Sep 19

Mets Wrap: Offense And Season Defined By Strikeouts

Another day, another ten strikeouts for the New York Mets. This time the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner toyed with them the way a cat would a mouse.

With the Mets at 1,299 strikeouts for the season (an average of 8.6 a game compared to 8.2 hits), it stands to reason a lot of pitchers have had their way with them this summer.

For all the talk of a lack of power, unquestionably the Mets’ primary offensive concern for hitting coach Dave Hudgens – assuming he comes back – is to focus on is shaving down that number. No, make that hack at it wildly with an ax the way most of his hitters aimlessly flail at the plate.

Pause for a second to consider the carnage if the Mets had Ike Davis for a full season, and John Buck, and Marlon Byrd, and Lucas Duda, and David Wright. As it is, the Mets had two hitters with over 100 strikeouts – Byrd and Davis – and three more with over 90 – Buck, Duda and Murphy. Totally, they had seven with at least 75.

And, Murphy is supposed to be a contact hitter. Still, there’s time for Duda and him to break 100. It will take some doing for Juan Lagares (87) and Wright to do it. Lagares, for all the raves he’s drawn, he shouldn’t have that many in just 112 games played.

As the Mets rallied in the ninth inning Wednesday night, manager Terry Collins emphasized how his team worked the count. But remember, in doing so it usually leaves the hitters with two strikes. There’s no leeway after that. Wednesday was the exception; what happened today is usually the rule.

There are a lot of theories why strikeouts are so prevalent in today’s game, usually falling on the emphasis of hitting home runs. The strikeouts are supposed to be a tradeoff for power, but the Mets aren’t hitting many home runs.

Davis, when he was here, said, “I’m a home run hitter. I like to hit home runs, and strikeouts are part of the game.’’

How well did that work for him?

The strikeout ratio with Mets’ hitters is alarming. If strikeouts were hits, consider these numbers:

Mike Baxter: .217 strikeout average/.191 batting average. SKINNY: He was the starting right fielder in the beginning, but has always been more effective as a pinch-hitter. As the Mets look to upgrade their outfield, he won’t stick with those numbers.

Andrew Brown: .296 strikeout average/.237 batting average. SKINNY: Just not acceptable if he wants to play part time, let along full time. Has some power, but could produce more with better plate discipline.

John Buck: .269 strikeout average/.215 batting average. SKINNY: Gets a partial pass because of 15 homers and 60 RBI, most of which was accumulated before his dreadful post-April slump. Also, because of what he gave the pitching staff, which is underrated. Still, consider what his run production would have been with a reduction of empty at-bats.

Marlon Byrd: .284 strikeout average/.285 batting average. SKINNY: In today’s game, an equal average is passable if there’s an element of run production, which there was with Byrd (21 homers/71 RBI).

Travis d’Arnaud: .212 strikeout average/.163 batting average: SKINNY: There hasn’t been enough of a window for him, but the first impression isn’t good. The Mets still don’t know what they have in d’Arnaud. As of now, Anthony Recker has given them more.

Matt den Dekker: .354 strikeout average/.250 batting average: SKINNY: There’s no doubting his defense, but the Mets wonder about his run production. His window has been too small to make a decision. He has speed and as he showed Wednesday makes things happen on the bases. He just needs to get on.

Ike Davis: .318 strikeout average/.205 batting average. SKINNY: That ratio says it all, especially when there’s little run production. Until his strikeouts significantly drop and on-base percentage (.326) improves, he’s not what the Mets need. For over $3.1 million, he’s no bargain.

Lucas Duda: .310 strikeout average/.232 batting average. SKINNY: Has not provided the run production (14 homers/31 RBI) to justify 91 strikeouts in 293 at-bats. His .351 on-base percentage is better, but there’s clearly something wrong with his plate discipline. Of his 68 hits, 29 have gone for extra bases, which is a good ratio, but he doesn’t make enough contact. His on-base percentage masks that deficiency.

Wilmer Flores: .222 strikeout average/.211 batting average. SKINNY: It took awhile for Flores to get here, and it will take significantly better than that for him to stay next year – regardless of what position he plays. Flores has five walks to go along with his 20 strikeouts, a ratio that should be reversed.

Juan Lagares: .242 strikeout average/.251 batting average. SKINNY: Way too many strikeouts for a young player, showing lack of knowledge of the strikezone and opposing pitchers. Also shows lack of discipline.

