Mets Hitting Approach: Back to the Drawing Board

An article by posted on May 8, 2014 0 Comments

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As I was driving around for work yesterday, I was listening to the Mets broadcast on the radio, and something occurred to me.

At some point this year, this team will be no-hit, and you can pretty much assume that their current major league philosophy is the reason not only for that, but for their overall lack of success at the plate.

I’m not a huge “hitting coach” kind of guy. I like to think that when a hitter comes up to the big leagues, he earned his way up by already becoming a major league hitter. Here’s the thing about the Mets though – there is a difference between an organizational philosophy which is an attempt to educate young hitters in an attempt to get them to the big leagues, and a major league hitting philosophy which could change a hitter’s mentality after he’s already reached the big leagues.

My view of a hitting coach is the same as a pitching coach in the major leagues. They are there to help you get back on track when you’ve lost your way a bit. They are supposed to recognize and adjust to each player’s styles and tendencies and work with them to be the best they can possibly be. I feel like Dan Warthen does that, but I get the sense that Dave Hudgens wants everybody to be the same, and if they don’t fit his idea of a quality hitter, he’s going to try and change them.

It’s hard to change people as they get older, and learn more tools that help them achieve success. Think of it as learning a new language, if you’ve only learned one language and you’re successful at what you do and somebody came to you and told you in order to achieve the same success, you have to learn a second language – that wouldn’t be easy to do.

Following the Mets loss to the Marlins, hitting coach Dave Hudgens had some interesting and perhaps concerning comments with regards to the Mets hitters and their approach.

The first quote in this piece to me, comes off as a whole lot of excuses and not a lot of substance.

“It’s a whole different environment in Colorado than it is here,” Hudgens said, contrasting the Mets’ 22 runs in four games at Coors Field versus their three runs in three games at Marlins Park. “Not even the ballpark, but the pitching staffs are a little bit different. We squared some balls up. We just have to keep working through it, trust the process and keep working. There’s no real secrets in it. We’ve just got to keep pushing forward. We hit some balls hard today, squared some balls up. Their pitching is really good.”

Now, I don’t mean to be totally disrespectful to the Marlins here but a guy like Tom Koehler has been more lucky, than good. The fact you can’t beat him says more about you than it does about him. Koehler is a guy with 29 K and 17 BB in 45 innings of work, also allowing 28 hits. You know what that means? That means he has been helped out tremendously by two factors. The first, is his defense and the second is his home ballpark.

If you cannot have success at the plate in spite of the difficult ballpark, then that is not an excuse, it’s a flaw. Spare me this idea that anybody outside of Jose Fernandez in Miami is a pitcher that you are worried about facing. Just because you failed, doesn’t make them something they are not.

You’d think that if any team could succeed in a tough hitter’s park, it’d be a team with a tough hitter’s park. Instead, we’re going to use that as an excuse?

Then Hudgens added to the fire.

“I’m not pleased with the results. I don’t think anybody is pleased with the results. But we’re doing everything we’ve always done as far as getting ready, routines, trying to make adjustments. I’m pleased with how the guys are working and going about their business. Most definitely.”

Perhaps I’m a little confused, but in 2013, the Mets OPS was ranked 14th out of the 15 teams in the NL and in 2014, they remain 14th as well. Maybe it’s just me, but perhaps doing the things you’ve always done isn’t exactly the best formula for success? Maybe, just maybe, if we look at the last few years and realize the offense hasn’t been good – that perhaps a new idea or new way of doing things might be the path to take?

Then, Hudgens explains what he believes is going on with Ruben Tejada.

“I just think he’s trying a little bit too hard. He’s swinging at some very marginal pitches. Yesterday he swung at two pitches that were up and in and hit ground balls. We’re kind of searching, wanting to get hits, as opposed to having a good approach and getting a good ball to hit and don’t try to force it. I think he’s just trying to force it a little bit right now.”

So here’s the other problem I have. If I know the Mets hitting approach pretty much doesn’t change, doesn’t that mean that every team in the NL knows that? It seems that the Mets are stuck on this idea of looking for that ONE pitch. But, here’s the problem. What if you miss that one pitch? Or what if that one pitch comes during the first pitch of the at bat and you watched it go by?

I get the approach with an 18 year old kid, I really do. The problem is you can’t change a hitter when they get to the big leagues. It’s sink or swim by that point, you either are a major league hitter or you are not. Changing how David Wright approaches each at bat does nothing positive for David Wright.

To be fair to Hudgens, there is some blame to go on the players as well. My point is not that I believe somebody like Ruben Tejada is a .290 hitter being held back by Hudgens’ approach. My point is that I think at a major league level, Hudgens’ approach is doing more harm than good.

Let’s say for argument (and dream) sake that the Mets found a way to bring in a superstar caliber hitter such as a Troy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton or somebody of that stature. What would be the Mets approach with them? To say, “hey what you did up to this point is why we brought you here, but let me introduce you to Dave Hudgens because he is going to change your approach”?

To me, where this team is whiffing (besides at the plate) is they have a minor league instructor trying to implement his methods at the big league level. You can’t do that. You don’t have Dan Warthen trying to change the way Bartolo Colon delivers his pitch do you?

The Mets are doing a lot of things right, even if it’s taking a little more time than some of us had hoped. Their biggest flaw however might be their lack of adjusting and re-tooling after something doesn’t work out the way they hoped.

Dave Hudgens as the major league hitting coach isn’t working. At the major league level, the learning process should be as close to complete as you can get with “experience” being the final piece to the puzzle. Anybody remember Carlos Delgado’s little notebook?

At some point this organization is going to have to admit defeat on some of their practices and adjust accordingly. It’s okay to fail sometimes, it’s how you respond to failure that says more about who you are than anything.

The worst response to failure is crossing your arms, denying that the failure exists and refusing to change your methods, and right now – that sums up the Mets quite nicely.

mmo

About the Author ()

Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.