Friday, June 30, 2006

Thoughts on the NBA Draft

You know how you get a song stuck in your head and it just won't go away? Well, I've got that problem today. Seriously, watch "The Great Escape" and just TRY not to whistle the theme song for hours on end.

Onto the NBA Draft. I should have written this sooner, because honestly, I'm not sure that everything hasn't already been said here and here. But, nevertheless, my own thoughts...

* I wasn't sure about Bargnani at #1, until I read John Hollinger's fantastic work on how his stats translate to the NBA. I'm still not sure he'll end up being the best player in the draft, but I'm sold on him being a strong NBA player at the least. For that matter, I have no idea who will be the best player in the draft. LaMarcus Aldridge didn't impress me in the tournament. Tyrus Thomas didn't impress me UNTIL the tournament. Brandon Roy didn't play anyone. Adam Morrison could easily end up as a whiter, taller, slightly better version of Cuttino Mobley (more on this below). People are just a LITTLE too hyped up about Randy Foye. Rudy Gay looks like a phenomenal player only in the intermittent moments where he gives a crap. So hey, why not Bargnani?

* Onto Morrison, whom I steadfastly refuse to compare with the two guys whose names have come up the most: Larry Bird and Wally Szczerbiak. I can't believe no one tried to find a way to throw John Stockton in there. Hey, he's a white guy from Gonzaga, too! Seriously, the whole "any good white, American basketball player between 6'5 and 6'10 must be compared to Larry Bird" thing bugs the hell out of me. Bird was one of the 5 best players ever to play the game. It's as ridiculous as comparing every athletic, black shooting guard to Michael Jordan, or every big point guard to Magic Johnson. Yet it's done constantly, because basketball writers and commentators either lack imagination themselves, or assume we lack imagination and can't bring ourselves to compare a white player to a black one. Morrison's not Bird. If, 10 years from now, he's got 9 or 10 all-star appearances, 3 MVP trophies, and 3 championship rings, we can talk about Larry Bird. Not until.

The Szczerbiak comparison bothers me just as much. "Hey, a white guy who loves to shoot and can't defend!" This, of course, completely overlooks the fact that Morrison is both a willing and able passer, while Szczerbiak is neither. Morrison makes his teammates better and say what you want about him, but the guy is a serious competitor. Does anyone look at Wally Szczerbiak and think he makes his teammates better? Forget it.

So for now, until I come up with something better, I'm going with a whiter, taller (and since he was taken 3rd overall, hopefully better), Cuttino Mobley. Mobley loves to shoot, does it well, but also is a quality passer who makes his teammates better. And he couldn't defend the chair I'm sitting in.

* Renaldo Balkman...I'm not sure there's anything more to be said. I've long had a soft spot for the Knicks, they even occupied the same space as my beloved Pistons for awhile, but at this point, it's like watching an ex-girlfriend with a drug problem working at a 7-11 during the day and stripping at a biker bar at night to make ends meet. I have no idea why they passed on Marcus Williams. None. I mean, I know Larry Brown was an old fuddy-duddy and all, but his thing about point guards that can actually, you know, pass the ball...it's not so unreasonable. Wouldn't it have made far more sense to take Williams, move Marbury to the two, use Francis as the third guard and play Marbury at the point when Williams needs a rest? Forget everyone else; Nate Robinson is a sideshow attraction at best.

* Got to give the Blazers credit. They turned Theo Ratliff, the #4 pick, Sebastian Telfair, Victor Khryapa, and some cash into LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Sergio Rodriguez, Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau. At first, I thought the Celtics got the better end of the Telfair deal, but it looked like Brandon Roy would be gone by then, and now, it looks strong for Portland. Once they get rid of Darius Miles and Zach Randolph, we might have to ditch the old JailBlazers moniker.

And I really love what the Blazers did when the T-Wolves tried to screw them out of their guy. According to Chad Ford, the T-Wolves took Brandon Roy with the intent of trading him to Houston for Randy Foye (who the Rockets would take at 8) and something else. So the Blazers returned the favor and took Foye instead, forcing the T-Wolves' hand. Nicely done. (Of course, there's a pretty good chance that Foye's the better player of the two anyway, but that's neither here nor there.)

