Author Archives: Patrick Flood

About Patrick Flood

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The Mets Hit too many Home Runs

14352685737_69810d7d92_oBaseball, if you haven’t heard, is in the middle of a fly-ball revolution. Seemingly all at once, hitters have realized that it’s easier to hit a home run with a fly ball than a ground ball. (It’s also much easier to hit a home run with a juiced ball). Never mind that Babe Ruth figured this out a century ago. Yonder Alonso already has 17 home runs for Oakland this season; his previous career high was nine. Justin Turner hit 27 home runs for the Dodgers last season. The Nationals’ Daniel Murphy accepted the fly ball into his heart and also hit 27 home runs last season, following up on his seven homers hit during the Mets 2015 postseason run. All the cool kids are doing it.

“There’s no slug on the ground,” say the Cubs.

“Your OPS is in the air,” says Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

“If I didn’t hit a ground ball all year, I’d be in good shape,” Jay Bruce told the New York Times earlier this season.

“Just say NO to ground balls,” says Josh Donaldson.

Fly balls are in. Ground balls are out. The Bastille has been stormed. Vive la angle de lancer.

And do you know what team hits the ball in the air more than any other team? (This will be a toughie for people who don’t read headlines.)

Since 2015, it’s your New York Mets.

Thing is, I’m not sure it’s the best idea.

I don’t think this is the best idea because, as I suspect the Mets are learning, what works for one player might not work for an entire team. Because despite hitting a lot of home runs, the Mets haven’t scored that many runs.

Since the start of the 2015 season, when they more-or-less stopped rebuilding, the Mets have hit the lowest percentage of ground balls in the National League by a wide margin. They have also hit the most home runs. That’s the fly-ball revolution summarized: Hit the ball in the air, hit more home runs.

(They’ve also walked at an average rate and they’ve struck out at an average rate, relative to the National League.)

But the Mets also have the lowest batting average on balls in play over that period. That is, when the Mets put the ball in play and it doesn’t go over the fence, it turns into an out more often than it does for any other team. That’s the downside of the fly-ball revolution. Balls in the air turn into extra base hits more often than balls on the ground, but fly balls also turn into outs more often. The Mets pop the ball up more than any other team.

Despite a normal strikeout rate, normal walk rate, and a lot of home runs, the Mets still struggle to hit for average. That low batting average drags down their team on-base percentage, which reduces the number of runners on base when the Mets do manage to hit one over the fence, which leads to fewer runs.

The Mets, who again have hit the most home runs since 2015, rank ninth among the fifteen NL teams in runs scored during that same period. This is bad because in baseball, the hitting team wants to score runs. The Mets don’t score that many runs because they don’t get on base enough. Since 2015, they rank thirteen of fifteen in on-base percentage, with only the rebuilding Phillies and Padres trailing.

It gets worse with runners in scoring position. In those situations, the Mets maintain their approach but the power disappears: They walk and strike out at average rates, but their isolated slugging drops from second in the NL to eleventh, despite the Mets still hitting way, way more balls in the air than any other team. Basically those fly balls stop turning into homers with men on base. Maybe it’s bad luck. Maybe the Mets try to pull outside pitches and hit easy fly balls to center. Maybe they pop up too many pitches. It might be a fluke, but then again we’re talking about 3500 plate appearances over three seasons. I suspect something about their approach isn’t working for the Mets.

(They’re also a slow team, and so despite A. not having a ton of guys on base and B. not hitting the fewest ground balls, the Mets have still managed to ground into a normal number of double plays since 2015.)

This fly-ball lineup isn’t an accident. Sandy Alderson’s front office has favored home run hitters, maybe to the Mets own detriment. Alderson signed Curtis Granderson, who hit fly balls before it was cool. After the 2015 season, the Mets said goodbye to the double-play combo of Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada (a combined 17 home runs in 2015) and replaced them with Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera (a combined 46 home runs in 2016). The Mets also traded for Jay Bruce last year despite not having a place to play him. Lucas Duda, Bruce, Curtis Granderson, and Walker are extreme fly ball hitters. Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores, and Cabrera all hit the ball in the air as well.

And this Mets lineup has hit like you’d expect a lineup of extreme fly ball hitters to hit. They hit home runs, but also plenty of pop ups and catchable fly balls. Most of their home runs are solo shots. The team can score in bunches, but they hit for a low average and struggle with situational hitting.

