Mickey Callaway has pushed enough of the right buttons early this season to help push the Mets to early success.
Nevertheless, some games have slipped away from the Mets over the last week, and now New York see themselves a mere half-game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies, two games ahead of the Atlanta Braves, and four and a half games up on the Washington Nationals in the NL East.
From the beginning of the season, Callaway has made it clear that he wants this team to be built upon a meritocracy. We’ve definitely seen that in some places.
When Zack Wheeler stumbled towards the end of spring training, he was sent to Triple-A Las Vegas to figure himself out. When the opportunity presented itself, Wheeler returned and has performed decently over two starts (2.77 ERA; 2.25 K:BB).
More recently, Matt Harvey was demoted to the bullpen after his last outing where he gave up six runs over six innings. Despite Harvey’s opposition, Callaway has held the reins of this team, and seems to be putting the teams’ interest first.
Except when it comes to one player: Jay Bruce.
Bruce was first reported to have been dealing with plantar fasciitis during spring training on Feb. 24. Plantar fasciitis is a fairly common injury in which the thick band that connects the heel bone to the toes becomes inflamed. While low-impact exercise is recommended to strengthen and help recover the heel, long periods of running or standing around could worsen the condition.
While we here are not doctors, plenty of this information is readily available. I can’t pretend to know what the inner workings of the Mets medical staff are, but I, like all of us watching, can see the results.
Bruce is currently hitting .194/.280/.328. That’s worth -0.3 fWAR, a mere 68 wRC+, and a minuscule .264 wOBA.
Currently, Bruce is 2-for-his-last-25, and 3-for-his-last-31. In his last 11 games, he’s hitting .097/.200/.161, with a lowly .146 wOBA, and a -11 wRC+ in 35 plate appearances. This isn’t the mean for Jay Bruce’s production.
Now one thing that should be noted is that his eye at the plate has been good. His walk rate currently sits at 10.7 percent, up from his 9.1 percent career average, and his strikeout rate sits at 21.3 percent, down from his 23.7 percent career average.
So if his eye ate the plate isn’t the problem, what could be wrong with Bruce?
Observing the small sample of 75 plate appearances that Bruce has accumulated in the early goings, he has a hard contact rate of 19.6 percent, down from his 35.2 percent career average. While his soft contact rate isn’t too far off from his career norm (15.7 current; 13.9 career), his medium contact is notably higher at 64.7 percent, up from 50.9 percent for his career.
During his cold streak the last 11 games, the numbers dip a bit as well. His soft contact increased to 21.7 percent; his medium contact to 65.2 percent, and his hard contact to 13.0 percent.
Now what I believe this tells us is that while Bruce is not performing peripherally worse than he has in prior years, he can’t make solid contact with the pitches he is connecting with. His plantar fasciitis is causing him to not be able to distribute his weight during his swing, and he is not doing significant enough damage.
On top of his offense, his defense is certainly hindered by his heel ailment.
We’ve seen him come short on a number of plays lately, including, but not limited to, a ball he made a dive at last week at Citi, a misplayed ball in Atlanta which lead to the Braves tying the game, and Saturday nights game, not backing up a grounder that got beyond the reach of Asdrúbal Cabrera, and rolled all the way down to the right-center field wall.
Brandon Nimmo is currently hitting .333/.533/.714, with a .521 wOBA, and a 240 wRC+. Of all Players with at least 30 PA, that wRC+ leads all of baseball.
Juan Lagares is currently hitting .379/.424/.414 with a .362 wOBA, and a 134 wRC+, over 33 PA. On top of that he’s walked as many times (three) as he has struck out. That 9.1 percent walk rate is up from his 4.7 percent career rate, and the 9.1 percent strikeout rate is down from his 19.7 percent career rate.
While there are considerably better bats sitting on the Mets bench, Bruce is ailing himself on the field.
If Callaway wants to run a true meritocracy, he should be at least be playing Nimmo in the outfield every night, and at most should speak to the front office about sending Bruce to the disabled list until his heel can get comfortable. In the interim, an injured Bruce does not help this team and a resolution needs to be achieved.