May 14

Seeking A Villain For Mets’ Hitting Woes

Another night, another ten strikeouts, another loss. Hmmm. Let’s see, whom can we blame?

I know, batting coach Dave Hudgens and his approach to work the count and be selective; get a pitch and drive it.

k_104_lgThat’s it, his approach is wrong. It is why they are striking out so many times. They are taking, taking, falling behind, and then whiffing. Damn, it’s Hudgens’ fault.

That’s the current analysis of the Mets’ offensive woes and it is nonsense.

There is nothing wrong with the approach, the game plan, if you will. It is fundamental baseball, and it only doesn’t work if you don’t have the hitters with the ability to make it work.

There is nothing wrong in working the count and taking a strike. What IS wrong, is taking that strike if it is a pitch you can drive. This is about pitch selectivity and recognition, and Mets hitters don’t have it.

Remember when Yankees-Red Sox games lasted close to four hours? The approach from both teams was to run up the count. For the Yankees, when they faced Pedro Martinez, the magic number was 100. Once Martinez reached that number he became less effective.

Surprise, surprise, it works that way with all pitchers on a consistent basis. Some games they’ll have the stuff to go long, but usually they’ll break down.

imagesIt worked because those teams had hitters capable of recognizing their pitch and reacting. Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill and Manny Ramirez. The term used is “professional hitter.’’

Trouble is, when you look at the Mets, you don’t find many. David Wright, sure. You can even make a case for Daniel Murphy, but he’s in a dreadful slump, which happens to everybody.

We knew going in Ike Davis and Lucas Duda were strikeout machines. Looking at their roster, so is everybody else.

Of their most-used lineup, only Murphy and Ruben Tejada are projected to finish with less than 100 strikeouts, and their numbers of 93 and 79, respectively, are high for supposed “contact’’ hitters.

For all the talk of John Buck’s hot start, he has come to Earth average-wise and his power numbers have cooled. But, not his strikeouts; on pace for 162.

Here’s the projected numbers for the rest: Wright (106, which is a marked improvement from recent years), Duda (153), Rick Ankiel (154), and Marlon Byrd (139).

Even in his limited at-bats, Jordany Valdespin is on pace to whiff 65 times. Give him full time at-bats and it would be over 100, also.

images-1Given this, then why have an approach of taking pitches?

Answer: Because that gives them the best chance to succeed, if they have the ability to do so.

Early in the year we were thrilled about Duda taking walks and having a high on-base percentage. What went wrong is two-fold: 1) he fell back into bad habits and started chasing, and 2) he didn’t swing when he got his pitch.

Too often, Mets’ hitters still swing at garbage. In fact, they aren’t taking enough. Consider Davis’ last strikeout Sunday against Pittsburgh when he flailed at three pitches outside the zone, either low or away, or both.

If the Mets had a roster of guys such as Wade Boggs or Barry Bonds, who knew how to wait out a pitcher and what to do when he got his pitch, this wouldn’t be an issue.

But, they don’t. They have a roster of guys who aren’t major leaguers.

Pitchers know the Mets are taking, so they adjusted and are throwing down-the-middle strikes early and hard-to-reach strikes late in the count.

If the first pitch is there, swing at it. The approach isn’t about taking until you have two strikes. It is about driving one strike. Sometimes, that’s the only good pitch you’ll get.

Outside of Wright, who is getting better, few Mets know how to protect the plate with two strikes, which is shorten your swing, foul off pitches that are close, and go to the opposite field.

No, the problem isn’t the approach. The problem is a roster of hitters who don’t understand the fundamentals of hitting.

The problem is also general manager Sandy Alderson, who is about the funky stats of Sabremetrics, and has settled for a roster of players not able to hit.

But, the easiest thing to do is blame Hudgens, who after all, is only trying to get his hitters to understand Hitting 101.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

 

May 13

Mets Add Rick Ankiel As Their Season Goes To The Brink

How much will Rick Ankiel help the Mets is hard to say. After all, he misses on 42 percent of his swings, which even exceeds Ike Davis’ ineptitude.

Even so, I like today’s signing because he can play better defense in center than anybody else the Mets will throw out there. Plus, he can hit the occasional home run.

I guess best of all, is it should reduce Jordany Valdespin’s playing time even more.

Ankiel was hitting .194 with five homers before being released by Houston. Ankiel will start tonight, but the plan is to platoon him with Juan Lagares.

The Mets, losers of three straight to Pittsburgh, begin a four-game series tonight in St. Louis against the Cardinals, who have the National League’s best record.

Jeremy Hefner (0-4), Dillon Gee (2-4), Shaun Marcum (0-3) and Jonathan Niese (2-4) will pitch in this series against Lance Lynn (5-1), John Gast (0-0), Shelby Miller (5-2) and Adam Wainwright (5-2) for the Cardinals. That is a combined 4-15 against 15-5, which is about as lopsided as you can get.

