In 2020, the game will change — so must we

The world is facing a foe whose challenges make hasty responses very risky.

While the president favors haste as he seeks to sow “division and confusion” — his way of dealing with complexity and uncertainty, Major League Baseball is taking a more deliberate approach.

Player by Lucky Creative/Shutterstock.com

MLB released a 67-page report stating what needs to be done to protect players and support personnel when the sport resumes. Among the issues covered in the report are how often to test, what to do when someone tests positive, and how to lessen chances of both players and other team personnel both contracting and spreading the virus.

Among the proposed restrictions according to The Athletic article are “No spitting, using smokeless tobacco and sunflower seeds in restricted areas. Any physical interactions such as high-fives, fist bumps and hugs must be avoided at club facilities.”

The game of baseball will be different.

And as MLB is offering its resumption plan, the Miami Marlins have reopened their facilities for player use.

A bigger problem is that even if MLB fully implements what is in its report that will not stop the virus’ spread. Further, as Andy McCullough and Marc Carig stated in an article in The Athletic,

the protocols may not be enough to blunt an almost inevitable outcome, the price for transporting thousands of people around the country to play games while a highly communicable virus still lurks throughout the nation: People in baseball will still get sick.

https://theathletic.com/1827299/2020/05/21/infections-are-going-to-happen-experts-talk-risks-reality-of-mlbs-protocols/

And that possibility is on players’ minds.

If players expect to receive a full season’s salary for a partial season of play, there might not even be baseball this year.

Further, for how long can games be played in empty ballparks before the fans watching TV games start losing interest? In a New York Times essay, Jeré Longman writes about the importance of fan-filled seats in stadiums:

For those watching on television, spectators are necessary surrogates. They provide jersey-wearing pageantry, face-painted tribalism and adrenaline for the players. Their responses of jubilation and anguish verify our passionate responses. Their voices become our soundtrack, collectively rising in anticipation, thunderously exhaling in joy or disapproval.

Without those spectators, those on-site enthusiasts, even televised games may lose some of the magnetism they have had.

But then, they might not.

Those empty stadium games could still be well worth watching.

Jason Stark wrote, “If there is, in fact, an 82-game baseball season, stuff will happen. Stats will happen. Winning (and losing) will happen. History will happen.”

It is unlikely a hitter will break the home run record or that a pitcher will strike out 300 batters, but a batter could hit .400 and a pitcher could break the record for the most consecutive strikeouts in a nine-inning game, the current record 10 by Tom Seaver on April 22, 1970, a game in which Seaver struck out 19 batters, one shy of the Major League record.

Let’s give baseball a chance to still keep us on the edge of our seats even if those seats are in our homes.

Body or heart and mind? Or both?

Though the Mets Spring Training has just begun, the Edwin Diaz drama continues.

In Joel Sherman’s article, “Mets are desperate for Edwin Diaz resurrection,” “faulty mechanics” are blamed for Diaz’s 2019 problems on the mound, highlighted by his 5.59 ERA and his 45.3 Hard Hit % — 10 points more than his previous high.

Source: Statcast

Causes?

Sherman writes, “He opened up his front shoulder too soon too often, plus his hand position was off.” Diaz adds, ““I left too many pitches right in the middle.”

In 2019, why weren’t the Mets able to figure that out? That failure is not just a coaching problem, it is a team problem, one Mets GM Van Wagenen has been trying to resolve.

New pitching coach Jeremy Hefner has inherited the Diaz problem. However, poor pitching mechanics do not appear to be what most concerns Hefner.

“He [Diaz] can only control what is going on in his chest and inside of his brain. That is what we have been focusing on,” Hefner said.

Diaz says one thing; Hefner another. Body or mind and heart?

Sherman summed up the situation:

Today, he [Diaz] is the face to what currently is an abysmal trade — Seattle received one of the majors’ best prospects in Jarred Kelenic while the Mets got Diaz and Robinson Cano, who had his worst season at the plate and with health in 2019.

