The New York Mets were swept out of Colorado last night following a 20-hit, 17-run beat down at the hands of the Rockies, who in the process became the first team in Major League history to sweep both the Mets and Yankees in a single regular season.
In the three game series, Colorado pounded out a total of 34 runs on 47 hits including 7 homeruns, which creates per-game averages of 11.33 runs, 15.67 hits, and 2.33 homeruns. Prior to their trip to Denver, the Mets’ pitching staff sported a 3.65 ERA while averaging roughly 7.8 hits and a single dinger allowed per game. But in hindsight, we may have to look at this series as a major flaw in the construction of the Mets’ corps of arms.
It’s certainly no secret that Colorado’s Coors Field is a hitters’ park (in fact, it’s reputation is probably exaggerated at this point). We look at the numbers of sluggers like Matt Holliday and think, “Oh, it’s totally inflated by Coors”, or, conversely, look at Jamey Carroll’s numbers and think, “Wait, THAT’S totally inflated by Coors?”. While I feel that Chase Field and the Great American Ballpark have surpassed Colorado in terms of being a “hitter’s park”, it’s still not a place where you’d like to pitch – especially if you can’t keep the ball on the ground.
For the maybe two of you (including myself) who have read my posts on this blog in the past, I subscribe to the theory (may as well be “fact”, but I’ll shut up about that) that if you allow too many fly balls, you will inevitably allow too many homeruns. This is the Mets pitchers’ Achilles heel.
While Tom Glavine, who pitched the first game of the Colorado series, has not been known in his career for being a flyball pitcher (career Groundball-Flyball Ratio of 1.43), he never was considered a groundball pitcher either. In 2007, Tommy has been allowing (or “inducing” if you want to call it that) more flyballs than we have grown accustomed to, with a 1.18 ratio. And he’s been one of the BETTER ones. Young Jason Vargas, who made his second start of 2007 in Tuesday night’s 11-3 debacle (and who, incidentally, was already shipped back down to the minors), appears destined to be a flyball pitcher (a terrible 0.63 ratio over 127 innings in his career), much like last night’s Starting Pitcher, Orlando Hernandez (career 0.82). The trend does not stop there, either. Fellow Starters John Maine (career 0.92), Oliver Perez (0.73) and Jorge Sosa (0.81) all fit this characteristic.
This trait, however, tends not to affect the Mets as much as it would other teams due to the size of Shea Stadium. As one of the parks that are most beneficial to pitchers, flyballs that may have cleared the wall in other parks are caught near the warning tracks in New York. Moreover, their divisional rivals home fields have similar tendencies, as every stadium in the NL East aside from Philadelphia are rightfully regarded as ones that favor pitchers (Turner Field, Dolphin Stadium, and RFK Stadium).
I am inclined to think that this is no accident. Mets GM Omar Minaya sought after pitchers who he felt would be far more valuable pitching in Shea than in other, more hitter-friendly, parks. He surmised that he could obtain these arms on the cheap and as long as they continued striking batters out as El Duque, Perez and Maine have done, that he would have a staff that will be good enough to win the NL East. Thus far, he has been correct on this point.
But what about beyond that? You may consider this to be presumptuous, but the Mets are looking towards October and beyond even though they may never admit it in public (“just playing one day an a time, man”). Despite a smaller sample size than I’d like to work with, the statistics show that the Mets pitchers have not fared well thus far in 2007 when pitching at a visitor’s park outside the NL East (where pitcher’s parks reign). In a total of 22 games and 186 innings pitched, they have a 5.42 ERA and have allowed 1.4 homeruns per game, which is over 40% worse than the number of long-balls they allow at Shea. If this is not an anomaly, then the Mets had better hope that their playoff opponents also play in pitchers’ parks. Because no matter how much firepower you think your offense has, if your pitchers can’t hang, you’re no better than the Texas Rangers.