* Speaking of that Telfair deal, the rumor is that Boston is trying to spin Telfair and a bunch of other stuff into a deal for Allen Iverson. That would be, if nothing else, very interesting. Certainly, an Iverson-Pierce combo would be one of the top two or three combos in the league. But could they work together? You can't have two guys trying to be the alpha dog, particularly when their role is to score first, pass later. Iverson has shown a consistent inability to work with a prominent #2 (Chris Webber is just the latest example of failure) and no signs at all that he's willing to play second fiddle to someone else. To be fair, Iverson's never had a teammate as good as Pierce, but something tells me that he's not going to just say "it's Paul's team, and I'm here to help." We'll see. Iverson's almost certain to get traded this summer, so maybe that will get the concept of "teamwork" through his head.

* Memphis swapped Shane Battier for Rudy Gay and Stromile Swift. Wow. I hated that deal at first for Houston, but I'm warming to it. With Yao and McGrady, it's not like Houston's third wheel is going to get a ton of shots anyway. Battier can make the open three and does all the little things that Houston didn't do last year. He can defend the other team's best swingman, freeing McGrady to expend less energy on defense. He's on par with Josh Howard in the "glue guy" department. So it's a good deal for Houston, though I think they could have gotten more.

Obviously, it's not hard to like that deal for Memphis...even if they did drop Swift in free agency last summer.

* Hilton Armstrong went 12th overall to New Orleans. See, this is why I should be a commentator: NONE of the ESPN guys came out and said, "wait a minute, what the hell did this guy do to merit a lottery pick?" I watched Connecticut a LOT this past year. Let's just say I never looked at Armstrong and thought, "that kid could be a really top-notch pro." On those fleeting occasions where Josh Boone gave a crap, Armstrong was the second best big man and by a good margin.

* Loved the Patrick O'Bryant pick for the same reason that Lan's Italian-American girlfriend loved the Andrea Bargnani pick. Incidentally, the Warriors will field a team next year containing Patrick O'Bryant, Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy. That said, I can't believe they passed on Gerry McNamara in round 2.

* We all picked up on the Ronnie Brewer "oh f**k, I'm going to Utah" face at the same time Bill Simmons did. It wasn't a full blown Steve Francis to Vancouver moment, but it was still fantastic.

* I like the JJ Redick pick; that was exactly what Orlando needed. If they're smart, they bring him off the bench as a 6th or 7th man, like Dale Ellis or Dell Curry used to be: he comes in for 15-20 minutes or so, buries some long threes, stretches the defense and takes heat off Dwight Howard and Darko Milicic. If they're dumb, they try to stick him in the starting backcourt with Jameer Nelson and the Magic set a record for points allowed in a season.

* I liked what the Pistons did, incidentally. I think Carlos Delfino would be a very good player, given enough minutes, and hopefully they freed up those minutes by trading Maurice Evans to the Lakers. In return, they got some foreign kid that Chad Ford is HUGE on (what a shock). I liked the pick of Will Blalock; he could be the backup point guard they need.

And with that, I'm off. Have a great July 4th weekend!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thoughts on "Instant History" and Outlet Malls

My job has some advantages and some disadvantages. One of the nice things is that I get to travel. The problem is that I get to travel to locales that fall just a tad bit short of "exotic". I've been traveling a lot the last couple weeks, so if you were wondering where I've been (perhaps you've emailed me, or wondered why I haven't posted much, or seen my face on a milk carton), that's where.

Anyway, one of these less-than-scenic locales has an outlet mall about 15 minutes away. With 2 1/2 hours between hearings, it seemed like a nice way to kill time. Understand, for the most part, I LOATHE shopping. I don't like spending money, and I definitely don't like having people around me telling me what I should and shouldn't wear. I've got two relatively (for me) expensive suits that are collecting dust in my closet because my wife and mother-in-law browbeat me into buying them. If my family and friends got together and had me on one of those TV shows where they surprise you with a makeover and new wardrobe and all that crap, I'd probably embark on a three-state killing spree. Nevertheless, I needed a new dress belt and wanted to purchase a couple books for my long weekend trip, and in any event, moseying around the outlet mall seemed preferable to sitting around a state office building.

