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Mets seek to win season series against Dodgers (Mets Game 49 Preview) May 29, 2016

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Chase Utley during 2016 Spring Training. Photo: Kdolson20 via Wikimedia Commons

Chase Utley during 2016 Spring Training. Photo: Kdolson20 via Wikimedia Commons

After a 9-1 loss last night, the Mets have thus far split the season series with the Dodgers 3-3. The final game is this evening at Citi. Tensions are high following Chase Utley‘s extremely strong performance and Noah Syndergaard‘s ejection for throwing behind Utley in the third inning.

You can’t comment on game 48 without weighing in on the Utley-Syndergaard controversy, so let me just say this: it’s ridiculous that Syndergaard’s manager is worried he’ll be suspended for not hitting Utley, after Utley never served a suspension for a malicious dropkick slide at Ruben Tejada. For Syndergaard to be ejected the same day Tejada is designated for assignment, and for Utley to then hit the go-ahead homer and hit a grand slam, seems almost like a lazy literary device in a bad baseball novel.

The Mets, though, have work to do. Hansel Robles seemed listless; he allowed Utley’s grand slam in his first inning of work, relieving Antonio Bastardo in the seventh, but otherwise got out of the inning with two strikeouts and a fly ball. In the eighth, though, Hansel allowed two more home runs and two walks (sneaking a double play in in the process). Robles wasn’t the same during the eighth, and it seemed like he had lost interest in it by the time Jerry Blevins relieved him.

As for Syndergaard, he half-jokingly suggested he’d be available:

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Logan Verrett is probably unavailable after throwing 43 pitches in 3 2/3 innings last night; Bastardo tossed only 13, Robles 27, Blevins only 8 and Jim Henderson 16. Robles is almost surely available only in a pinch, but Bastardo is probably available. Nevertheless, having Syndergaard ready to pitch out of the bullpen does give the Mets some much-needed bullpen flexibility from a confident reliever. I’d be unsurprised to see him pitch Monday or Tuesday, but pitching him today might throw off his schedule.

Bartolo Colon starts tonight. Bart is unflappable; expect very little in the way of aftershocks from him. Utley has hit him mercilessly, 10-20 career with 2 doubles and a home run. Adrian Gonzalez is 13-28 (.464) with two doubles and three homers. Catcher Yasmani Grandal also has an OPS near 1, with a .250 average on 8 plate appearances including a homer of his own. Otherwise, the usual suspects are quiet: Justin Turner is 1-12, Carl Crawford 6-36, Howie Kendrick and anemic 3-25.

Still, it’s going to be hard to hit Clayton Kershaw. James Loney is 1-1 against Kershaw, but hasn’t joined the team yet. Likely first baseman Eric Campbell is hitless in 6 plate appearances against Clayton, as is Kevin Plawecki (6 PAs) and Alejandro De Aza (5). Usual threats Neil Walker, Yoenis Cespedes, and Juan Lagares are each 1-12, with David Wright and Asdrubal Cabrera each also at or below the Mendoza line. In fact, only Asdrubal Cabrera (.286/.375/.286) and backup catcher Rene Rivera (.250/.333/.250) are above the .200 mark. Wright, however, has walked 7 times in 28 plate appearances; one of those came on May 12 of this year in Colon’s uncharacteristic 5-0 loss to Kershaw. Wright sat on Saturday and will sit on Monday.

In order for the Mets to take the season series against the Dodgers, Colon will need to neutralize Utley. Defense is more important than usual, since Kershaw makes so few mistakes. Kershaw hasn’t allowed a home run since April 26 and has surrendered only 3 this year, so it’s incumbent on players like Wright and Granderson to get on base regardless of the circumstances and players like Cabrera and Walker to move them over. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mets can squeeze a longball out of Kershaw – they’ve been very good at it this year – and as long as they keep the defensive pressure on, this game is eminently winnable.

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The Playoff Bullpen, or, Bartolo Colon Makes his Seventh Relief Appearance August 31, 2015

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So as not to bury the lede, Bartolo Colon made a planned appearance in relief for the Mets on Saturday. Though the Mets lost the game, Bart pitched a nice eighth inning, allowing a double (although David Ortiz was really out, thanks to Juan Uribe‘s heads up play) but striking out 2. He finished the game for the Mets.

