New York Mets: In-depth

In-depth: Which Mets will see Rays shift?

June, 12, 2012
You're going to hear a lot about defensive positioning these next few days, largely because the Rays are viewed as the team for whom this takes a high priority.

The Rays lead the majors in defensive shifts used, as manager Joe Maddon and his staff try to put his team in the highest-percentage position to get an out.

The Mets will probably face more than their usual share in these next three games.

Here are the four Mets most likely to be challenged by an unusual defensive alignment this series, alongside images providing the justification for such a move.


Davis has seen his share of defensive shifts this season.

The shift that would seem to make the most sense against Davis is the one that would put the shortstop behind second base and the third baseman in the shortstop position, thus giving the defense two infielders to guard the area between the normal second-base position and the base itself.

Smart positioning has almost certainly impacted Davis' numbers this season.

He has reached base 11 of 20 times when hitting a line drive in 2012 (with five lineouts to infielders), and 10 of 60 times when he has hit a ground ball. His success rates in both areas are below major-league norms.


Duda will likely warrant a shift, though he has shown the ability to hit the ball the other way on occasion. Of the 54 ground balls he has hit this season, 42 have been to the right of second base. That's about a 78 percent rate.

Those who have studied such matters generally endorse playing a shift on a hitter if he's pulling the ball at an 80 percent rate.

If you expand the look to line drives, as we did in the image on the right, there are a couple more that were infield-playable hit to the right side.

All the line drives Duda hit to the left side were hit into the outfield

Duda amounts to a legitimate shift candidate, once we add line drives to the mix, though his shift may not be as extreme as Davis'.


Most teams don't shift against right-handed hitters, but the Rays are not shy about doing so. Bay's profile is basically begging for a shift.

The image on the right shows Bay's ground balls and line drives this season. Amazingly, he has hit 23 of them without hitting a ball to the right of second base.

Dating back to last season, Bay's last 40 ground-ball outs have been fielded by either the pitcher, shortstop or third baseman.

Hairston's batted-ball profile is almost identical to Bay's when it comes to direction of line drives and ground balls. He has hit 43 ground balls and line drives this season and only one was to the right of second base.

Whatever treatment Bay gets, Hairston will likely see the same.

"In-depth" appears Tuesday's during the regular season

In-depth: Amazin' stat analysis roots

May, 29, 2012

Leon Halip/US Presswire
When Rick Peterson arrived as pitching coach with the Mets, he spearheaded the development of a data-analysis system that aided in-game strategy.
Upon joining the Mets before the 2004 season as “CEO of pitching,” to use Fred Wilpon’s parlance, Rick Peterson sat down with GM Jim Duquette and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and discussed the computer-assisted game preparation he utilized with Oakland -- data-interpretation capabilities that Paul DePodesta had helped develop with the AL West club.

Rather than have the Mets buy a statistics service commercially available, Peterson advocated to buy the raw data from a company and then design an application in-house. Companies were willing to customize their services to the Mets’ needs, but Peterson predicted to his new bosses that the team’s analytic methods eventually would be peddled to other teams if the organization outsourced it.

Duquette and Wilpon were on board. And Ben Baumer, a young Mets statistical analyst, went to work writing the in-house program, incorporating Peterson’s needs.

“He’s absolutely just brilliant,” said Peterson about Baumer, who now is leaving the Mets to teach at Smith College in Massachusetts. “Not only was he brilliant from a technical standpoint, but he had insight to go with it regarding things that I wanted to see, and had the creativeness as well. He was the total package. He was brilliant, smart, intellectual, creative. The key is to have user-friendly data for coaching staffs and managers. He had that knack. I worked with other people before him who were really smart, really intelligent, but they couldn’t transition it to make it user-friendly. It’s almost as if they couldn’t see it through the eyes of baseball people necessarily. It was just pure data.”

How sophisticated was the data the Mets had on their opponents during their 2006 run to within a game of the World Series?

“We certainly were totally prepared for anything that was going to happen in that ballgame,” said Peterson, who now oversees minor league pitching for the Baltimore Orioles. “For example, let’s say we brought in Pedro Feliciano to face a left-handed hitter for an opposing team in July or August. We knew if a left-hander came in to face that hitter, how many times would that manager pinch hit for that hitter -- and what were the game situations that he would pinch hit if he did pinch hit.

“Or, say we’re playing the Phillies back in that day and they get to the pitcher’s spot and we have a right-hander in there. Let’s say we have Feliciano or (Scott) Schoeneweis ready in the bullpen and that they pinch hit Matty Stairs. We would have a record of if we bring in Schoeneweis or Pedro to face him, how many times would they not let Matty Stairs hit and they would bring in Wes Helms to hit, or whoever else was on their bench. It was all those types of things -- when a team hit-and-run, what count, what situation. When a team stole. Any event that happened in a game, we had predictive analysis of what the past history was.”

Commercially available applications now have vast data that was not widely available then.

Peterson notes it’s more than spray charts of where a batter places a ball and more than what a hitter does with an 82 mph slider down and away. PITCHf/x cameras installed in every ballpark measure the horizontal and vertical bend of every pitch. That can allow a coach to adjust where a pitcher stands on the rubber in order to make sure the path through the strike zone is least friendly to the hitter.

“In-depth” appears Tuesdays during the regular season

In-depth: Roof debate long-closed

May, 22, 2012

Adam Rubin
With no retractable roof at Citi Field, Mr. Met sometimes needs an umbrella.
PITTSBURGH -- The Mets squeezed in both games against the Milwaukee Brewers last week while dodging raindrops at Citi Field. Yet wouldn’t it have been nice to have simply closed a retractable roof and allowed fans not to have to worry?

Of course, unlike the two most recent stadiums visited by the Mets -- new Marlins Park in Miami and Rogers Centre in Toronto -- the Mets’ four-season-old ballpark was constructed as an open-air stadium without that feature.

The bottom line: It cost too much.

Yankees president Randy Levine told Newsday last year, when Game 1 of the team’s American League Division Series was suspended, that incorporating a roof into the new Yankee Stadium would have cost roughly an additional $350 million. Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon years ago, before the Mets’ stadium had opened, had cited the figure for Citi Field as adding $200 million or more to the cost of what became an $850 million project anyway.

Levine also had cited George Steinbrenner’s preference for an open-air stadium in the Bronx in the Newsday article. In the Mets’ case, that objection may not have existed, but the numbers just did not make sense for these reasons:

The soft Flushing soil conditions near the bay did not support a roof without significant additional costs that made it prohibitive.

Fans residing 75 miles away may stay away with the threat of rain, but fans within closer proximity generally are not dissuaded from attending because they live close enough to the ballpark to make an informed choice closer to the first pitch. The lost business from the threat of inclement weather does not offset the significant additional costs of a roof.

The number of concerts and other dates events able to be booked as the result of a having roof -- say, during the winter -- is limited and does not offset the additional cost, either. A roofed baseball stadium works for major concerts that draw 40,000, but there are only a handful of entertainers who can fill that many seats.

More than a decade ago, in the waning days of Rudy Giuliani’s tenure as mayor, the original designs for the new New York stadiums included roofs and involved a sizable financial commitment from New York City. Priorities changed after 9/11, and so did the administration. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was not as inclined to chip in, and the real stadium designs lost the retractable-roof concepts.

The Mets are footing a large portion of the construction cost through interest payments on bonds. Those payments are now about $50 million annually.

The Mets ended up playing four home doubleheaders last year as a result of rainouts -- April 14 against the Rockies, Aug. 29 against the Marlins, Sept. 8 against the Braves and Sept. 24 against the Phillies. In previous years, those games would be made up as split, day-night doubleheaders that would provide the organization with gate receipts from two separate games. Now, with attendance lagging, the Mets simply do single-admission doubleheaders.

“In-depth” appears Tuesdays during the regular season

In-depth: Breaking down the Mets defense

May, 15, 2012

Plays like this tag out by R.A. Dickey earlier this season are why he's among the best Mets defenders.

We’re 35 games into the season and there are all sorts of ways by which we could evaluate how the Mets offense and pitching are faring.

But what about their defense?

Let’s take a closer look at the Mets from that perspective, using both some basic statistics, and some advanced work from Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), a company that charts games for major league teams and media.

BIS, a company based just outside Allentown, Pa., tracks every play of every game in multiple ways.

It compiles data for a stat known as Defensive Runs Saved, which measures a fielder’s ability to turn batted balls into outs and succeed at other skills pertinent to his position (such as having a deterrent throwing arm, turning double plays, or successfully defending bunts).

It also has a group of video scouts who tag plays into categories – about 30 categories of Good Fielding Plays (which they call GFPs) and 50 categories of Defensive Misplays & Errors (DM & E).

Thirty five games is not meant to be a predictive sample, but it does allow us enough to make a basic assessment of what has happened.

The Mets Have Some Imperfections
The Mets may have overachieved on the mound and at the plate to get to 20-15, but they’ve underachieved in the field.

The Mets rank second-worst in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved this season with their defense viewed as having cost the team 23 runs.

The primary reason for that is that they rank third-worst in Defensive Efficency, a stat tracked by Baseball Prospectus, that shows how often the defense turns batted balls into outs. The Mets have done so on 69 percent of batted balls against them.

An average team will have a defensive efficiency of 71 to 72 percent. The difference comes out to about one play per game. Over a full season, that adds up.

In 2010 and 2011, 20 of the 27 teams to finish with winning records finished in the Top 15 in defensive efficiency. The teams that finished in the bottom five averaged 70 wins.

The Mets have two issues that are likely going to force their pitchers to get extra outs this season, both on the right side of the diamond.

Lucas Duda is having a very difficult time in right field and the BIS video trackers have not been kind.

Duda has been credited with just one GFP and, after his miscue Monday led to two extra bases on a single that rolled by him, he now has eight DM&E.

A good rightfielder will have about a 1:1 ratio. Duda isn’t close. Duda also rates below average when it comes to deterring runners from taking an extra base on base hits and fly balls.

