In last night’s 3-2 walk-off loss to the Atlanta Braves, The Mets had a chance to take the lead in the top of the ninth against Billy Wagner. After Luis Castillo reached first on an infield hit to begin the inning, Mets manager Jerry Manuel decided to send Gary Matthews, Jr. to bat for #3 hitter Chris Carter for the sole purpose of bunting Castillo over into scoring position. However, the first offering from Wagner in the at-bat was a wild pitch, sending Castillo to second. Despite now having Castillo (who can still run fairly well) in scoring position, which was the goal of Matthews’ at-bat to begin with, Manuel still had him bunting in the subsequent pitches, even while Wagner fell behind in the count 3-1. Matthews did eventually get one down, setting up a potential sac fly situation, but Wagner got both David Wright and Ike Davis swinging to end the inning.

Today, some Mets blogs are seriously questioning Manuel’s decision to bunt with a 3-1 count, no outs, and a potential game-winning run on second. While I do agree with them on the whole, I wasn’t so much upset with Manuel’s decision than I was at how this single event was a microcosm of many of the issues that has plagued the franchise for years now. This was more than just a sac bunt.

Walk with me, here:

1) The Run Expectancy Matrix (as mentioned at length in the NY Sports Dog link above) has calculated what one could expect from an average hitter in any situation he’d face in an MLB game against an average pitcher. With a runner on second with no outs, the Mets could have expected to score 1.228 runs in the inning, whereas a sac bunt moving the runner to third would have actually reduced the expected number of runs to .980. Problem is, Billy Wagner is still a better than average pitcher and Gary Matthews, Jr. is a well-below average hitter. So while I don’t know what the Run Expectancy would have been if these points were factored in, I imagine that those two numbers would have been lower.  Anyhow I can’t wring Manuel’s neck about this. Not entirely, anyway (bunting is still waaaaaay overused by by the Mets skipper).

2) What I was more upset about was that Manuel lifted #3 hitter Chris Carter to have Matthews bunt in his stead. Even with the lefty-lefty match-up that would have resulted from keeping Carter in the game (Wagner and Carter were also traded for each other last year), he actually had a decent shot against Wagner as neither player had demonstrated a large platoon split. If Manuel had decided that Carter was good enough to be in the top-third of the batting order, why wasn’t he good enough to get a hit off of Wagner?

Baseball is serious.

3) Why the hell is Manuel batting Chris Carter 3rd in the first place? I was supportive of the decision to call him up from AAA (I wanted him on the Opening Day roster, well ahead of Mike Jacobs), but 3rd? Why does Manuel think that Chris Carter deserves more at-bats than David Wright? Yes, Wright has been striking out at a ridiculous rate. But this hasn’t stopped him from being the best hitter on the team. I’m not saying that the Mets would for certain have a better record today if Wright was getting more ABs. But I am concerned that they have a manager who does not know how to maximize the number of chances to score runs, evidenced by his penchant for unnecessary sac bunt attempts.

4) Gary Matthews, Jr. is actually still on this team. The man has a slash line of .173/.246/.212. That’s an OPS of .458 in 58 plate appearances. Justin Morneau has a higher OBP than Matthews’ OPS. And it’s not like his glove makes him all that useful either. While he can still make a play that’s in front of him, Matthews has never been good going back towards the wall. So you may be wondering why he’s still here, which brings me to…

5) The Mets have no depth. Aside from starting CFer, Angel Pagan, there’s no one else on the Mets 25-man roster that can play CF even passably. Their next option would be to call up “prospect” Jason Pridie from AAA but a) he’s not exactly knocking the cover off the ball and b) pulled a hammie last night anyway. So if Pridie is out for an extended period of time, there no one else on the 40-man roster who can knock Matthews out of his role as backup CFer.

6) Omar Minaya actually thought that Gary Matthews could help this team. Aside from one fluke year, Matthews was never better than an average player even in his prime, which was years ago. 35-year olds don’t really bounce back from two consecutive sub-.700 OPS seasons. And like I said, his defense has been suspect for years now. How was this the best option? And why did Jerry Manuel initially think that GMJ was better than Angel Pagan? AM I TAKING CRAZY PILLS???

7) Chris Carter is one of the better hitters on the Mets. Let me say that again. Chris Carter, the 27-year old with 40 PAs in the bigs, is one of the better hitters on the Mets. This isn’t meant to be a knock on Carter. He would have gotten his shot years ago had he not been stuck in the Red Sox system behind guys like David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis. He can hit. But he’s not that good that I should be happy he’s in the lineup. But when the option is watching Jeff Francoeur lunge at pitches three feet outside, I’m actually happy to see Carter there. When he comes to the plate with a runner in scoring position, I’m glad that it’s him, and not Matthews, Francoeur, Henry Blanco, Castillo, Alex Cora, Fernando Tatis, Rod Barajas (despite the early HRs) and (I’m sorry to say) Jose Reyes.

So there you go. This is all that was going through my mind as I watched Gary Matthews, Jr. try to bunt with a man on second and no one out in the top of the ninth of a tie game. The Mets would go on to lose the game in the bottom half of the inning after yet another David Wright throwing error scored the winning run. And as a fan, all I could do was angrily shut off the tv, then go to a friend’s apartment to watch the penultimate episode of Lost to forget about the ineptitude of Mets management.

I mean, it sure beats getting your throat slashed by a fake John Locke.

P.S. – This isn’t as widely known as it should be. Chris Carter has demolished my own choice for an at-bat music (mine is the theme song from “Three’s Company”), by choosing “Real American”, i.e. the entrance song of the immortal Hulk Hogan.

2 Responses to “When a Sac Bunt is More Than Just a Sac Bunt”

  1. I think maybe Jerry Manuel must think other teams will approach the Mets’ sac bunt attempts in the same way the Mets approach sac bunt attempts against them. After all, in the bottom of the 9th, after the leadoff single, Met pitchers walked the first guy attempting to lay down a sac bunt, and then after Melky Cabrera failed to get a bunt down twice, he hit that swinging bunt that Wright threw away to lose the game. If only the Braves had walked Matthews and then committed an error on the next guy, we’d be in good shape.

    Worse, even, in my opinion, was pinch-hitting Alex Cora for R.A. Dickey just for the purpose of sac bunting. God forbid we have a pitcher bunt for himself and stay in a game, and perhaps not bring Fernando Nieve into a game for a change….

  2. i think they should bring back bobby valentine….

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