The Mets Make a Mess of Their Offensive Struggles

With a revamped lineup, rotation, and front office, the Mets were supposed to rank among the NL’s top teams, ideally while offering at least somewhat less dysfunction than during the Wilpon family’s tenure as owners. Given an offense that has wheezed its way to an NL-low 3.30 runs per game as the team has stumbled to an 11-12 start, however, the Mets’ brass decided to shake things up by firing hitting coaches Chili Davis and Tom Slater after Monday night’s 6-5 loss to the Cardinals. The pair have been replaced by Hugh Quattlebaum, previously the Mets’ minor league director of hitting development, and Kevin Howard, their director of player development. You may be shocked to learn that this move did not come off smoothly.

It’s not the fault of Davis, who was in his third season as the Mets’ hitting coach, or Slater, in his fourth season as the assistant hitting coach, that key newcomers Francisco Lindor and James McCann and holdovers such as Dominic Smith and Jeff McNeil have all underperformed on the offensive side. The latter duo had previously thrived under Davis and Slater, and currently Pete Alonso and Brandon Nimmo are knocking the stuffing out of the ball. Scapegoating coaches is a time-honored tradition by struggling teams, however. If you can’t fire the players…

The timing of the dismissals was curious, to say the least. The Mets had scored 18 runs over their previous three games, two of them wild weekend wins over the Phillies, snapping out of a skid during which they had scored just seven runs over their previous five games against the Nationals and Red Sox.

“This isn’t about recent results. This is about the process behind the scenes,” said acting general manager Zack Scott of the move on Monday night. “It’s too early to be overreacting to small samples of results. It’s really about what’s the daily process, and the assessment, and my assessment, from doing a lot of research and observations of my own, was that we can be better. And this is a step towards that.”

As for process behind the scenes, Scott probably didn’t mean the clown show the Mets made out of the move. Instead of announcing the firings of the two coaches on an off day (which they had last Thursday) or following an afternoon game (such as the one this coming Thursday), they instead issued a press release at 11:42 PM Eastern time on Monday night. It wasn’t quite as bad as Omar Minaya’s June 17, 2008 firing of manager Willie Randolph, pitching coach Rick Peterson, and first base coach Tom Nieto, which was announced at 3:12 AM Eastern and 12:12 AM Pacific, while the Mets were in Anaheim, but it certainly conjured up those disorderly days of yore. Worse, Mets players found out about the move not from the front office or from manager Luis Rojas, but from Twitter. A day later, players such as Alonso and Lindor were vocally upset about the move, with Alonso admitting that he cried at his locker after hugging the two coaches.

What’s more, Scott joined the Mets last December after more than a decade and a half with the Red Sox, where he was the assistant general manager in a front office that let Davis go after the 2017 season because his old-school approach differed from the more analytically-based direction the team wanted to go. Davis is famously averse to the term “launch angle” and the recent emphasis on elevating the ball, and he’s now out of a job for the third time in less than four years (he spent 2018 with the Cubs). If the Mets though that they wanted to go a different direction this past winter — admittedly a tumultuous one that included the sale of the team from the Wilpon family to Steve Cohen, and the hiring and firing of general manager Jared Porter for sending sexually explicit texts to a female reporter in 2016 — the change should have been made over the winter. Via The Athletic’s Tim Britton, only twice in the past quarter-century has a team dismissed a hitting coach earlier in the season: in 2005, the Blue Jays fired Mike Barnett on April 25, and in 2019, the Marlins canned Mike Pagliarulo on April 19. Given seasons that opened a bit later in April than this year, the 2010 Mariners (Alan Cockrell on May 9) and 2012 Angels (Mickey Hatcher on May 15) are also in the same ballpark as the Mets. As with those examples, it’s a move that smacks of desperation and disorder.

Setting the process and the timing of the firings aside, it’s true that the Mets’ offensive results haven’t been great, but they haven’t been so bad as to merit such meager scoring:

Mets Offense NL Rankings, 2020 vs. 2021
Year R/G HR% BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+ wOBA xwOBA
2020 4.77 3.8% 8.6% 20.9% .272 .348 .459 121 .347 .332
NL Rk 7 5 11 6 1 2 4 2 3 5
2021 3.3 2.1% 9.1% 23.3% .240 .324 .364 96 .306 .334
NL Rk 15 14 8 4 4t 3 12 6 8 5
SOURCE: xwOBA via Baseball Savant
All statistics through May 3.

