All posts by michaelbrianwalker

Currently: math/economics teacher at Ramsey High School, commissioner of both a fantasy baseball league and a fantasy football league Past: Graduate of Midland Park High School Class of 2000 and Colgate University Class of 2004, pricing/yield analyst at AvisBudget from 2004 through 2007, member of MPHS baseball and cross-country teams Fan of: Mets, Devils, Giants Achievements: Named "World's Slowest Eater" by everyone who knows me, played on the 2003-4 Colgate intramural-championship ice-hockey team, two-time IceHouse Adult League Champion, have twice been hit by deer while driving, coached the league-tourney-champion 2008-9 Ramsey Rams JV ice-hockey team (universally regarded by me as the greatest JV hockey team of all time), once ran 6 miles listening to nothing but Lonely Island's "Jack Sparrow" on repeat, picked Gonzaga 10 times to win the championship (yes, I was that guy before it was fashionable to be that guy), stayed for all 17 innings of a 2000 Newark Bears/Somerset Patriots game (and caught my only career foul ball at a pro game during the 16th inning), and have not eaten breakfast regularly since 1996

For the First Time Ever, I am Excited About David Wright

David Wright has technically been a New York Met since 2004, but he has not played in a Major League game since May of 2016.  For many years, Wright was one of the better third basemen in Major League Baseball, but, ironically, I am currently the most excited I have ever been about David Wright.

On most days since April of 2015, I have assumed that David Wright’s MLB career was finished.  Wright found himself on the DL eight days into the Mets’ 2015 season.  During that DL stint, we learned that Wright had been diagnosed with spinal stenosis.  As the Mets acquired Yoenis Cespedes on July 31 and went on a tear in August, David Wright had become an afterthought…albeit an afterthought of “His career might be over.”  Then, lo and behold, Wright returned in late August and was the Mets’ regular third baseman en route to the World Series. 

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Image via Sporting News

However, after David hit .185 (10 for 54) in the 2015 postseason, I hoped he would retire.  I figured that he had a signature moment – a homerun in the first World Series game ever played at Citi Field – but that his body would not allow him to play Major League Baseball at a high level any longer.  Spinal stenosis is a debilitating condition, and I considered his on-field time from late August through November 1 of 2015 should be his swan song.  Had he retired after the 2015 season, the Mets would have ensured that there would be no awkward situation in which the Mets would have to decide between playing a broken-down David Wright or a better player at third base.  I did not want to see Wright end up in a position where he guts out 40 games per season at a .200 batting average, as fans clamor to see a journeyman .260 hitter start over him.  That would have been awkward for all of us, and I wanted no part of it.

Well, interestingly enough, Wright did not retire after 2015….but my fear did not play out either.  In 2016, Wright was hitting .226 with 7 homers when he went on the DL over Memorial Day Weekend.  Since then, he has never been on the active Mets roster.  As he has battled major neck and shoulder problems (on top of the spinal-stenosis back problems), he has become the ultimate afterthought in terms of the present-day Mets.  Until the past week or two, most of us have thought of David Wright’s Mets career in past tense.  Sure, in 2017, Jose Reyes (who served as the Mets’ primary third baseman for much of the season) said all the right things (no pun intended) about keeping the seat warm for Wright.  Those two have such a strong friendship, dating back to 2003-4, and any good friend believes the best in his or her friends.  However, in the case of Wright being the Mets’ everyday third baseman, it was wishful thinking on Reyes’s part….and every Mets fan knew it.

Fast forward to 2018 when the Mets signed Todd Frazier to the Mets’ third baseman, and nobody was worrying that the Mets had given away Wright’s position.  Wright was done.  His career was in the past.  We would occasionally hear about him having light workouts or having catches with people.  Woop-dee-doo.  I do not care about that stuff for guys on the 10-day DL; I did not care with Wright either.  That said, all of a sudden, a few weeks ago, Wright actually began playing in rehab games in Port St. Lucie.  I do not generally care about that stuff either, but, given Wright’s situation, I was interested.  Honestly, I had never thought he would make it back this far.

Now, as I sit here on September 13, I see a player who has not played in more than 2.5 seasons but has worked through incredibly painful and debilitating injuries to try to get back on the field.  How often do we see players, especially those in their mid-30s, return after that much time off?   I know that Wright is coming back for only one or a few games before retiring, but it remains quite a feat. It would have been very easy at any time since early 2015 for Wright to retire.  Sure, the money he is making is a good motivator to try to play again, but I do not care.  Especially since Wright went down “for good” in May 2016, he has to have known that; if he were ever to return to the Majors, he would be a shell of what he once was.  He has to have known that he has had very few MLB games left in him….but that does not matter to him.  Many players would not have fought back for more than 2.5 years like Wright has.  Wright just wants to play on an MLB field one more time, and he will have that opportunity on the Mets. That is a great story.

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Image via Newsday

The funny thing is that, until now, David Wright never truly excited me as a Met.  When Wright had his best seasons from 2005 through 2008, I was always more excited by Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado.  Wright was a great player, but I felt that those three were the true stars.  Unfortunately, as those players left, Wright stepped down from “Great” to “Very Good”.  During those “very good” years of 2009 through 2014, the Mets were not very good.  By 2015, when the Mets finally made it to a World Series with Wright, the stars had become the pitchers and Cespedes.  Therefore, for one reason or another, David Wright had never excited me….until now. 

