Doubleheader Day Update

As I write this, the Mets are in the middle of a doubleheader, hosting the Colorado Rockies. The team just lost the first game of the doubleheader, and the team’s record stands at 4-8.

That’s pretty terrible – but it’s also early in the season.

While a small sample size means that we can’t take much seriously in the way of statistics, there are certainly a couple of trends that could be spotted, and items to watch for as the season continues.

#1 – The Rise and Fall of Chris Young. While Young has been extraordinarily effective in his first two starts, I still remain worried about his continued effectiveness through the season. While I would be thrilled if he maintains half of this effectiveness throughout the season (and keeps limiting homers), he won’t. It’s not possible. Even worse, Chris Young is already a bit injured, and is forced to put off his next start in favor of DJ Carrasco. I worry that we’ll start very soon to hear “oh no, why isn’t CY effective any more?” murmurs, or worse, “what body part is injured” screams.

#2 – The 2nd Base Platoon. Terry Collins seems to be moving towards using Daniel Murphy and Brad Emaus in a straight platoon at second base. Honestly? I like it. Neither Emaus or Murphy is going to be a world-beater this year. Give your team the best chance to win, every single night. And while Murph still looks a little like a work-in-progress at 2B, Emaus’s defense has looked fine to me. I think we have a cheap, workable solution here.

#3 – Minor League Arms. While it is still too early to get too excited, Jenrry Mejia and Matt Harvey have started off the season doing excellent work in the minors. While both must improve secondary pitches, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Jenrry can take a spot in the rotation in 2012, and Harvey in 2013. A pipeline of young, effective starters is something that any team, but especially this team, needs to be successful. It’s great to feel that we could have that going forward now.

#4 – The Citi Field Factor. The team would drastically benefit from a left-handed pull power-hitter in the lineup. Watching the difference between David Wright and Scott Hairston banging balls off the left field fence and Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez taking the ball over the right field wall is enlightening. Ike’s got some raw power – but Carlos Beltran is probably out by November at the latest – and Wright and Bay are right-handed hitters. Whether it’s Lucas Duda (hint, it’s not) or someone else, the team would really benefit from a left-handed bopper.

So who would fit? There’s one guy who I’m sure that no one has really considered seriously, who might be a good fit on a short-term contract – provided the Mets could afford him.

Carlos Pena.

No, this isn’t a joke. No, I don’t advocate dropping Ike Davis.

What I advocate is moving Ike to right field, if it means that we can upgrade the roster in a different place. Ike Davis is blessed with a wicked throwing arm, and I was always a little confused why the Mets put him at 1B, rather than RF in the minors. While Ike is a good defensive 1B, he’d probably make a pretty good defensive RF as well. And this off-season, given the dearth of good offensive options available via free agency in the outfield, I don’t see why the Mets couldn’t at least consider moving Ike as an option.

With power hitters like Carlos Pena and Prince Fielder becoming available, and unable to play other positions, it might be worth considering seeing if these players could come in and play at their natural position. It’s just a thought – there’s only so many ways that the team can be upgraded.

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Filed under Brad Emaus, Chris Young, Daniel Murphy, Uncategorized

Leading Off

(Note: This piece is cross-posted as a FanPost over at Amazin’ Avenue.)

Anyone who’s watched the team over the past seven years knows that Jose Reyes is the leadoff hitter for the Mets. Jose is considered a prototypical leadoff hitter by baseball fans and experts alike. He creates havoc on the basepaths with his combination of speed and hitting ability. But, as modern analytics have shown, leadoff shouldn’t always and only be about speed.

More and more, the ability to get on base is a primary driver of hitting leadoff. And some interesting work by sabermetric giant Tom Tango suggests that the first spot in the order is one of the three positions in the lineup that should be filled by a team’s best hitters. Now, on base is just one factor in making a critical lineup decision such as who should bat leadoff. Factors such as handedness, ego, manager’s preference, ability to “handle the bat” and others come in to play.

If we were to wash away the preconception that Jose Reyes is the Mets’ leadoff hitter, we can ask ourselves something important.

Should Jose Reyes be the Mets’ leadoff hitter?

In the regular starting lineup, the Mets have a number of players who could, theoretically, hit first in the order. Most of them are not good choices as a leadoff hitter, for various reasons. We can eliminate a number of players right away.

David Wright / Ike Davis

David and Ike are great hitters, and get on base at a good clip. While they’d benefit from the additional plate appearances from hitting so early in the order, they provide too much power. These are the types of hitters who should be placed lower in the lineup, in order to drive in runs and make the most of the opportunities provided by the top of the order.

Carlos Beltran / Jason Bay

Carlos and Jason don’t have the top-end speed that managers love for a leadoff hitter. And while they both get on base at a reasonable clip, neither is a lock to consistently stay in the lineup over a full season. When healthy, these players are run producers with power. But these are players with too many questions to be hitting atop the lineup, and are unsuited for the task anyways.

Josh Thole / Brad Emaus

Both of these players project to offer a high on-base percentage. But neither player offers speed, and both are new to the majors. Josh and Brad are far from finished products, or sure things. One day, these may be the types of players that could lead off a major league lineup. As for right now, they’re better suited to other slots.

Willie Harris

No.

That leaves the team with two worthwhile options…and these are exactly the options one might suspect. Those options are the incumbent, Jose Reyes, and someone who’s filled in admirably in the leadoff spot from time to time: Angel Pagan.

Given the data available to us, which of the two is the best possible option? Let’s break it down into component parts. The aspects that seem to be most important when selecting a leadoff hitter include the following: OBP (very important), overall hitting ability (important), speed (less important), and the dreaded “intangibles” (least important). Let’s see how things break down.

OBP

When Sandy Alderson came on board as Mets GM, one of the first things that the fanbase heard was that Jose Reyes needed to improve his on base percentage to be a more effective leadoff hitter. Sporting a .321 OBP, Reyes could not be considered an elite leadoff man. The more a player gets on base, the more runs can be scored, and the more effective the lineup is. When considering Reyes’s sub-par OBP, one could recognize a significant dip in walk rate from his past three seasons. If Reyes can raise his walk rate back near his career percentage (7%), as opposed to the 5% he sported in 2010, then he can raise his OBP and provide more of an offensive spark.

Angel Pagan, however, got on base 34% of the time last season. That’s a 2% improvement over Jose Reyes, and as Jonah Keri will tell you, an Extra 2% can be a big improvement. Kidding aside, this is quite a bit better than Jose, but it is still not an elite percentage. Angel also strikes out more than Jose Reyes, and has a very similar career walk rate. So with these peripherals, how does Angel get on base more often? Well, Angel Pagan has a fairly high career BABIP (batting average on balls in play), a good .016 difference. Angel also has a substantially smaller sample size of MLB at bats to work with, so it is very possible that Angel could find his BABIP sliding a bit closer to league average. It is possible that this could lead to a small drop in overall OBP.

So in comparison, Pagan has a slight advantage in OBP, both historically and going forward. But this gap could become smaller in 2011, as Pagan could have worse luck with balls in play and Reyes could get closer to his usual walk rate. ut even if Reyes’s OBP improves slightly and Pagan’s decreases slightly, Angel Pagan still projects to have a slight edge in OBP between the two. Given the importance of OBP for a leadoff hitter, Angel may be the better leadoff option for the Mets in 2011.

Overall Hitting

You may not expect this, but Jose Reyes has been a better slugger recently than Angel Pagan. In 2010, Reyes had a higher slugging percentage, and he projects to have a better SLG than Angel in nearly all projection systems for 2011. Over their careers, the two have slugging percentages that are virtuall identical: .433. Each player has had seasons of increased power: Pagan in 2009, and Reyes in 2006 and 2008.

As far as overall hitting performance, there are several tools that can be used, but none are more simple and useful than wOBA. According to most projection systems, Jose Reyes has a higher projected wOBA for 2011 as well as a higher score over his career. And it is important to remember than both players are in their peak years, although Angel is two years older than Jose.

Overall, while Angel Pagan is slightly better at getting on base, Jose Reyes offers a little more power and may be a slightly better overall offensive player. Though the difference is not substantial (Reyes: career .340 wOBA / Pagan: career .337 wOBA), Jose Reyes may be a slightly better hitter, and would benefit from seeing a few more plate appearances over the course of a season.

Speed

While Jose stole less bases than Angel last year, and was caught stealing at a higher percentage, speed has always been Jose Reyes’s stock in trade. Speed Score is a useful metric to measure an overall contribution on the basepaths, and Jose has an extremely strong career Spd of 8.5, as compared to Angel Pagan’s 7.2. Even last year, in a down year, Jose managed 7.6 compared to 6.9. The statistics confirm what the eyes already tell us: that both Pagan and Reyes are tremendously fast, but that Reyes is a more elite speedster. If speed is a concern for a leadoff hitter, Reyes offers the most baserunning ability and speed of any option on the Mets.

