WALK THIS WAY: Where Math Meets Old School, and Allan Dykstra Becomes a Test Case

US_Walk_Traffic_Signal

Jimmy:

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:

walk-man   walk-man   walk-man

  1. Andrew Brown walked.
  2. Lucas Duda struck out.
  3. Juan Lagares walked (Casilla out, Romo in)
  4. Zach Lutz doubled (ball, strike looking, ball, striking looking, foul, then double)
  5. Juan Centeno infield single (Recker actually ran for Centeno!)
  6. Matt den Dekker walked.
  7. Omar Quintanilla flied out to right.
  8. 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.

Mike:

The Mets motto, “Don’t just do something, stand there.”

Jimmy:

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.

Mike:

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.

eat_sleep_walk_baseball_capNow, 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.

Jimmy:

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.

allan-dykstra

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.

Here’s Alderson:

“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.)

Mike:

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.

Jimmy:

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.

Generations of baseball fans grew up in a time when "walks" and "OBP" were deemed unworthy of the back of a baseball card.

Generations of baseball fans grew up in a time when “walks” and “OBP” were deemed unworthy of the back of a baseball card.

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. 

Mike:

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.

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23 comments

  1. tom says:

    A lot of sense…Sandy needs to know one size does not fit all. Duda a prime example…he got over his jitters and hit over .300 in each of last 3 months of 2011. Now he hugely struggles…precisely because he is too cautious and is terrible when behind in counts…but the approach has him constantly behind in counts. Instead of attacking a la Soriano. A sneaking suspicion if Duda were on Yanks, he’d be out from under all that…and slugging.

  2. trs86 says:

    This is an interesting read. However, I think that just by comparing seasons run totals, SO, OBP, etc would be unfair to the process. Of course many will use this a detractor against Alderson’s job here but it is fair to the discussion.

    In 2011, the Mets had half a season of Carlos Beltran playing well enough to net Wheeler, Reyes having a career year, Duda playing out of his mind, Murphy having a career year, the top 6 of the lineup looked like this to start year with Davis playing like the best 1B in the NL

    Reyes
    Murphy
    Wright
    Beltran
    Bay
    Davis

    The 2012 Mets had:
    Torres
    Nieuwenhuis
    Wright
    Duda
    Murphy
    Davis

    The 2013 Mets had:
    uh… Murphy and Wright.

    Considering the names the Mets had out there this season and even their minor league numbers, I am astonished they aren’t last in every offensive category.

    Again, that isn’t making excuses, I am just saying I don’t think using this group of rookies and misfits is a good way to judge an offensive strategy.

    • James Preller says:

      Thanks for your comment, TRS. Excellent points, all. Like Mike, I don’t wish to criticize the value of “having a good eye” and earning walks. But not everyone can be Frank Thomas. I sometimes wonder how this current regime would have handled a young Jose Reyes. They might have confused the hell out of him. In my view, there’s no “one way” or organizational approach to hitting. Too many great offensive players don’t fit the mold.

      • trs86 says:

        I also don’t think that any organization or hitting instructor is teaching only “one way”. I think Stanford might do that in college but that’s not here. If you want to say the organization values pitch recognition and plate discipline, I would imagine they all do. I just think because it’s the Mets it gets over-publicized.

    • Michael Geus says:

      Thanks TRS86, for stopping by.

      I agree, completely in fact, that talent is the number one problem with the runs scored issue. And the 2013 Mets had Byrd, who produced like a star, as nuts as that was. So it wasn’t just Wright and Murphy, but yes you are right. Talent always wins out.

      But that rising strikeout rate is showing me something too, and I do not think talent is the entire problem. And if we are steering clear of talented players, at both the professional and amateur ranks, because they don’t fit a rigid model, that helps widen the talent gap.

      • trs86 says:

        That’s true but lets look at who is striking out.

        Davis has a 26.8 K rate, that’s awful and you can tell why. That’s not on the Mets, he’s just a mess.

        Duda’s K rate is astoundingly the exact same as last year 26.1. That’s still real bad but consistent. He had a high k rate in the minors and every year in the majors except for that small sample in 2011.

        Byrd’s was 26.7 again almost as bad as Ike. I guess you take the good and the bad that comes along with a higher strikeout rate sometimes.

        Satin, Mr. OBP is at 24.9. His strike out rates in the minors have always been high as well.

        Buck 24.3, do we really need to go there?

        Lagares, his stands out a little because it is much higher than his norm in the minors but it has also been said that offensively he most likely wasn’t ready so of course he’s going to strike out a lot.

        Those are the top 6 if you go by 200 min PA. If you decrease that to 100 you get even worse numbers.

        Anthony Recker 33.6 is a god awful offensive player that really doesn’t deserve to be on a MLB team.

        Kirk, 29.6 again we have known that about Kirk since his minor league days.

        Andrew Brown 27.0 incredibly high percentage in the minors as well.

        So again I guess what I am saying is that if you end up fielding a team full of bad offensive players that strike out a lot then regardless of your approach you are going to have a team full of bad offensive players who strike out a lot.

