Darren Oliver

Bad Postseason Results Does Not Mean Managers Made The Wrong Decisions

Prior to Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, there was much debate over who Willie Randolph should give the ball.

It was Steve Trachsel‘s turn in the rotation, but he was terrible in Game 3 and bad in the NLDS. Possibly, it was the result of the microdiscectomy he had in 2005, but he didn’t have in anymore.

Due to the rainouts in the series, Tom Glavine in one day of rest was a non-starter leaving the Mets unable to throw their best (healthy) pitcher in a winner-take-all-game.

As a result, when you broke it all down, the Mets best option was Darren Oliver Perez.  That’s right, it was some combination of Darren Oliver, the former starter who was brilliant in the Mets bullpen in 2016, and Oliver Perez, the pitcher who did just enough to win Game 4.  With Perez not being nearly as good as he was as his 2002 breakout season, and him starting on three days of rest, this truly was an all hands on deck type of game.

Looking at the game, it made sense to put the Mets bullpen front and center.  The Mets had the best and deepest bullpen in the National League.  That bullpen led the National League in wins, ERA, and fWAR.  It was dominant, and even with the hiccups in Games 2 and 5 in the series, you certainly trusted it much more than you trusted anyone in the rotation.

As we are aware, things turned out much differently than anticipated.  With the help of Endy Chavez making the greatest catch you will ever see, Perez would allow just one earned on four hits in six innings of work.  He went far beyond what anyone could have anticipated, and really, he put the Mets in position to win that game.

Ultimately, the Mets would lose the game and as a result the series for two reasons.  The first was the Mets offense didn’t deliver.  After Endy’s catch, Javier Valentin struck out with the bases loaded, and Endy did not have more magic left for the inning instead flying out.  In the ninth, Cliff Floyd struck out, Jim Edmonds robbed Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran struck out looking.

The second reason was the bullpen, specifically Aaron Heilman.  He pitched a scoreless eighth, and he started off the ninth well striking out Edmonds.  After the Scott Rolen single, he really was through the dangerous part of the lineup.  He should have gotten through that inning unscathed to give the Mets a chance to walk off.  Realistically speaking, no one could have anticipated what came next.

In 2006, Heilman did not get hit hard.  He yielded just a 4.4% FB/HR ratio, and he had a 0.5 HR/9.  He had not given up a home run since July 16th, and that was hit by Phil Nevin.  Again, no one could see Yadier Molina‘s homer coming.

That didn’t stop it from coming, but just because it came, it did not mean Randolph and the Mets made the wrong decision trusting Heilman.

Sometimes, you make the right decision, and the wrong thing happens.  It is what we saw happen last night with the Athletics.

Like the 2006 Mets, the real strength of that team was the bullpen.  In a winner take all game, Bob Melvin put his faith in them.  Ultimately, it was two of his best relievers, Fernando Rodney and Blake Treinen, who failed most.  They took a close game and put it well out of reach.

That doesn’t mean he was wrong to trust those arms for one game.  It just means the team’s best players didn’t perform, which is the reason the Athletics lost.  Really, it was the use of an opener or the bullpenning.  It was Rodney and Treinen, two pitchers who were definitively going to pitch in the game even if the Athletics used a traditional starter, who lost the game.

In the end, there is still a debate at the merits of using an opener or bullpenning, but the Athletics losing this game did not settle this debate.  Not in the least.

Vargas Predictable, Great

Even with the Mets having improved pitching depth, the team went out and signed Jason Vargas to a minor league deal.

Based upon the people the Mets brought into the organization the past year, it should come as little surprise Vargas was the guy.

First and foremost, there is Omar Minaya. After the Mets lost in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, Omar began looking to address one of the Mets weak points – starting pitching depth.

In what proved to be an unpopular trade, the Mets sent Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens for the 24 year old Vargas. The whole of Vargas’ Mets career amounted to two starts where he went 0-1 with a 12.19 ERA.

Roughly two years later, Vargas was one of 12 players in the ill-fated J.J. Putz trade. When you consider Joe Smith was part of the deal, a Mets team looking to improve their pitching wound up trading the two best pitchers in that deal.

