Juan Lagares, cf
Curtis Granderson, rf
David Wright, 3b
Michael Cuddyer, 1b
Daniel Murphy, 2b
Travis d'Arnaud, c
John Mayberry Jr., lf
Wilmer Flores, ss
Anthony Recker, dh
David Price, lhp
FIRST PITCH: There will be a wee bit extra interest in Friday’s Grapefruit League game between the Mets and Detroit Tigers at 1:10 p.m. at Tradition Field (SNY/WOR).
Matt Harvey is scheduled to appear in his first game since Aug. 24, 2013. The Mets are targeting 35 pitches over two innings for Harvey’s performance opposite Tigers left-hander David Price.
Noah Syndergaard, Sean Gilmartin, Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia also are scheduled to pitch for the Amazin’s.
One special occurrence this weekend: The sons of slain NYPD officer Rafael Ramos -- Justin and Jayden -- will be in uniform as batboys beginning Friday. Wright reached out to the brothers, who are Mets fans, after the December tragedy in which Ramos and partner Wenjian Liu were ambushed while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn.
Friday’s news reports:
• Bartolo Colon tossed two perfect innings and John Mayberry Jr. and Eric Campbell homered. But the Washington Nationals rallied from a four-run deficit and beat the Mets, 5-4, Thursday at Space Coast Stadium in Viera on Kila Ka'aihue's two-run homer against Cory Mazzoni in the seventh.
Read the Grapefruit League recap in the Post, Daily News, Times and at NJ.com and MLB.com.
• Collins gives the nod to the Nats’ rotation, although he is more than happy with his own collection of starters. Read more in Newsday and at NJ.com.
• On Harvey’s regular-season workload, pitching coach Dan Warthen tells columnist John Harper in the Daily News: “We’re going to let him get to around 185 innings and then see where we are.” Sandy Alderson again dismissed a six-man rotation, this time to Harper.
SNY’s Ron Darling is expecting superhuman stuff from Harvey this season. “I expect pure dominance and excellence,” Darling told Justin Terranova in the Post. “I expect him to be the righty [Clayton] Kershaw, and if I didn’t expect it, I wouldn’t want to watch the games. That’s how excited I get when I know he’s out there. That’s a lot of pressure to put on him, but that’s how it goes.”
(Darling, by the way, makes his play-by-play debut Saturday. Gary Cohen will be away for Seton Hall basketball duty.)
Harvey tells Matt Ehalt in the Record he is undeserving of starting on Opening Day in D.C. The Mets have excluded him from consideration. "I missed all of last year,” Harvey told Ehalt. “There are guys who have accomplished more and are more deserving of starting the next year. If I had pitched last year and pitched like I did in 2013, we would be speaking of something differently.”
Read more on Harvey’s first game in more than 18 months in the Post, Newsday, Record and at NJ.com and MLB.com.
• Jon Raj, a Mets fan and gay father, writes an open letter to Murphy at the Huffington Post. Writes Raj:
Even though I am extremely disappointed and hurt by your remarks, I am grateful that you spoke your mind, as it has started a national conversation. The discussions taking place today on social media, in bars and churches, and around the dining room table are exactly how GLBT progress is achieved.
I know it is hard moving to an unfamiliar position (think about your transition to second base), but with faith, openness and commitment, positive change can truly happen.
• Duda had hard-hit balls at a rate of 21.8 percent last season. That ranked seventh in MLB among hitters with at least 450 at-bats, Michael Salfino writes in the Journal.
• Jacob deGrom is working on his curveball, he tells columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post.
• Jimmy Rollins again praised the Mets, this time to CBSSports.com. Said Rollins: “I've played against the Mets, and seen them go through what the Phillies are going through. The arms they have are impressive, a healthy Matt Harvey, deGrom, [Zack] Wheeler. That's how you rebuild -- run prevention. Their future seems bright.”
Rollins reiterated that he would have considered being traded to the Mets. He would not have considered the Yankees because he did not want to succeed Derek Jeter. Still, Rollins made it clear to the Philadelphia Phillies early in the winter that he would only go to the Los Angeles Dodgers and never had to expand his list to consider the Mets.
