Comparing the Mets' pitch count splits against MLB averages from 2002-2010

The Mets certainly give the impression of a good idea at the plate during their recent five-game winning streak. They're hitting, moving runners, and generally performing as well as one could ask in late April (except for the bunting, of course). It's too early to determine sustainability for much of their offensive output, but observers will continue to judge the team's performance against the failures of its recent past.

On Sunday, a Beyond the Box Score commenter published a chart describing how batters performed on action pitches in every count between 2002-2010. It fascinated me, if only because it helped me better grasp how often batters find themselves in a particular hitting scenario as well as how often they performed in those situations.

It also made me wonder how the Mets performed in those situations under Jerry Manuel and now under Terry Collins as compared to the league averages. The name of the offensive game is getting pitchers to throw pitches you can hit, especially for a Manuel-managed team the preached the virtues of aggressive behavior at the plate. Manuel undoubtedly regimented a lot of his in-game strategies, with his penchant for assigning his second baseman to bat second regardless of opponent or talent level serving as a prime example.

Did those strategies reflect the average, or move the needle in a positive or negative way?

First, a caveat - sample size will become an issue for some of ball/strike count splits. I'll point out the thresholds where  rates tend to stabilize, but here's an idea of what the sample size differences look like from 2009 and 2010 versus the 2002-2010 MLB total (I'm also including the 2011 data as a reference point):
Count PA (MLB) PA (2009) PA (2010) PA (2011)
First Pitch 110205 639 677 73
0-1 Count 81248 597 611 73
0-2 Count 71364 440 514 65
1-0 Count 66713 452 445 51
1-1 Count 78838 598 571 86
1-2 Count 124393 853 888 125
2-0 Count 23287 157 146 17
2-1 Count 48958 377 354 46
2-2 Count 116947 817 798 121
3-0 Count 22334 164 130 20
3-1 Count 43678 301 293 50
Full Count 110297 763 717 115
Any 898262 6158 6144 842

We can, however, rearrange the PAs to review the percentage of hitter's counts (2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1), pitcher's counts (0-1, 0-2, 1-2, 2-2), and neutral counts (0-0, 1-0, 1-1, 3-2) that the Mets experience as compared to the league average:

Count %PA (MLB)
%PA (2009) %PA (2010) %PA (2011)
Hitter's 15.5% 16.2% 15.1% 15.8%
40.8% 39.8% 39.2% 38.7%
Pitcher's 43.7% 44.0% 45.8% 45.6%

While we're not talking about wild swings in plate appearances here, the Mets did experience a slight dip in percentage of neutral counts. It would help if that dip came at the expense of an uptick in the percentage of hitter's counts, but the pitcher's counts benefit from the dip as well. There's a lot of reasons for that, but the end result is a Mets lineup that isn't finding itself in favorable counts where an opposing pitcher must muster up a fastball in the strike zone.

Want to see the Mets' futility to embrace the long ball over the past few seasons?

Count HR/AB (MLB)
HR/AB (2009) HR/AB (2010) HR/AB (2011)
First Pitch 4.2% 2.7% 3.3% 1.5%
0-1 Count 2.9% 1.9% 3.1% 3.0%
0-2 Count 1.2% 0.9% 1.0% 0.0%
1-0 Count 4.5% 0.5% 4.2% 4.2%
1-1 Count 3.5% 2.9% 3.6% 2.4%
1-2 Count 1.5% 1.4% 0.8% 1.6%
2-0 Count 5.8% 2.0% 3.5% 0.0%
2-1 Count 4.2% 2.4% 3.2% 4.4%
2-2 Count 1.9% 0.6% 0.9% 1.7%
3-0 Count 9.4% 20.0% 0.0% 50.0%
3-1 Count 6.0% 3.5% 5.1% 9.1%
Full Count 3.0% 1.8% 1.8% 4.5%
Any 3.0% 1.7% 2.3% 2.7%

(Since home run rates usually stabilize after 300 PAs, I highlighted the parts of the table that fall below that threshold in yellow.)

Needless to say, the Mets consistently kept the ball in the yard at rates below league averages. Whether that reflects a lack of personnel with pop, a failed aggressive approach at the plate or merely the cozy confines of Citi Field, it shows that the power problems plaguing the Mets did not discriminate by count.

The Mets' power outage over the past few seasons should not come as news to any one following the team regularly. But how about their overall offensive output?

Count wOBA (MLB)
wOBA (2009) wOBA (2010) wOBA (2011)
First Pitch .376 .350 .381 .350
0-1 Count .351 .337 .349 .406
0-2 Count .182 .159 .147 .134
1-0 Count .384 .335 .396 .418
1-1 Count .366 .330 .328 .327
1-2 Count .198 .195 .168 .194
2-0 Count .411 .381 .441 .358
2-1 Count .385 .391 .329 .463
2-2 Count .218 .246 .198 .165
3-0 Count .504 .508 .426 .602
3-1 Count .573 .554 .556 .606
Full Count .405 .413 .373 .376
Any .331 .322 .307 .321

(I'm pretty sure that wOBA stabilizes after a similar amount of plate appearances as OBP or slugging percentage, which is about 500 PAs. I highlighted the cells that fall below the 500 PA threshold in yellow, and the cells falling below the previously-mentioned 300 PA threshold in orange. I should also mention that I used Peter's wOBA totals from the BtBB chart, whereas I calculated the wOBA for the Mets over the past 2+ seasons.)

I hesitate to draw conclusions from the wOBA table since the averages vary so wildly. Instead, I want to draw your attention to the fact that the highlighted cells include all of the hitter's counts. It's not a large window for the Mets to climb through and exploit favorable counts, so taking advantage of those situations is paramount. They didn't, which could reflect a lack of sufficient talent, a poor approach at the plate, or simply bad luck.

We know the Mets played into the pitcher's hands in the count more often than not, that the Mets likely lacked the slugging prowess to mash their way out of trouble, and that they didn't take advantage of the opportunities that usually favor the offense. That recipe would kill any offense, let alone one plagued by injuries and a manager that often endorsed procedures based on anecdotal evidence rather than contemporary trends.

Let's hope the club's recent success reflect a departure from history rather than a bellwether for repeating it.

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