It Starts at the Top for Mets and Yankees

nysportsday wire

If the Mets and Yankees are going to have success offensively this season, they are going to need to maximize the way they lineup their respective batting orders.

Last season, the Mets were dead last in Major League Baseball in first inning runs. The Yankees were ranked 26th and both struggled scoring runs last season. Part of that was a result of both teams failing to take advantage of the new stolen base rules that debuted last season.

The new rule allowed pitchers to make two pick off throws before a third attempt would have to result in a pick off, or else a balk would be called, allowing the runner to advance to second. It became a little harder to hold runners on as evidenced by an 80% success rate on steal attempts. Having bigger bases also contributed to that success rate. 

The Mets were fourth (4.43 RPG) from the bottom of the National League in runs per game with only the Marlins, Pirates and Giants below them. The Yankees were fourth from the bottom (4.15 RPG) of the American League, with only the Guardians, Tigers and A’s averaging less.

In 2023, the 71-91 Washington Nationals were ranked 6th in baseball in first inning runs. The Nationals had 27 more stolen bases than the Yankees and outscored them overall, 700 runs to 673. The Mets scored 17 more runs than that Nationals last season and had 9 less steals.

Both the Mets and Yankees value on base percentage for the top of their respective orders. The thinking is with more traffic on base, the result would be more run production, but if there is not at least a threat of the stolen base, pitchers will not be prone to making mistakes to the succeeding hitters.

The old baseball adage is that you need to get a pitcher early and not allow them to get into a rhythm. This becomes even more important when facing the top echelon pitchers in MLB.

Brandon Nimmo gets on base at a nice clip but does not steal many bases (3 last season, 26 total in his eight year career). Without the threat of a steal, pitchers can settle in and concentrate on the hitters. With the threat of a steal, pitchers will get distracted and will make mistakes.

In 2023, the Atlanta Braves led all baseball in first inning runs. Granted, the great season that NL MVP Ronald Acuna Jr (40/70 player, 149 runs scored) had contributed greatly to that ranking. Not every team has a player like Acuna Jr at the top of their lineup, but having the threat of a steal can be very beneficial to any offense.

The Mets look like they’re going to lineup with Nimmo, Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso as the first three hitters. At this point, Jeff McNeil is in the clean up spot and that’s also where a tweak needs to take place.

McNeil is not the ideal #4 hitter because he will not provide protection for Alonso and hitting fourth may lure him into swinging for the long ball instead of playing to his strength which is hitting line drives and getting base hits.

I would have Francisco Alvarez hitting behind Alonso. I know some teams like to have a lineup that alternates right hand hitters and left hand hitters, but the Mets young catcher could provide that much needed protection for Alonso.

McNeil would better serve the Mets hitting third with Alonso at four and Alvarez in the five hole with either Brett Baty or Starling Marte at six, but I understand if they want to bat Alonso third.

The Yankees would be better served if Anthony Volpe was at the top of the order, rather than D.J. LeMahieu. I felt this way before LeMahieu was injured.

The Yankees value LeMahieu’s on base percentage in the leadoff spot, but they’d be spinning their wheels if they don’t have a stolen base threat at the top of the lineup and Volpe fits that bill.

The Yankees added much needed left hand bats to balance out their lineup with the additions of Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo, not to mention Austin Wells who looks like a keeper, but speed is also an ingredient that can help balance out a lineup.

I know all about Volpe’s .209 on base percentage last season, but that was a result of his uppercut swing which created holes for opposing pitchers to exploit. Volpe has apparently leveled off his swing and it’s showing up in his at bats this spring. I know it’s only spring training, but the Yankee lineup will be much more efficient with Volpe at the top of the lineup.

You can’t play for the later innings before you play the early innings.

I’ve stressed this many times over the years, the first inning is the only inning that a manager (or front office?) has full control of who the hitters will be. The top three hitters in the order are guaranteed to come up in the first inning while the rest of the game is pure chance as to who will bat in each inning.

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