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Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Mets take a walk on the wild side


: Legend has it that when George Stallings, who managed the Miracle Braves of 1914, baseball’s original worst-to-first story, was on his deathbed, the doctor asked him why his heart was so bad. "Oh, those bases on balls!" Stallings allegedly shot back, and died.

It’s probably apocryphal, but the point holds: walks can drive a manager’s blood pressure through the roof. That being the case, Willie Randolph may wonder what he’s gotten into in the pressure cooker that is New York. Whether due to Rick Peterson’s "I Can Fix It" approach or simply a coincidence, the Mets have brought in two starting pitchers over the past year who are most famous for their excessive walk totals: first Victor Zambrano, and now Kazuhisa Ishii. (Well, not really...now, Zambrano is most famous as the answer to the question, "For whom did the Mets trade Scott Kazmir?")

In 2004, Ishii and Zambrano combined for 22 games in which they walked more batters than they struck out. Ishii’s 13 were more than any pitcher except Kirk Rueter and Shawn Estes (14) and Daniel Cabrera (15). Since 2002, Rueter and Estes lead this statistic with 36 and 31 respectively. Ishii ranks seventh, with 27. Of course, the recently departed Al Leiter comes in at 25 (12 in 2004), and Steve Trachsel, whose injury opened the door for Ishii, performed the feat 24 times in those three years, with eight coming in ’04.

Players like Rueter and Leiter are on this list not because they’re lousy but because they are control artists who don’t strike guys out. Not so with Zambrano, who throws very hard but has no idea where the ball is going, or with Ishii, who doesn’t throw all that hard but still has no idea.

If you’re wondering, by the way, who lies between Estes and Ishii on the leaderboard, take a look…

Kirk Rueter 36
Shawn Estes 31
Aaron Sele 30
Jon Garland 29
Josh Fogg 28
Mike Hampton 28
Kenny Rogers 26
Damian Moss 25
Miguel Batista 25
Russ Ortiz 25
Jason Jennings 24
It should come as no surprise that the 2004 Mets were 26th out of 30 teams in both strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio. (Conversely, they walked the fifth most batters in the league.) They were also fifth worst in pitches per plate appearance, meaning that when batting against the Mets one would have longer at-bats than against all but four other teams. That by itself isn’t bad: there are some good staffs (the Mets, Astros and Cubs) near the top of that list, and some poor ones (Colorado, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Detroit) near the bottom. But the Astros and Cubs, who throw a lot of pitches, were also 1-2 in strikeouts per nine. They provided plenty of George Stallings moments for Art Howe in 2004.

That shouldn’t change in 2005. If anything, the changes they have made, not only to the pitching staff but to their defense, portend even more of the same.

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