Ike Davis’ Small Adjustments at the Plate Has Led to His Improved Results

June 18, 2012

With the New York Mets surprising most people around the game by playing solid baseball and using mostly young kids who are making minimum salaries, one hitter who wasn’t up to the standards of Mets fans was first baseman Ike Davis.

All the frustration on the talk radio shows and in the online media was that Davis should be sent down. The biggest reason was that the Mets were competing for first place, and after Davis slumped through a 1-18 stretch (8 Ks) which lowered his slash line to .158/.234/.273/.507 OPS, fans wanted Ike sent down to the minor leagues.

New York fans usually smell blood in the water towards a player after an 0-4 game in spring training, so this Davis futility was like a True Blood movie premiere.

The talk of sending Davis down had been around for a couple of weeks, but the Mets brass insisted Davis was staying with the parent club.

Since that 1 for 18 slide, Davis has gone on an eight game hitting streak, going 11-23 with two doubles, a home run and 7 RBI. He has had big hits within this span, including the double in the final game of the series against the Yankees and last Thursday’s RBI single against Tampa Bay which gave the Mets a 4-3 lead.

Hitting takes talent, but all hitters can improve if they do the correct things necessary for hitting. These include not drifting, keeping the hands “quiet,” having a short/quick swing and staying balanced. What Ike was doing for the majority of the early season was exactly the opposite. He was moving to the ball, excessively hitching his hands and pressing forward with his upper body.

During his hitting streak Ike just didn’t “start hitting.” He changed his approach to what he was originally doing, one that gives him a greater chance for success. This proper approach makes hitters successful at every level, from the major leagues all the way down to the Little Leagues.

When the ball is about to be released by the pitcher, the hitter begins his “load” to begin his swing. You have to go back in order to go forward. This is similar to having to bend your legs and squat down before you jump up in the air. The load could be a very slight weight shift to the back leg and small movement of the hands back, or it can be just a small toe tap and slight inward turn. An example of a near perfect load is what Curtis Granderson does or what Albert Pujols does.

DRIFTING

The hitter then takes his stride forward, gets his foot down (hands must stay back), recognizes the pitch and if he likes it, takes his swing. This process is so fast (less than a half-second), that all the movements must be in synch to make it work. If any part of the timing is off, hitting the ball hard will almost never happen.

The front leg must be solid, giving a sturdy base and the hitter’s weight must be against the front leg, not on top or over the front leg.

What Ike was doing was moving his body too far forward over his front foot, with his upper body pushing forward over his front leg. When the hitter moves forward towards the ball onto the front leg, it is known as drifting.

When many hitters get into a slump, drifting to the ball is one of the main reasons.

The more a hitter stands tall and almost upright in the batter’s box, the more susceptible he is to drifting. Ike used to be really tall in his stance, with no flex or bending of his knees. Now his knees are more flexed and his stance is slightly wider.

Just as important is that a hitter needs to wait on the ball and not move towards the pitch. I tell young hitters all the time to “wait for the pitch to get to you” and don’t go out to hit it. The ball will eventually get to your hitting zone. Ike was going out to get the ball and was not waiting for the ball to get to him.

Moving towards the ball forces the head to move, in essence making the ball appear faster.

Ike began to wait on the ball and hit against his front leg, not on it over it. Drifting to the ball curtails a hitters power.  Since the hitters weight is already forward, his legs are taken out of the swing. A hitter can’t rotate his hips as much, and power is derived primarily from hip rotation and lower body force. The force won’t be with you if the hitters weight is already forward.

With Ike drifting forward and not waiting on the ball, it led to a very weak swing, using mostly his arms, and not using his hands and legs. Good hitters hit with their hands, not their arms. With Ike not staying back and him having to reach for the ball (especially the ball away), Ike’s hands were extended away from his body and he began to roll over the ball.

That is why so many pitches turned into harmless ground balls to the right side. Robinson Cano did the same “rolling over” early in the season, too, when he was slumping.

A hitter needs his hands tight to the body to generate more power. Think about the last time you performed dumbbell curls for your biceps. Did you have your elbows away from your body or close to your body? They were close to the body, allowing you more strength to lift more weight. A hitter who keeps his hands tight to the body (think Cano and Granderson), generally have more bat speed, use their legs more and have more power. This is the hitting process incorporated by Kevin Long.

This is a video of Granderson’s home run against the Washington Nationals this past weekend. Contact is made at the four-second mark of that video on MLB.com. Pause it there. Check out how tight the hands (and back elbow) are to his body, allowing the Grandy Man (who also uses great lower body torque) to get on top of and drive a high fastball. His balance is perfect and there is no drift of the weight forward.

EXCESS HAND MOVEMENT

Ike had a pretty severe hitch in his swing, a pre-swing up and down movement with his hands, exacerbated by a circular motion. While hitches are mostly bad, all hitches aren’t necessarily problematic. Barry Bonds had a hitch, but he ended up getting his hands in the power position when the ball was on its way. Granderson has some excess movement, too, but like Bonds he has his hands set when the pitch is released.  

Davis rarely got his hands set before the ball arrived.

Slight hand movement is good as it helps ease tension in the upper body, but excess movement is often not good. Ike’s hitch led to a timing issue where his hands were still moving when the ball was released and he wasn’t able to get the bat to the ball quickly enough.

Combined with his drifting, Ike was in no position to drive the ball.

With these hitting issues, the only pitch you can hit is the pitch over the plate, as hard stuff inside “gets in your kitchen,” and the result is a swinging strike or jam shot. Hitters then tend to look for only pitches over the plate and take those inside pitches.

At the beginning of his career, Ike had movement but not the severe hitch he had earlier this year. Now, while some up and down movement is still there, Ike has lessened his hitch and his hands are mostly finished moving when the ball is released. I would still rather have Davis eliminate the hitch completely (its one of the easier “faults” to fix), and like Granderson does, having only a slight movement back. This would allow his hands to be even quicker on fastballs up and on the inside part of the plate.

BALANCE

When Ike was drifting out forward and had his arms move out over the plate, many times his upper body bent forward at the waist, leaving Davis is an unbalanced position. Hitting coaches call this “a forward press with torso.”

This forward movement, which is different from drifting, further deceased his ability to hit for power. When a hitter takes his stride, whether it be an actual movement forward of a couple of inches or a lifting of his front foot up and down (like Granderson and Pujols), the upper body must be on top of the lower body. This allows the hitter to be balanced before, during and after the swing.

Balance, in addition to not drifting, is important to help generate power with the legs.

In proper balance, think of the hitter as a building with a steeple (upper body) on top of the foundation (the legs). The midpoint is the waist. Throughout the swing, the steeple always needs to stay on top of its foundation. If it doesn’t, the foundation cannot support the steeple, and the building becomes weak.

If the hitter doesn’t stay balanced, the body is not strong throughout the swing.

As mentioned earlier, Ike is more flexed in his knees to help stop his drifting. Staying balanced is also easier if the knees are flexed. Ike now has a slightly wider stance with his knees flexed (like Granderson and Pujols) which helps control drift and balance, leading to better contact and more power.

See how precise hitting a baseball is? One hitting fault can create more faults, which creates havoc with the chain of events a hitter needs to have success.

I remember when I was in the last years of playing baseball ( I was 42). I found myself always drifting to the ball and getting chewed up inside and had to “cheat” with my swing to hit the good fastball. With the help of Lenny Webster, former major leaguer and hitting instructor, he helped me widen my stance, sit down more (like Pujols does), which eliminated my drift. I could then wait on the ball more, and I began to hit for more power.

Just like Ike Davis has done, I made adjustments to be a better hitter.

Good hitters really don’t change anything major to their swings; they just make little adjustments along the way.

Look at Ike earlier this season against Tim Lincecum. (He is shown at the 15 and 25 second marks.) Remember this game of two Ks and the big double play? Ike was taller, drifted forward and although he was balanced, he took inside fastballs for both Ks which he couldn’t handle with the excess hand movement. He was looking for pitches over the plate he could handle.

