Wright or Reyes?

Wright or Reyes? The two cornerstones of the Mets have quickly become the present as much as they are the future of New York’s National League franchise. Both had excellent seasons and were selected to the All-Star team. But who is better? Who has more upside?
If you asked most Mets fans at the beginning of last season, hands down, David Wright would have won. But with Wright slumping in the second half of last season, while Jose Reyes sizzled, perhaps assessing which player will be better needs reexamination.
    Clearly, the Mets organization, its fans, and even the writers who cover the club hope that these two great young-stars, the best duo the Mets have produced since the Strawberry-Gooden pair graced Shea Stadium in the 1980s, the caliber that will put them annually in All-Star games, or even, that they will become Cooperstown candidates. That Wright’s number 5 and Reyes’s number 7 will someday be plastered on the outfield wall of Citi Field alongside Tom Seaver’s 41, Gil Hodges 14, and Casey Stengal’s 37 (and possibly Mike Piazza’s 31).
    But who actually has the edge between these two young players? Though Wright has the obvious advantage in power: He out homered and out-doubled Reyes, the shortstop was clearly and understandably superior in the speed categories. Reyes’s numbers improved tremendously from 2005 to 2006, while Wright’s number were basically the same in those two seasons. The big jump for Reyes was his On Base Percentage which went from .300 in 2005 to .354 in 2006. Wright’s OBP actually dropped from .388 to a still solid, but lower .381. 
    It has already been stated that Wright has more power than Reyes, but the shortstop actually out-homered Wright in the second half 11-8 thanks to Reyes’s three home run game against Philadelphia, a feat Wright has yet to accomplish.  Given his higher OBP and his other statistics, Wright would seem to be a more polished player than Reyes. However, the gap between the top players is closing fast. Reyes, who was brought up one year before Wright, and is a year younger, was rushed through minors to the major leagues, in part because the Mets were awful in 2003 and needed a spark. However, for two years Reyes’s development was stymied because of leg injuries, mysterious injuries that made him miss over 100 games in two years. It wasn’t until 2005 that Reyes played a complete season and it seemed, particularly in the beginning that he was rusty, given the fact that it took him a month to draw a simple bases on balls: he only had 27 walks the entire year.  In 2006, Reyes basically doubled his walk total with 53, showing that he learns quickly once he can play entire season. In fact, his in-season improvement in both 2005 and 2006 is a great indication of his burgeoning talent.
    For Wright, last season’s second half was a disappointment. Many blamed his strong performance the Home Run hitting contest during the All-Star break for ruining his stroke, but the problem stemmed from the pressure he was putting on himself. All you had to do was to look at Wright’s eyes and see he was pressing. This would explain why when he played in Japan during a tour in November 2006 he began to hit like he had in the first half of 2006. Perhaps the fact that Reyes has lived under Wright’s shadow to some extent has allowed him to flourish. Whatever the case may be, both players have a chance to become superstars, even potential Hall-Of-Famers, but given Reyes’s tremendous growth and his still raw abilities, the New York shortstop would have the greater upside. We’ll see.

Andrew Schiff is a freelance journalist who has written a biography on Henry Chadwick, The Father of Baseball to be published by McFarland late in 2007.
See www.henrychadwick.com.


Can Anderson Hernandez Claim 2nd Base?

