Why the Mets offense is succeeding in 2022

The Mets are doing this, and then some.

When you have a winter like theirs – signing one of the biggest managerial names in the business, acquiring an ace from living legend Max Scherzer, trading for an above-average starter in Chris Bassitt and adding a third of the roster via free agency – you expect to see Immediate results, and they have. Even without Jacob deGrom, the Mets are 10 games over 0.500. They are number one. They’re meeting – exceeding – expectations.

They also have the most confusing offensive process in recent memory. The Mets are tied for the most runs scored at the Majors (128), but are also essentially tied for worst in the Majors in hit rate (34%). This is a difficult, almost impossible trick to do. There’s a reason the balls hit hard this year at the Majors averaged 0.466, and all other balls dropped by 0.214.

However… they are succeeding. In a game obsessed with hitting the ball as hard as you can as often as possible, New York hitters don’t. They have the second highest weak contact rate. It worked. How?

1) They are making a lot of contact

If you’re not going to make contact out loud, you better do lots contact, right? In fact they do. The Mets have the fifth lowest strikeout rate in baseball. No team has more balls hit, of any kind. When they achieved their miraculous comeback on Thursday night, 10 Mets made it to the score in the ninth, and eight of them made contact. Only one, Francisco Lindor, hit a home run. Starling Mars started with an initial single hit of 45.2 mph. You can see how this is more appealing than a grab-and-tear group.

Perhaps, then, they are alone bringing back Old School Baseball. Perhaps in a 2022 baseball environment that doesn’t reward power in the air like it used to, there is merit to this approach. There are more than a few fans who would love this to be true – and it could be.

It might be. But it can’t be just that. The two teams the Mets are tied with for the most runs scored, Angels and Brewers, are sixth and seventh.Most High elimination rate, respectively. Two of the teams with the three lowest strikeout rates, the Royals and White Sox, scored the lowest and fourth lowest number of runs. Meanwhile, the Yankees have the best hit rate in baseball and the most AL runs per game.

Just look at the 30 teams coming into play on Friday. Maybe there’s a light relationship between not hitting and scoring runs, but it’s not strong and it’s very confusing.

There’s more than one way to score, of course. Maybe that’s the Mets’ way, and Thursday’s comeback showed the value in just putting the ball in play. It’s just hard to see them with a similar strikeout rate and worse hit rate than the Royals, baseball’s weakest offense, and think that’s entirely it. So: what else is it?

2) They built a list for the park they play in

This one is easy, because the club is more or less on record as having said that.

“You can really build a team around your park,” assistant GM Ben Zauzmer told Athletic last year. “Where it can help a team is if you find out that it actually plays differently for different types of players, then you can start figuring out: well, who are the guys that could really thrive at the New York Mets?”

What he was referring to was the fact that Citi Field, for years, has been one of the toughest baseball parks to play in.

Even Pete Alonso, one of the few Mets hitters with what you might consider top skills, felt it. Last year, he hit 0.414 with 12 homers at home… and 0.618 with 25 homers outside Queens.

If even Home Run Derby hero Big Pete couldn’t win over Citi, then you’d need another strategy, one that relied a little more on solid contact and less on power. It is with this in mind that we share:

Of the 7 Mets (minimum 100 plate appearances) who eliminated 23% of the time or more in the past year, 4 were eliminated.

These are Billy McKinney, Javier Baez, Jonathan Villar and Kevin Pillar. In their place are Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha, who combined to eliminate just 20% of the time.

Two of the returnees, James McCann and Tomás Nido, are the team’s Seekers and are not in town because of the attack. (And while McCann has struggled this year, he’s shown a sharp increase in contact.) This list might make more sense for their household than he used to.

3) The sport then changed in exactly the way that would benefit them

Have you heard that offense is down? Surely you have; the Majors just posted a 0.369 percentage in April, tied for the third-lowest percentage in 40 years. A shift to baseball ahead of the 2021 season, combined with 20 additional parks activating humidifiers this year, combined with ever-increasing streams of reliefs, plus the usual quirks of early-season weather, well, not a great time to be a slugger, especially when the balls you’re used to reaching the stands are falling into warning lanes.

This could It’s going to be a great time to be a hitter — or team — that absolutely doesn’t rely on home runs.

Consider their slugging percentage, which hasn’t changed much… and where that ranks, which absolutely has.

2021: .391, 25th best
2022: .386, 12th best

They weren’t much better or worse than they were last year, but “holding it together” is considerably better than most of the league has done, isn’t it? Considering Citi Field was already hard to play – and had a humidor installed in 2020, nothing new for this year – perhaps this past August, when we took a deep dive into what was plaguing the Mets offense, the answer should have just been, “ this is a preview of 2022 at the Majors.”

All, that is, were affected. But maybe the Mets are feeling the effects less than most, because they were already there.

4) The balls are falling for hits… at least now

We are hesitant to give up and say “it’s luck” because it’s usually never that simple. We are obliged, however, to point out some facts. The Mets have a batting average of .309 on balls in play (or BABIP), which not only leads the Majors, but is tied for the highest in the team’s all-season history.

This part has nothing to do with strikeouts or home runs. It’s just whether the balls entering the field of play are being hit or eliminated, and it’s important to note that Canha has a BABIP of 0.431; he had a career BABIP of 0.286 before the season. Jeff McNeil’s 0.390 is considerably higher than his career 0.324. These numbers are unlikely to last the entire season.

They have the best ground ball average and hit a ton of ground balls (third most), but they hit them extremely poorly (fifth weakest ground ground exit velocity). Sometimes that’s not so bad; This can be seen, to some extent, in the number of inside hits the Mets have at the top of the league: 33. This goes back to the concept of putting the ball in play, but inside hitting is an unusual thing to build a great offense to. around for more than a few weeks at a time.

5) Maybe it’s changes in approach

“I’m just trying to get it right where they’re not,” McNeil said earlier this week. “That’s really all it is. If they were trading me last year, I just wanted to hit something hard… just hit something hard, don’t try to beat the change, just give it a good hit. Now if they’re shifting me, I don’t care if I get to 40 mph as long as I go to the left side and pass.”

We also thought there would be more evidence of situational changes than there is. The Mets have the fourth-lowest strikeout rate with runners in scoring position, but given that two of the teams ahead are the porous offenses of the Reds and Red Sox, that doesn’t seem like much to point out. With two eliminations, his strikeout rate is seventh best, albeit again behind some very bad offenses. It is also the seventh lowest in “high leverage” points, although again, the company held here is not strong.

We also wonder if there is anything to be said for opposing fields being slow to reposition. Divide the distance of the Mets’ batted balls and see the team standings.

0-120 feet: 2nd place
121-220 feet: the majority
221-320 feet: 3rd place
More than 321 feet: 18th plus

Only two parks have a shorter average distance in non-homer flying balls and line drives than Citi. But there is no trend, yet, that opposing outfielders are moving.

It also helps that Brandon Nimmo and Lindor are healthy and productive, two statements that haven’t always been true in 2021. The Mets are real because their pitch is real, especially if given the impetus of a deGrom comeback. They are real because they are profound; they are one of several teams that have seven different hitters with a league average mark or better.

They’re just doing it in a way that doesn’t make the most obvious sense. There’s obvious value in missing, but since the quality of that contact is relatively poor (25º, based on Statcast metrics, which take angle and velocity into account), they’re heavily reliant on hit balls that don’t find gloves. It has worked so far. It might still work. It will work in a way we’ve rarely seen, if it works.

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