer viewable.

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