Harvey, Harvey, Harvey

Matt Harvey’s Major League debut was not just a fun night for the Mets. Instead, his 11-strikeout two-hit outing turned into something historic. He became the first Mets pitcher to every strikeout 11 in his big league debut. He became the first pitcher in the “modern era” to strike out 11 and pick up two hits in his big league debut.

How did he do it? He was throwing hard. After regularly sitting 93-95 at AAA Buffalo, he averaged at the high end of that range – 94.9 last night with his four-seam fastball, sitting 92.5-96 and touching 98.

His slider averaged 85 mph, and was as high as 90. This is a pitch has some a long, long way in the last 12 months. It’s more or less a new offering for him, and it’s very good.

His curveball was in the low-mid 80s with bite. Pitch-fx shows the slider and the curve with the same horizontal movement, but had more depth and a slower speed. They are two distinct pitches.

There were notes of caution in Harvey’s performance: he threw just five changeups. He did much of his damage on fastballs up.

Analytically, I find myself with little to say. It was fun. His performance was great. He made those who thought he wasn’t ready for the big leagues look foolish. Now, he just has to do it again. And again.

Upper Levels on an Ugly Friday

If you missed it while you were out with friends, you missed an ugly Friday night in the Mets’ world. It started at the top, where Johan Santana allowed six runs on seven hits, including a pair of homeruns, and walked three in the Mets’ 7-6 loss to the Dodgers. Then, he was placed on the disabled list with a right ankle problem. I thought today should have been Matt Harvey time in the big leagues. Instead, Harvey is starting in AAA, and Miguel Batista is throwing in Queens. The Mets have added Jeremy Hefner to the roster as Batista insurance and potentially to make Santana’s next start next Wednesday. Will the Mets turn to Harvey now?   Don’t ask me, I thought he should be starting for the Mets today.

 

AAA: Charlotte Knights 4, @ Buffalo Bisons 0

The Bisons had two hits.

RHP Collin McHugh: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 K. Meh.
RHP Jenrry Mejia: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 73% strikes (16 of 22)

 

AA: @ Bowie Bay Sox 10, Binghamton Mets 0 

Ouch, Zack Wheeler: 3.2 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 2 HBP, 1 WP. The eight runs Wheeler allowed were a career-high and at 3.2 innings, this was his shortest outing since his very first start of the season on April 6. He’s now given up five runs or more in three of his last five starts and six hits or more in each of those five outings.

One positive: CF Juan Lagares was 2-for-4 with a double. Thanks to a .329/.352/.459 July with nine extra-base hits, he’s up to .280/.333/.378 in 95 games. His nine extra-base hits in July are already his most in any month of 2012.

Did the No-Hitter Cost Johan Santana?

On June 1, Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in Mets history. It was glorious. It also took him 134 pitches. Since that date, his performance is appreciably worse. His ERA is over two and a half runs per game higher, he’s striking out fewer batters, walking more and giving up more hits and more homeruns.

Basic


ERA G/GS IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP AVG OBP SLG
Opening Day – June 1 2.38 11/11 68 49 20 18 4 21 68 0 .200 .262 .306
June 8 – July 15 5.67 7/7 39.67 46 25 25 9 14 34 0 .291 .345 .544

 

Advanced


BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB HR/9 H/9 R/9 BB% SO% IP/Start TBF
Opening Day – May 26 2.8 9.0 3.2 0.5 6.5 2.6 7.7 25.1 6.2 271
June 1 – July 15 3.2 7.7 2.4 2.0 10.4 5.7 8.0 19.5 5.7 174

 

It’s entirely possible that the decline in Santana’s performance has absolutely nothing to do with the 134 pitches he threw to earn his place in the Mets record books.  This could be selective end-point silliness. It could be random variance over 11 and seven starts periods, but that seems a little unlikely. It could be that regardless of how many pitches he threw on May 26th, and on June 1 in back-to-back nine-inning shutouts, he would lose his effectiveness later in the 2012 season. That seems likelier. He might bounce right back to the early-season 2012 Johan level. He might not.

