Chuck D is a Mets fan

I knew this, but it’s always nice to be reminded of it. It makes sense, since Chuck D was born in Queens, went to high school and college on Long Island, and is inexplicably awesome.

Also, in between Public Enemy’s heyday and his reality-TV revival, Flavor Flav was a regular at Freeport High School football games, big clock and everything.

Friday Q&A, pt. 1: Baseball stuff

Via email, Steve writes:

Hi Ted. On the Mostly Mets Podcast, the assertion was made that RA Dickey is one in a lifetime. I am of the mind that RA has provided a blueprint for a bunch of unsuccessful, hard throwing prospects and teams controlling them that there is a way to squeeze some success out of a proverbial lemon. RA is undoubtedly showing teams that the pitch can be thrown hard and for strikes, so it might be worth nurturing.

That’s a good point, and I suspect Dickey’s success will open up teams’ minds about grooming knuckleballers. But there are a bunch of things to remember here: For one, Dickey had a knuckleball when the Rangers decided to make him a full-time knuckleballer. Tim Wakefield had one when the Pirates converted him from infield. I suspect most baseball players mess around with knuckleballs at some point or another, but it’s an incredibly difficult pitch to throw and far, far from a guarantee a full-time knuckleballer will win with it. Dickey and Wakefield are great success stories. Recent knuckleballers like Jared Fernandez, Dennis Springer, Charlie Zink and Charlie Haeger are not. (Steve Sparks had some success too, but hardly on the level of Dickey and Wakefield.)

Moreover, from the Knuckleball! documentary it seemed Wakefield, Dickey and their predecessors Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough brought more intellectual or more reasonable approaches to the game than many of their teammates. As I said upon seeing the movie (and asked Wakefield about later): Tim Wakefield willingly, repeatedly threw 65 mph pitches over the plate in the heart of one of baseball’s best offensive eras, in one of its best hitting environments, in front of one of its most hostile fanbases. That takes a special type of resolve, and a certain philosophical leap that I’m not sure every pitcher could make.

Lastly, and this is utterly speculative (and something I’ve wondered about before): I wonder if there’d be a law of diminishing returns on knuckleballers across the league. If there were a knuckleballer on every team, would so many hitters still have so much trouble hitting the knuckleball? Would managers get a better sense of the guys who tend to get good swings off knuckleballers and figure out the best way to fill out their lineup cards when facing one?

I actually looked this up around the time of the trade when I was vaguely planning a trip to Toronto. It seems like the Toronto area’s local sandwich delicacy is something called peameal bacon, a type of Canadian bacon rolled in cornmeal. Sounds pretty delicious to me.

That’s not particularly close to Cornwall, though. Am I missing an obvious joke here? The Cornwaller? Also, like half of the Wikipedia’s list of notable current and former residents of Cornwall are hockey players.

Chipotle. There’s a Chipotle in Port St. Lucie, and Minor Leaguers — it has long been proven — f–ing love Chipotle, much like most people. Minor League free agents everywhere would want to be part of the Mets’ organization so they could train and play in Chipotle Park, or as we call it around here, the Burrito Bowl.

Seems like we’ll have a pretty clear idea sometime next offseason, right? After 2013, basically everyone’s off the books. It’d be hard to play that card with a $50 million payroll or whatever.

I agree it’s weird, for sure. But if you listened to the Internet, you’d know it was because Jeff Wilpon himself obviously oversees the production of the Mets’ holiday e-card, working long and late at MLB Advanced Media’s offices in Chelsea to carefully position the blue and orange scarf on the image of Mr. Met so that it hangs naturally but does not cover the Mets logo on his jersey. Really, it’s amazing he found the time among all the other things the Internet seems certain he does, from setting ticket prices to devising the Citi Field menus to meddling in contract negotiations to controlling the content of every one of my Tweets. Busy dude, I guess.

