Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day and My Mets Fandom

Today is Memorial Day, a day in which we honor the men and women who served in the military and gave up their lives to protect the United States and its people.  Memorial Day is also special to me as a Mets fan, for it was on the day we observed the holiday in 1981 that I became a Mets fan.

On Monday, May 25, 1981, I was off from school.  I had been looking forward to Memorial Day for weeks because my father promised we'd have a barbecue in the backyard.  Something about having burgers while fending off mosquitoes always made eight-year-old me giddy with anticipation.  But unfortunately, that outdoor food and fly-swatting fest was not to be, as my father did not feel well and was bedridden all day.

Of course, as most children my age would do, I was more upset about not having burgers and potato salad that day than I was about the condition of my father.  Instead of counting down the hours and minutes to the unveiling of the grill, I spent all morning and early afternoon moping in the living room.  Eventually, I took advantage of the fact that my father was in bed, which left his favorite recliner that no one was allowed to sit on open for the taking.  So of course, I turned on the TV and plopped myself in his comfortable chair.  Since it was 1981 and we weren't a remote control household, I didn't feel like getting up to change the channel.  The last thing anyone had watched the night before was on WOR (Channel 9), so that's what I would make myself watch to take my mind off the postponed barbecue.

Channel 9 had always been the TV home of the New York Mets, but in 1980, fledgling cable network Sportschannel began to air Mets games as well.  Fortunately, the Memorial Day game in 1981 was scheduled to be broadcast on Channel 9 and the allure of the velour prevented me from getting off the recliner to change the channel.  So it was the Mets for me on that day.  And it's been the Mets for me ever since.

The Mets played the Philadelphia Phillies in the Memorial Day matinee and they showed no brotherly love for their division rivals, defeating them in a 13-3 laugher.  Although many players performed well for the Mets that day (Hubie Brooks, Lee Mazzilli and Joel Youngblood had three hits apiece, Dave Kingman hit a grand slam and starting pitcher Greg Harris earned his first major league victory), it was Mookie Wilson who captured my attention and made me thankful that we didn't possess a remote control.  Mookie reached base four times that day (two hits, two walks).  He also scored three runs and drove in two.  After leading off the game with a walk, Mookie proceeded to swipe second and scored the first of the Mets' four runs in that inning.  It was the first time I had been exposed to Mookie's baserunning abilities, and I was utterly amazed.  Six innings later, Mookie crushed a long drive to center off former Met Tug McGraw that went for a two-run triple.  His gazzelle-like speed mesmerized eight-year-old me to the point where I checked the TV guide - I had to get off the couch eventually - for when the next Mets game was going to be aired on WOR.

Less than three weeks after discovering Mookie and the Mets, baseball went on strike.  For two months, I couldn't indulge in my new passion - my New York Mets passion, that is.  Fortunately, my father recovered from his illness and we were able to have many barbecues to pass the time during baseball's two-month hiatus.  Baseball returned to my TV screen in August, and I quickly eschewed burgers and hot dogs on the grill for Mookie and the Mets in front of my grill.

Thirty-six Memorial Days later, I'm still a Mets fan and I will be attending today's game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Citi Field.  But just think of how everything had to fall into place for my Mets fandom to begin the way it did.

Had my father not been ill, I never would have watched the Mets that day.  It would have taken longer for me to develop an interest in baseball, especially since my father wasn't a sports fan and couldn't tell me the difference between an infield fly and an unzipped fly.

Also, if someone had left the TV on a channel other than Channel 9 the previous night, I might have become a daytime soap opera fan instead of a Mets fan and this blog post would be about the wedding of Luke and Laura and not the running of Mookie Wilson.

And last, but certainly not least, had the Yankees been playing a day game rather than a night game in Baltimore, I might be bragging about ringzzzz today.  Fortunately, the Yankees had no day game on the docket and even if they had, they were blown out by the Orioles on Memorial Day 1981 so I wouldn't have looked forward to their next game as much as I was for the Mets after their philleting of the Phillies.

My father is now 81 years old.  He has taught me many things about life and love.  On May 25, 1981, he probably wanted to teach me how to make a well-done burger.  But on a day when he was too sick to gave me any instruction, he inadvertently taught me how to be a Mets fan.  And my life would not have been the same had I not developed that love and passion for the team.  I met my wife because of the Mets and I've made many new friends due to our shared love of the orange and blue.

Memorial Day will always be special to me, thanks to my now-healthy father, a chair of incredible comfort and the fleet feet of Mookie Wilson.  I still need that lesson on how to make a perfect burger, but my father can teach me whenever the Mets aren't playing.

The grill master to the left, the former eight-year-old couch potato to the right.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

How Are the Mets Scoring All These Runs?

