Forget Power and Acquire Speed

Everyone from Jerry Manuel to Mike Francesa to the guy on the street is crying that the Mets need more power in their lineup — specifically, someone or someones who can hit home runs.

But why?

First of all, putting the thought of slugging homeruns into the current Mets hitters’ heads is a bad idea. Anyone whose played baseball at any level knows that the minute you start thinking about hitting the ball over the fence is concurrent with the beginning of a slump. Sure, once in a while an elite player may be able to look for a particular pitch and try to send it sailing over the wall, but generally speaking, when batters start thinking longball, they “muscle up”, pull off the ball, and hit more grounders to short than they ever did before.

But, we’re going to give Jerry Manuel the benefit of the doubt and assume his request for power was directed more at Omar Minaya than at his players. Certainly the man who instituted the revolutionary “opposite field curveball drill off the pitching machine” drill would be sending mixed messages by asking for homers.

Would the Mets really benefit that much from the addition of a homerun slugger? I’m not sure. Certainly, we’ve seen that Carlos Beltran and David Wright tend to get better pitches to hit when Gary Sheffield’s in the lineup. A similarly potent presence would presumably further that phenomenon.

But there are two problems with that solution. First, there aren’t many big boppers available on the market, and the Mets likely don’t have the chips to bring one to Flushing. Second, of the few sluggers available, only one won’t be affected by Citi Field, and that’s Adam Dunn — a player who the Mets probably can’t pry away from the Nats, and may not have interest in.

Wouldn’t it make sense to build the team for its home park? To take inspiration from the KC Royals of the late 1970s / early 1980s and the Cardinals of the early to mid 1980s? David Wright already “gets it”, with his 14 stolen bases and 3 homeruns this year — ironically, Wright is being lambasted by the media for his lack of homeruns, but it may actually be by design. The expansive outfield and 15-foot wall in left has been aptly termed “Death Valley East” by Bob Klapisch. It would be insane to fight the dimensions, so why not work with them?

Add in the fact that PEDs testing has changed the game from what it was only a few years ago. Look around and tell me if you’re still seeing second basemen hitting 25+ homers a year. As a result, power is at a premium these days, but speed — like on-base percentage ten years ago — is relatively cheap. Instead of emptying the farm system for a big fly guy, the Mets may do better to acquire some flyers. Forget Aubrey Huff, Jermaine Dye, or Adam Dunn, and start thinking Joey Gathright, Scott Podsednik, and Willie Bloomquist. Maybe not those players in particular, but you get what I mean.

For example, there’s no way you’re going to find an affordable shortstop with Jose Reyes’ combination of speed, defense, and power. But you know what? Seattle has been looking to dump Yuniesky Betancourt for months, and he’s decent defensive shortstop and a burner on the basepaths. If only someone would spend five minutes teaching him how to get a lead and a jump, he’d steal 50 bases in two months. Similarly, the Marlins are souring on speedster Emilio Bonifacio, who can play both middle infield positions as well as the outfield. I’d ask the Fish for him rather than the lead-footed Jorge Cantu.

Already the Mets are using the athleticism and speed they have, and I say keep running with that idea (pardon the pun). Get more burners, players with game-changing speed, and cut them loose on the bases. For once, this would put the Mets ahead of the curve, and afford them more options than the hard-headed organizations who still think walks and homeruns win ballgames in the post-PEDs era.

Chicks don’t dig the long ball when it’s caught at the warning track.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Matt in PA June 8, 2009 at 2:25 pm
    Excellent post, Joe. I agree the team should be built to take full advantage of their unusual field — that is, focusing on pitching, speed, and defense. It would give them a great home-field advantage. And I believe any disadvantage caused by not seeking out power-hitters would be minimal, especially playing in little-league parks like CBP. As Citi Field gains a reputation as a field weighted heavily to pitchers it’s going to be more difficult to acquire power-hitters anyway. Plus, pitching, speed, and defense work no matter what kind of field you play on.
  2. isuzudude June 8, 2009 at 5:02 pm
    It’s really something…for the first time in god knows how long I actually flipped on Mike Francesa today and heard him talking about how the Mets need to acquire more power for their lineup and thought this exact same thing.

    Why is it so important to have 3 or 4 30-homer guys in the lineup? The Dodgers have baseball’s best record right now, yet have hit only 40 home runs, tied for 4th least in MLB. So, obviously, success is not entirely contingent on the number of power hitters a team possesses.