• From the bloggers … Mets Report suggests Murphy should not be vilified for expressing his viewpoint. … Blogging Mets wonders if we have already seen the best of Granderson. … NY Mets Life examines who should start on Opening Day. … LegendsOnDeck.com spotlights right-hander Chasen Bradford.
BIRTHDAYS: Former Mets coach Cookie Rojas was born on this date in 1939.
TWEET OF THE DAY:
Harvey will face the Detroit Tigers on Friday at 1:10 p.m. at Tradition Field in his first game since Aug. 24, 2013 -- coincidentally also against the Tigers. He underwent Tommy John surgery two months later.
Pitching coach Dan Warthen said the Mets have Harvey penciled in for 35 pitches over two innings. He will not be permitted to throw more than 40 pitches.
Of course, Terry Collins expects Harvey will feel tempted to show off given the keen interest, which should include an "E:60" crew and a larger-than-normal TV audience for a spring training game on SNY. The manager recalled Harvey, trying to impress onlookers in spring training in 2013, rearing back and firing a 100 mph fastball against the St. Louis Cardinals, just to show he could throw that hard.
“I think I’m a little smarter now than when I was 22 and lighting up a radar gun,” Harvey said. “Everything is coming out good. Everything feels great. If there’s a time to throw my normal 0-2 fastball, then I’m feeling like I can let that go.”
Harvey twice has faced batters during spring training. He threw batting practice Friday, when teammates did not swing. He repeated that process with a 26-pitch effort Monday. Batters, including David Wright, did take limited cuts during the second session.
“His bullpens have been great. His batting practices have been great,” Warthen said. “He looks like vintage Harvey.”
Wright has been playfully amused that he has received questions about Harvey after each of the two batting practice sessions. The captain appreciated yet downplayed Harvey’s upcoming Grapefruit League work.
“I’m excited to see him back on the mound,” Wright said. “And obviously he’s overcome an injury that’s kept him out an entire year. So I’m glad he’s getting to the point where he’s getting on a mound in a more competitive atmosphere, ready to do what he loves. But at the same time, this is preparation time. This is time to get ready for a season, not worry too much about any one individual.”
Colon retired all six batters he faced, but the Washington Nationals rallied from a four-run deficit to beat the Mets 5-4 on Thursday night. Kila Ka'aihue delivered a go-ahead two-run homer against Cory Mazzoni in the seventh.
John Mayberry Jr. produced a second-inning solo homer against debuting Max Scherzer, and Eric Campbell added a two-run homer and Anthony Recker an RBI single an inning later against 15-game-winner Tanner Roark as the Mets had opened a 4-0 lead.
Colon coaxed three straight groundouts to second base in the first inning, by Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper. He retired Ryan Zimmerman on a soft liner to second base to open his second frame, then struck out Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond to complete his outing. Colon threw 23 pitches (18 strikes).
“I felt pretty good today, but I’m not quite there yet -- season-ready,” Colon said through an interpreter. “I didn’t throw everything I needed to throw. It was my first time facing batters. But I was pretty happy with what I did. I had good control of all of my pitches.”
Colon went 15-13 with a 4.09 ERA in 31 starts for the Mets last season. He exceeded 200 innings for the first time since 2005.
Colon is due to earn $11 million in 2015.
Asked if he can duplicate his 2014 performance given his age, Colon -- who turns 42 on May 24 -- joked about his upcoming birthday: “I’m not sure if it’s 42 or 41, but I will go as long as, god-willing, I can play and my body lets me do it. For my age, throwing 200 innings, that’s something almost unheard of. I was very proud of it. That’s one of my goals for this year.”
Team sources have said the Mets are open to trading Dillon Gee or Colon this spring training, although Gee would seem more likely to go if either departs.
Terry Collins said he was surprised interest from other teams didn’t exist for Colon during the offseason. Still, Collins added: “I think people were scared off because he’s 42 and he’s thrown a whole bunch of innings in his career and he’s got a price tag that’s pretty good. Economics have a lot to do with the game.”
Meanwhile, the Mets used a DH on Thursday, so there were no batting opportunities for Colon.
Colon acknowledged telling hitting coach Kevin Long that he would increase last year’s two-hit total to three this season.
“Yes, since I only did two last year, I’m making one more this year,” he said.