Daniel Murphy: .145 strikeout average/.281 batting average. SKINNY: For his reputation as a contact hitter with plate discipline, Murphy’s 30 walks are not acceptable, and neither is his .315 on-base percentage. In comparison to Davis and Duda, I’d rather have Murphy hitting in the middle of the order where he could have more RBI opportunities. That is, unless the Mets add a bat in the offseason.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis: .336 strikeout average/.189 batting average. SKINNY: He made a good first impression, but has been a bust since. Injuries are part of the story. He has little plate discipline with 32 strikeouts to 18 hits. Lagares and den Dekker have clearly moved ahead of him.

Omar Quintanilla: .223 strikeout average/.227 batting average. SKINNY: No run production to speak of, which is a throwback to the good field-no hit shortstops of the Bud Harrelson era. However, filled a huge void when Ruben Tejada went down.

Josh Satin:  .290 strikeout average/.285 batting average. SKINNY: Is supposed to be a contact hitter, but if he struck out less he might warrant more playing time.

Ruben Tejada: .115 strikeout average/.202 batting average. SKINNY: All right, injuries were a part of his problem, but there was a definite drop-off. He’s had a miserable season, compounded by breaking his leg Wednesday night. Unless convinced there is an attitude change found in Las Vegas, the Mets will need to upgrade at shortstop.

Jordany Valdespin: .210 strikeout average/.188 batting average. SKINNY: Call this a parting shot at Valdespin. There were productive moments from him, but not enough to warrant a full time job. And, his attitude makes a roster spot impossible.

Eric Young: .175 strikeout average/.248 batting average. SKINNY: Has 31 stolen bases, but would be pushing 40, if not more, with a .270 average and a spike in his 34 walks. With his speed, Young should be bunting more and slapping the ball on the ground. He resolved the leadoff situation, but needs to greatly improve. As he is now, the Mets need considerably more.

David Wright: .188 strikeout percentage/.309 batting average. SKINNY: Has 77 strikeouts and would have cleared 100 had he not gone on the disabled list. His strikeout average is high by his standards, but with a .391 on-base percentage and .904 OPS he more than compensates. He hopes to be activated for Friday’s game in Philadelphia.

Overall, the Mets have more strikeouts than hits, and less than 500 walks to go with their 1,299 strikeouts. They have scored 588 runs compared to giving up 589. The bare numbers reflect the season, but there’s more to consider.

Sure, Davis likes to hit homers. What player doesn’t? But, his 101 strikeouts, and everybody else’s, represent empty at-bats. Occasionally, a strikeout can be a positive, as in a 10-pitch at-bat that raises the pitch count, but outside of that, it produces nothing.

Better plate discipline would result in more walks and hits – which is a chance to score runs – and more sacrifice flies, which drives in runs. It also advances runners into scoring position, and in the case of a fielder’s choice, it adds another base runner.

What does a strikeout add?

I am old school and don’t follow all the new numbers, such as WAR, but baseball is a very simple game and has been for over a century. The object is to hit the ball, and too often the Mets don’t. There are only 27 outs in a game and they are to be regarded as currency. The Mets are a shade under nine strikeouts a game, which is giving away three innings. Overall, when you look at the Mets’ strikeouts in contrast to the games played, their whiffs equal 48 games of doing nothing at the plate.

An oversimplification? Not really when you consider a 68-84 record. In this era of numbers, their strikeout numbers scream the loudest.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 18

Mets’ Aaron Harang Pitching For Spring Training Invitation

With the New York Mets having several holes in their rotation, it’s never too late to make a strong impression heading into winter. Tonight, journeyman veteran Aaron Harang will attempt to encore his 10-strikeout debut against Washington with another quality start against San Francisco.

With Matt Harvey and Jenrry Mejia on the shelf and questionable for next spring, the Mets have two holes in their rotation. Harang could get one and Daisuke Matsuzaka will compete for another, as might Rafael Montero.

Harang, 35, could be the type of innings eater the team needs. He didn’t have great numbers with Seattle before coming over to the Mets – 5-11 with a 5.76 ERA – but he did throw 120.1 innings in 22 starts. His innings would represent the fourth highest on the Mets.

This morning I floated the idea of Tim Lincecum. I don’t believe the Mets will commit to that salary, but it was done to illustrate the type of arms that could be available.

Plugged into the Mets’ rotation for next season – assuming Harvey is not around – are Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler pitched a disappointing game Tuesday with six walks in five innings, but will get another start to redeem himself.

“He might get two,’’ manager Terry Collins said.

Niese will start Thursday in the series and homestand finale, while Matsuzaka, Gee and Carlos Torres will start over the weekend in Philadelphia. Wheeler, Harang and Niese will start at Cincinnati.

Collins hasn’t named the starters for season’s final weekend against Milwaukee, but despite being on an innings limit, Wheeler could get some work.

