This year, Mets hitters have proved adept at making contact, putting the ball in play, and laying off pitches. Through 15 games, they have the National League's best strikeout rate (16.0%). To this point in the season, at least, it represents a stark change for a Mets organization that entered this season with the sixth-worst strikeout rate in the NL since the start of 2009. Not every player, though. has been part of the hit—or contact—parade.
In just 58 plate appearances, Michael Cuddyer has 17 strikeouts. At 29.3%, he owns the fifteenth highest strikeout rate among NL position players, but was among the top until Wednesday night. In fact, last night's game against Atlanta was just the third time this season in which Cuddyer did not strikeout.
The next highest Mets position player is Wilmer Flores at 18,8%, who ranks outside of the top thirty in the league. And while Cuddyer has accounted for just over 10% of the Mets total plate appearances, he has accounted for 21% of the team's strikeouts. It is still a small sample size, of course, but he is striking out at nearly double his career rate (17.9%). Despite going down on strikes in nearly a third of his plate appearances, he has still produced a .779 OPS and 122 OPS+.
While it is early, what could be worrisome is how the strikeouts are coming. Of the 17 strikeouts, 14 have come against right-handed pitchers. This season, right-handed pitchers are living down and away against Cuddyer, and as you can see below, he is swinging and missing at a very high rate.
Below is Cuddyer's first-inning at-bat against the Philadelphia Phillies's Jerome Williams on April 15. Williams, who owns a below average 16.3% strikeout rate against right-handed batters, gets Cuddyer to chase strike three on a cut-fastball a foot off the plate.
Granted, Williams did set up Cuddyer by staying mostly middle-in the first eight pitches, but it is developing pattern early in the season. In 2015, right-handed pitchers have already recorded six strikeouts against Cuddyer on cut-fastballs and sliders out of the strike zone. In 205 plate appearances in 2014, right-handers produced just seven strikeouts on cut-fastballs and sliders against Cuddyer.
Is Cuddyer suddenly more susceptible to chasing pitches off the plate? Only the onward march of the season will tell.
Again, it is a small sample size. Cuddyer has gone through strikeout binges before and bounced back. In 2013, he had a stretch from April 19-May 3 when he struck out 15 times in 61 plate appearances. Cuddyer finished the season by winning the NL batting title and producing a .919 OPS and 136 OPS+. And, heading into Wednesday night's games, Bryce Harper, Starling Marte, and Jorge Soler had all struck out a higher rate than Cuddyer. Like we said, it is too soon to make any definitive conclusions.
It is never fun to be the buzzkill , especially in the midst of a wildly fun 12-3 start. Cuddyer can and very likely will return to his normal strikeout rates. However, he is now 36, and it remains monitoring as the season progresses.