he True Fans Bleed Blue and Orange: March 2007h

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Pelfrey Named Fifth Starter

Entering Spring Training the Mets had a plethora of options for the fifth starter job. Alay Soler was released, Phil Humber and Jason Vargas were optioned to AAA, and Chan Ho Park and Aaron Sele were demoted to the bullpen. That leaves the Mets best pitching prospect, Mike Pelfrey.

Pelfrey was terrific this spring pitching to a 2.84 era over 19 innings. On top of that Pelfrey gave up only one home run. If you project out how many home runs the 6'7" right hander will give up over 200 innings if he keeps the same ip:hr ratio you get eleven. The Yankees best pitch, Chien Ming Wang, a groundball expert allowed 12 home runs in 2006. Also, the NL Cy Young Winner, Brandon Webb, allowed 15 home runs. In fact, if Pelfrey allowed eleven home runs last year over 200 innings he would have led all of baseball in least home runs allowed. Obviously it is impossible to suggest Pelfrey will allow only eleven home runs this year, or to even sugges that he will be as good as Brandon Webb or Wang. Nevertheless, it certainly is a good sign to see Pelfrey's name involved with some of the better pitchers in the game. Pelfrey is truly a groundball machine. Even on Sunday when he allowed four runs over five innings against the Astros the majority of the six hits Pelfrey allowed were groundballs that found holes.

No matter how easy it is to get caught up in how good Pelfrey may be this year, you also must realize that he is 23 and a rookie. He may also be a victim of having Spring Training stats that hide how good someone actually is. Last year Brian Bannister won the fifth spot in the Mets rotation. In fact, Bannister's ST in 2006 is similar to Pelfrey's this year. Bannister also pitched 19 innings, three of the games he started and two of them were in relief, much like Pelfrey. Bannister had an unbelievable .95 era in his 19 innings displaying immaculate control during those innings. Bannister preceded to enter the 2006 MLB season and barely be able to throw strikes. Despite pitching like Hudini Bannister was very lucky in his time in the majors before his hamstring injury pretty much ended his season. Bannister was dealt in the offseason for reliever Ambiorix Burgos.

In 2005 the Mets had a pitcher with an even better spring training who fizzled out in the majors. Matt Ginter pitched 14 straight scoreless innings for the Mets. Ginter went on to get dealt at the end of spring training and pitch only 14 games in 2005 with the Tigers. Ginter had a dreadful 6.17 era in those 14 games. Ginter hasn't pitched in the majors since 2005, and he has since latched on with the Pirates and has not even been able to appear in a spring training game with the lowly Pirates.

Again, just because Pelfrey had a great spring does not mean he will be great in the regular season, despite his potential. The same can be said about Joe Smith, although his sidearming ability should keep him in the majors at least for this season, due to nobody knowing how good he is. Keep an eye on Pelfrey and don't be surprised if he is great, but also don't be surprised if he struggles in the majors this year.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Francis Challenged to Lead the Knicks

Wednesday night against the Raptors Steve Francis and Eddy Curry got into a shouting match on the court, because Curry felt that Francis was not getting him the ball enough. Curry finished the game with 13 points and 6 rebounds. Last season that line would have been just another night at the office (in 05-06 Curry averaged 13.6 ppg and 6.0 rpg), but the new Curry took exception to not getting the ball enough. On Thursday, the day after the Raptors game, Isiah Thomas had an intense practice, a rarity for an NBA team this late in the season. However, Isiah was trying to prove a point: "get the ball to Eddy!" One game later Curry returned to form scoring 18 points and grabbing 6 rebounds on 14 shots (compared to his 9 shots the game before). Now Isiah has another challenge for a Knick.

Early in his career Steve Francis was called everything from a ball-hog to a cry baby, and now Isiah wants Francis to be called something else. A leader. Isiah Thomas challenged Steve Francis to become more of a leader within the Knicks team. According to the New York Times Isiah Thomas said of Francis:

“In terms of being a leader, I want more out of him.” Thomas added that he
wanted Francis “to be a more vocal part of the group, not just a part of the
team; I don’t want him to take a back seat to anyone.”