With respect to Vargas, that may not have been entirely anticipated. But that is what happened over his three team nine year post-Putz trade career.

The most recent stop was Kansas City where he played for current Mets pitching coach Dave Eiland, who as it turned out, gave Vargas a ringing endorsement.

With that, the Mets have made would could be the most predictable signing of the offseason. It also should prove to be a good one.

Likely, the Mets can count on Vargas to last a full season. That’s important considering you can’t expect the same from Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler. Perhaps more importantly, it’s just another arm to the equation.

As of the moment, the Mets have a somewhat incomplete bullpen. Publicly, the Mets are bandying about getting a second left-handed reliever to compete with P.J. Conlon and Matt Purke. However, the real need, and the one Mickey Callaway has discussed – the long reliever.

With Vargas here, either him or Matz could serve in both roles much like Darren Oliver did in 2006.

If not those two, we can see Eiland attempt to make Harvey or Wheeler the Mets version of Wade Davisor Luke Hochevar.

Really, the possibilities are endless. Same goes for the Mets season if Vargas permits Callaway and Eiland to effectively mix and match to get the most out of this Mets pitching staff.

Maybe The Mets Should Re-Sign Niese

At some point today, Jon Niese is going to hold a workout for teams interested in signing him.  Niese needs to do this workout because: (1) he’s coming off knee surgery; and (2) he was terrible last year.  Absolutely terrible.  And yet, despite that, the Mets should be interested in re-signing him.

Let’s get the obvious reasons why the Mets shouldn’t be interested out of the way first.  He’s a malcontent that would likely complain about the weather in San Diego.  He always has an excuse for when he fails.  He’d blame the pitch the catcher for the pitch he called.  He’d blame the designer of the ballpark for the configuration of the outfield walls.  He’d blame God for the wind patterns.  He’d do all of that before admitting he hung a pitch that was hit into the second deck.  More than any of this, Niese was just horrible last year.  Typically, you don’t want players like this.

That is unless they are really cheap, and they have something to prove.

Niese should be both.  Working in reverse, Niese, perhaps for the first time in his major league career, has something to prove.  He’s coming off a year with a 5.50 ERA and a 1.587 WHIP.  Quite possibly, he was the worst pitcher in all of baseball, certainly the worst starting pitcher.  Because Niese is who he is, he’ll probably give you a million reasons why this happened.  I’m sure he’ll say PNC Park was not suited for him, or Ray Searage was not as good a pitching coach as Dan Warthen.  The Pirates probably didn’t shift as well as the Mets did.  He’ll certainly blame his knee injury.  At least with the knee injury, there may be an actual valid excuse, and it could be reason to buy low on Niese.

Before being traded to the Pirates, Niese was 61-61 with a 3.91 ERA, a 1.361 WHIP, and a 95 ERA+.  Basically, he was a fifth starter who constantly tricked the Mets into thinking he could be more than that.  It’s partially why Sandy Alderson gave him a contract extension.  It’s why the Pirates traded Neil Walker to get him.  Maybe he fulfills that promise one day.  Likely, he doesn’t.  Still, Niese has already shown he’s a quality major league pitcher.

He’s a major league pitcher that is going to come cheap.  With teams seemingly being devoid of interest in him during the offseason, Niese is likely going to garner little more than a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.  Essentially, Niese is going to go to a team where he has an opportunity to either make the team out of Spring Training or be one of the first call-ups should a pitcher get injured or be ineffective.  That being said,  signing Niese is theoretically no different than the Mets recent signing of Tom Gorzelanny, or back in 2006, when they signed Darren Oliver.

For the Mets, Niese could be an intriguing bullpen arm who surprisingly showed during the 2015 postseason, he can get the big out.  He may have a second act to his career as a reliever much in the same way Oliver Perez has.  By focusing on one or two pitches, he could be a reliable bullpen arm like Oliver.  Or maybe, he could just be more starting pitching depth for a Mets team relying on three pitchers coming off season ending surgery and two unproven starters behind them.

Maybe just maybe, the Mets should offer Niese a minor league deal to come back to the team.  It isn’t the worst idea in the world.