Bruce, Granderson, Walker, Duda, Reyes, and potentially Cabrera can become free agents after this season. The Mets should think about replacing some of them with less extreme hitters. Help should also come from the farm system. Amed Rosario is a ground ball hitter, as are Gavin Cecchini and Brandon Nimmo. Who knows what the Mets major league hitting staff will tell them, and young players often realize hitting ground balls doesn’t always work on well-groomed major league infields and against major league infielders. But it’s not like the Mets minor league system is filled with Jay Bruce clones.

The Mets should aim for a better balanced lineup next season. This is not to suggest the Mets bring back Luis Castillo to slap the ball around the infield. Good fly-ball hitters are obviously preferable to bad ground-ball hitters. But maybe a more heterogenous mix of hitters would help the Mets take better advantage when they put men on base and when their fly balls do leave the park.

Photo via phoca2004 on Flickr

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Extra Innings in April

27451132180_318b0f6003_oBesides all things Yoenis Cespedes and the unending delight of learning all the possible medical procedures that can be performed on the human elbow, one of the chief joys of the recent Mets was Bartolo Colon, who spent more innings on the mound over the last three seasons than any other Mets pitcher. Colon, now an Atlanta Brave, returned to New York last night to face his former team. The Mets lost in extra innings, 3-1, in a game that was fun until the starting pitchers left and it revealed its true nature: an extra-inning game in April.

Colon was fun though. A circus strongman hiding inside an old bullfrog, Colon still has the Tantalus fastballs that zip just out of a hitter’s reach. My favorite at-bat ended the second inning. Colon struck out Lucas Duda—who seems to have lost every facial expression but that of someone wondering whether he left the stove on—with a sequence of fastballs that must have been planned from the moment Colon signed with the Braves last winter. Colon had no trouble with his former teammates, allowing just two hits and a walk to a veteran Mets lineup. New York’s lone run came on a fluke home run by Jay Bruce, who poked a shin-high pitch over the wall. The other hit and the walk both came from Yoenis Cespedes, the only puzzle Colon didn’t seem to know how to solve—so he didn’t pitch to him. (Colon did hug Cespedes at first base, to the apparent amusement of Colon and annoyance of Cespedes.) Colon survives, in part, by picking his battles. May we all pitch around the Yoenis Cespedes in our lives.

That’s the joy of watching Bartolo Colon: all the clever tricks that allow a short, old, 300-pound pitcher to evade hitters twenty years his junior. It’s a contrast the Mets and their fans already miss. Their current starters—Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Wheeler, Gsellman—are forceful demigods undone only by a frail tendon in their pitching elbow. The Mets effortlessly produce flame-throwing young men who appear in the Major Leagues, grow their hair out, and learn an impossibly hard slider. They don’t need to be deceptive. It doesn’t matter whether they’re thinking ahead, because the hitters don’t have a chance anyway.

Colon, of course, was a tricky Odysseus to the Mets’ rotation of Achilles, the king who’s traveled the world, disappeared for a few years (perhaps gaining a few magical advantages), and reemerged older but more or less the same. He needs the tricks. Every start is a heist movie. He’s playful but professional—old man Colon never fell into the bored-pitcher trap of throwing sidearm or lobbing an eephus, like an underachieving student who just wants to see what happens. He’s all business when it comes to pitching, even if he never seemed to take hitting all that seriously. The magic can’t last forever for Colon, but that’s been the case for the last eight years, so who knows.

The Mets and I will miss Colon, but their current pitchers provide their own joy too. Jacob deGrom, whose limbs are made of rubber and wire, is the pleasant surprise that keeps surprising. He shut out the Braves for six innings. I have no idea what he puts in his hair, but that’s an achievement in its own right. (How many long-haired men have you met with hair you wouldn’t be grossed out to touch?) Just three years ago, when both were in the minors, the Mets reportedly preferred Rafael Montero to deGrom. Last night’s game shows how they’ve since diverged. Whoops. Matt Harvey pitches today, down one rib since the last time we saw him, and Zack Wheeler follows, the first time the two have been in the rotation together since 2013. The gang’s not quite all here: Steven Matz is on an elbow sabbatical, as is Seth “spin rate” Lugo, and the Mets may never have their five best starting pitchers together. It’s not even clear who the five best pitchers are. But the five they have now should be enough.

