After 14 games this season, we’re seeing some story lines develop with the Mets. One would be the emergence of Matt Harvey as a potential ace. Another would be today’s injury to catching heir apparent, Travis d’Arnaud. Another topic that has made news recently is the Mets’ “approach” to hitting. Earlier this week, word came out that Sandy Alderson “yelled at” Terry Collins daily in the second half of last year, because the team was not following the organizational directive of taking pitches. So far this year, the Mets are seeing approximately 156 pitches per game, up from approximately 148 last year. The Mets saw more pitches per game in the early part of last year, when they were winning. Is there a correlation?
If you watched the post game show on SNY after game one of Tuesday’s double-header, you heard Bob Ojeda‘s opinion of going to the plate with the pre-disposed idea of taking pitches. To put it mildly, he doesn’t like it. He essentially said that hitting is art of adjusting to what the pitcher is doing to try to get you out. It’s not about seeing as many pitches as possible. He said that as a former pitcher (and a successful one), if he knew a hitter is up there looking at pitches, he’d throw quick strikes to get the hitter in a hole. Bobby O. also felt that taking too many pitches as a hitter could turn out to be counterproductive. What if the best pitch to hit was one that was taken because of an organizational philosophy? Is that a good thing? Is that potential base-on-balls more valuable than what could have been a double, triple, or HR? We hear Keith Hernandez audibly moan about hitters taking meatballs in hitters’ counts. Is all of this done in pursuit of a walk? Does that make sense?
I think taking pitches with an eye to OBP makes sense in certain situations. It’s certainly logical for batters at the top of the order to do so. But does it make sense for a hitter like Lucas Duda to take a lot of pitches? Duda is in the lineup because he has the potential to hit the ball out of the yard. So far this year, Duda has been on base 21 times (10 hits and 11 walks), for an OBP of .469. That’s impressive. But is it effective? Duda has scored 8 runs, so he’s crossed the plate about 38% of the time that he gets on. David Wright has 15 hits and 10 walks, and has scored 11 times, 44% of the time he’s been on. Daniel Murphy has been on base 24 times (17 hits and 7 walks) and scored 13 times, or 54% of the time. Jordany Valdespin has been on base 11 times, and scored 6 times, for a percentage of scoring of 54% (all statistics before the game on 4/18). Maybe the reason Duda hasn’t turned his high OBP into as much of a positive for the team is a function of where he hits in the order. If Duda is walking often, he’s doing so in front of Tejada and the pitcher most of the time. It makes sense that Duda would not be able to score as often as the teammates who hit higher in the order. Perhaps Duda should be more, rather than less, aggressive and try to drive in runs. In his case, the the approach of taking pitches may not be the right one. Once again, maybe the OBP philosophy needs context, and should not be an organizational absolute.
The debate about OBP and its value is probably second only to the debate over the DH. I’ve found that the debate around OBP tends to run along “player lines”, meaning those who have played the game professionally tend to view the OBP focus as less effective than those whose view of the game relies more on statistical analysis. It comes down to this. Would you rather have an organizational philosophy dictated by those who crunch numbers and apply algorithms, or by those who have been on the field and experienced success in the game? Both approaches have worked. Given the choice, I’ll go with Bobby O. and Keith. Let the game situation dictate the approach to an AB. Let a hitter’s spot in the order play a role too. It just seems illogical that pitchers will not recognize the tact of taking pitches, and eventually use it to their advantage. But that’s my opinion. What’s yours?