Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mets Have Power Problems, Are Walls To Blame?

Quick - who leads the Mets in home runs?  I'll give you a hint: he's been off the team for three weeks.

If you guessed Carlos Beltran, you're both right and probably shaking your head in disgust right now.  With a paltry sum of 15 dingers, Beltran still holds a healthy lead over David Wright's 10 homers.  There's a power outage in New York and it's completely confined to one block in Flushing.

Word is trickling out that Citi Field will see some structural changes next year, namely that outfield walls will be lowered.  Mets players would probably welcome the change - RA Dickey this weekend blamed the dimensions at Citi for robbing Jason Bay of a homer - and the changes could do wonders for the Mets sagging power numbers.  But would physical changes to the stadium be the panacea for the Mets offensive woes?

In a word, no.

First, some numbers.  The Mets rank 22nd in the league right now in home runs, with just 87.  However, they are 17th in the league in slugging, thanks to their 33 triples, good for second best in baseball.  They are fifth in doubles, way ahead of slugging teams like the Yankees and Phillies. Overall, they're sixth in hits, and fourth in on-base percentage, but only tenth in runs.

Based on those numbers, we can draw some conclusions.  The Mets put a lot of guys on base, but don't score them nearly as well as you would expect.  They are second in triples because of one Jose Bernabe Reyes, and hit a lot of doubles because every well-struck ball is dying in the gap or bouncing off those high walls.

Power hitting, if you limit it strictly to home runs, is a combination of a lot of factors.  First, you need the personnel, and the Mets are severely lacking in that category. They have a lot of extra base hits, but there are woefully few players on the club with big time power.  David Wright has hit 30 homers in the past, but has been a shell of his former self for the last couple of years.  Jason Bay was a premiere power hitter who has totally dried up.  Ike Davis showed some serious long ball potential last season, but is due for surgery any day.  Lucas Duda has had flashes of power but can't put it together yet.

Is it all due to Citi Field?  Take a look at the Mets home/away splits: 43 homers at home, 44 on the road.  Identical batting average, very similar extra base hits, and an OPS 20 points higher at home.

The glaring difference? They've scored 55 more runs on the road than at home, albeit in 300 more at-bats.

What is that due to?  Well, it's unclear.  It's led to a much better road record for the Mets - they are four games above .500 on the road, and 10 games below it at home.  If the New York Mets played every game on the road like a barnstorming club of old, they've be in strong contention for the Wild Card.  Instead, they're falling back towards last place.

So Citi Field had some effect on the Mets' scoring numbers, but not their power numbers - at least not this year.  In 2008, their last season in Shea, the Mets were eighth in the league in homers.  The next year in Citi Field? Dead last, by a mile.

Of course, in 2008 the Mets had slugger Carlos Delgado at first base, standout years from Wright and Beltran and a big power year from Reyes, who clubbed 16 homers. The next year, Delgado was gone, Reyes was injured, Beltran missed half the games and Daniel Murphy lead the team with 12 home runs.  TWELVE.

Many attributed Wright's power outage to Citi Field but he bounced back last year with 29 homers.  There was something else going on with David that year, something we'll probably never figure out.  Maybe the new stadium messed with Wright mentally, but more likely the 2009 Mets were awful because they were simply that: awful.

That brings up the worst factor for Citi Field - the psychic effect.  If RA Dickey thinks the ballpark is actively working against Mets hitters, and that viewpoint is shared by other guys in the lineup, that's a huge problem.  That means Wright and Bay are up at the plate facing 95 mile-per-hour fastballs AND their own demons about the high walls and Mo's Corner and all the other stupid stuff that makes Citi Field seem so cavernous.

If bringing down the walls a few feet means boosting the Mets' confidence, so be it.  But bringing in some actual hitters, as opposed to the minor league team the Mets are fielding at the moment, might help too.

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