Here’s tonight’s lineup against the Giants’ Matt Cain:

Eric Young, LF: Has a career-high 38 stolen bases, including 30 with the Mets. He leads the majors with 23 steals in the second half.

Josh Satin, 3B: David Wright took grounders today, but is still not ready to be activated (hamstring). Has reached base safely in 29 straight starts, to tie the Mets’ rookie record (Steve Henderson, 1979).

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Is batting .364 with 10 doubles and 11 since August 28. He is tied for fourth in the NL with 173 hits.

Andrew Brown, RF: Has a career-high seven homers. Enters the game batting .083 (2-24) over his last ten games.

Lucas Duda, 1B: Is second to Wright (16) with 14 homers. Has a .356 on-base percentage.

Juan Lagares, CF: Is ties for fifth in the majors with 12 outfield assists. Takes an 0-for-19 slide into the game.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Is batting .200 with no homers and 10 RBI for the season.

Juan Centeno, C: Hit .305 for Triple-A Las Vegas. Noted for being a defensive specialist.

Aaron Harang, RHP: Struck out ten Nationals in his Mets’ debut.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 14

Lucas Duda Getting His Chance To Shine

When New York Mets manager Terry Collins railed at his listless team for not taking advantage of the opportunity to make an impression toward 2014, he had Lucas Duda in mind.

“This is his chance to play every day at first base. That’s where he likes to play,’’ Collins said last night. “We’re hoping he relaxes at the plate. He doesn’t have to worry about playing defense because he knows he can play first.’’

DUDA: Marlin mashing. (Getty)

DUDA: Marlin mashing. (Getty)

This is the third year the Mets hoped Duda would emerge as their lefty-hitting slugger, and the third time he has disappointed.

However, in Friday night’s 4-3 victory over Miami, Duda responded with a three-run homer in his chance to play with the injured Ike Davis sidelined. Duda has outperformed Davis statistically this season, hitting .236 with 13 homers, 30 RBI and a much-improved .351 on-base percentage.

Even so, Davis has the 32-homer 2012 season on his resume.

The Mets began the season with the offensive approach of patience, of working the count, waiting for and then driving your pitch. The rap on Duda was he became too selective and subsequently too passive at the plate.

But, playing in New York is about right-now production and Duda’s critics were far less patient with him than he was at the plate. While the final two weeks is about making an impression over Davis, everybody knows there will be a sense of urgency come spring training.

The experiment at the start of the year of Duda in left field – after playing right field the previous season – is over. It effectively ended when Duda went on the disabled list with a strained intercostal muscle. Duda lacks speed and range to complement his poor defensive skills, and there was no way he’d get back in the lineup after the acquisition of Eric Young.

At one time this summer there was the feeling the Mets would not tender a contract to Davis and Duda would get first base by default. However, Duda’s power output wasn’t what the Mets hoped, and when Davis showed signs of patience after his return from Triple-A, management’s thinking changed to keeping Davis and have the two battle it out in spring training.

Part of their thinking is that whoever wins, it will be an inexpensive option, and with first base covered they could fill other holes.

The Mets won’t carry two lefty first basemen, and with right-handed hitting Josh Satin available in a platoon, the loser would either go to the minors or be traded.

The homer last night is what the Mets want, but after the game Duda wouldn’t bite on reporters’ questions speculating the future.

“I’m just more concerned with winning and playing well,’’ Duda said. “Whatever they do is up to them. I’m just going to play hard, have fun, and hopefully continue to win.’’

Those comments are about playing the good soldier and saying the right thing, but what the Mets really need from his is to be aggressive and mash.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 13

Mets Wrap: LaTroy Hawkins Still Has The Right Stuff

When the New York Mets begin their annual winter task of building their bullpen, they’d be wise to consider three names instrumental in beating Miami tonight at Citi Field.

Yes, Lucas Duda gets props for a three-run homer, Jon Niese pitched into the seventh, and Andrew Brown took advantage of a rare start by hitting a mammoth home run, but the Mets might not have won without Vic Black, Pedro Feliciano and LaTroy Hawkins.

HAWKINS: Still has it. (AP)

HAWKINS: Still has it. (AP)

By definition, winning 4-3 is not a slam-dunk, but a study of perseverance and endurance. Those three carried the Mets to the end.

Hawkins has been solid all year in a set-up role, and despite his reservations, assumed the closer role when Bobby Parnell went down and excelled, picking up his ninth save with a 1-2-3 ninth highlighted by a classic punch-out of Giancarlo Stanton, who already hit two homers.

