The Incredible Hitting Mets Pitchers

I’ve pretty much come around on DH for all over the years. I’d prefer pitcher’s bat but it just seems that no one really takes it seriously, so let’s get a batter that’s actually trying. It seems like a farce most of the time. Plus David Wright may have been able to extend his career if it was DH only a few years ago, and the juiced ball would’ve been kind to Wright’s hitting profile.

So it came as somewhat of a shock to see just how well the Mets are doing as pitchers at-bat this season. I don’t know if this is a quirk of the Mets pitchers just being really super athletic and good, or if there is some extra batting practice going on, but they’re really doing quite well. 

Mets pitchers as a group have 1.7 fWAR, which is way more than the second place Dodgers at 0.5 fWAR. That’s a not-insignificant contribution from the Mets pitchers at the plate. They are the only NL club with a positive wRC+, at 32, which means they are 32% of an average MLB hitter, which is probably way better than you think a typical pitcher is. Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler are at 0.6 fWAR each, or more than every other team’s entire rotation. 

The Diamondbacks have five home runs, though only a 0.1 fWAR overall, from their pitchers, the Brewers have two, and the Mets have six. This means that only one other team has more pitcher home runs than Noah Syndergaard or deGrom. 

Thor in particular is swinging for the fences. He’s got three singles, 1 double, and 2 home runs. The average distance of his contact is 225ft, which is 50 ft further than Jon Lester, who’s second, minimum 10 results. Lester and the Cubs do edge the Mets slightly in average exit velocity, 78.6 mph to 77.8.

There have been 23 plays by pitchers classified by Statcast as Barrels, or ideal contact, and the Mets have six of them. Syndergaard has three, Zack Greinke actually has five himself for the lead, and Madison Bumgartner is the other pitcher with more than one, with two. Greinke with three home runs is the only non-Mets pitcher with more than one. 

Mets pitchers can swing some wood! Who knew!

Special shoutout to Stephen Matz, the fourth guy who’s contributing value here. Stephen Matz also is the fastest pitcher in baseball, as far as Statcast can be trusted in measuring something that’s fairly small sample. 28.9 ft/s puts him in the top 8% of the league, or 53rd. That’s also 5th for 28 year olds. Statcast doesn’t really put the pitcher’s on the leaderboards, but of the Mets position players, only Amed Rosario at 29.2 ft/s is faster. 

Something to keep in mind if the Mets are looking for late-game pinch runners for the playoff run or postseason.

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Forget Manny Machado, Sign Josh Donaldson

This headline is clickbait, there a ton of reasons to covet Manny Machado over virtually everyone else, but those are obvious, and less interesting to write about. Machado is awesome, he fits the Mets very well, and they should absolutely try to sign him. Alas, all 29 other teams are also aware of this guy, and the Mets could seriously pursue him and still not get him.

So what other infield help is there? Well, there’s Josh Donaldson.

The big risk with Donaldson is that he’ll be 33 and had a bad and injured season. You could read into that as the end of the line for him as a useful player, it wouldn’t be the most surprising thing. You definitely have to give him his physical, look at the underlying numbers, do your due diligence. If you find a red flag, balk, but if you don’t, he could be a huge addition.

Donaldson was a late bloomer, and floundered a bit his rookie year at age 26 in 2012, but after that he’s been among the best in baseball. Last season was hampered by injury, but he was traded to Cleveland and mashed much like he’s mashed in the past. It was a small 60 plate appearance sample, but all the peripheral stats seem to support him being much like himself.

He’s a great hitter, he’s got power, he walks a bunch, he makes a lot of solid contact. He’s not fast, but he’s not a base-clogger. He plays good defense. He’s not exclusively a pull-hitter, shifts don’t seem to hurt him too much. He’s a righty, which plays nicely with the Mets having a lot of lefties providing their power right now.

MLB Trade Rumors is predicting the Cardinals will sign him for $20 million, one year. That seems like a steal. Crowd-sourced predictions at Fangraphs have him signing for 3/58, which could still be a steal if Donaldson puts up even something less than his career line. If he’d simply stayed healthy and had an average year, he’d be getting mentioned with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

Steamer projections have him just a tick off his average, at 4.6 fWAR for 2019. Even if he continued to decline from there, getting 10 or so WAR from Donaldson over three years would be worth 60 million, easy.

