Maggie Wiggin, Contributor
The Mets finished 2013 with a 33-48 home record, one of the worst in baseball, despite playing over .500 on the road. This stark difference is entirely due to batting, as their pitching was actually better at home. And, there is evidence to suggest it is a result of altering their approach at the plate when playing in Citi Field…
The Mets strike out at a higher rate at home; and they have a much higher rate of fly balls – almost 5 percent more. Fly balls are less likely to fall in for hits than ground balls or line drives; so if they’re getting more fly balls (and fewer end up home runs because of the size of the ballpark) they’re going to get fewer hits.
It’s not surprising that players who had the worst home/road splits also had big differences in either their fly ball rates or their strikeout rates. Eric Young Jr. hit almost twice as many balls in the air at home than on the road and this was reflected in the .220 point drop in his OPS. Marlon Byrd’s significant splits (.712 OPS at home compared to .975 away) were largely driven by strikeouts, which he had 10 percent more of at Citi Field. These two players are just the most extreme examples of a trend that affected a number of everyday players, including Juan Lagares, Daniel Murphy and Omar Quintanilla.
The tendency to strike out and hit more fly balls suggests that players are trying to hit home runs and trying to hit for more power, whether consciously or unconsciously. The desire to get the big hit, especially when a team has trouble early in the season, is understandable; but this approach isn’t doing them any favors in their pitching-friendly park. Instead, they would be better off focusing on line drive hitting to take advantage of big gaps, which may be what other teams are doing.
The Mets team OPS was .632 at home (only the Marlins had a lower home mark) compared to .710 on the road, which ranked 13th in baseball. Meanwhile, opponents had a .690 OPS at Citi Field – considerably better than the Mets – and visitors accounted for 90 of the 149 home runs hit in the ballpark.
This is certainly not news to the coaching staff, which tracks data like this in even greater detail; but fixing a team-wide problem is not easy to do mid-season. Instead, this should be a key area of focus during Spring Training, as well as in the off season when looking to acquire players who make good contact and avoid hitting the ball in the air.
“One of the things you’ve got to do here is you’ve got to use the field to hit,” Terry Collins said Monday. “You cannot be a one-dimensional player. We cannot put guys in our park that got good power, but not necessarily great power and expect them to hit homers. They’ve got to be better hitters.”
It’s amazing to think that if the Mets could have gone just .500 at home, they would have had their first winning season since 2008. Their poor home record was frustrating and demoralizing for both players and fans. It has to change for the team to have any hope of contending. And with some minor adjustments, Mets can use Citi Field to their advantage and perhaps even thrive there.