Plus the Mets don’t have time to wait for arms to heal. While their pitchers rehabbed, their lineup got old. Bruce is 30; Duda, Cespedes, Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera are 31; Jose Reyes is 34 and has looked it the first two games; Curtis Granderson is 36; David Wright is trapped in the bardo; and even Travis d’Arnaud is 28. The Mets brought the whole team back (except for Bartolo) for another run this season, but come the winter the Mets lineup will take a new form. Bruce, Duda, Walker, Cabrera, Reyes, and Granderson can all become free agents at the end of this season. It’s unlikely they all return for 2018.

Of course, with enough four-hour games like last night’s, this season will feel like an eternity, and may even delay next season infinitely. I’m glad to be in the same time zone: I spent the last two years in London, and if you thought the World Series losses to the Royals were fun, imagine if all the games ended at 5 a.m. (I basically didn’t see Jeurys Familia pitch in a regular season night game for two years.) A game ending at 11 p.m., even an extra-inning loss, seems wonderful to me now.

So do the Mets. Health and age concerns aside, the Mets seem like a postseason contender in April. Hope! Optimism! Who doesn’t need some of that right now?

image via slgckgc

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The Misadventures of a Baseball Blogger

I wrote a piece for Narratively about my time as a Mets blogger. You can read it here. If you are either indecisive or a particularly discerning clicker, here’s a short preview that may sway you:

I wrote a blog about the New York Mets from the end of the 2009 season through the 2012 season. The Mets won 230 games and lost 256 over that span, finishing second-to-last in the division each season, with attendance falling each year despite a new stadium. For those three years, the Mets were bad, if not remarkably so.

Over those three years I spent thousands of hours watching that unremarkably bad baseball team fall down and drop fly balls and strike out. I spent thousands more hours blogging about that team. What possesses someone to spend that much time writing a blog about a bad baseball team? Why was it important for me to tell the world it would be funny to elect Brad Emaus to the All-Star team after an aborted 14-game Mets career, and that fading pitcher John Maine was somehow admirable for trying to overpower hitters even when pitching with a ruined shoulder? Why spend time this way?

If you don’t want to read what I wrote, you should at least look at the illustrations. They are fantastic. I’ve always wanted to know what a cartoon version of me directing Mr. Mets’ eyes to my crotch might look like, and now I do.

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Awakening

Long time, internet. After a brief hibernation and a handful of life changes, we’re back. Two things you should know:

1. My writing about the Mets is on Amazin’ Avenue now. Eric Simon and Co. were kind enough to take me on. Here is what I wrote today, and here I what I wrote two weeks ago. I’m shooting for a post a week, probably on Thursday or Friday.

2. Apologies to anyone who left comments since the redesign. I wasn’t checking, and it looked like the spam filter on the comments is hyper aggressive. To answer all your six-month old questions, here I am.

3. I lied, there’s a third thing. I don’t know what I’m going to do with PatrickFloodBlog.com, but for now I’ll definitely post links to whatever I write anywhere else. I may use this space for non-Mets posts too, which is something I’ve always wanted to try. Basketball and not-sports, most likely * website suddenly devolves into Bruce Springsteen fanpage *

Okay. Hugs and kisses all.

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New look, obviously

So as you probably noticed — unless you only read this blog in your RSS reader, as I suspect many of you do and as I do for most blogs — the layout for this particular blog has changed. And it will probably change again, very soon, as I play around with things.

Anyway, PatrickFloodBlog is my own little thing again. Well, it’s always been my own little thing. But it’s even more my own thing now. I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to look like* and how it’s going to be used. But it’s going to be different than it’s been for the last two years when it was an SNY blog. I’ll still be writing about the Mets, sometimes here and sometimes over on MetsBlog. And I’ll still be saying things on the Mostly Mets Podcast once a week. So, you know, that.

*I hope it looks more aesthetically pleasing than it does now. No guarantees. I have no idea what I’m doing.

Anyway, that’s a heads up . . . which I would have posted sooner, but my internet went out for a day pretty much RIGHT after the theme on PatrickFloodBlog switched. But now we’re all up to speed.

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Today in nitpicking

The Mets have scored 10 runs in their last seven home games, and — surprise — they’ve lost all seven of those games. They also lost two of three to the Brewers on the road somewhere in the middle, putting the Mets at 1-9 over their last 10 games. Also with a 66-81 record, the Mets are guaranteed their fourth consecutive losing season with one more loss. We can go on — have you seen David Wright’s second half numbers? — but enough is enough at some point.

