I'd like to preface this post by saying that usually I am of the belief that hitting coaches, like pitching coaches, have minor impacts on the actual performance of the players. I am not trying to blame the offensive woes of the Mets solely on Howard Johnson, but I do think there is a strong possibility that his "coaching" has been a detriment to this team.
The main topic I'd like to cover with regards to the struggling offensive performances all around this year is players plate discipline. Generally speaking, I'd like to make the assumption that hitters have a better chance of hitting a baseball, and hitting it well (ie good contact and for power), if they are swinging at pitches in the strike zone; therefore not swinging at pitches outside of the zone. Also, that drawing more walks (which can only be done by not swinging at pitches outside of the zone) is advantageous to offensive production. After the jump I will compare the plate discipline of several of the Mets key hitters in 2010 to years past. All my stats are derived from FanGraphs and I will be primarily looking at BB%, wOBA, O-Swing (percentage of pitches outside of the zone swung at), and Swinging-Strike rate.David Wright:
David Wright has had stretches this year where he has been absolute crushing the ball (the month of June really sticks out), but overall his performance has been lackluster to say the least (for him at least). David's O-Swing% is 31.2% which is drastically higher than his career rate of 21.6%. Even last year when David started striking out significantly more often his O-Swing rate was still 21.5%. This has resulted in a 10.4% Swinging-Strike Rate (7.4% for his career), 10.6% walk rate and 20.2% LD% (line drive rate). In recent years (the past 3) David has posted walk rates of 12.0% 12.8% and 13.2% (2009, 2008, 2007 respectively). As well, his line drive rates of the same period were 25.7%, 25.6%, and 23.2%. All in all, David Wright is drawing fewer walks and hitting fewer balls hard resulting in a wOBA of .365 which is 23 points less than his career average of .388.
I don't think that anyone was expecting Bay to have the same performance this year as he did the last 2 with Boston, but at the same time I also don't believe that it was to be expected that his performance would decrease nearly as much as it has. Bay's O-Swing this year is 27.1% (20.1% for career), but his BB% has only seen a hit of 11% (12% for his career). The biggest difference in Bay's performance has been his lack of power, .402 SLG (.508 career) and 5.1% HR/FB (15.8% career). This can partially be explained by his playing in Citifield as compared to Fenway last year, but even so a dropoff of this proportion is still significant.
Throughout Jose's career he has been somewhat known as being prone to swinging at a lot of pitches and not drawing enough walks, but that was beginning to change in recent years. The past 3 years Jose's BB% were 10.8%, 8.7%, 10.1% which are at or above the league averages each year (roughly 8.5% each year). This year Jose has a O-Swing rate of 31.9% (25.7% career) resulting in a walk rate of only 5.2%. Despite hitting for a good batting average and power, for a leadoff hitter with his speed (.285 BA and .139 ISO), Reyes' OBP is only .324 resulting in a .331 wOBA. The past 3 seasons have seen Reyes post OBP's all within a few points of .355. For Reyes to be an effective leadoff man (and utilize his speed) he needs to be getting of base more often.
Despite being miserable at defense and not hitting for any power whatsoever for his career Castillo has made a living in Baseball by not making many outs. He's done this by swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone than most any player in baseball which has lead to high BB rates. For his career Castillo has an O-Swing rate of 12.4% which has never been above 13% twice since 2002. In 2010 Castillo is swinging at 17.3% of pitches outside. While Castillo's BB% hasn't taken a drastic drop his LD% is merely 13.4% resulting in a .236 BA and .335 OBP.
I do not want to look at Beltran's numbers specifically due to such small sample size, but so far they are showing the same trend. Swinging at more pitches outside of the zone is an obvious trend for the Mets key offensive figures this season. Whether or not this is the root of their offensive struggles is debatable, but the greater point I would like to touch on is the reason why. It seems very odd for players who have been in the league for as long as these players have to suddenly start swinging at a lot more bad pitches, and it is even more peculiar for them all to be doing this in the same season. Could it be that their coaches have instructed them to do this we won't know unless one of the players or coaches actually says it is the case, but it does seem to be very plausible to say the least.