Now look at Davis last week against Tampa Bay: The adjustments are slight, but the knee flex is there, as is a slightly wider stance, improving his balance and helping eliminate the drifting.

How about this game-tying double against the Yankees?  The hand movement is there, but the hands get set in time, he doesn’t drift forward and his swing balance is perfect.

I am surprised the Mets hitting coach, Dave Hudgens, didn’t change these faults with Davis earlier, but it is very difficult to change hitters from their lifelong habits. Especially major league hitters who have had success doing what they “have always done.” Hudgens is a well-respected hitting coach. In addition, as the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

The reason why Long has had success with guys like Granderson, Cano, Nick Swisher and Raul Ibanez is they were likely willing students receptive to making changes. These changes do not happen overnight.

It might be that these slight adjustments made by Davis were weeks in the making, which would be a credit to both he and Hudgens. I still would like to see Davis eliminate more hand movements and get his hands tighter to his body to generate a shorter bat path to the ball. But right now, Davis is moving in the right direction, which will help him produce more in the Mets lineup.

And keep him out of Buffalo.


Why Work The Count When Attacking the First Pitch Yields Better Results?

June 15, 2012

In watching yesterday’s New York Mets – Tampa Bay Rays game, one big part of the game was when Lucas Duda came up against Jeremy Hellickson in the fourth inning of a tight game. The Mets were already leading 6-4, runners were on first and second with two outs. Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to not bring a lefty from the bullpen to face the lefty hitting Duda, whose OPS is 170 points better facing RHP.

After a brief mound trip by the Rays pitching coach, Duda launched Hellickson’s first pitch of the at bat over the center fielders head for a two-run double, essentially icing the game. Even in the fourth inning, this double gave the Mets an 89% expectancy of winning.

When attacking the first pitch of an at bat in 2012, Duda is hitting .556/.455/1.667/2.121 OPS, with a BABIP of only .250. Yes, those are correct numbers. Main reason is that Duda has banged out three HRs (and yesterday’s double) when attacking the first pitch of an at bat. In those situations, Duda produces no BABIP, but great slugging percentages. Granted it is only 11 PAs, but Duda also has an OPS of 1.128 in his career (47 PAs) when going after the first pitch (4 HRs, 3 2Bs).

When Johan Santana made his first start after his no-hitter, he gave up six runs on four HRs to the cross-town New York Yankees, a game the Mets lost 9-1. Two Hrs were hit by Robinson Cano, who blasted both two-run HRs on the first pitch seen from Santana in each at bat.

When putting the first pitch of any at bat into play this season (41 PAs), Cano is hitting .425/.415/.725/1.140 OPS, with 3 2Bs and 3 HRs. In his career on the first pitch (822 PAs), Cano has an OPS of .953, over 100 points higher than his career OPS and 200 points higher than his career OPS after he is down 0-1 in the count.

So, why do I constantly see many hitters taking a first, very hittable pitch right down the middle? Why do they do this?

Automatically taking strike one might boost up a starters pitch count over time, but is it better to take pitches to add to a pitch count in order to put yourself in a hole you may never get out?

The saber stat crowd constantly talks about good hitters as those who take pitches, work the count, driving the starters pitch count up and “take their walks.” However, the best method of putting up good numbers is attacking the first good, hittable pitch you see in the at bat. I believe it is better to knock out a pitcher based upon hitting them hard as opposed to working their pitch counts up. Plus, the first pitch of an at bat is many times the best pitch you might see in the entire at bat.

After they are down 0-1 in a count (usually by taking the first pitch for a strike), Duda’s slash line is a less robust .243/.287/.375/.662 OPS and Cano’s drops to .283/.304/.462/.766 OPS. Cano’s is not horrible (better than a lot of hitters overall) but is still almost 200 points lower.

Over their careers, the numbers are great for virtually every player who puts the first pitch of any plate appearance into play. Over their careers, the current Yankee lineup averages 278 points higher in their OPS when hitting the first pitch, over when they start out 0-1 in the count.

What is horrible is when these two hitters (and, in fact, ALL hitters ever), get two strikes on them. Over his career with two strikes on him, Duda hits .184/.245/.291/.536 OPS although his BABIP is an above average .311. Cano plummets to .234/.274/.378/.652 OPS with a BABIP of .320.

With two strikes on him, Duda is 270 points less than his career OPS and over 600 points less than his OPS when he hits the first pitch! With two strikes, Cano is almost 200 points less than his career OPS, and 300 points less than when he hits the first pitch.

Widely considered the two best hitters in baseball, Josh Hamilton has an OPS of 1.189 on the first pitch and .629 with two strikes, while Joey Votto’s numbers are 1.166 and .676.

Those are huge differences with even the best hitters in the game.

So, again, why do hitters take good, hittable strikes right over the middle of the plate? The pitcher is trying to get ahead in the count and wants to throw strike one. So why don’t hitters want to attack the first pitch more often?

I call the 0-0 count the attack count, the 0-1 count is the guess/defensive count and the two strikes count are the salvage counts, except maybe 3-2. When taking the first strike and getting down in the count, a hitter then becomes a defensive hitter. After two strikes, unless a major mistake is made by the pitcher, a hitter basically needs to put the ball in play and hope for the best. At this point, the pitcher can throw any pitch he wants, anywhere he wants. The pitcher doesn’t have to throw a strike to get a hitter out. And strikeouts galore happen when hitters get behind in the count.

Why allow the pitcher to get one half of the way (strike one) on the first pitch towards your worst chance for being productive, which is the two strike count?

Hitters are told to “work the count” and try to “get on base.” Getting on base is great and high OBPs are huge benchmarks for quality offenses, but there is a reason why batting average comprises the far biggest component of the OBP stat. Attack pitches which give you the best chance to get on base, which are many times the first pitch of an at bat.

Many people have derided the 2012 Yankees for their inability to hit with runners in scoring position. This goes to show that the RBI is still the most important offensive stat in the game of baseball. I don’t care how many times you get guys on base, it is absolutely important to have hitters who can drive those runs in. It is always much tougher to hit with runner on base than it is to get on base.

This plays into a hitters (and pitchers) mindset during a particular at bat. Nervousness, too many thoughts in the head and an overall “big moment” syndrome can overcome hitters, even a major league veteran. Do you think that David Freese wasn’t feeling it during the 9th inning of Game 6 in last year’s World Series? I don’t care what the results were; the guy was feeling major pressure. With only 100 million people watching, the entire World Series outcome was resting on his shoulders.

Yeah, that might be pressure.

Those pressure factors in a big plate appearance are dismissed by the saber crowd, likely because these variables cannot be tabulated, valued and quantified.

But to become a productive hitter, it is vitally important to be ready to hit and attack the first good strike you see, not work the count to get in a deep hole, especially when a hitter is in a slump. When a hitter is ready to swing, he becomes a more productive hitter. Hitters who go up to the plate looking for the first pitch they can drive and get that pitch, usually do drive the ball. Most slugging percentages of hitters who attack the 0-0 count pitch are substantially higher than their career rates.

See, most (like 99.9%) of all major league hitters have better numbers when they put the first pitch of a plate appearance into play. Almost all of them…..in the entire history of the game.

Look at the numbers of the player which sabermetricians completely agree is the worst player in modern times: Yuniesky Betancourt. Yuni has a career slash line of .269/.293/.392/.684 OPS in over 3700 PAs. That equates to an OPS+ of 83. Betancourt has never had a season which his OPS is completely league average, or 100.

But when Betancourt puts the first pitch in play (likely a pitch down the middle or where he was looking for the ball), his career slash line is .302/.300/.462/.762 OPS. When going after the first pitch, Betancourt’s OPS is almost 80 points higher. That may not seem like much of an improvement, and it’s really not relative to most other hitter’s improvements when going after the first pitch, but Yuniesky is such an overall bad hitter. However, he is much better (especially his SLG percentage) when attacking the first hittable pitch in a PA.

Even teams who attack the first pitch have better overall numbers in this situation. The 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates are considered the worst hitting team this season. They have overall numbers of .226/.279/.361/.640 OPS, but these numbers are .282/.287/.487/.774 OPS when hitting the first pitch of an at bat.

I am not advocating swinging incessantly at the first pitch for the sake of doing so. These productive numbers shown above are due to getting a good pitch to hit on the 0-0 count, looking to hit in this count, and driving the ball when you get your pitch. If the pitcher is trying to throw strike one, why let him get it unopposed? I understand sometimes getting fooled on a pitch (looking fastball, then getting curve) or fouling off the first pitch can get a hitter in a hole, but a hitter should attack a pitch he can drive.

Hitters can be selective and work a count, but it should be done to benefit your at bat rather than trying to drive up a starter’s pitch count. One of the reasons Mark Trumbo of the Los Angeles Angels is having a much better year is because he is more selective at the plate, not swinging at everything, but when he gets a 0-0 count pitch in his zone, he attacks. When going after the first pitch this season, Trumbo is hitting .458/.480/.958/1.148.

I’ll take that slash line over “working the count” every time. Seems like Trumbo’s OBP is pretty good.

Although sometimes going after the first pitch even if it is out of the strike zone**can have good results, Trumbo is not swinging at first pitches off the plate anymore, forcing pitchers to come back over the plate early. And that is another major positive of attacking first pitches. Pitchers will adjust and throw balls off the plate. When a hitters takes pitch, it puts him in eaven a better position to produce.

**In fact, Cano’s second home run off Santana in that game was a high slider out of the zone. But Cano was looking for something to hit, got it and pounced. Even when the pitch is out of the zone, Cano hit a bomb. Why? Because he was looking to hit and was aggressive on a pitch he could drive.

Best plan of attack might be to look at a smaller location WITHIN THE STRIKE ZONE and then hitting that pitch. When a hitter is looking for a pitch in a certain location, it is much easier to turn on an inside fastball, or go the other way on a pitch on the outer third. If the pitch is not in your location, then let it go. Looking location then swinging at a pitch outside this location is when swinging at the first pitch likely gets you out.

Swinging the bat, and not looking for walks, drives in runs. So when runners are on base, and you have the chance to drive them in, look for the first pitch in your zone which you can drive and attack. Being an aggressive hitter on the 0-0 count at pitches in your zone produces tremendous results, which helps your statistics and your team win games.


Scouting the Double A Yankees – Mets Hitters: Havens/Den Dekker/Adams/Almonte

June 13, 2012

I posted a report yesterday about the pitchers I saw during the two games I saw between the B-Mets and Trenton Thunder. This report is about the hitters I saw. One hitter, Matt Den Dekker, was subsequently promoted to Triple-A Buffalo right after the series with Trenton. It’s funny, but the same thing happened with Jordany Valdespin, who was promoted immediately after I saw him play last year in Trenton.

If an B-Mets players want me to come out next time they are in town, I do take donations.

I asked one of the B-Mets players on Sunday when Den Dekker was getting the promotion, and the kid smiled, likely knowing it was soon. Looking at the Buffalo roster that night it was apparent Den Dekker was better than a couple of the Bison outfielders. And the success Kirk Nieuwenhuis has had in the majors was probably another factor to push the other left-handed hitting center fielder.

The B-Mets show a deep lineup, with one player, Josh Rodriguez, having 14 plate appearances (PAs)  in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. There is power from the top through the seven spot, and a nice mix of right-handed and left handed hitters.

Reese Havens

Once again Havens will not have a full season of baseball, having missed most of April with another injury, this time a bad back/oblique. However, he is healthy for now, and back with Binghamton. Being the top pick in 2008, many Mets fans had hoped Havens would already be in the majors by now or at least knocking on the door.

Havens showed his quick bat once again, and his swing is similar Yankees Triple-A second baseman Corban Joseph. He homered and singled on Saturday night, but also struck out five times in 10 PAs. His inability to make consistent contact is recognition of pitch location, specifically the upper and lower levels of the strike zone. Once Havens gets more reps his recognition will improve and so will his contact rates and offensive output.

In the field, Havens showed more range than he had last year, grabbing two ground balls clearly destined for center field.

However, another injury or two and it might be too late for Havens to have a decent career. He needs to stay on the field and get his reps. He’s not as good a hitter as Jason Kipnis of Cleveland, but has potential to be Kipnis lite.

Matt Den Dekker

As mentioned above, Den Dekker was promoted to Buffalo after the series with Trenton. Den Dekker has improved his power this season, banging out eight home runs, 21 doubles and four triples. His bat is much quicker than last year, with an improved swing path, much more direct to the ball.

In my notes from last season, I had written Den Dekker swung at lots of bad pitches, mostly breaking pitches in the dirt. However, these last two games showed to be a more patient (but still aggressive) hitter. He recognized pitches out of the zone, but was aggressive early in the count to attack hittable pitches. If you have read any of my prior pieces, you know I love aggressive hitters early in the count.

Den Dekker will be a doubles machine at the higher levels, with his above average speed as much as his gap power and ability to hit line drives down the RF line. His fourth inning double saw him get behind 0-2 to Brett Marshall but banged a hanging slider into the RF corner. He was also aggressive on other first pitches throughout the series.

Funny, but even though Den Dekker is a pretty good outfielder, more to his great speed rather than his initial routes*, during night games I have twice seen him muff long drives to centerfield in Trenton – once last season and once this past Saturday night.

*Some people think that route running is very important. It is important, but not for really fast guys. I have seen outfielders such as Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson and Den Dekker change their routes during fly balls, but turn on that “extra gear” to outrun the ball. Curtis Granderson is pretty good in center field, but always seems to change his routes. Routes are more important to slower outfielders who can’t outrun the ball. It is one of the more difficult skills to master in baseball.

If Den Dekker continues to hit in Buffalo and Jason Bay continues to struggle in the majors, don’t be surprised if Den Dekker gets a call in August.

Jefry Marte

Marte has skills to hit, with quick and strong hands, with good lower body movement to drive the ball. However, based upon the way he carried himself, it appears that Marte lacks drive. I only saw three PAs since Marte appeared to hurt his hand during a swing and was removed in Saturday night’s game. (UPDATE: Actually, Marte hurt his hand on a ground ball which popped up and hit his hand. A ball which almost took his face off.)

Anyway, his power numbers are improving each season, and will continue as he ages and gets naturally stronger. Some people feel they need to write a kid off if he doesn’t produce huge power numbers at the lower levels, but Marte was 17/18 to begin in Low-A Savannah (19 his second season) and not many kids translate raw power to games at that level. In addition, Marte is not listed on any top Mets prospect list, which might build into his favor and he has to work to get noticed again.

Marte might be one of those guys whose power readily improves as he matures – both physically and mentally. Give him time, let him play and he likely will surprise people.

Juan Lagares

Lagares is a guy who does lots of things decent, but nothing great. He started to hit last season in time split between High-A and Double-A, but is aggressive in that he doesn’t walk much or strikeout. But even with this aggressiveness, there is simply no power production, and his swing seems to bear out that it will not get there, either.

Lagares shows good range in the outfield, with a strong throwing arm, but without any significant offensive tools, his defense might get him to the majors, but it won’t be as a full-time starter.

David Adams

Finally back on the field after basically two seasons off from a busted ankle, Adams showed why the Yankees have been patient with the RHH hitter.

Adams showed tremendous plate discipline, the ability to recognize pitches early out of the hand, and the intelligence to read the pitcher based upon what was thrown to prior hitters. Over the two games, Adams consistently took very tough sliders off the outside part of the plate, not even twitching towards the pitch. Once, after a particularly tough slider from Greg Peavey, I blurted out “Wow, tough pitch!”

Adams also took tough change ups and fastballs just off the plate Friday night from left-handed Darin Gorski, waiting patiently for his pitch when ahead in the count.

It was when he got his pitch did Adams pounce. Despite going 1-7, a double, walk, K, and sac fly, Adams hit the ball hard three other times. He has quick hands, nice lower body rotation and remained balanced throughout his swing. He hit the ball hard to left and right field, ahead and behind the count, hammering a two-strike pitch from Peavey on the outside corner to RF for a sac fly.