Because I loathe most forms of shopping, particularly clothes shopping, I accomplish my task as fast as humanly possible. I once completed my Christmas shopping in 9 minutes and, while in high school, my back-to-school shopping in about 12. Indeed, I bought 2 new dress belts, a couple pairs of shorts, a new dress shirt and a new casual shirt in the span of about 15 minutes, and saved something like 65% off the regular price. The first store I went to offered $5 off coupons for the next two that were good for that day only. Apparently there was a major clearance sale. Score! I then moved on to the Borders Books Outlet.

Remember how I said I loathe most forms of shopping? Books are an exception. Given that most of them now sell beverages and pastries, I could stay in a Barnes & Noble indefinitely. However, this Borders Books wasn't quite up to snuff. You know how when you go to an outlet store, the merchandise there is usually low priced because they either had WAY too much of it, or it just wasn't all that great? This store was the latter. Not much book selection, nor was there much quality current stuff. One thing I couldn't help but notice was the tremendous compilation of what I call "instant history" books.

I have something of a problem with "instant history". By way of background, this is what I (and maybe many others, I don't know) call that body of literature that focuses on a recent event or history-maker, presents it with an alarmist or ultra-partisan viewpoint, and markets it to people with that exact same viewpoint, with the intent of making cash first, reinforcing an extreme viewpoint second, and writing a quality, informative piece of literature a distant third. Seriously, who's going to read a book called How George Bush Ruined America other than someone who believes that George Bush ruined America? Who's going to lead Ann Coulter's latest rant apart from someone who believes Hillary Clinton is the anti-Christ? Who's going to read Michael Moore's latest bit of drivel apart from someone who smokes acres of dope, dodges taxes, protests the Iraq war in faded, ripped bellbottom jeans, calls police officers "Nazi pigf**kers", lives in a multi-colored VW Microbus and writes in "Jacques Chirac" in every presidential election?

Okay, that last one was a gratuitious potshot, but you get my point.

Obviously, I don't have a problem with people making money in an honest or even semi-honest fashion, such as writing a book that took 5 minutes to research and 10 minutes to draft an outline for an otherwise-unemployed English major to follow and write. Not even Michael Moore. But it does bother me that these books are alloted as much shelf space as they are. I can find dozens of books on who's to blame for 9/11, blaming anyone from Bush to Clinton to the NYC police to the CIA to the FBI to the average Manhattanite. I found a book dissecting a hypothetical presidential race between Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton. Wen Ho Lee (remember him?) actually wrote a book about his experiences getting accused of spying for the Chinese. Some yutz wrote a book called The Cheney Code, no doubt thinking, "hey, people loved The DaVinci Code and they love making fun of Dick Cheney...why not throw those two together?" But finding a quality book about George Washington or Ulysses Grant is a serious pain in the ass. Believe me, I've looked. In a hundred years, who's going to care how much of a churlish prick Dick Cheney might have been? But we'll certainly remember who George Washington and Ulysses Grant were.

I suppose it's an offshoot of the increasing culture of wanting everything immediately. And over time, the important stuff gets remembered and memorialized and (we hope) written about by actual competent historians, and the rest gets dumped in the dustbin of history. So, people churn out half-baked books advancing a slanted point of view, make big sums of cash, and are then content to let their work end up in the bargain bin of a second-rate bookstore of an outlet mall, and that's that.

Maybe the bigger question is why I haven't horned in on this racket yet.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

What's Wrong With US Soccer

So, this was originally going to be a post on how I enjoy the World Cup. Well, I still do, but after yesterday's result, my tone has changed somewhat. So, here are five problems with US Soccer...