Look: I don’t know who produced the video or how it all went down, but I can practically guarantee it’s no top-down conspiracy. Somewhere, a video producer and editor were charged with creating a minute-long holiday e-card of Mets highlights under the headline “Season’s Greetings from the Mets.” R.A. Dickey, as sad as this is to say, is not on the Mets. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, right? If the Season’s Greetings from the Mets card did include footage of R.A. Dickey, that would seem weird, too. That would also prompt LOLMets, without a doubt.

And I’d say it’s entirely possible the original version of the video included footage of R.A. Dickey, since Dickey was traded just a couple of days before the card was sent to fans. If anything — and again, I don’t know that this is actually how it happened, I’m just guessing — I’d figure someone who put together that video was really irritated that the trade talks were dragging out that long because he or she needed to know how to handle the Dickey thing in the video, and the deal happened so close to the producer’s deadline that he or she just said, “screw it, let’s just cut out the Dickey footage and go with Wright, Davis and Santana.”

There are a lot of things the Mets do that we can and do complain about. But a baseball team is a huge operation, and it’s downright silly to assume everything coming from a baseball team is the direct, ordered output of its upper management.

If I can’t choose both, then it has to be Swisher. I only suspect Uggla likes to bro it down, whereas there’s ample evidence that Swisher loves to bro it down. I’d like to hang out with him for one night just to see how long I could keep up, honestly.

I don’t think so. His fate is tied to the Mets. If d’Arnaud stinks and the Mets start winning anyway, people will remember the trade but forgive him for it. If d’Arnaud’s awesome and the Mets don’t win with him, people will argue that the deal was not enough and say Alderson should have done more.

Is it time to bro it down with Nick Swisher?

Trick question, suckers: It is always time to bro it down with Nick Swisher. Nick Swisher exists in a state of perpetual bro-down, draped in Ed Hardy and marked, undoubtedly, by ever-flowing Jaegermeister, virulent chest-bumping, thumping technopop and an array of macho gestures unintelligible to anyone but the broiest of bros.

Here's what Nick Swisher looks like. But as it pertains to the Mets, the possibility of Nick Swisher broing it down in Flushing is discussed here only because it came up through a Twitter hoax yesterday and because the Mets still desperately need outfielders.

Though occasionally infuriating, Swisher is a good player. As a switch hitter who has been slightly better from the right side across his career, he could fill the Mets’ need for a right-handed bat in the outfield without requiring a platoon hedge. Outside of a down season in 2009 that was at least partly induced by a low batting average on balls in play, he has been a remarkably consistent (and very good) performer, posting a park- and league-adjusted OPS+ in the 120s in 2006 and 2007 and in every season from 2010 to 2012. By defensive metrics, he is about an average defender in right field. Swisher turned 32 in November, but he has not played in fewer than 148 games in any season since 2005. As an added bonus, he can fill in at first base if necessary.

So yes, if the Mets had plenty of money to spend or the Mets were the only team bidding on Swisher’s services this offseason, he’d seem a damn near perfect fit for a club without a single outfielder under contract who has ever played 148 games in a year or managed a 120 OPS+ for a full season — the things, again, Swisher does reliably.

But all that matters are the things we don’t know: Namely, how much money the Mets have to spend this offseason and how much it will cost to acquire Swisher. The Indians have a widely reported offer on Swisher’s table — presumably right next to the pile of empty Red Bull cans, under last month’s Maxim — believed to be for about four years and $52 million.

That doesn’t sound like something the Mets could afford or even something they should be willing to part with for a 32-year-old outfielder who will cost them their 11th overall draft pick, and who’s good but not good enough to make them certain contenders in 2013. So if everything is as it currently appears: No, the Mets should not bro it down with Nick Swisher this offseason.

There are a couple of wild cards, though, however unlikely. Swisher is married to actress Joanna Garcia and, per that Jon Heyman report linked above, “loved New York” and has unrequited interest in the Dodgers. It seems to me that $13 million a year should be enough money to charter flights from anywhere in the country to New York or L.A. when Ms. Garcia needs to audition or work, so I’m not sure how much stock I’d put in Swisher’s preference for the coasts. But if the convenience of living in New York appeals to the Swishers enough to afford the Mets some sort of discount, the outlook becomes murkier.

