The Mets have started 2018 strong, winning their first two games. Perhaps even more impressive than the 2-0 record is how it’s been accomplished after a Grapefruit League season that could best be described as disappointing. They’ve beaten a Cardinals team that they figure to battle for a playoff spot this year and one that they finished under .500 against last year. They’ve won with dominating performances from their two star pitchers, who combined for 17 Ks and 1 BB in 11.2 IP. They’ve won with a bullpen that allowed just 1 ER in 6.1 IP. And they’ve won thanks to an offense that tallied 15 Runs with the benefit of only 2 HR.
That last one is certainly encouraging, as most people worried that the Mets were too reliant on the long ball to score runs. It helps that the Mets are getting great production from their leadoff hitters, who’ve reached base safely in seven of their 10 trips to the plate. But they’ve received production up and down their lineup. After 84 PA, the team has a .985 OPS thanks to a .404 BABIP.
It’s hard to take any numbers seriously after two games. But one that perhaps we should keep an eye out on is the team’s K/BB ratio. Last season, Mets batters had 529 BB and 1,291 Ks. That’s the eighth-most walks in the league and the 11th-most strikeouts. That works out to a 0.41 BB/K ratio, which is better than you might think, as it had the club tied with the Nationals for the sixth-best mark in the league.
This year after two games, the Mets have 14 BB and 13 Ks. They lead the league with a 1.08 BB/K mark, comfortably ahead of the Braves and their 0.70 mark. Now, there’s no way this will last. In 2017, the 15 NL clubs were tightly packed with a high BB/K mark of 0.47 and a low of 0.31 – for a 0.16 spread from best to worst.
So, with the understanding that it won’t be anything like this at the end of the year – just how are the Mets doing it so far? They’ve cut their K% from 20.9 to 15.5 and they’ve upped their BB% from 8.6 to 16.7, a league-best.
The perception is that the Mets’ offense of recent years has struck out too many times. But we see that’s more myth than reality. Sure, if you judge things by a 1980 standard then yes, the Mets strike out way too much. But here’s how they’ve placed in strikeouts in the 15-team NL since 2015:
2015 – 7th most, 12 above league average
2016 – 10th most, 24 fewer than league average
2017 – 11th most, 63 fewer than league average
Here’s how the offense rates in the same time period in drawing walks:
2015 – 7th most, 20 above league average
2016 – 8th most, 2 above league average
2017 – 8th most, 7 below league average
Interestingly, we see the Mets’ hitters getting better compared to league average with their strikeouts and worse compared to the league in terms of walks.
We hear it said so many times how Sandy Alderson values power and OBP, yet the second one has been solidly middle of the road while the team has finished in the top 3 in HR each of the past three seasons.
Injuries and trades kept anyone on the 2017 Mets from amassing big raw numbers in either walks or strikeouts. And if we look at it from a percentage point of view, seven on the top 11 highest K% guys (min. 50 PA) from last year’s team are no longer on the club. Given the team’s recent performance in offensive strikeouts, it’s unlikely that particular aspect of the game will have much influence on whether or not the Mets make the playoffs.
Maybe you can say the same thing about walks, too. But it would be nice to see the team’s ranking in that category rise to where the team places in homers. More playing time for Brandon Nimmo, along with the addition of Todd Frazier, could certainly help in that regard.
At the end of last year, we heard about the disconnect between the front office and the manager on how the team was run. It’s among the possibilities that former manager Terry Collins was encouraging his hitters to be more aggressive in putting the ball in play. Supposedly Alderson is much more in tune with new manager Mickey Callaway on how to run a team. So perhaps this year there’s reason to believe the Mets will draw more walks.
Again, nothing can be predicted from two games, especially ones against a team whose pitching is not necessarily a strength. But 14 BB in 16 innings and 84 PA is a wonderful thing to see. To be clear, no one should go to the plate looking to draw a walk. You go up looking for a pitch you can drive for extra bases. It’s just that you don’t want to make the pitcher’s job easier by swinging at borderline strikes and pitches way out of the strike zone. If the former leads to some strikeouts, so be it. That’s a cost of doing business. Besides, the increased walks and increased power from the approach should make those strikeouts insignificant.