        • Patrick Boegel says:

          But if you are philosophically taking a weapon away from a hitter, ie dont swing until you a strike, it is counter productive.

          Look for a good pitch early, if you like it rip it, if not take it, that is fine. But all of the folks you mention above routinely take first pitch fastballs at an alarming rate.

          • trs86 says:

            Well according to Hudgens they aren’t saying that. He has always said, even on his blogs before becoming Mets hitting coach, that early in the count you look for pitches that you can drive.

            If players are up there just taking fat ones down the middle that would be the opposite of the approach.

            Side note, do you have the actual percentages for Mets hitters swinging at 1st pitch strikes? I can’t seem to find it.

          • trs86 says:

            I have Fangraphs F-Strike
            “F-Strike% (first pitch strike percentage): The percentage of plate appearances (for batters) or batters faced (for pitchers) that the first pitch was a strike. This includes anytime that the count after the first pitch was 0-1, or anytime the ball was put into play on the first pitch of a plate appearance.”

            But that doesn’t tell me how many times they took a 1st pitch strike.

  3. IB says:

    Tom – As I was reading this post the same thoughts came to mind. Watching Duda take 2 fastball strikes over and over, seemingly no adjustments to “approach” is painful to watch. But, I also wonder about where pitch recognition meets working a count.

    • trs86 says:

      I think that has always been Ike’s issue. He’s a hacker, he can’t tell a curveball from a beach ball.

      • Michael Geus says:

        I agree 100% with this, but he is also a hacker with great power. In the offseason when we first wrote about Ike on this site I commented that I was very worried that Davis had listed 100 walks as a goal. Davis is who he is, and I rather have the Davis who hits over 30 home runs than one who was walking all the time, and never hit a home run. I don’t think you can have both, and when folks try to get that from him you get “first half Ike.”

        One reason that I think Davis might be back is that the current GM is very fearful of how productive he can be somewhere else. Davis is the guy who goes up to the plate, so first and foremost his struggles fall on him. But who put that stupid goal in his head?

        A cleanup hitter looking for walks? Cleanup hitters need to accept walks, not seek them. It’s not the same.

        • trs86 says:

          I am not so sure Sandy cares that much about legacy and players performing elsewhere.

          I can’t imagine that they told Davis you need to get 100 walks, but I would also imagine that they told him he has to learn to take a walk when the pitcher continues to laugh at him throwing garbage and getting him out.

          • Michael Geus says:

            On this we disagree. We both don’t know, so we are both imagining, but I cannot imagine that they did not tell him the number.

            Unless Sandy starts returning my phone calls, just speculation on my part. Somebody put the idea in his head, and I don’t see that coming from Ike himself.

          • trs86 says:

            It wouldn’t surprise me as Ike is also the one who said.
            “I’m a home run hitter. I like to hit home runs, and strikeouts are part of the game.”

  4. IB says:

    I think today’s 2 guys post and discussion
    is really valuable. Alderson’s philosopy is, as you say, dogmatic, and like all dogma it fails when applied to all situations.
    The results, so far, have been gruesome.
    At what point does this FO take a good look
    in the mirror?

    Yes, Alderson, Dave Hutchens and company would have probably ruined Reyes. Interesting point.

  5. IB says:

    Or did they in-fact get him (Reyes)a hell of a pay day? (Sorry to quote you TRS, but my reply button usually doesn’t work)

    Hard to say, but he was still hacking in 2011. He had less walks in 2011 than 2005-2007 so it seems like they let him play his game.

  6. IB says:

    TRS – I’m happy to concede your point that it’s very possible Hudgens helped Reyes. But, the gist of the argument is that what worked for Reyes has made head cases out of Duda and Davis. It’s fair to mention, I think, that Reyes was an established star in 2011. Same with Wright.
    How much are you going to tweek those guys?

    • trs86 says:

      True, but isn’t it very possible that Ike and Duda were head cases before they came and they just haven’t improved?
      Both had high K % in the minors as well.

      Of course you could get on them for not improving their percentages but I would imagine that without pitch recognition as we mentioned this philosophy wouldn’t work.

      • trs86 says:

        So in other words if Reyes is their greatest example (perhaps players like Cedeno are also to a lesser extent) Duda and Ike are their failures. At some point you are right, either the players get it or they don’t. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if neither are back.

      • Patrick Boegel says:

        It is also possible that the teacher is poor.

        The Mets hitters who have been here all three years are getting worse. That is alarming. So that says to me something is getting heavily lost in translation.

        Davis K’d 22.9% of PAs in 2010, in limited work in 2011 it dropped to 20.8%, last year it lept to 24.1%, but if you break it down by half, or more importantly separate his horrible April/May from the rest it was a 26/22 split. Arguably a team with its head screwed on straight would not have begun Ike on the major league roster given the time he missed the previous year and the subsequent time lossed in spring due to valley fever issue.

        This year when his goal was to walk 100 times it flopped to 26.7%.

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