Friday, February 11, 2005

Mike Piazza: A closer look

First off, my Thursday blog is coming a day late, and I want to apologize for that. It's been a hectic week up here at school. Anyways, let's get back to talking about the Mets!

I remember when I first started watching the Mets, in 1999 at the age of 13. In one particular gamein May, the Mets were losing 2-1 to the San Diego Padres, going into the bottom of the 9th. Trevor Hoffman came jogging out of the bullpen to Hell's Bells, and I slumped into my bed. I hadn't seen much Mets magic up to this point, and the announcer mentioned that Trevor Hoffman had converted a large number of saves in a row (I believe the number was 58). This made me sag deeper under my covers. I remember John Olerud getting on base, and Mike Piazza strolling to the plate. Fans cheered and hoped, and I just sighed. This was the mighty Trevor Hoffman, the best closer in the NL! He hadn't failed his last 58 times out to the mound! This time would be different, however, as Mike Piazza took an outside fastball over the right-field wall for a walk-off home run!

Ever since that day, I've been a huge Mike Piazza fan. I've seen him come up with clutch hits all over the place, carry the team on his broad shoulders, and even lead the Mets to a World Series. However, over the last few years, Mike has struggled. In 2003, he tore a groin muscle, and missed significant time. Last year, Mike struggled with a move to first base, and ended up hitting .266/.362/806 -- not bad numbers, but certainly not Piazza-esque. Seeing this decline has been painful for myself and many other Mets fans, who used to rely on Mike in close and late situations to dig the Mets out of a hole and lead them to victory.

However, a deeper look shows that maybe the old Mike Piazza isn't quite gone yet. As a first baseman last year, when he struggled to make routine plays and was criticized daily for his awful defense, Mike hit .229/.324/.707. However, as a catcher, his normal position, and a position at which Mike felt more comfortable, he hit .331/.419/.971! A difference as large as this can't be a fluke, nor should it be ignored. Mike clearly felt awkward being at first base, and he took his struggles in the field to the plate with him.

What does this mean? Well, Mike, at 36 years old, will probably never hit .320/.410/.970 again. But, to a guy like Piazza, comfort is significant. If Mike Piazza catches full-time this year, which it looks like he will, he can definitely post a .290/.390/.910. While I don't ever see him playing 140 games, him giving us this in a large stretch of the season will be much more than any team could ask for out of their catching position. Sitting out day games after night games, giving him an extra day or two to rest any scratches recieved while catching will keep Mike healthy, and a big year could very well be ahead.

Much to the dismay of Trevor Hoffman.


Anonymous Werner said...

Very nice column, Mark! I have the radio call from Piazza's blast on a CD - such a great call! I wish I had been able to see that game... thanks for bringing it up, however, it definately brings back good memories of the '99/'00 seasons... Hopefully in 10 years we'll all look back and be like "Wow... That series of seasons from '05 on has been great! Let's keep it up!"

4:30 PM  

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