Latin American Winter League baseball is a great place for young up-and-coming talents to prove to their American parent clubs that they can play competitive baseball on a high level. It also provides a chance for young players to get at bats during the off-season and improve their skills. Mets’ infield prospect, Anderson Hernandez used the Dominican Winter League to show the Mets the he indeed still has potential to become a bona fide hitter. Hernandez, a switch hitter, won the post-season batting crown after hitting .402 with one home run, 12 RBIs and 22 runs scored in 23 games with the Tigres del Licey.  Despite this superb performance the question still remains: can Anderson Hernandez hit major league pitching?
    Concerns have always been about Hernandez’s bat. Even when the Mets acquired him two years ago from the Detroit Tigers for Catcher Vance Wilson, just before José Reyes finally established in 2005 that he could remain healthy for a full season, Hernandez’s reputation had been based largely with his sparkling glove.  However, in 2005, Hernandez raised eyebrows when he had an excellent season for the Mets AA team, the Binghamton Mets, hitting .326. Because José Reyes had finally established himself and remained healthy, the Mets were prompted to move him to second base, in deference to Reyes.  Hernandez made an exceptionally smooth transition from short to second and was the opening day second baseman for the Amazin’s at the start of the 2006 season. Hernandez played some exceptional defense for the club in the early going, but he wasn’t hitting at all. After going more than twenty at bats without a hit, Hernandez finally broke through with a single. Unfortunately, in April, an injury made on a superb fielding play that saw Hernandez dive into the outfield, sidelined him for months. Luckily for the Mets, and not so lucky for Hernandez, Jose Valentín, who had rarely ever played second base, came in and played spectacularly. Valentín slugged 18 home runs, hit for a decent average, and what is more important played, the position as if he played it his whole entire life! Valentín’s surprising play was one of the key factors in the Mets winning their first division title in 18 years.
    With Jose Valentín signed to a contract extension, questions remain as to what role Hernandez will play with the big club in 2007. Will Hernandez be sent to the minors again so he can get some at-bats? Will Hernandez stay with the club and play a utility role, or will he platoon with Valentín, who has difficulty hitting from the right side? These are all questions that may be answered this spring.
With his performance in the minors over the last few seasons and his stellar showing in the Dominican Winter League, Hernandez clearly has proven that he can hit AAA level pitching. However, the question still remains whether he can hit Major League pitching. Hernandez eventually resurfaced in 2006 and played some games in September for the parent club after spending most of the year in the minors, after recovering from his injury, and wound up hitting his first major league home run from the right side of the plate – his homer impressing and surprising Mets’ manager Willie Randolph. But, simply put, Hernandez’ hitting performance was still abysmal. When called up in 2005, Hernandez only had one hit in 18 at-bats. Then, in 2006, Hernandez only managed a .152 batting average in 66 at-bats. Clearly, Hernandez needs to prove that he can hit major league pitching on some level to be considered an every day player. If Hernandez can at least hit .250 or better and use that great speed he has, the Mets may have found their second baseman for the future.

Andrew Schiff is a free lance writer and has written a biography on baseball’s first journalist, the man who invented the game’s statistics, Henry Chadwick. Look out for Henry Chadwick: The Father of Baseball published by McFarland in late 2007.

Minaya and Pitching

After injuries riddled the starting pitching prior to the playoffs, which saw the New York Mets win a first round series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and lose a close best-of-seven to the Saint Louis Cardinals in the Leage Championship Series, Mets fans expected their club to make a splash this winter to improve their starting pitching. After all, New York had lost ace Pedro Martinez to, among other things, a torn rotator cuff, while two of New York’s other starting pitchers are pushing 40.
    So, given the success of the Mets last year, a division title and the best record in the National League – due to their aggressiveness of the last two offseasons – it was believed that they would wind up with one or two of the available high-priced pitching free agents. Rumors swirled of the Mets signing Oakland’s Barry Zito, reuniting him with his old pitching coach Rick Peterson
, or even the Mets trading for Florida’s Dontrelle Willis, seemed to ignite hopes that the Mets would bolster their pitching staff to championship level. Or so it seemed. With Barry Zito signed to the Giants, Jeff Suppan to the Brewers and Jason Schmidt to the Dodgers, and Dontrelle Willis staying put, along with the Phillies’ trade for workhorse Freddy Garcia, the Mets came up virtually empty. 
    Breathing a sigh of relief with the resigning of Tom Glavine, Mets’ fans were equally surprised when the club gave Hernandez, a pitcher nearing the end of his career, a multi-year extension. Soon, both will be collecting social security. Furthermore, Mets’ General Manager Omar Minaya confirmed that potential starting pitcher, and former first round draft choice, Aaron Heilman would return to the bullpen. To top it off, the Mets traded promising young right-hander Brian Bannister, another starting pitcher, to the Kansas City Royals for bullpen help. 
    Why didn’t Omar Minaya improve the starting pitching after it seemed that the most glaring need, aside from a right-handed hitter with power, was rotation help?  The rest of the staff will be filled with the wild and unpredictable Oliver Perez and the questionable John Maine, who actually did pitch some excellent games last year. The fifth spot in the rotation could be filled by a number of young potential and unproven starters: Mike Pelfrey, Philip Humber, Dave Williams etc. The Mets certainly have the offense to score enough runs, but how do the Mets plan to keep opponents from scoring on them if their frontline starters have such great question marks? The Mets clearly lack an experienced, proven "young veteran"; a workhorse between the ages of 23 and 34 who could give them a lot of innings and keep the opponents off the scoreboard. Where have you gone Tom Seaver? Where have you gone Jerry Koosman? 
    What happened this off season, however, made it more difficult for the Mets to acquire, at least via free agency, pitchers they could have easily signed a couple of years ago. With the new baseball television contract signed with FOX, a lucrative and record setting deal, along with the revenue tax with distributes monies to poorer teams, more clubs than in the previous seasons were able to get involved in free agency. When the Mets signed Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez two years ago, there were only a handful of clubs vying for their services. In fact, Beltran only got offers from his former club the Astros and even went as far as approaching the Yankees himself and was rebuffed. This year, however, teams that had not normally involved in free agency in the past, became big time players. Who would have thought that the Milwaukee Brewers would give a 4-year, $42 million contract to a free agent pitcher? Who would have thought that the San Francisco Giants would put up $18 millio n for Zito. Still, the Mets could have traded for a pitcher, namely Freddy Garcia. The Mets had negotiated with the White Sox, but felt that Chicago wanted too much in return. Unfortunately, Garcia wound up with a division rival.  With the Marlins’ young phenoms a year more mature, and the Phillies rotation bolstered by Garcia, it will be more difficult for the Mets to be as successful, at least on paper, in 2007. One of the reasons the Mets dominated the National League 2006 with the best record is that the National League was awful. The New  York Mets were the only team to finish with over 90 wins. It was clearly weaker than the American League, though the senior circuit’s Cardinals won the World Series.
    I believe that Minaya did legitimately want to improve the rotation, but also did not want to spend foolishly. Minaya also seems to feel that with a deep bullpen, with the signing of lefty Scott Schoenweiss and the acquisition of hard throwing Ambriox Burgos (in the Bannister t
rade), along with the return of Guillermo Mota (after 50 games of suspension for steroids use) and Duanar Sanchez, will improve the Mets and keep them competitive. It seems that Minaya believes that the bullpen is as important, if not more important, to winning as a good staring rotation. That was clearly proved in last year’s playoffs by the Mets who advanced to the NLCS despite a dearth of proven starting pitching. However, I think Minaya made a mistake by not acquiring Freddy Garcia, a playoff-experienced starting pitched who gives you 200 plus innings per season. Garcia has been able to pitch  well in the American League and given the fact that he is switching to the Senior Circuit, the league without a Designated Hitter, will give him an advantage.
    Despite his lack of signing a well-known name through free agency or trade, Minaya should be given the benefit of the doubt. After all, under his guidance the Mets have had two consecutive winning
 seasons, the first since the 1999-2000 run and a division title, their franchise’s first since 1988. After all, aren’t results the most important thing that counts on a general manager’s record?

Andrew Schiff is a freelance journalist who has completed a biography on Henry Chadwick, baseball’s first journalist and inventor of the game’s first statistics. Look for Henry Chadwick, The Father of Baseball due for release in late 2007 by McFArland Press.
See www.henrychadwick.com