1. Arena must go.
Remember when the Pistons fired Rick Carlisle, despite a trip to the Conference Finals and a pair of consecutive division championships? At the time, Joe Dumars said that the Pistons had gone as far as they could go under Carlisle. Well, the same thing's true here. Arena's built a fine foundation, he did very well in getting the US to two straight World Cups and attaining our highest FIFA ranking ever. Now it's time to hit the bricks. This team's gone as far as they're going to go under Arena. There will be better coaches available after the World Cup; there ALWAYS are. Hell, Scolari was available after the 2002 World Cup and he only brought home the big gold trophy for Brazil. Guus Hiddink will probably be available, go get him.

Fact is, it's rare for a team to bring a coach to two straight World Cups, and three is all but unheard of. That's because it's just like any other sport; with few exceptions, it's hard to hear the same voice for that long unless you're having tremendous success.

2. F**kin' Refs.
I'm not a big believer in grand refereeing conspiracies. I believe that some officials are better than others, but that they all do the best they can to call the game as fairly as possible. Well, unless they're employed by Vince McMahon. Or the Italian Serie A. The refereeing in US matches in the World Cup was so one-sided that I thought Dwyane Wade was a striker on the other side. The officiating in the Italy match was horrible, and the awful PK call in the Ghana game all but knocked the US out of the tournament. Once Ghana went up 2-1, they went into a shell, counterattacking only when the time was right. It wasn't the only thing to cost the US a match, but it was the biggest.

3. F**kin' FIFA.
I will never understand this as long as I live: the US qualified first in CONCACAF. They beat Mexico head-to-head. They were ranked higher in the world rankings. They finished better at the 2002 World Cup, including another head-to-head win. So of course, it makes perfect sense that Mexico was given one of the 8 #1 seeds, instead of the US. As a result, Mexico was in a group with a second-tier European power (who, incidentally, embarassed them), and a pair of pushovers. The US gets stuck with two of the four best teams in Europe and a severely underrated African side. Mexico's on to round 2, despite the fact that they're probably a worse team than the US, and probably played worse at the World Cup. Amazing. Let's just say I won't be rushing out to the local flag store to purchase El Tricolor.

I didn't believe that FIFA had a bias against American soccer, but after the seeding and the officiating, I'm willing to reconsider.

4. Landon Donovan.
Easily the most disappointing US player at the World Cup. My buddy Landon has gone so far as to call him L.Donovan, arguing that he doesn't deserve the first name. I don't know what Donovan's problem was, but the fact is, he played like...um, something Ozzie Guillen would call Jay Mariotti. One has to wonder about Donovan's testicular fortitude. His refusal to transfer to the Premier League, and stay in MLS was first viewed as an admirable move for the good of the league, but at this point, I wonder if he just feels like he doesn't want to play against top talent.

5. Striker, anyone?
The US desperately needs a guy up front that can finish. McBride's good on headers, but that's all. And in any event, he'll probably be too old to be a regular on the next World Cup team. A midfielder who can put a shot on from 25+ yards out would be nice too; there was way too much sagging back by opposing defenses, as they knew the US would try to pass and dribble their way in for a clean shot. Maybe Clint Dempsey will be that world-class striker; he's still quite young, but was perhaps the best US player at this World Cup. Either that or try and sell Thierry Henry on the many benefits of American citizenship.

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One last thing, ever wonder about those one-name Brazil guys? Well, now you can be a one-name Brazil guy. Philaldo says, bang it here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Who Knew Free Booze Was So Hard To Give Away?

Yeah, I know, it's been forever since I posted. Hey, like I always say: it's free entertainment, and sometimes you get what you pay for.

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Every so often, I get reminded that I'm older than I sometimes think. This week, I had just such an example. Every so often, a couple of our local police forces get together to do sobriety field test training for the new recruits. They get a few human guinea pigs together, serve them booze until the place looks like an Irish Pub during the World Cup, and then have the recruits do field sobriety tests. (Obviously, before starting, they make sure you have a ride home.)