He hasn’t hit for power yet this season, but with more reps the power will come back.

Adams also is a better fielder than I thought. He gets to ground balls well, has good hands and turns a quick double play, not flinching when a runner was charging towards second base. This was important since his injury was a lower body one, and second baseman sometimes get their legs taken out from them.

Adams has potential to help the Yankees (or another major league team) within two years, or be trade bait for an outfielder. With Cano in New York and Corban Joseph moving ahead of him, it’s not like the Yankees have much room at the second base area. However, Adams has played some third base in the past, and it is likely he could begin taking some reps there later in the season.

Zoilo Almonte

I was surprised when Zoilo Almonte performed well in spring training and began to become talked about in the blogosphere about possibly being the next Yankee starting outfielder. Even Joe Girardi heaped praise on Z.A.

Why was I surprised? I just don’t think Almonte is major league caliber. I saw him last summer after his promotion to Trenton and saw a guy who constantly got beat on hard stuff inside, then waved (and missed) at the better breaking balls he finally began to see. Looking at his career numbers, I noticed Almonte (like many hitters before him - Brett Gardner was one), who struggled at a new level when promoted but when they started the next year at that same level begins to produce.

But Almonte is the same hitter as he was last season, and has not yet produced at Double-A.

He was late on inside fastballs, and while he didn’t wave at many breaking balls out of the zone, there were a couple of instances where he was overmatched, like the first pitch slider from Adrian Rosario in the 10th inning on Sunday.

Almonte has some tools, but is prone to get on hot streaks and then cool off.  Zoilo is not going to replace Swisher in RF anytime soon, and likely will not help the Yankees in any significant way down the road. I like Melky Mesa much more than either of the Almonte’s.

Melky Mesa

There once was a time I thought Melky Mesa could strike out 200 times in a full season at Double-A. In fact, if both stayed healthy, I predicted he and Bradley Suttle would combine for 350 Ks in Trenton. But both were hurt part of the year in 2011. And Suttle has basically retired.

I saw last year that Mesa began to lay off many out of the zone off speed pitches at Trenton. He was also becoming more selective on pitches in the zone, too. However, he did continue to strike out at alarming rates, usually around 30%. That is not good for a guy who can really run, and should pattern his game more around his legs.

Mesa was even more selective this past weekend. A big at bat was his working a two-out walk in the bottom of the 10th inning, eventually scoring the winning run in Sunday’s game. He regularly took pitches just off the plate, both fastballs and breaking pitches, and used his hand speed to hammer a few pitches in his zone. Mesa has no trouble catching up to good fastballs, and with his bat speed and slight loft in his swing, he does put good backspin on the ball and hit some major league quality deep fly balls.

Many of those will eventually go out of the park. He does have seven home runs already this season, playing half his games in the challenging Waterfront Park.

Mesa has tremendous speed, a great throwing arm and covers lots of ground in CF. With the lack of quality outfielders at their higher levels, it is time to give Mesa an opportunity to test his newfound plate discipline at the Triple-A level.

Cody Johnson

I saw Johnson last year and he was a mess. Bounced his hands up and down, huge hitch and went from A to C on his swing with a big layover at B. After all this movement, he couldn’t hit anything inside with any velocity. He went for 34% Ks in 2008 and progressed each year to a high of 41% last season.

It was amazing then when I saw Johnson in April of this year, and his hands started down near his back hip, raised up slightly on ball travel, then Johnson would flick his hands out (a la Rod Carew) on his swing. This new style produced much better contact rates, lots of base hits, quite a few home runs and mucho less strikeouts. Thunder hitting coach Tom Slater helped Johnson with his new approach, something which begun in the offseason.

All good things for Johnson and his team.

However, to my surprise Johnson was back to his old (and less productive) ways this past weekend. He was in the midst of a huge slump (3 for 30, 17 Ks) entering the B-Mets series. I do not know if Johnson reverted back to his old way after his slump began or whether the new/old method of hitting precipitated the slump.

Whatever the reason, Johnson is back to missing fastballs, striking out lots and making very little contact. Johnson whiffed three times Sunday afternoon, getting pummeled by belt high fastballs over the middle of the plate by Greg Peavey. He did hit two balls hard, but the pitchers mistakenly threw him off speed pitches over the outer two-thirds allowing Johnson to quicken his bat.

His bat path is once again A to B to C, which translates to many more Ks down the road.

Johnson will hit his home runs because he has immense power in hitting mistakes, but he might want to revert bakc to the shorter swing path if he wants to move up and succeed in the organization.


Scouting the Double-A level Yankees – Mets pitchers: Gorski/Peavey/Marshall

June 12, 2012

After a few solid weeks of scouting high school and college games, and watching my former college and high school teams win their respective National and State titles, I am back to watching the pro game and will begin evaluating various minor (and major) league talent.

I saw two games between the Double-A Binghamton Mets and Trenton Thunder, the Yankees affiliate. It’s my second trip to Trenton.I travelled to Trenton earlier in the season, watching the April 21, 2012 Double-A game between the Trenton Thunder and Harrisburg Senators. You can see my report on that game here.

Unfortunately, I did not get to see top prospect Zack Wheeler pitch or the underrated Collin McHugh throw. Here is a report o n McHugh from last year. See, the Mets now have a SIX man rotation at Binghamton. I would bet big money the Mets pitchers don’t like it one bit.  

I will discuss the Yankees – Mets pitchers first.

On Saturday night, Binghamton’s Darin Gorski matched up against Shaeffer Hall, a guy who is always on the mound when I go to see a game. See April game link above. Hall seems to have lower velocity readings every time I see him (FB now around 84) and gets hit around quite often when he doesn’t get the calls on the corner. His future is maybe as a lefty reliever since his breaking pitch is usually pretty good against LHH.

Darin Gorski

Gorski is a tall left hander (6’4”, 200 lb.) who’s big out pitch is a very nice change up. He was not on the radar until last season, when he posted an 11-3, 2.08 ERA record with a WHIP below 1.00.

People have reasoned that Gorski’s ascent up the prospect ladder was because he was too old for the FSL (he was 23 last year), and I love that argument from people who never played baseball. Regardless of age, an ERA around 2.00 is pretty damn good no matter where you are pitching in pro baseball. It’s not like he was 23 and pitching against high school kids. Most of the FSL lineups consist of pretty good talent, guys who are trying to become major league ball players, and whether they are a year or two younger than Gorski should not be considered a “negative” on Gorski’s success.

Anyway, during this 2012 campaign Gorski has decent numbers at Double-A. Over 11 appearances, Gorski has a 4-3 record with an ERA under 4.00. His impressive hit numbers have remained steady in Double-A (7.9 H/9), but his walk rate has jumped (4.0/9 IP), and K/rate has dropped a little (7.2/9 IP).

Saturday night Gorski was pretty good, limiting the Thunder lineup to seven hits, very few which were hit hard, walking none and striking out four.

Gorski was usually 88-91, a few times bumping up but was back to the velocity of his 2009-2010 seasons. There was some talk of him consistently sitting in the low 90s last season, but I did not see this Saturday night. He could extend his stride more and clean up his timing to get this velocity back. His breaking ball (slurvy curve/slider) was ineffective with no bite and Gorski seemed to give up on it as the night wore on. That is something he should NOT do, especially in a game like this which was over by the middle innings.

However, what I did see was an impressive change up, a pitch which constantly kept the Thunder hitters off-balance. This pitch has nice drop (almost looking like a split without the tumble), but not much fade. When they weren’t swinging and missing this pitch, the hitters were hitting lazy fly balls. This change up is likely the reason Gorski has a significant fly ball rate, and low BABIP.

He simply doesn’t allow a whole lot of hard hit balls.

He showed a good ability to throw fastballs to spots on both sides of the plate, and was not afraid to come inside versus right-handed hitters, even backing up an inside fastball to a RHH with another. He did get three of his strikeouts on called third strikes against RHH.

I like Gorski as he has a pitchability factor, but unless he gets control of his breaking ball, his future is limited. I do believe guys can be two-pitch pitchers, but they both have to be plus and without some fade to his change, hitters at the higher levels will learn to lay off the pitch or just wait for it. And without a consistent breaking ball, Gorski likely does not have a future as a lefty reliever.

One interesting feature about Gorski is his success against teams not located in New Hampshire. In three starts against the Fisher Cats, Gorski is 0-2, 11.70 ERA with almost three runners per inning. Against other teams, he has darn good numbers.

In Sunday’s game, the mound matchup was pretty good with the B-Mets Greg Peavey opposing Brett Marshall. Both were drafted out of high school by the Yankees, but while Marshall eagerly signed (almost a million bucks will do that), Peavey went to Oregon State and was later selected by the Mets.

Greg Peavey

Peavey went five innings (99 pitches), and was consistently 90-92 with several 93s. He threw a sharp breaking curveball, much like a slider with severe downward break. Quite a few times he tended to get on the side of it, with the pitch flattening out and backing up. He went after most hitters, especially the weaker ones and was in trouble only once. However, except for the contact challenged Cody Johnson, Peavey didn’t get many swing and misses.

Peavey fields his position very well, twice going after slow dribblers down the 3rd base line showing good athleticism. What I liked about both plays was that Peavey got his chest over the ball both times, not simply reaching for it, which oftentimes leads to dropping the ball before the throw or making a bad throw via improper balance.

Peavey didn’t show much consistency, can’t put guys away and from the one start I have seen, doesn’t have much of a chance to start for the big club if he continues this trend.

Armando Rodriguez

Since Peavey only went five innings, the bullpen needed to get in some overtime. The first guy out of the pen was Armando Rodriguez, a hulking figure who basically said “Here it is, see if you can hit it” with a 92-93 MPH fastball, which seemed to get up to the hitter even faster and has a natural cutting action. According to a couple B-Mets I spoke with, Rodriguez simply attempts to throws it over the middle of the plate. But on this day, he was peppering the outside corner to every RHH on pitch after pitch with his fastball, getting lots of called strikes and weak contact over his three very efficient innings.

He located a slider pretty well, too, but it’s not a great pitch. It’s basically a pitch which is a velocity change to his fastball. I am surprised he didn’t throw a change up much, because I was told Rodriguez was working on one and it showed promise. Rodriguez (who is reminiscent of another Armando Mets fans should know), up until this season has been a starter his entire career, but with a plethora of Mets minor league starting pitchers, was switched to the bullpen. His already impressive numbers are now even better.

If Rodriguez can continue locate that fastball to the outside corner like he did Sunday, and improve his slider, Rodriguez could be an option in the major league bullpen down the road.

Adrian Rosario

After A-Rod’s three solid innings and a shaky 9th inning by former top arm Brad Holt, B-Mets closer Adrian Rosario came in to close out the game. Rosario was part of the K-Rod trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. He is a wiry 6”4”, 180 pound, 22-year-old RHP with a solid fastball which ranged from 92-94 with several 95s. He showed a good change up around 85 with solid movement and a sharp breaking slider thrown at 82. Rosario throws from the extreme first base side of the rubber, has solid arm action and drives straight to the plate. Very clean all around.

Rosario got the first two outs in the 9th, but then allowed a bloop single to right field based solely on the notorious “no doubles” defense where the outfielders were playing on the warning track. He ended up walking the next hitter, throwing a wild pitch and giving up a game winning two-run soft line drive single.

What impressed me about Rosario was his first pitch to Zoilo Almonte with two outs, nobody on. After starting both prior hitters with popping fastballs, Rosario began Almonte with a sharp breaking slider to garner a quick swing and miss. He then came in to Almonte with a fastball, jamming him.

What I didn’t like was him not locating pitches to either of the first two hitters. He got behind on David Adams before Adams lined out and after all other pitchers this day were getting Cody Johnson out on inside fastballs, Rosario allowed him to get his arms out and drive a deep flyball to left center.

Rosario has potential and is a guy to keep an eye on. If he can continue to work ahead, his solid change up and slider will be even more effective.

Brett Marshall

When Brett Marshall was drafted, he was paid big money to keep him from a Rice University commitment. He started slowly, had Tommy John surgery, and then completely revamped his mechanics and mindset. Credit Danny Borrell, who had lots of one-on-one time with Marshall during his rehab, for this transformation. Borrell improved Marshall’s mechanics and talked the Yankees brass into allowing Brett to scrap his curveball and throw the slider – even after the TJS.

Marshall is much different now than he was two years ago. He looks more mature on the mound with natural aging filling out his formerly thinner frame.

With his new, smoother mechanics Marshall was pumping his fastball anywhere from 91-93, but rarely topping that. He effortlessly moved the ball in and out, mixing in all of his pitches just in the first inning!

He threw hard biting sliders to both LHHs Reese Havens and Matt Den Dekker, striking out both. The nasty slider (mostly 83-84 MPH), darted to the back foot of each lefty hitter. On one occasion in the third inning, Marshall got on the side of a slider to Havens then threw another one down and in on the next pitch for a swing and miss. Marshall realized he overthrew the first one, then relaxed and threw a better pitch. The slider was tough to hit all day long, heading to the back foot to LHH, and mostly right on the outside corner to RHH.

He flashed a pretty good change up, too, anywhere from 79-81 MPH. This was thrown to right and lefty hitters, getting swings and misses from each side. However, the pitch was somewhat easily seen out of his hand with the fingers spread out above the ball. He did get a few up, some which were hit as fly balls to the outfield.

Marshall was efficient all day long, throwing strikes with all his pitches, making one mistake on a hanging slider which Den Dekker hit into the right field corner for a double. He later scored on a wild pitch when Marshall overthrew a change for a wild pitch, one pitch after getting the hitter to swing and miss on a great change up.

It was a pretty dominating performance, especially considering the B-Mets put out a darn good lineup which banged out 19 hits and 12 runs the night before, and 15 hits and nine runs two nights earlier. Over his last seven starts, Marshall has thrown 47 innings (at least 6 IP in each), allowing 35 hits, 14 walks and 29 Ks. His ERA over this stretch is 1.67, with most of the damage coming in two starts. Some people have lamented his lack of strikeouts over his career, but he did show strikeout stuff and generates lots of weak ground balls.

The Yankees are clearly limiting Marshall’s innings as they pulled him after six great innings, and he had only throws 80 pitches. I heard the Yankees are high on Marshall and have no plans to trade him. If this is true, there is no reason to take him out in a game like this which he was dominating. They need to find out if he can get through the 7th inning, what I call the “money inning” as by consistently going seven innings in the majors, a pitcher will get the really big money come free agent contract time.  By getting through the 7th inning, starting pitchers help their teams in many ways; one major way is letting most of a major league bullpen rest for a night.

Most teams at this level would be wise to start getting starters and relievers into the major league mode, getting the better pitchers more work rather than allowing mop up guys (guys who have NO shot at the majors) “get their work in.” But that is a piece for another day.

Yankee Relievers

The Yankees used multiple relievers this weekend. On Friday night, Ryan Pope and Kelvin Perez got pounded. Perez has had a good year number wise, and although he did hit 95 Saturday night I have never been a fan of his. He is all over the place with no significant out pitch. Because Perez couldn’t get out of his first inning, Ryan Flannery threw 1.2 perfect innings throwing a splitter which acts much like a sharp dropping curve ball, moving down and away to RHH. He doesn’t throw as hard as I had him two years ago; sitting 88-90, but his split is a legitimate out pitch. He has worked his way very slowly through the system, and I hope he gets a shot before its too late.

Backing up Marshall on Sunday was Preston Claiborne, who was 93-95 with good pop, a change of pace slider with little bite but a pretty good change up having significant drop and fade. He threw inside very well and generally worked low in the zone all day. If he can limit walks, he is the type of relief guy the Yankees like with two solid offerings.


New York Mets GM Sandy Alderson Should Build Around David Wright

December 12, 2011

Pretty much all major sports, but especially, baseball, are copycat sports. If something works for one organization, then others follow the lead. However, due to the long history of baseball and the ingrained ideas and traits, it often takes longer for new ideas to be implemented.

Billy Beane began using low cost players who had high value qualities, but after MoneyBall came out, every team followed suit. And because Beane doesn’t know much about on field talent, the Oakland A’s stink once again.

Since the Yankees were always in the playoffs, they have not had many top of the draft picks. Brian Cashman began taking high upside talent in later rounds, then offering them bigger bonuses to sign. David Robertson was one such pick in 2006, and Dellin Betances was plucked away from a Vanderbilt scholarship using that same method in the same ’06 draft. Teams then began following suit with higher bonuses for top talent taken in later rounds.

The Texas Rangers have made the World Series for two consecutive seasons, with a potent offense and a good bullpen, but without a true ace pitcher who can be the proverbial shutdown guy, thus helping to avoid long losing streaks. Most of the best teams in baseball have an ace, but Texas won the past two seasons without one. C.J. Wilson was not an ace and the Rangers pounded their opponents into submission quite often.

Many people believe the 2012 New York Mets will not contend for a playoff spot, and include me as one of them. Not because they are devoid of talent, because some of their young guys are pretty good, but primarily due to the strength of the other teams within their division.

The Phillies have a great rotation and despite some aging, no current shortstop, and injury issues to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (likely out for the 2012 season), they still have enough talent to earn a postseason spot. Plus, GM Ruben Amaro appears to make moves which improve their team, like signing their homegrown talent, trading for three top pitchers, and then signing Lee again last year.

The Atlanta Braves have good young talent, and except for a late season collapse, would have made the postseason. And they have good young pitching in the minors, and are willing to give them ample chances to pitch. They are good like that. Maybe Fredi Gonzalez shouldn’t overwork his top three bullpen guys as much, though.

The Washington Nationals are improving, have a good young mound duo in Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, both of who came back very strong from Tommy John surgery. They also have an owner with a ton of money and an itch to win before his D-Day. They could use a young, lefty power bat…

The Miami Marlins are also better with the three big free agent splashes in Heath Bell, Jose Reyes* and Mark Buehrle joining a young core of Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, and Mike Stanton.

*It is amazing that the Mets lost one of their franchise players and are not even getting a first round pick back in return. Since the Marlins have the 9th pick in the 2012 draft, that pick is protected. The Mets will get the Marlins 2nd round pick plus the supplemental pick. Biggest problem with not trading Reyes at last year’s trade deadline was Sandy Alderson not seeing the variable of a bad team with a top pick signing Reyes. Tough thing to predict, but doesn’t a GM and his people have to look for every possibility?

Since the Mets were not so good last season, lost Reyes, and are unsure whether Johan Santana (a huge Minaya mistake) will pitch in 2012, they are not supposed to be good this year either. With those factors and with every other team in the division having better rosters, it is a perfect time to stick with the kids who began to produce last year and made the 2011 Mets somewhat fun to watch.

Since the team might be a last place squad, many Mets fans and pundits want the last bastion of their quality teams from 2006-2008, David Wright, to be traded. They want more trades like the Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler deal; to get younger, cheaper talent to try and win in 2014 and beyond. The Mets GM is actively looking to make trades but has indicated David Wright is not getting dealt.

And that is a very smart move.

Sandy Alderson has seen what has recently helped teams win. In 2010, it was a very strong top three in the rotation (and dominant bullpen) which propelled the San Francisco Giants, and then he saw the Arizona Diamondbacks use good, young starters (and a dominant bullpen) to win the NL West in 2011.

And he also saw the aforementioned Texas Rangers win with a solid, but not great rotation, great power lineup (and dominant bullpen) to win the AL Pennant the past two years. He also saw the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Rangers in the 2011 World Series with a mediocre rotation and a dominant bullpen.

As I mentioned earlier, MLB is a copycat league. Without a solid top three in the 2012 rotation, Alderson has smartly used his limited resources to secure a solid bullpen. He signed former closer Jon Rauch and current closer Frank Francisco and traded for Ramon Ramirez, who was a big part of that 2010 Giants World Series bullpen.

The Mets 2011 bullpen had a 4.33 ERA, ranked 28th of the 30 major league teams. These bullpen additions should help improve those numbers. With holdovers Bobby Parnell and Pedro Beato, who will not be pressured to get key outs late, the Mets now have a nice stable of power arms.

And despite Reyes’ departure, Alderson also sees a pretty good power offense. With Ike Davis (ankle), Lucas Duda (concussion) and David Wright (back) healthy again, and Jason Bay (another Minaya mistake) still in the fold, the Mets have four sluggers who might combine for 80-100 HRs. Add in a healthy Daniel Murphy, who is a solid hitter, and there are five guys who can drive in runs.

The key is health as none of the above players, except Bay, had 450 plate appearances in 2011.

Alderson performed magic when he shortened the Citi Field dimensions, likely adding power numbers to each of the hitters, but especially Wright, who has acknowledged the previously larger dimensions have hurt his numbers. By stating that Wright was not available in a trade and moving the fences in, Alderson clearly has indicated he wants Wright to remain a Met. Look for Alderson to try and extend Wright early next year.

And like the Texas Rangers have with Elvis Andrus, the 2012 will have a young shortstop, known for his glove, but has improved on the other side of the ball. His on base skills have clearly improved and he showed a knack for getting key hits.

Ruben Tejada should not be forced to win the shortstop job in spring training. He should be given the job prior to spring training. Let him have the knowledge that he will be the glue of a solid infield, which will give him immense confidence. Keith Hernandez always said the key to his 1979 NL MVP season was that his manager, Ken Boyer, told him no matter what happened early in the season, he was still going to be the Cardinal first baseman.

The overall key to the Mets future is definitely the young starters still in the minors, guys like Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia and possible Michael Fulmer, last year’s second round pick.

But to win now and stay competitive in 2012 and 2013, the Mets need to punish opponents on offense, keep the game close and win it late with a solid bullpen. That formula will not work every time in Citi Field, but it has shown to consistently win games for teams around the league.

But the offense needs to stay healthy, too, and Wright needs to wipe away his past demons and know he has a pretty good supporting cast, and need not do it alone.

The time to trade Wright was a few years ago, when the Boston Red Sox desperately needed a third baseman and actually had quality young talent to trade. Here is a Wright trade proposal I made two seasons ago.

Not moving Wright is just another sickly feather in Omar Minaya’s cap, probably the worst GM in the history of baseball.

Since Wright can void the last year of his current deal if he is traded, if the Mets tried to trade Wright they would not get a Beltran-type return, let alone a Dan Haren or Mark Teixeira type return. While, those types of trades could occur as recently as two years ago, those deals are never going to happen anymore as teams are over-valuing their young players. Wright is best served to stay in New York.

Alderson knows this and is making the smart move, for the team this season and for the Mets future.


Scouting Review: Collin McHugh, Jordany Valdespin, Graham Stoneburner

August 12, 2011

Earlier this week I attended games between the locals Double A affiliates, with the Binghamton Mets visiting the Yankees’ Trenton Thunder. I saw the Thunder a few games early in the season, then one game a few weeks ago. I like to see teams in different parts of the season to ascertain whether kids have made adjustments to become better players. Also, kids at this level have been promoted and new players have been brought up to replace them.

Seeing teams before and after the all-star breaks hit on both of the above situations as most teams make the standard promotions after kids have played in their all-star games, like relatively new Thunder player Rob Lyerly.

In addition, I wanted to finally see the New York Mets top prospect, RHP Matt Harvey, who will be profiled in my next piece.

Taking the hill for the B-Mets was Collin McHugh, coming into the game with a 4-2, 3.75 record with two saves, including a three-inning save in his last appearance. His delivery is similar to Jake Peavy’s of the Chicago White Sox, but without the Peavy velocity. McHugh sat 88-90 and hit 91 on a couple occasions when it appeared he needed “a boost.” His fastball had good movement, often down and away to a RHH.

McHugh worked the fastball in and out, showing good command. When he missed, he usually missed off the plate, especially when working inside. He showed a nice moving cutter which broke in nicely on lefties, with slider action but thrown harder in the 84-86 range. One Thunder player commented that this was a new pitch for McHugh, having previously faced him in the NY-Penn, Sally and Florida State Leagues.

But the pitch that garnered the most swings and misses was a slow, downward breaking curve ball, thrown at 72-74 and used primarily with two strikes. He did not throw it that often, and you sometimes forgot he had the pitch in his arsenal until he broke it out for a key whiff.

McHugh does not have that superb “upside” that so many analysts and scouts love and thrive on, but McHugh does know how to pitch, has good command and does strike guys out, averaging 9.2 K/9 for his pro career. He has started and relieved in most seasons and could make a decent back-end of the rotation type pitcher, throwing the ball like Dillon Gee but with better strikeout rates.

The first night saw Graham Stoneburner on the mound for the Thunder. Two starts ago I reported reduced velocity for Stoner, something which I attributed to possible shoulder issues based upon his delivery. This game saw Stoneburner sit at 88-90 again with a few pumps at 92, similar to what I saw last time out. He was victimized by the tightest strike zone in the entire world by home plate umpire Scott Mahoney, culminating in a conversation between the two as the pitcher left the mound after the fifth inning.

Stoneburner left his slider up on occasion, with several hard hit balls the result, including a towering two-run home run by B-Mets RF Raul Reyes to straight away center. In addition to power, Reyes also showed good range playing right field, tracking balls deep into the corner near the fence and also coming in well on a right center field bloop.

Men were on base all night against Stoneburner but when he needed to make a pitch, he usually did with key strikeouts against Jordany Valdespin and Allan Dykstra on wicked sliders down and in. I found out that Stoneburner does not have any shoulder issues and through most of his career he has pitched in the 88-92 range, sometimes ratcheting up to 95 when he needed to.

While I have seen him hit 95 consistently in Staten Island, Charleston and Tampa, I must have been extremely lucky to see those games. 

I saw Jordany Valdespin play in the AFL last season**. You can read about my positional player 2010 AFL thoughts here.

**As an aside, in this AFL piece, I was pretty high on Jason Kipnis, who showed great bat speed and surprising power for a guy of his stature. Since being brought up by Cleveland a few weeks ago, he has hit .295/.358/.656/1.018 OPS with six HRs, but has also whiffed in nearly a third of his plate appearances.

Back to the Mets. To quote: “Valdespin showed great tools, but little in the way of how to play. He turned on a Jeremy Jeffress 99 MPH fastball like it wasn’t even an issue and showed good range and throwing arm on several plays. But he is inconsistent from play-to-play, showing a lack of concentration. He also swings at nearly everything and has poor hitting mechanics.”

With those poor mechanics, Valdespin usually leans and drifts, moving his upper body toward the pitcher, taking his legs out of the swing, which reduces the opportunity of any power.

What a difference a year makes. Valdespin showed better hitting mechanics, staying back and using his legs more. His upper body stayed on top of his legs and allowed his hands to get through the zone better. His quick bat, and now the use of his legs, has allowed him to hit 15 HRs so far and slug .483, the highest of his pro career.

Valdespin also showed better selectivity at the plate. For example, after getting ahead of Stoneburner 2-0 in the count, he took a slider on the inside corner for a called strike, and then got a fastball on the outer third which he fouled back. The Valdespin of the 2010 AFL would have gone after that 2-0 pitchers pitch, likely getting himself out. Facing the left-handed Josh Romanski in his fourth PA, Valdy calmly went with the pitch to line a single to left field.

His play-to-play concentration in the field appeared improved, with Valdy being in proper ready position before each pitch. He showed the good range and throwing arm I saw last fall, fielding balls in the 5.5 hole and up the middle. On the latter, on the run he fielded the ball near the bag, and with a strong throw across his body he nailed the runner at first base. Valdespin also moved his feet well on the routine ground ball, getting in front and wasn’t content to simply play the ball off to the side.

It appears that new Binghamton manager, former major league second baseman Wally Backman, a gamer if there ever was one, has had an effect on the 24-year-old Jordany. Also, don’t underestimate the development capabilities of the new Mets regime in this transformation.

I expected to see him again Wednesday night, but after Tuesday’s game, Valdespin was promoted to Triple A Buffalo, where he was 2-4, with a double.

With the uncertainty of Jose Reyes after this season, the Mets would benefit greatly if Valdespin continued his improvement.


New York Mets: Carlos Beltran Angry over Arizona Immigration Law

July 20, 2010

I just read this article which discusses Carlos Beltran’s displeasure with the new Arizona Immigration Law. If you would like a concise analysis of the law as it is written, click here.

Beltran stated that he was “against this law… there are a lot of Latinos who come here and try to have a better future. It’s hard for the people who come here from Mexico to this country.”

When asked if he would play if selected to next year’s All Star game, “Would I come? I don’t know,” Beltran said.

Base upon history, Beltran will probably be hurt and on the disabled list and will have no chance at playing. Realistically, however, Beltran will probably be playing hard next season because 2011 is the last year of his seven-year deal he signed with the Mets prior to the 2005 season, and he will be a free agent after 2011.

A free agent, by the way, which will bring NOTHING back to the Mets in the form of draft pick compensation.

Why? Because Beltran and his agent, Scott Boras, had Omar Minaya agree that the Mets would not offer arbitration to the Center fielder after the 2011 season. It is written in his contract and can be seen here.

You know Beltran will play often and play hard next year. He will be looking for a new multi-year deal from a team that needs a switch hitting middle of the order hitter. He will likely be better suited next year in the American League where the Designated Hitter role can help him easy the strain on his wobbly legs.

And Beltran’s legs look wobbly and he appears very sluggish in the field and on the base paths. Even though the team was crushed last night, the triple by Justin Upton to right center saw Beltran get a late start and not even come close to that ball.

It looks like he can still hit, as his mechanics are good and he is making quality contact. Doesn’t it seem like Beltran swings the heaviest bat. Maybe it is because the bat is pure white looking so it appears bigger.

As I said earlier, Beltran looks like more of an AL/DH type of guy who can play the outfield a few times a week.

But he shouldn’t be worried about the Arizona Immigration Law, after all he is a US Citizen.

He should worry more about how he ripped off the NY Mets for $119 million over seven seasons and, assuming he stay healthy over the next year and a half, has helped provide the team with one division title…their only playoff appearance.


Why New York Mets Manager Jerry Manuel is the Stupidest Man in Baseball

July 19, 2010

It has been said that the definition of stupid is doing the same wrong thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome.

As cruel as it might sound, I believe the industry of major league baseball is stuck in a method of managing of pulling your starters before they are cruising. Continuing to use the same failed pitching mistakes continues to only lead a team into more and more losses, and wasted efforts of the starting pitcher. 

I believe New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel is a stupid person, and one of the worst culprits of this pitching change phenomenon.

He obviously does not read my Bleacher Report articles .

What else would there be to explain why he continues to pull the best pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana, out games in which he is pitching great? Can you honestly believe that was the correct move today against the San Francisco Giants?

Especially when your team needs a victory in the worst way to avoid being swept in the first four games on this important road trip?

How about the Sunday game before the All-Star break against the Atlanta Braves ? Does Manuel himself honestly believe pulling Santana AFTER SEVEN SHUTOUT INNINGS of a game against the leader of the NL East was the correct move?

Well, Santana did already throw 107 pitches in that game. OMG! Call the papers!

And the Mets were only ahead 2-0 in that Braves game. Why would you remove your best pitcher in that game to put the ball in the hands of Bobby Parnell?

Granted, the Mets did win both games, but Manuel has to realize (especially after Frankie Rodriguez blew another save today) that Santana, no matter how many pitches he has thrown, is the best option for him at the end of the game.

Check out the photo accompanying this article. It is the on-field hand slapping between Manuel and Santana after Johan was allowed to finish his own game.

It might never happen again.  

Manuel already managed the Mets into many losses this season by pulling Santana early, and even pulling R.A. Dickey in this game where the Mets had Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals beaten.

