Mets' lack of power to impact offseason
Team could add slugger or try to improve speed at Citi
NEW YORK -- The Mets' first season at Citi Field has obviously not gone according to plan. How the next several years transpire at their new ballpark may be determined by the philosophical and subsequent personnel decisions that the team makes this offseason.
One of the dominant themes of the Mets' season has been their lack of power. New York hit 172 home runs last season, the fewest the club had hit since 2003, but still good enough for 14th in the Majors. This season, the Mets have just 81, last in the league by a significant margin. The next-to-last San Francisco Giants have 103 long balls, and the crosstown Yankees lead the Majors with 218 homers.
The Mets are on pace to finish with 95 home runs, which would be one more than the Giants' league-worst total from a year ago. San Francisco's 94 homers in 2008 were the fewest by a Major League team this decade.
San Francisco was the only team to hit fewer than 100 home runs in a season this decade, and only seven teams since 2000 have hit fewer than 120.
This offseason, the Mets have to determine whether the lack of power is attributable to injuries to their primary power hitters -- Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran -- or to Citi Field's larger dimensions. Delgado, who averaged 35 home runs the past 13 seasons, was on pace for 25 when he got hurt, while Beltran, who averaged 37 long balls per 162 games over the past three seasons, has eight homers in 64 games, which works out to 20 in a full season.
David Wright's drop in power has been even more noticeable. Wright had hit at least 26 home runs in each of his first four full seasons in the Majors; he has eight in 2009. Wright made a name for himself with power to right-center field. That hasn't translated well to Citi Field, what with its 415-foot power alley in right-center.
Manager Jerry Manuel said Wright's lack of power doesn't worry him as much as his third baseman's plethora of strikeouts. Wright has 115 strikeouts in 122 games, just three shy of his career high of 118, set in 160 games last year.
"If a guy has that type of strength -- and historically you've seen that -- I think [the power] will come back," Manuel said. "When you have the high strikeout ratio and the lack of power, that concerns you."
Neither Beltran nor Wright are traditional power hitters, and it's reasonable to wonder if their numbers in 2009 are an aberration or a harbinger of things to come. With those numbers in mind, the Mets can choose one of two divergent roads. They can try to sign a power hitter they expect to thrive at Citi Field -- after all, many opponents haven't had the same issues hitting it out of the new stadium -- or they can ignore power altogether and embrace a lineup built on speed.
The effect a ballpark can have on a team's long-term planning has been seen before. It took the Colorado Rockies several years and multiple approaches to figure out how to succeed at Coors Field. After years of teams built on power, the Rockies made it to the World Series in 2007 with a squad focused more on pitching, defense and speed. The Rockies had the best fielding percentage in Major League history in 2007, although their 171 home runs didn't hurt their cause.
The Mets have been forced to go more the speed route this season because of the injuries. Of course, they also lost their regular leadoff hitter and stolen base threat in Jose Reyes in mid-May. Nevertheless, New York leads the National League with 108 stolen bases, paced by Wright's 24.
In Reyes' absence, Angel Pagan has taken over the leadoff role and played fairly well. Since becoming the everyday leadoff man on July 10, Pagan has nine triples, 10 doubles and nine stolen bases.
"Power doesn't always have to be in terms of home runs," said Manuel, who has seen outfielders play closer in than usual against his team for much of the past four months. "Power can be in terms of triples, doubles and the sense that the opposition doesn't play you so tight. They play you fair."
The Mets' philosophical decision should inform much of their personnel choices, such as whether to bring Delgado back in 2010, hand the first-base job to the incumbent Daniel Murphy or search for a free agent. Pagan may also be considered for a starting spot in left field, another position traditionally reserved for more of a power hitter.
"Instant offense is something completely different," said Manuel, acknowledging the presence a legitimate power threat has in a lineup. "If you have a guy on first base, he's in scoring position if you have speed. You can have some guys on first base, and it's going to take a couple of hits to get those guys in. If you have speed, you can score that guy with one hit."
The Mets face a number of significant decisions this offseason, but the one determining what kind of team they plan on being at Citi Field may be the most important one.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.