Tuesday, June 1, 2010
May's significant developMETS
By Mark Simon
In following the Mets avidly, I'm drawing upon 30 years and nearly 5,000 games worth of "experience" to tell you that few calendar months have intrigued me statistically as much as May of 2010 did.
It's a month that both began and ended with debacles, a 10-0 loss in Philadelphia (and an 11-5 drubbing the next day) to open, and an 18-6 loss in San Diego to close. But boy was there a lot in between ... such as:
Strength Comes From Unexpected Sources
Yes, Jose Reyes seems to be rounding into form in the latter stages of this month, but the two most valuable hitters in May were those you wouldn't expect -- Angel Pagan and Rod Barajas.
We previously detailed Pagan's significance, and just to repeat it in more basic terms: He hit .333 with 13 RBI and 19 runs scored, and seven stolen bases in nine attempts in May. He could not have played any better.
Barajas had the most key hits for the Mets this month, with four that put the team into the lead. Yes, he doesn't walk at all, but he's made up for that with timely performance.
Another measure of that: The metric "Win Probability Added" measures every plate appearance for its impact on helping a team win (based on historical precedent). IE: Barajas got 0.37 Win Probability points for his walk-off home run (for taking the Mets historic chance of winning from 63 percent to 100 percent). For the month- no Mets hitter had a better Win Probability Added than Barajas did.
Hisanori Takahashi and R.A. Dickey emerged
Takahashi, Monday's issues notwithstanding, was awesome in his two starts at home, because he knew exactly how to pitch to Citi Field's dimensions. In his 12 shutout innings in back-to-back starts at Citi Field, nearly 2/3 of the balls put into play were hit in the air.
That's a tough formula to have success with on the road, but it shows Takahashi knows what he's doing at home.
Dickey won consecutive starts in the same season for the first time since 2004. His key: using the knuckleball to prevent hitters from making solid contact. Of the 21 hits he's allowed, only two have been for extra bases.
Johan's A New Man
Johan Santana's first start of May was the biggest debacle of his career, one in which he allowed 10 runs and couldn't get Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer out in a key spot.
But since then, Santana has figured out how to pitch, making the adjustments necessary to compensate for the drop in his fastball-changeup velocity differential.
Despite less than three runs per game of support, Santana's last five starts have been high-caliber. Amazingly, he's just 1-0 in them (and the Mets have lost three of five, despite pitching to a 1.69 ERA.
The keys to that success:
* He hasn't given up an extra-base hit with a fastball in those five games.
* He's improved his "putaway rate" with his fastball, thus making him a much more efficient pitcher. A small improvement makes a big difference. (Putaway rate = strikeouts/pitches of that type thrown)
* In turn, his changeup, is no longer a strikeout pitch, but a popup pitch. Philosophically speaking, especially at Citi Field, Santana has realized so long as he can throw his change well enough to coax a popup, he's in good shape.
Fastballs Have Wright wrong
David Wright started the month hot, putting the finishing touches on a 10-game hit streak in Cincinnati. But since May 7, Wright has struggled mightily.
While early in the season, the primary culprit was breaking balls, a new problem has emerged in that Wright has been getting beat badly by fastballs.
There has been no difference in the average velocity of the fastballs Wright has seen (90-91 MPH). He wasn't hitting them until he got a pair of hits off fastballs Monday, raising his batting average against them to .207, via our Inside Edge video review data.
And the biggest issue is that he's not able to hit the two-strike fastball away (whether on, or just off the outside corner), as the chart alongside indicates.
The Walk-Off Losses Have Piled Up
There haven't been many months that rivaled 2010 in terms of Mets walk-off loss compilation.
Laynce Nix and Orlando Cabrera got things started with walk-off home runs in a series against the Reds in which all three games were decided in the last at-bat.
Then came a couple of goofy ones: the first wild pitch walk-off loss since 1981 when Fernando Nieve gakked against the Marlins on May 13, and the first walk-off loss via third baseman's error when David Wright threw a ball away against the Braves on May 18.
Corey Hart finished things off with a shutout streak-ending walk-off home run on May 28th, giving the Mets five walk-off losses in May.
The Mets hadn't had five walk-off losses in a calendar month in 21 years. And they've only had one month in their history with more, August of 1966. That wasn't a fun stretch. All six of their walk-off losses that month came in a two-week span.
If we'd been around back then, that month might have ranked with May 2010 on our most intriguing list, but considering the Mets didn't fare too well that year, I think we're glad we were here for this one, and not that one.
Mark Simon is a researcher for Baseball Tonight. Follow him on Twitter at @msimonespn or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.