Thursday, July 1, 2010
June's significant develop'Mets'
By Mark Simon
If we view May as the month in which the Mets fortunes turned, June is the month in which they established themselves as a contender for a postseason spot. In other words, it’s the time when they became legitimate (or, as we prefer, legitiMET).
It was a month in which Jose Reyes returned to full force, R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese became the team’s top two pitchers and no one asked any questions about Jerry Manuel’s job status.
But we found a few other things worthy of honing in on, and we take a closer look here.
Behold the home grown infield
The injury to Luis Castillo and the emergence of Ruben Tejada has paid major dividends on multiple fronts.
The Mets won 13 of their first 15 games that Tejada started at second base, outscoring the opposition 76-33 in those 15.
Tejada had a 10-game hitting streak, but his biggest contribution was on the defensive end. The folks at Baseball Info Solutions tell us Tejada had 19 balls hit to him in double play situations at second base this month.
He turned 12 of them into twin killings, a conversion rate of 63 percent. That’s a significant improvement over Castillo’s 47 percent conversion rate (the major league average for a second baseman is 52 percent).
The other notable effect of Tejada’s emergence is that it’s given the team an infield of homegrown players, -- Ike Davis, Tejada, Jose Reyes, and David Wright.
That’s rare in Mets history, primarily because of the team’s revolving door at third base, and their frequent forays by trade or free agency to land a solid first baseman.
In fact, thanks to research done at my asking by the folks at Faith and Fear in Flushing, we know it’s the most prolific homegrown infield in Mets history. And right now, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to mess with the success.
Wright going right
Considering the depths to which David Wright’s performance sank in May (a .248 BA and 39 strikeouts), his performance in June was rather remarkable.
Wright finished the month hitting .404 with 29 RBI, only the third time in Mets' history that a player hit .400+ in a month in which he had at least 100 at-bats (Lance Johnson hit .405 in September 1996 and Moises Alou hit .402 in September, 2007).
The key hits were plenty, capped by his two-run first-inning double on Wednesday, giving Wright a .467 batting average and 14 hits with runners in scoring position for the month.
The difference for Wright was that he eradicated his biggest issue from May. In May, Wright had a dozen multi-strikeout games. This month, he only had six.
He became a much more aggressive hitter early in at-bats (as you can see in the accompanying chart) and the dividends were huge.
Owning the Eighth
Earlier this month, Francisco Rodriguez expressed some concerns about who would be setting up for him in the eighth inning.
Note to K-Rod. Don’t worry so much. The Marlins series put a slight blemish on the Mets eighth-inning mark, but prior to that, opponents were 11-for-72 (.153 BA) in the eighth-inning in June, with a total of one run scored.
Whichever eighth-inning option the Mets relied upon worked, even out-of-nowhere journeyman Elmer Dessens, who finished the month unscored upon and back-in-the-big leagues Bobby Parnell, who has looked sharp, for the most part.
If the Mets have anything to make them nervous now, it’s the ninth inning. Rodriguez had nine saves in June, matching his total from the first two months. But in only one of them did he retire his batters without allowing either a hit or walk.
Santana and Pelfrey Struggle
As good as Mike Pelfrey looked in April and Johan Santana looked in May, both struggled through their last four starts in June. And both had trouble with the pitches most responsible for their success.
Santana allowed four or more runs in each of four-straight starts for the first time since 2004. His biggest issue, as Eduardo Perez showed in a video review on Baseball Tonight, was the lack of tumble on his changeup.
The vintage Santana changeup dropped as if it was falling off a table. The current one doesn't have the same level of decline, making it a more hittable, or less-tempting to chase, pitch
We can illustrate with a simple statistic from our Inside Edge video data.
In 2008, opponents went 2-for-82 against Santana’s two-strike changeups that tumbled out of the strike zone. That’s his signature pitch, one responsible for 12-to-15 outs in a typical month.
In June of 2010, opponents were 2-for-4. That means Santana got just TWO outs with his tumble-out-of-the-zone two-strike changeup. And he gave up two hits ... as many as he allowed in all of 2008.
Pelfrey’s issue was with his split-fingered fastball, a swing-and-miss pitch early in the season, but not so much in his last four starts.
Indicative of that was his last home start against the Twins in which Inside Edge charted him for 24 splitters, none of which resulted in a swing-and-miss.
The one thing Pelfrey has going for him is that he’s got an alternative weapon -- the double play ball (helped by the emergence of the home-grown infield).
Twelve of the fourteen double plays he’s induced this year have protected a lead for him (the other two came with a one-run deficit and a tie score).
Santana has gotten 12 double plays this season, but in contrast to Pelfrey, the last five have come after the damage has been done, in situations in which he was already trailing.
Mo”Met” um Swing of the Month
We wanted to use this section to quantify the instance in which the Mets fortunes for the month were defined.
In May, we’d define that as the seventh inning of the Mets-Yankees Saturday night clash at Citi Field when Jenrry Mejia got Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez out to escape major trouble and the Mets got the first of two-straight wins against their crosstown rival.
In June, we’ll pick the ninth inning of a 1-1 tie with the Padres on June 8. Wright made an error to put the go-ahead run on second with one out, but Pelfrey rose to the challenge by striking out Nick Hundley and getting Will Venable to ground out. Those two outs raised the Mets win probability (via Baseball-Reference) from 44 percent to 63 percent.
Two innings later, Ike Davis hit his first career walk-off home run and the Mets had the fourth win of a stretch in which they’d take 12 of 13 games.
Stat of the Month
Only two pitchers in Mets history have met the following criteria:
A) Pitched a one-hitter
B) Won at least one other game that month
C) Gone undefeated for that month
Jonathon Niese met all three criteria in June, matching Tom Seaver, who met all three in April, 1977, not long before being traded to the Reds.