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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Where All the Batters are Below Average

MLB announced its All-Star finalists on Sunday. No Mets were mentioned. No Mets came close to being mentioned. Off all the choices that could be ranked, no critical mass ranked enough Mets for the runoff. A first-place team in the nation’s largest market has gone so under the radar on a positional basis that even one of its longtime fans who’s never missed the opportunity to a) vote for the All-Star teams and b) find a shred of an excuse to vote for at least one Met among catchers, infielders and outfielders if it was remotely defensible never got around to virtually punching out names. Hence, I can’t complain that no Met position players have a chance to be elected in 2021. I promise I won’t complain. There isn’t a 1971 Harrelson, a 1987 Strawberry, a 1999 Piazza or, for that matter, a 2019 Alonso in the bunch.

The “VOTE METS EVEN IF THEY ARE FEEBLE AND IT IS UNMERITED” campaigns of recent decades have rubbed my inner seven-year-old the wrong way. My inner seven-year-old objects to the rampant homerism. The actual seven-year-old I used to be didn’t have the opportunity to vote — no trip to the ballpark for bunches of ballots for me in 1970 — but as a kid, I took it very seriously. I wrote in “Rico Carty” in theory because he was on his way to a batting crown, and I never held it against the Brave that he wasn’t a Met. I celebrated Carty’s election as a write-in the way only a seven-year-old whose only interest is baseball would. I’d like to think I’m at least as sophisticated a fan as I was when I was seven.

The fan I am today doesn’t necessarily hang on day-to-day statistics like I did in my youth or my earlier let’s say middle age. Competing for a batting title will get my attention. In 2019, Jeff McNeil was competing for a batting title in his first full year in the majors. As a result, I had a clue what Jeff McNeil’s batting average was on any given Sunday just I was on top of Pete Alonso’s minute-by-minute home run total. I didn’t need an excuse to vote for both of them two years ago, and I cheered their richly deserved ascension to stellar status heartily.

This year, before I mostly forgot All-Star voting was in progress, I wondered what Met could earn my vote on a shred of merit. There was a brief “MOB THE VOTE” movement instigated by the Mets to get us to Carty our unlisted reserves to Denver. Write-ins are longer-shot efforts now than they were in the ’70s, but it’s all by app, so it’s not that hard to do. I wouldn’t have blushed at the idea of writing in either Jonathan Villar or Kevin Pillar. There may be worthier third basemen and outfielders in the NL, but all I need is a shred of an excuse to be a little shameless in my selections. Villar and Pillar, whose combined initial calling card was appearing to rhyme but not actually rhyming, have probably been the Mets’ co-MVPs within the non-deGrom division of the roster. They’ve each saved our season on a periodic and going basis. Each is an example of a veteran player who’s easy to dismiss as excess baggage until you spend some time watching them and you realize you’d be somewhere below your current standing without them.

Though it was too late to vote, I checked the Mets’ stats on Sunday night, just out of curiosity. How high was Villar (before he detoured to the IL) and how high was Pillar batting anyway? Must be pretty high by now, I intuited. Turns out my intuition was waaay off. Villar: .246. Pillar: .231. I was pretty sure they weren’t pounding down the door to .300, but I was surprised neither had cracked .250.

Less surprising, yet still bracing, is that almost no Met who has batted more than anecdotally and come to the plate in the past eight weeks has what you’d call a pretty decent average. Even acknowledging that batting averages are not the be-all/end-all they were in the days of Rico Carty, it’s still a little dispiriting to have no Met averaging encouragingly. Nine Mets have as many as 100 at-bats. The highest average from any of them is .261. Patrick Mazeika (18 ABs) is at .278, though his primary offensive weapon is clutch fielder’s choices. Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis are well above .300, but their sample size is smallish and encased in dust. Jacob deGrom is batting .414. Of course Jacob deGrom is batting .414. Alas, Jacob deGrom bats only every fifth day, and sometimes he’s instructed not to swing so much.

