If it wasn’t such a cliche, I’d say something clever about the deck chairs on the Titanic. To recap: The Mets dumped Rick Ankiel, and later in one swoop sent down Ike Davis, Mike Baxter, and Robert Carson because they were all terrible. The Baxter and Carson moves were long overdue. Ankiel was never going to work. But with Ike Davis, I can sympathize with all the wishin’ and the hopin’. But they ultimately had to act.
If there’s one thing we know about Sandy Alderson, he doesn’t do anything until his hand is forced. After all, “patience” is the byword of the Mets organization. It could be the new Mets Marketing Slogan: “CITI FIELD: Where Patience Is King! If You Like to Wait, You’ll Love This Team!”
In that sense, the move from Jose Reyes to Ruben Tejeda was emblematic of more than a financial shift, it also represented the championing of a new a style of play, a shift in philosophy. Alderson would have driven a young Jose Reyes out of his mind.
So of course the three amigos brought up Collin Cowgill (27 years old), Josh Edgin (26 1/2), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (25), and Josh Satin (28 1/2) in an attempt to assemble the most boring team on the planet.
Please note: Only the Mets could demote three players and replace them with three minor leaguers . . . AND GET OLDER! Don’t believe it? Do the math.
Meanwhile, Sandy Alderson said this: “This is not a staff issue. This is a player issue.” Which means, no one is faulting the coaches or, heaven forfend, the tri-headed GM creature responsible for all personnel decisions. It’s the players, stupid. Which it is, of course, but there are underlying problems. A GM brought in the players, a GM brought in the manager and coaches.
In case anyone was wondering, we don’t hit very well. Considering some of the bad hitting teams we have had it is incredible that we have a shot to set a team record for “worst hitting Mets team.” When you read this article on the topic in the Times Dave Hudgens uses the word “approach” a lot. When I listen to Hudgens go, “approach, approach, approach” it always reminds me of “Ten minutes to Wapner.”
That’s funny. Imagine it for a second. He’d go into the greatest hitter’s park in all of professional baseball and preach working deep counts. You know that’s true. “We gotta see 150 pitches, guys, then we’ll win!” These fellows are so invested in an IDEA that they have shut their eyes to the reality before them. Never has a team talked so much about hitting approach and done so little hitting to go along with it. Look, we’ve hated this concept from the get-go. Ron Darling hates it, Bob Ojeda hates it, Keith Hernandez hates it. You watch them step up to the plate and feel ill. Hudgens needs to get fired. Of course, the problem with that is he’s got the same defense as Terry Collins: he’s just another middle man doing a job. Remember the Mike Puma report about Sandy Alderson yelling at Collins five times a day about the need for hitters to take more pitches?
“These guys are sorting through the pitches they are seeing to get something to hit,” Alderson said. “That approach is what really made us successful offensively in 2011 and the first half of 2012, and then we lost the approach. We couldn’t generate any offense in the second half of last year.”
And the other accurate defense of Hudgens: No talent. But has any team that looks this clueless at the plate not fired the hitting coach? We struck out 19 times against the Marlins in the 20 inning game. We give away at bat after at bat, it is sickening to watch.
This team is more passive at the plate than Karen Carpenter. And it doesn’t work! But before we delve into that, I want to compare this to basketball. We’ve all seen it, the weak squad that competes by slowing down the game, walking the ball up the court, exhausting the shot clock, and hopefully squeezing out a low-scoring win. In hockey, some teams dump the puck into the corners, clutch and grab and never get beat on a breakaway. With the Mets, we hear again and again about batters “grinding it out.” On a per-pitch basis, they are the least eventful team in the baseball. Nothing ever happens.
Baseball is an entertainment business. Most fans live in the NY area, with tons of options. It’s beyond stupid to embrace such a dull, dreary “approach” to the game.
Back in April, Tom Verducci wrote an essential article for SI.com where he declared: “The modern approach to hitting is not working.” And he’s even got graphs for folks who need math with their baseball.
I implore everyone to read Verducci’s work in full, but here’s a healthy taste:
Welcome to the state of the art in hitting these days, where aggressiveness is disdained and passivity is exalted. The modern hitter is guided by the accepted wisdom in catchphrases such as “driving up pitch counts,” “taking pitches” and “quality at-bats.” There is one serious flaw in this groupthink strategy.
It isn’t working.
Hitters are striking out more than ever before in baseball history while runs, walks, hits and home runs have been on the decline for years. And while teams still preach the religion of driving up pitch counts to “get into the bullpen” of the other team, they may be pushing an outdated agenda. So fortified are major league bullpens these days, especially with hard throwers, that last year relievers posted an ERA more than half a run lower than starters and averaged almost one strikeout for every inning.
(The best idea is to strike quickly; teams that get a lead after as little as two innings win 70 percent of the time.)
The proliferation of measurables in baseball is helping a generation of hitters turn offense into a passive aggressive pursuit. While batting average rightly has lost much of its inflated value, the flip side is that ubiquitous pitch counts, pitches per plate appearance, walks and on-base percentage are influencing how hitters go about their jobs.
As Yankees outfielder Vernon Wells told me in spring training, “Everything is measured these days, and players know it. There’s so much attention on pitch counts and how many pitches you see. Players are aware of it. When you get deeper counts, you’re going to get more strikeouts.”
Cubs president Theo Epstein said it best when he observed, “In the information age, things that are precisely measured are rewarded disproportionally relative to impact.”
Anyway, meanwhile, we’re stuck with Dave Hudgens. And the truth is, firing Hudgens would be akin to Sandy Alderson firing himself — a snake swallowing its tale — since Hudgens is merely the latest marionette manipulated by a master puppeteer who thinks of all coaches (and players) as middle management, dancing clowns with strings attached.