Monday, September 29, 2008

I Hate Baseball

Today is one of those days that I wish it was socially acceptable for a grown man to cry in public at the drop of a hat like those two guys in the double-stroller in the Taco Bell commercial.

While the word "collapse" seems to be the word-o-the-day for sports writers and talk radio folks when talking about the Mets, I hardly think that that is fair. After all, the Mets were 13-12 in September. By comparison, the Brewers (who are the heroic September-survivors) went 10-16. Yes, the Mets went .500 for the final month and that wasn't enough to get it done, but keep in mind that they were out of the Divisional race by 7.5 games two months ago and out of Wild Card by four games three weeks ago and roared back into both races, surviving until the last day.

That said, they should never have been in either race and should have been able to run away with the division in June, thus making September irrelevant and that is why Omar Minaya absolutely needs to be fired. Of course if you have been paying attention, you saw that he apparently was just given an extension.

Minaya takes flak from some fans for supposedly being too Latin-player-centric in his personnel moves. Personally, I think this is ridiculous. His flaw is that he is too over-the-hill-player-centric and expects big name moves to solve all of the small problems. Anyone can sign big names to huge-dollar contracts. A good general manager find diamonds in the rough, and Minaya doesn't. Many of the star players on the team had good years, in fact David Wright and Jose Reyes had arguably their best years, but there were so many glaring holes that they simply couldn't overcome them.

The team won 89 games despite some huge, obvious problems that were clearly evident in last year's team and not fixed in the offseason or at the trade-deadlines. There was no doubt that the bullpen was a problem last year, yet Minaya made no significant move to fix it. It is unfair to pin the whole season on the bullpen, but look at it statistically: this season there were 654 blown saves in 1837 save opportunities in the Majors - so saves are blown 36% of the time. Among playoff teams (including the Twins and White Sox since they are both still alive), they blew 195 out of 600 opportunities, 33%. Mets relievers blew 31 saves in 72 opportunities - an average of 43%! They blew one save almost every five games. Essentially, they lost one game that they had a lead in late per week. By comparison, the Phillies blew 16 of 66 chances, 24%. Had the Mets' bullpen completed this task at the League average, they would have won the East by three games. At their divisional rivals Phillies' average, they would have won the division by 12 games, won 103 games, and had the best record in Baseball.

But we all knew the bullpen stunk. This isn't news. So the Mets bullpen was far worse than the league average, let alone a playoff team's average. The offense was among the league's best, so that should have cancelled it out. Or were they? Of the players who usually started for the Mets (Ryan Church, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado), all had good seasons. They made up for 73% of the home runs hit and 63% of the RBI by Mets this season. They also made up about the same percentage of the team's payroll. By no means am I suggesting that any of these five should be dealt, but the point is that nearly any G.M. with this payroll could have found these types of players. The problem I have with Minaya is that the role-players all stink.

The team was decimated by injuries during the course of the season. Four starting left-fielders were injured for the remainder of the year in succession (Moises Alou, Angel Pagan, Trot Nixon and Fernando Tatis). Church was injured and missed nearly half of the year as well. But Minaya did hardly anything to replace these players and in the end, the Mets bench consisted of players like Endy Chavez (.267), Robinson Cancel (.245), Argenis Reyes (.218), and Marlon Anderson (.210). Most of the players who were injured for significant time (Alou, Orlando Hernandez, Damion Easley, Tatis, Nixon, Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner and Anderson) are in the waning years of their careers and injuries like these could easily have been foreseen.

In the offseason, Minaya traded for Johan Santana to fix the starting rotation. This was a good fix for a huge concern for 2007, but anyone would have made the same move. Minaya also planned on using Martinez and Hernandez despite that it was clear neither would be any use in 2008. No players were brought in to fix the hemorrhaging bullpen and it proved disastrous. Ryan Church replaced Shawn Green and was only a moderate improvement (thanks largely to his injury) and Brian Schneider was brought in to replace Paul Loduca and was hardly an improvement. Midseason, the manager was fired and this proved to be a key move that catapulted the team into the playoff race that they'd eventually lose by a nose. However, they should have already won that race by that time and Minaya is to blame.

My only solace in this whole situation is these three things:
1) Dodger fans and the L.A. media seem to whole-heartedly believe that this is their year despite not apparently realizing that their "amazing, Manny Ramirez-fueled August/September run" is the seventh best record among the eight* playoff teams in that time. They are actually worse than the Brewers who overcame a massive collapse to survive, and the Mets who supposedly blew it down the stretch! Whoops.
2) While CC Sabathia's 2 wins, 26 K's and 1.88 ERA over the last two weeks ultimately doomed the Mets, they helped my fantasy team win the league.
3) My Giants won the Super Bowl, so for at least a decade more, I am good to go.

*Winning percentages in August and September: Red Sox .641, Rays .618, Cubs .615, Phillies .611, Angels .593, Brewers .569, Dodgers .556, White Sox/Twins .519; Mets .574

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