Yes, David Wright is one of the best people in baseball.  He is a good-looking guy, and he has been a great face for the Mets’ franchise.  He is one of the few pro athletes who can legitimately be a role model for kids.  However, his dedication to work his way back to the majors makes him more of a role model than ever.  For the first time in David Wright’s career, I am excited to watch him play.  He might end up playing only three games or two games or one game.  That does not matter to me.  It will be very emotional to see him return to the Mets’ lineup, and I am excited to see #5 play third base for the Mets at least one more time.

You Have Probably Read a Million NFL Previews, so Here Is Another!

It is a glorious time of year, as the NFL season is upon us.  For me, the NFL is the only sports league in which I can watch and enjoy a regular-season game between any pairing of teams.  It was like that when I was a kid, as I knew that, with a 16-game regular season, every game was of monumental importance.  As much as I love MLB and the NHL, a May Athletics/Tigers game or a November Flames/Blues game has never exactly glued me to the TV.  Of course, as time and my life have progressed, my love for the NFL has increased with fantasy football and the many pools in which I take part.

Anyway, with the NFL season’s arrival, I am providing a preview.  I am not going to preview all 32 teams’ strengths and weaknesses.  I am merely going to make a few predictions about which I feel strongly.  Let us begin.

  • The Vikings’ Kirk Cousins signing will prove to be a mistake. Last year, Case Keenum stepped in for an injured Sam Bradford and led the Vikings to a 12-2 regular-season record a miraculous playoff win over the Saints.  Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins has been 26-30-1 as a starter and lost his only playoff game.  Of course, it is easy to argue that Keenum was pretty much awful before last year and pulled a shamrock-encrusted rabbit’s foot out of his butt to win last year’s playoff game, but that does not refute my point.  I would say that Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins would give the Vikings an equal chance for success this season, so it would have been more logical to re-sign Keenum for much less money than the amount for which Cousins signed.
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Image via ClutchPoints
  • The Giants will finish 9-7 and earn a Wild Card berth. Obviously, I hope that the Giants win the Super Bowl.  I hope that Eli Manning dominates from September through February en route to a third Super Bowl championship and makes me eat a giant plate of crow.  Realistically though, I see the Eagles winning the division at 10-6.  Even though the Giants have won two Super Bowls after playing on Wild Card Weekend, I am not ready to make that prediction when (to paraphrase Rick Pitino) Justin Tuck isn’t walking through that door.  Michael Strahan isn’t walking through that door.  Jason Pierre-Paul isn’t walking through that door.  Osi Umenyiora isn’t walking through that door.  OK, I will stop before I end up putting Jay Alford on the list.  That said; with a revamped offensive line, a healthy Odell, and a debuting Saquon; this offense should put up enough points to put the team in the playoffs.  If the offense does not dominate and people continue to say that Eli deserves to be the starter for as long as he wants, then I do not know what to tell those people.
  • The Jets will finish 7-9 in a season reminiscent of Geno Smith’s 2013 season. No, I am not making this comparison just to backhandedly remind people that I was actually rational in supporting the Giants’ move to start in Geno in Oakland.  I say this because Geno’s talent brought the Jets some exciting wins in 2013.  I was eliminated from my Survivor pool when Geno won Week 5 on MNF in Atlanta that year.  Devastating stuff for me, but wins like that and their win over the Pats (with some help from the officials) gave Jets fans major hope for the future at the time.  Of course, Geno proved to have discipline and dedication issues that kept him from taking that next step.  In 2018, I expect that Sam Darnold will similarly lead the Jets to a few exciting wins (as Geno did in 2013), but he remains a rookie taking over the reins of a 5-11 team.  7-9 would be a solid year for him, and Jets fans should feel good about that.  Unlike with Geno, I would expect that Darnold would build on this season in 2019 with a best-case scenario being Darnold mimicking Carson Wentz’s second season.  (Thus, the Jets should be ready to sign Nick Foles next season.)
  • For the same reasons; the Raiders and Islanders will be similar train wrecks this coming season and the coming seasons. Let us examine the traits:
  1. The game has passed by the team’s stubborn leader: Mike Francesa always says the biggest reason why NFL coaches do not succeed after long layoffs is that, after three years away from the game, it is difficult to assemble a coaching staff. After all, most of a coach’s former assistants have been gobbled up by the time the third year rolls around.  Moreover, the game changes radically over a few years.  Jon Gruden last coached in 2008.  Back then, it was still somewhat OK to try to decapitate opposing players on the field.  Now, there is a 3-inch-by-3-inch square in a quarterback’s midsection that opposing players are allowed to touch.  Anything else is a penalty.  Plus, I do not know that Gruden can be as harsh now as he was 10 years ago. Similarly, Lou Lamoriello is now the Islanders’ general manager, and I have a feeling that he will return to his usual Lou mantras: signing defensive defenseman, placing a large emphasis on veteran leadership, and avoiding star players with any egos.  All of those premises served Lamoriello well when he was (in my opinion) the best general manager in the NHL for 20+ seasons with the Devils.  However, his ways did not serve the Devils well at the end of his tenure in New Jersey, and I feel that Brendan Shanahan (Leafs’ general manager) was calling all the shots when Lou and Shanahan were in Toronto.  I do not feel good about Lamoriello being in full control of the Isles’ personnel.
  2. Both teams have lost their top players. The Isles were unable to re-sign John Tavares, who ironically moved to Toronto, Lamoriello’s former home.  Meanwhile, Khalil Mack has been traded from the Raiders to the Bears.  Both moves are obviously bad for the players’ former teams.  Plus, if Gruden had anything to do with pushing Mack away, some of his players might grow resentment toward Gruden.  That is a bad thing.
  3. Lastly, both teams are in geographic limbo. The Isles are spending part of the next few seasons at Nassau Coliseum and part of it in Brooklyn.  Having two different homes does not exactly seem like a recipe for success.  Similarly, the Raiders are finishing out their time in Oakland, as a future home in Vegas looms on the horizon.  Neither of these scenarios bode well for fan support or thus for the teams’ potential success.
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Image via The Mercury News
  • Anyway, let us wrap this up with my playoff predictions. Note that I made these before the season-opening games.

