Podcast: Ahead of Their Time

I’m a baseball nerd. Ever since I was a kid, I was enamored with the history, statistics and strategies of the game. I know not everybody is as interested in that in-depth stuff as much as I am, but odds are, if you come to this page, you have more than just a passing interest in baseball.

Well, this is an episode of a podcast put out by FiveThirtyEight called “Ahead of Their Time” where the host talks about a singular topic and the impact it ended up having on the game. This one tells us the origins of the defensive shift as first popularized by then Cleveland Indians player-manager, Lou Boudreau as a way to stop Ted Williams from just killing them with the bat and how other teams picked up on it before it fell out of the game.

Eventually, the Tampa Bay Rays brought it back in the mid-2000s and it became the wonderful ruiner of baseball that people hate and/or love depending on how your team manages it, but the story of and about it was absolutely fascinating to me and I think you’ll enjoy it as well. Give it a listen.

It’s a pain in the ass to find a direct link because godforbid ESPN make it easy on you, but here’s the FiveThirtyEight podcast page where you can stream it; titled “Why Baseball Revived a 60-year-old Strategy Designed To Stop Ted Williams”.

The Outfield: An Awful Lot of Questions; Not Many Answers

The Outfield: An Awful Lot of Questions; Not Many Answers

The Mets need Yoenis Cespedes. That’s basically the simplest sentence I’ll ever write. There should be no debate of that point either. Once he decides to opt out of his current deal, re-signing the slugging left fielder should be the priority for Sandy Alderson and company.

But – should the team be able to retain Cespedes – that would open up a number of other questions in the outfield for the 2017 team. Mainly, what do you do – if anything – with Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and/or Juan Lagares?

That’s a lot of names vying for playing time in 3 spots and, as much as I’ve already gone over this, I still haven’t figured out a solution that would satisfy me going into next season.

That being said, let’s break down the possibilities on each:

1. Yoenis Cespedes

An absolute necessity.There is no permutation for next season that I will be happy with that doesn’t include Cespedes. He’s going to opt out and he’s going to get paid, but the team better recognize that you don’t let players of this quality just up and walk away because of money.

2. Curtis Granderson

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest Grandy fan. I like him when he’s going well, but other times, not so much.He plays a serviceable RF, but has a wet noodle of an arm which constantly allows runners to take an extra base.

On the other hand, the man is an absolute pro. He doesn’t get too high or low and serves as a great example of what it means to be a big league ballplayer to the younger guys.

Granderson started 2016 in an absolute black abyss of a slump, but rebounded late to post decent numbers. He has 1 year left on his deal for $15M which may have looked like an impossibility to move in June, but he did show enough down the stretch that you’d think there has to be a team out there willing to take a shot on him for one year if the Mets are willing to eat some of that money.

He’s probably the player I’d be most interested in dealing, but I do worry about the effect such a move would have on the clubhouse as you constantly hear how beloved he is by his teammates. That being said, if there is a move to be made, you’d genuinely have to wonder about what kind of value you’d get in return for an aging, streaky player. I don’t know if anybody they would get in return would be anyone that would improve the current roster and you certainly don’t want to just give Grandy away for a nothing return. It’s a very complex situation. Which brings us to…

3. Jay Bruce

Acquired before the deadline for Dilson Herrera who was our 2B of the future, Bruce struggled mightily as he adjusted to a new team and city and was consistently booed for his collection of absolutely woeful at-bats.

Bruce has a team option for 2017 at $13M which you would think is a cinch to be picked up, but the issue becomes what you do with him after. Like Granderson, Bruce is a streaky, high strikeout guy and is comparatively just as bad if not worse than Curtis defensively.

With Cespedes making it clear that he’s no longer willing to play center field, it’s simply unreasonable to think the team can keep both Bruce and Granderson since having to play either one in CF is the equivalent of punting the position and will lead to balls dropping that should have been caught and runs scoring that never should have been on base.

Bruce is an interesting case because, if you feel you have to make a trade, he seems likely to bring back decent value because of his history and the fair dollar amount attached to him. But the idea of having a full-season of Bruce, Cespedes and Lucas Duda (which will be another blog in itself) is tantalizing for a team that had so much difficulty scoring runs down the stretch.

There has been talk of possibly moving Bruce to 1B (at least part-time), but as a lefty hitter, that’s basically waving goodbye to Lucas Duda while probably downgrading the position defensively. Once again, not an ideal situation.

