It is August 24, the Mets have played 124 games, and Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil have combined for 14 home runs. In 2019, they combined for 56. The Mariners’ Ty France somehow has more home runs than McNeil and Conforto together. This is just one part of the complete offensive shutdown that places the team on the cusp of wrecking the entire season.
Sure, the Mets are missing Jacob deGrom, and sure Edwin Diaz has had his share of bad days, but the vast majority of the Mets’ failures are on the offense. The pitching staff is still seventh in the league in runs allowed per game, thanks to good seasons from Stroman, Walker, and most of the bullpen. Not to mention the excellent beginning to Tylor Megill‘s career.
As for the offensive side of things? Literally every Mets regular is having an offensive year below their career average.
The Mets offense looked good on paper and had been upgraded after a great 2020 showing. But with three-quarters of the season done, a perfect storm of problems has decimated what should have been a league-best offense.
Problem 1: Power Outage
This year, the Mets rank 29th in doubles and 25th in home runs. That is not a recipe for success. In 2020, the club was in the top half of the league in both key offensive categories. Somehow, all at the same time, every Met besides Pete Alonso forgot they had the option to hit the ball over the fence.
This is, in part, due to the changes Major League Baseball made to the ball itself. The ball was intentionally made to have less bounce, thereby decreasing the distance balls will travel, and lowering slugging league-wide. But this change is impacting all teams, and none has seen an offensive collapse like the Mets.
Problem 2: Bad Luck
As I have mentioned before, at least part of the Mets’ offensive struggles is simply bad luck. It seems like the Mets lead the league in “outs that Gary Cohen makes you believe are going to be hits.” There is evidence to back this up, too.
Baseball Savant calculates expected hitting statistics based on the exit velocity and launch angle of every batted ball. For instance, a line drive hit at 100 miles per hour will have a high chance of being a hit based on known data of similarly struck balls. In contrast, one hit on the ground at 70 MPH is much more likely to be an out.
For example, in Thursday’s 4-1 loss against the Dodgers, the Mets had an expected batting average (xBA) of .289, compared to the Dodgers .181. Yet, the Mets lost 4-1. The Mets actually had a higher xBA than the Dodgers for every game of that series, yet won just one game.
On the season, the Mets as a team have a batting average, slugging percentage, and weighting on-base average all lower than would be expected according to Baseball Savant. While the team ranks in the upper half of the league in “unluckiness” by these stats, the differences do not account for the Mets going from a great offense to one of the worst.
Over the offseason, the Mets apparently developed an allergy to clutch hitting, too. The team continues not to come through with men on base. As a team, the Mets have an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .691 — not great. Amazingly though, that OPS drops to .608 when the bases are loaded. For comparison, the Phillies OPS jumps from .727 to .889 in the same situation. A pitcher who loads the bases is obviously struggling and prone to giving up big hits, but the Mets just have not been able to get those big hits all year.
Problem 3: Counting on the Wrong Guys
While this is the bleakest explanation, after more than four months of offensive ineptitude, it has to be asked if the Mets’ core components just are not who we thought they were.
At the least, Alonso and Nimmo have proven to be the valuable pieces that we all expected. Conforto is known to be a streaky hitter and may just have been hit with an injury followed by a cold stretch. He seems to be coming around in August, with an .865 OPS over his last 14 games.
That leaves Jeff McNeil and Dom Smith. McNeil has at least had stretches of productivity and seems to be making a lot of hard contact. Interestingly, many of his peripheral stats including ground ball rate, strikeout percentage, and walk percentage are still in line with his career numbers and offer no explanation for his down year. It is possible that pitchers have found new ways to work around McNeil’s unique swing-early, contact-heavy approach.
Dom Smith, on the other hand, oftentimes looks lost at the plate. His slugging percentage has fallen of a cliff, and despite recent defensive improvements it doesn’t make sense to keep playing him in left field if his bat is not adding any value. Of all the Mets struggling hitters, Smith has the smallest sample size of success. Conforto and McNeil have proven themselves since they first came up in 2015 and 2018, respectively. Dom has had just as many bad years as he has had good, and one of the good ones was the 60-game COVID season.
Looking forward, the Mets can’t afford to move forward with 3+ offensive question marks. It looks like they will begin taking strides in this regard this week. Rumors have circulated that with Francisco Lindor returning from injury, J.D. Davis will stick at third and McNeil will move to the outfield, leaving Smith in a bench role.
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