Donaldson might want to try to have a healthy season and jump back into the fray, but Nolan Arenado will be a free agent next year and Donaldson would be a year older too. Perhaps Donaldson could be the right target while other teams are focused on Machado, and maybe Donaldson takes one option off the board for teams looking for shorter term 3B options, raising possible demand for a Todd Frazier trade.

Oh, and Donaldson’s twitter handle is BringerOfRain, which is cool.

 

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Adrian Gonzalez: Secretly Good

via Baseball SavantThe Mets signed Adrian Gonzalez, a former great player, hoping that his 2017 was the aberration and not the start of a steep decline. They liked the idea of a veteran player providing time for Dominic Smith to step up and take the job, as well as have a solid bench piece if they did give the job to Smith. Gonzalez is the type of guy a good team has on their bench to provide depth and options.

 

Gonzalez had a good night in Cincinnati in a hitter’s ballpark against one of the worst pitching staffs ever, but overall the results haven’t quite been there, though there is a lot of good signs when you look at the numbers, specifically in Statcast.

 

His exit velocity is the highest it’s been in the Statcast era (since 2015), and he has his best barrel%, basically a measure of good contact and angle for home runs, too. He’s actually had more barrels this year than all of last year.  His expected slugging and expected wOBA are also way above what they actually are, and his hard hit percentage is way up.

 

He’s also posting a higher walk rate than he has since 2010. He’s making good contact, less weak contact, pulling the ball in the air more, and hasn’t popped up yet, according to Statcast.  I’m not sure how accurate that last one is, as I seem to remember one, but no matter how you slice it Gonzalez is making good contact in ways that generally lead to extra base hits. He’s just gotten very unlucky so far.

 

So expect a lot more from Gonzalez, as he’s actually been better than the numbers suggest, and after last night even those are looking better. Definitely don’t play Jay Bruce at first over him, though getting Wilmer Flores in there against lefties occasionally wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Mets might have to make a tough decision with Dominic Smith being ready to come back up later this season, but until then Gonzalez has been doing a good job.

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Mets Are Winning In Spite Of Their Acquisitions

photo by CeetarThe Mets acquired Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, and Yoenis Cespedes to help a struggling offense, and shortly after they started winning more games and scoring more runs. However, this was largely in part to players the Mets already had as the new guys haven’t really been pulling their weight.

 

Including Michael Conforto, the new guys have hit .198/.260/.333 going into yesterday’s game. That’s a 64 wRC+, significantly below average. During that time Lucas Duda has hit nine home runs and has a wRC+ of 234. He’s the main reason the Mets are where they are. Other players have contributed too, Curtis Granderson and Daniel Murphy particularly. The Mets were always due to hit better than they were leading into the trades, dealing with some hard luck and some injuries. That they’re doing so now is not surprising.

 

This isn’t to rag on the new guys. The new guys are very good baseball players who won’t stay down long. THAT is the biggest thing about the trades in that it gives the Mets flexibility and eliminates holes in the lineup and allows everyone to find a way to contribute. It’s not that the Mets got some solid players, it’s that they stopped giving plate appearances to guys that weren’t hitting. John Mayberry Jr and Eric Campbell are gone, and Collins is picking his spots for Juan Lagares and Wilmer Flores, the two guys who were making the most outs on the team. If someone starts to hit more, they’ll get to play more.

 

Things look to get better offensively–maybe much better. Cespedes, Uribe, and Johnson will definitely hit more. Michael Cuddyer so far looks much better, and if he can stay away from that knee pain, there’s little doubt that he’ll continue to contribute.

 

The biggest thing of all, the one that makes me most giddy, is the potential return of David Wright. Nobody added a better hitter than Wright at the trading deadline. Adding in a legitimate top hitter in baseball to a lineup like the Mets is going to make it scary. Even if Wright has to take a chunk of days off to ease back into not playing baseball for months. Even if he’s not vintage Wright. He knows how to play baseball. I can’t help but bet on David. I can’t help but look forward to him returning.

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Are Yesterday’s Strikeouts Tomorrow’s Home Runs?

photo by CeetarIt’s not about how incompetent the hitting has been for the Mets so far this season, it’s about how competent, and healthy, it will be the rest of the season going forward. Health is a major factor, and a tricky one. It’s the hardest to predict and the biggest problem when it fails.

