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Entries in New York Mets (15)

Sunday
Jul212013

R.A. Dickey Loses Zip on His Knuckler

During the offseason, the Blue Jays parted with top prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard and ponied up a two-year, $25 million contract extension to pry 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets. But the knuckleballer hasn't been the top-of-the rotation arm the Jays expected, with his ERA climbing by nearly two runs per nine innings pitched (from 2.73 in 2012 to 4.69 this year) and his strikeout rate tumbling from a career-best 8.9 K/9 last season to right around his career average (6.4 K/9).

Dickey's hard knuckler made him a bat-missing oddity, even among knuckle ball pitchers. Unfortunately, he's not throwing his flutter ball with the same level of zip in 2013. Those fast knucklers induce the most chases and whiffs from hitters.

Distribution of Dickey's knuckleball velocity in 2012

 Distribution of Dickey's knuckleball velocity in 2013

During his Cy Young Award-winning 2012 season, Dickey threw about 87% of his knuckleballs at 75 MPH or faster. This year, he's hitting 75-plus MPH just 63% of the time. Even when he does ramp it up, he's not getting wild swings and misses from hitters like he did in 2012, particularly when he throws one low and off the plate to the glove side.

Opponent swing rate vs. Dickey's 75+ MPH knuckle balls in 2012

 

Opponent swing rate vs. Dickey's 75+ MPH knuckle balls in 2013

 

Last year, hitters chased 36% of the time that Dickey tossed a knuckler at 75+ MPH. This season, that chase rate is down to 29%. Opponents' slugging percentage against Dickey's fast knuckleballs has jumped by nearly 100 points between 2012 (.319) and 2013 (.412).

Dickey seems to have lost his way -- and trademark velocity -- with the Jays. Perhaps it's time to summon Charlie Hough, the Niekros and Tim Wakefield for a meeting of the Jedi Council of Knuckleballers.

Monday
Jul082013

Peter Gammons: Premium Pitching in the NL East

It has become eminently clear that the National League East is becoming the pitching division.

This was the discussion that began among some Padres players, coaches and front office people now after having faced the Met’s Matt Harvey, Miami’s Jose Fernandez and Washington’s Stephen Strasburg.

“Those three have the best stuff of any starters in the league,” said one official. And as the comparative debate went on, there were actually a few opinions that Strasburg actually was third on the list in terms of pure stuff.

Here’s how the Friars have done against the three pheenoms in 2013

April 3 – In the second game of the season, the Padres faced Matt Harvey and he was brilliant. He threw seven innings allowing only an Everth Cabrera single in the 4th. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out 10.  

July 1 – The Padres had similar struggles against Jose Fernandez. The Miami marvel pitched eight innings allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out 10. “All I can tell you is that Fernandez is already special,” said Padres hitting coach Phil Plantier. Two of his hitters compared him to Felix Hernandez. “His changeup isn’t there yet,” said one outfielder, “but Felix’s changeup wasn’t fully developed until he was 25. This guy is 20.” And since June 1, Fernandez is 5-4, 2.72 with 21 hits allowed in 40 1/3 innings.  

July 7 - Despite striking out six of the first 11 batters he faced, the Padres roughed up Strasburg getting to him for seven hits and four runs in six innings of work. Strasburg walked two and whiffed nine and allowed one homer. On May 16, Strasburg broke a five-game personal losing streak when he held the Padres to three hits and two runs (one earned) in eight innings.

“Don’t underestimate all Strasburg has gone through,” says one general manager. “He’s had to cope with being Stephen Strasburg, with everyone across the country watching his every start.” The Padres are 0-4 against the three this season.

Beware the Marlins

“The Marlins can be good in a hurry because of their pitching,” says San Diego manager Bud Black. “We faced (Nate) Eovaldi. He sat 96.” Jacob Turner is 22, and developing and with Henderson Alvarez thrown in with Fernandez, Eovaldi and Turner, as they return home Monday to begin a pre-All Star series with the Braves and Nationals, they are aware that since going 13-41 through May 30, the Marlins are 19-14 and loom as a major factor in the National League East race. Atlanta has 13 games remaining with Miami, Washington 12.

Beware the NL East

“What is happening in the National League East is that it is becoming a power pitching division,” says one veteran NL scout. “That’s one reason it’s so hard for Ruben Amaro to throw up his hands and trade off a Cliff Lee or (Jonathan) Papelbon.

