After bursting out of the gate with an astonishing 11-1 start to the season, the New York Mets have since gone 3-4 and if not for a couple of dramatic late comeback victories it could have easily been a win and six losses. Still, sitting atop the NL East division with a 14-5 record is nothing to scoff at and I’m proud of the team and thrilled at how well they are performing overall.
A significant reason for that dominant early season 11-1 start was a pitching staff that was ranked either first or second in MLB in ERA and Opposing Batting Average. Both the starting rotation and the bullpen especially, were performing well above anyone’s wildest expectations. However, over the last seven games there has been a real seismic shift in the pitching staff’s performance and what some may call an expected normalization.
Going into tonight’s action, with an overall 3.58 ERA, the Mets’ pitching staff now ranks 11th in MLB, and if we break that down even further, starting pitching ranks 16th with a 3.96 ERA while the bullpen comes in with a very respectable 3.03 ERA that ranks 9th.
Through the first 12 games of the season, the Mets pitching staff posted a 2.57 ERA. And while most would agree that a pace like that was unsustainable, the team’s 5.26 ERA over the last seven games is not something that should be glossed over.
Sooner or later the fatigue and overuse was going to catch up to the bullpen and it really is time for the rotation to start pitching deeper into games so that the bullpen becomes less taxed and by extension more efficient and dominant.
During last night’s broadcast against the Atlanta Braves, we were reminded by Ron Darling of something pitching coach Dave Eiland told his staff at the start of spring training. “There is one stat I hope we lead the league in, and that’s hit batters.”
I remember reading that back in February and thinking how much I was going to love Dan Warthen‘s new replacement. It was music to my ears. Of course, Eiland wasn’t advocating that our pitchers should start intentionally plunking batters or go head-hunting, but he was merely stressing that we needed to be pitching inside more aggressively and not letting batters get too comfortable at the plate.
That strategy was working wonders for Mets pitchers through the first two weeks of the season, batters were being backed off the plate with great frequency and the results were very stark as our pitchers practically owned the outer half of the plate and the swinging strike rates soared.
However, as we observed last night after Ozzie Albies dug in and blasted a Noah Syndergaard fastball over the wall and into the Atlanta skyline, opposing batters have been way too comfortable at the plate over the past week and the results are abundantly apparent when you look at how precipitously the staff’s ERA and BAA have worsened in that span. Suffice it to say, we need to get back to the aggressive approach that made our rotation and bullpen so effective previously.
On the plus side, I really believe we have someone in Dave Eiland who is well-equipped for the job, and is undoubtedly well aware of the situation. I’m almost certain that he is probably in the midst of addressing this with his staff as we speak, and making any necessary adjustments. Or as he used to say when he was with the Royals, giving his rotation and bullpen “an attitude adjustment.”
I really love Eiland’s straight-shooting style and while he may come off a little harsh at times when he’s addressing performance with one of his pitchers, I’m so glad that as an organization we have moved past the babying and coddling we saw so much of when Warthen and Terry Collins were running the show.
Finally, we’re seeing some real accountability and if a player performs poorly it’s not being downplayed or defended, but instead it’s immediately addressed head-on. There’s also a great sense that the inmates are no longer running the asylum.
Eiland’s straightforward and cut-to-the-chase approach was recently on full display the other day. Right-hander Matt Harvey sat at his locker and defended his poor outing against the Brewers by deflecting the results of his first three innings – when he allowed six runs – and telling reporters how well he pitched over the next three innings.
Upon hearing Harvey defending his performance so vigorously, Eiland quickly retorted, “The game starts in the first inning, not the fourth.”
Boom… I had a good chuckle after reading that, but it illustrates just how different this new regime is. And while there’s no telling how this season ends up, I do believe that the kind of accountability we are seeing now, will have a positive cumulative effect that will translate into a winning culture and longterm success for the Mets.