What Went Wrong: New York Mets

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The following completes a series profiling some of 2009’s biggest disappointments.



New York Mets




Record: 69-92 (4th in NL East)




How It Happened:




The Mets entered their inaugural season at Citi Field with legitimate
questions about the back-end of their rotation and their corner
outfield spots, but with four of the best players in the game and a
retooled bullpen, it appeared that they were in fine position to
reclaim the top spot in the National League East. The baseball gods had
a different plan in mind.




The team has endured injuries to nearly every significant player on
their roster (David Wright, Johan Santana, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran
and Carlos Delgado among them). Reyes hasn’t appeared in a game since
May 20 (hamstring) while Delgado has been sidelined since May 10 (hip
surgery). And J.J. Putz, who was expected to be the bridge to new
closer Francisco Rodriguez, hasn’t thrown a pitch since June 4 (elbow).
Oliver Perez, who was signed to a mind-boggling three-year, $36 million
deal over the winter, was limited to just 14 starts (knee). But with an
awful 6.82 ERA and 58 walks in 66 innings, that’s probably for the
best. Even their top minor league reinforcements (Jon Niese and
Fernando Martinez) suffered season-ending injuries.





Their depleted lineup has managed a major-league worst 95 home runs,
the franchise’s lowest output since another over-hyped, over-priced
flameout in 1992. Daniel Murphy leads the team with just 12 homers.
Critics have been quick to blame Citi Field for Wright’s power outage
(career-low 10 home runs), however his home-road splits are even. With
140 strikeouts in 533 at-bats (26.3%), he’s clearly changed his
approach at the plate with a lack of protection around him. He plans to
work with hitting coach Howard Johnson during the offseason to round himself back into
shape for 2010.




While the off-field distractions were utterly embarrassing (Tony
Bernazard, Omar Minaya-Adam Rubin, Jerry Manuel’s very public rivalry
with Ryan Church), what was left of the product on the field set new
standards of losing in the most epic and painful ways possible. From
missing third base (Ryan Church) to a dropped pop-fly by Luis Castillo
against the Yankees in June to a pair of walk-off grand slams served up
by Francisco Rodriguez (the first ever to do it in one season), the
Mets were not satisfied with simply slipping into unremarkable
mediocrity. They lost. A lot. And they wanted you to remember it.




Silver Linings:



After his unforgettable drop against the
Yankees, I wondered out loud if Luis Castillo could survive the
blunder. Well, he’s done that and then some, batting .316/.398/.351
with 25 RBI, 44 runs scored and 14 stolen bases since June 12. With an
overall line of .304/.389/.347 with 77 runs scored in 141 games
(shockingly, the third most among Mets position players this season),
Castillo is no longer the fans’ favorite whipping boy. While Omar
Minaya can now claim that the signing isn’t a complete disaster, he
should be looking for a taker during the offseason.




Angel Pagan has earned himself a spot on the Mets’ bench next
season. Plugging a hole while Carlos Beltran was on the mend, the
28-year-old outfielder has batted .298/.343/.469 with six home runs, 32
RBI and 14 stolen bases in 339 at-bats. He surprisingly ranks fourth in
the league with 10 triples.




Looking to shake things up, Omar Minaya acquired Jeff Francoeur in
exchange for Ryan Church in a classic “change of scenery” trade on July
10.  Apparently Minaya was enamored with Francoeur’s ability to play in
a lot of games, an underrated quality in a season like this. Francoeur
actually played quite well in what was effectively an audition for a
new contract, batting .311/.338/.498 with 10 homers and 41 RBI in 289
at-bats. There has been talk about buying out his arbitration years,
but the Mets would be wise to take it a year at a time with a player
who is just as likely to revert to being one of the least valuable
players in the league.




Looking Ahead:



There’s no perfect elixir to what ails the
Mets. They will have to fill significant holes at first base, catcher
and left field. Though they have shown flashes, Daniel Murphy, Omir
Santos, Josh Thole and Angel Pagan shouldn’t be expected to carry the
load at those respective positions if they want to be competitive.
After a disappointing year by Mike Pelfrey, who looked downright lost
at times, it’s imperative that the Mets find a No. 2 starter.




Not counting arbitration candidates (Francoeur, Pagan and Pedro
Feliciano, among others) the club has roughly $105 million tied up in
contract commitments for 2010. In this post-Madoff world, they will
likely have somewhere in the vicinity of $20-25 million to improve. For
an organization exposed as lacking in major-league ready prospects, it
will be difficult to upgrade via trade.




The injuries are a convenient excuse, but no manager who leads his team to a lifeless 20-48 stretch deserves to be
considered “safe.” That’s why I expect and urge the team to replace
Jerry Manuel before next season. In recent weeks, there’s been a
movement building for Bobby Valentine to return as manager in 2010.
Nostalgia? Sure. But what it reveals is a longing among the fanbase.
They want an overhaul. Not just someone who pitches every five days
(Johan Santana) like after they collapsed in 2007; not just someone who
pitches the ninth inning every couple of days (Francisco Rodriguez)
like after they collapsed again last season. They want a change at the
top. Valentine wouldn’t be a long-term solution, mind you, but they
could find a worse steward to change the culture of the clubhouse and
restore some faith heading into an uncertain future. Fred Wilpon and
company shouldn’t expect fans to line up with the same leadership in
place, no matter how much they cut ticket prices.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]