This is not intended as a criticism of Terry Collins who acknowledged the potential damage to Santana immediately after the no-hitter and found he simply could not take his superstar out of game while chasing history. Collins was in an impossible position. There was no guarantee that had he pulled Santana after, say the seventh inning, costing his star and his team a chance at history, that Santana would have been better over the duration of 2012. Collins was worried about Santana five days after the no-no. Well, five weeks later, perhaps the no-hitter’s price is clear.

Nope. This is a story about Santana and the Mets. For the Mets to stay in contention in 2012, they need the Santana of old, something approximating the Cy Young Award winner, and the guy who was lights out for the Mets early in 2012.

Dillon Gee Blood Clot. It Is Not Matt Harvey Time … Yet

Dillon Gee is in the hospital with a blood clot in his pitching shoulder. At the very least, he will miss at least one start.

The Mets current official statement:

“On Sunday, Dillon Gee complained of numbness in the fingers of his right hand. Yesterday, after extensive testing, Dillon was found to have a clot in an artery in his right shoulder and doctors at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City used a catheter to break up the clot. Dillon will remain hospitalized for the next day or two to ensure that the clot is fully resolved. Dillon will not make his next start and will be placed on the disabled list. The timing of his return to baseball activity is currently undetermined.”

 

So, is it Matt Harvey time yet? Not yet.

 

The Gloves Make My Fingers Hurt. A Quick Look at the Mets Offensive Defense

Nope, that’s not your eyes deceiving you. The Mets defense, which has cost them perhaps two games in the last week, has been somewhere between bad and the worst in baseball depending on your advanced metric of choice.

According to Fangraphs’ UZRbase, the Mets are dead last, at -24.3 runs below average. Roughly, 10 runs counts as a win, so this suggests the Mets have cost themselves two and half wins versus playing average defense this year.

By Defensive Runs Saved, the Mets are only the 24th worst team in baseball defensively, -19 runs below average.

By Baseball Prospectus’ Defensive Efficiency (which is roughly 1-BABIP, or the rate the Mets turn balls in play into outs) they are 27th in baseball at 0.697. Once adjusted for the ballpark effects using Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, (PADE), the Mets rise all the way to 23rd.

Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone Rating takes the most charitable view of the Mets fielding ranking the team 23rd and only -13 runs below average.

If Ike Davis does not start hitting, sending him to AAA, and moving Lucas Duda to first will help. Duda is a poor rightfielder, and an outfield with Andres Torres and Kirk Nieuwenhuis would be a big improvement. The bad news? That outfield will not help the infield field ground balls.

Learning to Keep Score

The Mets’ quest for a no-hitter taught me to keep score.

Every Mets game I ever attended with my dad, we kept score. Well, initially, when I was young, he kept score with a scorecard he bought at Shea on the way into the game. At some point, I asked him why he always kept score. He told me that if we were there for the first Mets no-hitter, he wanted the scorecard. He didn’t want to miss history. I also grew to suspect that he wanted something to keep himself busy at the game. But this was how I learned to keep score; hoping for a Mets’ no-hitter. It was a big deal, to me at least, when he let me use his “real” scorecard when I was nine years old or so.

Later, when we went to games, we’d pick up a scorecard. We’d look at each other and say, “just in case.” It was a tradition I’d carry on when I went to games with friends. Often, after the first opponent hit, I’d throw the card down in front of me with the carcass of a stadium meal on a tray to soak in mustard, and never be seen again. Games when I’d go and not keep score, I felt like I was cheating history. What if that was the game?

This was the game.

Omar Quintanilla and Tuesday’s Roster Moves

It was not supposed to be like this for Omar Quintanilla. Instead, his story is a wonderful reminder again, of the difficulty of prospect watching and projecting. He’s a Met now as the team’s fourth choice at shortstop.