After St. Louis, the Mets will have three games in Wrigley Field, where they have not played well in recent years.

The Mets will then have three games each against Cincinnati and Atlanta, and four with the Yankees. That’s an imposing stretch for the Mets, who are a season-low six games below .500.

It is sad to say, but the Mets could be a dozen games or more below .500 before June. Forget about them being out of it by the All-Star break, their season could be over before we get into summer.

Yes, the Mets’ season is clearly on the brink not long after they’ve thawed out from Minnesota and Colorado. If the rest of the month plays out as expected, then there’s not much else to look forward to than more Jordany Valdespin tantrums.

Here’s tonight’s lineup in St. Louis:

Mike Baxter, RF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

David Wright, 3B

Ike Davis, 1B

Lucas Duda, LF

John Buck, C

Rick Ankiel, CF

Ruben Tejada, SS

Jeremy Hefner, RHP

May 08

Mets-White Sox Lineups

Overcast at Citi Field. The grounds crew is raking the infield and a few pitchers are heading to the bullpen.    Terry Collins should be speaking in about a half hour. He’s already posted his batting order for tonight’s game against the White Sox.

Jordany Valdespin, CF

Daniel Murphy, 2B

David Wright, 3B

Lucas Duda, LF

John Buck,  C

Mike Baxter, RF

Ike Davis, 1B

Ruben Tejada, SS

Jeremy Hefner, RHP

 

May 05

Niese’s Struggles Continue; Mets Have Lost His Last Four Starts

There will be days like today, where the meltdown is complete in all phases, beginning with Jon Niese’s inability to get hitters out, an offense offering little resistance to Tim Hudson, and a porous defense.

NIESE: Didn't have it. (AP)

NIESE: Didn’t have it. (AP)

It’s not alarming the Mets couldn’t do anything to Hudson, but what should be a source of concern is Niese, who was hit hard in his fourth straight start – all lost by the Mets, today 9-4 at Turner Field.

Manager Terry Collins said Niese was too strong and overthrew his pitches, leading to his lack of control. Collins gave his pitcher an out, but Niese didn’t take it, saying he can’t afford to have games like this.

ON THE MOUND: Niese gave up seven runs on seven hits and six walks in four innings, and has been rocked for 14 runs in his last four starts, totaling 19 innings. One of those games was April 23, when he took a hard comebacker off his right ankle and lasted 2.1 innings. With Saturday’s rainout and tomorrow’s off day, the four innings worked by the bullpen shouldn’t be too taxing.

AT THE PLATE: David Wright had two hits, including another homer. That’s three in three days. … Mets had a chance in the eighth inning, but Marlon Byrd struck out swinging on a pitch that would have been ball four to end the inning.

IN THE FIELD: The official scorer was kind to the Mets, giving hits on balls misplayed by Lucas Duda and Wright. … John Buck failed to block two pitches in the dirt.

HARVEY PUSHED BACK: With Niese’s start rained out Saturday, Collins had the option of going with Niese, or starting Matt Harvey on normal rest. However, with Harvey throwing 121 pitches in his last start, Collins opted for extra rest, which was the right call. Harvey will start Tuesday against the White Sox. “You try to keep them as prepared as you can,’’ Collins said. “I don’t like it. That’s one of the issues we’ve talked about. We talked about it on the road trip in Colorado. This game is about routines and repetitions. When you get these guys out of these routines and their reps, it’s a problem.’’

BY THE NUMBERS: 6: Walks issued by Niese, tying a career high.

THEY SAID IT: “They were flat today.’’ – SNY analyst Ron Darling describing today’s loss that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

ON DECK: The Mets are off Monday, and then open a two-game series Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox.

May 03

Mets Wrap: Late Magic Beats Braves

As it usually is for the Mets in Atlanta, things weren’t easy as they rallied to beat the Braves in the kind of game they often would lose in Turner Field. The Mets tied the game in the ninth against closer Craig Kimbrel on David Wright’s fourth homer of the season and added RBI singles from Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy to win, 7-5 in ten innings. The Mets scored the game-winner when Jordany Valdespin drew a two-out walk as a pinch-hitter, stole second and scored on Tejada’s single.

ON THE MOUND: Shaun Marcum did not come up with the quality start he hoped, giving up three runs on six hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 4.1 innings. … The bullpen was taxed again, giving up two runs in 5.2 innings. … Jeurys Familia pitched the tenth to earn his first major league save. … Overall, the Mets used seven pitchers.

AT THE PLATE: The Mets got homers from John Buck (10th of the season with 29 RBI), Lucas Duda, Marlon Byrd and Wright. … The Mets were 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position.

BY THE NUMBERS: 5: Runs scored by the Mets after two were out.

THEY SAID IT: “There’s a reason why No. 5 (David Wright) is a star.’’ – Manager Terry Collins on Wright’s game-tying homer.

ON DECK: Jonathan Niese (2-2, 3.31) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (1-0, 5.08), 7:10 p.m. ET.