Tom Gorzelanny Was A Perfect Minor League Signing

If you look at the initial reactions to the Tom Gorzelanny signing, it was met with some anger and derision from Mets fans. It has led to a meme where Mets fans have begun to compare him to sloth from the Goonies:

Obviously, this anger comes from Mets fans wanting the team to do more to sign free agent relievers to fill the obvious holes in the Mets bullpen. Namely, Mets fans wanted the team to go out and sign Jerry Blevins, who for some strange reason remains on the free agent market. Because the Mets signed Gorzelanny and not Blevins, Mets fans have understandably overreacted. They shouldn’t.

Because this is a minor league deal, the Mets are not obligated to carry Gorzelanny on the Opening Day roster like they were Antonio Bastardo last season. Essentially, if Gorzelanny does not show the Mets he is not capable of being a part of their bullpen, they can leave him in the minor leagues as depth.

Now, if Gorzelanny does show he can be a solid contributor out of the bullpen, the Mets only owe him $1 million with incentives that could increase his salary to $2.8 million. Essentially, this is a low risk, potentially high reward signing.

And there is reason to believe Gorzelanny can be a solid contributor in 2017. For his career, he has limited left-handed batters to a .229/.302/.356 batting line. For the sake of comparison, Blevins allowed left-handed batters to hit .255/.313/.324 off of him last year. Now, Blevins has historically been better than that against left-handed batters. However, the Mets are looking to replace Blevins’ 2016 production, and judging from Gorzelanny’s career splits, he is more than capable of that.

Another reason to believe in Gorzelanny is his repertoire. He primarily relies upon a low 90s sinker and a low 80s slider. While he also can throw a change-up and a curveball, while he has gotten older he has more and more relied on his sinker and slider. As we have seen with pitchers like Addison Reed and Fernando Salas, Dan Warthen has been successful working with them to get better results with those pitches as they have had in prior stops. It also doesn’t hurt that Travis d’Arnaud and Rene Rivera are excellent pitch framers that will be able to help Gorzelanny get into pitcher’s counts and get him that borderline called third strike.

Also, consider some of the success he has had against some of the left-handed batters he is sure to see during the 2017 season:

At the end of the day, Gorzelanny may very well be considered a solid minor league free agent signing in the same ilk as Darren Oliver or Tim Byrdak.

On the other hand, it might not work out. But if it doesn’t, so what? It’s a classic example of nothing ventured, nothing gained. The million Gorzelanny is potentially earning should not stand in the way of the Mets re-signing Blevins and/or signing another free agent reliever.

And in fact, it didn’t. Not too long after the Mets signed Gorzelanny, the Mets then re-signed both Fernando Salas and Blevins. 

Still, Gorzelanny wasn’t the guy Mets fans wanted, but he could become the guy the Mets fans want on the mound against a left-handed batter this October.

Terry Francona’s Tactics Were Reminiscent of Willie Randolph

This postseason Terry Francona relied heavily on this three best relievers throughout the postseason.  One reason why he did it was Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen were all terrific relievers.  Another reason why is the Indians starting rotation was decimated by injuries.  Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were out of the rotation due to injury before the postseason, and Trevor Bauer lacerated his hand while fixing a drone.  Francona was forced to do what he did in the postseason.  It was not unlike Willie Randolph in 2006.

Like Francona, the Mets were running away with the division when disaster struck.  Their ace, Pedro Martinez, was ruled out for the postseason due to an injured leg, and then all hope of his return for the postseason was abandoned when it was discovered he had a torn rotator cuff.  While Steve Trachsel was purportedly healthy a year removed from a cervical discectomy, he wasn’t the same pitcher anymore finishing the year with a 4.97 ERA.  On the eve of the NLDS, Orlando Hernandez (“El Duque”) suffered a torn calf muscle thereby putting John Maine in position to start Game 1.

