Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Byrd Was The Word

Marlon Byrd was signed by the Mets as a reclamation project - one who had been an All-Star as recently as 2010 and a 20-HR hitter the year before.  He was brought in as one of a plethora of outfielders competing for a starting job in the Mets' makeshift outfield.  Byrd started out well, batting .268 with 10 RBIs in his first 11 games, including a game-ending two-run single on April 7 against the Marlins.

Over the first two weeks of the season, Marlon Byrd and the ubiquitous "Byrd is the Word" tweets, headlines and photos such as the one below were bringing smiles to the faces of the dozens of Mets fans in attendance at Citi Field.  That was then.  This is now.  And with the way he's been playing recently, Byrd is no longer the word.

What was once "is", is now "was".  (That makes sense, right?)

Including today's game at Marlins Park, Byrd has struck out 25 times in 74 at-bats over the season's first month.  In addition, the Mets' part-time rightfielder has whiffed in each of his last 12 games.  This includes two pinch-hitting appearances, which of course, both resulted in strikeouts.  Byrd has been in the starting lineup 17 times in the Mets' first 25 games.  He has struck out at least once in all but two of those starts.

It's true that many players throughout all of baseball have recently developed a penchant for striking out (entering today's action, no less than 16 players have fanned 30 or more times), but Byrd had never been a human windmill prior to this season.

In his first 11 seasons in the big leagues, Byrd has struck out 722 times in 4,234 plate appearances.  Byrd has never struck out 100 times in a season despite reaching 450 plate appearances in six of his first 11 campaigns.

Prior to the 2013 season, Byrd had struck out in as many as eight consecutive games twice.  In August 2007, Byrd whiffed in eight straight games for Texas, and in June 2009, Byrd repeated the feat with the Rangers.  But just like his time in Arlington, those eight-game strikeout streaks are history.

Byrd has now struck out at least once in 12 consecutive games for the Mets.  In those dozen contests, the rightfielder has hit .220 (9-for-41) with one home run and five RBIs (which includes today's run-scoring single).  He has nearly twice as many strikeouts (16) as he has hits during the two-week K-fest.

Marlon Byrd is now 35 years old, and his best days are clearly behind him.  But he did get off to a fast start and was never much of a strikeout hitter prior to this season.  Entering today, a total of 40 players had struck out at least 25 times this season.  Of those 40, only Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Aaron Hicks and Tyler Flowers had accomplished these lofty strikeout totals in fewer than 75 at-bats.  You can now add Marlon Byrd to that list.

The Mets have a ragtag group of players all vying for time in the outfield.  Marlon Byrd is one of those players.  But if Byrd continues to strike out at his current pace, he will find himself spending more time on the bench and less time in right field.  The way things are going, that might be the only way to keep him from recording his first 100-strikeout season.

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