The latest iteration of the Subway Series begins tonight in Queens as the Yankees will square off against the Mets to kick off a two-game set. If you haven’t followed the Mets closely – or if you have but still manage to miss important details – here’s what you need to know.
This is the short version: The Mets, by design with their 2022 managerial and roster changes, employ the offensive strategy of making contact and putting the ball in play. They aren’t going to hit many long balls but they aren’t going to strike out too much either. With an old-school manager and an old-school philosophy, the old-school fans and media love this 2022 group. (We’ll come back to this point in a minute.)
Here’s the thing: That strategy only works if you’re playing bad teams who can’t catch the ball, or if you get lucky with balls finding grass often. Over the season’s first two months the Mets had both of those things going for them, and they were 35-17, held a 10.5 game lead in the NL East, and the second-best record in MLB.
Unfortunately, as a century of baseball history will tell you, luck usually changes. Batted balls will find gloves instead of grass and you’ll play better teams. This is what has happened to the Mets over the past two months, as they’ve gone 22-20 since June 1st and their NL East lead is down to two games.
Don’t believe me? OK…
Here’s the more extended version:
On June 1st, the Mets were second in runs scored in MLB. They didn’t swing for the fences (21st in hard hit %) they put the ball in play (27th lowest K%) and the Mets’ fans and media loved it. Of significance, they also posted a .315 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which was also the highest in baseball. This is significant because as you well know, a high BABIP in the absence of hard contact is a pretty big clue that good fortune has been in your corner. (For some perspective, league-wide, 47% of balls that are hit hard become hits, while all other batted balls have a 21% chance of being a hit.)
Since then, they still don’t swing for the fences (19th in hard hit %), they still put it in play (22nd lowest K%) but they are 26th in MLB in runs scored. In what was the least surprising discovery of my morning, I learned that their BABIP – which had been the highest in MLB at .315 on June 1st – dropped to .273, good for 26th in MLB since June 1st. Although certainly a big factor, luck isn’t the only one – as I said earlier, the level of opposition is also a big factor.
More than half of the Mets’ games over the first two months of the season were against Philadelphia, Colorado, Washington, and San Francisco – statistically the 24th, 26th, 29th, and 30th worst defenses in MLB. Since then, almost exactly half of their games have been against the Dodgers, Padres, Braves, and Astros – all plus defensive teams.
The just make contact approach looks good against teams that can’t reach batted balls and can’t catch the ones that they do get to – against teams with plus defenders, not so much. There’s some irony there as old-school fans will tell you that the long ball-reliant teams don’t win in the postseason, it’s the teams that put it and play and move baserunners that’ll win. The opposite is true – fielders in the playoffs can get to the ball, they can catch it and they can throw you out. You’d better bring the big sticks to the October dance or you go home.
This brings me back to the “old school fans and media loving the old school baseball” point…
I’m not saying anything new here. We have over a century of data that clearly shows that teams that do not mash the baseball do not win – the number of exceptions can be counted on one hand. So ironically, fans and media who claim to be old school should forget about loving “just put it in play” and should start being like chicks (“dig the long ball”).
Also ironically, the fans and media who were writing Buck Showalter and small ball hagiographies in the spring are the same ones now screaming that the Mets need power hitting at the deadline – talk about a lack of self-awareness…
OK, rant over.
That said, that doesn’t mean the Mets are not a dangerous team, as they certainly are. Despite the lack of power, they do have hitters who can rake, and more importantly, their pitching is no joke. Even with a league-average defense, the Mets allow the fifth lowest runs per game in MLB and it’s due to three things: Their pitchers miss bats, they don’t issue free passes (highest K%-BB% in MLB) and when they do allow contact, they keep t on the ground (7th best GB/FB ratio).
As you likely know, the best run-scoring team in MLB will be wearing the road grays in Citi Field tonight, so the Mets’ pitchers versus the Yankees’ batters should be a fun one to watch.
Regardless of all the above, the next two games are just that – only two games. They aren’t going to tell us much in terms of the big picture, but they should be fun as heck.
Jordan Montgomery vs. Taijuan Walker, first pitch 7:10 PM, EDT. Watch on YES or SNY, listen on WFAN 101.9/660, ESPN 104.5, or CBS 880.
Domingo Germán vs. Max Scherzer, first pitch 7:10 PM, EDT. Watch on ESPN, listen on WFAN 101.9/660, ESPN 104.5, or CBS 880.
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