The surprise starter Maine gave the Mets 4.1 strong innings.  Still, with runners on first and second with one out, Randolph wasn’t taking any chances in a 2-1 game.  He first went to Pedro Feliciano to get Kenny Lofton, and then he went to Chad Bradford to get Nomar Garciaparra.  The bullpen pitched the final 4.2 innings to secure the victory.  This would essentially be how Randolph would manage the rest of the 2006 postseason in non-Tom Glavine starts.  Overall, here’s a look at when the Mets bullpen entered each game that postseason:

NLDS Game 1 John Maine 4.1 Chad Bradford
NLDS Game 2 Tom Glavine 6.0 Pedro Feliciano
NLDS Game 3 Steve Trachsel 3.1 Darren Oliver
NLCS Game 1 Tom Glavine 7.0 Guillermo Mota
NLCS Game 2 John Maine 4.0 Chad Bradford
NLCS Game 3 Steve Trachsel 1.0 Darren Oliver
NLCS Game 4 Oliver Perez 5.2 Chad Bradford
NLCS Game 5 Tom Glavine 4.0 Chad Bradford
NLCS Game 6 John Maine 5.1 Chad Bradford
NLCS Game 7 Oliver Perez 6.0 Chad Bradford

Overall, the Mets starters pitched 47.2 innings that entire postseason meaning they averaged 4.2 innings per start.  This year, the Indians starters pitched the very same 4.2 innings per star those 2006 Mets did.  Despite Francona and Randolph having the very same approaches to the postseason games, Francona was hailed as a visionary and a genius, whereas many blame Randolph for the Mets failures in the postseason.  The difference?

It started in Game 2 of the NLCS.  Mota infamously shook off Paul Lo Duca, and Scott Spiezio hit a game tying triple.  When Billy Wagner subsequently allowed a So Taguchi lead-off home run, it was a completely different NLCS.  Then in Game 7, Aaron Heilman left a change-up up in the zone, and Yadier Molina hit a go-ahead two run home run.  If not for those two mistakes, the Mets are in the World Series, and quite possibly, it is Randolph, not Francona that is seen as the visionary.

But the Mets lost because their pitchers did not execute in the two biggest moments of that series.  As such, Francona is the genius because to the victor goes the spoils.

What I Want From the World Series

When your team is not in the World Series, the one thing you really want is a memorable World Series.  Even if a team you hates wins the World Series, you want to be rewarded for the time you invest watching the World Series.  In my lifetime, here are some of the World Series I found to be absolutely riveting:

1991 World Series

As for as World Series go, this one could very well be the gold standard.  Five of the seven games were decided by one run.  Three of the games went into extra innings including Games 6 and 7.  With Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Steve Avery, Kevin Tapani, and of course Jack Morris, there was great pitching that led to tense innings and rallies.  In six of the seven games, both teams scored five runs or less.  However, what truly made this series great was two all time games to close out the series.

In Game 6, Kirby Puckett put the Twins on his back.  He made that leaping catch snatching Ron Gant‘s home run from clearing that plexiglass, and then he hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning that included a classic call:

Then in Game 7, Morris went the distance in a 1-0 10 inning game that featured rookie Chuck Knoblauch deking 13 year veteran Lonnie Smith from scoring the go-ahead run in the eighth inning that probably would have been the game winner.  Then in the 10th inning Gene Larkin became the unlikeliest of heroes by getting the World Series walk-off single.

1993 World Series

Generally speaking, this would have been an average World Series as most six game World Series are.  However, there was a lot in this World Series.

Lenny Dykstra turned into Babe Ruth during the series.  Roberto Alomar hit .480 in the series, and he wasn’t even the best hitter.  That honor goes to Paul Molitor who hit .500 in the series.  Game 4 saw the Blue Jays mount a frantic eighth inning come from behind rally to win by a score of 15-14.  And as if this wasn’t enough, in Game 6 Joe Carter did something only Bill Mazeroski had done:

1997 World Series

This series wasn’t particularly memorable despite a couple of slugfests in Games 3 and 5.  No, what made this series was an epic Game 7.  The Indians were seeking to win their first World Series since 1948.  They had their closer Jose Mesa on the mound and a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.

The Marlins first scratched in a run in the bottom of the ninth with a Craig Counsell sacrifice fly scoring Moises Alou.  The Marlins started the game winning rally in the bottom of the 11th with a Bobby Bonillia single off Charles NagyEventually, the Marlins loaded the bases with one out.  Devon White, who won the World Series with the aforementioned Blue Jays, grounded into a force play with Tony Fernandez nailing Bonilla at the plate.  Then with two outs, rookie Edgar Renteria singled home Counsell to win the World Series.