Quintanilla, now 30, is a gifted defensive shortstop, who has never hit enough to hold down an everyday job in the big leagues. What’s he doing on the Mets now? The team thinks he’s a better defensive shortstop than Jordanny Valdespin, who they do not trust to play short everyday. Ruben Tejada hit in an extended spring training game over the weekend, but did not play the field, and seems like he is still a week away or so. Justin Turner is out for at least two weeks. Ronny Cedeno’s calf kept him out of Monday’s game. So without Quintanilla, David Wright ends up playing short, as he did on Monday.

Quintanilla’s strength – he can really pick it. His weakness – hitting MLB pitching. In 582 PA in the big leagues, Quintanilla has hit just .213/.268/.284. He’s a lefthanded hitter with a significant platoon split. In his big league time, he hit .230/.286/.314 against righties in 476 PA and .137/.188/.147 in 106 PA vs. lefties. While hitting a healthy .282/.345/.494 in 48 games this year for the AAA Buffalo Bisons, Quintanilla has beat up on righties (.317/.393/.592 – 135 PA) while floundering against lefties (.167/.167/.167 – 37 PA). Yeah, that’s right, he has not drawn a walk, nor picked up an extra-base hit against a left-handed pitcher in AAA in 2012. Take those small sample size numbers lightly. Quintanilla actually hit lefties better than righties in AAA in 2010 and 2011.

A college star a the University of Texas, where he won an NCAA Championship, the A’s drafted Quintanilla in the supplemental first round, 33rd overall, in the 2003 draft.  On July 15, 2005, the A’s traded Quintanilla, who was then at AA Midland to Colorado with OF Eric Byrnes for Joe Kennedy and Jay Witasick. He made his big league debut later that summer, and bounced between the big leagues and AAA for the next three years.

Quintanilla’s Rockies tenure ended in 2010 after he was suspended 50 games for PEDs, in this case for methylhexaneamine, the same drug that Mets’ pitchers Zach Dotson and Edgar Ramirez tested positive for in 2010 and 2011 respectively. In those years, it appeared in readily available diet and weight loss drugs.

So, as if regular readers needed another reminder, Omar Quintanilla would like to point out again that not all first-rounders, or former first round picks become stars, or even big league regulars. All the same, he’s what the Mets need now: a steady hand at shortstop for a week.

Quintanilla takes Manny Acosta’s roster spot. Acosta, who was designated for assignment Tuesday, was just all kinds of awful this year. His 11.86 ERA was the worst of any reliever in baseball, and his -0.7 fWAR was the worst of any pitcher in baseball. As Patrick Flood pointed out, Acosta was a perfectly effective reliever in 2010 and 2011, but 22 dreadful innings in 2012 got him canned.

Oh, yeah, and Chris Schwinden is back to eat up innings in case the Mets bullpen needs that kind of thing. And of course, it probably will.

Within a week, it should be Pedro Beato’s turn in the bullpen. Shortly thereafter Miguel Batista will be back.

Within a month, don’t be surprised to see Elvin Ramirez or Jenrry Mejia, or both. Again, as I wrote Friday, the Mets went with Egbert this week so that they could DFA him to clear space on the 40-man roster for Beato. They do not want to add Ramirez until they are prepared to keep him up.

What To Do About the Mets Bullpen

The Mets bullpen has been bad. Frank Francisco’s ninth inning problems cost the Mets two game in Miami on Friday and Sunday. Whether or not he loses his closer job, he’s not going anywhere. The Mets signed him to a 2-year/$12 million contract this off-season. In fact, the problem in the bullpen runs deeper than Francisco.

The Problem
Through 106 IP, the Mets are 14th in the 16-team NL East in bullpen ERA. That might overstate by a touch how poorly they have pitched: their FIP is 11th, and their xFIP 13th. The team’s strikeout rate (K/9 8.07) is a middling 9th, while the team’s walk-rate is 10th lowest. As a group, Mets’  relievers are fly-ball pitchers; they have the fourth-lowest GB% 42.5% in the NL.

 

Do Not Blame
Tim Byrdak
. The lefty specialist has given up three hits to lefties in 21 AB while striking out 12 southpaws in a .143/.182/.286 line versus the guys he’s supposed to face.

Bobby Parnell. In 16 innings, he’s run a 16/3 K/BB ratio (5.3), the best in the Mets’ pen. His groundball percentage (53.1%) is better than anyone else in the current Mets’ pen. (Only Special Agent Miguel Batista (65.2%) currently plying his trade in the rotation and Jeremy Hefner (58.3%) currently working for the AAA Buffalo Bisons, have induced more groundballs.)

Jon Rauch. In 15.1 innings, he owns a 2.93 ERA which clearly overstates how well he’s pitched as he owns just a 4.11 K/9. All the same, his BB/9 is a career-best 1.76. Even so, his xFIP of 4.43 is closer to his xFIP from 2011 (4.56) and 2009 (4.57) than his ERA. He’s been fine, but all of the balls in play will likely dictate some regression away from a sub-3.00 ERA towards mere adequacy.

 

Blame
Manny Acosta. He’s been awful. In 17 innings, he’s allowed 24 hits and 10 walks for a clean WHIP of 2.00 and four HR have pushed his ERA to 9.53.
Frank Francisco. He’s been just as bad. In 13.2 innings, he’s given up 20 hits and seven walks for a WHIP of 1.98 and an ERA of 8.56.
Ramon Ramirez. In 19.1 IP, he’s been hittable (21 hits) and wild (10 BB).
Miguel Batista.  As a reliever he has awful peripherals: 10 BB, 9 K, 8 H and allowed three of seven runners to score and four runs of his own.

Shrug
DJ Carrasco has made two appearances and thrown 2 innings.

 

Solutions
1. Regression.

Quietly, Ramon Ramirez has been one of the better relievers in baseball for the last four years. From 2008-2011, among relievers who pitched at least 200 innings, Ramirez was 13th in ERA (2.77) joining a class headed by Mike Adams that also includes Mariano Rivera, Brad Ziegler, Darren Oliver, Francisco Rodriguez. Oh, sure, Heath Bell is in there too.  The more one looks at his career-year in 2011, the more aberrant it appears: he had his best k-rate of his life, and threw his slider the most he ever has, nearly 40% of the time. He’s run a career .272 BABIP, but is sitting at .339 right now. There are plenty of reason to think he’ll bounce back.

Acosta too ran an ERA of 2.95 in 201 and 3.45 in 2011. His 9.53 ERA looks awful now and it its, but it’s worse than his 6.51 FIP and he has not had a FIP above 4 since 2009 with the Braves. He’s no star, but he’s been a useful reliever for a few years. The issue is twofold: he’s missing fewer bats this year (7.4 k/9) than he has ever in his career and walking more (5.29 BB/9).  If those numbers don’t fall back in line to his Mets’ career norms, (~9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9) he’s not going to be part of the solution. As satisfying as it might be to call for the Mets to send Acosta, to the minors, they can’t. He’s out of options, so would have to be exposed to waivers. Some other team would likely look at his still lively arm and last two years and think that’s a chance worth taking.

Frank Francisco currently has a BABIP of .400. That’s going to come down. Promise. However, he also has a 4.61 BB/9, his highest since 2007 with Texas. His strikeout rate of 21.7% is lower than at any point in his career. For example, he’s seeing so many more batters per inning this year that his K/9 of 9.9 looks better than his K/9 of 9.4 last season, but in 2011, he had a K% of 24%!  As far as pitch type and velocity, his velocity is similar to his recent seasons, but he’s throwing his split-fingered fastball more than he ever has at both the expense of his fastball and curveball.

Francisco, through contract and performance, and Acosta and Ramirez, through performance in the last two-three seasons deserve more time to prove that they can pitch better. Making decisions on under 20 innings of MLB work is, in most cases, foolhardy.

 

2. Reinforcements

RHP Elvin Ramirez – The hard-throwing 24 year old began the year in AA and has since graduated to AAA. His combined line: 17.2 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 7 BB, 20 K. According to multiple Mets people, Ramirez has been sitting around 94 mph and working with a hard slider as well. He’s big at  6’3″ and 210 lbs.  The walk rate is a little high, but the former rule-5 pick by the Nationals who was returned after missing 2011 with shoulder problems, is still missing bats. He’s the first right-handed option on the farm.

LHP Josh Edgin - The darling of spring training has struggled in AAA: 8.31 ERA, 8.2 IP, 14 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 6 BB, 11 K, 2.31 WHIP.

RHP Jeremy Hefner - Hefner’s been throwing strikes with four pitches, but his 89 mph fastball might well be a little short for big league duty from the right side.

RHP Jenrry Mejia – Mejia has made one start, last Wednesday in his return from Tommy John Surgery. The plan has been for him to make three more rehab starts before the team decides what to do with him. This sounds reasonable enough. If at all possible, I would resist moving him to a bullpen role for a team still starting Miguel Batista with little MLB ready starting depth.

LHP Robert Carson – The big lefty has taken a statistical step forward with a move to the bullpen for AA Binghamton. In 14.2 IP, he’s yielded 16 hits and a four walks for a 1.84 ERA with 13 strikeouts. He yielded a home run in each of his firs two outings of 2012, but has been homer-free in his last 12.2 innings of work. The 23-year old is fanning 20% of opposing hitters (8.0 K/9) his best rate since rookie ball. Just as importantly, his walk rate of 6.2% (2.5 BB/9) would be the best at any level of his professional carer. He’s always thrown hard, and can bring it 93-95. His left-right splits, are (ahem) split: 10 ab vs. LHH: .200/.200/.200, 0 BB/0 K; 49 AB vs. RHH: .286/.333/.449 4 BB/13 K. He needs more time but could be a factor later in the 2012 season.

RHP Armando Rodriguez - Ted pointed out his good work earlier today. In AA, the big guy has done this: 23 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 20 K. He’s been getting a lot of his outs (18%) on infield popouts. When I saw him in Savannah, he was working with a fastball a tick below average at 88-89 mostly with a little 91 to go along with a slurvy slider. The Mets were outrighted the 24-year old off the 40-man roster and no other team in baseball claimed him this spring, which reflects some degree of consensus about his skills.

 

Proposed Solution: Role Adjustment
In this case, regression, that is, regression to the mean of player’s established performance level, is the Mets’ friend.

Make no roster moves yet. None of the minor league options represent clear upgrades at this point on any bullpen members.

The guys who have struggled the worst, Acosta and Francisco, and to a less extent Ramirez, are the pitchers with the longest histories of success. Francisco’s contract says he is not going down the minors.

However, Francisco’s recent problems give Terry Collins and the Mets a wonderful opportunity to move away from the traditional closer model. Instead, the team could use the best pitchers in the most important spots. This means a trio of Jon Rauch, Bobby Parnell and Tim Byrdak (vs. lefties only) will handle close and late situations. Who ends up with the save, the single worst statistic in sports, is immaterial.  Ramirez has been ok, and becomes option #4.

Both Acosta and Francisco should be allowed to work their way back into form in lower leverage situations. If neither returns to their more established levels, then it’s time for a roster move. By that time, the Mets have to hope that Ramirez or Edgin begins mowing down the International League and demanding a big league look based on their performance.

Sit tight and change roles might be a truly unsatisfying suggestion give the weekend’s results, but that seems the most reasonable course of action.