Early in the spring we did a post mortem of the 2012 Met 2nd half in an attempt to discover the ugly specifics of last year’s second half swoon. What we found was interesting in that the culprit was not the offensive approach per se, but rather the downward spiral was precipitated by some hideous pitching performances by both our starters and bullpen alike. At the time of the analysis we’d just come off a series victory against the San Diego Padres and there was some dissent stirred up by my optimistic tone when I noted that the Padre offense wasn’t half bad last year (they were in fact arguably comparable to Cincinnati’s).
As we’ve reached a point in the year where where sample size is sufficient in predicting broader outcomes things don’t look quite as peachy, but it’s nevertheless a good time to take account of where this Met team stands in terms of their plate discipline.
The good news is we may not have to worry about a second half collapse this year — you all know that nasty little cloud of dread that appears above even the most optimistic Met fan around mid-season. The bad news is the collapse may have come early given a team that appears to be playing worse than many of us predicted, if that’s possible.
The bias dating back to last year among our fine announcers (especially Ojeda and Hernandez) has centered on blaming the lineup’s difficulties on a perceived tendency towards passivity. They take too many early pitches down the middle and strike out on balls outside the zone. Its hard to argue with this criticism because on any given night you can watch a game and see this with your own eyes, but looks can be deceiving.
When you crunch the numbers the first sore thumb that throbs out at you conspicuously from this bruised and painful numerical array is BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). Rock bottom, second to last is where the Mets currently abide at .271, with only the Marlins a few notches lower. So really, when you consider the Marlins are, well, the Marlins, you could argue the Mets have the worst BABIP in baseball. The Mets are still walking at a somewhat reasonable 8.5% rate which ranks 11th in the league, but they are striking out on 22.6% of their at bats, which is 4th worst (oddly enough the Braves and Nationals actually strike out more — but so do the Astros). The Mets are also third to last in batting average at .227. OBP has tanked as well at .297, 4th worst in the game.
What’s odd is that the Mets went from a 9.6 walk rate and a 19.7% K rate in March and April to a 6.9% walk rate and a 24% K rate in May. Again, the numbers seem to show that in spite of appearances, the Mets offensive malaise (the Mets currently rank 24th in runs) is not the result of a proclivity towards being more selective but rather a consequence of having abandoned the approach. Have the Mets been seeing more pitches in the strike zone in May than they did in March and April? Lets take a look at a chart with a comprehensive array of plate discipline metrics. The first column in each row is March/April the second is May, the Y axis is percent, the X is the metric itself.
The quick answer to whether or not the Mets are seeing more strikes is no, the Mets have not seen more pitches in the strike zone than what you might expect. They were about league average in that regard for the month of May. For March and April on the other hand, 47% of pitches they saw were in the zone, 4th highest in Baseball. So for May they are actually seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone.
We can determine two distinct trends in the chart above (I debated whether to actually make two charts but for simplicity’s sake I combined them). First, the Mets swung more in May in every category than they did in April, and secondly, their contact went down, also in every category. So, contrary to what we may think, the Mets have swung the bat more in May, with clearly poorer results. At 31.6% the Mets did not swing at an inordinate number of pitches outside the zone in May, they did, however swing at 68% of pitches inside the zone, (4th best in baseball), so, while they were still fairly selective, their contact rates were awful, with a noted increase in swinging strikes for May.
What’s the take-away? Well, unless statistics lie, the philosophy remains a sound one. When the Mets were more patient the offense clicked, when they swing more, they strike out more, and their contact rates plummet. It’s not the approach, it’s the execution. The onus of blame, therefore, may be less on the strategy itself and more on the players and the coaches who are tasked with implementing it consistently. You can argue the coaching staff has done a poor job of preparing the players to see it through, but that’s a tough sell since the Mets came out the gate seeing lots of pitches and walking a ton and were better for it.
Perhaps better players would have been able to stick with the program, perhaps different players may have been more amenable to the approach itself. Regardless, the numbers don’t lie.
There are a couple of silver linings. First, it’s encouraging that the lineup as constituted has shown the propensity to score runs in the past, so there may be hope in their ability to regain some modicum of their early form. Secondly, their dreadful BABIP indicates that to some degree, the Mets have been unlucky, especially in May. I will go so far as to say the team should rebound, particularly if earlier trends in plate discipline can somehow be rediscovered or reinforced. I don’t believe the Mets are as bad as they’ve appeared over the past couple of weeks. They might not be much better, but I don’t think they’re this bad.
Unless statistics lie of course.