Random Thoughts From an Afternoon at Citi Field

As a baseball writer who went to a baseball game, I should probably write about actual baseball events.

I could talk about the Mets gaining a modicum of revenge against the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday afternoon, winning a World Series rematch by a final score of 4-3. I could write about Matt Reynolds—whose name elicited a sigh when I saw the starting lineup—hitting his first career home run to break the tie. Or I could discuss the terror of seeing Alejandro De Aza warm up in center field before the inning and frantically searching my phone for news on Yoenis Cespedes.

Nah, I do enough of that. Instead, I’ll reflect on my first Citi Field experience of the year through the stadium rituals and happenings that don’t translate to TV. I’m sick of writing introductions by now, so let’s just get into these unnecessary words.


The Kiss Cam is Still a Thing?

After the Kiss Cam controversy that unfolded last year, I was surprised when it reared its useless head. I feel like this is such a pointless thing that one person complaining would be enough for them to realize it’s not worth the hassle.

Nope, they’re still pressuring people to engage in an intimate, personal moment on a giant screen in front of 35,000 people. Other than maybe a creepily close brother and sister who are getting bad ideas from the Lannister twins and realizing everyone would just assume they’re a couple so no harm no foul, who does this serve?

The weirdest part: There’s such an easy solution to all of the Kiss Cam’s problems. Make it a Hug Cam.

The camera crew no longer has to find a man and a woman—same-sex partners are only featured for the overplayed “Look at those two guys on the other team. We put them on the Kiss Cam, so that means they’re gay!” gag that caused trouble in the first place—and hope they’re not related.

We’ll never have to watch a woman burst out laughing in a way that makes you want to jump in front of the 7 train in embarrassment on the poor dude’s behalf. Instead of recoiling over the transfer of cooties, children can participate. And that’s the whole point of pretty much every other between-innings diversion.

There you go, every ballpark in America. I somehow just became the least likely hug endorser ever. (Don’t mistake this as an invitation to hug me.)


No Way, Jose

On the morning drive to the train station, I listened to Loudmouth Sports Radio Pundits 1 and 2 discuss the previous night’s game. Addressing rumors of a possible reunion, Mets fans showed their support for Jose Reyes by nostalgically chanting “Jose, Jose Jose Jose.” I dreaded the same happening this game.

Jose Reyes was probably the most exciting Met of my lifetime. He’s the best shortstop in franchise history. I don’t want him back.

Last October, he was arrested in Hawaii for allegedly assaulting his wife in a hotel room and shoving her into a glass balcony door. Although he was charged with domestic violence and scheduled for a trial around the start of the season, the case was dropped when his wife refused to cooperate.

Those “Jose” chants I feared never came, but I saw something which shook me far more. A boy, who seemed around 10-12 years old, sported a Reyes shirt.

I wondered if he knew of Reyes’ domestic-violence charges, or if he’d even know what that means. Were his parents scared of shattering his naiveté, or did they not care?

It was annoying enough when a 20-something bro proudly pointed to his Reyes jersey on the Titan Tron. This kid, however, didn’t buy the Reyes shirt. He didn’t dig it out of his closet. He didn’t weigh the pros and cons and knowingly decide that the shortstop served his 50-game suspension and everyone deserves a second chance.

He was a toddler back when others gushed over Reyes’ frenetic energy and passion on the baseball field. Hell, he might have just been wearing a hand-me-down of a player he doesn’t know. That kid probably had no idea that I looked at the name donning his back in disgust. Maybe he figured out when a protester pleaded with fans exiting Citi Field to sign his petition against signing Reyes.

It wasn’t a completely bad day for shirts; the “Big Sexy” Colon jersey and Bill Murray Tune Squad uniform helped save the day. But now more than anything, I wish the Mets passed on Reyes—reports on Saturday morning have a reunion looking like a done deal—so I would never see another young boy representing him with the same team logo I wear.


Play Us a Less Depressing Song, Piano Man

Did I leave Citi Field liking Danza Kuduro more than Piano Man?

Let’s back up. I have nothing against Billy Joel. Piano Man is a fine song, but did whoever chose it actually know the lyrics? Do this sound tonally appropriate for a summer afternoon of watching grown men play with balls and sticks?

And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessmen slowly get stoned
Yes, they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it’s better than drinkin’ alone

Play ball!

Citi Field had made Piano Man its eighth-inning routine, but the final frame features a more cheerful tradition. When Danza Kuduro blasted from the loudspeakers and Jeurys Familia bolted from the bullpen, the crowd collectively went bonkers.

I looked up the lyrics translated to English, and yeah, a 12-year-old could have wrote it. Who cares? The Mets are winning, and they’re now calling upon their best reliever to cement their victory, which he did.

Just as importantly, the upbeat tempo fits the fiery pitcher perfectly. Noah Syndergaard using it would be weird, and the Game of Thrones theme wouldn’t work as well for Familia. It’s not Mariano Rivera trotting out to Enter Sandman (neither the song nor closer holds up), but it incites an equally fuzzy feeling in the heart of Mets fans.

You know a theme song works when the person and music become forever intertwined. Google Jeurys Familia, and the first thing that pops up is “Jeurys Familia song.” If I ever hear that song in another setting, I’ll immediate turn to the nearest door and commend Terry Collins for finally removing me from the game.

If I’m driving alone playing with the radio, I’d probably rather come across Piano Man. While I’m at a baseball game trying to believe that the Mets will stop killing me—based on the Reyes news, I guess not—maybe play another song.


2016 Fantasy Baseball Targets: ‘Always Sunny’ Edition

All good things in life come with an expiration date. That leftover pizza will go bad sooner or later. You’ll eventually live long enough to watch the athletes you grew up idolizing wither away and retire. When forced to keep churning out content long enough, the best TV shows will run out of ideas and fade to mediocrity.

Some shows (Breaking Bad, Parks and Recreation) have the wherewithal to quit while they’re ahead. Others are forced into early retirement, creating Netflix gems (Freaks and Greaks, Better Off Ted, Terriers) that didn’t live long enough to decline. Then there’s Arrested Development, which started as the former but is in grave danger of deteriorating into the latter.

When comedies stick around, it often tarnishes its legacy with diminishing results. See the past decade of The Simpsons and The Office post-Steve Carrell. Yet there are always exceptions to the rule.

It’s Always in Philadelphia should have run its course by now. How long can viewers enjoy watching a group of horrible human beings waste their lives and drag all bystanders down with them, all without showing any signs of growth? In any other sitcom, The Gang would have found perfect love interests and career paths by now. Not Dennis, Dee, Charlie, Mac and Frank, who up the ante on their gruesome behavior on a weekly basis.

Against all common logic, it’s still awesome. The recently concluded 11th season was as funny as sharp as any other in the FX show’s illustrious run. Already renewed for a 12th season, Always Sunny still runs circles around newer comedies desperately trying to replicate its tone while somehow making unlikeable assholes likeable.

Most baseball players follow The Office career arc, succumbing to overused tropes and rusty limbs. Injuries are always a heightened concern for older guys; Jhonny Peralta, out for two-to-three months with a thumb injury, would have received recognition if I wrote this two weeks ago.

Some, like the owners of Paddy’s Pub, simply won’t go away. These aren’t flashy, exciting picks. None of them are even champions of the sun or experts in bird law. But as drafters annually assume this is the year they bottom out, a savvy manager can snag bargains in the form of trustworthy veterans.

David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox

Addressing Fenway Park after the Boston Marathon bombings, David Ortiz proudly dropped an F-bomb to gaudy cheers from parents and children alike. There’s no better representative for what Always Sunny has accomplished over the years.

