For the second straight April, talk is developing that the Mets can’t hit in the clutch. They’re batting .189 with runners in scoring position, after all.
It’s Monday morning and I’m only one coffee deep into my workweek, so I’m not yet prepared to go to battle over whether the abstract concept of clutchness even really exists. I’ll say it’s a hotly contested issue, to be sure, and there’s little statistical evidence to show that, given a large enough sample size, players will perform significantly better or worse in clutch situations than they would in others.
And I’ll add that practicing group psychology on professional baseball players based only on what little of their emotions they choose to disclose to us seems a bit silly — if not downright foolish — especially when we’re doing it after only six games worth of evidence.
But I will ask this of anyone who is certain the Mets can’t hit in the clutch:
Have you considered the possibility that too many of the Mets simply can’t hit?
Not all of them, for sure. David Wright and Jason Bay and, right now, Jeff Francoeur can hit. No doubt about that.
But take a closer look at the RISP numbers, beyond just the obvious fact that they’ve come in a tiny sample: The Mets actually have a respectable .347 on-base percentage in The Situation, a bit better than the Major League average.
Yesterday, with a runner on second, Livan Hernandez threw four straight balls to Francoeur, then got Gary Matthews Jr. to pop out weakly to shortstop. Why give Francoeur anything decent to swing at when you can see Matthews looming on deck?
I’d venture to guess that’s mostly what’s happening here, combined with the whims of a small sample size. The Mets’ lineup has so many gaping holes in it that pitchers can pitch around or pitch carefully to the good hitters with runners in scoring position, driving up the team’s on-base percentage in the spot, but pushing down the team’s batting average.
The only good-hitting Met that’s been disappointing with runners in scoring position is Bay, and it has come across precisely eight plate appearances. Eight. 8. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. That’s nothing. In his career, Bay has a lifetime .929 OPS with RISP and impressive numbers in just about every clutch situation. Give it time, give it time, give it time.
The return of Jose Reyes to the lineup should help, as it not only fills in one offensive black hole with a decent hitter, but will also likely create more opportunities with runners in scoring position for David Wright, who has only seen four so far this season.
A 2-4 start to the season isn’t easy to stomach coming off the 2009 campaign, and it certainly hasn’t been helped by the Mets’ team-wide failures to come through in big spots so far. But don’t isolate the whims of few games’ worth of stats to diagnose widespread unclutchitude when it’s way more likely that the men who actually failed to perform in the clutch were the ones compiling the roster and filling out the lineup card.