Playoff Seeds:

AFC:

1 New England

2 Jacksonville

3 Pittsburgh

4 Kansas City

5 Houston

6 Los Angeles Chargers

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Image via Roster Resource

NFC:

1 Atlanta

2 Green Bay

3 San Francisco

4 Philadelphia

5 Los Angeles Rams

6 New York Giants

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Image via Washington Post

Wild-Card Round:

Pittsburgh over Los Angeles, Houston over Kansas City, San Francisco over New York Giants, Los Angeles Rams over Philadelphia

Divisional Round:

New England over Houston, Jacksonville over Pittsburgh, Atlanta over Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay over San Francisco

Conference Championships:

Jacksonville over New England, Green Bay over Atlanta

Super Bowl:

Green Bay over Jacksonville

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Enjoy the season, everyone!

The Benefits of Tanking: How deGrom and the Mets Should Learn from the Sixers, Angelina, and Octomom

As you likely know, Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom is in the midst of an epic season in which he has a .97 WHIP, 1.85 ERA, and 173 strikeouts in 22 starts (one of which he left after one inning, due to rain/injury).  This has put him in a tight race with the Nationals’ Max Scherzer for the National League Cy Young Award.  Of course, I should also mention that deGrom has all of 5 wins (5-7 record) this season.  Thus, he is on pace to earn a total of 7 or 8 wins.  Even if one looks at the Mets’ team record in deGrom’s starts (which leads into my view on how MLB should change its wins stat), one will see a sub-.500 record for deGrom and the Mets.

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Via CBSSports.com

As a result of all this, what course of events over the next eight weeks would be most optimal for both deGrom’s Cy Young candidacy and his legacy?  I believe the best result for him would be to endure more of the same stuff that has happened for the first four-plus months of this season: more and more outings in which deGrom earns a loss while pitching 7 or 8 innings of 1-run ball.  While that would be bad for the Mets overall, it would be the best thing that could happen to deGrom.  Hear me out here…

Max Scherzer has 15 wins this season and is a safe bet to reach 20.  If deGrom maintains his own current pace toward 7 or 8 wins, Scherzer will destroy deGrom in the “Wins” department.  This occurrence would prop up the vitality of the “Poor poor Jacob deGrom” storyline.  Cy Young voters would likely ignore the “Wins” totals altogether.  The stat is already of waning importance to voters, and voters would use the 12-13-win gap between Scherzer and deGrom to a) provide the ultimate proof that the “Wins” stat is silly and b) stamp deGrom’s 2018 season as the ultimate “dominant season on a terrible team”.  As long as deGrom maintains his strong ERA edge and beats or comes close to Scherzer in strikeouts, Jake should earn the Cy Young Award with the help of the two aforementioned thoughts of voters.

What happens though if the Mets somehow bring deGrom 8 wins between now and the end of the season?  I know that a team regularly starting Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, and Wilmer Flores is unlikely to win 8 games period the rest of the season, but let us play “What if?” anyway.  In this hypothetical situation, deGrom would end the season with 13 wins.  That sounds good at first thought, but deGrom would now have a win total that is closer to representative of his 2018 performance.  In actuality, he likely will have pitched well enough to have earned 20 wins with 26 of the 29 other offense/bullpen combinations in baseball.  That said, the deGrom pity party would nevertheless be much smaller if he has 13 wins, compared to if he has 7 or 8 wins.  The gap between 13 wins and Scherzer’s 20 wins is small enough to make the “Wins” mark a legitimate factor in the Cy Young voting.  At the same time, Scherzer will have earned 7 more than deGrom.  All of a sudden, many of deGrom’s pity votes will change to Scherzer votes as the “Wins” debate is ironically legitimized.

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Via BeyondtheBoxScore

Meanwhile, if deGrom ends this season with 7 or 8 wins, baseball fans and writers will remember his season forever.  Someday, when deGrom’s name appears on the Hall of Fame ballot, voters will be quick to add 12 wins to his career “Wins” total on the grounds of “He should have won 20 games in that legendary 2018 season”.  This would be true even though many modern-day starters have great seasons that result in only 13 to 16 wins, due to lack of bullpen/offensive support.  This is why, if deGrom actually makes it to 13 wins this year, future Hall of Fame voters will not “tack on any wins” when analyzing his career.  Therefore, deGrom would lose out on “7 wins” in the minds of many voters, who would likely be overly generous in pretending an 8-win season is a 20-win season.

Anyway, this way of thinking might seem crazy to you, but it demonstrates one of the basic principles of life in the 21st Century.  You are better off having extreme misery than minor inconvenience.  Extreme misery sells, while nobody cares about minor inconveniences.

For example, would you rather give birth to triplets or octuplets?  Well, first off, I give major props to the woman birthing either.  That said, it is a lot of money and work to raise triplets.  It should cost an exorbitant amount of money and work to raise octuplets, but you are also 90% likely to get your own TV show if you have octuplets.  That TV show will give you a whole lot of money which will allow you can make ends meet.  If you have 3 kids, nobody is giving you a TV show…or money.  You have to take care of those three kids on your own.  Therefore, it might indirectly become easier to raise octuplets than triplets.

Actually, this “extreme misery sells” concept is the whole premise of reality TV.  As another example, Angelina showed up on Jersey Shore: Family Reunion this season looking like a complete mess.  Not a big deal.  Not super-memorable.  However, she then had a “period-sh!t” on TV, and, all of a sudden, we were blessed with the most memorable moment of the season.  Being a garden-variety complete mess was a minor inconvenience for Angelina, but I would like to think that having the entire world remember her as being “period-sh!t girl” is extreme misery….except for the fact that she has stayed much more relevant, famous, and (therefore) rich because of it.  Extreme misery pays off.

Basically, this extreme misery is just “life tanking”.  For years, the 76ers knew that they were not good enough to compete for NBA Championships, so Philly was better off losing to earn better draft picks.  Now, the team is good and ready to compete for championships.  Was Angelina really that different from the Sixers?  Had Angelina been merely “normal-level trashy”, it would have been like having “only” triplets”, deGrom winning 13 games this year, or the Sixers churning out a few #8-seeds and non-lottery draft picks.  Instead, Angelina showed that she could “trust the process” by doing the “period sh!t”, something that 99% of women would not want to do in front of even one other human, much less the whole country.  The action was memorably disgusting but led her back to fame and money.  Angelina was not going to use success to earn fame or fortune, so she tanked her way to fame and fortune.

Therefore, if the Mets want to earn deGrom a Cy Young Award and augment his Hall of Fame credentials, they should put the worst-possible lineups on the field every time deGrom makes a start.  In other words, the Mets can continue doing EXACTLY what they have been doing for deGrom for four months, and deGrom will achieve his “extreme misery” and his Sixers/Angelina/Octomom payoff in the form of a Cy Young Award.  Keep trusting the process, Jake and the Mets.

Mickey Callaway is Going to Be One-and-Done

Like Michael Kay, I too do not like talking about whether or not people should be fired.  It is tough for someone to lose his/her livelihood, and I do not like to go there.  At the same time, I am OK discussing whether or not I think somebody WILL be fired. That brings us now to a discussion of the New York Mets’ manager.  At this time, I would be completely shocked if Mickey Callaway returns to manage the Mets in 2019.  I know that it seems harsh to fire a manager after only one year on the job, but there are three major reasons why I expect Callaway to be let go.

1)     He is not a good manager: Let us start with the most obvious reason.  The job of baseball manager has two main components – strategy and leadership.  It would appear that Callaway struggles with both.  In terms of strategy, there have been far too many times when Callaway has made indefensible decisions.  I am not talking about leaving a starting pitcher in for one batter too many or one batter too few; I am also not talking about using his closer when he should not or using a non-closer when he should use his closer.  We criticize all managers about these decisions any time said decisions do not work.

No, I am talking about the obvious mistakes.  For example, in June, the Mets faced the Pirates at Citi Field.  In the Top of the 9th with 2 outs; first base was open, and the Pirates’ closer Felipe Vazquez was on deck.  It should have been a no-brainer to intentionally walk the batter, so that Vazquez would have to hit.  The Pirates had a lead, and it was a given that they would leave Vazquez (who had entered in the 8th) in the game.  Most of the time, there are fair arguments on both sides in baseball, but there was no valid case to be made against the intentional walk here.  Unfortunately, Callaway chose not to walk the guy.  That was bad.

Throw in times when Callaway has botched double-switches and the time when the Mets batted out of order, and one can make a strong case that Callaway is bad with strategy.  (I will admit that the “batting out of order” thing is a bit of a Rorschach test.  Had a good manager like Joe Maddon or Bruce Bochy overseen this gaffe, we would have laughed but not blamed the manager.  However, because it happened to Callaway, we assume that it was Callaway’s fault.)

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As for leadership, I think Callaway is in worse standing there than he is with strategy.  It is conceivable that Callaway can improve from a strategic standpoint.  After all, he was previously a pitching coach in the American League; thus, the bulk of National League strategy was irrelevant to him in years’ past.  Unfortunately, leadership is a more difficult ability to change – typically you are either a good leader, or you are not.

Let us be clear.  I very very rarely criticize a manager’s (coach’s) leadership in any sport.  I think it is laughable when fans say things like, “The manager/coach has clearly lost the clubhouse/locker room”….as if we have any idea what is going on in those rooms.  These critics are the people who see a physical error and blame the manager.  Seriously, when the Yankees were 5-5 in April, I heard a guy call WFAN and claim that Aaron Boone was a bad manager because someone on the Yankees (I think it was Gregorious, but I am not certain) had made an error.  If I ever get to the point where I blame individual physical errors on the manager, please euthanize me.