Parnell and K-Rod gave up four runs in two innings in the eighth and ninth, but I doubt that Dickey would have allowed any more runs to the that Nats lineup. In watching the recorded game later on, they looked flustered trying to hit Dickey’s hard knuckle ball.

But Dickey threw 115 pitches already. What are we doing Jerry, trying to save the 35-year-old journeyman’s arm?

I remember driving home that day from umpiring a double header and listening to the game on the radio. I smiled when I heard that Dickey was being removed from the game. That gave the Nationals a chance.

But let’s get back to the Mets’ most effective, and highest paid, starting pitcher.

I don’t care how many pitches he has thrown into the later innings. If the game is tight and Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, or Albert Pujols was coming up, I WANT MY BEST PITCHER TO FACE THEM in that situation.

I already got on Manuel’s crosstown manager, Joe Girardi, last week regarding his pitch count limit shenanigans .

And it is not just Manuel and Girardi, but MLB in general. This entire notion that a middling relief pitcher, who isn’t good enough to be a starting pitcher and is not good enough to close games, is better than one of your starting pitchers when a game is tight is ridiculous. You can see this trend as middle relievers continue to get more and more win/loss decisions.

In 2008, Manuel pulled Santana early in four games which the Mets either held the lead or was tied but eventually lost , including two heartbreakers to the Philadelphia Phillies on July 4 and July 22 .

I heard on today’s radio broadcast that Santana had eight leads that season in which the Mets bullpen could not hold the lead.

How about Santana holding the lead?

Not until I wrote a piece two years ago did much talk center on letting Santana go longer in games because he is the team’s best pitcher, not Pedro Feliciano, not Fernando Nieve, not Elmer Dessens, not even the newly-anointed eighth inning guy Bobby Parnell or K-Rod are better than Johan Santana in these spots.
 
If you are talking pitch counts, and that Santana needs to be preserved for an August/September stretch run, there won’t be a late stretch run if Manuel continues to micro-manage the Johan Santana-pitched Mets games.

During those two Phillies games in July 2008, Santana had thrown 95 and 105 pitches, respectively, before he was pulled with a lead. As a reminder, the Mets lost the National League East by three games last season to those same Phillies, but were out of the National League Wild Card by a single game.

Leaving Santana in those four games when he was pulled would have likely returned three victories for the Mets.

If I am Manuel, I don’t care if Santana is at 95, 105, 115, or 135 pitches on a specific night. If Santana is still dealing and getting guys out, he is the man to be in the game. Not the aforementioned middle relievers.   

And do not pinch hit for him late either when there is no one on base or two outs in an inning. Having Santana on the mound is more important than gambling on getting a late insurance run.

Despite some successes this season, the Mets rotation is far from elite. The Mets need to win every game that Santana pitches, and that means letting your ace pitch very deep into games, if not a complete game every time out.

Then you can use the bullpen to try and bail out Mike Pelfrey, Jonathan Niese, and new rotation member R.A. Dickey—because you know Manuel, for a variety of reasons, is not going to be allowed those guys to go the distance.

Manuel needs to stop becoming more stupid—because if you have ever heard the comedian Ron White , “You can fix almost anything, but you can’t fix stupid .”


Minnesota Twins Offer Better Deal for Seattle Mariners Than Do The New York Mets

June 25, 2010

I wrote a piece on Wednesday night about how the Seattle Mariners traded Cliff Lee to the Minnesota Twins for minor league catcher Wilson Ramos, left-handed pitcher Brian Duensing and a low-level minor league outfielder.

The trade disintegrated when Ramos got hurt last Saturday playing for Triple A Rochester.

Once Ramos returns to active duty (he is day-to-day with a strained oblique), the trade will be consummated like a new bride on her wedding night.

It is no coincidence that the Twins pitched Duensing for 3.1 innings last night in relief of a very ineffective Twins starter Nick Blackburn. It was 3.1 scoreless innings of relief by the way, where the lefty allowed three hits while striking out three Milwaukee Brewers hitters.

It basically cements the deal for Lee, with the only obstacle coming in the form of the New York Mets. With the Philadelphia Phillies floundering, the Mets believe they have a real shot of winning the NL Eastern division this season.

Renting Cliff Lee will not only help them achieve that goal, but when combined with a healthy return of outfielder Carlos Beltran, it would help them get to a World Series.

Never forget that Omar Minaya will strip an entire franchise’s farm system for one pitcher he feels can put him over the top. He already did it in 2002 when he was GM of the Montreal Expos.

Back then he TRADED Cliff Lee as part of a package of young players for right handed pitcher Bartolo Colon.

The Mariners could get greedy and, by using the Mets as leverage, try to wrest more away from the Twins.

But oftentimes the greedy get what they deserve, and that is usually something not nearly as good as what they had in pocket.

Why would the Mariners trade with the Mets anyway? The Mets have nothing the Mariners need, who, for starters, want a young catcher with the potential to start right away.

Ramos fits that bill. But is that why the Mets brought up catcher Josh Thole the other day, to show him off in the big leagues? The Mariners will have a few scouts in town this weekend scouting the Twins and can get a look at Thole. The Mariners will also be in town next week when they come in to play the Yankees.

But while Thole has rebounded well from a horrible April, he is very young defensively behind the plate and does not hit for much power (10 career HR’s in 3+ minor league seasons).

The Mariners also want a left-handed starting pitcher. While Duensing is not a complete youngster (he is 27), he does have good major league experience and can step right into Lee’s spot in the rotation–maybe throwing to Ramos. The Mets only have Jonathan Niese as a starting left-handed pitcher, and with his pretty good season thus far in 2010, it does not look like he is going anywhere.

The Mets do have other prospects they would give up for their rental, including a package built around prospects such as Ruben Tejada, Fernando Martinez, Wilmer Flores, and Jeurys Familia.

But although these players are good, none are what the Mariners are seeking, so the Twins deal makes better sense for the Mariners.

But if the Mets give them ALL of those prospects, then you might have a deal.


New York Yankees Were An Inch Away from Taking the Subway Series

May 24, 2010

CC Sabathia worked around trouble in the first inning last night against the New York Mets, stranding the bases loaded when he struck out David Wright (#59 on the season), and induced Angel Pagan on an inning-ending pop up.

The second inning did not work out nearly as well, as Alex Cora fisted a two-out, two-strike Sabathia 93 MPH fastball into right-center for a two-run single and a 2-0 Mets lead.

Two batters later the score was 4-0 as Jason Bay finally connected on his second home run, a deep drive to left center which cleared the 65 foot wall* at Citi Field.

* The fence is not 65 feet high, but being as high as it is (15 feet), that far from home plate, the fence plays much higher. I also believe the left center markers are incorrect and that left field is further from home plate than is listed.

The close call to Cora was a strike, but not called a strike by Marvin Hudson, last night’s home plate umpire. I have seen a few Pitching f/x type of images, all of which show the pitch within the zone.

But the real reason why it was a strike was that Francisco Cervelli wanted the pitch on the inside corner, and Sabathia threw the ball right to the glove.

Throwing to the inside corner on a same side hitter (lefty-to-lefty or righty-to-righty) is the toughest pitch to make in baseball, especially when a guy like Cora is on top of the plate.

I umpire in college level and men’s level baseball leagues, both wood and metal bats. When a pitcher makes that pitch to the inside corner of the same side hitter, I give that call to the pitcher because of the difficulty of the pitch.

Obviously last night’s umpire does not agree with that sentiment.

Getting that call gets CC out of the inning, and changes the complexion of the entire game. Pitchers are used differently, pinch hitters are used differently.

The entire game changes, even down to what types of pitches are thrown to certain hitters in certain situations. 

But the biggest change would be that the Mets likely have four less runs on the board.

Even so, the human element is one of the most compelling aspects of the game, and Sabathia needs to slough off that bad call and make an even better pitch to Cora to get him out. There are many sabermetricians who would love to have balls and strikes computed operated via a Pitch f/x standard, but that will never work in the game of baseball.

One of the great parts of baseball are the in-game adjustments made towards the umpire and his tendencies.

Good teams adjust accordingly.

Sabathia didn’t and the Yankees lost the Subway Series.


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