It is unclear if Isiah simply wanted Francis to step up and lead the Knicks, or if he was simply saying that Francis was not doing a good enough job of being a leader. My guess is a mixture of both, and time will only tell how Francis responds. To Francis this may mean that he has to put the Knicks on his back on a nightly basis, like Marbury did for a 6-7 game stretch two weeks ago. Or this may show Francis that he should try and be more of a distributor on the floor, and lead the Knicks with his voice and, when needed, his play. The Knicks play the Raptors on Sunday in a mattinee game, a game that is a must win for the Knicks. The Raptors are a better team, but at home the Knicks can beat the Raptors, who are a poor road team. Should the Knicks lose they would fall 1.5 games behind the 7th seed Indiana, and a full game behind New Jersey. Plus there are two games against the Mavs leering right around the corner. The spotlight is on the Knicks to do well.

Below is a highlight video of Steve Francis ups and downs of his career before he became a Knick. I felt it was appropriate because the video has highlights from newspaper articles that diss Steve Francis and show some of his faults. Some faults highlighted are the opposite of what you want from a team leader, but the player the Knicks have is an older, and hopefully, wiser player.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Isiah Gets Extension For Possibly Extending Knicks' Season

17-46. Last season through 63 games the Knicks were 17-46. This season the Knicks are 29-34 through 63 games, and own the eighth seed in the playoffs by .5 games over New Jersey, and they are only .5 games behind the falling Pacers. Isiah Thomas has led the Knicks from a talented laughing stock to a talented mediocore team. Without question when looking at the talent on the Knicks roster they still are underacheiving. However, Thomas has certainly gotten the Knicks team closer to their potential. Not only has Isiah made the team play better as a whole, but he has given the Knicks a future.
Stephon Marbury's numbers may be worse this year, but his impact has been felt much more. Marbury's defense has risen from not seen at times to a very good defender. In addition, Marbury has taken on a larger leadership role with the Knicks, and, for the most part, over the past two weeks has carried the Knicks.

Isiah Thomas, like he has done with other big men in the past such as Jermaine O'Neal and Brad Miller has molded Eddy Curry into the player the Knicks envisioned when they mortgaged their future in trading for him. E-City, as he has become known, has risen from a poor first season, and start to his career. He is averaging career highs in ppg, rpg, apg, spg, free-throws attempted per game, FG attempted per game, and mpg. Curry's 19.3 ppg is second amongst centers in the entire NBA, and first in the Eastern Conference. Obviously he needs to greatly improve his rebounding, and improve his defense even more. However, most people do not realize that Curry is averaging at least .9 more rebounds this season than he has at any other point in his career, so there is improvement. Also, Curry is still very turnover prone averaging 3.4 a game. Curry is tied for sixth in the NBA in turnovers per game, and second to only Dwight Howard, another young big man.

Thomas has also established David Lee as a major threat in the league. Alongside Lee is Renaldo Balkman, whom I have grown quite fond of, and both players should be here to help Isiah build a nucleus for years to come. Then you have Steve Francis, who even if he doesn't play another game all year has already been more productive then last season. Francis has been in and out of the Knicks lineup all year because of a nagging knee injury Francis does not have numbers that shock you, especially when compared to his career, but he is giving every bit of energy he has left in his knee for the Knicks' postseason run. Francis and Marbury both have questionable knees which lead to off nights, but when both are playing at their best it is easy to see the Knicks becoming a very good team.

Last but not least you have Quentin Richardson. It is not clear whether Q's rebirth has occurred because he simply had a terrible year last year in general or because of Isiah Thomas. Last year he broke up with his fiance, Brandy, before the season started, and then mid-way through the year his brother is shot and killed. On top of that it was his first year in New York, which is always tough, and the Knicks were terrible so New York was not the nicest place to play. So perhaps Isiah does not have a lot to claim in terms of Q's play this year, but nevertheless Q has established himself as one the Knicks best defenders and three point shooters. In addition, he grabs 7.3 rebounds a game out of the SG spot in the lineup, which is more than Eddy Curry, and only .2 behind future hall-of-famer Shaquille O'Neal. Richardson's body consistently takes a beating because of his style of play and because of an aching back, but whenever he is on the court he is the Knicks emotional leader, and sometimes, their best player.

Even Crawford has improved this season, but enough is enough. The Knicks clearly have shown evident progress this year, and a lot of the congratulations should be for Isiah Thomas and the rest of the coaching staff. I'll enjoy watching Isiah on the bench for the Knicks few years.

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