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May 24, 2012
On the Beat
Wright on Track
David Wright and Ike Davis play on opposite corners of the Mets' infield. Their hitting approaches and results in the first quarter of this season also couldn't be more opposite. Wright is off to the best start of what has been a fine career. The 29-year-old third baseman has a triple-slash line of .399/.497/.601 in 173 plate appearances. Now healthy after being limited to 102 games because of back problems last season, Wright seems to have taken his game to another level in 2012.
Davis, conversely, has been miserable at the plate so far; he is hitting .159/.213/.290 in 155 plate appearances. That is a far cry from last season, when he got off to a .302/.383/.543 start in 149 trips to the plate before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.
While more and more people are catching on to the fact that batting average is low on the scale of significant hitting statistics, .400 still has a mystical quality to it. No major leaguer has reached that plateau since Ted Williams hit .406 for the Red Sox in 1941.
The season has barely passed the quarter pole, and it's highly doubtful Wright will break the game's 71-year dry spell. Still it's always fun to at least speculate about the possibility of someone hitting .400 and, after initially scoffing at the notion, Mets manager Terry Collins was willing to at least dream about Wright taking a run at it.
"It's a very hard thing to do, and it's way too early to think about it," Collins said. "I do think if he gets to the All-Star break and is still hitting .400 he could be very dangerous. He has the physical attributes it takes to chase that mark. He's strong enough to hit the ball out of the park, but he'll also take singles. He can run, so he'll beat his share of choppers in the hole."
However, what is differentiating Wright this season from other years is his plate discipline, as he is walking more than he is striking out. Wright has drawn bases on balls in 17.2 percent of his plate appearances, far above his 11.4 career mark, while his strikeout rate is 15.4 percent this season compared to 18.6 percent for his career.
Collins attributes Wright's newfound plate discipline to a better two-strike approach and even invoked Barry Bonds' name while making a comparison.
"With two strikes, he just looks in and is willing to take the pitch the other way," Collins said. "If Ike and (right fielder Lucas) Duda were swinging the bat better, they'd [opposing pitchers] be pitching to David, but teams are just pitching around him. You remember the Bonds era? Guys just pitched around him, and Barry wouldn't go out of his zone and get himself out. David is the same way now. He'll take his bases on balls and go to first base."
To say Davis isn't swinging the bat very well is an understatement. It has now reached the point where the Mets are considering optioning him to Triple-A Buffalo, where he can work out his problems away from the spotlight. However, Collins admits that it's an inexact science when it comes to determining when to farm a player out.
"You never know when it’s going to happen, when he’s going to all of a sudden get it centered and start to make that solid contact," Collins said. "Because when he starts hitting the ball well, you want it to be for us instead of for Buffalo. Besides trying to make sure we have patience with Ike, we’re trying also to win baseball games. The last thing I want to do is put this guy in a situation where he’s going to fail. I’m trying to get him in situations where he’s going to be successful.”
While Collins tries to find that delicate balance with the Davis, the 25-year-old is trying to find some positives in what has been a nightmarish season. While he doesn't come off as an Alibi Ike, Davis believes he has been hitting in some tough luck.
“Honestly, the last five or six games I have hit the ball solid; I just haven’t gotten hits,” Davis said.
The numbers prove Davis right, as his line-drive percentage is an outstanding—and unsustainable—29.8 percent, while his ground-ball/fly-ball ratio is 1.67, which is the biggest reason his power has been sapped.
“A couple of those line drives fall and it’s a different story," Davis said. Yet an inordinate amount of balls are falling for Davis, as his BABIP is a freakish .473.
So what is the answer? Collins suggested a rather simple solution for Davis: Take a couple of deep breaths.
“The thing with Ike, everybody is looking for home runs,” Collins said. “As I told him the other day, I’m just looking for that good swing that he’s got. The home runs will come. He just got to start making good, solid contact there.”
The Mets are a surprising 24-20, though they have been outscored 211-182 in those 44 games. Collins doesn't need a degree in sabermetrics to realize the runs scored column has to improve for the Mets to stay over .500 in a season in which they were universally picked to finish last in the National League East.
"When you pitch well, you're going to be able to scratch out some wins," Collins said. "But you're not going to pitch great every single day. At some point, we need to get the offense going. As long as David Wright is hitting, we'll score some runs, but we also can't count on David carrying us all season. We need to get some other guys hitting pretty soon."
A few minutes with Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish
On the biggest difference between pitching in Nippon Professional Baseball in his native Japan and in the American major leagues: "The routine is different. In Japan, we pitched once a week, but here we pitch every five days. It caused me to change how I trained in the offseason and it has caused me to get into a different routine between starts this season. My body feels different than it has in the past. I'm still adjusting to the new routine, but I am getting more comfortable."
On his rates of 5.1 walks and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings through his first nine major-league starts and 56 innings: "I'm still have not completely adapted to this baseball here and the way the umpires call the games, so I think that has been a factor in my walks. The higher rate of strikeouts might be because the hitters here haven't seen me before or they are not used to seeing a pitcher who can throw 95 mph and also have a number of secondary pitches he can throw for strikes. Everything is still pretty new for me. We'll see what the statistics look like at the end of the season. Hopefully, the walks will be much lower. I cannot keep walking this many batters."
On the difference between Japanese hitters and American hitters: "The power is different. The hitters here have a lot more power while the Japanese hitters concentrate more on making contact. Over here, the hitters are willing to take more pitches, work deeper into counts and still hit for power. I have to be more careful not to make mistakes because everyone has the strength to hit the ball out of the park. That's not the case in Japan. You can make more mistakes there and not get hurt so badly."
Dodgers left-hander Ted Lilly: "He's got more deception in his delivery than I remember him having in the past. He's getting good angles on right-handed hitters. He's getting his fastball in on lefties, and he's also using his changeup a lot more to go with the big curveball. He's giving a lot of different looks. It's like he's reinvented himself."
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen: "He's blossoming into a star. He might be the most fun player to watch in the major leagues because of the speed and the way he can make things happen. He definitely has pumped some life into that franchise."
Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks: "You've got to like this kid. He makes the splashy plays on defense and he can hit massive home runs from foul pole to foul pole. He's got a chance to be a special player."
Astros right-hander Bud Norris: "He's always had good stuff, but he's a lot more confident on the mound this season. In the past, there were times when he might give in if things were going bad. He doesn't do that anymore. He's growing into the leader of that pitching staff."
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki: "He looks dead-ass, like all the losing the last couple of years has worn him down. It's just not him, though. The whole team looks dead-ass, like they've already given up on the season and we're not even through May yet."
Bernie Pleskoff, writing for MLB.com, explains how scouts use their own set of numbers as shorthand to rate players in this week's Must Read.