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Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Starting to become a problem

By Mark Simon

Why haven't the Mets started this season on a positive note?

One of the primary reasons is because of their failure to hold opponents down at the start of innings.

The performance of Mets pitchers against the first hitter of innings isn't bad. It's horrendous. Take a look at that chart on the right.

The Mets aren't just the worst team in the majors when it comes to thwarting the first hitter of an inning. They're the worst by a LARGE margin.

The primary culprits are the Mets relievers. D.J. Carrasco has allowed the leadoff man to reach six times in 10 opportunities. Taylor Buchholz has done so four of seven times. Tim Byrdak has yielded a leadoff baserunner three times in six tries. Francisco Rodriguez hasn't allowed a hit to any of the five men he's faced to start an inning, but he's walked three of them. He's been lucky so far in that no runs scored on any of those three occasions, but he certainly didn't make things easy for himself.

Now perhaps you could argue that this is a product of bad luck. Opponents leading off an inning are hitting .430 when they put the ball in the field of play. (Not a home run. The Mets have allowed seven home runs leading off innings.) That's way out of whack when you compare that to the league average (.289).

But given the performance of the Mets defense this season, is bad luck really a fair assessment?

You could also note that the Mets issues are primarily contained within the final two games of the Phillies series from a couple of weeks ago, in which the Phillies were 14-for-16 in getting the leadoff man on base and scored 21 runs in those two contests.

But even if you subtracted those two games, the Mets opponents' leadoff on-base percentage would be .357, tied with the Cubs for third-worst in the majors.

The Mets aren't the only team to deal with such issues this season. Their most recent opponent, the Braves, entered the weekend struggling with such situations as well.

Historically speaking, a leadoff man who gets on first base scores 38 percent of the time, and those percentages increase if the hitter reaches second or third base. So the Mets aren't doing themselves any favors with their issues in these situations.

When you put what the Mets offense has done when leading off innings up against what their pitchers have allowed, the combination is rather ugly.

Mets table-setters have a slashline (batting average/on-base-percentage/slugging percentage) of .233/.301/.376, none of which rates worst in the majors, but all of which are below the major league average.

The good news is that that they put the leadoff man on base five times in nine innings in Sunday's win over the Braves. In all three innings that the Mets scored, their leadoff man was the one who crossed the plate. It's a positive to build on.

You have to start somewhere, right?