 

Juan Lagares has been, or had been, playing hurt for a swatch of this season. David Wright has barely played. Travis d’Arnaud missed a ton of time and now is hurt again. Daniel Murphy has missed time. Michael Cuddyer seems like he might be hiding an injury. These things hurt, no matter the depth you do or don’t have.

 

It’s hurt the Mets ability to win. Despite some great pitching, they do not score enough runs on a regular basis to win enough games to be truly competitive. You could point fingers to just about everyone except maybe Lucas Duda, and even he’s had a slump here and there. The ability of the Mets to return and stay healthy is going to be a big key of the second half.

 

Additionally some roster adjustment both on the prospect front and the trade front can go a long way. The Mets could use another bat, particularly one that could play SS or 3B. Admittedly, there aren’t a ton of options in this area. The Mets pretty much have the outfield locked down, at least as much as you’re not going to sit Cuddyer, Granderson, or Lagares enough to make it worthwhile to acquire a fourth regular. Wilmer Flores is driving the ball when he does hit it, but he doesn’t hit it enough to compensate for his poor defense or on base percentage. With Tejada and Murphy and the almost ready Herrera, the Mets can sorta make due at third base until David Wright returns, but it might be wise to acquire a solid upgrade there and worry about where to play him if everyone’s healthy later.

 

Guys like Herrera are interesting too. Can he take the next step forward and be of value in the majors? Can Darrell Ceciliani have a roll as a bench player and frequent outfield sub? What about Matt Reynolds down in the minors? The Mets have some offensive help on the horizon, both immediately and a little further away. Perhaps it’s not quite time to panic and reach out to the greener grass players on the other side of the fence. After all, that grass could be Astroturf.

 

The most difficult question facing Sandy Alderson is the existing roster. While it’s unfair to pinpoint a moment in time, particularly one during a slump, to judge a player on, various Mets hitters have not been great this season to this particular point. Michael Cuddyer is having a rough go of it right now, and Curtis Granderson has been merely an average right fielder. However, the question isn’t “Who’s been disappointing so far?” it’s “Who’s going to help out the rest of the way?” and the answer to the first question isn’t really a prediction of the second. Betting on Daniel Murphy, Curtis Granderson, or Michael Cuddyer over counterparts is probably the safest bet, but it’s not a guarantee either. This is where Alderson needs to juggle the roster of who’s going to help, who can be moved for external help, and which guys are best to play where. Sometimes the smartest move you can make is to trust a guy you already have, but Alderson’s already been criticized for being too complacent. That doesn’t mean trading because you’ve been criticized is the right move either–there are shades of gray everywhere.

 

The Mets are in a difficult spot. Will they ever hit again? Should they explore a trade and at what cost, or should they promote more minor leaguers? Perhaps holding steady and making sure guys come back healthy is the best course. Whatever happens, you can be sure we’re in for a bumpy ride.

 

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Jon Niese’s Impressive Hitting Streak

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 22: Pitcher Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets hits an RBI double in the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on May 22, 2014 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Ron Antonelli/Getty Images)During Jonathon Niese’s first at bat the other night Josh Lewin casually mentioned that he had a three game hitting streak going back to last year. Pitcher hitting streaks are not something you pay much attention to, as even a three game streak during the season spans 10 or more days. Niese laced an RBI single to left field in the fourth to extend the streak to four and it made me wonder about pitcher hitting streaks.

 

Turns out four games ties for the active lead among pitchers with Colby Lewis. Lewis’ is perhaps most interesting because it began all the way back in 2011 with a double in June bring him to one out of eight on the season. He made only one start in an NL park in 2012, going two for four against the Astros. He missed all of 2013, but managed a hit in both his NL games in 2014 including the 4th one against the Bartolo Colon and the Mets on July 5th. The Rangers play in Arizona on April 21st and 22nd, but Lewis is scheduled to miss them. Kyle Kendrick just had a 4-game hitting streak end against Clayton Kershaw on Friday.

 

Niese’s streak began on September 20th last year against the Braves’ David Hale. Many Mets pitchers have had a four game hitting streak, most recently R.A. Dickey did it in 2011 and 2012. There are six guys with five hits, most notably Mike Hampton and Tom Seaver. Anytime your name is mentioned alongside Seaver’s you know you’re doing something right. The all-time Mets leader though, with a six game hitting streak from late 1974 to early 1975, was Jerry Koosman. Koosman hit .500 during his streak going nine for 18 with a double, triple, and four RBI. It ended against the Expos and Dave McNally when Koosman failed to get a hit in his first AB and after giving up six runs through five was replaced in his second AB by Jesus Alou. Niese will face the Braves tonight trying to make it five.

