There are always wild and wacky stats early in the year. Perhaps my favorite Mets-related one is that the team is undefeated when they have a lead after six innings. When starting pitching was supposed to be a strength of the team, this would seem to add up to a great record for the club. Instead, after 26 games they are 13-13. Maybe the schedule has been a little tough – the three non NL East teams they’ve played have a combined 46-32 record – but my opinion is that this is a reflection of how poor the starters have been.
Coming into the year, most fans expected the top three starters to be strong and it was the final two who were the wild cards. Instead, Steven Matz might be their best starter to date and the team has fared just as well in starts by Jason Vargas as they have when one of the alleged big three starters has taken the mound. Still, the conventional wisdom is that the Mets must upgrade the fifth starter’s slot.
Vargas had one rotten start and one lousy relief appearance. But in his other three starts he’s kept the team in the game. Sure, that’s not a very demanding standard. But if you’re going to hammer Vargas for only going 4.2 IP and allowing 1 R, what are you saying about the past few starts for Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard? Mickey Callaway’s super aggressive handling of Vargas has them going to the bullpen in the fifth inning when he’s still getting outs and keeping runs off the board. But that’s better than Syndergaard’s 16 R in 15 IP over his last three starts.
Only two times in his six starts this year has Syndergaard produced a Game Score over 50, which is an average outing for a starter. Vargas has done it twice in four starts. The focus should be on doing whatever is necessary to get Syndergaard back to being the guy he was for most of last year, rather than importing a pitcher to upgrade their fifth starter.
GOING THE OTHER WAY ON OPPOSITE FIELD HITTING – So much has been made about the Mets hitting the other way. The Mets brought in Chili Davis to be their hitting coach and Davis was supposed to stress the importance of this hitting tactic. Each time a Mets player does it in the game, Gary Cohen reminds us all that the team is changing its approach to hit the ball where it’s pitched, which will result in more opposite field hits. But what do the numbers say? Here is information from Baseball-Reference, which breaks down hit location into three regions by lefty and righty numbers:
So, all of the proclamations about how the Mets are hitting the ball the other way, well it’s hard to find much evidence of it. So far the difference between what we’ve seen this year and what we saw last year is 2/10 of 1%, which is pretty tiny. There’s significantly more evidence – although not a ton – that they are not pulling the ball as much as before.
Let’s check in on the four guys who saw significant playing time last year and this on the Mets and see their opposite field hitting. The first number will be their percent this year and the second will be their percent in 2018:
Only Nimmo has hit more balls the other way this year and his increase is dwarfed by the decrease in opposite field hitting displayed by the other three guys.
Part of what’s going on is selective memory, no different than saying Wilmer Flores was a great clutch hitter because you remember the times he came through and neglect the times he didn’t. And the other part is claiming that any ball hit two steps to the other side of the second base bag is an opposite field hit when it’s a ball hit up the middle.
Finally, let’s end with a chart of the 2019 outcomes, sorted by AVG and OPS:
|.451||Pulled RHB||1.159||Pulled LHB|
|.414||Middle LHB||1.113||Pulled RHB|
|.398||Pulled LHB||1.029||Middle LHB|
|.312||Middle RHB||.843||Middle RHB|
|.288||Opp RHB||.742||Opp RHB|
|.241||Opp LHB||.574||Opp LHB|
These numbers shouldn’t be surprising. Batters pull the ball because they’re good at it. Sure, it’s disappointing when a hitter pulls the ball into a GDP and it’s exciting when they stroke an RBI single to the opposite field. But maybe we should be excited when they pull the ball because they end up with an AVG around 170 points higher than when they hit the other way and an OPS 400-500 points higher.
Opposite field hitting is like a dollar coin. It’s exciting because you don’t see it very often. But if you did see it all of the time, you’d complain because it was either weighing down your pockets (coin) or weighing down your production.
FLIPPING OUT OVER STUPID STUFF – So, MLB did the Mets a favor by suspending Jacob Rhame for two games for his pitches to the Phillies. The Mets responded by sending Rhame to the minors, effectively bypassing the suspension. If we’re lucky, they’ll keep him there all season because he’s not a very good pitcher. MetsBlog had a nice article about the ridiculousness of the suspension and Twitter is full of people wondering where Chase Utley’s suspension is when he did actual damage to a player, unlike Rhame.
Utley’s slide at least caused a rule change, a real rule from MLB. Too often we hear about the unwritten rules that players enforce. We’re supposed to be annoyed by a bat flip or a player standing in the box to admire his homer. But last night after his big blast, Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith had some NFL end zone choreograph dance thing going on. Why is that celebration okay but a bat flip isn’t? It’s time for MLB to be explicit about which celebrations are ok and which ones aren’t. Stop leaving it to players to decide.
CANO TRADE UPDATE – Robinson Cano busted out of his slump with a nice BABIP hot streak, as he posted a .560 BABIP over a nine-game stretch, which saw him raise his overall average 99 points. After last night’s 0-fer, Cano has a respectable .270/.324/.430 line after 108 PA. That .754 OPS is almost exactly what ZiPS forecasted (.763) for him this season. Meanwhile, Edwin Diaz has been phenomenal, with a 0.93 ERA, a 0.931 WHIP and a perfect 7-for-7 in save opportunities.
Meanwhile, Jay Bruce has 9 HR and an .831 OPS, Anthony Swarzak is 2-0 with 3 Saves and Gerson Bautista is on the IL. In the minors, Justin Dunn is 1-1 with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.309 WHIP in Double-A and Jarred Kelenic — after starting the season 2-25 — sports a .329/.430/.570 line in his first exposure to full-season ball in the Lo-A South Atlantic League at age 19.