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Mudville: March 2, 2024 9:56 pm PDT

Another Fine Mess

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Cue Laurel & Hardy.

The exact quote from Oliver Hardy to his buddy Stan Laurel was “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into,’’ though the 1930 film was called Another Fine Mess.

Such is the life of a Mets fan. Another nice mess.

This was the ultimate June Swoon, a classic. It was so bad that the Leavin’ for Las Vegas A’s won more games in June than the 7-19 Mets.

Faithful readers of The Story know we tried to warn Mr. Billions Steve Cohen about relying on analytics and GM Billy Eppler, who could not build pitching in his previous stop, and who failed with such astute managers as Mike Scioscia and Joe Maddon running the Angels, but Cohen knew better.

To me the most amazin’ comment in Cohen’s high-top Mets table talk press conference was this: “We haven’t developed any pitching, which is actually pretty shocking.’’

Did Steve Cohen not see the ERA totals from the Angels during Eppler’s reign?

Spelled them out here at BallNine in a column a while back.

You are amazed that a GM who could not develop pitching in Anaheim has not developed pitching in Flushing? Come on Uncle Steve, do your homework.

If you make Billy Eppler your GM you have to back him up with strong leadership that knows how to develop pitching. If not, you are in trouble. Despite the $344.1 million payroll the Mets have this season, they are in a world of hurt. They ended the month of June 18 games behind the NL East leading Braves.

Even Rob Manfred’s watered down postseason party likely can’t help the Mets now.

And building a pitching staff is not done with pitching labs or developing the shapes of pitches, it’s done with instructors who know pitching mechanics. Frank Viola was such an instructor in the Mets organization – but he is no longer with the Mets.

Signing the band-aid of overpaid former pitching stars who are now close to over the hill like Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander isn’t the answer either. Give that $86 million you’re spending on Scherzer and Verlander this season, two pitchers who have a combined age of 78, to efficient evaluators – and you will find pitching.

The Angels are still trying to climb out of their pitching hole and Angels GM Perry Minasian has told those close to him just that.

Talent, toughness, and solid mechanics are the keys to good pitching. No matter what you hear, that is a baseball truth.

“All the modern analytic pitching people,’’ remarked one top evaluator, a former pitcher, to BallNine, “say that mechanics fix cars, it has nothing to do with pitching.’’

A lot of cars on pitching mounds in MLB need a tune-up. The injuries continue no matter how much they limit innings, pitches, and outings.

“They are completely wrong,’’ the evaluator said of the new way. “If you don’t have your foundation you are screwed. That’s the bottom line. Same thing with hitting. Why did Tony Gwynn work all the time on his swing? He built a foundation so when he got up he could go hit, not have to think about it.’’

The Mets are proud of their Port St. Lucie pitching lab, but it has to be more than that to turn everything around. Those running the lab recommend Mets pitchers throw 3-2 fastballs throughout the organization. Again, I think in baseball terms, how about commanding the 3-2 fastball or the 2-2 fastball – so it doesn’t even get to 3-2.

The good news is Cohen can make another Bobby Bonilla joke about having to pay Bobby his $1.2 million that was due Saturday and is due every July 1 until 2035.

In fact, I’ll go a step further, I have never seen so many hitters as this generation of hitters who get beat by fastballs. They are guessing breaking ball and being scorched by the fastball. Brandon Nimmo struck out on just such a fastball to end Friday night’s game after Marte was tossed out at second base.

One scout who has seen the Mets pitching throughout every level of the organization said, “When Frank Viola was there he taught all their guys to throw changeups and become good pitchers. And Frank Viola got pushed out the door. For so many years the Mets were one of the better pitching organizations … even going way back. They had pitching.’’

No more.

“The prospects are not getting better,’’ the scout said. “That’s the biggest issue.’’

To be fair, that’s not just happening with the Mets, it’s happening with a lot of organizations. “I would say more guys are stagnating or going backward than forward,’’ the scout added.

Then this: “The guys who seem to be going forward are the prospects they don’t work with or the so-called ‘non- prospects,’ who may pick up a few miles on their fastball and have a little bit more toughness to them.’’

When you make everything a science project it catches up to you. Change speeds, change eye levels. You know, pitch.

“You have guys who can’t add and subtract that are trying to do calculus with analytics and that doesn’t help them at all,’’ one scout noted, simply a fantastic over the target comment.

It doesn’t add up.

“You have to know what your best pitch is and make it – because even the best hitters make outs seven out of 10 times,’’ the scout said.

And now it’s even worse. In the entire major league right now there are only 10 batters hitting over .300, with Luis Arraez leading the way at .389. Again, only 10 hitters in the .300 club.

That’s it, 10 batters – yet these pitchers are afraid to attack.

New York Mets owner Steve Cohen speaks to the media before a game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field on June 28, 2023 in Flushing, Queens. The Brewers defeated the Mets 5-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

“Pitchers lack confidence,’’ the scout said. “They pitch like they are scared to death of the hitters. All they try to do is miss bats as opposed to get(ting) outs.’’

Steve Cohen has bought into that mentality.

Getting outs used to be the name of the pitching game; now it’s missing bats. The results are not pretty. Here are some hard numbers. The Mets are 25th overall in ERA at 4.56. It gets worse on the road where their ERA is 5.04. Overall they are 22nd in bullpen ERA at 4.27. All that puts a lot of stress on the Mets’ offense.

The good news is Cohen can make another Bobby Bonilla joke about having to pay Bobby his $1.2 million that was due Saturday and is due every July 1 until 2035.

Cohen is surprised that the pitching out of the bullpen has fallen apart even though that bullpen was not beefed up after losing closer Edwin Diaz to that knee injury in mid-March.

As for the Mets collapse in general, the owner noted, “It’s kind of weird, it’s really strange to me.’’

How can it be strange to you if you’re really a lifelong Mets fan?

This is what the Mets do, it’s kind of weird, especially if they don’t have the pitching and they live in a world where the starters get a gold star if they make it through the fifth inning. Yep, $344.1 million doesn’t get what it used to in baseball.

Another thing I love is the Russian Roulette form of relief the Mets and nearly every Nerd team uses; a new relief pitcher every inning once the starter comes out. Doesn’t matter if you get the side out on 10 pitches, you are not going back out there. Time to bring in another sweeper man or bricklayer throwing baseballs against the wall to improve arm strength. That strategy is bound to find the pitcher that night who will fail. But it seems from his press conference, Cohen is going to double down on his belief in analytics to run a baseball team, and probably hire either David Stearns or Jon Daniels as his baseball operations emperor to oversee the franchise.

Good luck with that.

Cohen’s $341 million investment in shortstop Francisco Lindor was a bust this year too. The player who once gave thumbs down to Mets fans and really meant it, is going home run or bust on every swing and is hitting .225. And where’s the leadership from Lindor?

How about getting on some of the other veterans to wake up.

Casey Schmitt #6 of the San Francisco Giants reacts after tagging Starling Marte #6 of the New York Mets out at second base while attempting to steal during the ninth inning of the game at Citi Field on June 30, 2023. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

Starling Marte’s OPS is down to .634. I use that number because batting average and strikeouts mean nothing to the Nerds.

I had to chuckle watching the end of the Mets game and their 5-4 loss to the Giants on Friday night at CitiField, when baseball savvy Giants rookie catcher Patrick Bailey’s three-run home run in the eighth inning against David Robertson was the difference.

Buck Showalter had been skewered because he didn’t bring Robertson into the game in the eighth inning of a dreadful loss earlier in the week, so this time he took no chances and brought him in in the eighth inning. The end result? It’s not what you want.

Robertson is 38. So the three most important pitchers on the Mets staff are a combined 116 years old. Yikes!

After the Giants took the lead, the TV cameras showed Marte, who was given the day off after his pathetic ninth inning strikeout the night before, sitting on the Mets bench. Pretty much right after that, Marte went into pinch run and was thrown out trying to steal second by Bailey; a great, quick throw.

My immediate reaction was, “Hey they just showed Marte sitting on the bench, did the veteran bother to stretch or run in the indoor cages to get loose for his pinch-running duties?”

Silly me to consider baseball thoughts.

Just one of the many baseball thoughts I wonder about these Mets.

I am a strong believer in baseball karma too. I thought it was a little bit of a hot dog move for Pete Alonso to be yelling at the Braves pitcher from the dugout on June 6 after he hit a home run against that pitcher, screaming, “Throw it again!’’

Act like you’ve been there before, Pete. Because you have.

Again, just a baseball thought that cannot be analytically analyzed.

New York Mets Pitcher David Robertson (30) delivers a pitch during the eighth inning game between the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets on June 30, 2023, at Citi Field in Flushing, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Since the excitable Alonso yelled that comment that was caught by the cameras, the Mets, going into Saturday’s game, were 6-16 while the Braves put up a 19-3 record. Again, and I can’t help it, I believe in baseball karma.

Be humble. The Mets just seem to have a terrible habit of talking a big game when they haven’t achieved much. I go back to the time they were practicing their World Series victory celebration in spring training. Just not something I would recommend doing.

And then there were those starting pitchers who were going to be around for 10 years.

I need to also mention that Alonso just had the worst month of his career, batting .152 with a .222 on base percentage and a .364 slugging percentage in June; and in the 13 June games  since yelling “Throw it again!’’ he hit .149 with a .231 on-base percentage and .319 slugging percentage.

The Mets do have a mirror image team over on the West Coast in the Padres, who’ve been known to heavily spread the mustard as well. At least the Mets have two World Series championship teams in their history. The Padres have none – but they do have Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis, and Manny Machado.

Hard to believe the Mets and Padres met in the Wild Card round last October and after dispatching the Mets and then the Dodgers, the Padres were eliminated by the Phillies.

A hard fact is that last year’s October success does not mean anything the following season. The Padres are almost as much of a disappointment as the Mets – and if you live in San Diego they are certainly a bigger disappointment. The common thread is both owners spent a ton of money thinking money and the previous year’s success would guarantee 2023 success; and that numbers (analytics) are what baseball is all about.

There is a heart and soul to the game that can’t be calculated by numbers.

I’m sure if you asked Padres owner Peter Seidler, he would have a similar comment as Steve Cohen: “It’s kind of weird. I mean, it’s really strange to me.’’

It’s not strange to me.

Ballplayers are not putting in the all-around work that they once did, and the clubhouse used to be place of camaraderie when the game was talked about in a team way. No more. Everyone is in their own world … going over the analytics and not the game.

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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