Today on the Michael Kay Show, Dave Hudgens discussed his dismissal as Mets hitting coach and answered questions about the team's offensive strategies and struggles. The interview covered a broad range of topics, including the effects of Citi Field on hitters, misconceptions about the team's hitting philosophy, the negative view of the team by the fans and broadcast staff, the Ike Davis trade, and his thoughts on future personnel moves that may occur.
The interview began with Kay asking Hudgens about the Mets' philosophy of taking a lot of pitches. Hudgens strongly denied that the Mets have such a policy.
"It's never been the philosophy, taking pitches. Pitchers throw under 50 percent strikes if you take out swings and misses. Don't swing at balls in the dirt or over the head...We're looking to hit if it's the first pitch, second pitch, fifth pitch. I'm not sure where the information on our philosophy comes out."
Kay then asked about Mets "hunting the strike," in reference to searching for the perfect pitch to hit, and falling behind in counts. Again Hudgens denied that the organization advocated taking pitches and questioned the validity of the criticism that the Mets take too many pitches. He challenged that:
"I think you better probably go look at your statistics. I don't think we're behind in the count all the time; I think our swing rate is probably up even a little bit early in the count, I'm pretty sure of that. I don't know what your information says, but that's not correct. We look to get ahead in the count if we can. It's as simple as that, there are no secrets to it. It's nothing the guys were confused about."
The next line of inquiry involved the cause of the Mets' struggles at home. Hudgens claimed that the problem was largely players wanting to do more for the fans at home games, causing them to take bigger swings and attempt to pull the ball more in a subconscious effort to do more for the home crowd.
"They try too hard, they want to do it so much for the fans. Fly ball rate was way up at home, our swing and miss rate was way up at home, our exit velocity speed off the bat was down at home, a lot of those—our chase rate was up at home."
But he also noted that the team was fourth in runs scored on the road, while being last at home, suggesting that the team had a lot of offensive potential. He also referenced the early season weather, which is frequently cold and rainy, as a detriment to the Mets' performance at home. He expressed optimism that as the season progressed the team would settle in and play more consistently.
Questions of home struggles led to the obvious follow up question: Are the dimensions of Citi Field simply too cavernous, and does this get into the players' heads?
Hudgens quickly dismissed this for the most part, pointing out that they had already brought the fences in and that the team gives up more home runs at home than on the road. He pointed out that players like Lucas Duda actually hit more home runs at home than on the road. He noted the biggest problem with the Citi dimensions was in right-center field, pointing out, as many Mets fans have already commented, that:
"Thats where David's, a lot of his power is, and his natural swing is, and he's probably hit five or six balls that would have been, maybe more than that, out anywhere else that's not out of that ballpark, so I feel that field was not designed with him in mind, there's no question about that."
Kay then moved on to ask Hudgens about his comments regarding the home crowd booing players and whether he thought this led to the Mets hitters pressing to try to avoid the booing. He also stated that he thought it was fair for Mets fans, paying to see a game, to express their displeasure with the team. Collins brushed off the effect of the boo-birds at Citi, recounting the numerous times when he managed in the Venezuelan leagues and was booed every time he went to the mound to talk to a pitcher after he gave up a home run. He downplayed any effect of the booing on the players. He also agreed that the fans have every right to boo, and that he understands their frustration.
The interview then moved on to discuss Hudgens's dismissal. Kay pointed out that Sandy and Hudgens had a long history together, staring with their time in Oakland. He asked about how the firing had taken place between the two longtime friends, and asked if he thought the decision had been Alderson's or if it had come from above. Hudgens had nothing but praise for Alderson, stating that he had great respect for him, and that he had no way of knowing who made the call about firing him, as he wasn't privy to what goes on in the front office.
During this portion of the interview, Hudgens implied that Alderson might not have complete autonomy in team decisions, claiming that, "I think if Sandy could do everything he wanted to do, we'd have a winner here." Kay quickly jumped on that response, asking how the front office was limited in the decision-making process. Hudgens reiterated that he had no knowledge of how the front office decision-making process was carried out, but that based on his history with Alderson in Oakland, he believed he was capable of building a winning franchise if given the chance to carry out his plan.
The topic again shifted back to the underperforming Mets offense. Kay asked if there was more talent on the team to hit better or if they were simply underachieving. Hudgens again stressed that the early season weather may have some effect on the team's early performance, and gave his vote of confidence to a number of players.
"Grandy's had a great month, David has been consistent, Murph has been fine. I think Travis d'Arnaud has more in him. Chris Young is just waiting to happen and Lagares has made a lot of progress this year. "
Discussion of these potential offensive successes under Hudgens's tutelage of course brought the interview around to the topic of Ike Davis, who has hit over .300 in Pittsburgh since being traded. Kay wondered if Ike would have had the same surge had the Mets kept him, or if the change of scenery led to the change in production. Hudgens admitted that Ike always had great potential and believed he would have had similar success in New York given a bit more time. He pointed out that Ike had started using the whole field more, cutting down his home runs but giving him better contact rates.
"As he becomes a better hitter, which I think he's kind of developing into because he's using the whole field a bit more instead of pulling off the ball, I think he's gonna be more consisteny."
When asked if the Mets were wrong to stick with Duda while trading Ike, Hudgens was quick to point out that Duda has a lot of upside. He sees Duda as having the potential to hit 30-plus home runs and to give great at-bats. He imagined the decision of which player to keep was a very difficult one, but that either choice meant you were getting a good guy. Ultimately, one needed to be moved, and the organization decided that Ike Davis was the right choice.
When asked about his displeasure with the SNY broadcast team, he clarified that the negativity was what really irked him about their broadcasts. He went on to say that it's their right to be negative if they want to.
"If they want to be negative, they can be negative. It's totally up to them, I'm not saying right or wrong, I'm just saying I don't like it."
When Kay asked how he knew what the announcers were saying, he explained that he watches all the at-bats on video, and found the "constant negativity" to be unnecessary. He said that while he has great respect for Keith Hernandez, who he described as a "Hall of Fame-type player," the negative nature of his comments cased fans to be pessimistic. He discounted any effect the announcers criticism may have on the players.
Kay then moved on to ask if Hudgens thought his dismissal foreshadowed the dismissal of Terry Collins or Sandy Alderson. With regards to Collins, Hudgens said that he thought Terry does a great job keeping the players motivated and having fun, which is important because "you gotta have a good time while you're at work." As for Alderson, he expressed surprise at the very notion of dismissing the general manager, going so far as to say that Alderson would turn the Mets into a winner if they would "let the purse strings loose and let Sandy do what he wants to do."
Overall, Hudgens came across as very gracious and appreciative of the time he spent with the Mets and the relationships he formed along the way. He is generally optimistic about the future of the offense, who he beileves will turn things around as the young season progresses. His support of Collins and Alderson appears to be unwavering even after his dismissal. If a man who just lost his job with the team can be this optimistic about them, perhaps we could all take a page from his book.