High fives at the plate have become more prevalent for the Mets these days.  (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

On Saturday, the Mets defeated the Miami Marlins, 11-3.  The drubbing of the Fish was the ninth consecutive game in which the team scored five or more runs.  It was also just the fifth time in franchise history that such a streak had been reached, surpassed only by a 12-game stretch in 2007.

What makes this current streak all the more impressive is that the Mets are doing it without the services of disabled sluggers Yoenis C├ęspedes and Lucas Duda, and with middle-of-the-order hitter Curtis Granderson batting .139.  Even the healthy players have been having a rough time during the season's first five weeks, as their combined .233 batting average is tied with the San Francisco Giants for the second-lowest in the National League.  (Only the San Diego Padres are lower, at .217.  It should be noted that the Giants and Padres have the the two worst records in the N.L., as they have combined to go 23-40 through Saturday's games.)

So what exactly have the Mets been doing to produce all these runs during this recent outburst of offense?  Smoke, mirrors and the threat of Ray Ramirez paying a visit to the visitors' clubhouse can only go so far.  Let's take a look at how a depleted team has become an offensive juggernaut practically overnight.

Rk Strk Start End Games R H 2B 3B HR BB SB CS BA
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/7/2017.

In scoring nearly eight runs per game over their last nine contests, the Mets have been able to move from last place in the division to second place.  However, despite the fact that the players have been doing a conga line around the bases for the last week and a half, the team has managed to bat just .287 during those nine games.  Although this a marked improvement from their low Mendoza-like average, it's still the lowest batting average of the five Mets teams that have produced nine-game streaks of 5+ runs (see chart above).  In fact, it's the only time the Mets have had such a streak without batting over .300 or collecting 100 hits to accomplish it.

The Mets have been bunching their hits together to produce crooked numbers on the scoreboard.  During their nine-game skein, the team has come to bat in 79 innings.  They've failed to score in 50 of those frames and scored one run in ten of the innings.  For all you kids out there, that's a total of ten runs scored in 60 innings.  That means the other 61 runs during the streak have been scored in just 19 turns at bat.

In last night's game, the Mets pushed across 11 runs.  Every time they scored in an inning, they scored at least three times.  (They scored five times in the first and touched the plate three times in both the fifth and seventh.)  In their come-from-behind victory on Friday, they used another five-run seventh inning to complete their comeback.  In each of the last five games, the Mets have had at least one inning in which they scored four or more runs.  That'll certainly help a team continue a streak of 5+ runs per game.

In addition to the big innings, the Mets have also been teeing off on opposing teams' bullpens in the late innings.  The Mets have batted 25 times during the streak from the seventh inning on.  They've scored 26 runs in those 25 innings.  Included in this is Jay Bruce's grand slam with two outs in the ninth inning against the Braves on Tuesday, which pushed the Mets' run tally for the night from three runs to seven.  Yup, without the four-run blast, the 5+ run streak would have ended and I'd be writing about the sex toy in Kevin Plawecki's locker or Matt Harvey's suspension instead.  (What do you mean those would have made better topics?)

The main reason the Mets have been scoring a handful of runs a night is because they're killing it with runners in scoring position.  Prior to the streak, the Mets were doing fairly well with runners on second and/or third, batting .277 in those situations (28-for-101).  That number for the season is now up to a whopping .328 (62-for-189), as the Mets have gone 34-for-88 (.386) with runners in scoring position in their last nine games.  That would also explain why the team hasn't needed to follow their usual formula of home runs or nothing to score their runs.  The Mets failed to hit a homer in their two highest scoring games of their nine-game streak (16 runs, no homers on Wednesday; 11 runs, no homers last night).

Here's the crazy thing about this streak.  It could very well continue, or at the very least, be interrupted by no more than a game or two before a similar streak begins.  Why is that?  Because the team still has a ridiculously low .252 BABIP this season.  Eventually that number has to get closer to .300, and when it does (as it's trying to do now), the runs will light up the scoreboard.  As you can see in the chart below, over the last 14 days (ten games), the Mets have produced a slight lower-than-normal .291 BABIP and have still managed to average 7.3 runs per game.  They're averaging nearly double-digit runs per game with a .320 BABIP over the last week.

Split GS R BAbip
2017 Totals29152.252
Last 7 days549.320
Last 14 days1073.291
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/7/2017.

Hot streaks come and go.  The one the Mets are currently on could come to an end soon.  But the low BABIP over the first five weeks and the production with runners in scoring position all season leads me to believe that it won't come to a crashing halt.  In fact, the Mets might actually not have their annual June swoon next month, especially since most of their injured everyday players could be back by then.

It's not smoke.  It's not mirrors.  It's just a good baseball team finally doing what they were supposed to do when they were put together.