The Mets' offense has been languishing lately, and it could be because they've started to let up on opposing pitchers in the first inning.
During the Mets red-hot, 12-2 start, they made pitchers exert a ton of effort early. During those 14 games, New York hitters saw an average of 20.6 pitches in the first. They scored first inning runs six times during that span (all wins), and averaged 4.6 runs per game.
Since then, the team has gone 5-8. Opposing pitchers have averaged just 15 pitches in the first inning. The Mets have scored a first inning run four times (2-2, though both losses have been games the bullpen has blown a save in: the 8-6 loss against the Nationals on April 16, and the 4-3 loss in 13 innings last Thursday against the Cardinals). Over this span, the Mets have averaged 4.9 runs per game, but that includes Sunday's 14-run offensive outburst. Drop that game as an outlier and you get an average of 4.2 runs per game.
Furthermore, the Mets have gone three-up, three-down in the first inning six times in their last 11 games (5-6). They had done that only three times in their first 16 games. Overall, the Mets have seen an average of 19.1 pitches in the first inning of wins, and 15.8 in the first inning of losses.
The numbers are stark in contrast, and even though the sample size is relatively small, it underlines a point: Opposing pitchers, who the Mets had put under siege early in the season, are now being given time to settle in.
So how can the Mets get back to being the early grinders they were in the first two weeks of the season? Bat Brandon Nimmo lead off.
In the six games Nimmo has led off, the Mets are 4-2 (those two losses, again, where the 4/16 and 4/26 bullpen meltdown). They easily could be 6-0 with Nimmo leading off. In those six games, the Mets have scored first inning runs in five of them. The team has seen an average if 22.7 pitches in the first inning with Nimmo atop the lineup, with Nimmo himself seen an average of 4.8 pitches in those plate appearances.
Getting into a team's bullpen both early in the game and early in the season can mean resounding success, particularly with the emphasis on bullpens in today's game. Hitters benefit from more exposure to pitchers. The sooner a team can turn its lineup over, the more its batters will be comfortable. Also, while pitches usually try not to show their full repertoire in the first, they're forced to when working out of trouble. The more the pitcher has to show their best stuff, the more strain on their arm, and the more familiarity the lineup is going to have with it.
So if the Mets want an offensive jolt, they need to get back to what they had been doing early in the season, and that includes Mickey Callaway writing Nimmo's name in first on the lineup card. The Mets are not only harder to pitch to this way, they're simply a better ballclub.
Photo credit: Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire
Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke