The Mets were facing one of the National League’s better starting pitchers on Tuesday when they found themselves at a familiar junction. A one-out double sparked a rally, which seemed as if it might quickly fizzle. Or are we simply primed to think that way? After fouling off three straight Logan Webb pitches, Eduardo Escobar ripped a two-out, two-run double down the right-field line. The next batter, Dominic Smith, followed with an RBI single to plate Escobar.
This might seem like basic stuff, but those types of rallies were anything but elementary for the 2021 Mets. The team hit .204/.301/.309 with runners in scoring position in two-out situations last season, ranking 28th in MLB in batting average and 29th in on-base percentage and slugging. This year? With the usual caveat that it’s ludicrously early, the Mets have hit .353/.459/.549 in two-out RISP situations so far, ranking second, second and third in those respective categories.
So what’s been different? We can chalk it up to a few things.
1. New additions: It’s no surprise that the Mets have improved in clutch situations with Escobar, Starling Marte and Mark Canha in the regular lineup. All three are veteran hitters with lengthy track records, combining to hit .285 with runners in scoring position over 2,449 career at-bats. That trio also combined to hit .667 in two-out RISP situations over the Mets’ first 13 games, and while that’s obviously not sustainable, these guys have track records. It would take lots of poor luck for them to bottom out in the same fashion that the 2021 Mets did.
2. Luck: Speaking of good fortune, the Mets hold a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .410 in two-out RISP situations. That, also, is unsustainable, which is fine. The Mets don’t need to bat .353 in clutch situations over the balance of the season. They can regress to the mean and still post a significant improvement over last year’s .204 mark.
3. Mindset: New hitting coach Eric Chavez dislikes discussing hitting philosophy because, to paraphrase his words, every team tries to do the same thing: see lots of pitches, swing at strikes, hit the ball hard. Still, Mets players feel they’ve evolved under Chavez, in large part because he doesn’t overload them with information. Mechanically, the Mets haven’t changed much. Their preparation is similar. Their cage drills, by and large, are the same. But the results have been different.
“He’s done a great job of just trying to learn everybody individually and learn what we do best,” Smith said. “He doesn’t bombard me with a ton of analytical things. He does share some things with me, but he knows what it takes to get me ready for each day. And I think that’s key. Because we’re all different in this locker room.”
At a time when home runs are down across baseball, the Mets’ improvement in two-strike approach hasn’t just been noticeable. It’s a significant reason why the team is in first place.