Mets Lack of Talent, Not “Hitting Approach”, The Culprit Behind Weak Offense

By: Brian Mangan

A few weeks back, when the Mets were cruising along, Metsblog posted an article about the Mets’ hitting philosophy entitled “What do the Mets mean by ‘hunting strikes’?”  It was an interesting conversation starter, with Matt Cerrone writing as follows:

“The goal isn’t to draw walks, Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens once told me about the team’s hitting philosophy. Instead, the goal is to have a very refined strike zone, which will help hitters make better contact.

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The idea, according to Hudgens, is that power will come naturally when focused and swinging at the right pitch in the zone. In other words, while a high OBP and walks are a nice by-product of being a more disciplined hitter, the goal is square the bat up on better pitches.

They call it “hunting strikes,” which is a phrase that is being written about more and more lately.”

This philosophy has been implemented throughout the system, including the minor leagues, although it’s impact on the development of Mets’ minor leaguers is unknown thus far.  In April, Anthony DiComo, wrote a lengthy piece on the philosophy.  In it, Hudgens counseled patience with the process at the major league level, saying that results would come:

That makes 2014 a critical juncture for the system, which has now been in place for three full seasons. Over the winter, the Mets targeted free-agent hitters whom they felt would fit into their system, ultimately signing outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. All spring, they continued to work with the rest of their players — an almost exclusively homegrown bunch — on their approach.

Now, once again, they are putting all that to the test.

“It’s getting better and better,” Hudgens said. “You’ve got young guys you see coming up having a little more of an understanding of what we’re trying to do. It takes time. It takes consistent work. It takes reminding. I’ve seen guys get better, but it takes time.”

Now that the Mets have struggled — most notably by being swept out of Miami and shut out in back-to-back games by the likes of Tom Koehler — the fans and media have come looking for someone to blame. Given the state of the offense, target #1 is none other than Hudgens himself, the face of the “hunting strikes” philosophy.

I am not going to state my opinion here whether Dave Hudgens is a good hitting coach or not, or whether this is a good philosophy or not.  I’m merely going to set some of the facts straight so y’all can have an educated debate.

First, despite the talk about hitting philosophy of “hunting strikes,” the Mets do not appear to be approaching their at-bats much differently from any other major league team.

  • When it comes to Swing %, the Mets have swung at 43.8% of the pitches they’ve seen.  This is 24th in baseball; low, not lowest.
  • They’re 24th in swinging at strikes, but 27th in swinging at balls, so I guess that’s one bit of good news.
  • The worry that opposing teams see the Mets as passive and are pouring in first pitch strikes is unfounded: the Mets have only seen 59.1% first pitch strikes, 22nd in baseball.

Perhaps Hudgens’ philosophy is making them slightly worse, but at the end of the day, the Mets simply don’t have the hitters necessary to do damage.

Second, the Mets simply aren’t hitting the ball hard.

  • The Mets have the worst hard-hit average off of fastballs in all of MLB, at .108  (as of April 24th)
  • The Mets have only 14.2% of their balls in play classified as “hard-hit”, ranking 21st.
  • Their 7.1% HR/FB is tied for 28th in baseball, while they hit infield fly balls 9.3% of the time, 17th in MLB.

Perhaps some of it is luck (their average on hard-hit balls in play is .592, or 29th in baseball, while league average is around .700) but there is nothing under the hood to indicate that the Mets are hitting the ball well.  Although the team has a collective 22.4% LD% according to fangraphs, a simple look at the ball distribution can be misleading: GB/LD/FB are classified differently in different parks and weak flares (you know, the Ruben Tejada flares that don’t make it to the outfield grass) can be classified as “line drives” too.  A comparison of the hard hit % above (21st) to the LD% should be all that is required to discredit looking at that stat as conclusive evidence that they’ve hit the ball solidly.  Well, that, and watching the games.

Need further proof that the Mets aren’t hitting the ball with any authority?  There is a site that tracks average fly ball distances, and only one Met, Lucas Duda, appears in the Top 100(!!).  Here are the ranks for notable Mets:

  • Lucas Duda, #20, 301 feet.
  • Curtis Granderson, #122, 277 feet.
  • Travis D’Arnaud, #125, 277 feet
  • Chris Young, #132, 276 feet.
  • David Wright, #199, 262 feet.
  • Ruben Tejada, #225, 252 feet.

What company!  Almost caught up to Jose Altuve!

Screenshot 2014-05-08 at 3.14.04 PM

The players that comprise the Mets lineup today, with the exception of Duda (and a healthy Wright) are nothing more than punch-and-judy hitters.  At the end of the day, it’s not the philosophy that takes the at-bats, and it’s not the ballpark that takes the at-bats — it is the players.

[FN] Side note on David Wright: is he hurt?  His swinging % is in-line with normal but his BB% is down, his K% is up, he is swinging and missing more, and his fly ball distance is, frankly, awful.  He doesn’t look lost at the plate, but his performance so far is extraordinarily reminiscent of his slow start in 2011, when he was attempting to play through a broken back.  So, there’s that.  A healthy David Wright would have this team out of “historically terrible” and only “terrible.”

The Mets are hitting .225/.300/.332 this year, down from .237/.306/.366 last year and .249/.316/.386 the year before.  Their OPS has decreased four consecutive years and, aside from a blip in 2011, has trended on a straight line downward since its peak in 2007 (the Mets hit a robust .275/.342/.445 that year — curse those bums Reyes, Delgado, and Beltran!).

Some of this can be blamed on a lower run-scoring environment in general, but if the Mets continue down this path, this will be their worst OPS as a team since 1968 and their lowest batting average since 1972.  None of the Mets teams in the low-scoring eras were as bad; none of the Mets teams in the mid-90’s were as bad.

Screenshot 2014-05-08 at 3.16.28 PM

It is frustrating to hear the things that Hudgens has been saying? Of course. Is it startling to read that the Mets are putting up an OPS of 613 (29th in baseball) when they have a 1-0 count compared to a major league average of 881? Absolutely.  Maybe guys like Hudgens should be fired too, but only so much blame can be put on something like “philosophy” when you simply don’t have the players.