Three Strikes: Joba Chamberlain, Omar Minaya, and the Mets’ Offensive History

It’s an all-New York edition of “Three Strikes,” as I cover Joba Chamberlain’s season-ending injury, Omar Minaya’s stamp on the 2011 New York Mets, and the Mets’ lackluster offensive history.

Joba Rules, Not Meant to be Broken

Joba Chamberlain never felt a “pop;” he didn’t leave the pitcher’s mound in pain fearing his season was over. But the 25-year-old New York Yankees relief pitcher will undergo Tommy John surgery today for a torn ligament in his right elbow. The news broke last week and came as a shock to Chamberlain and many baseball fans aware of the “Joba Rules.”

“Joba Rules” were restrictions put in place to prevent Chamberlain from getting injured or wearing out his arm early in his career. As a promising prospect, the Yankees were extra cautious with Chamberlain, initially not allowing him to pitch on consecutive days (and making him rest an extra day for every extra inning he pitched).

The Yanks could never make up their minds on whether they viewed Chamberlain as a starter or reliever, but they certainly valued him as an important piece of their pitching staff for years to come.

Of course all of that extra care didn’t do much good, unless you believe that Chamberlain would’ve been injured earlier had the Yanks not coddled him. The point is: injuries can happen at any time. The Washington Nationals tried to protect Stephen Strasburg but it didn’t work, as Strasburg needed Tommy John surgery after just 12 starts last season.

In football or basketball, whenever a player gets hurt in the final minutes of a lopsided contest the fans cry that he shouldn’t have been in the game. This is true to a certain extent—more so in football—but a player could get hurt in the first quarter, or in practice, also.

Teams should not be reckless with their usage of players, particularly young pitchers, but a baseball diamond can’t be baby-proofed. Once a player steps on the field you just have to hope for the best.

Omar Minaya’s 2011 New York Mets

Andy Martino of the New York Daily News recently pointed out the influence of former Mets’ general manager Omar Minaya on this year’s Mets team. Minaya was in charge from 2005-2010, when the Mets acquired Justin Turner, a potential Rookie of the Year candidate; Daniel Murphy (hitting .300); Ruben Tejada, who is hitting .310 and playing an excellent second base; Dillon Gee, who is 7-0; promising young left-handed starter Jonathon Niese; injured slugger Ike Davis; and R.A. Dickey, a steadying force in the rotation. There are others of course, but those are some of the unheralded signings Minaya was responsible for.

I know from experience that Omar Minaya did not like to be looked at while he was the Mets’ GM. (Credit: Wknight94)

Acquiring under-the-radar players was never Minaya’s problem. While in Montreal and later with New York, Minaya had an eye for talent. He was great at signing the Endy Chavezes and Jose Valentins of the world. It was when he was given a blank check by Mets ownership that he showed his weaknesses.

The Red Sox and Yankees spend a lot, but they still aim to spend wisely. Minaya was like a kid in a candy store once he was given seemingly unlimited financial resources, signing one high-priced free agent after another.

Obviously this was never going to happen, but it’s too bad Minaya couldn’t be kept on as a scout of some sort. This is how I felt when Michigan fired Rich Rodriguez as its football coach—it was too bad he couldn’t stay on as the offensive coordinator.

Mets Lackluster Offensive History

Among the all-time Mets offensive records, shortstop Jose Reyes ranks fifth in plate appearances, second in hits, and first in runs scored, triples, and stolen bases. It’s very impressive considering Reyes just celebrated his 28th birthday and hasn’t even played 1,000 games yet.

Reyes’s partner on the left side of the infield, David Wright, is also 28. He ranks seventh in plate appearances, sixth in stolen bases, fourth in home runs and hits, second in runs, and first in doubles.

This speaks to the amazing production of these young stars, but also the unimpressive offensive history of the franchise. Of the seven franchises that started closest to the Mets (all within seven years), all except the San Diego Padres have had more offensive production (the Mets and Padres are also the only two franchises without a no-hitter).

The chart below shows seven franchises, the year of their inaugural season, their career leader in plate appearances (and, in parentheses, the number of players with at least 6,000 plate appearances), their career leader in hits (in parentheses, players with at least 1,000 hits), and their leader in home runs (in parentheses, players with at least 200 home runs).

Team* Inaugural Season Plate Appearances         Hits Home Runs
Angels 1961 8,480 (3) 2,368 (8) 299 (3)
Rangers 1961 6,992 (3) 1,928 (10) 372 (4)
Astros 1962 12,503 (6) 3,060 (12) 449 (4)
Mets 1962 5,997 1,418 (9) 252 (2)
Brewers 1969 12,249 (4) 3,142 (10) 251 (5)
Nationals 1969 7,174 (4) 1,694 (7) 234 (4)
Padres 1969 10,232 3,141 (3) 163
Royals 1969 11,624 (5) 3,154 (8) 317

*Texas Rangers formerly Washington Senators; Houston Astros formerly Houston Colt .45’s; Milwaukee Brewers formerly Seattle Pilots; Washington Nationals formerly Montreal Expos

Until recently, with the emergence of Reyes and Wright, the Mets have not had star hitters in their primes. Mike Piazza, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado, to name three, had great seasons in New York but had already established themselves as All Stars for other teams. Darryl Strawberry, near the top of the leaderboard in many of the franchise’s offensive categories, had his Mets career cut short. Roberto Alomar and even Willie Mays once called Shea Stadium home but neither wears a Mets hat on their Hall of Fame plaques.

If the Mets re-sign Reyes and Wright, as they certainly should, and these two continue to produce as expected, the Mets’ history books will look a lot better in 10 years.

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