Debunking The Home Run Myth

Today’s game was a festival of awfulness, a brilliant display of lackluster baseball, an exemplary model of sub-par management and play, a veritable gold mine of displays of what not to do.

So I won’t dwell on it.

Instead, I feel the need to address an argument that I’ve seen brewing recently among the Mets online community (I use the term “community” loosely).  The argument, of course, is that we’re scoring too many runs on home runs.

It’s a ridiculous argument, patently illogical and not at all based in fact.  But from the outset, to many, it’s an appealing scapegoat for our problems.

In the form it’s currently being used, the argument goes something like this:

We only score when we hit home runs.  Home runs are too rare to rely on for all your runs.  Therefore, because we only score on those rare occasions when we hit home runs, we’re not scoring enough runs.

Now, it should be noted that this argument is sometimes valid.  Most notably, it’s a completely legitimate complaint if you’ve got a lineup made up of three-true-outcomes hitters, wherein unless you hit a home run, you strike out.  A lineup of nine Dave Kingmans or Adam Dunns would not hit nearly as well as a lineup of nine solid, average hitters.

But even in the case of the hypothetical three-true-outcome lineup, the problem isn’t the home runs: the problem is all the other at-bats.  By definition, hitting a home run is good.  The problem comes in the at-bats when you don’t hit home runs — which, in the three-true-outcome lineup, occurs so often that you can’t muster much offense.

But it’s obvious after a single glance that we DON’T have a lineup full of three-true-outcome hitters.  Just look at one iteration of our current starting lineup:

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 10.20.29 PM

 

Now, maybe — maybe — you can call Granderson, so far this year, a three-true-outcomes hitter.  But besides Grandy — again, even he is debatable — there are no Adam Dunns in this lineup.  The two guys who have the majority of our “too many” home runs — Walker and Cespedes — are also batting .275 and .278, and getting on base at respectable clips.

The problem isn’t too many home runs: when you look at our roster, the problem is obvious.  We just don’t have enough good hitters.

With Duda out for weeks, and Wright seemingly close to hitting the DL, it looks, for the foreseeable future, like our starting first and third basemen will be James Loney and Wilmer Flores, not to mention Plawecki’s presumed spot behind the plate, unless he’s replaced by Rivera, who’s not an offensive upgrade.  So far, Flores and Loney haven’t hit, nor did any of the players who previously filled their spots (Ty Kelly, Eric Campbell, Matt Reynolds), nor has Plawecki.

So, look at the lineup.  Two hitters, Flores (or Kelly) and Plawecki (or Rivera) hovering around the Mendoza line.  A third (Campbell playing first, before Loney got here) who can’t hit either.  Granderson, who’s not hitting, although he’s hit well the past few days.  And the pitcher.

Combined, that’s five spots in our lineup filled by players batting in the low .200s, with low on-base percentages to match.  It doesn’t take a genius to realize that that’s no formula for offensive success, “too many” home runs or not.

It’s worth noting that neither Duda nor d’Arnaud was hitting particularly well when they went down.  But Wright was: his OBP was .350, and he’s been filled-in-for by Flores (.231) and Kelly (also .231).  That’s two more guys who just can’t hit.

The problem isn’t that we hit too many home runs, or that we have some systematic problem with hitting with runners in scoring position, or anything like that.

The problem, rather, is that five slots — the majority — of our lineup are just bad, whether there are men in scoring position or not.

Consider it: the corollary complaint to the “too many home runs” theory is that instead, we should score by hitting better with runners in scoring position.  Well, maybe we haven’t been very good with men on base.  But we also haven’t had a very good lineup, period.  When you’ve got five slots in the lineup filled by players batting around .200, the problem isn’t that they’re bad with men in scoring position — it’s that they’re bad, period.

It’s a simple problem, far more simple than home runs somehow being a bad thing.  Our lineup, right now, just isn’t that great.  You don’t need to look beyond that to find a reason we’re not scoring enough.

Now, say we get Wright, Duda, and d’Arnaud back, and each plays up to what they’re projected to d0 — a lofty prediction, but not impossible.  That’s three OBPs of .350 back in the lineup.  That’s an improvement of enormous proportion to our offense.

And even with those three back, we’ll hit lots of home runs, but because the lineup as a whole will be better, we’ll score more.  And maybe we’ll finally realize that home runs aren’t a bad thing.

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2 thoughts on “Debunking The Home Run Myth

  1. How can you write an article “debunking the myth” and completely ignore mentioning the FACT that the Mets lead all of MLB with 56% of their runs coming from homers, and they have the second most homers in all of baseball? The next closest National League team is at 44% and only 4 teams in all of baseball are at 50% or higher.

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    • James Schapiro says:

      That’s absolutely true. The myth isn’t that they hit a lot of home runs; that’s obviously true. The myth is that home runs are the cause of their current offensive woes.

      Like

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