Alonso leads the Mets’ relative regulars at the aforementioned .261, on a par with where he finished his breakout rookie season (.260) and blessedly above his mostly slumpbound sophomore sag (.231). On Sunday, Pete singled three times. Singles are always welcome in that they aren’t outs; one of them drove in a run. “If a walk’s as good as a hit, then a hit’s as good as a walk” is a perfectly valid sentiment for most species. Alonso is one of two Met regulars/semi-regulars with an OPS+ above 100 (Villar is the other). If Pete is still finding out exactly who he is as a hitter, particularly in a year where balls aren’t flying out of ballparks at dizzying rates, well, okey-doke, the Polar Bear doesn’t go as deep as he once did. Homers aren’t everything.

Though when it comes to Pete Alonso, homers by the bushel are why we decided to fall in love with the Polar Bear and residually treat him like E.F. Hutton still, listening closely whenever he publicly shares his thoughts. Last week, Pete said he’ll be competing in the Home Run Derby at Coors Field. He earned the invitation by being defending champ from 2019, a belt he did not abdicate when the 2020 schedule completely overshot the All-Star break. Nevertheless, when I think of Pete showing up to compete in the 2021 Home Run Derby, I think of Rudy from Rudy attempting to board the bus for the trip his high school has arranged to Notre Dame for students interested in attending the prestigious university, an institution clearly out of reach for a student with Rudy’s grades. A very condescending priest with a clipboard asks Rudy, in essence, how in heaven’s name does he think he deserves to be on this bus with numbers like his.

Maybe returning to an atmosphere of swinging and soaring will snap the 11 HR Polar Bear out of his slugging hibernation. Until he’s on the power prowl again, I have to admit I find it a little dissonant to consume Pete’s discussion of derbies or watch him “working out” with Diesel Donnie Stevenson. Pete doesn’t have to be designated for assignment to the the Brotherhood of Life monastery upstate where Brother Lou will monitor his vow of silence, lest he have to rise at 4 AM to bake the bread for all the other Brothers, but until he’s rounding the bases four at a time, maybe Pete is best suited to board the singles-hitter’s bus.

McNeil won’t compete for a batting title in 2021. He’s missed a mess of time and he’s rolled over to second when he’s attempted to hit. Jeff’s excused for rustiness or creakiness or an internal watch that doesn’t offer Carl Douglas-authorized expert timing when he swings. He had four hits in his first four games off the IL after being out more than a month. He’s had no hits in the four games since, including Sunday’s, when he wasn’t alone among Mets as regards ineffective hitters.

Francisco Lindor went 2-for-4 with a double, raising his average to .219. Michael Conforto, whose long stretch of inactivity can’t be dismissed any more than McNeil’s, took the collar and sunk to .220. James McCann was an oh-fer, too; he’s at .240. So is Dom Smith, an unsuccessful pinch-hitter for a day. Beloved sparkplug Luis Guillorme’s at .233. Esteemed replacement part Billy McKinney’s at .216. Pillar homered to get our hopes up late — our Mets never give up, even if never giving up sometimes just gets us more aggravated when we fall one big hit short — but as mentioned, he’s down in the average dumps with all of his teammates.

On Sunday, the lack of hitting throughout the lineup added up to a frustrating 4-2 loss to the Phillies. So did the Citi Field presence of Zack Wheeler in gray and red, Marcus Stroman going only three innings and a couple of Met errors. Wheeler’s the one who got away (a bad idea in 2019, a worse idea now). Stroman’s given the Mets far more splendid outings than not. Defensive Runs Saved has become a statistic we now speak of fondly, thus a couple of balls that aren’t thrown (Guillorme) or scooped (McNeil) cleanly have to be chalked up to just two of those things on one of those days where we get on our knees and thank our maker for a long reliever like Corey Oswalt (4 IP, 0 R)…and little else.

On July 8, 1969, as the second-place Mets were emerging from a lifetime of futility into sudden contention and moving up in class to take on the first-place Cubs, Ron Santo was said to look at New York’s lineup and sniff, “I know Los Angeles won with pitching, but this is ridiculous.” Indeed, a few years earlier, the Dodgers hung consecutive pennants and a World Series flag on the strength of Koufax, Drysdale and a lot of pinging from base to base. This year, the Mets are in first place on the strength of a few arms and an array of gloves. The hitting has been, more often than not, ridiculous, and not in that way TV anchors would use “RIDICULOUS!!!!” to describe the fantastic feats of your younger Tatises and Guerreros. Even the 1969 Mets Santo meant to denigrate included Cleon Jones, hitting .354 when Chicago came to Shea, and Tommie Agee, brandishing a robust .283. And that very Tuesday afternoon, Ferguson Jenkins would be bested in the ninth inning by Ed Kranepool, who’d come in at .227. Batting averages weren’t everything then, either.

