And Jacobs Begot Isaac

>Or something like that.

The Mets designated the biblically named Isaac Benjamin Davis as their first baseman of the future, or at least the first baseman for the next few weeks, one day after they designated Michael James Jacobs for assignment. This is what is sometimes known as a “mea culpa.” Presumably Jacobs’ assignment will be to go away and reflect on his baseball future, or to learn to hit position players. Maybe they’ll assign him to learn about the dangers of smokeless tobacco, or at the very least, to learn that you can make the tin last longer if you don’t use ALL of the chaw at once. They could assign him to do any number of things – except, of course, play first base for the New York Mets. That assignment has been taken from him by Mr. Davis.

I do feel for Mike Jacobs. Here is someone two seasons removed from hitting 32 home runs and putting up a .514 slugging percentage. The best I can tell, 372 major league players have ever hit 30 or more home runs in a season. Also, the best I can tell, as of Sunday, 17,311 men have played at least one game of major league baseball – that means just 2.2% of players to play in a major league game have ever hit 30 or more home runs in a season, and just 1.7% have ever hit 32 or more. Mike Jacobs is one of them, placing him, loosely, in the 98th percentile of home run hitters in the history of the game. Sort of.

And none of this includes minor leaguers that never make it to the bigs, undrafted college and high school players, little leaguers, Gary Matthews Jr., and the remainder of the general population not talented enough to play baseball at the highest level. Looking at it that way, Mike Jacobs is really, really, really good at baseball. In terms of the general population, he is one of the best ever – you know, in terms of EVERYONE on earth.

But, on the major league level, where everyone is really, really, really good at doing a lot of baseball things, Mike Jacobs is really, really, really good at doing just one thing: hitting home runs. Outside of that one powerful swing, Mike Jacobs not quite so good at doing other baseball-related things: he’s not a glove man, he’s not hitter for average, and he makes a ton of outs. Even in his “best” seasons, he was not far above what a quad-A level first baseman would bring to a team.

Still, less than two years ago, Mike Jacobs was a starting first baseman hitting 32 home runs.

But a miserable year and a few weeks, he now finds himself having been cut by the Royals (the Royals!), and then the Mets (the Mets!), in the span of just a few months. Per Adam Rubin, “Said Jacobs: ‘I obviously didn’t see it coming.’”

And the obvious response to that is: “Come on! You, Mike Jacobs, were hitting .208/.296/.375 after a full season of hitting .228/.297/.401, and you didn’t see it coming? Where were you looking? Have you been paying attention?”

But you know what? I believe him. I don’t think he saw it coming, mostly because I suspect Mike Jacobs thinks his one duty as a baseball player is to try to yank the ball out of the ballpark, and no other thing. Mike Jacobs, to Mike Jacobs, is a POWER hitter. That’s it. He hit 1 home run in his 28 plate appearances – not great, but also not awful, if you believe your one job is to hit home runs. And, if you believe that’s your job and you didn’t get much of a chance to show you could do it, well, I can imagine being surprised by a speedy banishment.

But, of course, a first baseman’s job includes other things besides hitting home runs, like not making outs 70% of the time and fielding your position, and Mike Jacobs doesn’t do either of those things well, and never has. Designating Mike Jacobs to the baseball abyss is probably the right move after what amounted to a 28 plate appearance see-if-you-can-hit-a-home-run-every-at-bat tryout. In fact, it was probably the right move 28 plate appearances ago.

Okay, that’s enough of Mike Jacobs’ baseball career obituary.

But here’s what I find interesting – by assigning Davis to play first base and Jacobs to go do anything else but play first base, the Mets have done a rare thing for them. The Mets have, I believe, admitted that they made a mistake, and quickly. They have admitted they messed up by starting the season with Jacobs at first and Davis in the minors, after Daniel Murphy ran himself out of a rundown and into a super-utility role. This is a “mea culpa” by an organization that hates admitting they screwed up – not that anyone does, really, but the Mets seem especially adverse to saying, “my bad.” They just hate it.

And they did mess up. This is, and certainly was at the beginning of the season, the perfect situation to bring up Ike Davis. Really, two things could happen. If he gets a case of the bends and stinks it up for a few weeks, the Mets can send him back to AAA when Murphy gets healthy without calling it a “demotion” and hurting his ego. Alternatively, should he mash, Davis gets to stay, and Murphy can go hang out in Buffalo, try the chicken wings, and see if his range at second base is better than Luis Castillo’s (probably). It’s a no pressure situation, with a replacement first baseman waiting in the wings to get healthy and step in if needed. The Mets really could not have written up a better scenario for an Ike Davis audition.