Big Papi enters his final season with a No. 82 average-draft position, according to Fantasy Pros, which leaves him selected after the likes of Adam Wainwright, Ian Kinsler and Yasiel Puig. Adrian Gonzalez (60) and Prince Fielder (69) are going much higher despite offering similar, if not inferior production last year:

David Ortiz: 614 PA, .273/.360/.553, 37 HR, 108 RBI, 73 R, 138 wRC+

Adrian Gonzalez: 643 PA, .275/.360/.480, 28 HR, 90 RBI, 76 R, 129 wRC+

Prince Fielder: 692 PA, .305/.378/.463, 23 HR, 98 RBI, 78 R, 124 wRC+

Power always come at a premium, and Ortiz is one of six players to crush more than 100 homers over the last three seasons. The other guys are all grabbed inside the top 40, but not Ortiz, the only player with an active streak of three straight 30-homer, 100-RBI campaigns.

He only played nine games at first base, so most owners must employ him in a utility spot. Fine with me. Extreme shifts have reduced his average, but he routinely crushes the ball with hard-hit percentages above 40. Maybe he hits .260, but it won’t dip any lower. Again, totally fine for an elite power bat.

He gave everyone quite by a scare last season, entering the All-Star break hitting .231/.326/.435. Some drafters probably fear the 40-year-old capitulating to another funk he can’t break this time. Considering he then batted .325/.401/.701, a healthy Ortiz should close out his career strong.

Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Mets

Before upping his batting average to .257 last year, Curtis Granderson previously hit .232, .229 and .227. Those results have everyone expecting regression in 2016, but don’t discredit sizable improvements the Grandy Man made to erase a liability.

Despite a weak first year with the Mets, the right fielder was still inserted into the leadoff role. He responded with a career-high 27.0 line-drive percentage and 37.0 hard-hit rate. Even while ending 22.1 percent of his plate appearances via strikeout, he swung at less pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing %), made more contact and whiffed far less often (SwStr %) than the previous two seasons:

2013: 31.3 O-Swing %, 69.5 Contact %, 13.6 SwStr %

2014: 26.2 O-Swing %, 76.8 Contact %, 9.7 SwStr %

2015: 20.5 O-Swing %, 81.6 Contact %, 6.9 SwStr %

If all these improvements stick, another .250-.260 average isn’t out of the question. That’s more than enough to make him a superb No. 3 outfielder in all leagues. Last year, he scored 98 runs despite playing most of the first half with Eric Campbell, John Mayberry and Kevin Plawecki in the lineup. Over the final two months, after the Mets promoted Michael Conforto, welcomed back David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud, and acquired Yoenis Cespedes, Granderson crossed home plate 45 times in 54 games.

Throw in 20 homers and 10 steals, and he makes an enticing bargain at his No. 138 going rate. He’s also easily a top 100 option in leagues substituting batting average for on-base percentage.


Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Detroit Tigers

Few people are afforded the same loyalty of an experienced closer. It doesn’t matter if their skills erode or younger teammates surpass their productivity, MLB managers live and die with veterans who have accumulated saves in the past.

With more ninth-inning uncertainty than ever this spring, drafters may gravitate more toward positional scarcity. Jonathan Papelbon and Huston Street are boring regression candidates, but they’re not going anywhere

Francisco Rodriguez goes in the same tier, netting a No. 124 ADP compared to Papelbon’s No. 128 and Street’s 129. Despite their tight grouping, Rodriguez is comfortably the best of the veteran trio.

For starters, gamers should desire high-strikeout relievers, especially in leagues with a tight innings cap. Nicknamed for his gaudy punchout tallies 14 years ago, K-Rod has fanned at least one batter per inning every season. Last year, he set down 62 batters in 57 innings.

He has also exhibited sharper command, issuing a career-low 11 walks to give him a 23.6 strikeout-minus-walks percentage (K-BB%). That figure ranks slightly ahead of Wade Davis.

Rodriguez benefited from a .234 BABIP, which foreshadows regression for his 2.21 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. His draft cost, however, already reflects an expected dropoff. Given his 70.7 contact percentage, 2.91 FIP and 2.42 SIERA, we’re not talking a major decline.

Anyone who misses on desirable low-level No. 1 closers (Zach Britton, Ken Giles, Cody Allen, David Robertson) can pivot to K-Rod, who offers enough security to gamble on high-upside relievers (Jake McGee, Brad Boxberger, Sean Doolittle) later.

All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. 


2016 Fantasy Baseball Targets: ‘The Leftovers’ Edition

In a positive development for pessimists, a golden age of depressing TV has unfolded. The Leftovers proudly leads the charge after a triumphant second season, but not before vanquishing memories of a disappointing debut.

As someone nicknamed “The Crown Prince of Sadness” in college, any nihilistic show typically drives right up my alley. At first, however, The Leftovers was too unbearably bleak even for my sadistic taste.

It wasn’t just the musical score compelling viewers to crawl in the fetal position. Watching an entire cast of defeated characters slowly submit to a post-departure world in a town seized by a chain-smoking cult made for a grueling hour of TV. For all the hype around an HBO show steered by the co-creator of Lost, it fell flat with unsubtle symbolism and unrelentingly grim storytelling which made it feel more like a chore than entertainment.

Then, a Miracle happened. Showrunner Damon Lindelof moved the show to a small town in Texas untouched by the Sudden Departure, effectively trimming the fat on needless characters and demoting The Guilty Remnant to looming background players. There were hints of a hit buried within the first season—the phenomenal episode centering around Nora Jamison showed its award-winning upside. In the second season, perhaps after some disgruntled viewers moved on to the next new drama, it delivered poignant, beautiful TV almost every week without sacrificing its sad underbelly.

There’s a valuable takeaway here for fantasy baseball drafters. (Yes, this is a fantasy baseball article without any mention of it until the fifth graph. Props to the two of you still reading!) Not every TV show or baseball player is going to immediately emerge a finished product. It takes adjustments, maturation and patience, but a disappointing trial run isn’t the end of the world.

Strip away the The Leftovers lede, and this is a piece about post-hype breakout candidates. These rookies entered 2015 as shiny new objects, and drafters filled in the unknown blanks with endless possibilities. Instead of meeting those expectations, they proved fallible novices with middling short-term value. They also, however, offered visions of future stardom they can realize as soon as 2016. Now seen as the flawed humans they are, they’re no longer the shiny new commodities everyone wants.

By stubbornly honoring the concept of second-season breakouts I left out several post-hype candidates (Rougned Odor, Nick Castellanos, Wil Myers, Travis d’Arnaud, Kevin Gausman) entering their third or fourth year. Perhaps another post will follow. For now, let’s focus on a trio of sophomores looking to escape Mapleton and find sanctuary as fantasy studs elsewhere.

Addison Russell, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs

It’s hard to complain about a middle infielder who clubbed 13 homers during his rookie campaign, but a .242/.307/.389 slash line won’t whip anyone into a frenzy. While Addison Russell’s glove provided the Chicago Cubs terrific value, those defensive gains didn’t translate to fantasy investors.

Several factors have curtailed any buzz around Russell heading into his sophomore season. A 28.5 strikeout percentage and 13.7 whiff rate caused his poor average, and he only swiped four bags in seven opportunities. Ever since accruing 26 steals in 2013, he hasn’t tested his luck much on the basepaths.

There’s also the lingering threat of Cubs manager Joe Maddon continuing to bat the young talent in the No. 9 hole. In a loaded lineup now featuring on-base fiends Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, Russell will have to hit his way out of that unappealing spot, which stifles his plate appearances and run-producing opportunities.

All perfectly rational reasons not to chase Russell, and drafters definitely shouldn’t extend their reach too high in re-draft formats. On the other hand, he’s a 22-year-old with power and duel eligibility at second base and shortstop. His defense doesn’t directly help fantasy owners, but it assures regular playing time through any growing pains.

