Too much patience is no virtue for passive Mets hitters
There were several stunning aspects to Ruben Tejada’s game-winning single in the 11th inning to beat the Philadelphia Phillies Sunday and end the Mets’ five-game losing streak.
Of course, the mere fact that Tejada, a sub-.200 hitter since the beginning of the 2013 season, came through with the hit that won the game was, in itself, a surprise. Tejada was only starting on Sunday because Wilmer Flores, who was just recalled from Las Vegas on Friday to start taking playing time away from Tejada, was sick.
But, beyond that, the hit was uncharacteristic from an organizational standpoint in two respects: 1) The Mets had been 3-for-32 with the bases loaded this season before Tejada’s liner over shortstop ended Sunday’s game; and 2) Tejada jumped on the first pitch from pitcher Jeff Manship, an act of aggression extremely out of character not just for Tejada but for Mets batters at large who seem to wear their passivity at the plate like a badge of honor.
Any observers who have suffered through the stagnancy that is the Mets offense most of the time would immediately be able to identify one of the organization’s biggest on-field flaws as its passive approach to at-bats in almost all situations. Earlier in Sunday’s game, Travis d’Arnaud was sent up as a pinch-hitter, also with the bases loaded, and watched strike three.
Passivity is encouraged by the Mets’ sabermetrically inclined front office. Work the count, get the opponents’ pitch counts up. There is plenty of merit to this approach, in theory, but there does not appear to be any flexibility to the philosophy, leading to an annoying frequency of batters being called out in strikes in situations—like those with critical runners in scoring position late in a close game—that cry out for aggressiveness.
Consider that, in 2013, the Mets ranked third in the major leagues in taking the most called strike threes, behind only two teams with truly terrible offenses, the Astros and Twins. The Mets went down looking 359 times last season, according to information on Peter Gammons’ GammonsDaily.com blog. The Kansas City Royals had the fewest called third strikes against them last year, with 226.
We at DoubleGSports.com do not have updated figures for 2014 yet, but there would seem to be little doubt that the Mets almost have to be back in the top three in a category that, to most, would seem very dubious, but maybe to the sabermetrical theoreticians who help shape the Mets’ organizational philosophy, is something they’re actually proud of.
Before the Mets send out any more open letters to their fans imploring them to come out to Citi Field to pay $25 for parking and $8 for a single hot dog, perhaps they should look deeper into the reasons—beyond the obvious economic ones—why fans don’t come to see the Mets. They are a boring, frustrating team with a stagnant, passive offense.
Not only do they watch strike three too often, they also watch strike one too often, and, now that the rest of the National League knows this, pitchers come at the Mets and pound the strike zone with impunity, knowing they usually have a free one before a Met hitter will even consider swinging the bat. This is not a player-by-player approach, but an organizational missive.
And, here is something to consider. The Met batter who is most inclined to go against this pact of non-aggression at the plate and to attack the first pitch, or to protect the plate and swing with two strikes, just happens to be the one who bats over .300 with runners in scoring position virtually every single season: Daniel Murphy.
The Mets need more Daniel Murphys, not fewer of them.