Monday, October 01, 2007


It's official.

To be honest, I'm just laughing about it, because there's nothing else to do. Since June 1, the Mets have been Wile E. Coyote, just after he realizes that he's run four steps past the edge of the cliff: we've all just been watching them plummet, waiting for that sad little smoke ring when they hit the bottom.

So, what to do with a highly improbably collapse, following a highly improbably playoff loss last year? Well, it's reasonable to expect a very unusual chain of events to cause something that only happens once every 40 years or so. Or you could just blame the manager like Mark Krieger.

Note - I'm not a big fan of the whole "they lost, we'd better scrounge up some blame to hand out!" theory. It doesn't matter whom I blame for the 2007 Mets' results. It matters much more whom Mr. Wilpon will blame, and then what he thinks is the best way to fix the situation for next season. My guess is that he lets Randolph and Omar Minaya do their jobs. They are better at them than Art Howe and Steve Phillips and Jim Duquette. But let's play along, shall we?

You don't want to blame Willie Randolph.
But how can you not?

It's simple - you just say, "You know, I don't blame Willie Randolph for this." That's how.

In last year's playoffs, the Mets should've beaten the Cardinals, a team that managed to win but 83 regular season games.

That's a reasonable thought. If those two teams played ten best-of-sevens, the Mets would probably win eight or nine of them. Unfortunately, number 10 came last year. If an infinite number of baseball teams play an infinite number of baseball games, eventually one of them is going to feature Yadier Molina hitting a 2-run ninth-inning home run to win the National League Pennant.

Krieger here follows with some very awkward segue-ing about the old Brooklyn Dodgers, the Mets' overall payroll, and their new stadium (due to open in 2009). Then he gets to the point:

But as evidenced by the last stanza of their epic collapse, they cannot win at home. They finished the season by managing (yes, managing) to lose six of seven at Shea to the Nationals, the Cardinals and the Marlins.

You see, they managed it... because we're blaming the manager. That's called thematic writing. The "yes, managing" part is called overkill.

Those Dodgers of Ebbets Field may have been lovable losers. But these Mets are just losers — unlovable and underachieving.

Here, I suspect that Krieger looked at the football standings last night, saw "GB 4-0 .. Det 3-1" and decided it was 1993 and Dallas Green still ran the Mets. Now that was unlovable and underachieving. These Mets were hardly the free-wheelin' carnival squad that squirted bleach at reporters and tossed firecrackers into crowds.

It wasn't too much to ask from the highest aggregate payroll in the National League, a consortium of teams in which a mere 91 wins would assure home field advantage through the championship series. But again, one has to wonder about a team that can't win in its own ballpark. A team that can't win at home is a team uncomfortable in its own skin.

The Milwaukee Brewers, at 51-30, led the National League in comfort in its own skin. They decided to just give them the wild card and avoid that messy Colorado/San Diego tiebreak thingy.

More than that, though, is a question of identity. Who were the 2007 Mets? Even the players themselves did not know.

Jose Reyes thought that he was Rafael Santana, which is why he went 0-5 last night. Moises Alou thought he was his dad and took naps in left field. Carlos Delgado thought he was a crossing guard from Des Moines.

In hindsight, one can hold the general manager partially responsible. Omar Minaya neglected the pitching staff while assembling a core of aged mercenaries who had played their best years elsewhere.

I'm tempted to break out the old Steve Martin standby from The Muppet Movie - "Oh... can I?" - but this takes neither foresight nor any particular baseball wits. Mets fans have been screaming for pitching help since last season's trade deadline. Minaya's response was to bring in Jeff Conine, who was so lights out in the eighth inning during Florida's playoff run in 1997. In fact, I agree with this statement so much that I'm going to give him 62.8% of the blame, in a meticulous, sixteen-second process. (Don't argue! It's SCIENCE!)

These included Shawn Green (34), Carlos Delgado (35), Paul Lo Duca (35), Pedro Martinez (35) Billy Wagner (36), Moises Alou (41), Orlando Hernandez (53).

Alou clearly overperformed; Delgado had just about his worst season. Wagner checked in with 68.1 innings and a 1.13 WHIP, with about a 4-to-1 K/B ratio... very good. Hernandez was at 1.17, which is also darned good, but was hurt by 23 homers in 27 games. Pedro only threw 28 innings, but had a 2.57 ERA in them, so except by his absence, I don't see what the problem is.

Oh, wait, yes I do. Damned geezers. Poor Aaron Sele never adjusted after they lowered the mounds in 1969.

Then there's Tom Glavine, 41, who pitched a historically bad game Sunday, a 300-game winner who gave up seven runs in a third of an inning with a playoff berth at stake.

Tom Glavine ≠ True Met. Personally I think they should void some of those 303 wins, since he got hammered like Vulcan's anvil in his last start.

Glavine was originally signed by Steve Phillips in 2003, but only because the Braves had declined to make him an offer. Nothing he has done in the five years since has altered anyone's impression that he is a Met only by default.

His last five seasons, he's averaged 201 innings per at an ERA of 3.97, which is about a third of a run below league average. His brief postseason numbers with NY: 2-1, 1.59 ERA in 17 innings. You could do better... or a lot worse.

Say what you want about his experience and his leadership, but it has not rubbed off on the young guys, as they are euphemistically known.

Yeah, these three young guys have been just terrible. Ruined. Glavine has Oliver Perez sitting in a closet chanting in Esperanto, he's so messed up... and he personally shot John Maine with a BB-gun during the third inning of his last start.

Jose Reyes, probably the most talented player on the team, was lucky he didn't get thrown out of a game for fighting on Saturday. ... but can you imagine, even for a moment, Derek Jeter having that kind of lapse? Can you imagine Jeter, as has become Reyes' habit, not running out ground balls?

Well, Randolph did pull Reyes from a game earlier this season for that. In an article blaming Willie Randolph for the Mets' woes, Reyes' bad habit stands out as an admission against interest. As for last night... I'm going to give Jose a pass for not running out that last grounder to second. After a four-month-long train wreck, nobody's brain is going to be in quite the right place.

But from his rookie season, he's [Jeter] been a leader in the clubhouse.

If he wasn't a .317 career hitter, I think his leadership would be somewhat less impressive.

The Mets, of course, don't have anyone like that. Consider David Wright, the star third baseman, now in his fourth big league season. The other day, he told Harvey Araton of the New York Times: "The kind of guy I want to be is a guy that doesn't sit here and yell about it in the clubhouse, but goes and takes care of business on the field. You do that. Then everybody follows you." Does that really sound like somebody who wants the job?

...the hell?!? David Wright shirked his way to a .962 OPS with 42 doubles and 30 dingers; 34 steals in 39 tries, 113 runs scored... and, well, 21 errors, but you can't have it all.

The Mets have Reyes, Wright and Carlos Beltran, and no one remotely like the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins. But given that lack of leadership, isn't it even more incumbent on the manager to show some, to impart some sense of identity, to show some fight?

Jimmy Rollins is a pretty fair ballplayer, likely this season's NL MVP, but I think it's amazing that Krieger would rather talk about his leadership and his fighting spirit, and not about his becoming the fourth guy in the entire history of baseball to have 20 doubles, triples, homers, and steals in the same season. (It was all the rage a few weeks ago when Curtis Granderson got there.)

He is also no better than average at getting on base - .344 this season, .331 for his career, never topping .350 - so if Rollins isn't hitting for power like he has the past two years, he is not as valuable as Wright or Beltran. (A three-way comparison of this season.)

But the fact is, through this historic collapse, the team was both sloppy and passive. A lot of that — most of it, I think — is on the manager.

We only have 37.2% of the blame remaining. 17.1% goes to Carlos Delgado, and another 8% to the Pelfrey/Sele/Lawrence trio (divvied up by innings pitched), so that leaves 12.1... 4.5 to LoDuca because it's fun to see his eyes bug out like that, and the rest - a paltry 7.7% - goes to Willie Randolph - less 5% for being a True Yankee, so really, it's less than 3% Randolph's fault, after all. Like, 1/32nd Willie, 31/32nds everybody else.

But if it's not too late (Billy Wagner is already on the record saying that Randolph and his pitching coach don't know how to handle a bullpen), he needs to create a sense of identity and leadership. Randolph didn't get where he is not knowing how to play clubhouse politics. If he doesn't have leaders, he better make some. It's his job.

The pitching staff slowly collapsed over the course of the year, as the bullpen cracked from overwork. (This article, mostly meant tongue in cheek, has this and many more solid reasons in it than all of Krieger's essay.) If Randolph kept sending the same guys out over and over to get shelled, that's one thing - but everyone took a turn blowing leads.

Enough about clubhouse leaders, OK? Wright hit a ton, Wagner pitched pretty darned well, Beltran put together a fine season. Nobody was talking about lack of leaders when they won 100 games last season. Is that why the pitching tailed off and Delgado fell down a well - because Willie Randolph had nobody leading them?

"I'm the manager," he said. "I take full responsibility."

See? That's True Yankeeism. That's Yankeeocity. That's exactly what the Mets need! After this press conference, baseball was so impressed that Bud Selig announced that the postseason will be played entirely at Shea Stadium, even the American League games. Because leadership is the most important thing in baseball, not actually winning more games than other teams.

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