At a 7 Line game a few weeks ago, someone asked me, “Who do you keep for the playoffs?” My answer, as always, was “Make Bart the highest-paid setup man in the league.” Obviously, you can’t take Jeurys Familia out of the closer’s role – he’s just too good there. With extra days off, though, the Mets could rely on Colon as a strong eighth-inning man with the capability to carry a game into extra innings. No matter what the situation, Bart would be the right choice in the eighth, leaving Tyler Clippard as an ace reliever/fireman.

Bartolo Colon. Photo: Arturo Pardavila III

Bartolo Colon. Photo: Arturo Pardavila III

Clippard has been used ecumenically from the bullpen, facing 113 right-handed batters (who hit .229/.336/.406 against him) and 125 left-handed batters (.108/.208/.135). The lefty numbers are a bit deflated by a .141 BAbip, compared to a .261 BAbip against righties, but Clippard is clearly very good regardless of the situation. It’s clear that Terry Collins is aware of that, since he’s relied on Clippy to come in mid-inning in several appearances (and that allowed him to avoid waving early for his closer). You don’t need two left-handed specialists if you have Clippard on hand.

Roughly, that means that the Mets could start with a core rotation of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Jon Niese, with a potential 8-man bullpen anchored by Familia, Colon, and Clippard for the late innings; Hansel Robles, Carlos Torres and Addison Reed to eat innings; Eric O’Flaherty as a lefty specialist; and Sean Gilmartin as a long man. That leaves the Mets with a short twelve-man bench, but Terry does have the flexibility to use Niese to run and deGrom and Syndergaard to hit, situationally. I wish Steven Matz would make an appearance, but that’s off the table.

The alternative might be to carry a third catcher in lieu of Robles or Reed in the pen, but the upside of Kevin Plawecki and Anthony Recker on the bench doesn’t seem like a great payoff, since the marginal runs from having both Plawecki and Recker as pinch hitters wouldn’t add up to much. Plus, with the depth of production from the infielders, the ability of Uribe, Wilmer Flores, and Daniel Murphy to play multiple positions, and strong outfield defense, the Mets can get away without as many hard hitters on the bench.

Do I really think Terry Collins will play a short bench and use Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard as pinch hitters? No, of course not. I think it’s more likely that Syndergaard ends up being used more often in relief due to his road struggles and O’Flaherty gets left off the roster (with Gilmartin being used as a lefty specialist), or Torres gets sent down, in order to maintain a longer bench with an extra outfielder to hit or run situationally. Still, I think if the Mets can dial in their run production, a shorter bench won’t be an issue.

Just to show Colon isn’t the only starter who makes the occasional relief appearance, three starters have earned saves on their throw days this year:

Colon’s Value May Never Be Higher, so what can the Mets do with him? July 28, 2014

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Bartolo Colon‘s previous start gave a solid 6 2/3 innings of perfect baseball before Robinson Cano broke it up with a single. Though Bart had raised some concerns earlier in the year with his inconsistent performance, he’s shown he still has the capability to throw an excellent ballgame and not lose control when it gets broken up.

The Mets have a perfectly cromulent rotation – Jonathan Niese, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, and Jacob deGrom are currently in the rotation, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dana Eveland, and Carlos Torres each have the capability to function as a swing starter – and a bullpen that is slowly becoming more reliable.  Though the Mets are allowing a below-average 3.8 runs per game, they’re also scoring a below-average 3.9, indicating that the highest marginal benefit is probably to disassemble Colon for a bat or two.

Trading Colon would leave a hole in the starting rotation that could be filled with one of the bullpen arms; Eveland and Josh Edgin are both operating as lefty bullpen arms, so Eveland might be the more reasonable choice. In the alternative, a AAA starter, rather than a bullpen pitcher, might be promoted. In either case, that leaves a net zero change in the balance between bats and arms. With Wilmer Flores up from Vegas, we can avoid the unfortunate situation of Eric Campbell playing shortstop again. Wilmer may also be able to help by keeping Campbell out of defensive-replacement scenarios, allowing him to focus on pinch hitting. Alternatively, grabbing a low-budget DH player to function as a professional pinch hitter would also be an option, and allow Flores to continue to develop in Las Vegas.

Essentially, the team needs to start supporting its pitchers more consistently. Dropping Colon would eliminate some variance in run support and open up the possibility of using the extra budget room to develop more run support.

