Every now and then it’s worth lurking in the comments sections of websites for opposing teams when they’re playing the Mets. It (sometimes) provides interesting assessments from opposing fans, and it adds a bit of perspective when their gnashing highlights things about the Mets we as fans may not generally notice. If you do take these jaunts into the mind of the adversary, you may have observed a trend that has taken hold regarding the Mets and their season thus far: their damnable good luck. Specifically, and particularly when they play the Braves, the talk turns to the Mets lack of hard contact, home runs, and the difference between their expected results and their actual results. The team does seem to dink and dunk their way to wins a lot of the time, at least according to Spencer Strider .
The general team-building philosophy in today’s game revolves around selling out for exit velocity and launch angle. This is for good reason since the data shows that these traits, when within certain parameters, lead to the best results. You only need to take a gander at the definition of the statistic Barrel to understand just why the game has moved in this direction, like it or not*.
In this regard the Mets are an anomaly that, purposefully or not, are bucking the modern trend. Statcast shows us that the Mets have been, without a doubt, closer to the bottom of the pack than the top for things like hard hit rate, home runs, average exit velocity, and Barrels. And yet they’ve scored the fifth most runs in baseball with 604, well ahead of the Phillies at number five with 587.
We’ve heard players like Chris Bassitt note that the team, when they’re at their best, grinds down opposing pitchers by extending plate appearances. This appears both true and false. The Mets are actually closer to the middle of the pack at twelfth in pitches per plate appearance with 3.91, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. The Mets have actually seen the most strikes (12,131) of any team in the majors this year, and this includes both swinging strikes and pitches in the zone. However, their swinging strike percentage is one of the lowest in the league at 17.9%, their Whiff% of 23.8% is third-best in the majors, and they’re near the top of the league in fewest strikeouts while swinging (where a team like the Braves has struck out swinging the most by far). They’ve also fouled off the second-most pitches in the majors at a 29% clip while making the third most contact at 76.1%. Additionally, the Mets have put the fourth most balls in play at 3,371. Finally, the team has the third highest percentage of 3-0 counts seen at 4.9%.
They’re not hitting the ball all that hard, sure, but their average launch angle of 11.5 degrees is still within what’s classified as the Sweet Spot. In fact, they’re in the top ten of SweetSpot% at 34%. They’re also near the top of the league in Flare/Burner% at 25.4% which, according to the linked definition above, is the result of making contact in the areas of the bat that are just above and below that Sweet Spot zone.
So, yes, this lineup is absolutely making pitchers work and focusing on putting the ball into play with quality contact (even if it isn’t hard contact). Put simply, this team is epitomizing the old adage that making contact and putting the ball in play will make good things happen. The funny thing about it is that it’s actually working, and it’s clearly repeatable and sustainable.
And to put a bow on the whole luck thing: the Mets’ wOBA of.323 (seventh best in baseball) and xwOBA (or expected wOBA) of .318 are nearly identical (and a wOBA of .318 would still be top ten).
It will be up to the Mets’ pitching to take advantage of the high-strikeout tendencies of many of the best teams they’ll see in the playoffs. Teams like the Mets, Dodgers, and Braves all have staffs that strikeout opposing hitters at a rate near the top of the league. The difference is that the Mets’ lineup has a significant edge in that its hitters don’t strikeout nearly as much as the competition (particularly the Braves).
It all sounds like a recipe for postseason success, and our own Charlie Hangley recently highlighted the similarities between the team’s current approach and the 2015 Royals lineup that (ironically) dashed the 2015 Mets’ World Series hopes and ended a magical run.
Is the Mets’ current, old-school approach a viable path towards building a perennial contender? That remains to be seen, and we’ll likely learn a lot about it as they battle through the rest of the season and (hopefully deep) into the playoffs. It’d be best to avoid checking in on how that Royals team ultimately turned out after a handful of excellent seasons, but hey flags fly forever.
*As an interesting aside, search for the recent stories regarding Rod Carew’s recent dust up with Rob Manfred to get an idea of what many of the old-timers think of this philosophy of team-building and the general state of the game.