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Adrian Gonzalez’s slump a little misleading, and Mets manager Mickey Callaway remains optimistic

Mets first baseman Adrian Gonzalez singles against the

Mets first baseman Adrian Gonzalez singles against the Cardinals at Citi Field on March 31. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

SAN DIEGO — When Adrian Gonzalez’s bloop fell in for a single Thursday afternoon, you didn’t hear any complaints from him. He’s had enough well-struck balls turn into outs this season that he’s happy to take a cheapie when he gets it.

Gonzalez, 1-for-his-last-16 as he sat against a lefthander Friday night, hasn’t put up attractive numbers, but he and manager Mickey Callaway believe he has deserved better.

“You almost are like, can I just get a cheap hit once in a while so it stays afloat and doesn’t look like there’s a slump?” Gonzalez said. “I don’t feel like there is [a slump], but then it gets in your head and then you try a little harder and then you get yourself out and have a couple of bad at-bats. Then it’s like, man, what am I doing? Go back to basics.”

The bottom-line production, to be clear, has not been there for Gonzalez. He is hitting .203 with a .300 on-base percentage and .322 slugging percentage, mixed with a couple of noteworthy moments (grand slam against Washington, game-winning single against Miami).

Gonzalez pointed to peripheral statistics that suggest he has been unlucky.

“There are numbers to back up certain things now,” he said. “When I look at those numbers on my behalf, I know I’m hitting the ball hard, I’m doing things right. It’s just a matter of continuing.”

Said Callaway: “I totally agree with him.”

MLB calculates, for example, “expected batting average” and “expected slugging percentage” based on the quality of an individual’s batted balls. Gonzalez’s exit velocity — a metric the Mets have valued for years — and launch angle have been at about league average.

Gonzalez’s expected average is .292, which is .089 better than his actual average — the 11th-largest deficit in the majors. (Mets catcher Jose Lobaton, it’s worth noting, leads everybody with a .121 difference: .095 average, .216 expected average.)

Gonzalez’s expected slugging is .501, a whopping .179 above his real percentage.

The old baseball cliche when a hitter appears to be slumping like this is “he is hitting into outs’’ or “he is hitting them right at guys.’’ These days, there is hard evidence to consider.

“All the things you would look at to predict success — other than are they catching it or not or is he hitting it at people — are really in line with his 2015, when he was going good,” Callaway said. “He’s hit some balls hard right at people. I think the numbers are definitely saying that.”

That’s not so much an excuse for or from Gonzalez as it is a look at the Mets’ thought process when it comes to sticking with a 35-year-old player they signed for the major-league minimum. The idea is that over a longer period, Gonzalez’s production will more closely resemble what his expected numbers are. The underlying numbers are reasons for optimism, as are his 13 strikeouts to nine walks, a rate better than any he has posted since 2010.

As the season hits the one-month mark, and April’s small samples edge toward May’s medium-sized samples, the actual production to come will be more important. After all, winners and losers aren’t determined based on exit velocity.

Gonzalez, who said he feels healthy as he continues his back maintenance program, is working on improving his overall production while constantly tweaking his swing.

“There’s still a lot of little tinkering around in my swing, which will lead to one game where it looks like I have no clue what I’m doing and the next game I’m going off,” he said. “What’s going on? There’s tinkering involved.”

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