Colon’s next start lines up for Tuesday. Collins said Colon will bypass the trip to ESPN Wide World of Sports to face the Atlanta Braves and instead oppose minor leaguers that day. At his request, Colon in that next outing likely will exceed three innings -- the generally prescribed workload for a second spring-training start.
Odds & ends: Hansel Robles surrendered two third-inning runs. After successfully converting from starting to relief at Double-A Binghamton last season, Robles returned to the 40-man roster early in the winter. … Josh Edgin inherited the bases loaded from Gabriel Ynoa with two outs in the fourth. Ex-Cincinnati Reds switch-hitter Derrick Robinson greeted Edgin with an infield single to slice the Mets’ lead to 4-3. Edgin followed by coaxing an inning-ending flyout to center from Rendon. The southpaw stayed in and posted a scoreless fifth. … Ex-Met Heath Bell struck out three and walked two in a scoreless frame for the Nats.
What’s next: Matt Harvey Day! Harvey will oppose Detroit Tigers ace David Price at 1:10 p.m. Friday at Tradition Field. It will mark Harvey’s first game since Aug. 24, 2013. Noah Syndergaard will follow Harvey on the mound. The sons of slain NYPD officer Rafael Ramos will serve as bat boys.
The Nats added Max Scherzer on a seven-year, $210 million contract during the offseason to a staff that already included Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister. Tanner Roark, who posted 15 wins and a 2.85 ERA in 2014, will shift to the bullpen, potentially in departed Tyler Clippard's eighth-inning role.
The Nats’ rotation is “maybe a little better than ours, maybe because of experience,” Collins said before Thursday’s Mets-Nats Grapefruit League game. “When you’ve got Zimmermann, who’s got that time, and you add Scherzer, whose got a Cy Young -- we don’t have that animal. But I like ours a lot. … Stras is still him. They’re very good. They’ve got a good staff. Gio is very good. You add a guy who throws 225 innings and a Cy Young and won a lot of games the last couple of years, that’s a huge upgrade. But I like our pitching a lot. We’re not afraid to go head to head with them.”
Collins said the Mets have to improve on last year’s 5-14 record against Washington. He said the bullpen being better from the get-go should help guard against late-inning add-on runs by the Nats that particularly plagued the Mets during last year’s first half.
“We can’t go 5-14 next year. You can’t,” Collins said. “You’ve got to play better. … I think now our bullpen has settled down a little bit and I think we’re in a little bit better shape.”
Collins noted there are other rotations in the NL that also may compare favorably with the Mets’ starters.
“We’ve got to play the Dodgers, too,” the manager said. “They’re pretty stinkin’ good.”
Murph takes the fifth: Collins plans to get a look at Daniel Murphy in a run-producing spot in the lineup Friday, when the Mets have their home opener against the Detroit Tigers and Murphy as well as David Wright, Michael Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson make their 2015 Grapefruit League debuts.
Collins said he plans to bat Murphy fifth because Lucas Duda is out of the lineup as he works back from an intercostal muscle strain on his left side. Normally, Murphy would slot into the No. 6 slot in this alignment, with Juan Lagares leading off and Granderson batting second.
Elbow room: Lagares had two opportunities to try to throw out runners on the bases in Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Braves and let both advance, including speedy ex-teammate Eric Young Jr. taking third. Collins said he applauded Lagares being conservative with his throwing early in camp, since Lagares dealt with an elbow issue last season. Lagares did not play after Sept. 16 because of a hyperextended right elbow.
“He had two opportunities yesterday to throw guys out, and he didn’t because he understands. He gets it,” Collins said. “Guys were teasing him today. He just nodded and said, ‘Wait for the season.’”
Collins said he does believe runners will test Lagares -- a Gold Glove winner -- early in the season until he establishes his throwing is OK after last year’s elbow issue.
No damage: Not only is Wilmer Flores' left pinkie fine, Collins isn’t positive Flores was actually hit at all during Wednesday’s game.
