The Mets offered a glimmer of hope early last week by beating the Rockies to win their third straight, but they quickly resumed their downward trajectory by losing their last six. The Pirates have been on a similar path, as they also started the season strong but have lost 20 of their last 30. They are still within shouting distance of the second wild card spot (6.5 games) but are in danger of losing contact with the middle pack in the NL. One reason they have not fallen even harder is the strong play of long-awaited prospect Austin Meadows. He, and others, are highlighted in this edition of the stat preview.
Austin’s Staying Power: Austin Meadows has had a great start to his major league career (.330/.357/.566 in 112 plate appearances), but it is fair to wonder if he will sustain his current production. His .353 BABIP is well over the level he carried the last few years in the minors, and his .285 TAv suggests he has been good but not great. One thing that may work in Meadows’ favor, though, is the quality of pitching he has faced so far. Perhaps the most impressive part of his hot start is that his opponents’ combined OPS of .679 is the lowest among all batters with at least 100 plate appearances, meaning he has faced the toughest combination of pitching of all batters this year. If he can have such success against the toughest combination of pitchers in baseball, maybe his regression will not be too hard of a fall. For what it is worth, the Mets starters OPS’ for this series are .609 (Lugo), .750 (Matz), and .702 (Wheeler).
Rise of Rodriguez: After a very terrible MLB debut with the Orioles last year (14.29 ERA in 5.2 innings), Richard Rodriguez has quietly been one of the most productive Pirate relievers in 2018. Neither his fastball nor his curveball are elite (27.5% whiffs per swing on the fastball — 25th among relievers — 32.6% whiffs per swing on the curveball — 47th among relievers), but because both are good pitches, his strikeout numbers are close to the upper echelon of relievers (12.36 K/9, 17th among relievers with 20+ innings pitched). What has really helped propel his success this year, though, are his superb walk numbers. He has walked just 0.98 batters per nine innings, fifth best among relievers with 20+ innings. Unsurprisingly, ERA indicators like FIP (2.08) and DRA (2.28) like his performance, suggesting his success is not just a flash in the pan.
Taillon’s Heater: Jamison Taillon has also cut down on walks (3.1 BB/9 to 2.4 BB/9), but part of his increased success — his 2.0 WARP has almost already passed his 2017 mark of 2.3 in 50 fewer innings — seems to be an improved fastball. His velo is up a tick (96.0 mph from 95.8 in 2017) and he is getting swings and misses at a greater rate on the pitch (8.3% swing and miss in 2017, 11.0% in 2018). Most Mets have unsurprisingly struggled on hard fastballs, but Michael Conforto especially has, hitting .120 and slugging just .240 on pitches faster than 95 mph.
The Good: With 571, Pirates hitters have the second least number of strikeouts (Royals 557, Mets 640).
The Bad: Corey Dickerson has walked in just 4% of his plate appearances.
The Ugly: Trevor Williams has been worth negative WARP on the mound (-0.2) and at the plate (-0.3).
The Mets’ 7-23 record in their last 30 games is the worst in MLB.
Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas – USA Today Sports