    What Francesa loves to do is compare the Mets with the Yankees, and mention all the things the Mets lack which the Yankees possess. The ability to hit home runs is one of them without a doubt. But someone tell Mike in his headphones that the Yankees also are able to plug in a DH in their everyday lineup, while the Mets have to hit their pitcher. Also, while CitiField may be the most cavernous field in baseball, the new Yankee Stadium is probably the biggest bandbox in all of baseball, which is also going to help the Yankees beef up their power stats moreso than the Mets.

    And that’s where you hit the nail on the head greatest, Joe. The Mets would be working against their own home field advantage if they were to start stacking the order with 30-homer threats who can’t run, field, or hold an OBP above .330. Not to mention, who are the Mets trading to acquire these sluggers? The remaining handful of valued prospects within the system are going to be needed much more for this team over the next 3-5 years than a Jermaine Dye or Nick Johnson can provide for the next 4 months.

    And here’s a question to pose to the braniacs who want the Mets to obtain more power: If David Wright and Carlos Beltran have had their power zapped by the spacious confines of Citi, would not the same apply, also, to whomever the Mets try to trade for in an effort to bulk up the team’s home run tally? No, no, let’s not put any thought into that…let’s just keep tossing prospects away like they’re dandylions pulled out of the vegetable garden for more overpriced, over the hill rentals who are no guarentee to turn the Mets power outage around.

    On the whole, I agree the Mets should keep building their offense around speedy, defensively sound players with high OBPs and good ability to hit to all fields. I don’t think that means having all singles-hitting, 50-SB threats from top to bottom in the lineup. But at Citi, there’s no doubt the Mets can be very successful with a 20-HR hitter leading the team in power. That also means stressing better fundamentals, defensive prowess, and “small-ball” tactics, which are things that this team definitely needs work on.

    And nice work on catching Jerry in (another) inconsistency, Joe. He may decide to alter the curveball drill to hitting the pitch the other way OVER THE WALL to cover up his latest snafu.

  3. Taylor June 8, 2009 at 6:08 pm
    Just make sure they’re high OBP speed guys. We don’t need anymore players chewing up precious outs and taking us closer to the end of the inning.
  4. mic June 8, 2009 at 11:02 pm
    With Reyes, Wright, Beltran are 20-30 Hr guys who could hit 40 on the right season. Delgado obviously IS the main power threat and he is a FA …and not a high probability to return.

    Add Church and there is a posible 20-30HR guy IF healthy. Ditto for F-Mart.

    Dunn will not be a Met. BUT I still think that Carlos Lee MIGHT generate Omar’s interest.

  5. CatchDog June 9, 2009 at 8:14 am
    It will be very interesting to see if the outfield walls are modified after the season.
  6. acerimusdux June 9, 2009 at 11:08 am
    Some good points, but somehow I doubt Rickey Henderson is going to fix Yuniesky Betancourt in 5 minutes. The guys you are bringing up as examples, face it, these guys are replacement level players. We could use a few of them on the Bisons maybe, but one thing that has improved about the big league club this year is they’ve finally gotten rid of the dead weight they had been carrying on the bench.

    If you want to aim a bit higher, there are some actual big league players who fit your criteria who should be available without giving up top prospects. Think Alex Rios, who the Jays have been rumored to be needing to move to dump salary, and who is a +15 run defensive right fielder who stole 32 bases and hit 8 triples last year. Think Nick Johnson, who while obviously not a speed guy, is a good defender and an on base machine, and who is known more for doubles than HRs.

  7. joejanish June 9, 2009 at 11:40 am
    acerimusdux – what little faith you have in Henderson and Betancourt … didn’t you see the magic Rick Peterson performed with Victor Zambrano in a similar time frame? 🙂

    Seriously though, the reason I point out “replacement level players” is because those are the ones that the Mets can afford. Alex Rios is not coming to Flushing without a top prospect (F Mart?) going the other way, and Omar Minaya is not doing that kind of a deal.

    I like Nick Johnson, but again, too expensive, particularly when you consider he’s a rental.

    I understand that OBP is important, but at the same time it’s not the MOST important. The point is to try to get the lineup more athletic, and if you can get some OBP as well, great. For example, Wilson Valdez is great on defense but over the long haul will give the Mets little offensively, therefore an improvement might be Betancourt, who will post a similar OBP to Valdez but will be a doubles and triples machine at Citi Field and has the potential to be a major basestealing threat. You can’t always get everything you want in a player, so you try to get as much as you can.