4. Michael Conforto

What a weird year it was for Scooter. After a strong debut and solid performance into the World Series, Conforto looked like a lock to be patrolling LF for the next decade. Then a slump turned into a black hole which turned into a demotion to Las Vegas.

While in Vegas, he was able to get back to the things that had made him successful, but seemed to have lost every ounce of confidence from Terry Collins as it felt like he never played after rosters expanded in September.

Make no mistake: the Mets need Conforto to be successful. Besides just the on-field value he would bring, he offers a low-cost option in a lineup full of ever-rising salaries. While money should be less of an issue for the team coming off two reasonably successful seasons, they’re still not out of the woods yet when it comes the debts they built up due to the Bernie Madoff catastrophe and the restructuring of debt against both Citi Field and SNY.

Conforto, as with Granderson and Bruce, is not and probably should not be playing CF. He’s also been pushed from his natural LF since Cespedes took it back and only has limited exposure in RF. Once again, there’s been talk about getting him reps at 1B, but – as he also bats left-handed – that would once again force Lucas Duda off the roster or into a platoon that makes no sense.

Conforto had significant trade value, but it had to be impacted by 2016’s down year to where now you’d be selling low on a player that was looked at as a cornerstone just a few months ago. I can’t possibly see how you move him away at this point as there’s still so much upside should he get back to what made him successful in 2015.

5. Brandon Nimmo

The first draft pick under the Alderson regime, Nimmo made his major league debut this year and looked…eh, like a 4th or 5th outfielder right now. There’s obvious tools and he’s still young enough to put on some mass, but, at this point, Nimmo is probably ticketed to at least begin the season in Triple-A Las Vegas.

He was rumored to originally be included in the deal that eventually landed Jay Bruce, but that seemed to change at the 11th hour and he stuck with the team through September where he showed promise as a bench option with some key pinch hits while being able to provide a little speed late in the game as well.

Nimmo has a significant amount of experience playing CF in his minor-league career, but doesn’t project to be able to handle the position regularly. From what I’ve seen, I thought he looked adequate. Average at best, but it’s not like he was a tire fire out there.

Unless some kind of deal is struck during the offseason, I’d imagine he starts in Vegas where he had a breakout season in 2016. It remains to be seen how that will translate out of the high altitude of the Pacific Coast League or if he’d even be given an opportunity to contribute in Queens next season.

6. Juan Lagares

After a breakout 2014 season that saw him win a Gold Glove, Lagares signed a 4 year deal that provided him security and the team a friendly dollar figure should he continue to improve and build upon that terrific year. Unfortunately, for the Mets, he has failed to do so.

A combination of injuries and stagnation have brought Lagares’s development to a screeching halt and he’s been unable to refine his approach at the plate enough to make himself a genuine option to be an everyday player.

In a perfect world, Lagares learns to be respectable at the plate as his defense in CF would add significant value to his batting line and make this easy on the Mets where he would seize the position for himself and hold it down. Instead we’re left with the constant question of what we can reasonably expect from Juan and still patching in the Grandersons and Confortos of the world and hoping they don’t cost you a game with their defense while trying to jumpstart the offense.

It’s a tough situation and right now, you’d have to look at Lagares as the 4th outfielder until further notice. You hope he comes into spring training ready to go and really blows people out of the water, but he’s had the opportunity to do so for a couple of years now and has been unable to clamp it down.

He’s valuable as a late-inning defensive replacement and a RH bat, but he’s one of the few – if the only – players on this roster who could be classified as above average defensively and at a premium position – you’d wish he could get his game together enough where you can run him out there everyday to ease a bit of the burden on your pitching staff.

Which brings us to where we stand. Outside of the inherent need to hold on to Cespedes, the team looks to be playing musical chairs with the other two spots in the outfield with none an ideal fix. With a weak free agent class in the offing, Alderson and crew are going to have to be creative in making the necessary improvements needed in this roster while at the same time, not making a deal just for the sake of clearing a body.

It’s a very tough situation especially with the lack of seemingly obvious answers. Normally, I’m pretty certain about things I’d like to see, but this feels like a no-win situation. There are tons of possibilities and no real true answers. At the very least, the offseason appears as if it will be plenty interesting.

Podcast! Awards! Postseason! Mets!

Podcast! Awards! Postseason! Mets!

Greetings! You may or may not be aware that I do a weekly pop culture podcast (The Car JoeMez Podcast) which is a lot of fun to do, but following the Mets’ Wild Card loss to the Giants, we recorded a special baseball only episode where I speak about my IBWAA awards ballot, postseason predictions and I even examine what the future could bring for the Mets’ roster. Oh, I shit on Terry Collins too. You know how I do. Anyway, I hope you’ll give it a listen and if you like, maybe check out some of the other episodes.

The Wild Card Is Awesome…Even When Your Team Loses

The Wild Card Is Awesome…Even When Your Team Loses

Welcome to a post-Wild Card wrap-up on ShoesOnSports. The Mets didn’t get the result we were hoping for, but take a step back and think of that game before Jeurys Familia left that pitch up in the zone to Connor Gillaspie. Before that ball was smoked into the Mets’ bullpen…man, that game was fucking fun, wasn’t it?

You had two aces on the top of their games, mowing through the order like nobody’s business knowing full well that the first team to make a mistake probably loses.

It was drama of the highest form and – with the championship dreams of both teams hanging in the balance – we were treated to brilliance from the up-and-coming Noah Syndergaard and pure dominance from the postseason living legend that is Madison Bumgarner.

Over the past few days, the amount of talk that has gone on concerning the Wild Card format has been unreal. From what I see in my social media feeds and the blogs and articles that I read, there’s a minority of people who approve of the single-game play-in, while most would prefer some kind of series like a 2 of 3.

I’ve always been in the minority since this change was made to the Wild Card. Put more emphasis on winning the division and give the team with the best record an advantage since – in theory – the Wild Card winner would be burning their ace pitcher in the Wild Card game just to get through to the Division Series. You can say all you want that that’s not fair, to which I reply, it’s not supposed to be! If it bothers you that much, you should have won your division to not put your season on the line in one last game.

But if after watching both the AL Wild Card game be won on a walk-off homer by Edwin Encarnacion and then the NL game go to the 9th before the Giants were finally able to push across a marker, how can you possibly say this wasn’t awesome? Sure, you’re apt to have some stinkers in there, but you’ll get even more of them by adding more games. Plus, we’re in a period now where there’s already a shortage of pitching to handle all the innings for a team making a deep postseason run so adding more games to a schedule already overloaded isn’t exactly the best idea.

Either way, the one game format provides drama and excitement that we rarely get with divisional races anymore at the end of the regular season. Outside of the famous “Game 162” day of the 2012 season which was just bonkers, we probably hadn’t seen such a meaningful final day since the 1993 season where the Giants won 103 games, but didn’t make the postseason finishing a game behind the 104 win Braves.

These Wild Card games give us a dose of the drama while not sacrificing the integrity of the regular season. Teams now have a vested incentive in winning their division whereas before this play-in game, they make use the final weekend as an opportunity to align their rotation to play in the Division Series. And I say that as a fan who just last night saw his team get bounced from potential postseason play in the Wild Card game.

It’s not fair. But it’s not supposed to be. And it’s perfectly summed up in this tweet:

To next season, we go.

Collins Puts Mets At Strategic Disadvantage

Collins Puts Mets At Strategic Disadvantage

You can say that Terry Collins has players wanting to play for him. You’d be right. You’d can also say that with the sheer quantity of impact injuries the team has suffered that them even being in this spot tonight is incredibly unlikely. You’d also be right about that.

One thing you cannot say, however, is that having Terry Collins calling the shots on your bench – in what is assumed to be a pitcher’s duel tonight in the NL Wild Card game – inspires much confidence in a late-game situation where he would need to outmanage Bruce Bochy.

Collins rode a historic hot streak by Yoenis Cespedes to get into the postseason and then hopped back on the horse to ride Daniel Murphy’s historic hot streak to get into the World Series where he was completely exposed as a dumpster fire of a tactician who trusted history over current results (Michael Cuddyer), was unable to identify when a pitcher in a big spot was gassed (Steven Matz) and was unable to deviate from the script he had written for himself in regards to managing a bullpen that led to him using his closer in less than optimal situations which led to two “blown saves”.

Add that to everything we’ve seen this year. Wilmer Flores is unavailable for the remainder of the season because of an injury sustained in a home-plate collision because Terry Collins admitted he forgot to pinch run for him. The decision early in the season to destroy Jim Henderson. Also, he’s been a mad man using every single player available to him since rosters expanded in September and, should tonight’s game be close in the late innings, I’d be shocked if he’s able to use ONLY 25 players.

The Mets are only carrying 9 pitchers tonight which – in theory – is plenty for one game and maximizes your bench options. But with the way Collins has grown accustomed to playing musical match-ups over the past month, I genuinely have to question if Collins will have the foresight not to burn through all his players and put himself at a disadvantage should the game go into extra innings like last night’s AL Wild Card game.

One thing I can promise is that Collins is no Showalter and won’t be questioned for NOT using a certain player. In a perfect world, the Mets jump on Madison Bumgarner early and take the game out of Collins’ hands. But should Noah Syndergaard give up a couple of early runs and Collins has his hand forced, this could be an ugly game for the blue and orange.

Strasburg Injury Reinforces Playing For Now & Not The Future

Strasburg Injury Reinforces Playing For Now & Not The Future

The window of opportunity is a fickle thing. Sometimes, what looks to be a budding dynasty gets one shot at winning and then crumbles in the aftermath.

In 2006, the Mets ran roughshod over the rest of the NL East, but injuries to key starting pitchers and horribly timed slumps from impact hitters led to the Mets dropping a heartbreaker of an NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in a season where the Mets SHOULD have not only beaten the Cardinals, but steamrolled the AL Champion Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

In the days that followed, the sadness turned to optimism as many fans pointed to the emergence of young stars Jose Reyes and David Wright as well as continued excellence from veteran Carloses, both Beltran and Delgado added to a pitching staff featuring a “healthy” Pedro Martinez, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and young fireballers John Maine and Oliver Perez who had both performed admirably in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, it would be nine years before the Mets even reached the playoffs following the disappointment of 2006. They had their chance. And they blew it. You don’t always get a second chance in sports.

The Atlanta Braves and NY Yankees both had runs of sustained success in the 90s and early 00s, but the Braves were only able to win one championship (in the strike-shortened season of 1995) proving that even if you have a fistful of lottery tickets, your number may still not come up.

This week, Nationals pitcher Stephan Strasburg was removed from a game and it was feared that he may have needed a second Tommy John surgery. The Nationals sit comfortably atop the NL Eastern division right now and – barring a monumental collapse – are pretty much guaranteed to see postseason play. But the loss of Strasburg for the postseason would have been a huge hit to their World Series chances.

The diagnosis was that he just had a strain of the flexor tendon, but more than that, it was a harrowing reminder of how you need to seize your opportunities when you have them. Strasburg was probably the most hyped draft pick in history when he was taken first overall by Washington in the 2009 draft and his talent and potential was on full display when he made his debut in 2010 in a 14 strikeout performance against the Pirates that was carried nationally on ESPN.

Unfortunately, for Strasburg and the Nats, he would need Tommy John surgery and missed most of the 2011 season before returning for a cup of coffee in September. He was ready to go for the 2012 season, but with a strict innings-limit that would force him to be shutdown in September while the Nats were thought to be a favorite to win the National League and potentially the World Series.

Without Strasburg – Washington’s clear-cut ace – they lost a five-game series to the Cardinals and, though they have always defended the organizational decision to sit Strasburg in his first full-year back from surgery, the questions and “what-ifs” have never gone away.The Nationals haven’t been in a position to make another such run until this season where they almost lost Strasburg again.

The Mets were faced with a similar issue with their ace, Matt Harvey, last season. They decided to peel away from their pre-season, self-imposed innings limit and let Harvey pitch until the final game of the World Series, by which point he had accumulated more innings than any other pitcher in history fresh off TJ surgery.

There’s a fine line between use and abuse and the Mets – while clearly pushing Harvey – didn’t abuse the right-hander. They simply tried to seize an opportunity both the player and team knew wouldn’t present itself very often.

It’s unenviable situation for an organization to be put into with how we value young, power arms in this day and age of baseball, and to risk long-term damage to such a valuable asset for a short-term gain is borderline irresponsible, but there has been no definitive proof showing exactly what causes pitchers to break.

Until there is, the cases of Harvey and Strasburg will keep presenting themselves with new faces and new names and new coaching staffs and front office executives who are forced to make the decision of whether to try to protect and asset or put the pedal to floor and go for what may be your one chance to get through a window that is eternally closing.

If you ask Mets fans, I guarantee they agree with going for it as 2015 was a magical season that evolved out of thin air and fell just short of possibly being miraculous. Nationals fans may have agreed with the decision to sit Strasburg at the time, thinking it was just the beginning of a long run of Washington dominance, but that never did materialize. They’re left with the what-ifs and the realization that you need to capitalize on legitimate championship opportunities when they present themselves because there is zero guarantee that there is another one waiting behind it.