My wife and I volunteered for this, and I was told I could bring a friend, as well. I called six different guys...and everyone had a reason not to go.
"I gotta work late."
"I have a meeting with folks from out of town that I can't miss."
"I promised my grandmother I'd have dinner with her." (Couldn't blame him for this one. Never, EVER break a promise to Grandma.)
"I have an outstanding ticket and don't want to get a hard time from the cops."

It was at this point that I first realized that I'm obviously getting old. If I was 22 (and therefore, most of my friends were around that age), and I said "hey, you want free booze, pizza and an opportunity to know how field sobriety tests work?", guys would have been fighting each other on the front lawn to come along.

Also, I realized that I miss my buddy Pete. Pete, a dentist, could have had an emergency procedure scheduled for 4 pm, and if I'd called him at 3:45 with this offer, he'd have found someone to fill in, lined up a ride and been there at 3:47. Of course, Pete's also 32 going on 23. Here's hoping he sets up his practice in Rochester. And yet I digress.

I'm fairly certain I failed the field sobriety tests, as I overheard comments like, "yup, that's all we need", and "I got between .08 and .10, how about you?" and "sir, please turn around and face the tree, you're under arrest for driving under the influence." Afterwards, one of the officers in charge thanked me for helping out, saying, "you were the most consistent person there; everyone got the same results in each test. Some people were all over the place, so you were a lot of help." I can only assume that I therefore failed each of the seven (I think it was seven, I won't kid you: I lost count) sobriety tests I underwent.

The breathalyzer test I took when I came back confirmed this. I was apparently at .121 when I went outside, and .088 when I came back in.

The second clue that I was getting old was the dull, but noticeable headache I had for most of the next day. But for once, when asked, I could say, "it was for a good cause."

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So hey, how 'bout them Mets?

I've posted several times about them, and I'm sure you're tired of reading about them, so let me just say this: I don't give a shit. There. Glad we settled that.

It's premature to say they've clinched the NL East, not when the Atlanta Rasputins are still in the division, but it looks pretty darn good right now, especially when the Phillies look like they might have packed it in for the season. The Mets just returned from a 10 game road trip that saw them go 9-1. A 9-1 road trip is always impressive. A 9-1 road trip against three teams that, at the start of the trip, were a combined 95-74, well, that's just about unheard of.

The Mets have the best record in baseball, and there's really not a lot of reason to expect another team in the division to play significantly better, nor for that matter, for the Mets to play much worse. Their two biggest weaknesses, the back of the starting rotation and second base, look to have been stabilized with the callup of Alay Soler, the trade for Orlando Hernandez and the move of Jose Valentin to second. Paul LoDuca will probably play worse in the second half (he's being overused), but Cliff Floyd should continue to improve and counteract that. There's not a better 3-4-5 lineup in the NL, and probably in all of baseball, than Beltran-Delgado-Wright. (Who else boasts TWO legitimate MVP candidates in the power spots?) The rest of the lineup just needs to be decent, and they should be even better than that.

One other note: the last two times the Mets got off to starts this good, they went to the World Series. Good sign.

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Finally, it's time for Stupid Phil Tricks.

I've gotten into the habit of playing some football on weekends. Man football, with tackles and stiff arms and loud grunting, not namby-pamby "touch football" or "fag football" (the L is omitted to underscore my utmost contempt for this bastardization of America's Game). All in all, it's a good time. Except, it leaves one with some nagging ailments.

Last week, I had a bit of a groin strain. The day before we played football, I ran for awhile to try and work it out. This succeeded only in making it worse. I played hurt, since speed really wasn't my game anyway. Of course, as it turned out, going from "slow" to "ultra slow" was more harmful than I suspected. As an added bonus, my body called my groin pain and raised me a left quadriceps.

I got home, and thought, "you know what works on those ads? Icy Hot." You'd think a smarter man would have learned from a friend's mistake, but not me. Had I stuck to applying it to my quad, I'd likely have been fine. Instead, the "liberal application" called for on the label went just a bit too far north. This was a case where the cure was far worse than the disease. After nearly passing out from the pain (there's that "liberal application" again), and taking a 20 minute ice cold shower, I had returned to normal, which is to say, with a dull pain in my groin and quad. Of course, this was vastly preferable to the searing pain of the liberally applied Icy Hot. Oh yeah, and as an added bonus, my wife complained the rest of the day about how the Icy Hot stinks up the bathroom.