For the second year in a row, the Mets’ scoring has lagged relative to their wRC+; through Monday — my cutoff for all of these statistics, with the Mets’ numbers unchanged because they were rained out on Tuesday night — they’re dead last in runs per game despite being a solid sixth (if a bit below league average) in wRC+. Note that because they’ve played six fewer games than the average NL team due to COVID-19 and weather-related postponements, I went with home run percentage in the table above rather than a raw count for the purposes of comparison. The team’s lack of power sticks out at several turns, as the Mets entered Tuesday ranked among the bottom quartet in both SLG and HR%, as well as dead last in ISO (.123).

Still, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. By BaseRuns — their expected runs scored based upon their offensive stats — the Mets project to be scoring 3.76 runs per game, still a meager figure, but their -0.46 runs per game shortfall is the second-largest in the majors, surpassed only by the Nationals’ -0.51 runs per game. Here it’s worth noting that on the other side of the ball, the team’s shortfall is more than double that, with a projection of 2.88 runs per game allowed and an actual average of 3.87 runs per game. That 0.99 runs per game gap is 0.36 higher than the second-ranked Angels. Together, the Mets’ BaseRuns figures project to a 14-9 record; their three-win shortfall was tied with the Marlins, Twins, and Yankees for the majors’ largest gap.

Back to the bats. The Mets are actually hitting the ball a bit harder than they did a year ago. Their average exit velocity of 89.2 mph is 0.8 ahead of last year, and both their 7.8% barrel rate and 39.1% hard-hit rate are up from last year’s numbers as well (7.5% and 36.8%), yet they have less to show for it. Their team wOBA has dropped by 41 points relative to last year despite an xwOBA that’s actually increased by a couple of points. Through Monday, this year’s 28-point gap between the team’s wOBA and xwOBA is the seventh-largest in the majors:

Team wOBA-xwOBA Differentials
Rk Team wOBA xwOBA Dif
1 Cleveland .296 .334 -.038
2 Yankees .308 .341 -.033
3 Tigers .262 .294 -.032
4 Phillies .298 .329 -.031
5 Twins .321 .351 -.030
6 Giants .301 .330 -.029
7 Astros .315 .343 -.028
8 Mets .306 .334 -.028
9 A’s .309 .336 -.027
10 Pirates .291 .317 -.026
11 Mariners .289 .315 -.026
12 Cardinals .305 .331 -.026
13 Royals .309 .334 -.025
14 Nationals .310 .334 -.024
15 Braves .326 .348 -.022
16 Padres .300 .322 -.022
17 Brewers .298 .318 -.020
18 Dodgers .331 .350 -.019
MLB Average .308 .327 -.019
19 Rays .300 .314 -.014
20 Orioles .289 .301 -.012
21 Reds .339 .351 -.012
22 Marlins .291 .303 -.012
23 Red Sox .329 .340 -.011
24 Angels .325 .334 -.009
25 Blue Jays .311 .319 -.008
26 Cubs .314 .321 -.007
27 Rangers .305 .311 -.006
28 Rockies .310 .314 -.004
29 White Sox .325 .326 -.001
30 Diamondbacks .326 .326 .000
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
All statistics through May 3.

As I noted last week in the context of the Braves’ offensive struggles, every team except one is at least one point below expectations due to some combination of cooler early-season weather and the new ball; eventually, xwOBA will need an in-season recalibration to tune it to this year’s offensive levels. Again, this is another way of illustrating that the Mets should have gotten more mileage out of their offense.