There’s no sport as fickle as baseball when it comes to injuries and the impact they can have on expectations. Losing a starter of the ilk of a Harvey or Strasburg long-term usually means postponing expectations until they’re able to return. Which is why when you have them and when they’re able, you go for it. Every time. Because by the time you’re back in that position, you’re just a flexor tendon away from not being close again.



Shut Up Assholes, Signing Tebow Is Fine

Shut Up Assholes, Signing Tebow Is Fine

Let me be the one to put all your fragile minds at ease.

Tim Tebow signed a minor-league contract with the Mets today. He is not going to be on the major league roster this season…or next season, for that matter. He is not adding to an already crowded outfield. He will not be affecting the chemistry of the big league team during a stretch-run.

This is not embarrassing. You are not embarrassed. If at any point you DO feel embarassed, you are a moron. Plain and simple. You, kind sir and/or madam, are a fucking simpleton and are hereby no longer entitled to an opinion.

The biggest arguments against this are from people who are acting like he’s going to be taking playing time away from young (actual) major leaguers like Michael Conforto or Brandon Nimmo. As we’ve established, this is not happening.

Then the next and best argument is that signing Tebow is a publicity stunt of the worst kind and the Mets should be embarassed. This one is only partially incorrect.

Yes, signing someone of Tim Tebow’s notoriety is part publicity stunt. But it is not a desperate one, nor even a bad one. For an example of a completely negative sports-franchise publicity stunt, look no further than when Tebow was traded from the Denver Broncos to the New York Jets.

It was a move completely forced by Jets owner, Woody Johnson, in an attempt to sell jerseys and personal seat licenses, but it quickly became an embarassment for the franchise as the coaching staff rejected Tebow from the very beginning and he ended up taking up a valuable roster spot as the backup quarterback and, even when starter Mark Sanchez faltered, was kept on the sidelines in favor of a third-stringer.

This is not happening with the Mets’ signing of Tebow today. Yes, he will be taking up a roster spot at the minor-league level, but it’s not like he will be hindering the development of a blue-chip prospect and, in fact, will add some much needed star power to the minor leagues who are always running some sort of gimmick or promotion in an attempt to draw more people to minor-league games.

Tebow brings star power and attention. He will sell tickets. He will sell jerseys. He is a PR machine like very few other major athletes alive right now.More than that, he’s a quality human being. At no point has Tim Tebow ever been connected to drugs, scandal or domestic violence. The worst thing ever said about him is that he’s very religious. Apparently, that rubs some people the wrong way.

I’m an atheist. I have the right to be. Tim Tebow also has the right to worship his god as he sees fit. So, to be perfectly honest with you, I couldn’t care less how hard Tim Tebow religions because at no point does it affect me or the way I have to lead my life.

He is an athletic freak. You have to be to even be considered to play professional sports at any level. Maybe (and most likely) he doesn’t ever crack a major league roster. So what? Since when did we become so obsessed with tearing people down and wanting to see them fail?

Tim Tebow is an immensely talented human being who brings a built-in fanbase so an organization that can benefit both financially and in public relations from what he brings to the table. This is the dictionary definition of a “no-lose situation”.

Tebow gets to try his hand at a different professional sport and the Mets and other franchises get to sell tickets to people who clearly have an interest in his pursuits. If he learns to hit off-speed pitching, who knows, maybe one day he’ll get a cup of coffee in the bigs and Mets GM, Sandy Alderson will be regaled as a genius for seeing something in “the failed football player”.

Or maybe Tebow only plays a year of A-ball and realizes that he’s been away from baseball for far too long to have a legitimate chance of moving through the system. There’s no shame in trying and failing. Good on him for putting himself out there knowing full well that people will be frothing at the mouth and waiting for him to fail so they can jump on him again.

At no point have I ever been a Tebow supporter, but I have zero against the guy. Let him try. It’s not affecting the Mets at the major league level and will only help their exposure and financials in the lower levels of the minors. Worst case scenario: it doesn’t work out and he goes back to ESPN to be a college football analyst again. Oh well.

So if you’re waiting for Tebow to fail, shush. Because if he didn’t sign with Mets, there was another half-dozen teams waiting to do the same thing.

For now, though…it’s Tebow Time.