It’s no secret that New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has favored an organization-wide hitting philosophy since he took over prior to the 2011 season. The approach advocates selectivity at the plate, not necessarily to draw walks, but to work the at-bat so the batter can get a pitch to drive.
This week, the front office revealed they have an internal metric to evaluate their players on this basis called Bases Per Out (BPO). This metric is tied to a monetary incentive system. Each base earns the player $200, and each out costs them $100.
The approach itself is common sense — don’t swing at junk unless you have to. If the ball is outside of the strike zone, the batter’s chances of making solid contact decrease. Even if the ball is within the strike zone, it may not be a drivable pitch. On a count like 3-1 or 2-0, he can afford to take a pitch that isn’t in his “red zone” rather than rolling over a slider on the outside corner.
Comments from fans about this philosophy have been predictably negative. One popular theme among them is the example of Vladimir Guerrero. Vlad was a notorious bad-ball hitter. It didn’t seem to matter where the ball was pitched; Guerrero could get the barrel of the bat on it. You could say the same about Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra or the Mets’ own Mookie Wilson. These players are exceptions to the rule. The vast majority of batters at any level of professional baseball would fail fast if they tried to hack away at anything.
Even Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez has been critical of the Mets’ approach. He thinks they should be more aggressive. But Hernandez was one of the most selective hitters of his era — he rarely chased a bad pitch, and looked for pitches to drive — and that approach led to a near Hall-of-Fame career.
All of the criticism is fair from one perspective, however — the lack of hitting success at the major league level. The Mets have scored fewer and fewer runs each year of Alderson’s rein. This is probably more a result of a lack of talent than an approach. During these years, the Mets, mostly due to financial restraints, have lost players like Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran and have had to rely on the difficult search for low-cost, low-risk, high-reward talent.
The hitting philosophy does appear to be producing results in the minor leagues – -all but one of the Mets’ affiliates finished with a winning record last year and have gotten off to a great start again this year. This can be partially chalked up to the promising young arms the team has, but they’re obviously scoring runs as well.
When will the Mets’ approach translate to success at the major league level? That’s what inquiring Mets fans want to know. While the organization is focused on pitching, which is great, they can’t win games unless they score runs.