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Friday, July 9, 2010
Key to first-half: Doing little things

By Mark Simon

One of the keys to the first half of the season for the Mets has been that some of their players have done the little things well.

We're talking about the stuff that you might not see in the box score, the kind of stuff they'll need to do to beat the Braves this weekend and end the first half in strong fashion

Here's a review of a few of those elements, with help from the stats sections on Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.com:

Finishing when you're supposed to
The Mets have cashed in 57 percent of the time when a hitter comes up with a man on third and less than two outs. That's a very good rate.

The masters of that are probably not who you would expect:

Ruben Tejada (5-out-of-5 successfully cashed in)
Jeff Francoeur (19-out-of-26, 73 percent).

Smarts on the bases
Indicative of that, again is someone you wouldn't expect

Jason Bay's baserunning instincts have been very good. Not only is he 10-for-10 in stealing bases, but he leads the team in bases taken via fly balls, passed balls, wild pitches, balks, and defensive indifference, with 13.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, though the Mets are the major league leader in making outs on the bases, the Mets have only had four baserunners tagged out at the plate, tied for fewest in baseball, largely a credit to first-year third base coach Chip Hale.

Under Razor Shines last season, the Mets had 14 runners thrown out at the plate, tied for fifth-most in baseball

Put the ball in play and good things happen

Two newcomers have shown why they're capable hitters. Josh Thole has made some form of contact (in-play or a foul ball) on EVERY swing he's taken in his 13 plate appearances this season. Jesus Feliciano has made contact on 98.6 percent of his swings in his 55 turns.

That's why there figures to be some reluctance to send either guy back to Triple-A in the near-future.

For reference, the major league average in contact rate is 81 percent and the major league leader is Marco Scutaro, 95.4 percent.

Leaving opposing runners where they belong

Pedro Feliciano has stranded 21 of the 24 baserunners he's inherited this season. His strand rate of 87.5 percent ranks sixth-best in baseball, fourth-best in the National League, an upgrade from finishing 12th in the major leagues in that stat last season.

Making the tough plays

If you've noticed an improvement in David Wright's defense, you're not alone. Baseball Info Solutions does video analysis of defensive play, evaluating players in more than 80 categories.

This is not UZR, plus-minus, or runs saved. It's an evaluation based on plays that meet specific criteria, evaluated by former collegiate/pro players watching games. The plays fall into two categories -- "Good Fielding Plays" and "Misplays."

Wright leads the majors with 50 plays that are classified as "Good Fielding Plays." Think of those as diving stops, lunging catches, and other such "Web Gem Nominees."

That's already six more than he had all of last season, and an amazing 14 more than the player with the second-most in 2010 , Evan Longoria.

Additionally, the upgrade at first base from Daniel Murphy to Ike Davis has been hugely significant.

Murphy finished 2009 with the second-most "Misplays" at first base, with 32 in 101 games at first base (only Adam Dunn had more).

Davis has only nine so far, putting him on pace for FAR fewer than Murphy's total.

Symbolic of the little extra efforts that the Mets have made in areas is this Davis stat:

He's tied for the major league lead in a stat you thought was previously untrackable -- "reaching into the stands to catch a foul ball that could have gone into the crowd."

His total of five is matched only by Dodgers first baseman James Loney. But we're guessing that Davis leads the majors in railing sommersaults.