 

You might be wondering what the All-Time streak is. Niese is nowhere near Wilbur Cooper’s 16 game streak from 1924. Cooper hit .346/.376/.433 on the season that year while winning 20 games for the Pirates. More recently Carlos Zambrano had a 13 game hitting streak, but the play-index query I used ignored his pinch hitting appearances where he wasn’t a pitcher. Truthfully he only had a six game hitting streak. Johnny Sain had a 13 game streak in 1947 which is good for second place on this list.

 

When I said ‘pitcher hitting streak’ your mind may have first gone to Babe Ruth. Ruth did have an 11 game streak crossing from 1917 to 1918 as a pitcher, but there were a bunch of games in the middle as a pinch hitter and first baseman. Truthfully he hit in the final two games of 1917 as a pitcher, and then 10 of the first 11 games of 1918, with the one miss being a walk as a pinch hitter. That’s a 12 game streak, nine of which were as a pitcher. Ruth would later have a 26 game hitting streak with the Yankees, but not as a pitcher.

 

Can Niese get a 5th hit tonight against Trevor Cahill? If so the streak might start getting some real attention; five games is a lot for a pitcher. At that point only six active players would have had a longer one, with Wade Miley’s 2012 8-game streak being the top. Niese has never batted against Cahill, but I’m looking forward to the matchup.

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You know they’re not THIS bad right?

Mumbling the old adage “You’re never as good as you look when you’re winning, you’re never as bad as you look when you’re losing” to yourself while remember how the Mets have played over the last couple of weeks is small comfort, as true as it is. I promise you, they WILL score a boatload of runs again, they will start hammering the ball like they did early in the season and they will string good pitching performances into a winning streak.

 

No, really. They WILL score double digit runs again. Ike Davis WILL have a multi-hit game. Maybe the 11th outfielder is the charm. Lucas Duda WILL hit a home run with people actually on base.

 

It’s not that the Mets are a collection of bad players, because they’re not. If the Mets were to be disbanded tomorrow, most of the roster would find jobs in the majors on other teams. The problem is they don’t have enough talent across the board to balance out random bad luck and the ups and downs that all players experience. When you have a great player, a couple of good ones, and some decent ones you can win plenty of games..when most things go right. Most things don’t usually go right in baseball all at the same time, and when they don’t the team loses too many games to make up for when things are going good. A couple of players drift over the line from decent to bad for a week or two and the other mediocre players aren’t good enough to make up the deficit.

 

That’s where the Mets are now. Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada have been slumping fiercely, Ike Davis is mired in a ridiculous bad slump and while Duda’s managing to limit the outs he makes by walking a lot he’s not hitting much lately either.  There’s only so much David Wright can do with that. Davis will eventually get hot, or someone else will, and the Mets will start scoring runs again. Perhaps they’ll have found another outfielder besides Duda and Baxter that can at least approximate positive value, or Travis d’Arnaud will be ready for the majors and the team will improve. The Mets considered signing Michael Bourn, and while many of us weren’t thrilled with the idea, there’s no doubt that another good hitter would have done wonders for this offense.

 

So that’s what we have in front of us; watching a struggling team flounder on offense. It’s not fun, not at all. It’s a long season though, and they will be watchable again. It could happen as soon as tonight or take another week, but they WILL draw us back in.

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Ike Davis Has Been Really Good

Ike Davis had barely a full seasons worth of games under his belt before he missed almost all of last season with an ankle injury.  For someone that inexperienced maybe it’s not surprising he got off to such a poor start.  His second half has been amazin’ though, so it definitely gives you hope for next year.

 

Across the first third of the season Ike Davis was playing very badly.  He’d had a hot streak to end April and a couple of good games in a row to end May, but they didn’t last long.  On June 8th he finished the day batting .158.  This would represent the low point for Ike Davis on the season, and perhaps in his entire career.  If you recall this was during the time period that more and more of the fans and media were calling for Davis to be sent down to the minors.  The Mets had given him a vote of confidence to stave off the endless questions about demoting him, but even that was starting to wear off.

