Orlando Hernandez

Hideki Matsui Deserves More Hall of Fame Consideration

There is a former World Series MVP who has hit more than 500 home runs in his career and has not been implicated, whether by test or suspicion, in any PED scandal.  Over 20 seasons, the outfielder was a .293/.387/.521 hitter with 2,655 hits, 496 doubles, 508 homers, and 1,654 RBI.

It would seem a player of this caliber would be a first ballot Hall of Famer, and yet somehow that player has yet to receive a single Hall of Fame vote.

That player is Hideki Matsui.

Now, the aforementioned stats were a combination of the stats Matsui accumulated in his time in Japan and the United States.  Admittedly, his stats in the US are not Hall of Fame caliber.  In his 10 MLB seasons, Matsui was a good, but not quite great player.

Matsui would retire as a .280/.360.462 hitter with 175 homers and 760 RBI.  That’s an MLB career that Matsui should be proud of, but it’s not a Hall of Fame one.

However, that wasn’t his full career.  From 1993 – 2002, Matsui would become the premiere power hitter of the Japanese Leagues.  He would play 10 seasons for the Yomiuri Giants until he finally reached free agency.  Unlike Japanese stars like Ichiro Suzuki or Shohei Ohtani, Matsui was not posted.  Rather, he would spend the bulk of his career in Japan.

There are a number of reasons for this least of which NPB rules and a gentleman’s agreement between MLB and the NPB.

As detailed in a 2012 New York Times article, once a Japanese player is drafted by an NPB club, the team has from late October until the end of March to sign a draft pick.  There is nothing preventing an MLB team from interceding and signing a player, but due to an unwritten agreement between both leagues, MLB teams do not interfere.  If a player goes unsigned, an MLB team can then sign that player without a posting fee.  However, and this is important, those players are always signed.  As a result, unless posted, a player will spend the first half and most likely the prime of their careers in Japan.

It is really a system set up to benefit both NPB and MLB teams.  It allows the NPB to stay more relevant as a league, and it allows MLB teams to take on less risk when signing a player from Japan.  However, when you have generational talents like Matsui, they suffer.

No one knows if Matsui would have been a Hall of Fame player if he spent his entire career in the United States.  What we do know is if you combine his stats, he most definitely had a Hall of Fame career.  However, that will not result in his enshrinement in Cooperstown.

This is not too dissimilar from players who have defected from Cuba.  Pitchers like El Duque may have been capable of being Hall of Famers if they were able to spend their entire careers in the US.  However, for reasons outside their control, they were kept from competing at the highest level, and therefore robbed of their chance of going to Cooperstown.

Now, there is a precedent for non-MLB players to get inducted into Cooperstown.  As we know, the Baseball Hall of Fame has tried to right many of the wrongs of segregation by honoring and inducting Negro League legends like Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson.  Players like Satchel Paige, who was not good enough for induction into the Hall of Fame on the strength of his MLB career, were inducted on the strength of their Negro League careers.

We can argue whether it is fair to compare segregation to the cruel Cuban dictatorship or the exclusionary policies of the NPB, which are aided and abetted by MLB.  What we do know is like the Negro Leaguers, Cuban and Japanese players have not been given an opportunity to play in the US through no fault of their own, and as a result, they are not going to get their shot at Cooperstown.  That is, unless, they are freaks like Ichiro.

When Ichiro is inducted in the Hall of Fame, he will be the first Japanese player elected.  Tony Perez remains the only Cuban born player inducted.

By the looks of it, no one will be joining them anytime in the near future, and the major reason for that is their countries will not permit them to compete at the highest level, at least not during their prime.  There may not be an easy solution to this, but in the end, it seems that someone like Hideki Matsui, who has had a great professional baseball career, would deserve some consideration for Cooperstown.

He hasn’t, and he won’t.  That’s a problem.

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.

Seth Lugo is Better than Philip Humber

Back in 2007, the Mets collapsed in part due to a rash of pitcher injuries.   Pedro Martinez missed most of the year following offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum.  An injured Orlando Hernandez (El Duque) had to be moved out of the rotation and into the bullpen.  With they myriad of injuries, Mike Pelfrey was put in the rotation before he was truly ready.  Brian Lawrence made a few poor starts.  With the walls crashing in on the Mets and the Phillies gaining on them, the Mets had to turn to Philip Humber.

Humber was the third overall pick in the 2004 draft.  In his career, he never lived up to that billing.  It could have been that he was damaged goods coming from Rice University, who is well known for abusing pitcher arms. He did have ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery before his major league debut.  It could be that he was rushed through the system never being given proper time to develop.  It could any single factor or any combination thereof.  It could just be that he just wasn’t good enough to be a top line starting pitcher.

He certainly wasn’t on September 27, 2007.  His final line was four innings, six hits, five runs, five earned, two walks, no strikeouts, and one home run allowed.  Humber did his best to battle that night, but he either wasn’t ready or wasn’t capable of winning a big game like that.  The only reason he didn’t take the loss was the Mets staked him to a 4-0 and a 6-2 lead.  It would be his last game as a Met as he would be part of the Johan Santana trade.  It was also the last day the Mets would have sole possession of first place as the loss would drop them to only one up in the division.

Like in 2007, the starting pitching is dropping like flies.  Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and even Jon Niese have found themselves on the disabled list.  Logan Verrett has served as this year’s Lawrence.  Robert Gsellman serves as this year’s Pelfrey.  However, Lugo isn’t quite this year’s Humber.  They really have nothing in common.

