Category Archives: Mets

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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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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So many links!

Let’s start over on Grantland, with Rany Jazayerli:

Major League Baseball before the turn of the century was like a highway with a speed limit of 80 mph. Baseball today has a speed limit of 55 mph, seat belts are mandated, and air bags are standard. What the Nationals are doing is lowering the speed limit to 40 mph and arguing that it will reduce car accidents further.

I don’t know enough about any of this to feel strongly one way or the other, but just to advocate for Satan . . . Isn’t it possible the Nationals do indeed know what they’re doing with Stephen Strasburg? (Note: I don’t actually believe this to be true. But it’s possible, right?)

It’s difficult to make compelling arguments either way about protecting pitchers because disabled list and injury data and pitch counts haven’t been tracked as closely as the regular ol’ baseball statistics. So while we can say with confidence that a pitcher with a low strikeout rate and a good ERA is likely to see his ERA rise — because we’ve seen so many pitchers over the years follow that pattern and we’ve got the numbers to prove it — we just don’t have the same amount of info about pitcher injuries.

At least, we, people of the internet, do not that much info. My guess is that if you had the time to dig through newspaper archives for a couple of weeks, months, you could make a decent historical injury database and learn a lot about what really correlates with busted arms. If you had the time and resources. And while I don’t, who’s to say teams like the Nationals aren’t having a couple of interns and a statistician dig through the archives and tape, and they come up with something a bit more conclusive?

Or they have no idea what they’re doing. That’s probably just as good a theory.

How about some critique of MLB’s TV policies?

So this sets up a strange mismatch between what MLB customers want, and what their revenues tell them to do. MLB fans want to watch their favorite team on whatever device they prefer. But MLB’s revenue stream is depending more and more on their customers NOT being able to watch their team over the internet, forcing them to watch on TV.

This all sounds logical, but I don’t actually know enough about how . . . buziness? Am I getting that right? Biz-nas? How money-for-stuff-on-a-big-scale works to comment. But it’s an interesting read about the internet and how it changes business models.

And finally this:

Oh, uh and . . . Mets. How about those Mets? Yeah, I know. I don’t know either.

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Mets at home, Mets on road

For the sake of discussion and disgust, the Mets hitting home/road splits:

Split GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Home 68 2488 2220 241 538 103 9 52 28 13 217 524 .242 .311 .367 .678
Away 72 2805 2507 336 650 151 9 65 38 19 230 565 .259 .326 .404 .730
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/10/2012.

and their pitching home/road splits; that is, how other teams hit in Citi Field vs. elsewhere against the Mets:

Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS
Home 267 2581 2333 288 561 112 9 72 37 11 191 542 2.84 .240 .301 .389 .689
Away 295 2687 2398 329 628 123 18 64 46 12 216 534 2.47 .262 .325 .408 .733
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/10/2012.

Things to note: The Mets have hit 13 fewer home runs at home than on the road, but their opponents have hit eight more home runs at Citi Field than in other parks while playing the Mets. But that’s not the weird one. In the most dramatic split, the Mets have hit 48 fewer doubles at home while their opponents have hit only nine fewer. Why don’t the Mets hit well in their home ballpark, especially doubles-wise, or at least see a less dramatic split?

Well let’s start here. The Mets have actually been one of the better offensive teams in the National League this season, but only on the road. They’re second in runs scored on the road, first in doubles, third in on-base percentage, fourth in OPS, fifth in slugging, and third in walks drawn. Take the Mets out of Citi Field, and they’re a top-three, top-five offensive team. Ike Davis is having an All-Star season (.259/.330/.563), but only as a road player.

Stick the Mets in Citi Field, and that all goes away. They’re dead-last in the NL in runs scored at home. They’re 15th in on-base percentage, 15th in OPS, 13th in slugging, 14th in doubles and 12th in home runs. David Wright, Daniel Murphy, and Lucas Duda have been above-average hitters at home . . . and then the six other Mets with 100 plate appearances at home have sub-.700 OPS marks.

So how do the same group of players show up as a top-three offensive team in one group of ballparks, and then a bottom-three team in their home ballpark?

That’s a serious question. I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with the Mets, or how a team can hit so well on the road and also be this awful at home. The simplest answer is that Citi Field suppresses run scoring in ways that go beyond the distance of the outfield walls. Maybe it’s wind patterns caused by the design of the park. Maybe they caught an unfair number of aces at home this season. I honestly don’t have a better answer, and I’m not sure the Mets do either.

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No play for Mr. Gray?

The result is visible: with each passing Mets broadcast on SNY, the mustache has grown considerably grayer. Sometimes the mustache is more interesting than the game.

“I’m not totally happy with the gray,” he said. “It’s something I have to get used to. I have more people, on the female side, who tell me they prefer it gray.”

So, he must have surmised, there would be some play for Mr. Gray.

The first and probably only time a sentence in the New York Times caused me to laugh out loud. Via the Internet.

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The Mets are poor but wealthy where it counts, or something

They may have lost out to Magic Johnson and his faceless financial-services wonderfriends in the race to create a domestic version of Manchester City, but they also don’t owe nearly $200 million to a corner outfield comprising one badly injured speed merchant (Carl Crawford) and one should-be platooned should-be first baseman (Andre Ethier), both aging. For next year, the Mets are a small bit of luck away from being better than the Dodgers; after next year they will owe nothing to anyone, and will have so many good young players making so little money that they’ll be able to light cash on fire and still go head up with the fake Sheikh Mansour in a bidding war.

Excellent stuff in the Wall Street Journal from Tim Marchman on the Mets, their money, and fan apathy.

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Live! Blog: Matt Harvey start

I haven’t done one of these in a while — I’ll be watching tonight’s game FROM MY COUCH. Why don’t you join me? Well not on my couch. But on the internet. I’ll be live blogging — live web logging? liwoggin? libogging?– tonight’s Mets-Phillies game starting at 7:05ish. And we’re live! Continue reading

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