 

Then he had a nine game hitting streak including six RBI against the Rays, two home runs, and seven walks.  He did not have another multi-strikeout game again, something he’d been doing frequently, until a June 25th game against the Cubs in which he was fanned twice.  However, he also homered in that game for the Mets only run.

 

Since the start of that streak on June 9th (through September first when I’m writing this), Ike Davis has been awesome.  Specifically he’s been smashing the baseball as hard as anyone in the game.   He’s hitting .270/.336/.573 in those 71 games.  If he’d put up that slugging percentage for the entire year, he’d be 6th in all of baseball.   Granted this is picking and choosing endpoints, but 71 games is nearly half a season and represents a sizable chunk of Davis’ major league career.   He’s hit 20 home runs in those games, something that equates to 46 home runs over a full 162.   You’d like to see him walk a bit more, especially since as teams catch on that he’s hitting the ball as well as any slugger in the game the pitchers are going to make further adjustments to avoid giving him hittable pitches.  If he can lay off these pitches he’ll end up with more walks.  Hopefully it doesn’t take him two months to re-adjust next time.

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The Re-Sign Ronny Cedeno Campaign

Everyone knows about Kelly Shoppach and Scott Hairston and how they both could help the Mets next year if they’re re-signed, but Ronny Cedeno is not getting enough love.

 

Ronny Cedeno is the backup middle infielder and has gotten 140 plate appearances this season.  He’d probably have more if he hadn’t had a brief DL stint.  He’s got an .822 OPS with a .367 OBP.   Of Mets with 100 at-bats, he’s 3rd in OBP behind David Wright and Mike Baxter, and Scott Hairston overtakes him in OPS due to his awesome slugging.   Ignoring the obvious problem of having three part time players out-performing most of the regulars, Ronny Cedeno would be a really useful player for the Mets next year.

 

He’ll only be 30 next year and plays the middle infield positions pretty well.  He hits right-handed which is useful for the Mets if they continue to have a pretty lefty-heavy team.   He’s not really a stolen base guy (hasn’t attempted one all year) but he’s not slow.  He’s not really a power guy, but you can live with that from the backup in the middle infield, and he does have three in limited time this season.

 

Certainly he’s having a career year, and it’s been so few at-bats that it’s hard to rule out it being anything but luck, but he has increased his walk rate by over 4% to a very good 10.7% and raised his extra base hit percentage.  This seems to reflect the not swinging at bad pitches and waiting for ‘your pitch’ that has been Dave Hudgen’s philosophy.  His swing percentages are down, also suggesting he’s laying off balls and unhittable pitches.   So perhaps he really has learned something in New York, even if his .455 slugging percentage is probably unrealistic.

 

Given the option of believing Cedeno has made progress at the plate versus looking for another guy to fill that role that we hope can contribute, I’d definitely like to keep Ronny here next year.

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Release Jason Bay! Unless…

There are very very few people that think Jason Bay should be in the plans for the 2013 Mets.  I’m not even convinced Jason Bay thinks it.   On the other hand, the Mets need outfielders and Jason Bay technically qualifies as such.

 

He hit a home run last night which I believe brings his SLG up to .297.  Luis Castillo is a better slugger than that.  I truly believe the concussions may have had a huge effect on Jason Bay and that he’s still not right.  There’s so much we don’t know about concussions and the things you need to do to be a successful baseball player require a level of focus and reaction time that is based in the brain.  Reasons and excuses aside, the question remains as to whether Jason Bay has any chance at returning to being a capable major league outfielder, and if he can do so by early 2013 for the next time the Mets expect to play games that matter.

 

The time remaining in this season is not substantial, but it’s just enough to plant the seed of hope.  So I ask you, what can Jason Bay do in the remaining games on the schedule to make you believe their is a chance he can contribute next year.   I’m not asking for you to be convinced the Mets should keep him around, just what it would take for you to think “Maybe he can be a Scott Hairston next year..” and believe it.  10 home runs?  20?  An OPS of .900 the rest of the way?  Watching him consistently identify and crush bad pitches?

 

Remember that the Mets currently have pretty much none of their outfield spots set in stone for 2013, so the floor to make this team is theoretically pretty low.  Is it Jason Bay low?  Answer in the comments or tweet @ceetar.

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