Amidst the desperation of Met fans after four increasingly disappointing seasons in a row, there has been much debate about the somewhat ample dimensions of the Mets’ new home.
At first glance, one could quite easily fall into the trap of the shouters who insist we must move in the fences! Lower the fences! How can we attract home run hitters?!
But, as is often the case with the loudest and least thoughtful, a careful look at this issue indeed shows that we may very well be watching the infancy of a stadium which might actually be a wonderful home field advantage for our beloved Mets.
The Mets’ home record was 47-34, which, considering their mediocrity and inconsistency, was pretty good. The Mets had baseball’s 20th best record, but were 12th best at home. As this space has pointed out before, two more wins at home and a .500 road record and the team is already at 90 wins. 91 was the wild card in the NL this year.
The 2010 Mets were led by their pitching; specifically by the starters. Johan when healthy, Dickey, and Pelfrey were the stalwarts. Looking ahead, it is reasonable to expect Dickey and Pelf to be the most important starters barring a major move; both stayed healthy and should throw 200+ innings in 2011. While very different in repertoire and approach, one thing they definitely have in common is their ability to succeed without relying on the strikeout. Johan after another injury will very likely continue to lessen his reliance on Ks. Hence, the larger the playing field for these gentlemen, the better the advantage for their styles.
In a small sample, Gee also succeeded without many strikeouts, so Citi’s dimensions may assist him as well. Niese may turn out to be the exception, with by far the highest K/9 of the men who may eventually be the rotation in 2011. Takahashi also strikes out quite a few, but it is too early to tell whether he will start or relieve if he even returns to Queens.
When looking at the offense, David Wright, while back to his normal HR total, did hit a few less HR at home than he usually did at Shea. But just a few. Carlos Beltran has a maximum of one year left with the team, Boras’ comically disingenuous, money-sniffing recent faux compliments to the Met organization notwithstanding. Jason Bay? Who knows what to expect in the next year or two. Bay hit 35 and 36 HR once each, and otherwise never topped 32, so this is not someone we should expect 40+ HR from should Citi be shrunk.
Ike and Duda do have power, which did not seem to be significantly hindered by Citi. And we do not yet know if Ike is going to be a 30+ HR producer or a 20-something; Duda’s HRs were impressive, but the jury is most definitely out on his MLB abilities.
That leaves Reyes, Pagan, and Thole among nearly certain 2011 starters. Three players whose games are indisputably aided by Citi’s dimensions. Reyes, if healthy again, can amass many 2B and 3B, while Pagan’s game also is tailored to that approach. Thole seems to be a doubles hitter who sprays the ball all over the field. These three should thrive in Citi’s current configuration. Should Murph or Tejada play a lot in 2011, they clearly are also players who a larger field can benefit offensively.
So does the team want to move the fences in to attract HR hitters? The feeling here is that, over the last few years, the most attractive players this writer could have imagined the Mets acquiring would have been CC, Halladay, Oswalt, or maybe even Lee.
Yes, the Yankees took advantage of a smaller stadium to ride their incredible collection of mercenaries to another title, but could it not be argued that CC has been perhaps their most important acquisition the last two years? The Phillies have a very good, opportunistic offense, but were not Lidge, Hamels, Lee, Halladay, and Oswalt huge keys to their success over the last three years, despite the hugely overstated blather about their “bandbox” ballpark?
Might not future free agent pitchers look at the success enjoyed by pitchers at Citi and consider it a potentially serious career-aiding place to pitch?
It says here that the Mets have built a stadium which, as constructed, wisely pays tribute to the pitching which has almost always led the way to the franchise’s successes over the decades. Perhaps the classic silver-spoon attitude recently exhibited by the owner’s son in his comment on the stadium’s size “We tailored it to what the old GM and the baseball department wanted” yet again simply shows his lack of respect for and understanding of the team’s—and maybe even the game’s—overall history.
Wright and Bay are productive players with good power, but not 40-HR hitters. The offense very possibly is going to be led in 2011 by Reyes and Pagan, who are precisely the type of players who can run wild in a large ballpark. Dickey and Pelf are right now 1-2 to start next year; it would be hard to imagine a pair who are also more suited to Citi as it is.
What would bringing in the fences accomplish? A handful more HR for Wright, Bay, and Ike? How many less extra base hits for Reyes and Pagan? How many more HR allowed by Pelf and Dickey and the Met staff?
This is not a power-based team, nor is it a strikeout-based pitching staff. A close examination actually appears to show that this team as currently built is pretty well-suited for the stadium just as it is. Speed, moderate power, and players who can leg out more bases on balls hit in gaps. Outfielders with good to excellent range who can track down many balls in those gaps. Pitchers who rely on fielders to get to batted balls and who will benefit from warning-track outs.
Leave Citi Field as it is Mr. Wilpon. We may eventually gratefully watch it become one of the very best home field advantages in all of baseball.