Checking in on the individual hitters:

Mets Lineup Regulars vs. Statcast
Player PA BBE AVG xBA dif SLG xSLG dif wOBA xwOBA dif
Dominic Smith 85 60 .222 .308 -.086 .346 .584 -.238 .257 .373 -.116
Francisco Lindor 103 74 .163 .240 -.077 .209 .362 -.153 .234 .311 -.077
Michael Conforto 92 56 .244 .269 -.025 .397 .460 -.063 .339 .364 -.025
Jeff McNeil 79 61 .235 .239 -.004 .368 .419 -.051 .320 .332 -.012
Pete Alonso 96 60 .282 .273 .009 .529 .578 -.049 .377 .382 -.005
James McCann 71 48 .215 .211 .004 .262 .286 -.024 .249 .253 -.004
Jonathan Villar 47 30 .227 .227 .000 .341 .364 -.023 .263 .265 -.002
J.D. Davis 48 26 .390 .377 .013 .610 .674 -.064 .464 .460 .004
Brandon Nimmo 80 45 .318 .273 .045 .439 .400 .039 .387 .346 .041
All statistics through May 3. Yellow = at least .049 below expected.

While Smith (who has hit for a 65 wRC+) and Lindor (51 wRC+) have had the least to show for their troubles, six of the Mets’ 10 most frequently used players are at least 49 points short of their expected slugging percentages, which is to say that they’re hitting the ball better than their raw stats indicate. That doesn’t apply to McCann, whose 60 wRC+ is pretty well deserved as far as Statcast is concerned. Nimmo (148 wRC+) is their only hitter who’s outperformed his Statcast numbers by a significant margin.

The performance of Lindor, the Mets’ new $341 million man, is the biggest puzzle. The 27-year-old shortstop is currently amid an 0-for-21 slide and has just two extra-base hits and three RBI to show for his entire season. His solo homer in a 16-4 loss to the Cubs on April 21 represents his only RBI in his past 14 games, and last week, he heard boos at Citi Field.

Lindor’s offensive woes don’t appear to stem from chasing pitches out of the zone, or swinging more often, typical patterns for players who are pressing. On the contrary, his 43.7% swing rate and 30.0% chase rate are career lows, while his 13.6% strikeout rate is his lowest mark since 2017, and his 12.6% walk rate a career high. But when he makes contact, he not barreling the ball with any consistency; in fact, he has just two barrels for the entire season, and his 2.7% rate places him in the 12th percentile.

Theories as to the cause of Lindor’s slump abound. Davis believed it was “a bat path issue” but not a bat speed one, and consulted with Victor Rodríguez, an assistant hitting coach who worked with Davis in Boston and with Lindor in Cleveland. One MLB scout told the New York Post’s Mike Puma that he believed Lindor has a timing issue connected to a lack of aggressiveness and not seeing the ball well. Another scout told Puma he believed Lindor had become too pull-happy by “trying to go yard all the time,” though for what it’s worth, Lindor’s 32.4% pull rate is more than 12 points below both his 2019 and ’20 rates.

Rojas said this to Puma:

“I have been seeing him try to pull sometimes, forcing to pull the ball instead of naturally pulling. There’s been some pitches middle/away to away that he’s tried to pull and he just can’t get there and it turned into weak grounders, because he has to throw his hands, he can’t reach out there.

…“I just think his body has been out of the position where he can hit the ball a certain way. He’s gotten pitches that he’s able to pull and he pulls a little bit too early and those go foul, well-hit foul. The pitch selection has been good as far as pitches being strikes. It’s just body control that has been out of whack.”

MLB.com’s Mark DeRosa pointed to Lindor’s mechanics as well, suggesting in a lengthy video that “his upper body and his lower body are completely disconnected” while pointing to the positioning of his front (right) hip and back (left) foot and a “tushy in the first base batter’s box,” mechanics that are sapping the power from his swing.

It now falls to Quattlebaum and Howard to help Lindor climb out of this hole, which might be a bit less concerning if the shortstop’s 2020 season didn’t already represent a notable downturn in production, but that’s the kind of pressure that comes with big money in the Big Apple. Lindor isn’t alone in his struggles, either, and so the new guys have plenty of other players who need their help while also reaching those such as Alonso, who feel stung by the sudden move.

The good news, if there is any, is that for as middling as the Mets’ start has been, they’re just half a game out of first place in an NL East where only the Phillies are even at .500 (15-15). The bad news is that if the Mets didn’t already have enough trouble, prior to Tuesday’s rainout, Jacob deGrom was scratched from his start due to inflammation in his right lat, and will be shut down for at least a few days. There’s never a dull moment in the Mets’ world.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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drewsylvania
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drewsylvania

More money, same nonsense.

Dooduh
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Dooduh

Sandy is common link.