Despite the hope that Hefner expresses, the Diaz problem does not appear to be a quick fix.

Mets Need More Inning-Eaters

Since the 2015 season, only two starters have pitched more than 200 innings in a season as a Met.

That’s more than 600 outs per season.

Both have done it three times.

Jacob deGrom did it in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Tom Glavine did it in 2004, 2005, and 2007.

Since 2000, no other Mets pitcher has done it more than twice. Four accomplished that twice: Al Leiter, Steve Trachsel, and Mike Pelfrey, all before 2011, and R. A. Dickey in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

Al Leiter also did it in 1999, so in his Mets career he reached the 200 marker three times.

Before 2017, the last Mets pitcher to do it (once) was Bartolo Colon, who did it in 2014. Others were Pedro Martinez (2005), Johan Santana (2008), Kevin Appier (2001), and Mike Hampton (2000). No Mets pitcher broke the 200 IP barrier in either 2015 or 2016.

Before 2000, Mets pitchers reached the 200 mark much more often with one pitcher, Tom Seaver, doing it 11 times, accomplishing it in every season from 1967 to 1976.

In the last century, it was done most often from 1962-1979 and from 1983-1993, eras when Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Dwight Gooden, and David Cone brought fans to their feet in Shea Stadium.

For deGrom to have done it three times in a row in this era when relievers are entering games earlier and earlier shows that he deserves to be ranked among the Mets great starting pitchers, the men who made the mound their monument. His two Cy Young awards acknowledge that.

Note: Al Jackson deserves special credit for getting at least 600 outs in the Mets first two seasons on a team that, in 1962, won 40 games while losing 120, and in won 51 and lost 111. In that second season, Jackson’s record was 13-17, so he notched more than 25% of the team’s victories. His won-lost percentage of .433 was 118 points higher than the Mets’. Though he never had a winning record with the Mets, he was a winner.

A source of the historical data in this article was Baseball Reference.

Trading Noah Syndergaard is a high-risk move for Mets

The headline for Mike Puma’s New York Post article reads “Brodie Van Wagenen can’t afford to make wrong Noah Syndergaard call.” But what is the “right call”?

That depends on how much Syndergaard is worth.

Only 26, he should be worth more than Cano and Diaz combined, and look at what the Mets gave away to get those two.

In his five seasons with the Mets, Syndergaard has pitched more than 600 innings, has a 44-27 record, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.59. Let’s see how those numbers –— and others –— stack up against other Mets pitchers, both current and past, after 107 games, which is how many Syndergaard has pitched.

In his career, in 106 starts, Syndergaard has pitched 644 innings. That is the 9th-most among all Mets pitchers after 107 games. And that includes the 2017 season when, because of injury, he pitched only 30.1 innings. If, in the 2017 season, he had pitched as many innings as he averaged in his 2015, 2016, and 2018 seasons –— just over 164 innings pitched, then for his first four seasons he would have pitched over 804 innings, which would have advanced him to the top of the list, replacing Doc Gooden who pitched 803 innings and moving him ahead of Tom Seaver, who pitched 799.2 innings.

In comparison, Jacob deGrom ranks 7th with 680.2 and Zack Wheeler ranks 12th in innings pitched with 631. So, Syndergaard has pitched 44.2 fewer innings than deGrom but 13 more than Wheeler. Among the other, current Mets starters, Steven Matz has pitched only 91 games with 87 starts and Jason Vargas played his first two seasons for Florida.

Syndergaard’s career winning percentage of .620 is 5th-highest among all Mets starters with at least 40 wins. Only Gooden, Seaver, Darling, and Koosman are ahead of him, with Gooden the leader with a .753 winning percentage.

Among Syndergaard’s teammates, deGrom has a winning percentage of .584. Wheeler’s is .535 and Matz’s .455.

Besides innings pitched and winning percentage, another measure of a pitcher’s value is strikeout-to-walk ratio.

How important is strikeout-to-walk ratio?