It’s hard enough right now. But think a year from now what the Braves, Marlins, Mets and Nationals are going to be throwing at the Phillies.” With their impending television deal, the Phillies cannot afford to throw Jesse Biddle out there behind Cole Hamels and promise the world that in time they’ll retool their starting pitching to the point that they can match up with their four division rivals. If the Phillies can get a semblance of the great Roy Halladay back with Lee, Hamels and Biddle, they can and likely will be contenders.

The Braves are always going to have good pitching. Mike Minor is 25, Julio Teheran 22, Alex Wood 23, Kris Medlen 27, Brandon Beachy 26 with the depth potential of Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm and the great closer in Craig Kimbrel.

The Nationals are going to spend the next few years building around Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez.

Then there are the Mets, with the potential in 2014 of a staff that brings back flashes of 1969 and 1986 with Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard (2-0 in Binghamton with a 23-4 strikeout-walk ratio in 18 innings) with a very good depth chart of Jon Niese, Jeremy Hefner and Dillon Gee, none of whom will be older than 28. Oh yes, don’t ignore Rafael Montero, who two years ago was in the Dominican Summer League and in 2014 could be well be in the young, powerful Mets rotation.

Time will tell in the NL East

The National League East has been a division that slipped through the hands of the Mets, passed on to the Phillies and has always been within grasp of a Braves organization that develops pitching and players and does not dabble in the high risk, high publicity, high reward world of free agency.

It has had stars, and with Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, et al, and will for at least for a while have Giancarlo Stanton, even if Marlins ownership cannot get him to buy into their promises.

Time will determine the Strasburg/Harvey/Fernandez debate, as well as the development or wear on each young pitcher’s stuff. But as the debate rages as to who is the best potential pitcher east of Clayton Kershaw, it is clear that this is the division that will be dominated by big arms until we fully know just how good, or great, the three phenoms turn out to be.         

Saturday
Jun082013

Fernandez, Harvey Bring More than Just Heat

Youth and power will be on display in Queens this afternoon, as Miami's Jose Fernandez (9.1 K/9, 115 ERA+) squares off against the Mets' Matt Harvey (9.7 K/9, 171 ERA+). The 20-year-old Fernandez and Harvey, 24, are best known for their scorching fastballs, and for good reason. Both rank in the top five in fastball velocity, with Fernandez averaging 94.6 MPH with his heater and Harvey sitting at 94.9 MPH.

But these burgeoning aces bring more to the table than mere gas -- each has a wicked breaking pitch that's getting lots of awkward swings from batters.

Fernandez

For Fernandez, that complementary pitch is a curveball, thrown 29% of the time, that ranges anywhere from 76 MPH to 85 MPH. While many pitchers use their breaking stuff to coax hitters into chasing off the plate, Fernandez floods the strike zone with his curve. He has thrown 59% of his curveballs over the plate, the highest rate among starters who have thrown the pitch at least 200 times this season.

Opponents haven't been able to touch Fernandez's breaker -- they're slugging .275 against the curveball, about 75 points below the MLB average. The only starters to induce weaker contact with the curve are Chris Tillman (.154), A.J. Burnett (.188), Adam Wainwright (.202), Gio Gonzalez (.209), Stephen Strasburg (.209), Shelby Miller (.211) and James Shields (.242).

Fernandez's curveball location

Harvey

The Dark Knight of Gotham, meanwhile, uses his power slider (averaging an MLB-best 89 MPH) to mow down right-handers. Harvey's slider, thrown 21% of the time, is more of a chase pitch than Fernandez's curve. He has placed his slider over the plate 41%, far below the 48% MLB average. However, Harvey is getting more swings on sliders thrown out of the zone (33%) than the MLB average (31%), and he's generating ground balls at a top-notch clip (58% of balls put in play, compared to the 47% average). Those chases and worm-burners have helped Harvey limit batters to a .242 slugging percentage against his slider, which ranks in the top ten lowest among NL starters and is over 100 points below the big league average (.349).

Another reason why Harvey's slider is so tough to hit is that he rarely catches the meat of the plate with the pitch. Just 13% of his sliders have been thrown to the horizontal middle of the strike zone, lowest among starters who have tossed the pitch at least 150 times.

Harvey's slider location