Intangibles

The Mets have toyed with moving Jose out of the leadoff spot before, and its never stuck. If the Mets DO want to re-sign Jose this offseason, it probably is best not to tweak his nose. If Jose is uncomfortable moving out of the #1 spot in the lineup right now, and he thinks he is making a concerted effort to get on base with a higher frequency, then nothing positive (in terms of intangibles) will be gained from moving him out of the leadoff position. Only negative psychological effects would come of this, one would presume.

Meanwhile, Angel Pagan has been productive and relatively quiet in every position the Mets have thrust him into. I can assume that there would be no negative effect from moving him into the leadoff position, or conversely moving him down the batting order. With this in mind, sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, and the potential intangible negatives of moving Reyes down in the order mean that Reyes would probably be a better option in the leadoff spot.

The Verdict

While Angel Pagan offers a slight improvement in on-base percentage, every other factor seems to indicate that the Mets are better served leaving Jose Reyes in the leadoff spot. Sometimes it is nice to see that the conventional wisdom dovetails so nicely with the manager’s decisions on the field.

However, my biggest takeaway from this exercise is the remarkable similarity between these two hitters. Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan are almost identical in what they bring to the table as hitters. If for some unthinkable reason, Jose Reyes is not with this Mets franchise in mid-2011 or beyond, the team has a ready-made replacement for Jose ready to move into the leadoff position. Whether or not the team could find a better option than either Jose or Angel outside the organization is a matter subject to debate, but certainly the Mets have two similar players who could fit in the leadoff position.

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Filed under Angel Pagan, Jose Reyes

Early Season Ottoneu Update

Jenrry Mejia

Jenrry Mejia: Better Than Byrdak

I wanted to offer a couple of notes about my ottoneu team (team roster and information here), as it’s definitely very interesting to see how things have adjusted as the season has officially started.

The first thing that I noticed, is that there were a couple of players on my team where I could quickly identify that the contracts far outweighed their potential, especially given the constraints of the league. I wound up cutting two players very early, and though I still predict that they will be quite productive, I made back nine dollars of cap space for cutting them. Those two players were Jack Cust ($10) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka ($9). Also, the roster space could be used to pick up a couple of prospects.

I also dropped three $1 relievers – team mascot Tim Byrdak, Hisanori Takahashi, and Clay Hensley. Now, Byrdak and Takahashi I dropped because I felt like I upgraded. I took $1 flyers on Sean Marshall and Takashi Saito, two very, very effective relievers, and I felt it was enough of an upgrade to eat $2 on the Met and ex-Met. Hensley was another story – I wanted to carry a minimum of relievers, and I got lucky grabbing Jenrry Mejia for a single dollar, so Wilton Lopez, Tim Collins, or Hensley had to go. By the way, I totally picked right not dumping Tiny Tim Collins, he’s been awesome so far.

I also added a host of prospects to sit on the bench. I snagged Jose Iglesias (Red Sox SS-in-waiting), Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays 3B-in-waiting), Mike Montgomery (Royals ace-in-waiting), and Jordan Lyles (Astros flamethrower-in-waiting). Now, my roster is almost maxed out, and I only have about ten bucks remaining to use for the rest of the season. That’s not too bad of a deal, but my outfield is still thin. I’d love to be able to do something to beef up that part of my team. But my rotation makes me very, very happy, as I’ve added James Shields and Bud Norris to an already-fearsome five-man rotation.

Oh, and Ryan Hanigan hit two home runs in a single game for me. Winning. Right now, I’m #4 in my league – but small sample sizes and all that. Exciting season ahead.

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Three Days In Miami (Games 1-3)

Wright's HR

David Wright: Strikeout Prone. Also, Homer Prone.

So the New York Mets opened up the baseball season in Miami. You can find specific game recaps in other places (Amazin’ Avenue, FanGraphs, ESPN, whatever), but I’d like to share a few big thoughts on each game.

Game #1 – 04/01/11

NYM 2 – FLO 6   (0-1)

The New York Mets lost on Opening Day to the Marlins, and fairly decisively. Josh Johnson took a no-hitter into the seventh, the Mets bats never really got going, and Mike Pelfrey looked shaky throughout. Perhaps it is the pressure of being THE NUMBER ONE STARTER, perhaps it is just that Mike Pelfrey is simply an average pitcher, but Big Pelf just doesn’t match up against a guy like Josh Johnson. Double J is just a little too awesome sometimes.

There were two managerial decisions that made me a little uncomfortable – the first was, of course, starting Willie Harris in left field and batting him second. As the series goes on – we’ll see that just maybe Terry Collins is smarter than I am, and that Willie Harris not only should have made the team, but should be starting. Then again, the season is still young, and the sample size is still small. The second one was pinch-hitting for Josh Thole late in this game. I know there’s no real faith in Thole to hit lefties – but the guy deserves to have the chance to hit all pitchers. He doesn’t have enough MLB plate appearances to say that he CAN’T hit lefties. Regardless, his eye is too good to pull him from the lineup. When in doubt, bet on OBP.

At any rate, the first loss of the year was a bit draining. Could have been a bad omen for a bad team.

Game #2 – 04/02/11

NYM 6 – FLO 4   (1-1)

Proving that this team can fight, the Mets blew a lead in the ninth, but held on to win in the tenth, giving the team the first win of the season. David Wright knocked the team’s first HR of the season, and Jon Niese recovered from a shaky start to post a solid quality start. While Niese only struck out three guys, he only walked one and kept the ball in the park, which was key given the way the ball was flying out to right field all weekend.

K-Rod, making his first appearance of the season, gave up a big RBI when he should’ve been saving the game. Francisco Rodriguez is far from automatic, and this certainly won’t be the last time he blows a save this year, but he’ll probably be better than this going forward. However, in a stroke of awesome luck, Frankie didn’t finish the game, keeping the team further away from his option vesting, which is a great bonus.

During this game, the whole team was firing on all cylinders, with the exceptions of K-Rod and Lucas Duda, who posted an 0-4. This one is just as the team drew it up, scoring enough runs to live despite the team’s imperfect pitching and mediocre defense. If you can’t start the season with a win, this is about as good of a second game as you could ask for.

Game #3 – 04/03/11

NYM 9 – FLO 2   (2-1)

The rout. Javier Vasquez pitched terribly, and the Mets piled it on early. The porous Marlin defense stretched the lead from scary to insurmountable. And R.A. Dickey proved that 2011 could turn out a whole lot like 2010, at least as far as his performance is concerned. The knuckleballer (and true staff ace, in my opinion) struck out seven and allowed one single unearned run. He’s pretty much the awesomest.

Willie Harris, meanwhile, hit a homer, stole a base, cured cancer, and saved a kitten from a burning building. I still don’t think I’m wrong about him, but I’ll be thrilled if I am. Ike Davis continued a hot start by homering as well, putting his slugging percentage in this series to something north of a zillion. No new injuries, every player on the active roster has played (except Chris Young), and most of them have played well…a great opening series for the team.

Next up: the invincible, invulnerable, and undefeated Philadelphia Phillies. Another series win would be a beautiful thing.

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Ottoneu 4×4 – The Pitch

Tim Byrdak

Tim Byrdak: Team Mascot and Official LOOGY+

I’ve posted recently about my ottoneu fantasy baseball team, which is being run over at FanGraphs. Yes, that was a lot of links. Please, try to focus.

When I created my team, I knew that I’d need to maximize value in order to be competitive – ottoneu is a pay-for-play league, and if the players came to the game through FanGraphs, I had to assume that they are smarter than the average bear.

In my 4×4 league, I took a look at the pitching rules, because I always find pitching tough to project in fantasy. The rules are fairly simple – there are five slots for starters, and five slots for relievers. The statistics measured (equally) are: ERA, WHIP, HR/9, and K. Over the course of the season, your entire staff MUST pitch between 1250 and 1500 innings to get credit for your stats.

First, I considered the stats. Three of these are rate stats, and one is a counting stat (strikeouts). What does this tell me? It tells me that I need to manage quality over quanitity – while still hitting my innings limit. In effect, it is much more worthwhile to have a few really good pitchers than a bunch of mediocre ones…so long as I hit that innings limit.

If Roy Halladay pitches 200 innings, then he’s worth approximately 3 elite relievers. If he pitches 240 innings, then he’s worth closer to 4. Paying for good starting pitching is the way to go. Just make sure that they are strikeout pitchers – gotta get those Ks up.

If I could get really great relievers – players like Joakim Soria, Aroldis Chapman, or Neftali Feliz, it would make a difference in my final stats. But if I couldn’t find great ones, or I wanted to put my resources in different areas, then my best bet would be to avoid relievers that would hurt my rates. And since relievers are tough to project – if I couldn’t find a sure thing, maybe an average reliever isn’t worth any more than a poor one.

So what did I do? I bought five relievers for $5…spending as little of my budget as possible on these slots. My relief corps includes: Hisanori Takahashi, Tim Collins, Wilton Lopez, Tim Byrdak*, and Clay Hensley. And, depending on who starts hot, I plan on benching them most of the time.

*Currently my ottoneu team, despite offering a 40-man roster, only contains 2 Mets. Those Mets are Ike Davis (bench player behind Pujols and Daric Barton), and Tim Byrdak (relief pitcher and mascot).

To balance, I bought what I consider, a great rotation. It consists of: Roy Halladay, Francisco Liriano, Gio Gonzalez, Shaun Marcum, and Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez wasn’t quite up to the quality I wanted, but he’ll do. I plan on adding a sixth and seventh starter via free agency on the cheap, and those seven should project to get me into the innings limit I need on their own, even without my relievers. The relievers will take up space on my roster, which is all they need to do, except for when they come in to make up some innings. Of the relievers, Lopez and Collins right now look to be fixtures in the lineup – Collins for Ks, and Wilton Lopez for being brilliant at not walking people.

Especially considering that prices for major leaguers in ottoneu go up by $2 each year, there’s a good chance that none of these relievers will make next year’s team. And with how good many of my starters project to be – I should do very well in each of the rate stats and rack up a reasonable number of Ks.

Of course, this strategy is very risky – a run of bad luck, an injury, or a disaster season by my starters could blow the whole thing to hell – but it’s worth trying to find any possible advantage (any Extra 2%?) to win my league. And this strategy, one that probably only will work in the microcosm that is ottoneu, might be a good one to try.

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Three Opening Day Mets Thoughts

In celebration of the glory of Mets Opening Day, I’d like to open with a couple of short thoughts about the Mets 2011 season-opening game today.

#1 – I really, truly, hate that Willie Harris is starting in left field and BATTING SECOND today. Yes, he’s had some success against Josh Johnson. But, that’s a very small sample size. In a larger sample size, Willie’s not a very good hitter. Oh, also, according to Tom Tango, you’re supposed to put your three best hitters in the 1-2-4 spots in the lineup. In this lineup, Harris is probably the eighth best hitter in the lineup. This is the first Terry Collins fail of the year. I am legitimately worried that it will not be the last one.

#2 – The Mets have the potential to be an 85-90 win team. Unfortunately, they also have the potential to be a 70-75 win team. I have to assume this variation is going to be on the pitching staff. Pitching is maybe only 38% of a baseball game (1/2 is run prevention, 1/2 is run scoring…pitching is 75% of run prevention), but the Mets offense can be predicted with reasonable accuracy. There’s a lot of known factors in our hitters. The pitchers, on the other hand, are VERY variable. I’m hoping for the best.

#3 – There are some young players that I’m really looking forward to watching this year. Brad Emaus and Josh Thole on Opening Day. Fernando Martinez, Lucas Duda, Dan Murphy, Ike Davis, Chin-lung Hu. Pedro Beato, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, Jenrry Mejia.

But, there’s one young player that I’m interested in watching more than any of these other guys this year:

Jose Reyes.

Jose is, in fact, still young. And the horrible truth is that, either by trade or free agency, there’s a decent chance he’ll suit up in 2012 for a different team. He’s been a Met institution for the last six or seven years, and one of the most fun players in baseball to watch. I truly hope that he’ll be back on the team next year – but just in case he isn’t, I’m going to take particular joy in his at-bats, his defensive plays, and his upbeat personality in the clubhouse.

Whew. With all that said, there’s infinite possibility this season. Looking forward to seeing what happens next this yer. And, as always, go Mets!

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An Ottoneu Team

So, as much as I’m invested in the New York Mets, there’s another baseball team I’m nearly as fond of. It’s a fantasy baseball team I’m managing at FanGraphs. FanGraphs has introduced their own fantasy baseball product – it’s called “ottoneu”, and it’s awesome in how different it is from your standard ESPN/Yahoo/CBS Sports fantasy leagues.

Basically, ottoneu leagues are keeper leagues with extremely deep rosters – meaning that the leagues carry over from year to year. These leagues are designed to mimic closely what it’s like to be a real GM – planning for the present as well as the future with a large, deep player pool. It’s a rotisserie-styled league (chicken), but uses a mix of traditional fantasy stats and more sabermetrically-inclined stats.

My team is called Niese Guys Finish Last. Which is part of the time-honored tradition of using player name puns as part of a fantasy team name. And yes, I know it’s not the proper pronunciation. That’s kind of the point.

At the risk of sounding, well, less than humble…I’m a pretty good fantasy baseball player. I win leagues fairly often. Last year, I won almost half my leagues, and came in 2nd in two others. So this should be a nice challenge. So, there’s a 40-man roster, which I haven’t managed to fill yet, even though our draft is over. Oh, and we’re given $400 in fake money to buy our players from a shared pool.

Anyways – a link to my ottoneu team can be found here if you’re interested.

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