Whereas Humber was a high draft pick, Lugo was a 34th round draft pick.  While Humber was pushed through the minors without mastering a level, Lugo has performed at each and every level having to prove himself over and over again.  During his career, Humber had trouble developing a real outpitch.  Conversely, Lugo has a terrific curveball that has already fooled Anthony Rizzo, who is a terrific major league hitter.  More importantly, the main difference between Humber and Lugo is Lugo has already had success as a pitcher for the Mets.

In nine appearances as a reliever, Lugo pitched 17.0 innings and had a 2.65 ERA.  When injuries forced him to make an unexpected start, Lugo was better than anyone could have imagined.  He was not only good, but he was efficient.  When Lugo walked off the mound, he had pitched 6.2 innings allowing seven hits, one run, one earned, and one walk with three strikeouts.  At a minimum, Lugo has shown everyone he has the capability of being a good and reliable major league pitcher.

During this season, this Mets team has been compared to past Mets teams that have failed.  Namely, they have been compared to the 1987, 2001, and 2007 teams.  You can go up and down the line and compare different aspects of those teams to this current team.  However, those comparisons need to stop with Lugo as everyone should have faith when Lugo steps on the mound.

Should the Mets Bring Jimmy Rollins Onboard?

Jimmy Rollins has been a career .264/.324/.418 hitter.  In the prime of his career, he was a .286/.342/.468 hitter.  In 2007, he predicted the Phillies would win the NL East, and he backed it up by being the MVP that year.  He was a clubhouse leader on a Phillies team that went to the postseason five straight years and won the 2008 World Series.  He’s won four Gold Gloves at shortstop.  Rollins has been a very good major league player.  The problem is Rollins isn’t that player anymore.

Last year, Rollins hit .224/.285/.358 in 144 games with the Dodgers.  There’s no sugar coating it.  Rollins wasn’t good last year.  It’s why the Dodgers called up Corey Seager at the end of the year, and why Rollins and Seager split time at shortstop during the NLDS.  Despite his struggles, Rollins was able to latch on with the Chicago White Sox this year.  In 41 games, Rollins hit .221/.295/.329.  It is no wonder why for the second straight year Rollins has been pushed aside for a shortstop prospect.  This year it was Tim Anderson, and this year it came much quicker.  Rollins has been designated for assignment.  He’s now 37 years old, and he is facing the very real prospect that his career might be over.

It might be time for the Mets to throw Rollins a lifeline.

Even with how poor Rollins is playing, he’s still a better player than what they have.  With the Kelly Johnson addition, the Mets have one spot left on the bench that is going to Matt Reynolds.  Even in a two year spiral, Rollins is playing better than Reynolds.  Additionally, Rollins has been a proven leader on a World Series winning team.  As we saw last year with Juan Uribe, you cannot add enough veteran bench pieces to a team that has World Series aspirations.

Now, one thing that is obvious is Mets fans don’t like Rollins.  They don’t like anyone from those Phillies teams especially Chase Utley.  With that said, Mets fans will get over it if Rollins is a positive contributor.  The Mets fans had no issue with Orel Hershiser in 1999, and they had no issue with Orlando Hernandez a/k/a El Duque in 2006.  There were no issues with Kelly Johnson either last year or this year.  Ultimately, all Mets fans want is to win.  They will cheer whoever helps them win.  That includes Jimmy Rollins.

Overall, the Mets should look into adding Jimmy Rollins into the mix.

Be Ready for Anything

You never know what is going to happen before or during a postseason series. How a team responds to it may determine if a team wins or loses a series. 

I was reminded of that with another playoff series against the Dodgers. Both times the Mets played the Dodgers, one of their starting pitchers was injured. 

In 1988, Bobby Ojeda suffered a potentially career ending injury on the same day the Mets clinched at least a tie atop the NL East. It threw the Mets postseason rotation off kilter. Dwight Gooden started Games 1 and 4 (on three day’s rest). He wouldn’t make another start in the series. 

I still don’t know what Davey Johnson was thinking. The Mets had a 2-1 series lead. They already won a game in which Orel Hershiser started. Johnson unnecessarily went to Gooden on three days rest, and then he left him in too long. Even more baffling is the fact that Johnson went to Sid Fernandez in Game 5 with the series tied 2-2. 

Honestly, I don’t think Johnson doesn’t make a ponderous decision like this if Ojeda was able to pitch. Ojeda was 2-0 in the 1986 postseason. He stabilized things in Game 3, and he gave the Mets a chance in Game 6. Johnson doesn’t skip his start in 1988, and the Mets probably don’t blow that series. 

Eighteen years later, the Mets again found themselves facing the Dodgers in the playoffs. Again, a key starting pitcher went down. Two days before the NLDS, El Duque, the scheduled Game 1 starter, went down with a torn calf muscle. Keep in mind, he was the second choice after Pedro Martinez suffered a rotator cuff injury

Willie Randolph gave the ball to John Maine. Maine lasted 4.1 innings before hitting trouble. Randolph quickly turned to his incredible bullpen who brought it home. The Mets responded better to the problem in 2006, and they won the series. 

It’s possible the Mets have already been presented with their Ojeda-El Duque dilemma with Steven Matz. Matz slept on a sofa, and he injured his back. The Mets now have a critical decision to make, especially with Matz having a successful simulated game. If he responds well, he may be on the roster. If not, it will be Sean Gilmartin

Whomever the Mets choose, history shows it’s not who you pick that’s important. It’s how you respond to the crisis that’s important. Fortunately, this is one of Terry Collins’ strengths. Hopefully, there won’t be any more surprises. 

Lets Go Mets!

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.