Also, we keep hearing that the Mets will spend in free agency after the 2013 season, when more money comes off the books, and the team has a better understanding of its particular needs and is closer to contention. But though a lot could change between now and next offseason, the list of free agents for 2014 does not appear overwhelming. If the Mets could find room in their 2013 budget to pay Swisher, would Swisher on a three-year deal starting in 2014 be more appealing than the alternative free-agent options that offseason? The team’s need for outfielders probably isn’t going away, and there are a few but not a ton to choose from slated for next offseason’s market.

Meh, I still probably say no, if only because one year’s worth of information on next season’s free agents plus the draft pick might be worth more than the prospect of having Swisher at a then-somewhat-reasonable rate, since Swisher, for all his consistency to date, is still a human subject to all the same awful whims as the rest of us. Plus, the Mets’ signing Swisher now would interfere with my own personal pipedream: The team landing a different switch-hitting corner outfielder next year to lead them to postseason glory.

David Wright at 30

David Wright was born on this day in Norfolk, Va. in 1982. He has spent the bulk of the thirty years since punishing baseballs. Here is what he looks like:

Here's what David Wright looks like.

Using baseball-reference’s version of WAR, here’s how Wright stacks up with baseball’s top 20 active players aged 30 or younger:

[sny-table rowheader=true columnheader=true]
Player; Age; bb-ref WAR
Miguel Cabrera; 29; 44.4
David Wright; 30; 39.1
Joe Mauer; 29; 37.0
Robinson Cano; 30; 34.8
Justin Verlander; 29; 33.6
Ryan Braun; 29; 32.0
Felix Hernandez; 26; 31.8
Dustin Pedroia; 29; 30.7
Zack Greinke; 29; 30.0
Jose Reyes; 29; 29.8
Matt Cain; 28; 29.7
Ian Kinsler; 30; 28.7
Ryan Zimmerman; 28; 28.7
Evan Longoria; 27; 28.5
Cole Hamels; 28; 28.2
Adrian Gonzalez; 30; 28.1
Jered Weaver; 30; 27.8
Grady Sizemore; 30; 26.5
Joey Votto; 29; 26.2
Hanley Ramirez; 28; 26.2
[/sny-table]

If you don’t get it by now, I don’t imagine you ever will. David Wright is so, so good.

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! The Mets got a right-hand hitting outfielder

The Mets traded Minor Leaguer Jefry Marte to the Oakland A’s for Collin Cowgill, who is a human outfielder that bats right-handed and thus a massive upgrade to their roster.

Here's what Collin Cowgill looks like. It’s actually a good deal for a number of reasons: Though Cowgill’s 75 career OPS+ won’t turn many heads, he’s posted a strong .298/.379/405 line against lefties in a tiny sample in the Majors and a .281/.330/.536 line against them over the past two seasons at Triple-A. He plays all three outfield positions and supposedly had a good arm, he always hit pretty well in the Minors — though he was a bit old for every level — he stole bases in the Minors at a Beltranian rate, and he’ll be under team control for the next five years if it comes to that. Unless the Mets sign multiple righty-hitting outfielders, Cowgill’s likely to make the big club out of Spring Training.

Also, he’s short. Listed at 5’9″, Cowgill inspires all sorts of short-guy love in everything I can find about him from Google. Here’s a fantasy article from 2011:

That latter stigma is the one that has been attached to the fiery Cowgill, 25, for so long. Standing just 5-foot-9, Cowgill has been a victim of his stature, and perhaps his own intensity. He has gotten labeled gritty — perhaps even an overachiever — but he could be the next Eric Byrnes with speed and pop.

“He really has no pride; he really has no ego, other than the drive to be successful,” said Triple-A manager Brett Butler, who knows a thing or two about being a dirt-baller. “There are certain guys who could have played in any era. He’s one of them. You can pay him $5 or you could play him $50 million and he’s going to be the same guy. He’s going to give you his heart and soul every single day.”…

Cowgill, perhaps because the scouts don’t tend to be fans of grit and any outfielder under 6-feet, is flying well under the radar in fantasy. Just this week, he was finally owned in at least one percent of CBSSports.com’s leagues. The story about a potential call-up has ticked him up to 3 percent.

Wait, since when are scouts not fans of grit?

Cowgill’s going to have to be really good for that type of talk not to become infuriating. But hey, at least he does all the little things. Plays the game the right way. Gives his heart and soul every day.

Also, his name is only one letter off from “Cowgirl.”

On David Wright’s defense

I noticed some incoming traffic from a comments thread on Amazin’ Avenue and investigated because I’m pathetically vain. One of the readers there linked to this post in the midst of a lengthy discussion about David Wright’s contract extension, focusing largely on Wright’s defense and the way his improved UZR in 2012 impacted his WAR.

Here's what David Wright looks like. Like many of the conversations at that site, it’s an interesting discussion and worth checking out. In lieu of chiming in there, I’ll add some notes on Wright’s defense here.

I am a longtime defender of Wright’s defense and UZR skeptic. I appreciate that the stat is the best we have to quantify defense and I do use it to inform my understanding of baseball. But it’s so fickle and so frequently misused that it often frustrates me. And though I think sometimes knowledge of a player’s UZR can color our perceptions when watching the games, I do think there’s still a lot of value in empirical assessments, and I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that Wright was a worse defensive third baseman from 2009-2011 as Miguel Cabrera was in 2012.

The stat, as you may know, requires huge sample sizes to be considered predictive, so much so that I suspect in many cases by the time it can be adequately used to measure a player, the player has already changed. In any case, I’d argue that Wright’s huge uptick in UZR in 2012 should not be viewed as an outlier in an otherwise alarming trend but another data point in Wright’s career totals, which show him to be an average to slightly below average defender at third base.

Though I do think I noticed defensive improvements from Wright at third base in 2012 — those frequently credited to better footwork from Tim Teufel’s coaching — I realize that my eyes were probably biased by my knowledge of his improved UZR. And I struggle to accept that he was the best defensive third baseman in the Majors last season after playing as pretty much the very worst for the prior three. I recognize that the data only reflects what happened, so I’m guessing that Wright was actually somewhere near the middle the middle of the pack throughout and suffered from the heavy hand of randomness.

Also — and I’m not sure if this is something that has been quantified or studied and dismissed — but I imagine some of Wright’s improvement can be attributed to the presence of Ike Davis at first base. It’s no secret that Wright has been plagued by throwing troubles at times in the past, but in 2012 he made only six throwing errors, his fewest in any full season. (And I’m pretty certain, for what it’s worth, at least one of those was thrown to second base and one to a non-Davis first baseman.) From anecdotal evidence alone, it’s not hard to figure why an infielder’s throws would improve with a big, steady target at first base.

My guess is that Wright, with Davis or some other solid defender at first, plays like the average or slightly below average defensive third baseman he has been, in aggregate, over the course of his career. If you want to use the fangraphs version of his WAR to assess his value to the Mets but prefer to dock him the “wins” he earned with his defense in 2012, it’s probably worth crediting him back some of those he lost from 2009-2011. Bottom line, David Wright’s a really awesome baseball player no matter which way you want to draw it up.

New details, new poll

Per Jon Heyman, the “non-elite prospects” in the deal were Mike Nickeas on the Mets’ side and 18-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Wuilmer Becerra on the Jays’ side. Toby points out that Becerra signed to a $1.3 million bonus in 2011, but Becerra played only 11 games in rookie ball this year before, per Jays Journal, a pitch to the face broke his jaw and ended his season.

So it shakes out like this:

Blue Jays get: R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas

Mets get: Travis d’Arnaud, John Buck, Noah Syndergaard, Wuilmer Becerra.

Now what do you say?