Note, this would’ve been rated much higher if not for the MVP mysteriously being given to Livan Hernandez (5.27 ERA) over Alou, and for Bonilla having such a huge Game 7.

2001 World Series

This World Series had it all.  Curt Schilling did the old fashioned 1-4-7 you want your ace to do in the biggest series of the year.  Randy Johnson was better than that shutting out the Yankees in Game 2, shutting them down in Game 6, and pitching on no days rest to keep the Yankees at bay in Game 7.

Game 7 was an epic back-and-forth matchup.  Alfonso Soriano broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the eighth to set the stage for the great Mariano Rivera who is the greatest postseaon closer, if not pitcher, of all time.  This would be the one World Series blown save in his career.  He was uncharacteristically frazzled making an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt.  Still, he recovered, and the Yankees got the forceout at third on the next bunt attempt.  Tony Womack would then shock everyone by hitting a game tying double.  After Counsell (him again) was hit by a pitch, Luis Gonzalez would bloop a walk-off World Series winning single over the head of Derek Jeter.

However, that World Series was not memorable for Game 7.  It was memorable because those games were played post-9/11, and they were memorable due to what happened at Yankee Stadium.  Before Game 3, President Bush threw a curveball for a strike off the mound before a hard fought Yankees win.  In Game 4, the Yankees were on the verge of falling behind 3-1 in the series before Tino Martinez hit an improbably two out home run off Byung-hyun Kim to tie the game, and Jeter hit a walk-off home run in the 10th to become “Mr. November.”  In Game 5, the Yankees were again down two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.  This time it was Scott Brosius who did the impossible hitting a game tying two run home run to send the game into extras with Soriano getting the walk-off hit in the 12th.

Overall, baseball does not get better than that three game set in the Bronx, especially in the backdrop those games were played.

2002 World Series

This World Series was memorable for a few reasons: (1) The Angels not being able to get Barry Bonds out; (2) J.T. Snow saving Dusty Baker‘s son at home plate; and (3) that Rally Monkey.

That Rally Monkey was all the more prevalent in Game 6.  In that game, Baker made the fateful decision to lift Russ Ortiz with a 5-0 lead, two on, and one out in the seventh inning.  Scott Spiezio greeted Felix Rodriguez with a three run homer.  Darin Erstad then led off the seventh inning with a solo shot off Todd Worrell.  Worrell made matters worse by allowing back-to-back singles thereby putting closer Robb Nen in a precarious situation.  Nen would allow a go-ahead two run double to World Series MVP Troy Glaus giving the Angels a 6-5 win.  In Game 7, rookie John Lackey took care of business and shut down a Giants team that should have won the World Series in Game 6.

2011 World Series

For the most part, this was a well played if not memorable World Series through the first five games.  In the seventh inning, Adrian Beltre broke a 4-4 tie that sparked a three run inning that seemingly was going to deliver the first ever World Series title to the Rangers franchise.  The World Series title was going to be even sweeter for a Rangers team that had their doors blown off in the 2010 World Series.

In the eighth, Allen Craig hit a solo shot to draw the Cardinals within two.  There was still a large enough lead for the excellent Rangers closer, Neftali Feliz to put the game to rest.  The game was there to win even after a Albert Pujols double and a Lance Berkman walk.  Then with two outs, David Freese unleashed a two RBI game tying double to keep the World Series alive.  If that wasn’t painful enough, the Rangers were in for more pain.

Josh Hamilton would hit a two run homer in the top of the 10th to give the Rangers the lead.  At this point, victory was almost assured.  The Cardinals were undeterred putting the first two on against Darren Oliver.  After a sacrifice bunt, Ryan Theriot plated a run with an RBI groundout, and Berkman brought home the tying run with an RBI single.

The Rangers would have no response in either Game 6 or Game 7.  In the bottom of the 11th, Freese, the World Series MVP, would hit a walk-off home run that not only sealed Game 6, but also demoralized a Rangers team heading into Game 7.

2014 World Series

Of note, five of the first six games were terrible.  Absolutely terrible.  Through the first six games, the average margin of victory was six runs per game, and that includes a one run game in Game 3.  Taking aside Game 3, the average margin of victory was seven runs per game.  This is really the type of series you expect with some truly terrible starting pitching on both sides.  In fact, the only starter who was actually good was Madison Bumgarner.

That’s an understatement.  Bumgarner made Morris look like a Little Leaguer with his World Series performance.  In his World Series MVP performance, he appeared in three games going 2-0 with one save, a 0.43 ERA and a 0.476 WHIP.  He came out of the bullpen in the fifth inning in Game 7 with the Giants having a 3-2 lead.  Watching him pitch on two days rest, you kept waiting for him to falter, and then this happened:

Alex Gordon‘s two out single almost became a Little League home run with Gregor Blanco letting the ball bounce past him and Juan Perez nearly booting the ball away.  The debate would rage for days as to whether he should have gone home (he shouldn’t have) with Bumgarner being Bumgarner.  Those that believed he should have gone only intensified their arguments when Salvador Perez fouled out to Pablo Sandoval to end the World Series.

2017 World Series

There is enough here for a classic World Series with two great teams, and two great storylines.  Honestly, the Indians fans deserve this more as they are far more tortured than the Cubs fan.  Ideally, this series goes seven with the Indians pulling it out in classic fashion.  Hopefully, a majority of the games are close.  No matter what happens, all we need is one or two games or moments to make this a series for the ages.  That’s all we can realistically hope to get.

Things are already off to a good start with Dexter Fowler being the first ever black man to play for the Chicago Cubs in a World Series game.

Mets in Same Position as 10 Years Ago

Did you ever hear of the saying, the more things change the more they stay the same? The saying drives me absolutely nuts. Inherently, something that is static cannot also be idle at the same time. However, for the first time I am starting to understand this saying.

I believe this season is starting to resemble 2005. Sure there was some optimism before that season with the signings of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez. This was also going to be the first full season David Wright and Jose Reyes were going to play together. That team also had some holes: Doug Mientkiewicz had a great glove but not the bat to play 1B, Kaz Matsui was being shifted to play 2B after he showed he couldn’t play SS the prior year, and let’s not forget the closer was Braden Looper in a largely ineffective bullpen. However, I don’t know of anyone that expected the Mets to realistically make the playoffs that year.

At that point, the Mets fans were suffering. In 2001, the Mets rallied around the city, but they fell short of making the playoffs in an otherwise disappointing season. In 2002, we watched Steve Phillips attempt to recreate the team as an offensive juggernaut with the likes of Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Jeromy Burnitz, and Roger Cedeno. This lead to three years of just bad baseball. Now, the Mets fans were clamoring for a move to be made. We wanted to see Piazza go out on his last year with the Mets with a winner. At the Trading Deadline, the Mets found themselves only 4 games out of the Wild Card.

However, Omar Minaya stayed the course. The Mets made no trades. He kept his bullets for the offseason. If you recall, that was a magical offseason with the additions of Paul LoDuca, Carlos Delgado, Jose Valentin, Xavier Nady, Endy Chavez, Julio Franco, Pedro Feliciano, Duaner Sanchez, John Maine, Jorge Julio (was was then traded in season for El Duque), Darren Oliver, and Billy Wagner. Omar showing restraint permitted the Mets to build that great 2006 team the fans loved.

Now, Mets fans have been suffering longer than they were in 2005, and they are begging for just one bat (which I don’t think will do the trick). While Mets fans were disappointed in 2005, I don’t remember them being a distraught as they are now. I think the difference is trust. We trusted that ownership and Omar would spend the money to get the players that were needed. In fact, they just come off of a spending spree that netted Pedro and Beltran. Now, fans don’t trust that ownership will spend the money. I believe this is the trust gap that is the biggest sense of frustration with this team.

It’s a shame too because I remember 2005 being a fun season. So far, I think 2015 has been gut-wrenching with all the tight, low-scoring games. My only hope is that if the Mets don’t make a move now, they have a plan for what can be realistically accomplished this summer. There will be LF available who can really help the team in the short term, but the market is scarce on middle infielders. My fingers are crossed.  I want to be able to go to a playoff game with my father and son.