The New York Mets have been struggling for the last five weeks, falling from four games over .500 to seven games under. Many have offered their insights into why the Mets have struggled to hang around in a division that is up for grabs this season. The Mets are only five games back in the National League East despite being seven games under .500, and a lot of it boils down to one simple problem. The Mets have been one of the worst teams in baseball when it comes to blowing leads.
The Mets have had the lead in 49 of their 63 games this season, but have managed to blow the early lead 21 times this season. The Mets have lost six games in a row, but they had a lead in five of the six contests. If the Mets had been able to hold on to 10 of those leads, they would have a 38-25 record and lead the National League East by five games. Why can't the Mets hold these leads? There are several important factors that explain why the Mets keep blowing lead after lead.
1) The Mets don't tack on runs
The most common assumption around the Mets is that they don't score enough runs to win games. That isn't entirely true, as the Mets rank eighth in the National League in runs scored with 252 on the year, a remarkable figure given the team's .235 batting average, which is third worst in the NL. The Mets have scored more runs than the Atlanta Braves, who lead the NL East in spite of scoring only 212 runs on the season.
The big problem with the Mets' offense is they stop scoring after the first few innings. The Mets have scored 45 runs in the first inning, which is second in the major leagues behind the San Francisco Giants. The Mets often jump out to early leads as a result of this early offense, but they don't build on their leads by adding on runs.
The Mets get runners on, but they are one of the worst teams in baseball in terms of clutch hitting. The Mets hit .228 as a team with runners in scoring position, the sixth worst figure in the majors. The Mets get worse as the pressure gets higher, hitting .185 with runners in scoring position with two outs and a woeful .159 with the bases loaded. The Mets leave an average of 7.67 runners on base per game, which is the second worst rate in the major leagues. Failing to add runs to their lead has left the Mets vulnerable to comebacks by the opposition.
2) The Bullpen
This is the most obvious factor with the Mets' inability to hold leads. The Mets bullpen has been dreadful this season. The group's ERA of 3.53 actually isn't terrible, and ranks in the middle of the pack in the majors. The group's problems come with protecting leads, where the Mets have already blown 15 saves this season. This is the most in the major leagues, and you can't blame Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde anymore for the Mets' struggles in that department.
The Mets relievers get themselves into trouble by allowing way too many men to reach base. The unit has a 1.41 WHIP, which ranks in the bottom five in the major leagues. The reliever's WHIP is inflated due to the 98 walks Met relief pitchers have handed out, and the cardinal sin for a relief pitcher is walking hitters. The relievers also haven't helped their cause by throwing a whopping 20 wild pitches, handing free bases to teams that haven't earned them. Jenrry Mejia's blown save on Saturday night was the result of a wild pitch on strike three that allowed Angel Pagan to reach first base.
The bullpen has also been plagued by the gopher ball, allowing 20 home runs over the Mets' first 63 games. Two of the biggest culprits, Jose Valverde and John Lannan, are no longer in the unit, but it is still a problem that leads to blown leads. The bullpen has been constantly re-shaped as Mets' GM Sandy Alderson has tried and failed to build a bullpen on the cheap for the last three years, and Alderson's failure to identify relief talent has cost the Mets a lot of games.
3) Shoddy Defense
The most underreported problem with the Mets' ability to hold leads is the team's lousy defense, particularly in the infield. The Mets have committed 38 errors, which is in the middle of the pack for the National League, but a lot of the errors have come in key spots. The Mets have been shaky up the middle, where the tandem of Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy have had a tough time turning the double play in critical moments.
A key difference for the Mets defensively compared to a season ago is at first base. The Mets shipped out Ike Davis in April to get more at bats for Lucas Duda, but Davis was by far the more accomplished defender of the pair. Duda has been serviceable at first, but he hasn't been able to make the same type of defensive plays that Davis did for years. A little change like that can make all the difference, particularly when it comes to turning the double play.
4) The players aren't very good
In the end, all three of the factors we listed above relate to this one. The Mets aren't a very good baseball team, and a team with subpar players is more prone to blowing leads and losing games. The Mets have developed a culture of losing over the last eight years, particularly at home, and it is a tough cycle to break out of without significant change in the locker room.
David Wright is a consummate professional and knows how to win, but he is one of the few on the Mets that do. Curtis Granderson knows how to win games too, but he and Wright can't hit and field for everyone. The Mets need to get better players around those two, and getting better bats in the lineup will help cure a lot of ills. That is easier said than done, particularly for a team on what appears to be a limited budget. The Mets realistically need upgrades at shortstop, first base, catcher (with Travis d'Arnaud struggling and demoted to Las Vegas), and one outfield spot. The Mets can't address all those positions with superstars, but they need to get at least one more star player and a bunch of guys who can start on major league teams for the rest. Duda, Chris Young, and Ruben Tejada wouldn't be starting on any team besides the Mets.
The Mets can't change a whole team in the middle of the season, so if the team continues to struggle expect manager Terry Collins to pay the price. Collins doesn't deserve to lose his job considering he's never been given a team with a legitimate chance to win, but there is something to be said for getting a new voice in the locker room if the Mets continue to struggle. While that could work for a few weeks, the only way for the Mets to improve over the long term is to simply add better players to their roster.
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