British author and statistician Dennis Lindley wrote, “We are not concerned with the matter that is uncertain; it is only the manipulation of uncertainty that interests us. Thus we do not study the mechanism of rain; only whether it will rain.”
And so it is.
This winter, the New York Mets are baseball’s definition of uncertainty. There is uncertainty everywhere in Flushing.
There is uncertainty surrounding the team’s core. Will David Wright hit for power again? Can Jose Reyes stay healthy? Which Jeff Francoeur will show up this season: The guy who hit .250 in Atlanta or the guy who hit .311 in New York?
There is uncertainty about the pitching staff. Will the real Mike Pelfrey please stand up? Can Oliver Perez ever be an effective, consistent starting pitcher? Can John Maine stay healthy and be a durable starter? Is Jonathan Niese ready?
There is already uncertainty about the newest Met too. Will Jason Bay hit home runs? Can he cover the spacious gaps at Citi Field?
This is not news. The New York media has been manipulating the uncertainty that has surrounded the Mets since the final out of the 2009 season. Remember what Lindley wrote, “…we do not study the mechanism of rain; only whether it will rain.”
Mets manager Jerry Manuel didn’t watch the World Series but, make no mistake, his mind was focused on the mechanism that kept the Yankees and Phillies playing -- in the rain – deep into October.
“Everybody puts an emphasis on pitching and defense, we really have to emphasize that now,” Manuel said at December’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis. “Last spring we put an emphasis on hitting. This year it will be on defense and pitching. If we can pitch and catch the baseball, it will give us an excellent opportunity to win.”
But, so far this winter, the Boston Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies have won the arms race. Is it coincidence that the last three world champions raced out and secured the best starting pitchers on the open market?
John Lackey. Roy Halladay. Javier Vazquez. Andy Pettitte. Cliff Lee. Randy Wolf. Kevin Millwood. Max Scherzer. Edwin Jackson. Rich Harden. Tim Hudson. Jason Marquis. Carlos Silva. Pitching, the foundation of every championship team, was the primary target for most this winter.
“Nobody likes to hear it, because it's dull, but the reason you win or lose is always the same – pitching,” former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver always said.
The heavy lifting that led the New York Yankees to a World Series title last October began 11 months earlier when general manager Brian Cashman signed free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett. Eight days later the Yankees announced the signing of C.C. Sabathia, and later added experience and depth when they re-signed Andy Pettitte.
Don’t be mistaken, like the method or not, signing Burnett, Sabathia and Pettitte in the winter, and winning the World Series the next fall, is the mechanism. Pitching is the mechanism. History bears the truth.
In 2008, same story, different team. The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series and ace Cole Hamels eventually claimed the Most Valuable Player honors. Phils GM Pat Gillick went shopping the winter prior and landed Brad Lidge from the Houston Astros in a five-player deal. Lidge turned in a perfect season for a closer, converting all 41 of his save opportunities during the regular season.
With Hamels as the ace, Lidge as the closer and the ageless Jamie Moyer, Gillick added help, acquiring starter Joe Blanton from the Oakland Athletics in July. The Phillies were primed and perfectly positioned to make a classic run.
Prior to Hamels MVP honor in 2008, Josh Beckett led the Florida Marlins past the Yankees in 2003 and won the award. In 2001, Randy Johnson picked up the most valuable honors, teaming with Curt Schilling and the Arizona Diamondbacks to knock off the Yankees. Since 1995, eight pitchers have won the World Series MVP.
Johnny Podres won the first award in 1955. A pitcher won the award in 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1959. Twelve of the first 14 World Series MVP’s were pitchers. Since 1955, the year of the first Major League Baseball MVP award, 26 pitchers (22 starting pitchers and 4 relievers).
When the Boston Red Sox captured their second World Series of the decade in 2007, again, look back to the previous winter. On Thanksgiving Day 2006 Sox GM Theo Epstein pulled the trigger on a seven-player deal that landed Josh Beckett in Boston. One month later he outbid the Yankees and Mets to purchase the contract of Daisuke Matsuzaka from the Seibu Lions. Jon Lester also returned in July 2007 from cancer and eventually earned the win in the Series clincher.
The only effort the Mets have made to manipulate their uncertain pitching staff is sign 33-year old, oft-injured free agent Kelvim Escobar. Pitchers and catchers report in less than six weeks as menacing clouds begin to form over Citi Field and one thing is certain: it will rain.