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The Mets' hitting philosophy: It pays to not make outs

Employing an incentive-based system which guarantees future bonuses to players for adherence to the system, the Mets hope to develop more offensive consistency in their young players.

The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

The phrase "Moneyball Mets" has been used frequently since the Sandy Alderson regime began, with many erroneously assuming this simply meant the front office would want players to draw more walks. The actual system which Alderson and the coaching staff have implemented, however, is far more fascinating, as Anthony DiComo reports.

While maintaining a high on-base percentage is an important result of any successful offensive philosophy, how a team goes about achieving this goal is equally important. To this end, the Mets have developed an organizational philosophy which rewards players who make good decisions in each at-bat. While it has long been known that the front office advocates patient hitting, there was no explicit reinforcement of this philosophy in the organization until last season.

In 2013, minor league Mets affiliate coaches began implementing a point system to keep track of which hitters were fitting into the organizational goals. The scoring system rewarded players for positive outcomes, such as getting ahead in counts and not swinging at outside pitches, while docking those who acted counter to the coaches' teachings, such as swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone, regardless of the success of that swing. The idea is to give players a metric which they can use to understand what they're doing well or poorly. Director of player development Paul DePodesta emphasized to DiComo the importance of not just following the system but understanding it.

"We want them to have a certain deep understanding of just what it is we're trying to accomplish."

At the end of the 2013 season, this minor league scoring system transitioned into a similar strategy at the major league level. The crux of this system involves an relatively simple to understand but infrequently cited statistic known as Bases Per Out (BPO). As the name suggests, this number is a simple ratio of the number of bases the player reaches per out recorded at the plate.

While collecting this information itself only gives an idea of what the team is doing, it is also being used to provide an incentive for young players to adhere to the organizational offensive philosophy. Players with three years of service time or less are being told that future bonuses in their contracts will be tied to their accumulated BPO, with each base earned being worth an additional $200, while each out recorded would reduce the value of their bonus by $100. Alderson met with the team before the season began and gave a presentation showing that the players with the highest BPO tended to also receive the highest values on the free agent market, as a way of getting more veteran players on board as well.

Whether this system is an effective means of improving the offense of an organization that has struggled in recent years still remains to be seen. Since 2011, the Mets have consistently scored fewer runs each year, dropping from 718 runs in 2011 to only 619 last year. Still, in spite of the lack of results so far, Dave Hudgens remains optimistic that the plan is working, stating:

"You've got young guys you see coming up having a little more of an understanding of what we're trying to do. It takes time. It takes consistent work. It takes reminding. I've seen guys get better, but it takes time."

The Mets' offense is ranked 25th in both on-base percentage and wOBA this season, which suggests they still have a long way to go before they reach their goal of an offense geared around a high bases-to-outs ratio. Some evidence that the strategy may be paying off, however, is that the Mets have the 9th best rate of swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone so far this season, and they were the 5th best in 2013. While the team also leads the league in strikeouts by a healthy margin, this does show a marked increase in overall plate discipline, with players only swinging at pitches they can hit.

While the results aren't quite there yet, this front office has demonstrated great patience so far with its approach, and in time they hope it will lead to repeatable success at the plate .