Jason Vargas’ start, Mets’ opposite field hitting, Robinson Cano trade update

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:

Location 2019 2018
RHB Pulled 71 533
RHB Middle 206 1235
RHB Opp 68 426
LHB Pulled 114 666
LHB Middle 159 952
LHB Opp 55 322
Opp % 18.3 18.1
Pull % 27.5 29.0

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:

Michael Conforto – 13.7%, 18.8%
Jeff McNeil – 13.9%, 18.5%
Brandon Nimmo – 17.4%, 15.0%
Amed Rosario – 14.1%, 20.4%

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:

AVG   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 UPDATERobinson 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.

8 comments for “Jason Vargas’ start, Mets’ opposite field hitting, Robinson Cano trade update

  1. John Fox
    April 28, 2019 at 11:47 am

    You had me excited for a second when I saw “Robinson Cano trade update” in the title. I thought maybe somehow the Mets had found a trade partner for Cano and his big contract, but alas no.

    • April 28, 2019 at 11:52 am

      Sorry to give you false hope. We were talking in the chatter about Kelenic last night and thought I’d mention it here.

      But maybe knowing they’ve DFAd Travis d’Arnaud will brighten you up a bit…

  2. José
    April 28, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Canó is just about the only thing trending positively lately in the world of Metsies. And jettisoning Td’A in favor of Nido is somehow smart?

    • April 28, 2019 at 8:33 pm

      I’d say that Matz, Wheeler and Diaz are trending much better than Cano.

      I’ve been a TDA supporter for quite some time. But I wouldn’t have tendered him a contract and said so back in October

      http://mets360.com/?p=36764

      I do think it’s possible that a change of scenery will reinvigorate TDA. But he just wasn’t worth what he was pulling down in salary. Is Nido any better? I have serious doubts that he’ll be any kind of asset offensively. But he had the best luck working with Syndergaard last year and by a healthy margin. And the last good start deGrom had was with Nido catching. I think it’s more than possible that Nido’s defensive work can make up for his weak offense.

  3. TexasGusCC
    April 29, 2019 at 12:56 am

    Regarding the Cano trade:

    I still feel it was good to get those two players, but not keeping Bruce and Swarzak necessitated the need to give up Kelenic. These cheap owners are losers. Swarzak is doing pretty well and had enough history to be considered a decent arm for the bullpen, albeit not a big piece. Bruce may have been redundant, but he could have been flipped during spring training for a can of corn. Either way, you get your Diaz/Cano package and still keep Kelenic.

    I’m wondering what hiring Bloom would have done. I know he wanted a mini-rebuild, and that was out of the question since we have heard enough of Fred Wilpon wanted to win once more since we know he is getting up there in years, but I wonder what a mini-rebuild would look like.

    Let’s say you keep JDG and sign him to his deal. You don’t get Cano/Diaz, but instead sign Soria, Familia, and one more. You may or may not sign Ramos. You trade Bruce to Colorado for Wade Davis or another one of their big bullpen signings. They won’t sign Murphy. You sign Murphy to platoon with Frazier. You trade Syndergaard for a major haul, including a centerfielder, a young pitcher and a catcher. Hypothetical for sure, but is it better?

    Gosh it kills me that they gave up Kelenic to get a player no one wanted and they couldn’t trade anywhere else but New York because of his no trade clause. How stupid were these idiots? You see Brian Cashman giving in like that?

    • April 29, 2019 at 8:00 am

      An interesting thought as to what the team would look like if they had hired Bloom.

      I thought the right move was to go for it. They (seemingly) had a strong core and needed to add on the edges. A mini rebuild? Not sure that was the way to go. My opinion is that they needed to go hard in one direction or the other.

      Too soon to judge the moves BVW did make. But it looks like he was right to believe in Alonso and wrong not to believe in McNeil as a 2B.

  4. Metsense
    April 29, 2019 at 8:24 am

    You are correct Brian, Matz and Vargas are not the problem with the rotation but after the five designated starters there is no reliable replacement. I still think Keuchel is an upgrade to Vargas and would strengthen the rotation and Vargas would strengthen the bullpen. Keuchel averaged 6+ innings a start with a 3.74 ERA in 2018. Depth is the primary reason to sign Keuchel.
    If I’m going to flip out I’m stupid stuff then I will comment on the the two times that Cano was hit and call strikes. The umpires need to take charge in those situations and use common sense not a rulebook. At least that was how I was taught when I was a HS basketball referee.
    I can see that you and I are going to be discussing the Cano deal for the next 10 years, God willing. I can’t present a viable argument against you but right now I like the deal. I guess the only way to find out will be to add up the WAR of each player involved in the end . Right now I can’t imagine where the Mets would be without Diaz.

    • April 29, 2019 at 11:28 am

      But it wasn’t Diaz or nobody. They would have spent money on a closer to fill the spot, either by another trade – like Gus outlined above – or a Craig Kimbrel type.

      As for the Cano deal, all we can do is play the odds. Maybe Cano ages like Jeff Kent. But for every Kent or Joe Morgan that you name, I’ll throw out Robby Alomar and Craig Biggio and Ryne Sandberg and Chase Utley for guys who weren’t worth anything in their late 30s. I think the odds are stacked against him being worth the part of the contract that the Mets are paying him.

      Doesn’t mean he can’t help this year. Assuming he doesn’t fail another drug test.

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