September 22, 2012
At the All-Star Break, Mets fans were thinking about a pennant race. New York was 46-40, 4.5 games behind the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, and only a half game out of the the second Wild Card spot. When the calendar turned to the second half, however, events took a dramatic turn for the worse.
The Mets knew they had a tough schedule in July – they had to run the gauntlet of the Braves in Atlanta, the Nationals in Washington, the Dodgers and Nationals at home, and the Diamondbacks and Giants on the road. In a stretch like that, a team like the Mets, who seemed good, but not great, would be happy with a .500 record. Instead, the Mets self-destructed.
The Mets could only manage a 4-11 record during that part of the schedule. 6 of those 11 losses came at home.
“I don’t think anything can be worse than this right now,” catcher Josh Thole said of losing 6 straight at Citi Field. “I can’t wait to get out of here.”
That’s about the last thing you want to hear a player say about his home turf. But for Thole and his teammates, home field has been a disadvantage in the second half. They’ve lost 24 games at home en route to a 21-43 record since the All-Star break.
So what’s to blame for the Mets downfall in the second half of 2012? Most are looking for psychological or emotional reasons – the team quit, they don’t want to play for manager Terry Collins anymore, they don’t care.
But take a look at some first half/second half splits, and you can see tangible evidence of what the team did well early in the season, and what they are doing poorly now.
Hitting with RISP and 2-Out runs
In the second half, the offense took a nose dive. They’ve scored 3 runs or less in 23 games at home, and their numbers on the road aren’t much better.
The Mets are hitting .197 (93-471) with runners in scoring position (RISP) since the All-Star break. In the first half, they hit .269 with RISP. The club hit .285 with RISP and two outs in the first half. That number has dropped to .256 in the second half.
Since the All-Star break, the Mets have scored 74 runs with two outs. In the first half, they led the majors with 187 runs scored with two outs. This may be the biggest reason for their offensive collapse. Much like the 2011 rendition of the Mets, they couldn’t sustain their two-out success all season. Scoring that many runs with two outs is part clutch hitting and part luck. Their luck ran out, and it took their clutch hitting with it.
The Mets relied heavily on their starting rotation in the first half. Before the season, many analysts didn’t expect his group of pitchers to perform well. But knuckleballing ace R.A. Dickey and LHP Johan Santana, who made a remarkable comeback from shoulder surgery, formed a dominant 1-2 punch. Santana even threw the first no-hitter in Mets history. LHP Jonathan Niese, who signed a long-term deal prior to the season, and RHP Dillon Gee performed reliably at the back end of the rotation.
This is what the core of 4 starters did in the first half:
- Santana: 6-5, 3.24 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 2 CG shutouts, 2.28 BAA
- Dickey: 12-1, 2.40 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 3 CG, 2 SHO, .203 BAA
- Niese: 7-4, 3.73 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .241 BAA
- Gee: 6-7, 4.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, .256 BAA
Early offensive contributions
For a time, the Mets seemed to produce a new hero every game. They had major offensive production from likely and unlikely sources.
David Wright, someone who is expected to perform well, played way above his career norms, hitting .351/.441/.563 in the first half. He’s hit only .251/.330/.393 since.
After starting center fielder de facto Andres Torres injured himself on Opening Day, rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis filled in, and played like an early rookie of the year candidate. He hit .325/.386/.475 in April, but his numbers declined each month as the league caught up to him. He was eventually optioned to Triple-A, where he suffered a season-ending injury.
New SS Ruben Tejada, OF Mike Baxter, and OF-1B Lucas Duda all made their impact on the team during the first half. Scott Hairston, another unexpected source of production, has been good all year, and is second on the team in home runs with 19.
Thanks to these players, the Mets were winning with virtually no contribution from Ike Davis and Jason Bay.
Davis, as a result of his Valley Fever, or long layoff in 2011, had a dreadful 2 and a half months to start the season. Since mid June, he picked up the pace, and now leads the team with 28 HRs. Bay is a shell of his former self, either due to the concussions he’s suffered recently, or the simple decline of an athlete.
The Mets were never that good, but they’re not this bad either.
So what can be concluded out of all this? The Mets slapped together a patchwork lineup and made it work with bubble gum, razor wire, magic, mirrors, or some combination thereof. Their success in the first half was always tenuous, and relied on unexpected performances like Wright’s insane first half, Santana’s resurgence, the rise of the kids, and yes, a little bit of luck.
Inexplicably, they lost all of those advantages at once. So they were bound to have a let-down, but not of this magnitude. The Mets weren’t as good as they appeared in the first half, but they’re not as bad as they appear in the second half.