However, it is reasonable both to blame managers for players’ mental errors and to believe a players-turned-announcer’s analysis that a manager has “lost the team”.  This is where Callaway finds himself in deep trouble.  I have never heard the Mets’ TV announcers – Gary, Keith, and Ron – show the same amount of disdain for a manager that they do for Mickey Callaway.  The disdain is never directly stated, but it is obvious.  A textbook example came during Wednesday’s 5-3 Mets loss in D.C.  Jose Bautista swung and missed for Strike Three, and the ball bounced to the backstop.  Bautista did not run and was called out.  Gary Cohen voiced his displeasure for Bautista’s stationary response, and Darling responded by saying that he was not surprised.  Darling explained that the Mets have not run out dropped third strikes all year long.  During Cohen’s and Darling’s dialogue, the disdain was obvious by the tones of their voices.

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Similarly, a few weeks ago, Keith Hernandez appeared on Mike Francesa’s show.  Francesa asked Keith if he thought Callaway was a good manager, and, in standard Francesa form, the question was long-winded and insinuated Francesa’s thoughts that Callaway was overmatched (either leadership-wise or strategically).  Keith responded with only “I expect Mickey to be the Mets’ manager next year.”  It was the ultimate case of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  A damning comment from Keith….and yes, one that runs contrary to the basic premise of this article.

Anyway, the Mets have made many mental errors this year, such as Wilmer Flores not throwing home in Wednesday’s eighth inning.  Unlike with physical errors, a mental mistake is at least partially the manager’s fault.  A manager should do his best to ensure that all players know what to do in all situations.  Of course, players can make mental errors even if the manager has adequately prepared them to do the right thing.  Unfortunately, there have been too many mental errors for this year’s Mets for one not to wonder if the manager is partially to blame.  There have also been too many times when the Mets do not hustle.  Again, for that, it is fair to look toward the manager.

Does this mean that Callaway has lost the clubhouse?  On my own, I cannot say that.  However, there have been enough allusions from Gary, Keith, Ron, and even Nelson Figueroa (SNY Studio) that Callaway has no control over the team.  3 of those 4 were Major Leaguers, and the other has been around Mets teams for 30 years.  When they say that Callaway has “lost the team”, I believe them.

2)     The Mets need a scapegoat for this awful season.  If a team has an unexpectedly terrible season, there usually needs to be a scapegoat.  As the old adage goes, you cannot fire the whole team, but you can fire the manager.  Note that I wrote “unexpectedly” in the first sentence of this part.  The Mets lost 92 games last year, which is terrible.  When a team has a terrible season, it is usually reasonable to expect the next season to be terrible as well.  Fairly or not, though, most people viewed the 2018 Mets differently.

While people were not readily predicting the 2018 Mets to be a playoff team, most people assumed that 2017 would prove to be an aberration because Yoenis Cespedes and the Mets’ starting-pitching staff minus Jacob deGrom spent most of 2017 on the disabled list.  Therefore, it seemed reasonable that the 2018 Mets would be at least a .500 team and would be in the running for the second Wild Card.  Unfortunately for Callaway, Cespedes will end up spending most of 2018 on the DL as well, and the stats since the start of 2015 show that the Mets are much much better with Cespedes than without him.  At the same time, deGrom, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler have essentially been healthy all year to this point.  Noah Syndergaard has been healthy for 2 of the 4 months.  Seth Lugo has been healthy as well, and he made a few starts early in the season before moving effectively to the bullpen.

In a way, Callaway has actually been hurt by the fact that the starting pitching has done well this year.  We all hoped that the Mets’ pitchers would be better and healthier this year than last year, and that has been the case.  Therefore, the fact that this pitching success has led the Mets to a 44-61 record ends up making it worse on Callaway than if the pitchers had all been terrible.  Had the pitchers been terrible and/or hurt, we would likely be blaming the pitchers (who were terrible and/or hurt last year, pre-Callaway).

Many modern “Moneyball” people say that a manager does not matter.  I am a moderate in this debate.  When a team is 44-61 as the Mets are, not even Gil Hodges nor Tony LaRussa would not have made the team a playoff team.  The Mets are terrible primarily because they have bad players – especially position players.  That said, I think that the difference between a good manager and a bad manager is somewhere between 6 and 10 wins over a full season.  While any manager can and should rely primarily on all available statistics to guide his decisions, a good manager is also able to take advantage of knowledge like: which reliever says he has “good stuff” today, which batter had great batting practice today, which normally-good player is in a funk today because of a fight with his girlfriend, which player is feeling sick today, etc.  A good manager rarely loses games because his players make mental errors or do not hustle.  A good manager’s tough decisions end up correct more often than not.

It would seem that none of the previous paragraph applies to Callaway.  Thus, given that we are 2/3 of the way through the season, maybe the Mets would have 6 more wins with a better manager.  That would mean a 50-55 record, which is actually a world of difference from 44-61.  It would give the Mets a chance to finish over .500.  More importantly, it would make the Mets feel that they are on the way back after the disastrous 70-92 2017 season.

I would love for the Mets to sign Manny Machado next year, but I know it is not happening.  The Wilpons can try to sign several players who will make the Mets much better in 2018, or they can bring in a new manager.  If the Wilpons do the latter, they can preach a change of culture, accountability, etc.  Which option is better?  I would absolutely prefer better players, because that can make more than 6 to 10 wins worth of difference.  However, which is cheaper?  Bringing in a new manager.  That is the biggest reason why I expect a new manager in 2018.

