Fundamental Slump

The Mets have endured batting slumps, they’re enduring a pitching slump, and now they’re suffering from a fundamentals slump.

How is that possible?

Fundamentals are one of the two aspects of baseball that — supposedly — can’t go into a slump (the other is speed). Either you’re a fundamentally sound team or you’re not, it’s that simple. Doing the right things, and making the correct decisions are a habit — they become instinct, or second nature. Repetition and experience further ingrain the fundamentals into a ballplayer’s game. There’s almost no thinking involved — it’s all reaction. For example, you use two hands to catch the ball. You keep your head down on a grounder. You cover first on a groundball to the right side. You don’t make the first out nor third out at third base. These are just a few of things that a professional ballplayer does over and over and over, until it’s automatic.

And yet, many Mets have suddenly “lost” their fundamentals.

Last night’s debacle was the latest example, with perhaps the most glaring incident occurring in the top of the seventh, on the slow grounder off the bat of Tony Batista. First, Carlos Delgado doesn’t charge the ball, but kind of surrounds it. He seemed to adjust the speed of his body to the slowness of the ball — maybe he was counting the hops, and waiting for number fourteen, who knows? When the ball finally reaches his glove, he turns to second — and no one is there. Apparently, Jose Reyes got a call on his cell phone. So Delgado turns to first, and Jorge Sosa — who perhaps was the one making the call to Reyes — is late covering. And somehow in this mess, everyone is glazing over this fact: where was Luis Castillo? Staying out of the way of Delgado? Setting up for a cutoff, thinking Delgado couldn’t reach first? Trying to call Reyes or Sosa on his cell phone and getting a busy signal? Reyes, Delgado, Castillo, and Sosa — four guys all forgetting how to play baseball.

In the ninth, Endy Chavez is stealing third as Carlos Delgado is striking out. Out of an amazing stroke of luck, he isn’t thrown out for the third out of the inning to end the game. What is going through Endy’s mind at this point? Apparently, the exact same thing that was going on in the mind of Reyes a few games ago, and of Carlos Beltran in the same game as Reyes (but nobody noticed, because like Chavez, Beltran was safe). For Chavez to make such a gross misjudgment, only a few days after watching Reyes and Beltran make the same goofs, is unbelievable. What does Willie Randolph have to do to get through to these guys? Is Sandy Alomar screwing up something in the translation? Do the players need a ball and chain strapped to their ankle? More importantly, why do they need to be told? This is a basic, simple, logical fundamental of baseball.

While the Mets’ fundamentals can’t compare to, say, that of the Braves or Cardinals, they still have been pretty solid all year. You can’t win nearly 90 games in MLB without playing sound baseball. Yet suddenly, in these last few weeks, outfielders are missing cutoffs; infielders are out of position; pitchers aren’t covering first nor backing up bases; relievers are walking leadoff batters with three-run leads; batters aren’t executing bunts; runners are getting picked off and making bonehead decisions. What the heck is going on?

Fundamentals — the one part of the game that shouldn’t go into a slump. Yet for the Mets, it has — and if it continues, there will be no postseason games at Shea.

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.