Monday, June 30, 2014

"If I Ran The Mets..." by Dad


            As a long time, which translates to long suffering, Mets fan, the question I have to ask myself is: What would I do differently? I f I had Sandy Alderson’s job, not an enviable task, how would the Mets be different? And my one line answer is: If I ran the Mets, the Mets would run.
     And to be more specific, the 2015 Mets would run like the 1985 Cardinals.
     The first fact to face is that no one will consistently hit the ball out of Citi Field, even with the fences brought in a tad. That was the lesson of Jason Bay, and the tragedy of David Wright, and the mistake in signing Curtis Granderson. If you need any single piece of evidence of how badly miscast Granderson is for that stadium, just think back to the player he was for three days last month at Yankee Stadium -- home runs on back-to-back days and a carefree swagger not seen at Citi.
     The next thing to take into account is that Alderson, to his great credit, is building what could be a really good pitching staff of young guns in both the rotation and, finally, the pen.
     So what should a GM do with a pitching-rich team in a cavernous ballpark?  He shouldn’t stockpile power hitters, because his need is speed. And this leads us exactly to the 1985 Cardinals – a pitching-rich team, in a cavernous park, built on speed, especially in the outfield.  
     The beauty of outfield speed in this scenario is two-fold, with each fold so obvious that I can’t see how anyone, read Sandy Alderson, could miss it. First, if your team can’t generate runs the Earl Weaver way (“The best play in baseball is the three run homer”), then you play small ball with fast gap hitters. Guys who can steal bases, for sure, but these same guys can more frequently score from first on a double, from second on a single, tag from third on shallower fly balls, and ground into fewer double plays. And defensively, to bolster the confidence of a young pitching staff, they can run down anything hit anywhere near them, which is especially important when your outfield is vast.  In Citi Field, speed is win-win on both sides of the ball.
     Which leads me to the ‘85 Cardinals, a great team so little dependent on the long ball that their second baseman, Tommy Herr, was one of the very few players in major league history to have 100 more RBIs than home runs. With just 8 homers, Herr drove in 110 runs, and is to me symbolic of that team’s unique greatness.
     But let’s look at that whole team. 
     First, pitching. 
     That staff was everything we could ever hope this Mets staff could grow up to be. John Tudor went 21-8 with a 1.93 ERA. And yes, Tudor was nominally the ace, but Joaquin Andjuar also won 21. And Danny Cox won 18, with a 2.88 ERA. 
     And the pen?  Remember that this was just before the era of the single, dominant 9th inning closer eating up saves. On that staff, five different pitchers had saves. Jeff Lahti led with 19, Ken Dayley had 11. After those two guys, the soon to be dominant Todd Worrell had 3 wins and 5 saves.
     And now, the speed that supported that great staff. 
     In the outfield, there was Vince Coleman with his 110 stolen bases, followed by Willie McGee with 56 and Andy Van Slyke with 34. The fourth outfielder on that team, Lonnie Smith, stole a dozen bags in just 96 at bats.
     And it wasn’t just the outfield. Second baseman Herr, the aforementioned RBI machine, also stole 31 bases. And his 31 was matched by his double play partner, a shortstop you may have heard of named Ozzie Smith. On this team, even the third baseman ran, with Terry Pendleton stealing 17 bases. Heck, platoon catcher Darrell Porter stole 6.
     The only slow guy on this team, remembered now as the one power bat inserted in the line up in order to keep opposing pitchers honest, was first baseman Jack Clark. And how many home runs did team leader Clark hit? All of 22. 
     The ’85 Cardinals were not a team built on the long ball. But now, almost thirty years later, they are the model that I believe Alderson should be using to build the ’15 Mets on.