I guess if there's a lesson here, it's this: nothing good comes from the word "liberal". EVER.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Black Clouds and Silver Linings for The Kings of Queens

No, not that sitcom with Kevin James that's had an inexplicably long run. We're talkin' 'bout the M-E-T-S, METS, METS, METS!

But as an aside, Kevin James has got to be one of the ten luckiest guys in show business (the others are Simon Cowell and 8 porn stars). James seems like a nice enough guy, like the kind of guy with whom you'd sit down and have a beer or six. Seems like he'd blend in with most groups of guys, laughing at the good jokes, making a couple on his own, but 8 (I think) years as the star of a well-known sitcom on a major network? This would be like my buddy Lan getting a sitcom. Sure, he's a fun guy to hang out with and has his moments, but come on.

And speaking of inexplicably long runs, we have this post.

The Mets are, after last night's thrilling 13 inning win, 32-20, atop the NL East by 4.5 games, have the 2nd best record in the NL and the 3rd best in baseball. They have outscored their opponents 257-225, which is the 4th best run differential in the NL. Before last night's win, their pythagorean record indicated they'd be expected to have won 29 games by now, meaning they were just two games ahead of the pace we'd expect with their run differential. So it's not like they're doing it with mirrors.

But there are storm clouds on the horizon. Here are some things that concern me going forward, followed by reasons that those storm clouds might not be so threatening:

1. The Bullpen.
The black cloud: It's good. Really good. It's also really overworked. The brilliant Buster Olney (perhaps the best baseball writer not named Ben Jacobs) reported on the Mets' bullpen workload thus far:

Duaner Sanchez: 25 games, 31.1 innings
On pace for: 79 games, 100 innings
(To be fair, this is probably a touch skewed, since Sanchez worked 3 very efficient innings last night, thus artificially ratcheting up that innings per game ratio.)

Aaron Heilman: 23 games, 29.2 innings
On pace for: 73 games, 94 innings

Darren Oliver: 15 games, 27.2 innings
On pace for: 48 games, 86 innings

Billy Wagner: 23 games, 24 innings
On pace for: 73 games, 76 innings

Wagner's workload probably isn't a big issue; that's in line with what he did in 2002, 2004 and 2005. But Sanchez is on pace to shatter his career high for innings and games, and while Heilman pitched 108 innings last year, it must be noted that he started 7 games, so 94 innings in relief would obviously be a career high in relief innings.

Oliver represents a different problem. In his 28.2 innings, he's posted a 2.60 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. His peripherals are impressive too; he's averaging 8.13 K/9 IP and 3.57 K/BB. Here's the thing, though: Oliver's not that good a pitcher, not even close. For his career, he's the proud owner of a 5.03 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP. At age 35, it seems highly unlikely that he's suddenly learned to pitch.

The silver lining: Well, of course, as a winning team, one would expect the Mets to pitch more innings. A winning team takes more leads into the 9th inning, and therefore is more likely to pitch in the 9th inning. But more importantly, the Mets have played 9 extra innings games so far. That's a huge number, and it's unlikely that they'll continue having to play games beyond 9 innings at this rate. They've pitched 484.1 innings as a team in 52 games, an average of 9.3 innings per game, by far the highest in the NL. In an extra-inning game, a manager must, by nature, use his best relief pitchers. Rare is the situation where a team will score so many runs in, say, the 11th inning to justify sending a second or third stringer to the hill. One assumes the Mets will play fewer extra inning games as the year goes on, and that as a result, they'll be able to reduce their workload somewhat.

As for Oliver, the hope is that Heath Bell will be able to pick up more and more of the slack if and when Oliver regresses to the mean. Anyone who registered 33 strikeouts against 3 walks in AAA can't be too bad. Bell's given up 12 hits in 7.1 innings so far, but his stuff is good enough (8.59 K/9 IP) that his numbers should end up pretty good.