Only, of course, the Mets went with Mike Jacobs, because he had “experience” and sort of grimaces like that villainous Mets hitter in “Rookie of the Year.” So he looked like a cleanup hitter. They also did it because the Mets make a lot of misguided decisions. It’s sort of their thing.

The worrisome thing was that the Mets have a history of refusing to admit that they are wrong. I’m not sure where to start with the list of mistakes, but we need to start somewhere. I’m thinking October 2008 is a good place, when the Mets decided that Omar Minaya deserved a contract extension after September 2008 and 2007. They did this because, as everyone knows, if an architect builds two bridges that collapse, you should definitely pay him in advance to build your next four bridges, with an option for the next two. It’s just common knowledge.

So then, in the middle 2009, when Omar Minaya had a public meltdown and his power was noticeably lessened, he still remains on as GM, or at least as puppet GM. And maybe this happened because the Mets still believed in him, because they believe in comebacks, but maybe it happened because he is owed a decent amount of money for a contract signed just months earlier. Cutting Minaya loose would be admitting an expensive mistake. That’s hard to do. No one likes to cop to wasting millions of dollars.

Infomercial voice:
But wait, there’s more!

Oliver Perez, too, is probably another mistake in terms of the contract. He’s still here. Luis Castillo’s contract is a mistake. He’s still here. Marlon Anderson’s was a mistake, and he stuck around until the beginning of 2009. Julio Franco’s contract was too, though he’s long gone. Gary Matthews Jr. is another mistake, and he’s signed for two seasons. I sometimes wonder if Jenrry Mejia is sticking around in the big leagues because the Mets don’t want to admit that using him as a mop-up reliever might not have been the best idea, and they’re keeping him around a bit longer just to save face.

These are not ALL of the mistakes they make – that would take a while – but just the ones the Mets hung onto longer than necessary because of the money tied up in them, or other embarrassment. The idea of sunk costs is one they seem particularly adverse to, even after spending an entire off-season trying to dump Luis Castillo onto any takers. There were none, of course, because no one else wants a gimpy Tiny Tim to play second base for two years. Still, the Mets refused to just cut Castillo loos
e, even while they stared creepily at Orlando Hudson.

Think of it this way: If you misguidedly bought an ugly, expensive piece of art – let’s say a marble statue of Luis Castillo – and no one will buy it back from you, you can do two things. You can let it sit and ugly up your house, or you can dump it on the curb for garbage pickup.

For some reason, the Mets are letting their expensive mistakes ugly up their house. In way, it’s understandable. It’s hard enough to admit to yourself that you made an expensive mistake. I assume it’s even harder to admit to the New York media that you made an expensive mistake.

Still, there are signs of progress. Mike Jacobs was clearly a mistake, and the Mets admitted it after just 12 games. Ike Davis is the belated apology.

On the other hand, Mike Jacobs was signed to a minor league deal, and I’m not sure how much money this mistake is costing the Mets. Probably not much, and I’d guess that made their decision easier. I suspect that had it been Gary Matthews Jr. signed to a minor league contract, and Mike Jacobs signed to a guaranteed two-year deal, Matthews Jr. would be the one without a job.

Still, maybe Ike Davis will show them the benefit of cutting loose the ragged edges of the roster, no matter how much or little they paid for them. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone is so skilled at correcting them. Hopefully the Mets are getting better.


Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

2 responses to “And Jacobs Begot Isaac

  1. Anonymous

    >Two quick points. First, I think the Ike Davis non-call-up is actually a rare sign of intelligent management. He's now 4 days shy of having the requisite service time for the year, so he'll be kept under team control for another year. If he turns out to be the real deal, that's a little extra optionality/leverage that the Mets have in locking in his contract. If he's not the real deal… no biggie. Second, why send Murph to AAA if Davis is good? Send Catalonotto down and have Murph pinch hit and serve as a super-utility-dude. (Unless Carter will put up better numbers than Murphy.)

  2. Patrick Flood

    >Uh . . . oops. I totally blanked on the service time aspect. From that point of view, it is a good move. On the other hand, I guess I wonder if the Mets planned that out on purpose, or if it just sort of happened with the 20 inning game, needing a pitcher for day, Jacobs stinking it up, Davis hitting in AAA. Anyway, regardless of their motivation, it is an intelligent decision, from the aspect of service time. I just blanked there. I need to get out of the habit of just blindly assuming everything the Mets do is wrong.

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