The Mets are off to an impressive start in the National League East. Coming into tonight’s opener of their crucial weekend series against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Mets find themselves in first place with a 13-9 record. Although the team still hasn’t fired on all cylinders in the hitting department, their pitching has performed beyond expectations and has been the main reason for the Mets’ early season success.
Lack of control was the Achilles heel of the Mets’ pitching staff in 2009. Last year’s team finished next-to-last in the league in walks allowed and struggled to keep those extra runners from scoring. However, a quick look at the current NL pitching stats reveals that the 2010 Mets are dead last in the National League in walks allowed. So how is this year’s team doing so much better than last year’s team when it comes to keeping runs off the scoreboard? (3.06 ERA in 2010 as opposed to a 4.45 ERA in 2009) The answer is simple. The Mets’ pitchers are thriving because the opposing batters aren’t driving the ball against them.
Last year, opposing batters hit .264 against the Mets and posted a .418 slugging percentage. Both figures were above the league averages of .260 and .412. Since the Mets were giving up so many extra-base hits (hence the .418 slugging percentage), all the free passes given up by the staff were constantly coming back to haunt them, as they were scoring on those long hits.
This year, it’s been a different story. Mets pitchers have been very stingy in 2010 when it comes to giving up the long hit. Other than John Maine’s five homers served up, no other pitcher has given up more than one home run. The 12 home runs given up by the Mets in 22 games rank second in the NL to the St. Louis Cardinals, who have allowed 10 homers. Not surprisingly, the Cardinals have the best record in the league at 15-7.
Jonathon Niese has allowed 11 doubles this year, but no other pitcher has surrendered more than five. The 43 doubles given up by the Mets are slightly less than two per game. What about triples? You can count the number of three-base hits allowed by the Mets on one hand, as they have given up only five triples in 2010.
Whereas the 2009 Mets ranked above league averages in batting average against and slugging percentage against, the 2010 Mets are far below the NL averages. This year, opponents are hitting a measly .236 against the Mets and slugging a paltry .354. These numbers pale in comparison to the .258 and .407 league averages.
When starters like Mike Pelfrey (.200 BAA, .291 slugging pct.), Johan Santana (.223 BAA, .333 slugging pct.) and – don’t laugh at this one – Oliver Perez (.244 BAA, .333 slugging pct.) are keeping the opposition to singles and walks, it’s going to take several batters to score a run. Case in point: Do you remember the grand slam Johan Santana gave up to Josh Willingham on April 11? That’s the only home run allowed by the threesome listed above. Oliver Perez may be erratic on the mound with his control, but he hasn’t given up a homer yet and has only allowed five extra base hits in his four starts.
The bullpen has been even better than the starters when it comes to keeping the opposition to one base at a time. The four most used relievers this year have been Hisanori Takahashi (14.1 IP), Fernando Nieve (13.0 IP), Francisco Rodriguez (10.2 IP) and Pedro Feliciano (10.2 IP). Here are their figures in batting average against and slugging percentage against:
- Hisanori Takahashi: .216 BAA, .314 slugging pct.
- Fernando Nieve: .191 BAA, .234 slugging pct.
- Francisco Rodriguez: .167 BAA, .222 slugging pct.
- Pedro Feliciano: .091 BAA, .091 slugging pct.
The Mets’ most-used relievers have combined to allow only 29 hits in 48.2 innings, of which only nine have gone for extra bases (all doubles). No triples or home runs have been hit against the Fab Four. In fact, Pedro Feliciano has faced 42 batters this season and has yet to give up an extra-base hit to any of them, holding them to just three singles.
The Mets must continue to be stingy with the long hits because they’re about to travel to Citizens Bank Park, home of the longball lovin’ Phillies. The Phillies’ game is simple. For them, they still think chicks dig the longball and singles are for wimps. More than one-third of their hits have gone for extra bases (72 XBH out of 193 total hits). Basically, if they don’t drive, they don’t thrive.
The Phillies are no longer using a lefty-laden lineup as four of their regulars bat from the right side (Carlos Ruiz, Juan Castro, Placido Polanco and Jayson Werth), three bat from the left side (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibañez) and one is a crybaby switch-hitter (Shane Victorino). The Mets won’t be able to trot out Perpetual Pedro to conquer to army of southpaws the Phillies used to send up to the plate because their lineup is more balanced now. It will take the combined efforts of all the pitchers, regardless of which hand they use to throw the baseball, to silence the Phillies’ potent bats.
If the Mets pitchers continue to limit the long hits, their success in the standings should continue as well. After all, runners traveling 90 feet at a time are much better than baseballs traveling 400 feet at a time. Good luck to the Mets this weekend in Philadelphia. Remember: Don’t let the Phillies drive. Then you’ll continue to thrive. And hopes will stay alive.