Offseason Strategy Working So Far

Based on the knee-jerk reactions displayed by the Mets front office the past few years, one might compare their offseason strategy to that old saying, “close the barn door after the horse has bolted”. In other words, the Mets are continually playing catch-up, patching the most obvious issue that went wrong the season before (and hoping everything else falls into place).

Last year, of course, the Mets did not make the postseason due to two reasons: injuries and lack of home runs.

At least, that was the general consensus.

So, the Mets went out full-force in the offseason and addressed those two issues. For example, they evaluated and overhauled their conditioning practices and philosophy regarding injuries — i.e., “Prevention and Recovery“. That was the “Volvo” part of the PR campaign — a focus on safety and keeping players on the field, which may not be so sexy but resonates with a significant portion of the fan base. And then there was the “Corvette” campaign — the one that focused on power. Very sexy — even the most indifferent baseball fan gets turned on by the home run.

Thus, the winter makeover included the acquisition of longball threats Jason Bay, Mike Jacobs, and Rod Barajas. It had David Wright pumping iron. It had manager Jerry Manuel eschewing the opposite-field hitting drills he instituted the spring before, and hitting coach Howard Johnson emphasizing long fly balls. They even went so far as to shamefully blame those silly drills on the since-departed Tony Bernazard, in an effort to distance themselves from unsexy small ball.

Oh, did you really believe it was all Bernazard’s idea? You know this blog is the last place that will support Tony B. on anything, but it’s also where you’ll read the truth. Check out Ben Shpigel’s article on the “Les Moss Drill” from last February in The New York Times. Note this part in particular:

The drill’s origins are steeped in his upbringing in the Tigers’ organization. As a minor leaguer in the late 1970s, Manuel would go out every morning with his manager, Les Moss, a pitching machine and a trash can filled with balls. Their Class AAA team, if he remembers correctly, led the league in hitting.

As Manuel tells it, this is only the first phase of his plan. The next — what one player jokingly referred to as “brainwashing” — could be deduced from the clubhouse televisions playing for a second straight day an anthology that could be called the Mets’ Greatest Opposite-Field Hits. By 7:45 a.m., players from one end of the narrow room to the other were plopped on their stools admiring their teammates’ handiwork. When a clip showed Carlos Delgado’s slicing double against Philadelphia from last July, Reyes stood up and pointed.

The third and final segment will be put in soon, Manuel said. Players will be asked to identify their favorite hitting zone and then told not to swing unless the pitch is in that zone. Manuel used this tool when he managed the Chicago White Sox, mostly with his free-swinging slugger Carlos Lee.

But I digress …

Thus far this year, the plan to add more homerun power has resulted in success. Despite a .236 team batting average and an embarrassing .317 OBP, the Mets are in second place — due in part if not mainly because of timely homeruns. As long as Rod Barajas continues hitting game-winning homers and pounding sacrifice flies, it won’t matter that he gets on base 25% of the time … right?

One might suggest that the Mets wouldn’t NEED as many clutch fly balls if people like Barajas, Alex Cora, Jose Reyes, and Gary Mathews, Jr. could get on base more often than Mike Pelfrey. But that’s just crazy talk.

Instead, let’s look for a moment at how and why the Mets are able to score runs with fly balls. Specifically, you may find it interesting that the Mets have hit 459 fly balls — the third-highest total in the NL. That has resulted in one homer every 36 ABs (10th in the league) and 28 HRs total (tied for 7th). Their groundball to fly ball ratio is 0.79 thus far in 2010 (13th in the NL), compared to 0.96 in 2009 (second highest in all MLB). To put that into perspective, the Phillies were last in the NL in GB/FB ratio in ’09 with a 0.72 ratio.

So clearly, if the Mets goal was to hit more fly balls, they have succeeded. Further, if one believes that more fly balls will equal more runs and therefore lead to more wins, then, again, the Mets are on a positive course.

Considering that the Mets are sitting in second place, only a game behind the Phillies, we can assume the formula works over the short term — and that the offseason strategy could have been a good one. In other words, it made good sense to focus on fly balls.

The irony, of course, is that Citi Cavern Field turns most fly balls into outs — yet the Mets are winning more at home than anywhere else. Their GB/FB ratio at home (0.76) is almost identical to their overall (0.79), and they hit a homerun once every 35.6 ABs in Flushing. Other than the eye-popping 11 triples they’ve hit at Citi Field, their offensive numbers are pretty consistent regardless of where they’re playing.

The question becomes, then, will fly balls help the Mets win over the course of a 162-game season? Omar Minaya, Jerry Manuel, Howard Johnson, and the rest of the powers-that-be are betting that they will.

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.