3)     The Mets wreck their managers by not letting them appear on WFAN or ESPN Radio.  This needs to be said.  Most Mets fans think of Mickey Callaway as a buffoon, partially because we never get to hear our trusted sports-radio hosts – Francesa, Kay, LaGreca, Evan Roberts, Boomer, etc. – interview the guy.  The Mets do not let their personnel speak on radio stations other than 710 WOR, and, in so doing, they set up their managers for failure.  If we were able to hear Callaway be interviewed on a weekly basis, we would hear his answers to some of our questions.  Oftentimes, we think people are misguided until we hear them provide their actual rationales.  Unfortunately, we do not get this air time with Callaway.  All we get is plenty of hosts deservedly ridiculing him for saying, “We are going to love our players…”.  This is why Callaway could truly benefit from first-hand WFAN/ESPN Radio time.

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OK, maybe Callaway would not give us much more in hypothetical WFAN/ESPN interviews than he gives us in his postgame press conferences, but there is a multiplier effect in play.  Radio hosts are nicer when discussing people who are guests on the show than when discussing people who are not.  It is human nature.  This does not mean that the radio hosts have not spoken ill of Joe Girardi nor Aaron Boone at times.  However, hosts will give those guys the benefit of the doubt, because they have working relationships that lead the hosts to assume the best from the managers.  When have you heard any sports-radio personality give Callaway the benefit of the doubt?  It never happens, because the hosts do not have relationships with the guy.  This hurts Callaway.  There is never any positivity about Mickey Callaway when it comes to sports radio, and that influences fans’ perceptions.  The Mets ensure that their managers receive primarily negative radio coverage.  Not only is this bad for Callaway, but it will also hurt his replacement as Mets manager in 2019.

I know that Keith expects Callaway to be back next year, but I think this post is way too long for that to be the case.

The Most Miserable Person in the World

This year’s MLB All-Star Game was a rather ho-hum affair.  We are less than a week removed from the game, and most MLB fans could not today recite a single memorable occurrence from that game.  Meanwhile, the most newsworthy All-Star Game occurrence was the revelation that Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader had tweeted misogynistic and homophobic things while he was in high school.

First off, obviously it is extremely inappropriate for a person to make such tweets.  That said, who is the person who dug up these tweets on the day of the All-Star Game?  There are only two possibilities, one commendable and one deplorable:

Possibility #1) A vindictive ex-girlfriend or ex-friend was “getting back” at Hader.  I really hope this was the case.  Maybe there was a time where Hader cheated on a girl, and she decided to get her revenge when he was on the biggest stage of his life.  Maybe Hader “stole” a girl from a friend, and the friend similarly decided to get revenge during the All-Star Game.  Either way, if the aggrieved party was aware that a) these tweets existed and b) Hader has/had a promising baseball career, said party might want to wait until the perfect time to unveil those tweets to the world.  This way, the party could maximize the damage to Hader’s career.  The perfect time was, of course, during the All-Star Game.  Very few people outside Milwaukee knew much about Josh Hader before Tuesday.  However, to reveal that an All-Star had once made those inappropriate tweets would be a big story, even if the name “Josh Hader” was not exactly a household name.  Therefore, the All-Star Game was the perfect time to release the tweets and thus to give Hader the most notoriety.

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Photo via Sporting News

Possibility #2) One of the most miserable people in the world dug up this tweet from the past and released it on Tuesday for the sole purpose of making Hader miserable.  Again, the tweets are inexcusable, but, as a high-school teacher, I also know that high-schoolers say, do, and tweet dumb things from time to time.  The whole point of going to school is to learn – not only academically, but also socially – so that one can live a responsible adult life.  I have taught many students who matured greatly over their high-school careers, and the last thing I would want to see is to have their careers tarnished by stupid things the students tweeted while they were in high school.

At the same time, I am sure there are miserable people out there who pore over the social-media accounts of every person who suddenly gains even a modicum of fame.  This way, these scavengers can try to wreck the person’s fame, even if the person is a good person.  By all accounts, Josh Hader has been an upstanding adult who tweeted inappropriate things as a high-schooler.  Why try to wreck the guy now, unless you are a miserable, miserable person?

If “Possibility #2” is the correct answer, then the person who uncovered these tweets surely drives in the left lane of the highway at 50 miles per hour and uses a urinal next to the only other occupied urinal when there is a line of open urinals.  What a miserable, miserable person.

A Less Familiar View on Familia

On Saturday, the Mets traded closer Jeurys Familia to the Oakland Athletics.  As we Mets fans close the book on the Familia era, I would like to make the case that he was a much better postseason pitcher the average Mets fan thinks he was.

Most often, when analyzing how good a player/pitcher somebody is/was, it is valid to look at the player’s career cumulative statistics.  While stats never tell the full picture, a large enough sample size of statistics does not lie either.  That said, for Jeurys Familia, we clearly do not have a large enough sample size to judge his postseason career on his cumulative save totals.  Familia is 5 for 8 in postseason save chances.  Thus, he has three career blown saves in the postseason.  Additionally, those three blown saves came in the World Series; thus, four of his past five postseason appearances yielded three blown saves (all in the World Series) and a loss in the 2016 Wild Card game.

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Photo via Amazin’ Avenue

However, the guy has all of 13 career playoff appearances.  With a number that small, it is more logical to examine his performance on a game-by-game basis than a cumulative basis.  At the same time, it is worth noting that his playoff ERA is 2.30, and his playoff WHIP is an incredible .638!  Those two numbers should give you pause when deriding the guy’s playoff career.  More importantly, let us examine his 13 playoff outings:

  • 2015 NLDS Game 1 at Los Angeles: Familia pitches 1.1 innings with and retires all four batters he faces. He enters a 3-1 game in the 8th with two outs and a runner on base.  At Dodger Stadium in this instance, many pitchers might struggle, but Familia does not.  Familia is unfazed by the pressure and dominates.
  • 2015 NLDS Game 3 vs. Los Angeles: Familia retires all 3 batters he faces in the 9th The inning begins with the Mets leading 13-4.  After Erik Goeddel allows the first four batters to reach base, Familia comes on to stop the bleeding and preserve a 13-7 win.  This is a low-pressure situation, but he is perfect nonetheless.
  • 2015 NLDS Game 4 vs. Los Angeles: Familia pitches a perfect Top of the 9th to keep the Dodgers’ lead at 3-1. The Mets lose the game, but Familia remains perfect for his postseason career.
  • 2015 NLDS Game 5 at Los Angeles: If you are a real Mets fan, you think after this game, “Oh my God, we might have our Mariano.” It is a winner-take-all game, and Familia pitches perfect 8th and 9th innings at Dodger Stadium with the Mets clinging to a 3-2 lead in the game.  If Armando Benitez, John Franco, Braden Looper, Billy Wagner, or Francisco Rodriguez is the Mets’ pitcher this night; I think the Mets lose the game.  Fortunately, Familia has ice water in his veins and finishes off one gem of a pitching performance for the Mets (6 gutty innings from Jacob deGrom and a solid relief inning from Noah Syndergaard).
  • 2015 NLCS Game 1 vs. Chicago: Ho-hum: Familia records his third postseason save of more than one inning (1.1). This time, he does allow a hit, but he nevertheless preserves a 4-2 win for the Mets and Matt Harvey, who pitched 7.2 innings.  (Side note: With all of the ridiculously short starting pitchers’ outings in the 2016 and 2017 postseasons, it is refreshing to remember that the Mets’ starters routinely pitched at least 6 innings and often more during the 2015 playoffs.)
  • 2015 NLCS Game 2 vs. Chicago: Ho-hum again: Familia records his first easy (in my opinion) save of the postseason. He allows 1 hit over 1 inning in preserving a 4-1 Mets win.  Even Trevor Hoffman probably could have converted this save.
  • 2015 NLCS Game 3 at Chicago: Another easy one: Familia pitches a perfect ninth to finish off a 5-2 Mets win.
  • 2015 NLCS Game 5 at Chicago: Familia earns the right to be on the mound as the Mets clinch their first pennant in 15 years. He pitches a scoreless 9th and walks one batter.  The Mets win 8-3.

 

Therefore, as we presently stand, Familia has put together 8 scoreless appearances with only 3 baserunners allowed.  He is 5-for-5 in save opportunities, with 3 of those saves being more than one inning long.  Anyway, back to the log.

  • 2015 World Series Game 1 at Kansas City: Familia enters in the 8th inning with the tying run on base. Familia records the last out of the inning but allows a game-tying solo homer to Alex Gordon in the 9th  Thus, Familia’s line is 1.1 innings, 1 ER, 1 baserunner (the homer), 1 blown save.  It is the first blemish on Familia’s postseason record.  The Mets lose the game in 14 innings.
  • 2015 World Series Game 3 vs. Kansas City: Familia pitches a perfect 9th to preserve a 9-3 Mets win and to give the Mets their first win of the World Series. In hindsight, people criticize manager Terry Collins for using Familia with a 6-run lead.  On one hand, Collins used Familia with a bigger lead in Game 3 of the NLDS, and Familia looked no worse for wear in Games 4 and 5 of that series.  On the other hand, this World Series appearance represents Familia’s 10th postseason appearance in three weeks.  Thus, fatigue is likely becoming a bigger factor.  How does Familia respond going forward?…
  • 2015 World Series Game 4 vs. Kansas City: Familia pitches 2/3 of an inning (8th inning), allowing an unearned run and two hits. This is where the raw stats do not tell the story.  Mets fans know the story.  Familia enters in the Top of the 8th with the Mets clinging to a 1-run lead.  There are runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out.  Eric Hosmer hits a ground ball to second baseman Daniel Murphy.  At worst, this should be a 4-3 ground out that puts runners at second and third with 2 outs.  Instead, Murphy makes an error, allowing the tying run to score.  Somehow, this alone already counts as a blown save for Familia.  It is ridiculous that baseball scoring credits the run to the previous pitcher but the blown save to Familia, but I digress. There are now runners on 1st and 3rd with 1 out and a tie score.  Familia allows two hits, and the two runners ultimately score (second being an unearned run charged to Familia).  Mets lose 5-3.

 

Sure, Murphy’s error is not solely responsible for Familia’s two hits allowed.  That said, Familia enters the game and induces the groundball he needed.  Had there then instead been 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs and the Mets up by 1, things might go differently than with first and third, 1 out, and a tie game.

