“I don’t give a shit if it’s the Cubs or it’s the New York City College,” Mets manager Terry Collins exasperated after his team’s latest 1-0 defeat. “We’ve just gotta win tomorrow. We can keep pitching great but we’ve gotta get some offense.” For a team that has been searching for answers to their anemic offense all season, their most-recent struggles has Collins—and fans—starting to come unhinged. But for all the talk of the Mets’ hitting woes, it might just be their lack of productive outs that are of most concern.
Ever-on-the-hot-seat, Collins has somehow managed to keep the team near the top of the NL East despite starting a rotating cast of Las Vegas 51s players in place of injured David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud for much of the season. Lost in all the injury news is the lack of insurance for the rest of the lineup. Lucas Duda, who was hitting .353 when David Wright went on the DL, now sits at .260. Juan Lagares is hitting .256, down from a peak of .316 in April, and Wilmer Flores is down to .236, after reaching .291 near of the end of their 11-game winning streak. A streak that’s so far in the rearview mirror, it almost feels like last season.
But injuries alone don’t tell the full story.
Mets hitting coach Kevin Long has thus far avoided taking any of the heat. The ex-Yankees hitting coach was seen as an all-star upgrade over Dave Hudgens, who was fired around this time last year. Though he impressed the staff early in Spring Training, there is one statistic that glaringly sticks out for this year’s squad: the 2015 Mets are among the league’s worst in situational hitting.
In bunt situations alone, the Mets are tied for dead last in all of baseball with a 48% success rate, 13 for 27. If you count strikeouts, that number dips to 13 of 31. For bunts; one of the most fundamental aspects of hitting—especially in the National League. To put this in perspective, the average for both leagues is 68%. The Pittsburgh Pirates, the MLB leaders, have successfully bunted the runner over 88% (35 for 40) of the time.
And it doesn’t just end with bunts. The Mets rank in the bottom half of the league in nearly every productive out category. They’re tied for second-to-last in the league at avoiding double plays, hitting into them 13% of the time they come to the plate with runners on first with less than two outs. Of the 244 times they’ve had an opportunity for a productive out (advancing the runner or driving in a run with less than 2 outs), the Mets have succeeded only 68 times, or 28%. The league average is 31%, but more telling is the fact that only the Seattle Mariners have a worse percentage with so few opportunities. The one area the Mets seem to flourish is with runners in scoring position with less than two outs, plating the runner 54% of the time—tied for third-best in the league. But this number is skewed because the Mets have had the second-fewest opportunities in all of baseball. In fact, the number of runs they’ve scored in these scenarios, 66, is the fourth fewest.
On the list of Sacrifice Bunts leaders, the only Mets player in the top 75 is Jacob deGrom at No. 48 with 3 successful attempts. By comparison, the 2014 Mets finished the season with a 78% (59 of 76) success rate on bunts, tied for fifth best, while Zack Wheeler ended the year tied for No. 2 among all players with 12 successful attempts. Who would’ve thought Wheeler’s Tommy John surgery would be another injury blow to the Mets offense?
To make matters worse, the Mets have lost 17 of their 38 games by two runs or less, while scoring a paltry 276 runs, fourth worst in MLB. As Mets Report noted, if they had simply won half of those games, they would own the second best record in baseball. Their “questionable” defense often comes under scrutiny, but when combined with the stellar pitching, the Mets have actually given up the seventh fewest runs. Which puts the focus squarely on the team’s failure to manufacture runs—something that should be a staple for a team that plays in a “pitcher-friendly” ballpark. Just ask Matt Harvey how frustrating it is to lose when the opponent only scores one or two runs.
When Sandy Alderson showed Dave Hudgens the door after 11 years in the organization, he specifically made note of the team’s unproductive outs, saying, “our situational hitting is not where we want it to be.” If he is to sell the fanbase on a team-first, small-ball, on-base percentage philosophy, Alderson knows productive outs area a must. Especially on a team that rarely steals bases.
Pressed for answers last week, Kevin Long simplified the situation before optimistically predicting they will get through this rough patch. “We’ll be fine,” he said. “We just need to stay together and keep fighting together.”
For Long the answer is quite simple: at least get his team focused on making smart outs. Otherwise, he runs the risk of becoming the Mets latest situational casualty.