|Steven Matz was a BABIP-buster in his first start of 2017. (Daniel Shirley/Getty Images)|
The Mets have been living in a bizarro world in 2017; a world in which their offense has been decent (third in homers, seventh in runs scored, .285 BA w/RISP) but their pitching has been suspect. The team's 4.82 ERA is third-highest in the majors, with only the cellar-dwelling Padres (4.98 ERA) and Phillies (5.00 ERA) faring worse and all American League teams (a.k.a. the league that has to face a D.H.) faring better.
Although the Mets have allowed a ton of runs over their first 60 games of the season, it could actually be a lot worse, as the team has the highest WHIP in the National League (1.478), which is just barely better than the poorest mark in the American League, held by Baltimore (1.480).
Opposing hitters are constantly getting on base against the Mets, whether it be via base hits or one of the shockingly high number of walks allowed by the team's pitchers. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to tell you that those lofty baserunner totals will in turn lead to crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
Batting average against, WHIP and ERA tell us part of the story of the 2017 Mets' failures on the mound, but not the complete story. In fact, something not found in the daily boxscores could be more significant in determining how the Mets will fare for the remainder of the season. And that something is sponsored by the letters B, A, B, I and P.
Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is calculated by taking the number of hits that don't leave the yard and dividing that by at-bats minus strikeouts minus home runs plus sacrifice flies. To the mathematically inclined, it looks a little something like this:
(Hits - HR) / (AB - SO - HR + SF)
At-bats that result in strikeouts and home runs cannot be affected by a defensive player, so those numbers are subtracted. Sacrifice flies, on the other hand, are caught by the player on defense, but do not count as an at-bat for the hitter, hence why they are added in the denominator. In layman's terms, BABIP measures the percentage of balls in play that result in base hits.
In general, a .300 BABIP is considered average. Therefore, a pitcher who allows a BABIP under .300 generally has a solid defense behind him (they're good at getting to balls and converting them into outs). Luck can also be a determining factor in a low BABIP, as the pitcher may be giving up line drive after line drive, but those liners may be headed directly at the defensive players' gloves. Therefore, if a pitcher has a low BABIP, eventually it is to be expected that that figure will regress to the mean of .300 at some point. Likewise, a pitcher who allows a BABIP over .300 can expect the balls that are put in play to find the gloves of his defense reasonably soon.
According to fangraphs.com, Mets pitchers have allowed the highest BABIP (.321) of any team in baseball this season. No other National League team is even close, as the Pittsburgh Pirates have the second-worst BABIP against them at .308.
Jacob deGrom's BABIP? It's an unsustainable .350, which means his 4.75 ERA is bound to go down once his BABIP begins to do the same. Similarly, Robert Gsellman (.317 BABIP) and Zack Wheeler (.305) should also improve as the season progresses, with Gsellman already showing signs of his BABIP returning to the typical .300 level. Even Noah Syndergaard, who was pitching extremely well before a lat injury sent him to the sidelines, had a .329 BABIP against him in five starts, which suggested that his best efforts were yet to come.
The BABIP bug that has affected deGrom, Gsellman and the plethora of spot starters on the team has also found its way to the bullpen, as Fernando Salas (31 appearances, .313 BABIP), Josh Smoker (21 appearances, .357 BABIP) and Paul Sewald (17 appearances, obscenely high .422 BABIP) have had difficulty with batted balls finding the outfield grass instead of their defense's gloves.
Unfortunately, most of these high BABIP figures are the fault of the Mets' subpar defense. If the defense doesn't have the range or speed to get to ground balls in the hole or fly balls in the gaps, then more hits will result. It is why teams like the Twins, Yankees and Rockies are in first place in their respective divisions, as all three of those teams rank in the top five in defensive efficiency, converting many of the balls put in play against them into outs.
|For the record, the Mets' .664 defensive efficiency is the worst in the majors.|
The unwritten laws of BABIP say that pitchers with a figure north of .300 will eventually allow fewer hits on balls put in play. With the Mets sporting a major league-worst .321 BABIP entering today's game, the days of 7-6 and 9-8 losses could be coming to an end. Saturday's doubleheader sweep of the Braves, in which the Mets allowed a total of two runs could become the norm in the very near future. Of course, the defense is going to have to step up its game so that those BABIPs don't continue to be the downfall of what was supposedly one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.
Oh, and while on the topic of BABIP, Matt Harvey better put on his big boy pants soon. His 5.02 ERA may be an eyesore, but it could (and should) be far worse. Through his first 12 starts, the BABIP against him is a ridiculously low .259. The Dark Knight may very well be looking forward to some dark nights at Citi Field once that number starts to creep up closer to the norm.
Speaking of the Dark Knight, it is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of TV's Batman, Adam West. West was anything but dark in the campy program, entertaining viewers through the show's reruns for half a century. He also lent his voice and name to the mayor on "Family Guy". West remained quite popular with fans and pop culture enthusiasts until his death Friday night at the age of 88. His Family Guy character may have hated baseball cards, but baseball and non-baseball fans alike loved Adam West. May he rest in peace.