  • 2015 World Series Game 5 vs. Kansas City: It is silly that Familia was given a blown save in Game 4 for allowing the inherited runner to score on Murphy’s error. It is criminal that Familia is given a blown save in the upcoming scenario.  Mets fans know this one very, very well.  Familia relieves Matt Harvey with the tying run on second and nobody out in the Top of the 9th.  Familia induces consecutive groundouts.  The first moves Eric Hosmer from second to third.  The second groundout is 5-3, with David Wright throwing the ball over to Lucas Duda.  Of course, Hosmer ends up following Wright and scoring the tying run on the play.  Familia then induces a third-consecutive groundout.
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Photo via Slate.com

Therefore, Jeurys Familia allows three consecutive groundouts and earns a blown save.  Baseball’s rules are ridiculous.  Anyway, as we exit the 2015 postseason, we should remember Familia as being a great postseason pitcher.  Yes, he technically blew three saves, but two were fully or partially because of errors…and one was because baseball’s “blown save” crediting is silly.  In truth; over 12 playoff appearances, Alex Gordon’s Game 1 (WS) homer and the two KC hits after Murphy’s error opened the door were the only negatives on the guy’s record.  Familia had a stellar postseason and was instrumental in the Mets making it to the World Series.

However, after Familia’s unlucky-13th postseason appearance, many Mets fans retroactively decide that Familia is a bad postseason pitcher.  Of course, in this last appearance, Familia enters a scoreless game in the 9th inning and allows two baserunners before allowing Conor Gillaspie’s game-winning homer.  This is easily Familia’s worst postseason moment.  Unfortunately, it is his last Mets postseason moment, but let us not forget that the guy was actually a fantastic postseason pitcher for most of his Mets career.

Nobody Cares About Pitchers’ Wins Anymore, So Let’s Make a Change

The quickest way to get me to “check out” of an intelligent baseball conversation is to discuss a modern-day pitcher’s win-loss record as a major factor in how good the pitcher is.  In an era in which good pitchers routinely exit games with a third or more of the game left to play, pitchers simply do not earn enough decisions to make the “wins” statistic pertinent. 

Given that most baseball fans place little relevance on the “wins” statistic, we might as well try to improve the stat, and I have one good way to do this.  The official scorer of a game should be given discretion to award a win to a starting pitcher any time that both of these criteria are met: a) His team has won the game.  (Obviously)  b) He has pitched at least five innings.

You might be wondering, “Nice work, Mike.  It has been that way since Doubleday invented the sport.”

True, but I have removed the third criterion, that which requires a pitcher to be the most recent guy on his team to have thrown a pitch as of the moment his team takes the lead.  This is my big change.  This rule is an anachronism.  It was created in the 1800s when pitchers routinely pitched complete games.  Additionally, it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that managers started to remove pitchers who were pitching well.  Before that time, managers did not worry about pitch counts or fatigue.  If the pitcher was effective, he was remaining in the game. 

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As a result, there were relatively few cases in which a pitcher would pitch very well but not receive a decision.  In modern baseball, it is commonplace for a pitcher to exit a game in the 6th or 7th inning while clinging to a 2-1 or 3-1 lead or losing 2-1 or 3-1.  Of course, this means that bullpens have 3 or 4 innings to blow that 2-1 lead or 3-1 lead.  It also means that bullpens have 3 or 4 innings to keep deficits within 2 runs.  In either of these cases; if a team takes the lead to stay while a reliever is in the game for this team, which pitcher is most responsible for the team’s victory?  More often than not, it is the starting pitcher. 

Why not allow the starting pitcher to earn the victory in any case where he is the pitcher most responsible for the team’s win?  Let the statistic measure what it is supposed to measure.  If a bullpen coughs up a lead, but that teams wins anyway; why should the mediocre reliever earn the win?  By the same token, if three relievers pitch one shutout inning apiece to keep their team down 3-1, it seems to me that the guy who threw 6 innings of 3-run ball should earn the win if his team comes back in the end.  In fact, Jacob deGrom gave us a textbook example of my philosophy on Friday night against the Rays.  He pitched 8 innings of 1-run ball, left with the game tied at 1, and watched as Jose Bautista’s walk-off grand slam in the 9th inning gave the Mets a 5-1 win.  Jeurys Familia pitched 1 inning that night and earned the win, but that should be deGrom’s win.  Jacob was the pitcher most responsible for the Mets’ win, so he should receive credit for it.

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Of course, this is not my first time recommending a change to baseball.  Therefore, I know there is sometimes disdain for me trying to change things in a sport with many purists.  Therefore, I have two additional points before the angry mob comes for me:

1)     If you are worried that this change will inflate “Wins” numbers compared to guys’ totals in the past, stop trying to make intergenerational comparisons.  The pitchers from olden days will always be better than the modern-day guys because the past guys threw so many more innings.  With all the bullpen decisions that these current starters render, plenty of these games will become losses.  Therefore, the “Wins” totals from olden days will continue to stay well above the modern-day totals.  Remember that the modern-day pitcher also forgoes more wins than olden-day pitchers did to both injuries and sub-5-inning starts.

2)     If you do not like that the official scorer has discretion, be aware that he/she already has some.  The official scorer is, in fact, allowed to award a win to a relief pitcher who said scorer thinks has contributed more to the victory than the guy who was on the mound when his team took the lead.  The only caveat is that it is that the scorer must hand the win to a reliever, not a starter.  Perfect example: June 30, 2000: Second-best Mets game that I ever attended.  Mike Piazza capped the Mets’ 10-run 8th inning with a go-ahead homerun.  The official scorer gave the win to Armando Benitez, who came in for the 9th inning, as opposed to Eric Cammack, who was on the mound to finish the Top of the 8th.

 

Thus, official scorers already have some discretion.  I think it makes sense to give them a little bit more.  This would not make “Wins” a perfect stat for discussing pitchers’ greatness, but it would at least move the stat in the right direction.