Anyway, the one remaining good thing in this season is that the Mets resemble a competitive baseball when R.A. Dickey pitches. Or, at least, they should. Here’s the lineup the Mets ran out last night against Cliff Lee:

SS — Ruben Tejada
2B — Daniel Murphy
3B — David Wright
RF — Scott Hairston
1B — Lucas Duda
LF — Jason Bay
CF — Andres Torres
C — Mike Nickeas
P — R.A. Dickey

Terry Collins’ lineup starts out well enough. Ruben Tejada is the Mets’ best shortstop, Daniel Murphy their best second baseman, Wright their best third baseman, Hairston their best outfielder against left-handed pitching . . . and then things get weird. I generally like Terry Collins, but the idea of him setting lineups for important October baseball games make me quiver in my boots. This is, if I were wearing boots that were a little loose.

Let’s start here: Lucas Duda played first base, while Ike Davis sat. If you ignore defense, you can sort of see why Terry Collins might have done this. Duda has a career .672 OPS against lefties, while Davis has a .633 OPS. Duda was 4-for-12 against Lee with a home run, Davis was 1-for-11 — after the game, Collins said he set his lineup based on career matchup numbers against Lee. Neither’s a great hitter against a tough lefty like Cliff Lee, but all the numbers, no matter how reliable, point towards Duda as the better option of the two platoon-split sluggers.

Only you can’t ignore defense. And while Duda looked surprisingly sure-handed at first, Davis is a superior defender at first base. This may or may not make up the 40-point game in OPS, but it certainly narrows it. But it’s not like Duda can only play first — he’s a not-unbearably terrible left fielder. If the goal is to win the game and the Mets lack good right-handed options, I think Davis is the better option at first base and Duda should be out in left field. Only left field was occupied last night by . . .

Jason Bay, who owns a .492 OPS against left-handed pitchers this season (not the thing Collins was looking at) and a 4-14 career mark against Lee (probably the thing Collins was looking at), with a home run against Lee earlier this season. Do Bay’s decent-ish numbers over Lee make up for his terrible numbers against left-handed pitching this season, and for his dramatic decline in general?* He’s also a better defender than Duda, but the gap may be similar to that between Duda and Davis at first.

*No.

So the question for Terry Collins wasn’t Duda vs. Davis, it was really Davis-and-Duda vs. Duda-and-Bay, and which pair gave the Mets the best chance to win Monday with R.A. Dickey on the mound. I’m not sure Duda-and-Bay was the right answer. Though Bay did make a nice catch on a ball in left that Duda probably doesn’t catch. So what do I know.

This brings us to Torres, who is probably the best option in center against a left-handed pitcher. Torres has an .807 OPS against lefties this season and a .754 mark for his career. He’s the best defensive option, etc. Torres should play against left-handed pitchers the rest of the way. Cool? Cool.

And then we get to the catcher’s spot. Mike Nickeas has a .490 career OPS and a .511 OPS against lefties. Kelly Shoppach has a .739 career OPS and a .878 OPS against lefties. Nickeas started against Lee. I don’t see this one, so let’s try to think like Terry Collins: Nickeas was 0-for-3 against Lee . . . Shoppach was 0-for-9 . . . Jimmy Leyland. Nope, that didn’t work either. Nickeas would have to be not just a little bit better defensively, but WAY WAY better defensively for this to make sense. As in, Nickeas would have to be a seven-foot-tall robot knuckleball-grabbing vacuum cleaner to justify playing him over the better-hitting Shoppach. At least in a game the Mets are trying to win for Dickey.

Anyway, Bay and Nickeas went 1-for-5 combined — Nickeas did score the Mets only run and dropped down a surprise bunt single — while Shoppach and Davis went 1-for-2 as pinch-hitters. The Mets scored one run against Lee and Jonathan Papelbon and lost 3-1.

These are all minor points. But when the Mets are losing just about every game, that’s really all we have left: Minor points like rooting for R.A. Dickey to get more wins, a stat I don’t put much value in, so that maybe he’ll have a better shot at an award. But it’d be nice if Terry Collins ran out the Mets’ best lineups on the days R.A. Dickey is pitching. At the very least so the Mets could win a game now and then.

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Mostly Podcast, Mets?

Hugs and kisses. Here’s a link for those of you who’d want to subscribe via the iTunes.

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