In a masterful display, Hawkins got ahead 0-and-2 with two inside fastballs. Stanton wouldn’t bite on two down-and-away sliders to even the count 2-and-2. But, fearless as usual, Hawkins blew away Stanton inside with a 94 mph. fastball.

At 40, most teams might consider Hawkins an afterthought in constructing a bullpen, but he still has the fastball plus the guile that can’t be measured by a radar gun.

Not only does he get the job done, but he’s an invaluable and calming influence to the younger relievers and in the clubhouse.

My favorite Hawkins moment came at mid-season when the Mets – including manager Terry Collins – danced around the Jordany Valdespin saga. However, Hawkins, a proud veteran, called it as he saw it and wouldn’t let the immature Valdespin off the hook.

Meanwhile, Feliciano doesn’t throw in the 90s, but is still an effective lefty specialist and last night closed the eighth by getting Christian Yelich on a grounder to second.

If used properly – which is to say sparingly and not wear him out – Feliciano is still a plus.

The Mets don’t know Parnell’s availability next year after undergoing neck surgery. They must assume they won’t have him, at least at the start.

They’ll need a closer and Black, who throws in the mid-90s, could emerge as the choice. In preparing for next season, Collins should use Black in as many pressure situations as possible.

Of course, the bullpen key for 2014 is Parnell. If healthy, the three could slot in behind him and GM Sandy Alderson’s bullpen reclamation would be halfway done.

The key to a strong bullpen is having quality starters capable of working deep into the game as Niese did last night. The fewer innings the bullpen works, the more effective.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Sep 13

Is Mets’ Terry Collins Sending The Right Message?

New York Mets manager Terry Collins has recently been speaking with a sense of urgency we haven’t heard regularly this season.

With the Mets in the midst of losing 10 of their last 12 games, it can be hard to ascertain whether Collins’ intent is to spark his team with the allure of 2014 jobs or deflect attention of another lost season from himself.

Several times this summer I advocated an extension for Collins, and still believe so. However, recent comments come across as him throwing his young team and hitting coach Dave Hudgens under the bus, something a manager can’t do if he doesn’t want to lose his team.

COLLINS: Sending wrong message.

COLLINS: Sending wrong message.

Collins’ latest buzzword is “adjustments,’’ and that’s a direct reflection on Hudgens’ ability to teach.

“You’ve got to make adjustments,’’ Collins told reporters after the Mets were shut out for the second time in the series. “You can’t keep thinking you’re going to get balls to pull, or try to go up there and pull every pitch. … [You have to] realize what the opposing pitcher is doing to get you out, and try to come up with a plan to make an adjustment at the plate and put the bat on the ball.’’

That’s either saying his hitters are clueless or haven’t been taught properly by Hudgens. There didn’t appear that much angst with Ike Davis earlier this season, although there was some noise about Lucas Duda taking too much and Ruben Tejada hitting the ball too much in the air.

The Mets’ stated offensive approach coming out of spring training was to be patient, work the count and swing at your pitch. There’s been a disconnect in there somewhere.

“I know they’re young. That’s all part of it,’’ Collins said. “We want to see some guys get better. And part of that getting better is being able to gather yourself on the side, and get in the batter’s box, and put a good at-bat on.’’

Collins said there are jobs to be had and it isn’t hard to figure where he’s talking about: first base is between Davis and Duda; shortstop is open; and there’s room in the outfield.

“You’d think some of these guys would grab the opportunity that’s in front of them because of the injury issues on our club to say, `Here’s my chance to show I’m a major league player,’ ’’ Collins said. “And we’re not seeing it. We’re not seeing it at this moment, I can tell you.’’

Collectively, Collins said the Mets are starting to feel sorry for themselves.

“And I will not stand for that. Not in this clubhouse, not in this league,’’ Collins said. “You don’t feel sorry for yourself in this league. Nobody feels sorry for you in the game. Our guys in that room, because a lot of them are young, they better learn that lesson real fast. Because if they’re going to play here, they better learn how to bounce back.’’

That aspect of the game is mental and psychological, and a large part of that development falls on Collins. Part of his job when it comes to rookies and younger players is to put them in position to succeed and give positive reinforcement, but that doesn’t always happen here.

Players have played multiple positions, and some in which they are uncomfortable. These guys are smart enough to know their futures are on the line. They don’t have to be reminded of it. There’s enough pressure in this sport without the manager adding more.

There’s a fine line behind telling players the importance of a situation and crushing their confidence, and Collins has danced on it.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong and the problem is the players just aren’t good enough to begin with. If that’s the case, threatening them to get better isn’t going to work.

Your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to respond. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos