It’s fair to say that the Mets organization highly values walks. And lo, when I turned on the game Wednesday night, Matt Cain was breezing through the Mets minor league lineup. After another batter took the first pitch for a strike, Gary Cohen said something like, “Cain has been pounding the strike zone, and Mets batters have been behind in the count all night.”
But then something happened. In the 9th, leading 4-1, the Giants did not go to their closer (because, I guess, they’ve lost interest, too). They brought in a bum! I mean, of course, the immortal Santiago Casilla. The master plan worked like a charm.
As Terry Collins said after the game:
If there’s anything that typifies what we’re trying to do here, it was that ninth inning.
Let’s review what happened:
- Andrew Brown walked.
- Lucas Duda struck out.
- Juan Lagares walked (Casilla out, Romo in)
- Zach Lutz doubled (ball, strike looking, ball, striking looking, foul, then double)
- Juan Centeno infield single (Recker actually ran for Centeno!)
- Matt den Dekker walked.
- Omar Quintanilla flied out to right.
- Josh Satin singled (strike looking, ball, strike looking, ball, then single)
The two guys who got big hits, Lutz and Satin, did not swing at the first two strikes. Both did not swing until the 5th pitch and it was clear, by that time, a walk would not be possible. Circumstances compelled them to swing the bat.
Yet it could be persuasively argued that in both cases, they “forced” the pitcher into a tough count where he had to throw a fat pitch — and they capitalized on it. The strategy worked. And another classic three-walk Mets rally was born.
The Mets motto, “Don’t just do something, stand there.”
Let me go back to that Collins quote for a moment, “If there’s anything that typifies what we are trying to do here.” Look at that lineup of 8 hitters in a row. I can’t help myself, I’ve got to do math again. Collectively those 8 hitters have a career total of under 3,000 ABs, an average of 370 per batter. It’s not a major league team. There’s not one player in that group where you can say with any confidence he’ll be playing in the majors three years from now. But they do seem to be executing the Alderson Way, or trying to.
Let’s look at some numbers. First of all, the team’s winning percentages in the last three years are as follows:
- 2011: .475
- 2012: .457
- 2013: .450
Next is our runs scored in those three years:
- 2011: 718
- 2012: 650
- 2013: 630*
* Estimate based on current pace.
Now, you see, this is what I don’t get. We keep hearing these guys love metrics. The most important metric is Wins. That cannot be argued. And since wins are calculated by which teams have the most runs at the end of every game, runs scored is very important. So, if you have instituted a process that is delivering the exact opposite of the desired results it is time to go back to the drawing board. Yet we still keep hearing all this nonsense when we do back into a win, it was about the walks. Yet if Satin doesn’t get that bat off his shoulder and rifle a double down the line we do not win that game.
Well, in fairness, the claim is that the hits are a direct result of the “plate discipline.” And let’s face it, this team has more plate discipline than Bobby Sands.
I read with great interest Sandy Alderson’s comments about Mets prospect Allan Dykstra, who mashed at Binghamton this past season to the tune of .274/.436/.503. Those are extraordinary numbers — the walk rate is astounding — and it earned him league MVP honors. The most notable downside is his age, 26, and that this was his 3rd year in the league. Plus there are serious questions about his ability to field and run.
Perhaps Sandy Alderson just wanted to show his support for a player he’s grown attached to, perhaps he wants Dykstra to sign with the team again this winter, but it sounds to me like Allan Dykstra embodies the qualities that the Mets GM most admires.
He takes and rakes.
I therefore submit Allan Dykstra as a test case in this noble experiment.
“He has had a great season, and he has approached the game, offensively, the way the organization hopes to approach the game at the major-league level.”
Yes, that word again, approach. I don’t believe there’s a GM in baseball who talks about hitting as much as Sandy Alderson. He definitely has a strong point of view.
Dykstra becomes a minor league free agent this winter. Obviously Sandy would love to retain the “AA” MVP. Next year, if he sticks with the Mets, Dykstra will surely rake in Vegas. Because, well: extreme hitter’s park.
I went to my trusty Minor League Equivalency Calculator — which is fun, btw — and typed in Dykstra’s impressive statistics from 2013. At which point, the computer calculates how those numbers translate to another level. (Obviously, this is just math & games, not reality.)
For the Pacific Coast League, playing in Las Vegas (yes, you input the home field), Dykstra’s slash line projects this way:
- Vegas: .264/.426/.479
For the Mets, in Citi Field, it spit out these numbers:
- New York: .197/.329/.342
I don’t know if any of that has meaning, but it’s food for thought. If the approach is textbook in terms of what the organization seeks, the corresponding results should be impressive. He’s a guy who does it all right, with power, too. The approach the club desires.
That’s why I consider him a test case. Forget projections. I’m curious to how this will translate against major league pitching. (And we’ll ignore, for now, the “can’t field or run” thing.)
Now I have some more numbers for you, Jimmy. Here is our actual walk totals in those same years, 2011 to 2013.
- 2011: 571
- 2012: 503
- 2013: 517*
Now one more set, our strikeout totals.
- 2011: 1085
- 2012: 1250
- 2013: 1383*
What this shows is our walks have gone down from 2011, our first year under Sandy, while our strikeouts keep rising. And so we score less runs. This is pretty easy to figure out. We institute a policy of working pitchers, taking good pitches, and have initial success. Other teams adjust and begin challenging our hitters, who take hittable pitches and then have to swing at bad ones. Walks go down, strikeouts rise, runs scored decreases. The next move would be for us to adjust, except I feel like one of our hitters, just waiting for something to happen. We keep talking the same old tired talk.
And again, the argument is that although the approach is sublime, the Mets just have the wrong guys. I’m not buying it. We’ve got three full years in the books. Because, for example, Sandy drafted Dykstra in San Diego, he traded for Dykstra. Alderson actively seeks those qualities. I believe it was a factor in picking Nimmo and Cecchini in the 1st round of the 2011 and 2012 drafts. The Mets are looking for a type of player, a guy who fits the proper approach. The coaches are teaching it, insisting upon it, preaching it. There’s a prototype, a mold, and Alderson wants every player to squeeze into it.
You know, there’s a myth about “old school” baseball and how nobody ever valued walks. Baloney! Clearly, the statistical analysis was not advanced, you don’t even find “BB” listed on the old baseball cards. But you’d hear this comment all the time, a manager noting, “He gets on base all the time!” They saw the value of it, but mostly from the top-of-the-order guys. The good baserunners who come all the way around. I just wish that Sandy Alderson would find a fast guy who got on base all the time. Slow guys on base simply don’t have the same value.
The language itself is suspect. These days, we commonly hear about guys earning walks and controlling the strike zone. We hear much less about pitchers giving them. And I understand that linguistic shift; it gave value to the act of reaching base safely without getting a hit. But I think we’ve got to get back to realizing that a lot of those walks come by the pitcher’s choice. A calculated decision. Factoring in the odds. Better to walk the big lug than give him something fat he might hit out of the park. When the bottom of the lineup doesn’t function, these plodders can enhance their OBP all season long — it won’t translate into many runs.
The pitcher remains the main protagonist in the event of a walk. The pitcher acts upon the batter. A base on balls is not possible without the “permission” of the hurler. This is obvious. We used to know it. But sometimes I wonder if, in our haste to give partial credit to the batter in these instances, some folks have forgotten the fundamental reality. Can the actions of a batter influence this event? Yes, certainly. Primarily by not swinging early in the count. And also by being the kind of batter a pitcher elects to walk.
This is always a strange topic for me. I have to admit it, my emotional side does not like to see guys take. It’s passive, it goes against my thoughts on how you approach anything. But as time has gone by in my life, I have become much more cognizant of the value of patience at the plate. And actually, in life. What has bothered me over these last few years is how dogmatic the organization’s thoughts on this issue seem to be. There are many free swinging players who are rightfully in the Hall of Fame. There is never just one way.
I’m just looking for Sandy to meet me halfway.