He also improved throughout his first go-around, batting .259/.318/.427 with eight dingers after the All-Star break. Along with slicing his strikeout rate from 31.1 to 25.8 percent, he upped his hard-hit rate from 23.8 to 30.2. If those developments stick, he’ll have no trouble comfortably finishing 2016 as a top-10 shortstop.

Perhaps Russell would receive more recognition in another year, but he happened to have debuted months before Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager. These guys join Xander Bogaerts and other premier shortstop prospects (J.P. Crawford, Dansby Swanson, Brendan Rodgers, Alex Bregman) in what could become a renaissance for the maligned position. But just as The Leftovers has struggled to match the popularity of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and other mainstream hits, Russell is getting lost in the shuffle of an expanding crop.

Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners

The other guys on this list followed a more conventional blueprint to post-hype candidacy. After looking overmatched at the onset, they made improvements and inspired confidence with strong finishes.

Taijuan Walker had his moment. A moment where he seemingly figured it all out and was ready to steal Felix Hernandez’s crown. Instead of a September surge leaving everyone eager to renew him for one more season, his glory got tucked in the middle of an erratic year.

First, let’s not forget how ridiculously bad Walker looked to start the season. The Seattle Mariners’ neophyte surrendered 37 runs (35 earned) during his first 50 innings, issuing 23 walks and eight home runs before fantasy investors issued him a pink slip to the waiver wire.

Let’s also not forget how ridiculously good Walker then looked over the next two months. Over June and July the righty garnered 74 strikeouts to eight walks. It only resulted in a 3.69 ERA, but an astute gamer takes notice of a highly regarded prospect posting Kershaw-ian strikeout-walk rates.

His 4.56 ERA won’t make him a hot 2016 draft commodity, but this is the year to invest before his price skyrockets. Walker’s 16.1 strikeout-minus-walks percentage ranked No. 23 among qualified starters, ahead of Hernandez, Jordan Zimmermann, Johnny Cueto and Sonny Gray.  As a result, his 3.69 skill-interactive ERA (SIERA) points to positive gains, and the Seattle Mariners won’t coddle the 23-year-old during his second full season.

Everyone loves a bold prediction, including the writers not held accountable for them going wrong. Here’s one: Walker finishes 2016 as Seattle’s most valuable fantasy pitcher. Only remember this on the 10 percent chance of it coming true.

Carlos Rodon, SP, Chicago White Sox

Carlos Rodon strutted into the majors with boundless expectations. The 2014 No. 3 amateur draft pick had scouts drooling over his 6’3″, 234-pound frame and nasty slider. On paper, he was a sure thing.

Initially, however, the Chicago White Sox southpaw proved as unwatchable as any scene with Jill Garvey’s insufferable friends. (What was the point to those twins?) Throwing hard and striking out guys is great, but simply throwing strikes is also nice. He struggled to do so, relinquishing 41 walks through his first 66.1 innings. Fanning over a batter per inning couldn’t save him from entering the break muzzled by a 1.61 WHIP.

Rodon’s ensuing 9.7 walk percentage (30 in 73 innings) isn’t particularly good, but it’s progress. He’s never going to wield pinpoint command like Bartolo Colon, and that’s fine. Better comparisons are Tyson Ross, Francisco Liriano and Gio Gonzalez, all southpaws with strong sliders who have overcome below-average walk rates with fistfuls of strikeouts and weak contact. If he can get a smidge stingier on free passes and boost his 46.8 ground-ball rate over 50 percent, Rodon can follow their example and morph into a major ERA and strikeout asset for anyone who can tolerate his lackluster WHIP.

Rodon also concluded his rookie season with his Nora episode. From Aug. 1 onward, he compiled a 2.28 ERA, and he also flashed his ace upside with two double-digit strikeout tallies in 23 starts. According to FantasyPros, early ADPs have him selected barely outside the top-50 starting pitchers. Just as The Leftovers leaped into most “TV’s Best of 2015” lists, Rodon could wrap up his second year as a top-20 hurler.

Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.