SAN DIEGO — At its core, baseball is simple: The team that scores the most runs wins.
Of course, baseball is far more than its core. Pitchers are the best they’ve ever been, sabermetric analysis is reaching new heights, and hitters routinely launch balls more than 400 feet. But when you look at the Mets recent successes, one, uncomplicated statistic stands out among the rest: They hit really, really well with guys in scoring position.
Going into Tuesday’s game against the Padres, the Mets led baseball with a .291 average with runners in scoring position, along with a baseball-best 218 RBIs. In that same situation but with two outs, they don’t even balk, hitting .271. Just Monday, in their 11-5 win, they went 5-for-17 with runners in scoring position, and the Padres went 2-for-8.
Some people will no doubt attribute something like that, at least partially, to luck — players will get hits, and it just so happens the Mets are getting them in beneficial situations. But Buck Showalter doesn’t buy it.
“Guys that drive in runs, drive in runs, and if you don’t think that’s a real analytic tool, you’re making a mistake,” he said Tuesday. “I wish I could say this is exactly it and everybody just follows the magic rule, but I think understanding what a (pitcher) is trying to do" is the most important factor.
And it seems like the Mets are pretty good at that. Jeff McNeil is hitting .395 with players on second or third, and Pete Alonso has 41 of his team-leading 54 RBIs in that situation, with nine homers — that’s four home runs more than any other player in the majors. They have six batters hitting better than .300 with RISP, and when Showalter sees that, he sees a correlation with something else.
“You see a lot of 0-2 to 3-2 counts because I think our hitters have an understanding of what guys are trying to do,” he said. “They’re trying to get you to chase. It probably takes a lot of courage, because you’re putting a lot of faith in the umpire. That requires courage.”
In fact, the Mets hit a major-league best .202 when down 0-and-2, and a third-best .225 when they’re behind in any count. Part of that has to do with personnel: Along with Alonso, who’s putting MVP-caliber numbers at the plate, McNeil’s proven bat-to-ball skills makes sure things happen. Then there are guys like Mark Canha (.354) and Brandon Nimmo (.350 OBP), whose plate discipline is as much a part of their hitting repertoire as their ability to put balls in play. It's also clear that they're approaching at-bats with distinct gameplans — nothing new in this day and age, but still effective.
“I think everybody kind of follows that approach,” Showalter said. Nimmo and Canha “have that and I think more guys reinforce it. I think that’s the thing with Francisco (Lindor) he’s become a lot less chase (happy). You have to understand, when you’re a good hitter, you want to swing the bat. That’s how you got here. To be able to turn that knob off, it’s hard. It takes a lot of discipline.”
It very well might, but these days, patience is leading to immediate results.