Kerry Miller wrote that

“Strikeout rate per inning has changed drastically throughout the history of the game, but strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) ratio is a rather consistent measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness. Whether you’re talking 1889, 1936 or 2014, a 2.5 K/BB ratio is strong, anything better than a 3.0 is great and pitchers above 4.0 are just plain lethal.”

In Web article “Major League Baseball’s Top 10 Starting Pitchers of All Time”

In 2019, Syndergard’s strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.44 is 7th-best among all MLB pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched.

During Syndergaard’s career, he has struck out 697 batters while walking only 152 for a SO/BB ratio of 4.59. It is not only the highest among current Mets starters, it is the highest in Mets history for all starters with more than five starts. The 2nd-highest among all Mets is deGrom’s 4.15. The only other current Mets starter in the top 20 is Steven Matz, whose SO/BB ratio of 3.04 ranks him 20th.

Among past Mets with at least 100 starts, filling out the top 5 are Matt Harvey with a SO/BB ratio of 3.61, Doc Gooden with a 3.29 ratio, and Tom Seaver with 2.82.

When it comes to trade value, Syndergaard should be worth as much as Chris Archer.

In his first 107 games, Archer pitched 631.0 innings, 13 fewer than Syndergaard, had a winning percentage of .473, 147 points lower than Syndergaard’s .620, and had a SO/BB ratio of 2.90, noticeably lower than Syndergaard’s 4.59. When traded in 2018, for Archer the Rays got from the Pirates outfielder Austin Meadows and right-handers Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz, all well-regarded prospects.

Others also rate Syndergaard highly.

Tim Britton of theathletic.com calls Syndergaard “an ace-caliber pitcher under control for 2 1/2 more seasons.”

Abby Caldwell of the Blog Red Machine wrote that

“Syndergaard is already very good and will likely come with a huge price tag in any trade. . . . the Reds would probably have to offer up at the very least an outfielder such as Jesse Winker, probably a bullpen arm like Michael Lorenzen, and a top prospect like Jonathan India.”

In Web article “Cincinnati Reds: Trading for Noah Syndergaard would be worth the cost”

And then Caldwell added, “I wouldn’t be opposed to them making a deal like this at all.”

Adam Weinrib on 12up.com wrote with regard to the Twins trading for Syndergaard, “they should make this move 10 out of 10 times, regardless of cost” in the article, “Twins Must Bite the Bullet and Pay High Price for Noah Syndergaard.”

If Syndergaard is traded, it will the Mets first major deal since the Cano/Diaz debacle, one in which Puma said the Mets got

“an underperforming 36-year-old second baseman, who is under contract through 2023 and a closer who still hasn’t shown he can handle the stress that comes with pitching in New York.”

Mike Puma in Web article “Brodie Van Wagenen can’t afford to make wrong Noah Syndergaard call.”

That deal, coupled with the Mets trades for Broxton and Font, has raised questions about the Mets’ ability to properly vet players, questions the organization has yet to adequately answer.

To prevent a fan rebellion, the Mets will need to get a return as good as the one the Rays got last July when they traded Chris Archer to the Pirates.

Finally, the cost of keeping Syndergaard must also be taken into consideration.

If he continues to pitch as well as if not better than he has up to the point when he reaches free agency (2022), can we really expect the Wilpons to meet his salary demands then, which could be for even more money than deGrom got?

If the Mets believe they can re-sign Syndergaard by the time he reaches free agency, they should keep him. If they have doubts, they should trade him when his value is high, which it is now. However, trading Syndergaard involves risk, one the Mets should only take if it includes multiple, highly ranked MLB prospects, with one preferably comparable in skill to the Padres’ shortstop Fernando Tatís.


Main data source: https://www.baseball-reference.com/tiny/S5g9q
Search criteria: From 1962 to 2019, playing for NYM, as starter, in first 107 games, (requiring IPouts>=3), sorted by greatest number of games in all seasons matching the selected criteria.