Bartolo Colon Needs a Three-Hour Warmup July 11, 2014

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Bartolo_Colón_on_July_5,_2014Mets veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon had a very familiar outcome last night: He allowed three earned runs in the first inning, followed by seven innings of scoreless ball. He took the loss to Aaron Harang, 3-1. Harang pitched an excellent game and Craig Kimbrel was lights-out, as he often is. It was a quality start by any definition, making it Colon’s third tough loss. Though Bart hasn’t picked up any cheap wins this year, 11 of his 18 starts have had game scores of 50+, and 12 of them have been “headline” quality starts of 6+ innings with 3 or fewer runs. 8 of them have been “super quality starts,” per Gary Cohen, of 7+ innings with two or fewer runs; he’s won all of those.

There’s an endogeneity problem in stating that Colon gets better when he’s allowed to pitch longer, since obviously his better pitching is the cause, not the effect, of going ColonOverallStatslonger into the game. Nonetheless, Colon demonstrates a strong pattern of underperformance in the first inning. His ERA is a striking 8.47 in the first inning and literally half that – 4.24 – in the second (stats NOT INCLUDING last night’s game). Colon’s best inning is the third, but he’s serviceable through the remaining innings as well. His first inning involves facing the most batters, as indicated by the huge spike in total bases; he just has trouble getting opposing batters out during the first. He’s structurally different, too: he gives up nearly 3/4 of a base per plate appearance in the first, and every first-inning plate appearance is worth one-fifth of a run. Part of this tracks with Colon’s shifting BAbip, which spikes along with his per-plate-appearance stats – it looks almost exactly like the graph of total bases per plate appearance – but you can’t blame defense for numbers like this.

ColonPAStatsThere’s not much explanation for this. It’s the sort of pattern you’d expect from an inexperienced pitcher who doesn’t warm up properly. He didn’t have the same problem last year or the prior year, when his first-inning ERA was reliably 3.00. This is difficult to pinpoint, but maybe Colon should take some advice from Daisuke Matsuzaka and do a three-hour warmup.

Conflicts April 14, 2014

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You’re trying not to smile, aren’t you?

– My wife on Saturday morning

Although the Dodgers are currently my favorite California team, it’s tough – I’m a huge Angels fan. It all started in 2004, when Josh Paul forgot to tag A.J. Pierzynski …. but I prattle on. Suffice to say, I was a terrible Mets fan this weekend.

Bartolo Colon took one for the team yesterday, going 5 innings but allowing nine earned runs (four of them home runs). After two extra-inning games, it was nice to get some length out of Colon, even if it will destroy his stats for the rest of the month. Although this would have been an excellent time to allow professional pinch hitter Ike Davis to show off the stuff that made him Arizona State’s closer, Terry Collins opted to allow Scott Rice, Jeurys Familia, and John Lannan each toss an inning. Familia was a bright spot, since he doesn’t seem to be taking his loss on Saturday too hard.

I was really pleased to see Lannan used as a potential long man on Saturday night. Although both Lannan and Rice pitched in the night game Saturday and the day game Sunday, Rice had been used in the left-handed specialist role before being asked to eat up an inning on Sunday. Lannan was finally used in extra innings as a second starter; he ended up only needing to go two innings, but I’m sure Terry was glad to have a sixth starter on the bench for his second straight extra-innings game. Gonzalez Germen is also doing some excellent work these days. Hopefully we won’t be on the hook for Kyle Farnsworth in the setup role for too much longer. I’m not sure what kept the Professor out of the high-leverage game on Saturday night – I’m glad, don’t get me wrong, but he had only tossed a third of an inning the night before, and Terry seems to think he’s useful.

Jose Valverde finally blew a save. It’s been almost a year since he did – he blew three saves in 2013 for Detroit, all within a one-month span starting on May 12th. Of course, June 12th was his last save opportunity.

Bartolo Colon, plus the Bullpen April 8, 2014

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The Mets were idle yesterday; after going 2-1 against the Reds this weekend, they’ll face Atlanta tonight with Bartolo Colon starting. I was a Bartolo skeptic at first, but having done a bit more deep diving on his statistics, I think he’s likely going to be a strong anchor in the rotation and I’m happy to see him coming up tonight.

