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Mudville: July 14, 2024 7:48 pm PDT

Flaw Guys


Sometimes the answer is right there under your nose.

The Mets sure could use a $341 million shortstop.

The Mets sure could use a $130 million pitcher.

Yes, Steve Cohen is a baseball oligarch with money to burn, but this is ridiculous.

Whenever the word starts circulating that a manager is on the hot seat, like that Buck Showalter is currently on the hot seat, I don’t look at the manager – I immediately look at where the rumors might be coming from, because that usually is the root of the problem.

The Mets are a mess because Cohen missed on two vital positions, over-evaluating the talents of Francisco Lindor and Max Scherzer, handing $341 million to Lindor to be their shortstop and another $130 million to the aging Scherzer to be their ace, with GM Billy Eppler’s approval, even though there were signs of wear and tear.

Here we are in the third week of June and Lindor owns a .214/.293/.415 slash line with 12 home runs. Batting lefty, the switch-hitter is hitting .200. The Mets are 7-16 vs left-handed starters. Lindor’s overall batting average is 59 points below his career batting average.

Yet, we are all supposed to believe that this is all Showalter’s fault. It might help Buck, too, if he had a designated hitter who could also pinch hit in key situations; who could, you know, hit – but that’s not on the Mets menu right now with Daniel Vogelbach, who entered play Wednesday with a .203 batting average and a .297 slugging percentage and is currently getting a mental break.

Eppler has not been able to provide the pitching or offensive help the Mets need. Essentially, the Mets are playing as if they still have pitchers hitting in the lineup.

Scherzer is coming off a putrid effort against the Yankees, where Luis Severino, who looks like it might pay off for him to do a little running to get in shape, was trying to hand the Mets a win; but Scherzer gave it away in a 7-6 loss in Game 1 of the Subway Series on Tuesday night at Citi Field. Scherzer’s ERA this season is 4.45.

On Wednesday night the Mets won despite an all-around sloppy effort and terrible base-running, beating the Yankees 4-3 in 10 innings.

For Scherzer it has been a slog. You’ll remember that in the Game 1, 7-1 loss to the Padres in the Wild Card series last October, Scherzer gave up seven runs and could not make it through the fifth inning. I’ve been saying for a while now, urged on by perceptive scouts, that Scherzer needs to bag the slider and throw his curveball and fastball more often; but that has yet to happen.

After his latest downfall, Scherzer said he is going to work in the bullpen on getting his slider right. Good luck.

And don’t forget, Scherzer wasn’t facing a power-packed Yankee lineup. Aaron Judge is out with a toe injury and Harrison Bader is out with a hamstring injury, so the Yankee outfield consisted of Billy McKinney (.320), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (.238), and Jake Bauers (.222). Combined they have nine home runs. Josh Donaldson is down to a .130 average but still starts for some reason. Rookie Anthony Volpe needs help, too, and is batting .192. Remember, the Yankees hitting mantra is Hit Strikes Hard.

How about making it Hit Something.

Not exactly the M&M Boys out there the last two nights at Citi Field. Both teams have major issues.

One of the game’s top talent evaluators offered this to BallNine about what he sees in Scherzer after the latest dreadful performance.

“He doesn’t know how to pitch with what he has now,’’ he said. “Scherzer doesn’t use his curveball enough. He keeps going to that slider and getting beat with it. He’s got to use that curveball more, he’s got to use that changeup more, he’s got to use his cutter more than his slider because at least the cutter has a little sharper break. His slider is below average right now… Essentially in Scherzer and Justin Verlander now the Mets have two $43 million aging No. 3 starters.’’

As for Lindor, with powerful Pete Alonso out of the lineup, Lindor coming up empty swinging for the fences is even more obvious. All he has to do is shorten up.

“They never do,’’ the scout said. “They continually come out of their shoes, except for Jeff McNeil and Luis Guillorme.’’

FOF, Fear of Fastballs, is baseball’s version of FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out.

Lindor has the talent to bounce back and show that he is worth that $341 million but he needs to make the adjustment in his swing. Be a hitter, not a power hitter. He did release a new pair of shoes on Wednesday – but he really needs to focus on making a swing adjustment, not a shoe adjustment.

How about trying to be a shortstop and putting the ball in play? I know that’s not what the analytic Nerds over at the Mets want, but it might help. They want home runs. On the pitching side, those Nerds are also in love with the slider, and they particularly love the 3-2 slider; but how’s that going?

For some reason, Nerds have a tremendous fear of their pitchers throwing fastballs. I don’t get it and never will.

FOF, Fear of Fastballs, is baseball’s version of FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out.

This is not only a Mets problem, it’s pretty widespread among the Nerds in baseball.

To understand what is coming in the game, I often reach out to scouts who view minor league play because that is the science experiment of what’s coming. This week, a scout told me he watched a Yankee minor league team where the starting pitcher, a 21-year-old prospect, threw 92 pitches, only 12 fastballs.


The scout called such a development approach an “epic failure.’’

“When you send a 21-year-old kid out and he throws 92 pitches, probably 65 curveballs and sliders, 12 fastballs and 15 changeups, that’s horrible. And his velocity is down almost two miles per hour from last year… Ask Andy Pettitte when he fell in love with the cutter what happened to his fastball.

“None of the people that know any true things about pitching have any voice any longer,’’ the scout added.

Sad, but true. Nowadays, the scout said, pitchers are chasing shape on their slider instead of just “staying behind it and having some power and some small late break.’’

The scout then related a comment a pitching coach once told him.

“Just because a breaking ball looks bigger, doesn’t make it better,’’ he said. “If you see it and go, ‘wow, look how much that broke,’ yeah but it broke out of your hand. The hitter saw it right away, it wasn’t a strike and in the long run, the smaller, later breaking ball is the better breaking ball.’’

Maybe that’s the breaking ball Scherzer can find again.

Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees delivers a pitch in the second inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on June 13, 2023 in Flushing, Queens. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Here is more pitching wisdom from the scout the Nerds don’t quite understand.

“You don’t have to miss the bat,’’ he said. “If I can keep you off the barrel and control your hard contact, that’s good pitching.’’

This is going on throughout the game and we have addressed it here at Baseball or Bust in the past, including the fact that pitchers don’t run to get in shape anymore and fielders don’t take enough balls off the bat anymore to get clean reads.

That also burned the Mets Tuesday night when centerfielder Brandon Nimmo, who plays too deep, did not get to a pop fly and then whiffed on a fly ball that dearly cost the Mets. On Wednesday night right fielder Starling Marte made a rotten throw over third base.

We continue to point out the fact that fielders don’t work on fundamentals and that costs them dearly in games. That lack of fundamental work is another massive problem right under baseball’s nose.

And the Yankees were not much better Tuesday night than the Mets. On a key grounder, Gleyber Torres, who has been sleepwalking quite often this season, botched the play; and rookie Volpe tried to clean up the mess but made a silly throw that was so far off target the Yankees lucked out when the ball bounced off the concrete behind first and back to Anthony Rizzo.

“That throw never should have been made,’’ one scout observing the game told BallNine.

That is a big problem for many teams, the lack of development.

The Rays, who excel where others fail, have the strongest of development people in place in the minors and it pays off in the long run.

Here is your statistic of the day, courtesy of my friends over at Elias Sports Bureau, where numbers mean something and whom I have relied on for important statistics since 1988.

In case one of Cohen’s Nerds haven’t told the owner this, someone please pass this statistic along.

The Mets are 0-30 when trailing after seven innings. That’s right Uncle Steve: a $375 million payroll and 0-30 when trailing after seven innings.

Francisco Lindor #12 of the New York Mets reacts in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Citi Field on June 13, 2023. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Did I mention that when Clay Holmes struck out Lindor Tuesday night it was with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth inning? Lindor, who once was a good hitter, now had an uppercut swing on the pitch, a swing that might work in Wiffle Ball. Might. Holmes then finished the inning with a strikeout of Marte.

Perhaps it’s time for Buck to have a heart-to-heart talk with Lindor about cutting down his swing and putting the ball in play.

I’m also beginning to wonder whether with the addition of the pitch clock, veteran pitchers may be running out of gas and are more susceptible to the big inning, like the five-run fourth the Yankees put up against Scherzer. Pitchers, especially veteran pitchers, need to build up their endurance through running in the Pitch Clock Era after a career of taking their sweet time between innings and slowing it down when they get in trouble.

Perhaps Buck is a bit fed up with the constant interference of the analytic brigade, too. He recently used the word “we’’ when discussing how the lineup is made out. Nerds have their fingers in making out the lineup. Then came this comment from the evaluator about the GM. “Billy does not understand pitching. He never had enough pitching.’’

Are the Mets pitchers pitching to their potential?

“Some of those guys are better than they’re pitching, I can tell you that,’’ the evaluator said.

Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner must do a better job with the staff. There are pitching people above Hefner as well. In their Baseball Analytics/Baseball Strategy department, I counted 23 names, so who knows who’s calling the shots on all this. Then there are another 16 in the Baseball Systems department. It’s a maze of analytics and their theories, including the love for the 3-2 slider.

Max Scherzer #21 of the New York Mets watches from the dugout, with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner #55, right, during the second inning of game two of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on May 3, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

“They have this fear you can’t throw fastballs,’’ the evaluator said. “What happens is you become overly predictable and they all have that fear to throw fastballs because they don’t understand because fastballs get hit but they get hit because on 3-1, guys throw fastballs right down the middle of the freaking plate like Severino did the second pitch of the game on Nimmo’s home run.’’

Yep, it’s a problem league wide.

The good old challenge of the country hardball fastball is practically extinct, which is kind of funny because you see so many hitters, a lot of Mets hitters too, frozen by fastballs right down the middle. As I always say: OverNerding. To his credit, Gerrit Cole was challenging the Mets with fastballs on Wednesday night; but the Yankees, who love to yank starting pitchers out of the game, took Cole out after 95 pitches.

The Mets are 28th hitting with runners in scoring position with a .228 mark. They are 28th in doubles, always a key AMBS stat, 18th in runs and 28th in BABIP; how about just putting the ball in play? On the pitching side, I will only throw one statistic at you: the Mets are 28th in ERA with a 4.73 mark.

What they are doing, preaching, and teaching is not working. Approaches need to change. The shortstop cannot continue to swing from his heels and bat .200 left handed and .214 overall. The ace can’t continue to throw his shaped slider that is getting pounded. Those 39 individuals in the analytics/strategy/systems department make up their own 40-man roster and need to do a better job of evaluating and teaching, if they are capable of teaching.

Add Eppler to the mix and it is exactly 40.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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