Those misplays play a part in his ranking fifth-worst in the majors and worst among right fielders with –8 Defensive Runs Saved.

The other problem the Mets have is in converting double plays, though this is something that has looked better to the eye recently.

Second baseman Daniel Murphy has made significant improvements to his pivots and flips in the last week, but still lags behind the best in double play conversions (situations in which he was either a pivot or relay man with a man on first base and less than two outs).

He has converted 13 out of 30. The average second baseman turns them at a rate such that he’d have converted 19. Murphy still has a ways to go.

But there has been improvement and sometimes it takes awhile for the numbers to catch up and recognize that.

Murphy had three misplays related to attempting to convert a double play in his first four games of the season. He hasn’t had any since then.

But They Have Two Gold Glove Candidates…
Two Mets have played very good defense this season. One has been heralded for this quite a bit, David Wright. The other is pitcher R.A. Dickey,

A revision of BIS’s scoring system gave Dickey the lead among pitchers in Defensive Runs Saved last season with 10. He has two already this season, putting him on pace for similar numbers.

Dickey put on as solid a defensive display as a pitcher can in Saturday’s win, with three assists and a putout, including perfect execution of a tag play at third base and the trapping of another runner off second after fielding a comebacker.

That earned him a video montage on that night’s Baseball Tonight and praise from analyst Rick Sutcliffe.

"When you don't throw 90 miles-per-hour, you have to do the little things," Sutcliffe said that night. "R.A. does just that."

Dickey nearly broke the Mets 49-year-old record for assists by a pitcher last season with his MLB-leading 58. He’s already totaled 14 in his seven starts in 2011, tied with Mark Buehrle and Justin Masterson for most in the majors.

Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesDavid Wright has been prepared behind his pitchers this season

Wright has been far better through the first 35 games of 2012 than he has been in recent seasons.

Wright has made six GFPs in the last four games, giving him 16 for the season. Saturday, he earned a Web Gem (and a GFP) on Saturday for his perfect throw from foul territory that retired Marlins leftfielder Austin Kearns.

His latest GFP was the diving stop on Norichi Aoki in the eighth inning of Monday’s win over the Brewers.

Wright’s Good Play/Misplay ratio is 2-to-1 (16 GFP, 8 DM&E), far better than his 31 GFP, 32 DM&E tally last season and among the best in the game. It's on par with the player considered the NL's best defender-- Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

The biggest difference from last season to this season has been in Wright’s throwing arm, which has been repeatedly praised on game telecasts for being sharper.

Wright had 10 throw-related DM&E last season and had two in his first six games in 2012. But he’s had just one in his last 26.

The one blemish for Wright is that he’s average when it comes to Defensive Runs Saved, as he has 0 this season.

The average Mets fan would likely disagree with that and something to watch over the last 127 games will be how that number bounces around with the visible improvements Wright has made.

The Shift is Working
You’re going to hear a lot about shifts this week, because the Mets are playing two teams -– the Brewers and Blue Jays -– who use it a lot.

But the Mets have also employed it a decent amount. BIS tracks defensive shifting with video review and ranks the Mets 12th in shifts used with 31 (about one per game), all against left-handed hitters.

BIS breaks this down further, noting that the Mets have used the “Ted Williams Shift” against a batted ball 17 times this season.

That’s a shift in which the shortstop or third baseman plays behind or to the right of second base, and the second baseman moves into shallow right field.

That defensive alignment worked in that it got outs on three of four line drives hit against it, and 11 of 13 ground balls.

The strategy has been to use it against the most extreme pull hitters, like Braves catcher Brian McCann, who had three ground outs and two line outs into the shift earlier this season.

Defensive Storylines to Watch
A few defensive storylines are still in development mode for the Mets. We’ll check in on those later this season.

1-- How the Mets fare in centerfield. Angel Pagan’s penchant for letting balls bounce off his glove and roll away led to the Mets ranking well below average in just about every metric related to this position last season.

So far, the combo of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Andres Torres have rated about average, with the most egregious miscue being Nieuwenhuis’s misplay of a potential game-ending blooper against the Giants. He does rank among the leaders in the majors in Web Gems with three.

2-- How the Mets fare against basestealers. The Mets have allowed 30 steals this season, tied for fifth-most in the majors. They’ve nailed 23 percent of attempts, tied for seventh-worst among the 30 teams.

3-- How Ike Davis handles first base. Davis has rated about average so far in Defensive Runs Saved and Good Play/Misplay Ratio (11 GFP, 5 DM&E).

Davis’ trademark, his ability to snatch foul balls on the verge of going into stands, has happened twice this season. He and Travis Ishikawa are the two first baseman credited with a pair of GFP for such a play.

In-Depth runs every Tuesday

In-depth: Johan's soccer pitch

May, 8, 2012
As the New York Mets board their flight for New York after completing their six-game road trip Sunday in Miami, Johan Santana’s eyes will be glued to a soccer game -- assuming the team’s charter aircraft offers WiFi service and he can watch the match in the air via the internet.

Santana and a group of friends during the last baseball offseason bought 70 percent of the Venezuelan first-division soccer club Estudiantes de Merida.

And the team’s future is very much up in the air, according to Santana.

The regular-season finale is Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET. And, Santana explained, the club enters the last match one point out of the bottom two slots in the first-division standings. (The online standings on the team’s web site seem to reflect Estudiantes being secure in avoiding the bottom two and relegation, but Santana said he received a text from a club official saying otherwise.)

The bottom two teams are relegated to the second division next season. It is the same system that sends the lowest-finishing English Premier League teams to the equivalent of Triple-A in Europe.

Estudiantes -- which has four wins, five losses and seven draws -- has played to two consecutive scoreless ties. They play middle-of-the-pack Zamora F.C. in the final match.

Santana did not contribute to buying the club with profit in mind. In fact, Santana said, the soccer club is a nonprofit business.

But he cheered for the club while growing up and is now trying to stabilize its footing. So he is trying to add credibility. The team’s web site features a photo of Santana wearing the club’s jersey during an appearance in the baseball offseason.

The name “Estudiantes” means “Students” in English, although Santana said the club is unaffiliated with the town’s university.

“When I grew up, I watched this team for many, many years,” Santana said. “And it’s always good trying to help. It’s more about helping than anything. This is a nonprofit organization. So we’re trying to participate, trying to help, trying to find sponsors, trying to get this team on the right track. It’s been hurting for years. And now we’re trying to see if we can put things together. But definitely I’m a big soccer fan.”

Santana, as those who follow him on Twitter can attest, is a big soccer fan. He is hoping Venezuela can qualify for its first World Cup.

“I played as I grew up,” Santana said. “But I never had a chance to play professionally. Not even close. These guys are amazing what they do.”

His position?

“I always played as a forward, because it was kind of tough for me to go back and defend,” Santana said. “I always liked to score goals and have fun attacking.”

A southpaw on the baseball field, Santana revealed he kicked with his right foot when he played soccer. At least that’s true as far as he can recall.

“It’s funny, because I played with my right foot,” Santana said. “But, at this point, I don’t know.

“I’m a big soccer fan,” Santana said. “I follow my national team in Venezuela. They’re doing pretty good. I’m hoping that for the first time ever they make it to the World Cup.”

“In depth” appears Tuesdays during the regular season

In-depth: April's Most Valuable Mets

May, 1, 2012
If you threw Kirk Nieuwenhuis a pitch in the strike zone in April, chances are that he crushed it.
Who were the MVMs of April?

Let’s call them the Most Valuable Mets, and we’ll make this the process by which we do our monthly reviews of the Mets' performance this season.

We’ll take a closer look at the key players for the team each month, picking both the MVMs and the MVS (Most Valuable Statistic).

#1-- David Wright
Through the first month of the season, Wright has returned to the form that made him one of baseball’s biggest stars during his prime years of 2006 to 2008.

Wright hit .389 in April, the third-highest batting average he’s had in any calendar month in which he played at least 15 games.

As we noted earlier this month, Wright was a lot less reckless in his swing choices than he has been in the last couple of seasons.

That's been very noticeable in two-strike counts, as shown in the chart on the right

The last three Aprils, Wright struck out in 29 percent, 26 percent, and 26 percent of his plate appearances respectively.

This April, even with three strikeouts on Monday, he was whiffing at a rate of only one of every six plate appearances.

Instead, he’s doing things like he did on Saturday, when he had three hits, and two RBI in two-strike counts in the Mets 7-5 win over the Rockies.

#2-- Kirk Nieuwenhuis
The injury to Andres Torres turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Mets, who discovered they had something pretty good in Nieuwenhuis, who has shown a propensity for the Web Gem and the big hit.

Nieuwenhuis hit .325 with eight RBI. Of his six hits that drove in runs, five of them either tied the score, put the Mets ahead, or brought them to within one run.

That’s how he ended up second among Mets hitters in April in Win Probability Added, a stat that measures a player’s contributions on a play-by-play basis.

The numbers don’t figure to stay this good for Nieuwenhuis. His numbers are the product of a .453 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).

Nieuwenhuis was 9-for-28 when he hit a ground ball and 6-for-13 when he hit a fly ball that stayed in the ballpark. Those sorts of performances are rarely replicated for the long term.

The thing to watch in May will be how Nieuwenhuis develops as a hitter. Nieuwenhuis was susceptible to getting himself in two-strike situations, often by taking pitches in the strike zone, then swinging at pitches that were not close to the plate.

The heat map atop this story shows Nieuwenhuis’ performance by pitch location.

See all the red? Nieuwenhuis hit .471 in at-bats that ended against pitches in the strike zone. The only players with a higher batting average were Wright (.481) and Derek Jeter (.477).

#3-- Johan Santana
Santana posted a 2.25 ERA through his first five starts and did so in an unusual manner.

The changeup that had been so nasty during Santana’s heyday somehow managed to be both valuable and rusty in his first month of action since the 2010 season.

Despite throwing only 45 percent of his changeups for strikes (a rate far below his career norms) Santana still managed to get 17 outs with the pitch, yielding only one hit and two walks with it.

