Investigating the Mets' opposite-field-hitting success

Mr. Oppo Taco - Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets have mysteriously improved their hitting to the opposite field every year since 2011.

While in Double-A New Hampshire in 2011, catcher Travis d’Arnaud had his agent make a shirt with the mantra “oppo-taco” to celebrate his opposite-field home runs. Now, the entire New York Mets offense deserves their own shirts.

The Mets’ offense has had their share of struggles over the past few seasons. However, from 2011 to 2014 the team has shown a remarkable consistency in improving at hitting the ball to the opposite field. During this time, the Mets’ batting average has risen 43 points, their isolated power has risen 23 points, and their slugging percentage has surged 65 points. This dramatic improvement has been gradual, but nevertheless consistent.

  AVG ISO SLG
2011 .275 .093 .368
2012 .283 .126 .409
2013 .301 .131 .432
2014 .321 .114 .434

In addition to the percentage categories above, the team has also improved in counting categories. Over each of the past three seasons, the number of extra-base hits towards the opposite field has increased. They had 86 extra-base hits in 1,159 plate appearances that resulted in a ball hit the opposite way in 2011, 101 in 1,134 plate appearances in 2012, and 107 in 1,193 plate appearances in 2013. If the team keeps up the pace they’ve established so far this season, they’re on track to have 113 extra-base hits to the opposite field.

As you can tell by the fluctuating plate appearance numbers above, the Mets’ success isn’t simply a function of increased opportunities.

MLB context

To put the Mets’ numbers into context, it’s important to look at the major league average. From 2011 to 2014, the league batting average to the opposite field ranged from .283 to .300, the slugging percentage ranged from .405 to .433, and the isolated power ranged from .122 and .133.

The Mets’ improvement has slingshot them from the bottom of the majors to the top 10 in most categories. In 2011, the Mets ranked 20th among major league teams in batting average, 24th in slugging percentage, and 25th in isolated power. So far in 2014, they are 7th, 11th, and 10th, respectively.

Mets context

Statistics explain what observers see on the field, whether it be FIP and xFIP interpreting how well a pitcher is actually pitching or strikeout rate and BABIP helping explain how a hitter is performing.

What makes the Mets’ opposite-field hitting trend interesting is that there is no easy explanation for it. For example, the team’s batted-ball numbers don’t explain their success. Their line drive, ground ball, and fly ball rates have all fluctuated over the past four seasons and there is nothing that correlates with this trend.

So the Mets have improved to the opposite field, but has this trend negatively or positively affected their production towards the pull side or to center field? The answer is, clearly, no. The charts below show no obvious correlation between the hitting numbers. In other words, as the opposite-field numbers have improved, the Mets’ hitting to the rest of the outfield hasn’t obviously improved or declined in relation.

Pull

  AVG ISO SLG
2011 .363 .249 .612
2012 .341 .244 .585
2013 .347 .256 .603
2014 .304 .239 .543

Center

  AVG ISO SLG
2011 .324 .105 .429
2012 .333 .141 .474
2013 .295 .117 .412
2014 .307 .099 .406

Mets hitters and the opposite field

Since 2011, the Mets’ offense has seen a lot of turnover, with only four hitters (David Wright, Ruben Tejada, Lucas Duda, and Daniel Murphy) seeing a significant number of at-bats each of the past four seasons. This makes such a consistent ascension ever more impressive. No matter who is hitting for the Mets, they’re excelling.

Unsurprisingly, two of the most Mets’ most productive opposite-field hitters are Wright and Murphy. Since 2011, Wright has a .359 batting average and a .596 slugging percentage while Murphy has a .356 batting average and a .467 slugging percentage.

Two Mets who have struggled hitting to the opposite field are Duda, who hadn’t posted above a .250 batting average or 375 slugging percentage to the opposite field until this year, while d’Arnaud hasn’t lived up to his “oppo-taco” t-shirts, posting a paultry .239 batting average and .370 slugging percentage.

Two of the more surprising success stories are Juan Lagares, who has hit better than Wright and slugged better than Murphy the opposite way, and Jon Niese, who in a minuscule sample size, has a .408 batting average and a .436 slugging percentage.

A statistical anomaly?

The one consistent factor during this stretch has been hitting coach Dave Hudgens. Over the years, Hudgens has gotten some credit for hitters’ improvement, such as Jose Reyes’s hitting betterto the opposite field. It seems as though Hudgens has made a concerted effort to help the Mets improve their ability to hit to the opposite field.

Whether it is Hudgens’s coaching, weird luck, or another reason altogether, four consecutive seasons of steady improvement could mean that this is no anomaly. The Mets have gone from a well below average team hitting to the opposite field to a team in the top 10 in many statistical categories, and it will be interesting to see if this trend continues this season and into the future.

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