Matt den Dekker, cf
Ruben Tejada, ss
Eric Campbell, 1b
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, dh
John Mayberry Jr., lf
Anthony Recker, c
Alex Castellanos, 3b
Cesar Puello, rf
Wilfredo Tovar, 2b
Bartolo Colon, rhp
Denard Span, cf
Anthony Rendon, 3b
Bryce Harper, rf
Ryan Zimmerman, 1b
Wilson Ramos, c
Ian Desmond, ss
Yunel Escobar, 2b
Tyler Moore, lf
Kevin Frandsen, fh
Max Scherzer, rhp
Wilmer Flores was adequate though not great in a little less than half a season's worth of starts for the Mets. Flores' time at shortstop increased after the Mets grew frustrated with the play of Ruben Tejada. Flores hit .251 with six home runs in 259 at-bats, and the hope is that he'll find his way to a better on-base percentage than last season's .286.
Flores showed the ability to make contact. He missed on only 14 percent of his swings. But he may have been too selective, as 38 percent of the pitches he took were called strikes (the major league average is about 33 percent).
The primary concern with Flores at shortstop is his defense. He had minus-3 defensive runs saved in 443 innings at the position. Flores was able to handle most of what he could get to, but he showed a limited amount of range due to a lack of quickness. An offseason spent in conditioning camp might improve upon that a little bit.
A surprising comfort zone
Flores was a capable shortstop in one regard: handling the double play. Flores converted 32 of 39 double-play opportunities at shortstop as either the fielder or the relay man. That's an 82 percent success rate, which is excellent, though it's for a small sampling of games. The major league average was 64 percent; Tejada was at 62 percent last season.
Flores hit .285 against right-handed pitching, with all six of his homers coming against righties. He was only 7-for-59 against left-handed pitching, though some bad fortune may have been in play there. He was 1-for-35 when hitting either a ground ball or fly ball against left-handed pitching. He had hit lefties well in the minors prior to this.
A good close
Flores looked most comfortable with the pressure off in the final two weeks of the season. He hit .333 with 18 hits, eight for extra bases, in his last 14 games. That included a two-homer, six-RBI game against the Marlins.
What2Watch4 in 2015
Can Flores handle shortstop full time? The Mets don't necessarily need him to be great. They just need him to be decent. Mets shortstops had a .594 OPS the past two seasons, the second-lowest in the majors, ahead of only the Yankees (.588).
FIRST PITCH: Bartolo Colon makes his 2015 Grapefruit League debut Thursday as the Mets play a 5:05 p.m. game against the Washington Nationals in Viera (WOR). Max Scherzer, who signed a seven-year, $210 million contract, will debut for the Nats in a potential preview of the Opening Day matchup in D.C.
Right-hander Tanner Roark, bumped from Washington’s rotation to the bullpen despite going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA in 31 starts last season, is due to appear in relief on Thursday. Scheduled Mets relievers include Gabriel Ynoa, Cory Mazzoni and Josh Edgin. See the full travel list here.
Friday, remember, is Matt Harvey Day against the Detroit Tigers at Tradition Field. He faces David Price. Noah Syndergaard follows Harvey. That 1:10 p.m. game will be televised by SNY.
Thursday’s news reports:
• The Mets beat the Braves, 8-2, in Wednesday’s Grapefruit League opener at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Kirk Nieuwenhuis went 4-for-4 and catcher Johnny Monell launched a three-run homer. After Dillon Gee surrendered two first-inning runs and added a perfect second frame, Jon Velasquez, Jack Leathersich, Zack Thornton, Dario Alvarez, Akeel Morris and Erik Goeddel combined on a shutout the rest of the way. Wilmer Flores departed the game in the fifth after being hit on the left pinkie by Matt Capps. Flores said he is uninjured. He is not scheduled to make Thursday’s trip to Viera anyway.
Read more on the extra-wheel Gee in the Post, Daily News, Times, Record and at NJ.com and MLB.com.
• Lucas Duda swung a bat Wednesday for the first time in three weeks. Duda, who took 25 swings off a tee, had been idle since straining the intercostal muscle on his left side before camp officially began.
“I felt really good, no issues,” Duda told the Post back at Mets camp. “I have plenty of time to get where I need to be.”
• Daniel Murphy is going to refrain from speaking further about his religious beliefs and homosexuality after voicing his opinion on Billy Bean’s visit to camp and creating headlines. On Wednesday, Bean penned a column in which he was respectful of Murphy’s opinion. Bean, MLB’s ambassador for inclusion, wrote for MLB.com:
After reading his comments, I appreciate that Daniel spoke his truth. I really do. I was visiting his team, and a reporter asked his opinion about me. He was brave to share his feelings, and it made me want to work harder and be a better example that someday might allow him to view things from my perspective, if only for just a moment.
Read more in Newsday, the Daily News and at NJ.com.
• A billboard imploring Mets owners to sell the team is now visible heading southbound on I-95, about eight miles north of the Mets’ spring-training complex. Two billboards are planned for Roosevelt Ave. near Citi Field in April. Read more in the Daily News.
• Lunch-gate officially has run its course. David Wright said he treated Syndergaard like he would one of his brothers, but expressed regret about confronting Syndergaard about being in the clubhouse during an intrasquad game within media earshot. Syndergaard accepted responsibility and said veteran players meant no malice. Bobby Parnell offered an explanation for dumping the top prospect’s lunch. Watch video of Syndergaard and Wright discussing the matter here. Read more in the Journal, Times, Post, Daily News, Newsday, Record and at NJ.com and MLB.com.
• Zack Wheeler is opposed to shifts. David Schoenfield at ESPNNewYork.com explores whether that’s warranted.
• Wheeler is talking big about the Mets’ chances in the NL East. Writes columnist John Harper in the Daily News:
Zack Wheeler was talking about how much fun it will be matching up against the Nationals this season, when suddenly he turned the conversation in a direction that suggests the Mets are itching to prove a little something against the NL East champs.
“I guarantee you we all saw what Bryce Harper said,’ ” Wheeler said with a smile.
When they signed Max Scherzer? The Mets right-hander nodded.
“He said, ‘give me my ring,’ ” Wheeler continued. “We’re going to make it hard for him to get that ring, I’ll guarantee you that.”
• Columnist Kevin Kernan in the Post speaks with hitting coach Kevin Long about remaking Curtis Granderson's swing. “We’re trying to preset his hands,’’ Long told Kernan. “Get him in the perfect hitting position so the hands are ready to fire and he can go as efficiently as possible from point A to point B. We have a blueprint to go off of this time. Before we were kind of piecing it together.”
• From the bloggers … Mets Report suggests Wright did right by admitting his own mistake, too.
BIRTHDAYS: Mike Hessman turns 37.
TWEET OF THE DAY:
Gee faced a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the first inning -- walking ex-teammate Eric Young Jr. and Jace Peterson to begin his outing. He eventually surrendered two runs in the 28-pitch frame. He then posted a perfect, seven-pitch second inning before departing.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, out of options and likely to make the team over Matt den Dekker, went 4-for-4 with an RBI and run scored.
Eric Campbell provided a go-ahead two-run double in the fifth against Matt Capps. Johnny Monell launched a three-run homer against ex-Yankee Jose Veras in a five-run sixth, when the Mets took an 8-2 lead.
"He's out of options, so it's nice to see him have a big day," Terry Collins said about Nieuwenhuis. "He's had to battle so many injuries in the last couple of years. The one thing we saw both he and Matt do, that's shorten their swings up a little bit to where they can put the ball in play more consistently. Because they know, as they look at the outfield situation, the job is to come off the bench. You can't have one of those long swings to do that job."
Jonny Gomes had a sacrifice fly and A.J. Pierzynski followed with an RBI single for the two runs charged to Gee.
“I didn’t start the way I wanted to, walking two guys,” said Gee, who noted: “That’s the first time I’ve had a hitter in the box. I didn’t get to throw my live BP because of the rain. It took a little getting used to. Your adrenaline starts pumping a little bit more with a guy in there than it does when you’re throwing a bullpen. So I felt a little off.”
For now, Gee will get starters innings, although his next appearance Sunday will come out of the bullpen, following Jonathon Niese. Barring a trade or an injury to a rotation member, the Mets should shift Gee to regular bullpen work in about two weeks.
Gee, who started on Opening Day last season, suggested he has successfully tuned out the uncertainty.
“Because in the end it doesn’t matter,” he said. “My job is to pitch -- wherever that is, whatever role, whatever team. I’m just trying to make sure that I’m in a good position by the end of spring training to help wherever that might be.”
Said Collins: "He's a victim of the situation. We all say he's not going to start, but gosh, we don't know what's going to happen. You look up and he's got 14 wins and you're thankful that you didn't trade him."
Ouch: Wilmer Flores was hit by a pitch in the pinkie on his left, non-throwing hand in the fifth inning and departed. Afterward, Flores said he was fine. Replacement Matt Reynolds contributed an RBI single in the sixth to stake the Mets to a 4-2 lead and finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
"It wasn't bad," Flores said. "I was fine. It did hit me a little bit, but it's not a big deal. Nothing to worry about."
Flores was not scheduled for Thursday's trip anyway.
Leading man: Collins got his first spring-training look at Juan Lagares in the leadoff role, where the manager prefers to place the Gold Glove winner. Lagares opened the bottom of the first by walking against left-hander Wandy Rodriguez. Lagares finished 1-for-2 with a double, walk and run scored.
"I thought he had some good at-bats today," Collins said. "He's a good player. The more confidence he gets in the offensive side of his game, the better he's going to be."
Back in St. Lucie: Lucas Duda (intercostal muscle strain) swung a bat for the first time in three weeks.
Odds & ends: Travis d'Arnaud bounced a throw to second base and failed to retire his first would-be base stealer, EY Jr., in the first. D’Arnaud did nail Freddie Freeman trying to advance to second base on a wild pitch later in the inning. … Kevin Plawecki nearly homered in the second inning but was robbed at the wall by left fielder Cedric Hunter. Plawecki later contributed an RBI single. … Brandon Allen twice grounded out with the bases loaded. … Jack Leathersich, who will need to demonstrate control in order to force his way into the lefty-relief conversation, walked consecutive batters to open his appearance but rallied to toss a scoreless fifth. … Veras threw a pitch well behind Wilfredo Tovar in the Mets' five-run sixth.
What’s next: The Mets play a 5:05 p.m. game Thursday against the Washington Nationals in Viera. In a potential Opening Day matchup, Bartolo Colon opposes Nats newcomer Max Scherzer. Gabriel Ynoa, Cory Mazzoni and Josh Edgin are also due to pitch for the Mets.
In a column for MLB.com, Bean -- MLB's ambassador for inclusion -- wrote:
"I have tremendous admiration and respect for Daniel Murphy as a family man. Just last year, he made the decision to miss Opening Day for the birth of his son, and was criticized by some members of the New York media for this choice. Murphy deserved to be commended for putting his family first and that decision -- which led to an invitation to speak at the White House -- showed he's not afraid to stand up for what he believes in.
"After reading his comments, I appreciate that Daniel spoke his truth. I really do. I was visiting his team, and a reporter asked his opinion about me. He was brave to share his feelings, and it made me want to work harder and be a better example that someday might allow him to view things from my perspective, if only for just a moment.
"I respect him, and I want everyone to know that he was respectful of me. We have baseball in common, and for now, that might be the only thing. But it's a start.
The silver lining in his comments are that he would be open to investing in a relationship with a teammate, even if he "disagrees" with the lifestyle. It may not be perfect, but I do see him making an effort to reconcile his religious beliefs with his interpretation of the word lifestyle. It took me 32 years to fully accept my sexual orientation, so it would be hypocritical of me to not be patient with others."
Murphy on Tuesday told NJ.com: "I disagree with his lifestyle. I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn't mean I can't still invest in him and get to know him. I don't think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them, but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent."
The billboard reads: "Fred, Jeff & Saul, Ya Gotta Leave."
Another billboard is planned for April near Citi Field.
According to the web site of the group that funded the billboard, metsbillboard.com: "We love the Mets and believe the owners are not responsible stewards of the team. Their poor financial and operational decisions have placed the team into a position where they no longer invest in a manner of placing the Mets in a successful situation. The owners manage the team in a manner to keep it as a family heirloom. Investment in real estate are the owner's goals, not a MLB competitive roster. They wish to develop the surrounding Citi Field area with a new shopping mall and condos, if the team is successful it is in spite of their decisions."
On Tuesday, MLB ambassador for inclusion Billy Bean addressed Mets players after general manager Sandy Alderson invited him. Murphy subsequently told media that day that while he would embrace Bean as a teammate, he does not approve of his homosexuality. Bean concealed his sexual orientation during his playing career and later said that he was gay.
"I disagree with his lifestyle," Murphy told NJ.com on Tuesday. "I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual. That doesn't mean I can't still invest in him and get to know him. I don't think the fact that someone is a homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect. Getting to know him. That, I would say, you can still accept them, but I do disagree with the lifestyle, 100 percent."
Back in September 2013, A.J. Burnett exchanged words with Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes but told the assembled media the next day: "Listen, I did not have a problem with Clint! I do not have a problem with Clint! I had a problem with the [expletive] shift! We play people in the wrong spot!"
Burnett had a 3.41 ERA in his two seasons with the Pirates, then went to the Phillies in 2014 and posted a 4.59 ERA. The Pirates shifted 500 times on balls in play in 2013; the Phillies shifted 291 times last year on balls in play (all shift data from Baseball Info Solutions). Maybe Burnett doesn't mind the shifting after all; he re-signed with the Pirates.
In August 2013, manager Mike Matheny of the Cardinals actually cut back on shifts, telling MLB.com: "Last year there were times when we were shifting and I knew [the pitchers] weren't real comfortable with it. No matter what I believe, we can talk to guys about the importance and show them the statistics, but if they don't feel comfortable with how the defense is aligned behind them, we're wasting our time."
The Cardinals changed course in 2014, however, increasing their shifts from 107 to 348 (ranking 16th in the majors).
Back to Wheeler. Over the weekend, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson spoke at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and said a pitcher on his staff wasn't happy when shifts were employed. On Monday, Wheeler admitted he was the guy, telling NJ.com, "I don't want to piss anybody off, but honestly, I don't like it. Teams are starting to be more analytical these days. ... I don't like analytics all that much, but I'm not the boss here. I really can't control it. They know where I stand on that."
Part of Wheeler's belief is that the shift doesn't account for his arsenal of pitches, although the only specific example in the article was throwing a slider with a runner on third base -- the apparent suggestion being the runner could take a bigger lead if the third baseman is way off the bag, thus making it easier to score on a ball in the dirt.
For the record, Wheeler threw his slider 17 percent of the time when he had a runner on third base ... compared to 14.8 percent overall. So he actually threw it more often, despite his reservations, although that doesn't mean he wouldn't have thrown it even more.
Almost all shifts are done against left-handed batters. Is there something in Wheeler's pitching that would create more ground balls to the opposite field? Here's his pitch location to lefties in 2014 when the ball in play resulted in a grounder:
You may think that pitch location would result in a lot of opposite-field grounders. But it doesn't. Check out his hit location charts on grounders in the graphic below.
Left: 20 percent
Center: 29 percent
Right: 50 percent
Left: 13 percent
Center: 33 percent
Right: 54 percent
Wheeler allowed 79 percent of his grounders to go up the middle or to the right side compared to the MLB average of 87 percent. So maybe he does allow a few more balls in play to the left side because of his "stuff." Although keep in mind we're talking about a small sample size here. Out of 113 ground balls, the difference between 79 and 87 percent is nine grounders; out of the 23 grounders hit to the left side against Wheeler, batters hit .435 (10-for-23). I don't have the breakdown on how many of those hits came with the shift on, but the Mets had only 221 total shifts with a ball in play, so it couldn't have been more than a few hits at the most. But Wheeler surely remembers all three or five or whatever of those that may have otherwise been turned into outs.
So should the Mets leave off the shift for Wheeler? It's an important question when you realize Wheeler is a somewhat extreme ground ball pitcher -- he ranked sixth in the National League in ground ball to fly ball ratio. Pretty impressive considering Wheeler also averaged a strikeout an inning.
One more thing. In our right-handed pitcher versus left-handed batter collective, let's compare Wheeler to his Mets teammates on batting average allowed on ground ball location (teammates in parentheses):
Left: .435 (.385)
Center: .303 (.317)
Right: .193 (.143)
Wheeler's average allowed on grounders to right field was quite a bit higher than his teammates' average. But again, we're talking about only 57 grounders all season. The difference between .193 and .143 on 57 grounders? Three hits.
(None of this factors in infield line drives. According to ESPN data, Wheeler allowed three infield line drives to left-handed batters and all three were caught.)
Getting back to what Matheny said, if Wheeler is more comfortable pitching without the shift, it's probably best just to stop. It may cost him a few hits during the season but probably isn't worth doing if it gets into his head.