The Marlins and Rockies took 34 of the 47 changeups he threw. But on the ones they swung at, they did nothing. He got five outs with it against each team.

Santana has kept his changeup in an area in which the worst thing that can happen is that the pitch is called a ball, and he gets another shot at getting the hitter out.

He’s thrown nearly three-quarters of his changeups to the lower-third of the strike zone or below. That’s an unusually high rate -- one about 20 percentage points higher than his 2009 and 2010 numbers.

But it's one that worked for him in the first month of the season.

#4-- Jon Rauch
Rauch, who had a miserable 2011 with the Twins, was about as good as you could ask an eighth-inning reliever to be in his first month with the Mets.

Of the 40 hitters Rauch faced in April, 32 came in situations in which the score was either tied or within one run. He retired 28 of them.

It’s tough to blame Rauch for his two blemishes.

His blown save came when the Mets misplayed a potential game-ending popup to center field -- the only hit Rauch would allow on 15 fly balls for the month.

And he came within a hair of striking out his final hitter Sunday, which would have allowed the Mets to finish the eighth inning at Coors Field with a 4-0 lead, instead of tied, 4-4.

Rauch’s slider was his money pitch all month. He got 15 outs with it and allowed no hits, with the only ball classified as “hard-hit” in our pitch-tracking system being a fly ball on which Nieuwenhuis made a diving stop.

#5-- Josh Thole
Thole was 7-for-17 against left-handed pitchers in April.

That doesn’t sound like big a deal until you put it into proper perspective. Thole totaled six hits against lefties in minimal duty in 2011.

With quantity came quality too. Thole saw 4.5 pitches per plate appearance in his 19 turns against southpaws. He made pitchers earn their outs rather than help them get outs.

He had two huge moments against lefties, netting a game-tying ninth-inning single on a 3-2 pitch from Javier Lopez against the Giants, and a full-count bases-loaded walk against reliever Mike Dunn to tie a game in the seventh inning against the Marlins.

Both of those at-bats were extended by Thole fouling off at least one two-strike pitch that was right on the strike zone border, according to our Pitch F/X system.

Most Valuable Stat-- Late & Close Performance
Some will point to the Mets' minus-20 run differential and say their 13-10 record is the product of good luck and a small sample size.

But the Mets would probably tell you that they earned their way to this mark by wearing out opposing pitchers and coming through in big spots.

We alluded to it throughout this piece, but the thing that allowed the Mets to exceed expectations in April was how they hit in the game’s most-important situations. defines a Late & Close plate appearance as one coming in the seventh inning or later with your team tied, up by one, or trailing, but with the tying run at least on deck.

The Mets had a .286 batting average and a .389 on-base percentage in Late & Close situations in April. Those were 28 and 29 points higher than the NL teams with the next-best numbers.

And they represent the biggest statistical reason why the Mets are where they are at this point in the season.

"In-depth" appears Tuesdays during the regular season

Linda Cataffo/Getty Images
Mike Piazza received a warm reception when he return to Shea Stadium with the San Diego Padres.
Five days after Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell were traded from the Mets to the Philadelphia Phillies for Juan Samuel, they returned to Shea Stadium as division rivals in 1989.

“I was excited to see them, but it obviously was a different mindset,” recalled Mets third base coach Tim Teufel, who started at second base for the Mets in Dykstra and McDowell’s reunion game. “It was all good hellos early, and then it was war after that. The reception was great for Lenny. Lenny especially got a big ovation. He’s a fan favorite here. And Roger, with the job he did with [Jesse] Orosco in the bullpen, both of them got great ovations. It was a little bit different, knowing it was so quick a turnaround. But the fans reacted well.”

Just has Dykstra stepped into the batter’s box as the leadoff hitter on June 23, 1989 for the opposition, so too will Jose Reyes do so for the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, facing Johan Santana -- albeit with Reyes having departed as a free agent rather than via a trade.

In fact, other than Darryl Strawberry and Reyes, most reunions occurred without the returnee willingly having chosen to leave New York. (And in Reyes’ case, it’s debatable if he actually had a choice, since the Mets never made an offer.)

“I’m sure Jose’s going to get a mixed reaction,” Teufel said.

Here’s a roundup of notable returns to Flushing by ex-Mets:

Mike Piazza, Padres, Aug. 8, 2006: Piazza got royal treatment in his first game back in Flushing, after being forced to leave as a free agent. "Just from start to finish, it was one of those things that I didn't want to end," Piazza said that day, after going 1-for-4. "I just can't explain how honored I am, because you just don't see that a lot." Said manager Willie Randolph at the time: "That's how you treat heroes."

Piazza drew wild cheers the second he emerged for batting practice. He placed a finger to his lips, as if his "shhhh" would silence the Shea faithful. Later, when the crowd rhythmically chanted "Mike Pi-azz-zza," Piazza lifted his cap while shaking his head.

Brad Mills/US Presswire
Jose Reyes' reunion at Citi Field on Tuesday should be the latest in a memorable line.

When Piazza settled into the batter's box to lead off the second inning, the public-address system blared the familiar guitar riff he used during his Shea heyday. A 23-year-old David Wright turned to third base ump Chuck Meriwether and told him, "This is pretty cool."

"We both agreed," Wright said that day, adding: "All the former Mets that come back usually don't get too warm a reception."

The following day, Piazza homered twice, both off Pedro Martinez.

Al Leiter, Marlins, April 16, 2005: Leiter had denied reports that he badmouthed New York while successfully courting Carlos Delgado to join him with the Marlins. He also differed with Omar Minaya and the new Mets regime about whose fault it was that he did not return. Then the southpaw, who was roughly treated by the crowd in his return, allowed one run and three hits in seven innings, but got a no-decision in the Mets’ 4-3 win while starting opposite Martinez.

"I don't know what they were booing at,” Leiter said that day. “One guy in the bullpen said, 'Al, we love you and I think you're great, but I'm still going to boo you.' You have fans that root for the marks and logos of their teams. You root for the fabric and I understand that. That's probably what it is."

Paul Lo Duca, Leiter’s batterymate with the Marlins that day, told Newsday after the game: "When I went back to L.A., it was emotional. I asked him yesterday. He didn't want to pitch. For him to do what he did, I don't think people realize how hard it is. You have that anxiety and you want to do too much. You want to hit a ball eight miles. You want to throw a ball 100 miles an hour, because there's part of you that sort of wants to shove it up you-know-what."

John Franco, Astros, April 11, 2005: Yes, the Mets displayed a tribute video on the Shea scoreboard before the start of the second inning. And, yes, Franco was warmly cheered by the Flushing crowd pregame, after being forced to leave as a free agent the previous offseason.

Franco actually surrendered a key two-run single to Cliff Floyd that accounted for the final runs in the Mets’ 8-4 win. He was booed upon entering as a reliever. “The crowd treated me nice," Franco said after that game. "[The boos] don't bother me. That's just part of it. I played 15 years here and probably heard a lot of that. There are people who like you and people who don't like you."

Darryl Strawberry, Dodgers, May 7, 1991: Unlike many of the other departures via trade or free agency, Strawberry left mostly of his own volition, to sign a five-year, $20.25 million deal with L.A. And he often has said of late he regretted the decision.

Strawberry, mired in a 1-for-23 slump and prolonged long ball drought, belted a two-run homer against Frank Viola in his return. But Straw also grounded out to end the game while facing Franco with the potential tying run on third base. The Mets won, 6-5.

Fans lustily jeered and chanted “Dary-llll, Dary-lll.” According to the Associated Press report, extra security was positioned in right field, but the only issue was some strawberrys being chucked at the slugger in the on-deck circle. Said Franco, according to the Times: "Everybody says they hate him. But then why do they come out to the ballpark? It's because they admire him. Hey, they got their money's worth."

Gary Carter, Giants, May 8, 1990: The aging Carter hit .183 in 50 games with the Mets in 1989, so the organization decided to go with Barry Lyons and Mackey Sasser behind the plate the following season. The Mets also parted with Keith Hernandez that same offseason. That prompted Carter to sign with the Giants to platoon with Terry Kennedy. San Francisco manager Roger Craig sent Carter out to exchange lineup cards with Davey Johnson, and Kid was given a prolonged standing ovation by the Shea faithful. He started the game and went 1-for-2 with a single and walk in seven innings.

(Read full post)

In-depth: Citi stats getting sophistication

April, 17, 2012

Adam Rubin
A look at the new-look Citi Field scoreboard, which has added OPS and WHIP to among its stats.
Considering the advanced metrics available these days, OPS and WHIP hardly are high-tech statistics by sabermetric standards.

Yet their introduction to the Citi Field scoreboard this season is a first step in what may be a transformation to the in-game viewing experience in Flushing.

In Year 4 of their new ballpark, the Mets have decided to go beyond the basic statistics that have been staples for decades on their scoreboards at Shea Stadium and now Citi Field -- average, home runs, RBI, win-loss record, ERA.

Trying to more closely replicate the experience of watching on TV with a laptop or iPad opened to’s Gameday (or’s equivalent), the Mets debuted slightly more advanced statistics on their scoreboard during the season-opening homestand.

The organization was partly influenced by other teams as well. The Mets studied screen grabs from other stadium scoreboards and particularly borrowed from the existing in-stadium experiences at Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks), Coors Field (Colorado Rockies) and Turner Field (Atlanta Braves).

OPS merely is the sum of on-base and slugging percentage. WHIP is merely walks plus hits divided by innings pitched.

“There’s a lot there. It’s easily digestible,” said Mets VP David Newman, referring to the data available via computer. “Now it’s how you make it translate well in-park and make it easy to read. The goal was, if someone is coming to the park, how do you provide more content than they would otherwise have? Certainly this is a big step from the stat presentation last year.”

Vince Gennaro, president of the Society for American Baseball Research, is all for enhancing the in-stadium statistical experience.

“I've discussions with team execs on this very topic,” Gennaro wrote via email. “I think there is somewhat of a limitation as to what you can execute on the scoreboard, given the space constraints. I do think OPS and WHIP are excellent starting points. For a pitcher, his groundball/flyball ratio (or groundball rate) is very informative, as is his K-rate and BB-rate. We tend to see K’s and BB's as counting stats on scoreboards instead of rate stats (i.e., per 9 IP).

“The other way to execute in-stadium stats is thru a dedicated portal accessible thru free wifi, while a fan is in the ballpark. Many of the fans interested in such stats will have a cell phone or smartphone, so there is a lot of information that can be conveyed to these fans while using the main scoreboard to ‘entertain’ fans. Ideally, a combination of both -- some advanced stats on the scoreboard, supplemented by an in-stadium portal with additional advanced stats -- seems to be ideal.

“The Diamondbacks have a portal called Digital D-backs. I'm not sure to what degree they deliver advanced stats, but I really like the concept of communicating more info to fans who are in attendance. The TV viewing experience has become highly informative. We need to ‘up the ante’ for fans that come to the ballpark so that teams can compete, with their own telecasts, for live attendance.”

Added Bill Nowlin, vice president of SABR: “Vince's point is a great one -- serving the people at the park with the option of a menu of statistics. In theory, I guess there'd be no reason the same feed couldn't be offered to people watching the game [on TV] as an option that could enrich their viewing experience, as a supplement to what the telecasters were saying.”

An informal survey of MLB teams found a mixture of the traditional and the new.

The Yankees have included OPS and WHIP on their supplemental stats board -- just to the left of the main board -- since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, the same year as Citi Field.

At PNC Park, the Pittsburgh Pirates show the vertical and horizontal break on pitches.

At Miller Park in Milwaukee, a team spokesman said, on-base percentage and slugging percentage remains “as fancy as we get.”

Chase Field in Arizona, one of the models for the Mets’ new adaptations, has displayed OPS and WHIP since installing a new board in 2008.

“We have shown some more not-so-common stats such as range factor, but that is only on occasion, and generally only for players that have exceptional range factor,” Diamondbacks director of media relations Casey Wilcox wrote via email. “We did mention that Gerardo Parra was rated as the No. 1 left fielder by Fan Graphs last season.”

Said Adam Lane, director of entertainment and productions for the Cincinnati Reds: “We have been displaying WHIP the past six seasons. In the last two years we have added OPS and OBP to our displays. A lot of this is based on suggestions from our stats coordinator, Rich Linville, and requests from our baseball operations department. We have heard from fans that they enjoy the extra stats while at the game.”

Are the Mets slow-walking fans into a new generation of stats such as wOBA, OPS+, BABIP and xFIP? Is there a danger in making things too convoluted or busy, like a thoroughbred racing board that contains all of the exacta odds?

“You gauge fan reaction,” Newman said. “The big question: What is understandable and what is digestible for hardcore fans and people just coming for the first time, so it’s not intimidating.”

"In-depth" appears Tuesdays during the regular season

In-depth: Niese, Kid and '05 draft

April, 10, 2012

Getty Images
Jon Niese (left) received a recruiting call from Gary Carter (center) after being selected in the seventh round by the Mets in 2005. Meanwhile, the Mets would have taken Jay Bruce (right) in the first round that June if Mike Pelfrey already was off the board.
Jon Niese has a new contract that guarantees him $25.5 million over five years. He has a new nose, courtesy of cosmetic surgery paid for by ex-teammate Carlos Beltran. And on Sunday, Niese had the franchise’s latest flirtation with the first no-hitter in Mets history, carrying the bid into the seventh inning before Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman singled.

The Easter performance came on what would have been Gary Carter’s 58th birthday. That may be fitting, given Carter’s modest role in Niese becoming a Met.

A post-draft recruiting call to Niese by Carter -- who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame only two years earlier -- helped sway the southpaw to sign with the Mets out of Defiance (Ohio) High School, despite Niese slipping all the way to the seventh round, recalled Toronto Blue Jays scout Russ Bove, who ran the draft in '05 for the Mets.

Niese, who happened to be born on the day Carter won the World Series with the Mets on Oct. 27, 1986, had committed to the University of Cincinnati and was viewed as unsignable by many organizations.

Niese had been holding out for early-round money.

“I go down to Port St. Lucie to meet all of the new signees,” Bove recalled. “And Gary Carter says to me, ‘How is Niese doing?’ It hit me like a lightning bolt. I said, ‘Gary, if I call the kid, will you talk to him?’ He said absolutely. So Gary Carter got on the phone and he said, ‘I was projected to be a first-round pick. I was taken in the third round. I took my disappointment right to the Hall of Fame.’ He said, ‘You come and play for me, you’ll have fun. You’ll work hard. And you’ll win.’ He really gave him a pep talk.”

Minutes later, Bove’s phone rang. Oscar Suarez, Niese’s agent at the time, had called.

“We want to get Jonathon Niese done,” Suarez told Bove.

Niese on Monday downplayed Carter’s influence, but said he certainly appreciated the call.

“I wanted to sign anyway, but that call was kind of neat,” Niese said. “It took me by surprise. It was really neat to get a call from a guy like that.”

Niese’s rise has cemented that once-panned 2005 draft as a solid one for the organization. In fact, seven years later, the story of that draft has turned out quite differently from the early, negative reviews. Bove was reassigned after running the '05 draft -- a decision he felt was political, with new employees disparaging the holdovers.

Despite the Mets forfeiting their second- and third-round picks because they signed Pedro Martinez and Beltran the previous offseason as free agents, five players drafted and signed by the Mets in ’05 have appeared in the majors: Mike Pelfrey (first round), catcher Drew Butera (fifth), Niese (seventh), Bobby Parnell (ninth) and Josh Thole (13th).

The Mets also took catcher Luis Martinez in the 11th round and Pedro Beato in the 17th round, but neither signed. Beato was drafted the following year in the first round by Baltimore and signed with the Orioles. He ended up back with the Mets in the Dec. 2010 Rule 5 draft.

Butera and Martinez, both catchers, made their major league debuts elsewhere, with the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres.

Niese’s upside particularly has made that draft quietly successful. Carter, along with the other minor league managers at the time, had watched video of Niese in the draft-preparation room and were enamored.

“Gary loved Niese from the video,” Bove said. “He was a strong-bodied left-hander. I compared him to Jerry Koosman. He had that real thick, strong body, and we liked the way his arm worked. And, of course, we really liked the curveball. A left-hander with a good curveball.”

The recruiting call from Carter that Bove believes prompted the call from Suarez to get the deal done was not the only late hurdle. The commissioner’s office was adamant that teams not go over the recommended signing bonuses for the round in which the amateur was selected. Fred Wilpon and family, loyal to Bud Selig, were not going to be the first to go over the prescribed slot.

The Texas Rangers handed another seventh-round pick -- high school right-hander Jake Rasner -- $250,000, though. That gave Bove the ammunition to convince his bosses to hand Niese $175,000.

“We had to wait until somebody else went over. So the kid was holding out,” Bove said. “We were waiting to see when somebody else went over so we could up the ante. … As much as I’d like to, I won’t blame that one on the Wilpons. That was the commissioner’s office. Of course, the Wilpons would never have been the first ones to go over.

“After we took him, and we got him signed, I got calls from some of my buddies saying, ‘How the hell did you sign this guy? We have him as unsignable.’”

Niese, though, said Monday he really did want to turn pro rather than pitch in college.

Meanwhile, there was one other wrinkle to that ’05 draft, which nearly changed the complexion even further: Had one of the first eight teams to pick in the first round selected Pelfrey, the Mets already had agreed to a prearranged deal with the agent for Jay Bruce to take the outfielder ninth overall out of high school in Beaumont, Texas, according to Bove. But Pelfrey was still around when the Mets selected, and Bruce ultimately went 12th overall to the Cincinnati Reds instead.

“You know what? He was the guy we wanted,” Bove said about Pelfrey. “I really, really liked him. But if we didn’t get Pelfrey, we were going to take Jay Bruce. We did have a deal cut with Bruce’s agent, if Pelfrey wasn’t there. We would have got Bruce signed right away.”

As for the recruiting call from Carter to Niese, here’s the kicker:

“The funny part of the story, when I called Jonathon and said, ‘Hey, a guy wants to talk with you, Gary Carter,’ he had no idea who Gary was,” Bove said. “But, of course, when he heard the Hall of Fame, then he came to life.”

Said Niese: “I got to thinking and looked him up and realized who it was and was like, ‘Wow.’ … I’m happy how it worked out.”

"In-depth" appears Tuesdays during the regular season.

In-depth: What's kept Parnell down?

September, 20, 2011

Alan Diaz/AP Photo
Bobby Parnell can fire a fastball 100 miles-per-hour. But is that enough to make him a closer?
There aren’t many right-handed relief pitchers in baseball who can throw a fastball like Bobby Parnell can. If we count them, they number about a dozen.

But if we were to look at that list and rank the pitchers, Parnell isn’t in the upper echelon.

There are those who believe he can get to the point of being the Mets' version of Yankees reliever David Robertson. And there are those who believe that he won’t.

What is separating Parnell from being with the likes of often-dominant pitchers like Craig Kimbrel, Neftali Feliz, Joel Hanrahan, Brandon League and Daniel Bard?

Let’s take a closer look at two things:

A knockout second pitch

It’s one thing to throw 96 to 100 mph. It’s another to do it along with a killer slider or nasty hook.

Parnell gets hitters to swing-and-miss at his slider 41 percent of the time. That sounds good and it does rank well. But the really good relievers do better. Kimbrel, League, Jordan Walden, Hanrahan and Bard all get hitters to miss on at least half of their sliders.

How many times did it seem like Parnell was about to finish off a hitter, only to give up a hit? More than a few. He’s given up 28 two-strike hits, twice as many as last season, but hasn’t gotten twice as many outs to go with it.

Opponents are hitting .231 against him with two strikes, up 37 points from last season. Their on-base percentage has increased from .237 to .301.

We use the stat putaway rate to look at both how effective and efficient a reliever is with a specific pitch. It asks: How often does a two-strike pitch of that type result in a strikeout?

For Parnell, it’s about one out of every four thrown, a hair higher than league average. Kimbrel, Hanrahan, and Bard all have sliders with a putaway rate of 33 percent or higher (one-of-every-three).

Parnell isn’t there yet, though it’s worth noting his slider putaway rate is up five percentage points from last season’s 20 percent. So he’s trending toward improvement. A high-putaway slider may make for a more effective fastball too. Parnell’s heater got hit around a little bit more this season, as shown by the chart on the right.

Outs on Contact
The other thing that has separated Parnell from the game’s elite this season is the batted ball factor, which has been a popular topic recently.

The 2011 Mets were not able to turn batted balls into outs behind Parnell. His opponents BABIP is .362. That ranks third-worst among the more than 240 pitchers who have faced at least 250 hitters this season.

BABIP can be the fault of both a pitcher (if he allows a lot of line drives, which are most likely to net hits) and the defense behind him. It can, in some instances, be due to bad luck, like a broken-bat blooper that falls in for a hit.

Parnell’s line-drive rate on batted balls this season is only 15 percent. That’s very good. Among those elite pitchers listed above, only Kimbrel has a better rate.

Parnell also rates well in a stat tracked by Inside Edge, which does video review for major league teams. Of the contact made against Parnell, only about one in five has been categorized as “hard-hit.” That’s better than the major league average of 27 percent.

The problem is opposing hitters are better than the league average in whatever type of ball they hit against Parnell. The most extreme issue is they are hitting .329 (27-for-82) when they hit a groundball against him this season.

That’s 100 points higher than the league average, meaning Parnell gave up about eight more hits than the average pitcher on his groundballs allowed.

It’s an oddity given that in 2010, Parnell was right around the league average in terms of getting outs on groundballs.

How much of a difference would eight fewer hits allowed have made to Parnell’s ledger? It would drop his opponents’ batting average from .273 to .236. That’s significant.

Remember our note on the importance of finishing a hitter off with two strikes? Parnell is a lesson in what can happen if you don’t.

In 2010, Parnell got 20 groundball outs and allowed five groundball hits with two strikes. In 2011, he got those same 20 outs, but allowed 11 groundball hits.

Parnell has had particular trouble on groundballs hit to the right side of the infield, with the Mets converting only 15 of 26 groundballs hit between first base and second base into outs (58 percent, well below the major-league average of 82 percent). Parnell’s time as closer may have been done in by one of those -- Aramis Ramirez’s go-ahead ninth-inning single Sept. 10.

So Mets fans, what would you do?

Would you keep Parnell? Make him the eighth-inning guy and continue to give him chances to prove he could be a closer in the mold of Heath Bell ? Or do you dangle him as a trade chip and start completely anew in 2012?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

"In-Depth" appears Tuesdays during the regular season

In-depth: 2nd second battle looms

August, 30, 2011

US Presswire
Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and Justin Turner could engage in a second second-base competition in spring training 2012, minus Brad Emaus.
Seems like eons ago, but the Mets did have a second-base competition in spring training -- even if it seemed preordained Brad Emaus would be the victor. After all, Emaus was selected in the Rule 5 draft from the Toronto Blue Jays, the organization for which J.P. Ricciardi previously served as general manager. And it was an opportunity for the front office to prove its wisdom in addition to the previous attachment to Emaus.

Assuming Jose Reyes does re-sign with the Mets, and assuming Lucas Duda continues to show the capacity to man right field -- certainly both plausible assumptions -- another second-base competition is setting up for spring training 2012.

Three familiar faces presumably would be in the mix: Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada.

Murphy ranked fifth in the National League in batting average at .320 at the time he suffered a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee after getting slid into by Atlanta speedster Jose Constanza at Citi Field on Aug. 7. Murphy officially will drop from the league-leader list after five more Mets games, when he no longer has the 3.1 plate appearances per team game required.

Bottom line: Murphy’s bat needs to be in the lineup somewhere in 2012.

Terry Collins left open the possibility of the Mets revisiting using Murphy in the outfield. But if the manager studies his Mets history books, he may think again about that remark. Regardless, assuming Ike Davis is OK for the start of next season, which the Mets maintain will be the case -- surgery or no surgery -- that likely pushes Duda to right field and keeps Murphy in the infield. (Duda is likely to play winter ball in right field for Tim Teufel-managed Caracas in Venezuela this offseason.)

Murphy is an ideal piece for the 2012 Mets, even if he has fielding shortcomings. He will only have two years, 109 days of major league service time after this season -- keeping him short of being arbitration-eligible and ensuring his salary remains set by the team, likely under $500,000. (Murphy is on the major league DL this year and accumulating service time. Last year, however, the Mets took him off a rehab assignment and optioned him to Triple-A Buffalo shortly before he suffered a serious knee injury with the Bisons, when Nationals farmhand Leonard Davis slid into him at second base. So Murphy was treated as a minor leaguer rather than a rehabbing major leaguer and did not gain MLB service time while injured during the second half of 2010.)

Turner, meanwhile, was snubbed for a September call-up last season, then was dispatched to Buffalo out of spring training this year. Yet he has emerged as one of the more popular Mets among the fan base. Turner has proven he can handle the majors and should be a component of the 2012 roster. Still, he could end up in more of a reserve role.

Turner has gotten particularly beat up this season, so team insiders wonder if he might be better served having a part-time role. As his RBI knack suggests, Turner could be a valuable right-handed bat for the bench. And he certainly would be capable of spelling Murphy at second base against some left-handers and could get limited starts at third base should David Wright require rest.

Turner has fewer major league service days than Murphy, also making him cost-effective at less than $500,000 in 2012.

Of course, if Reyes does return and Collins sticks to his articulated plan of limiting him to 150 games in an attempt to guard against injury, that means the Mets will need a bona fide backup shortstop. Turner certainly can fill in for a half or full game at points, but starting 12 games or so a season at shortstop probably is asking too much given his range.

Does that mean there’s a place for Ruben Tejada?

Collins recently said he cannot foresee Tejada as a backup next season -- that at age 22 next season Tejada would be better served playing every day in Triple-A. But Collins said Tejada’s recent play certainly would force him into the second-base competition in spring training. And with Reyes back from the DL, Tejada will share time at second base with Turner the remainder of this season.

Of course, all this talk can change in a heartbeat. If Davis were not to be ready for Opening Day, perhaps Murphy shuffles to first base.

Injuries always change plans.

Remember spring training 2010? The debate was who would claim the last roster spot between Mike Jacobs and Frank Catalanotto. It turned out both made the team when Murphy suffered the first of his spate of knee injuries during the final week of spring training, while in a rundown.

“In-depth” appears Tuesdays during the regular season

In-depth: Wilpons may have to pay $300M+

August, 23, 2011
Judge Jed S. Rakoff’s barb in court late Friday afternoon -- when he thanked the lawyers involved in the suit against Fred Wilpon for giving him tons of paperwork because “otherwise I would have had to watch a Mets game, which would have been a very painful process” -- quickly filtered back to the team’s clubhouse at Citi Field. In fact, at least two people in uniform expressed somewhere between disbelief and disgust, not taking too kindly to the quip at their expense.

Still, the future of Wilpon, brother-in-law Saul Katz and family as Mets owners rests with that federal judge right now. Although a jury ultimately could decide how much the family owes, Rakoff will determine whether the case will ever go to trial.

AShirley Shepard/AFP
Courtroom sketch of Judge Jed S. Rakoff from recent case.

Rakoff announced that he will rule by late September whether to toss all, or part, of the $1 billion lawsuit against the Wilpons.

Here’s a primer on where things stand:

1. The consensus among experts is that a Second Circuit appeals court ruling last Tuesday was a blow to the Wilpons.

The court, to which any Rakoff decision could be appealed, ruled that the proper way to determine who was a loser in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme is very straightforward: If you invested more money than you withdrew, you are a loser by that amount and can apply to trustee Irving Picard to try to recover that sum.

The Wilpons and others wanted the standard to be what Madoff’s last statement indicated they had in their accounts -- in the Wilpons’ case, apparently $500 million. Of course, those statements were fiction, so the court decided “the net equity principle” -- money in minus money out -- was the proper standard.

Still, the Wilpons’ attorneys assert that the appeals court decision applies only to losers, interpreting the ruling narrowly. Those who made money in the Ponzi scheme were not affected by that ruling, they maintain.

Most experts interviewed by suggest that the Wilpons’ position is a stretch, even if Rakoff might be predisposed to siding with the Wilpons.

“That’s a huge stretch,” said attorney John V. Donnelly of Cozen O’Connor in Philadelphia. “That Second Circuit decision was very bad for them. It reaffirms what I would say many in the area believe, which is the prior case law supports [Picard’s] position that those false profits are going to come back. The trustee is very strong on that issue. … If the judge comes out against Picard on this, you can definitely expect Picard to take it up to the Second Circuit on that issue.”

Jeff Morris, a University of Dayton bankruptcy law expert who has testified before congressional committees on behalf of the National Bankruptcy Conference, was more generous to the Wilpons in his analysis, though.

“Courts decide only the exact issue presented to them,” Morris said. “They addressed this particular aspect of it [losers’ rights], but some other aspect of it has not been resolved. Now I think the reason people are sort of intuiting that the relative circumstance -- a winner circumstance -- ought to be done the same way [money withdrawn minus money invested] is because the underlying reasoning of the Second Circuit was there were no trades. So why would you use a statement that says here are a bunch of trades as some basis for establishing what your claims are?”

Morris added: “I read the transcript of the hearing on Friday, and I think the judge is saying, ‘Let’s make sure the Second Circuit did say, or its decision does mean, that it applies to winners and not just losers.’ He doesn’t appear to be convinced of that.

“It could mean the judge is leaning a certain way. It could mean the judge is looking for a nice way to support what he’s thinking, which might be the opposite of what the question would suggest. So there’s no way to know that until a judge writes his decision.

“You can take a lot of things from these transcripts and often be wrong. You just don’t know until a judge makes his or her decision. I hate to waffle on it, but that’s kind of the way these things work sometimes. It could be that the judge is trying to sort of say, ‘Hey, look, I don’t particularly like what the Court of Appeals did, so I think that it ought to be limited.’ This is true of all decisions. If [the lower-court judge] thinks it’s not the best decision [by the appeals court] beyond the particular specific issue presented, you read it in such a way that says, ‘Well, it certainly nails down this aspect, but other aspects are still open for discussion.’”

Morris, in what appears to be a minority expert opinion, went on to suggest that it’s “not inescapable” for the Wilpons to wiggle free.

If Picard were to lose in front of Rakoff, then appeal to the Second Circuit, Morris said: “The Second Circuit could, when presented much more specifically with that circumstance, say, ‘Well, you know, the rule we adopted was a rule that sort of said, ‘If you got a [loss] claim, this is a good way to tally up the number. And Judge Rakoff has a certain way [with respect to winners] and we think that’s right.’ That can still happen. … Secondly, the Second Circuit isn’t the end of the day. They have bosses in Washington. And the Supreme Court, I don’t know what they would do. They’re very hard to read in bankruptcy.”

Still, Morris wondered what other standard could apply beyond money in versus money out.

“I don’t see how it’s plausible to be what was on the statements because the underlying fact is that those are entirely fictional,” Morris said. “I suppose one could argue, ‘Let’s take what an S&P number would be.’

“Now the problem, of course, is all of the trades were fictional. … It doesn’t make sense to me to say, ‘Let’s suppose they had traded 22,000 shares.’ It doesn’t make sense because if that had actually happened, there would have been other impacts on the market that presumably would have affected what these returns would have been. It doesn’t make sense to me to let people get anything out of something that doesn’t exist.

“But I suppose I could imagine someone saying, ‘Well, gee, if we had been in the market… So what did the market generally do? Take the S&P or some other index and say how much that spit out.’ And just to pick a number, if that was 7 percent and you were getting 14 percent, then half your profits go back.”

Still, most experts believe the Wilpons should be on the hook for a minimum of $300 million, assuming Picard’s team can substantiate that as the amount the Wilpons withdrew from certain funds over the amount they invested during the allowable clawback time period.

2. The Wilpons do not concede the $300 million figure is correct.

Even if the net equity principle does apply to winners (money withdrawn minus money invested is the profit to be returned), that does not mean the Wilpons are prepared to fork over $300 million.

Their backup assertion would be that their funds made only $160 million, not $300 million -- because the funds that made money are offset by other funds they own that lost money.

The issue, according to experts? The funds had different owners -- different Wilpon family members, different businesses such as the Mets and Sterling, charities, etc. That appears to allow Picard to pick only those funds that made money, making it seem as if he’s a shoo-in for $300 million rather than $160 million, assuming Rakoff accepts the “net equity principle.”

“I hate to put a percentage on it, but it strikes me that’s a hard sell,” Morris said about the Wilpons arguing to pool all of their funds to come up with the $160 million figure. “There are X number of individuals. And then there are X number of other entities that are not natural persons but they are legal entities. … Corporations are persons for lots of reasons. But it seems to me that if you choose to operate in different forms, that’s your choice. You don’t get to then ignore it later on when it comes to your benefit and say, ‘Well, let’s lop them all together.’

“That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. There are many times when circumstances arise where we do consolidate all of these things together. And bankruptcy is no exception to that. … Sometimes it’s because the books are so messed up we can’t tell one from the other. Sometimes it’s because everything you’ve ever dealt with was together, and everyone acted in such a way that was a single entity or enterprise.

“But the starting point on all of those things to me is, ‘You’ve got a different name on that thing? Well, you chose to put a different name on it.’

“For example, you walk by a [Sterling] construction site and a rivet falls down and whacks you on the head. You don’t sue the Mets. And if you sued the Mets, they’d say, ‘We’re a separate legal entity. How could you possibly sue us?’ People try to do that sometimes because the construction company, in my hypothetical, is insolvent but the other enterprise owned by the same shareholder is solvent. So they say, ‘I’ve got a deeper pocket over there. Let me bring them in.’ You just can’t do that.”

3. The Wilpons may actually be in good shape in not owing the other $700 million.

In addition to the $300 million in what he labels “fictitious profits,” Picard wants the Wilpons to forfeit $700 million in principal. He alleges they looked the other way amid warning signs of fraud by Madoff and should be penalized by forfeiting their principal investment, as well.

That’s the part that could get thrown out by Rakoff in his ruling next month. At least, it has a better chance of getting thrown out than the $300 million part.

“It’s certainly possible that he throws it out,” Donnelly said with respect to the $700 million. “Those are aggressive positions in trying to reclaim principal based on this type of argument.”

Still, Donnelly added: “But they are possible claims. They’re plausible claims brought in good faith.”

Donnelly said for Rakoff to throw out all or part of the suit, he would have to accept what Picard’s team is claiming is entirely true and decide there is no way, even with that being the case, that a reasonable jury could side in Picard’s favor. (Not would, just that it might.)

“If I’m going to handicap it, I say there’s a very strong chance Picard wins [on proceeding with the case] on the fictitious profits and the $300 million definitely moves forward,” Donnelly said. “It’s going to be a closer [decision] on the $700 million, but it’s certainly possible some or all of those claims make it to a jury.

“The position here is a little bit different from what you get in a classic case. Usually, you file a complaint, and the motion to dismiss comes immediately thereafter.

“And then summary judgment is a little different because that usually comes at the end of discovery, when you’ve taken the depositions, reviewed the documents. Here, Picard at least has had some discovery. He’s deposed some people. He’s gotten a bunch of documents. And so if you’re going to use the summary judgment standard, you look at the evidence. And Picard has to come forward and say, ‘Here’s the evidence that supports my position and is sufficient to state a claim. So if the jury believes my evidence is true, then I win.’ And if you can do that for each element of your claim, then you avoid summary judgment and get to the jury.

“And what the Wilpons will argue is even if you accept Picard’s evidence as true, he just doesn’t have enough.”

The standard the judge articulated for the $700 million “should have known” part was: “You purposely turn away from learning something because you knew there was a high probability that you would learn something bad.”

That’s a pretty high bar, and it's one the sides will argue over.

“The standard one applies to that -- from turning a blind eye to actual intent to inquiry notice -- is where this fight is,” Morris said. “Let’s say we’ve got these three standards -- actual intentional actions, and then turning a blind eye, and then inquiry notice. The trustee sounds like his argument is to try to conflate the last two and say they’re kind of the same. And the other side is saying, ‘Heck, no.’ They want blind eye sliding toward actual intent. The trustee wants to slide it down toward inquiry notice. And I would say the law isn’t abundantly clear in any of that, and this is the kind of case that will help set some of the parameters for that.”

Said Donnelly: “You’ll hear it reiterated a number of different ways. It’s kind of the ‘ostrich principle,’ that you just stick your head in the sand. You really suspect that there’s something bad going on, and you become willfully ignorant of it -- ‘Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Because I have a feeling if you tell me, then it’s going to be bad, and I’m going to have to do something else.’”

The perception was the Wilpons were in luck in evading the $700 million once Rakoff grabbed the case out of bankruptcy court and moved it to federal district court in Lower Manhattan.

“The law is going to be the same,” Donnelly said. “I think the Wilpons’ theory was probably that they had a better shot at getting a district court judge to subscribe to their theories than their bankruptcy judge did based on some of the prior rulings of the bankruptcy court. Judges are individuals. To use sports parlance, they’re different ballplayers. The rules are the same. They’ll play within the rules. But people have different styles and different interpretations and different issues. That’s why you have courts of appeals, etc.

“This judge, Judge Rakoff, is an experienced judge. He’s a smart judge. He will apply it and call it as he sees it. So they’re not going to get any favoritism or anything like that. But I think their view is, ‘Hey, a different umpire might have been better for us.’”

Morris concurred: “The law is not supposed to be different. And it is not different, in fact, I don’t believe. I’ll put it this way: There is a perception that, in a bankruptcy court, there is a higher likelihood of a more favorable decision toward the bankruptcy collection process, if you will. And in the non-bankruptcy courts, there is a less likely result in favor of the bankruptcy collection process. In part, it’s a function that bankruptcy judges every day do this sort of scenario. And it is less jarring for them to see it than it is for somebody who sees every kind of case that comes to the district courts. They say, ‘Wait a minute. These people maybe didn’t do too much wrong here, and you’re trying to get back a bunch of money.’”

4. The probability is the case will not go to trial.

Rakoff set a March 5 trial date, but experts predict the likelihood is the case never gets there -- and not because Rakoff is poised to toss the entire suit.

Former New York governor Mario Cuomo, who was in the courtroom Friday, is mediating the dispute.

If Rakoff tosses the $700 million part and leaves only the $300 million claim, it makes sense for the sides to avoid a costly trial and settle for somewhere between the $160 million and $300 million figures -- probably closer to the latter sum.

If Rakoff leaves the entire $1 billion suit intact for a jury to decide, it might be advantageous for the Wilpons to settle for just north of $300 million, if Picard’s side is willing, to avoid what could be a catastrophic defeat in court.

Then again, in either scenario, if the Wilpons are not capable of scrounging up the money, maybe they just roll the dice in court and see what happens. And if the entire suit stays intact, maybe Picard goes for the jugular, figuring the $300 million is his no matter what.

“Let’s say the judge keeps everything in play, so that you’re going to go to trial on the $1 billion,” Donnelly said. “I would say that’s a pretty strong incentive for the Wilpons to settle somewhere between the $300 million and the $1 billion. If he throws out the $700 million and you’re left with the $300 million, I think there’s still a good chance that it would settle, but it would affect the number.”

"In-depth" appears Tuesdays during the regular season

In-depth: New jersey, blue horizon

August, 16, 2011

Debby Wong/US Presswire
The Mets, including Ryota Igarashi, wore blue "Los Mets" jerseys on Fiesta Latina night Aug. 5. The look -- minus the "Los" -- should be part of the Mets' regular uniform rotation come 2013.
The New York Mets will reach back to their beginnings for a new -- or, more precisely, old -- uniform look in 2012. Then, a season after that, a popular blue uniform should make regular appearances at Citi Field.

The blue jerseys the Mets donned on “Fiesta Latina” night during the last homestand likely will be worn on a limited basis next season and very likely will become part of the team’s regular rotation in 2013, said Dave Howard, the team’s executive VP for business operations.

Howard also revealed, without elaborating, that next year’s regular home uniforms will be modified to coincide with the organization celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“We are planning on actually doing some modifications to our uniform palette for next year as part of our 50th anniversary celebration,” Howard said. “That’s something we’ll announce, I think, after the season. The plan is to unveil it in November.”

Getty Images
Gil Hodges wears the Mets' original home uniform during spring training in March 1962.

A source subsequently told that significant elements of the original 1962 uniform (see the Gil Hodges photo on the right) will be incorporated in 2012.

The Mets wore the original ’62 uniform design until 1973. The team’s media guide offers this description: “The jersey was white with blue pinstripes and ‘Mets’ in script across the chest on an upward slant, which was based on the Brooklyn Dodgers uniform.”

It is not clear whether next season’s revisions will extend to the road uniforms, but the description of the 1962 away uniform reads: “The words ‘New York’ in all capital letters with orange piping were used. The home pinstripe base was replaced by a solid gray color. The Mets’ skyline logo appeared on the left sleeve, and the same royal blue cap was used for both home and road uniforms.”

As for the blue jerseys, the Mets essentially used the “Fiesta Latina” celebration to test fan reaction to the look. In the past, the organization had simply slapped a “Los” in front of the “Mets” on the standard uniform without otherwise tinkering with the jersey.

“We did receive quite a bit of feedback, almost all of it anecdotal, but fairly extensive and fairly uniformly positive about the blue jersey,” Howard said. “It’s something we wanted to try. We had been discussing it internally. And we had been hearing from fans -- and observing on blogs and things like that -- of people having a view that they’d like to see more of the blue and orange. So with the “Los Mets” jersey, obviously it’s something you wear for one day for a promotion. And we thought it would be a good opportunity to try out this particular design. And it was very well received.”

Major League Baseball guidelines prohibit at this stage the blue from becoming an official part of the Mets’ collection in 2012, but it still could be used on special days next season.

“I could see using a Mets version for several special dates next year,” Howard said.

As for why blue cannot be part of the official uniform collection next season, Howard explained: “The timing of uniform changes, you actually have to give Major League Baseball notice in March, and then you have to finalize your plans by May, for the following season. So the blue jersey is not something at this point that we’re able to make part of our regular, licensed, official on-field jerseys (in 2012). But we do have the opportunity to wear it on certain occasions, limited times. And we will, more than likely, do that next year with a view toward perhaps introducing it as an official alternate jersey for 2013.”

That does not necessarily mean a retirement of the black jerseys. Teams can have multiple official alternates.

“You wouldn’t be limited. It’s something where we could potentially wear both. I’m not saying what we would decide to do, but we could use both,” Howard said. “The black jersey still is popular at retail, so people are still buying it. It’s still something fans do purchase and do wear. It’s a jersey that we introduced in the ’90s. We did wear it extensively in ’99 and 2000. We won the National League championship, I believe, in 2000 in that jersey. So at this point it does have some historical significance. And, you know, mostly right now we’re just wearing it on the road. We really haven’t worn it much at home.”

“In-depth” appears Tuesdays during the regular season

In-depth: DePo's state of the farm

August, 9, 2011
Mets VP Paul DePodesta, who oversees the farm system and amateur scouting, takes time with to break down the organization's minor leagues.

You have almost completed a full minor league season, had a draft. What’s the state of the farm system in a general sense?

“I certainly think we’re making progress. It’s been probably well-documented from the draft, and even to what we did at the trading deadline. One of the things we really sought out is potential impact talent. To the extent that it works out, we won’t know for a while. But it’s certainly been a target. And we’ve been able to bring some of these guys into the system. Some other guys that already have been in the system, we’ve been able to move them along fairly rapidly. I think in that sense I’m very pleased. I think the overall depth of the system is pretty solid. Our goal is to certainly make it better.

Adam Rubin
Paul DePodesta at camp Tuesday.

“On the impact end, I think we’re making some progress. Again, I think there was probably a little bit more here when we first arrived than was sort of generally accepted. There were a couple of guys last year that didn’t have great years who I think have high-end talent. So when we came in, they weren’t heralded as maybe they should be. A guy like (right-hander) Jeurys Familia, he has a chance to be a big-time guy, and probably hasn’t gotten at least that type of attention. Having him now with (2010 first-round pick Matt) Harvey and having (fellow right-hander Zack) Wheeler (from the Carlos Beltran trade) behind those guys, it’ll start to show what kind of talent he is. Overall, I’m pleased. There’s certainly still room for us to get better, both on the scouting side and on the development side. But I like where we are as of right now.”

In terms of the upper levels of the system, is it bad luck with injuries to players such as Kirk Nieuwenhuis (shoulder surgery), Zach Lutz (pair of concussions, broken ring finger)? Or have there been a lack of available players to where you had to, say, call up a third catcher?

“I think there are a couple of things. One is, a lot of the talent at the upper levels we have seen here (in the majors). I’d say Dillon Gee, Ruben Tejada, Lucas Duda, I mean those guys were all projected to be at Buffalo this year and have been pretty significant contributors at this level so far. Beyond that, the saving grace for me in (corner infielder Zach) Lutz and (outfielder Kirk) Nieuwenhuis and (Fernando) Martinez and all the guys who have had some injuries is when they’ve played, they’ve all played extraordinarily well. Nieuwenhuis is a guy who is a really interesting case. Admittedly, from my standpoint, he’s not a guy I knew a lot about. I didn’t see him as an amateur at Azusa (Pacific University) when he was coming out. But he’s one of those guys from sort of a smaller school, and as he’s been in the minor leagues and moved up levels, he continues to get better at every level. His production continues to increase at every level, which is rare. So I’m excited about him. It’s really too bad he had the shoulder injury and is going to miss the rest of the year. I think he certainly has a bright future.

“I think at the Double-A level, a lot of the guys we had there weren’t necessarily ready to come here. But (infielder) Josh Satin had a terrific year and is now in Triple-A and hasn’t missed a beat. (Middle infielder) Jordany Valdespin had a great year, and has actually played shortstop extremely well and has gotten better month after month and is now, I think, absolutely a viable major league shortstop. (Second baseman) Reese Havens is sort of like Lutz and Nieuwenhuis. When he’s played, he’s been awfully good. And then on the pitching side, we did fill in an awful lot at Triple-A with some veterans. Gee was sort of the one young guy we felt like was poised and ready. One guy that had a real breakout year was (right-hander) Chris Schwinden. He’s put himself now in a position to help us.

“And then in Double-A we had some nice talent, but guys who were not quite ready to be here and we were probably pushing them even a little at Double-A -- guys like (left-hander Robert) Carson and now, through the course of the year, with Familia and Harvey there. Some other guys have had nice years. (Right-handers Brandon) Moore and (Collin) McHugh have pitched well. Both (right-handers Brad) Holt and (Josh) Stinson I think have pitched well now that they have been moved to the pen, which we all think is their ultimate roles. They seem to have adjusted well to that transition.

“But admittedly once (Jenrry) Mejia went down (with Tommy John surgery) and Gee came up, we didn’t have the stable of young, major league ready pitching. We were a little thin. But I think that layer that’s right behind them has a chance to be pretty darn good.”

You still project Mejia and Familia as rotation as opposed to bullpen guys?

“Yeah, I do. We’ll see as it happens. I think any player development system’s hope is you get to a point where players sort of force themselves on the major league roster -- they sort of force the front office to make a move for them because their performance is so dominant and they’re so clearly ready to be here, as opposed to bringing guys up just because you need them, you don’t have anybody else and something has happened. If we can get to that point on a pitching staff where our starting five is so good that some of these other guys are ready and knocking at the door, who knows what role they may end up in at that point? History will tell you a lot of quality minor league starters end up being quality bullpen guys. But as we sit here today, we certainly still project those guys as starting pitchers?”

If you conceivably are going to devote a lot of dollars to Jose Reyes in the offseason and you have to be more creative at other positions, are there any minor league players who have yet to make their debuts who can be introduced early next season and have an impact? Maybe Josh Satin?

“You mentioned Satin. I think he’s a guy who can contribute here. I think (Monday call-up) Mike Baxter is a guy who can contribute here. He has a different story because we just recently acquired him. I think Lutz is a guy. I think Nieuwenhuis is certainly a guy that can help. And I sort of hesitate to say this, because you never know what’s going to happen when guys do move to the pen -- but sometimes those guys can really come quick, because if they have the stuff, and they have the command, it almost doesn’t matter if it’s in A-ball or Double-A or in the big leagues. It plays and will continue to play at each level.

“In that respect, we’ll see what Stinson is able to do and we’ll see what Holt is able to do as they continue to adjust to that role. One other guy, and I hesitate to say it, because it’s a long way away, is Josh Edgin. He’s a left-handed reliever currently in St. Lucie. He started the year in Savannah. But he’s got major league stuff and he’s left-handed. Again, you just never know how quickly those guys can come. He’s in Port St. Lucie right now, which is why I’m squeamish about talking about 2012."

If Baseball America re-ranked the farm system after the trade deadline and placed Zack Wheeler No. 1, does that mean you made a great trade? Or is it a commentary on the system a little?

“I don’t know. Harvey is awfully good. It’s starting to show at Double-A too. His last few starts have each gotten better, and his last one was just absolutely dominant. Technically, he’s a little closer. Some of their midseason lists, I don’t know if it was Baseball America or somebody else’s, I think Harvey was maybe a couple of slots ahead of Wheeler. I think it’s debatable. We moved Familia to Double-A before Harvey. Certainly part of that was for development reasons. He was just ready earlier. But I don’t know why his ceiling is different than those guys. He throws just as hard. He’s got a good slider. He’s generally in the zone. He’s awfully good too. Look, Wheeler was the No. 6 pick in the country (in 2009). Harvey was the seventh (in 2010). Maybe that gives Wheeler an edge.”

Does something have to give with Fernando Martinez? Or he does have an option for next year, so he could go back to Triple-A in 2012 if need be?

“He has another option after this year.”

St. Lucie’s Wilmer Flores has been ranked atop many rankings in the past. What is his future? Will you move him from shortstop?

“We’ll see. I think with any of these guys, when we’ve considered position changes, it will be well-discussed. We have talked about it with (Wilmer Flores) at different times. We’ve talked about the benefits of him staying at shortstop and it will help him regardless of where he moves. We do think that the next move, if there is a move, and I think it’s probably likely at some point, it will be in the infield. The play at shortstop has been solid. It actually has been quite solid. The question is whether or not we think it’s going to hold up, and ultimately from his standpoint where he’s most comfortable.

“He’s played some third in winter ball. There’s been some talk about second base. We’ll discuss this as we sort of wind down the season and head into the offseason. I think we feel like regardless his time at short has been well-spent, and will continue to be well-spent if he continues to stay there. To his credit, he’s really played it well.

“He just turned 20 years old. And one thing I feel strongly about, and one thing I think we feel strongly about organizationally, is that one of the things that improves dramatically with repetitions is infield defense probably as much as anything in the game. Guys might get a little bit better in the outfield. They get better with routes and jumps. But there are limitations in terms of how much better they can get. Hitting is tough. There are limitations with how much better a guy is going to get. But infield defense, there are just a lot of stories of guys who made 30, 40, even 50 errors in the minor leagues and went on to become very solid defensive infielders in the major leagues.”

I had just heard the range, the foot speed and first step weren’t where it would need to be for shortstop.

“And that could be. I think that’s probably a question. I don’t think the question right now is with the hands or with the arm. It’s an untraditional arm stroke, but he gets it over there and it’s accurate for the most part. I think you’re right. I think that’s a fair point about whether or not he stays there. I think that will be probably the defining question in terms of whether or not he stays there.”

People have visions of a rotation in two or three years of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia. As a development person, I’m sure you want to go 4-for-4. But if you hit on two of those four in the rotation, would you be thrilled? What’s good return on that type of inventory?

“I think that’s probably fair. If we hit one out of every two, I think we’d be thrilled. We feel it’s a very good group. We’re going to try to add to the group. Maybe this time next year we’ll be talking about (second-round pick) Cory Mazzoni in that group or (44th overall pick Michael) Fulmer right behind those guys. Who knows?

“We’ve actually got a lot of good arms in short season that were here before I got here that are young, young kids, but with power arms and have a chance to come quickly. Guys like (U.S. Virgin Islands native) Akeel Morris, Miller Diaz, Domingo Tapia, there are a handful of them. These are guys who are consistently throwing in the mid-90s, some of them touching high-90s. Tapia is throwing 100 mph this year. Every outing has been in the upper 90s.

“One thing you can be sure of is we’re going to continue to try to stockpile them, sort of knowing that we’re not going to be 100 percent on these guys. I use this in a much broader context than just those four that you mentioned that are at the upper levels, or close to the upper levels, but shoot, I think we’d be killing it if we hit at 50 percent.”

Was there anyone signed internationally this year, even if it was a low signing bonus, that you were particularly pleased you got?

“There are a handful actually. There’s one who is already over here in the States and has moved past the GCL and is into Kingsport. Rafael Montero is a right-handed pitcher. He’s a little older. He’s 20 already and I think was just about 20 or already 20 when we signed him. But he has a good arm, a good feel and it’s a legitimate three-pitch mix. It’s low- to mid-90s. Good body. Good command. He’s an interesting package.

“I was just down in the Dominican last week and saw some of the kids we had signed. Pedro Perez, who we signed, is technically a shortstop. He’s playing third base. A switch-hitter. He’s a good-looking young hitter. And there’s an outfielder named Vicente Lupo -- the kid who got really sick last fall. Really, really sick. He’s an outfielder from Venezuela. He was the one who had malignant hypothermia. He’s back and playing. He’s swinging the bat well. There’s another pitcher named Luis Mateo, who is also a little older. He’s 21. He has really good power stuff. He’s actually still in the Dominican. All those guys were signed this year.

“I believe there’s an outfielder name Mikais de la Cruz, who is in the Dominican, that I believe was signed in this cycle but before I got here. The international market, the fiscal year is July 2 to July 2. So I’m not counting anybody we have signed in the last month. It’s everybody we signed pre-July 2. There are a handful of them, but Montero has certainly been the quickest mover.

“There’s also a Cuban second baseman we signed named Jorge Rivero, who we’ve already brought over. He’s playing in the GCL and is swinging the bat pretty well. He’s also older. He’s 21, I think. He’s a good-looking hitter.”

"In-depth" appears Tuesdays during the regular season

In-depth: Line drives fit Mets, Wright

August, 2, 2011

It’s about an hour before the final game of the Mets-Reds series in Cincinnati last Thursday afternoon and David Wright has plenty to do.

“Day games are tough,” he says as he turns down a request to chat with a reporter. “Gotta get my work in.”

For Wright, that’s about making sure his approach and swing are consistently producing what the Mets need most-- line drives.

The Dickson Baseball Dictionary defines a line drive as “a solidly batted ball that approximately parallels the ground during its flight, rather than arching in the manner of a fly ball” and cites its first usage in 1895.

By most calculations, line drives result in hits around 70 percent of the time. They are the highest percentage play for a hitter.

There are multiple statistical sources that chart batted balls by type and it’s an inexact science. But the sources do agree that the Mets have increased their rate significantly, going from a line drive on one of every six balls in play in 2010 to almost one out of every five in 2011.

That looks like a small jump, but it takes them from being one of baseball’s worst teams in line-drive rate to being above-average.

Because they’ve put balls into play more frequently this season, it’s also made them one of the most prolific teams in the majors in total number of line drives. The team is averaging 5.3 per game in 2011.

If the Mets can maintain what they’ve done so far this season, they’d finish the year with about 125 more line drives than they hit in 2010. That should add another 80 to 90 hits to the team tally.

Offense is down this season, but the Mets are on pace to score 70 more runs than they did in 2010. Line drives are a big part of why they are 14-1 in games in which they manage at least 12 hits, but no home runs.

“Everybody’s trying to hit a line drive, right?” said second baseman Justin Turner, when we broached the subject of hitting approach.

Indeed, it is common sense to most players to try to hit line drives (particularly when your home ballpark is as cavernous as Citi Field), but it’s not an easy thing to do.

“It’s about being on time,” said Baseball Tonight analyst Aaron Boone, describing the process.

“What’s ‘on time?’ Being ‘on time’ allows you to be in a powerful position, to see the baseball like it’s a beach ball. The front foot has to get down in plenty of time. Then its hips, then hands. That allows you to pop the ball. Guys who get in trouble are the ones who commit their hands before their hips. They hit too many ground balls.”

A lot of factors can determine whether a hitter is “on time.”

Let’s take Wright as an example. When Wright was playing with the stress fracture in his back, he couldn’t hit line drives.

In the 22 games Wright played between suffering his stress fracture against the Astros (on April 19) and when he went on the disabled list in mid-May, Wright hit just .215, with a .250 BABIP (batting average when putting the ball in play for the defense to field). Those numbers are way out of whack with Wright’s career norms.

In that span, Wright managed only eight line drives out of the 56 times he made contact, a rate far below what he’d typically produce.

The various batted-ball evaluators peg Wright as being someone who hits 100 to 110 line drives per season. For a month, he was hitting at a pace that would have netted half that many over a full year.

Since Wright’s return, he’s produced a line-drive bonanza -- 13 line drives in 43 turns ending with contact. Of those 13, 11 have resulted in base hits.

Wright has been amazingly effective against pitches in the lower-third of the strike zone or below. He has 12 hits in 16 at-bats that ended with a pitch to that spot (as gauged by MLB’s Pitch F/X system) since his return, five coming on line drives.

In technical terms, hitting coach Dave Hudgens described Wright’s approach as “keeping his front side closed and being short to the ball, having a short hand path to the ball.”

While watching Wright on Monday night, ESPN baseball analyst Bobby Valentine noted that Wright had made an adjustment to his approach recently in how he brings his elbows back, in conjunction with the toes on his front foot tapping the dirt.

That gives him the right mechanics to produce the proper line drive swing.

“He has a lot of margin for error with his approach,” added fellow Baseball Tonight analyst Doug Glanville.

For Wright’s part, he’s made both a physical and mental adjustment, such that he no longer worries about his injury when he’s at the plate.

“It’s a hard enough game,” Wright said after the Mets completed their four-game sweep in Cincinnati. “It just compounds things when you’ve got something else on your mind.”

What has been on Wright’s mind recently is matching the output of his teammates. He’s listened to Hudgens approach of making the most of the pitches he sees in the strike zone. And he’s watched Daniel Murphy and Turner rake line drives all season. Both are enjoying stellar offensive years Wright still has time to have one of his own.

“A lot of things in baseball are contagious,” Wright said. “A couple of guys get hot and they can pick up the whole team.”

The work Wright referenced earlier that Thursday afternoon paid off in the form of three hits, including a fifth-inning line drive single in the Mets 10-9 win. That streak would reach 10 games before ending in Monday’s loss.

“David is in a comfortable state right now,” Boone said. “He’s very talented and gifted. He works hard and he’s very focused. Sometimes that gets in his way, but right now he looks like someone who is letting his ability perform.”

"In-depth" appears Tuesdays during the regular season.



Daniel Murphy
.289 9 57 79
HRL. Duda 30
RBIL. Duda 92
RD. Murphy 79
OPSL. Duda .830
WB. Colon 15
ERAJ. Niese 3.40
SOZ. Wheeler 187