Our offense at the moment, a moment that stretches back almost without pause to Opening Day, has been woebegone. But we’ve been in first place all by our lonesome since May 9, despite players physically unable to play and hitters apparently unable to hit. If MLB was holding an election to choose finalists for the postseason, I’d definitely vote for us and I’d do it on merit. I hope we still have more than a shred of an excuse to VOTE METS by Closing Day. Hitting more — a lot more — will go a long way toward ensuring we sweep that ballot by acclimation.

10 comments to Where All the Batters are Below Average

  • greensleevesrrr

    We have, alas, been reduced to a brand new offensive stat; CFC (Clutch Fielder’s Choice)

    Where have you gone steady Jeff McNeil
    Met Nation turns its lonely eyes to you…
    Woo, Woo, Woo.
    What’s that you say Mrs. Robinson
    Squirrely Jeff’s sweet stroke has gone astray
    Hey, Hey, Hey
    Hey Hey, Pray

  • Seth

    I wonder how Steve Cohen feels about the loss of Wheeler. If he’s the kind of owner I think he is, he should be mortified. GKR sure seem inured to that fact, and simply cover what a great pitcher he has been this year, second only to deGrom in the NL. Do GKR comprehend how much that hurts Mets fans?

  • open the gates

    I look at this team and I alternate between marveling at how far the Mets jalopy got on fumes and wondering when they’re going to run out of gas.

  • open the gates

    Seth – Steve Cohen had nothing to do with Wheeler’s departure. That was a parting gift from our old friends the Wilpons, who figured that Rick Porcello would be just as effective as our boy Zach, and a whole lot cheaper. Steve Cohen’s contribution to the Mets pitching situation is the retention of Marcus Stroman and the out-of-nowhere signing of Taijuan Walker. As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Cohen can hold his head up high.

    • Seth

      Sorry, I should have been clearer, my fault. I understand Steve had nothing to do with that — I’m more curious how he feels, as we make progress towards that kind of thing never happening again. Not blaming Mr. Cohen at all. I’ll bet he’s not happy about it.

  • Eric

    Are there are other teams in MLB history that at this point (nearly halfway) or later in the season were best in ERA and worst in runs scored?

    Watching Wheeler pitch like only a slightly lesser but more innings version of deGrom is frustrating. We waited for years while Wheeler found his health and developed his game on the Mets’ time and dime, and just as he put it all together, he was let go to become the ace for a division rival.

    That being said, at least the latest Mets offensive failure was against a legit ace, unlike all the mediocre opposing pitchers the Mets turned into an ace for a day.

    McKinney seems oddly awkward in left field.

    Alonso should have caught Guillorme’s throw. It was wide, but not unreachable, and it was a long bounce. Smith would have caught it.

    McNeil’s drop of Stroman’s throw embodied the skepticism about the return of the regulars from the IL. The regulars weren’t scoring before they got hurt. With the substitutes, the team has won with strong pitching backed by good fielding and timely hitting. The subs, including Peraza, have seemed to hit better than their stats say because they’ve provided timely hits. McNeil’s not hitting, let alone timely hitting, and if he’s not hitting, his defense and baserunning are less than the substitutes.

  • Lenny65

    I was talking to a friend and fellow fan about our Mets and he raised a horrifying thought…that maybe this is who these guys really are. Perhaps they’ve all already peaked and their best days are already behind them. It seems ludicrous on the surface but maybe, just maybe, they’re all just a bunch of .220 – .250 hitters, average at best. Now I don’t want to believe this, but it’s almost July now and “it’s still early” doesn’t really apply anymore. It’s a sobering thought.

  • Cleon Jones

    Our Mets offense sucks!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • […] homered in the top of the first, another “I’ll show you” swing apparently directed at me for suggesting the once-celebrated slugger mostly hits singles nowadays. That was Pete’s second homer this week […]