Colon averaged 6 1/3 innings per start last year; his two nine-inning complete games came late in the season but his seven- and eight-inning games were sprinkled relatively evenly throughout the year, and he was hooked early (in the fourth) only once (as well as one 5-inning start). That’s comforting considering the Mets’ bullpen issues, assuming a rested Jose Valverde does what he does and we get the Dr. Jekyll version of Kyle Farnsworth tonight. Depending on the game situation, I’d like to see Jeurys Familia given an opportunity to push that 20.25 ERA down by a couple of points, assuming Colon pitches 6 innings; Gonzalez Germen seems to be the other single-inning option for the Mets. I like John Lannan off the bench as a long-relief option, but hopefully Bartolo won’t require that.

But what about Carlos Torres? Carlos appeared in 24 games and pitched 36 2/3 innings last year as a reliever, in addition to his 9 games and 49 2/3 innings pitched as a starter. The splits are huge here – Torres’ ERA as a starter last year was 4.89, compared to 1.47 as a reliever. This isn’t entirely due to Torres facing the same batters more often during starts, since his batting average allowed in his first time pitching to an opponent as a starter (.267) is still significantly higher than the same stat as a reliever (.200). Torres’ best innings are 4-6, allowing opposing hitters to hit only .188/.250/.267 – the mark of a great mopup man. He actually pitched better (.167/.200/.167) in extra innings, but there were some sample size problems there (only 26 plate appearances). That said, Carlos also pitched pretty well (.220/.238/.317) in the 8th inning, despite a total turn for the worse when he pitched in the ninth. Torres may well show up as a more reliable setup man than Farnsworth, and although Familia and Germen need the time in the 7th inning for development purposes, I’d like to see what Torres can do in higher-leverage situations.

Gio Gonzalez is remarkably consistent at the plate April 3, 2014

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Man, there’s something about being reminded we have Kyle Farnsworth in the bullpen that just ruins your day.

I follow the Angels. (Given the previous post, maybe I should just move to California and give up on the Mets altogether. Maybe I could be a Padres fan …. ) I was excited to see Bartolo Colon show up in Queens, since he’s been a pretty entertaining pitcher for a while. (I’d like to publicly apologize for suggesting three years ago that Colon was too old to pitch effectively anymore, since he managed to pitch three complete games for Oakland last year. Three. Well, two and a half.) I was a bit less excited to see he’d be batting, since Colon’s last time on base was midway through the Bush administration in Shea Stadium off a plucky 35-year-old youngster named Mike DeJean. That wasn’t the last we heard of DeJean – he pitched a brilliant 1.2 innings in 2006 for Colorado.

But I digress.

Colon batted just about as expected, striking out twice on a total of six pitches. His opposition, however, did not. Gio Gonzalez went 1 for 3 at the plate, knocking in a solo homer in the fifth inning to bring the score to 3-1 Washington. (The final was 5-1, since Gonzalez Germen and charity case Kyle Farnsworth each allowed a run in their respective 2.0 and 1.0 innings of work.)

Gio Gonzalez has hit one homer in each of the previous two seasons, both to left. His last homer was against Miami on April 3 of last year. Now that that’s out of the way, Gio can focus on pitching again, so we won’t have to worry about him taking out pitchers deep again this year.

But geez. Kyle Farnsworth. I’d forgotten all about him until Terry had to go and put him in a game.

Bartolo Colon pitches shutout, shuffles off mound on walker May 31, 2011

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Noted elderly person Bartolo Colon was handed the ball by Joe Girardi on Memorial Day, no doubt to commemorate Colon’s memories of having a functional back. Colon, at age 38 as of last week, turned around and pitched a brilliant 4-hit shutout against the Oakland Athletics, taking out As starter Trevor Cahill on an exceptionally economical 103 pitches. Keep in mind, at age 38, Colon has been playing professionally since 1993, so his career can legally purchase cigarettes this year.

We don’t have to go back very far to steal Colon’s thunder, though. Last May, Phillies starter and AARP representative Jamie Moyer managed a complete game two-hitter at the spry young age of 47 years, 170 days old. He topped Colon’s game score, 88 compared to 85, and just barely used more pitches (105). Moyer unfortunately had to retire after recurring injuries, which will probably be Colon’s fate soon enough.