But any way you slice it, the bullpen cannot continue relying so heavily on Sanchez and Heilman and be effective through October. One hopes Willie Randolph learned a lesson from watching the years when the Yankees worked Rivera, Gordon, and Quantrill to death and ran out of gas in the playoffs.

2. The Back of the Rotation.
The black cloud: Starters not named Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine or Brian Bannister (more on him in a moment) have combined for the following stats: 25 starts, 125.2 IP, 6.37 ERA, 1.66 WHIP. When you consider the Mets have played 52 games, and gotten THAT kind of starting pitching in nearly half of them, it's a miracle their record is this good. Unless you've got a lineup like the '27 Yankees, you can't win getting starts like that half the time.

Moreover, the injured Bannister's overachieved tremendously. He has a 2.89 ERA and 1.39 WHIP despite absolutely dreadful peripherals. He has just 4.50 K/9 IP and has walked more hitters than he's struck out. Stats don't tell the whole story, of course, but they're darn close. When you walk more hitters than you strike out, that's almost always going to catch up to you at some point. (Unless you're Kirk Reuter, who always had lousy peripherals and yet was a decent starting pitcher for about a decade. Few pitchers have defied the laws of statistics so long and so well. As a fellow Dr. Stats writer so aptly put it, "I will never understand how this guy wins.") If Bannister continues pitching like this when he returns from injury, he's going to get shelled.

The silver lining: Of the Mets' problems, the back of the rotation has received the most publicity, but might actually be the least troubling. For one, Steve Trachsel's a better pitcher than this. His walks aren't a lot higher than usual, and his strikeouts are roughly the same. He's just getting hit a lot more. Fortunately, batting averages fluctuate a lot over the short term, but usually even out. Opposing hitters are batting 60 points over their career average against Trachsel this year. Without any other disturbing trends, that should come down.

The addition of the ageless (literally; no one but Hernandez knows exactly how old he really is) Orlando Hernandez will help too. Ignore his lousy ERA thus far. Hernandez has been blowing hitters away; his K/9 IP this year is 10.48 with an impressive 2.57 K/BB ratio. He was also burned by being a fly-ball pitcher in a park very favorable to fly-ball hitters (The BOB).

Finally, we can probably expect Bannister to pitch better, even though it's hard to see him improving on his ERA and WHIP. He struck out many more hitters in the minors, without walking anyone. It's hard to imagine he's suddenly forgotten how to do that. Of course, he's got to get healthy first.

A rotation of Martinez, Glavine, Trachsel, Hernandez and a healthy Bannister should be just fine.

3. Jose Reyes.
The black cloud: He's got an on base percentage of .312, for crying out loud. How much longer can the Mets stick him in the leadoff spot?!? With a career on base percentage of .305, it MIGHT be time to consider that his inability to get on base isn't a fluke.

The silver lining: He's walked 21 times in 253 plate appearances. That puts him on pace for a respectable 60 walks. That would, of course, exceed his career total entering this year by a fair margin. But Reyes walked a lot in the minors, so it could easily be the case that he's finally seeing big league pitching a little better and a little more patiently. His .250 batting average is lower than we'd expect, too. His career average entering the year was .277 and at the age of 22, we'd expect improvement, not regression at this age. If Reyes improves his average to .280, which doesn't seem unreasonable, his on base percentage becomes a much more respectable .340.

Because of Reyes' speed and the strong hitters behind him, he's scoring almost half the time he's on base (by my count, he's been on base 79 times, and has scored 39 runs). Over a full season, at that pace, that translates to about 10 extra runs if he gets his OBP up to .340. That's an extra win or two...maybe more, given the Mets' penchant for playing 1-run games.

Until Lastings Milledge is ready to play everyday, the only other realistic options for the leadoff spot would be Carlos Beltran and David Wright, and too much of their power would be wasted in that position. In effect, Reyes must get on base more for the Mets' offense to reach its full potential. Otherwise, they're missing a lot of opportunities.