By Ernie Palladino
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The statistical analysts are all over the Mets these days. More accurately, they’re all over Citi Field.
The seamheads have noticed a trend. The Mets can’t seem to win for beans at home. Of course, they’re searching for answers for a home record of 200-227 since Citi Field opened in 2009. They want to know why the Mets’ home winning percentage over the last three full seasons stands at a 28th-ranked .424, when the rest of baseball goes an average of .509 in their home bases.
They want to know why the Mets are wallowing this year at 9-13 after posting three straight losing seasons in their relatively new park.
To the numbers crunchers, the answer is simple.
It’s the park, stupid.
Citi Field just isn’t conducive to playing winning ball, they say. The fences, lowered and moved in from their original height and distance, are still too far away from the ends of David Wright’s, Curtis Granderson’s and Daniel Murphy’s bats.
Listening to them, one would think they were playing at the old, old Yankee Stadium, where a fly ball could take a 460-foot trip to left center and still be caught against the wall. Come to think of it, those old Yanks never had any trouble knocking down the walls. Not all those homers that Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and all the other greats that graced that ancient and now-gone cathedral hit flew over the short porch in right.
So all of this begs a question. If the Mets can’t hit in their ballpark — a quirky yard that still, by no means, represents a gargantuan expanse of real estate — is it the stadium or the players?
The numbers people say it’s the ballpark that keeps all of Wright’s would-be homers inside the environs. But to simply blame it on the building is too simplistic. Perhaps there’s a problem with the personnel that fills the Mets’ lineup.
Perhaps Granderson, a player who hit half of his 41 and 43 homers in 2011 and ‘12 in the launch pad that is the new Yankee Stadium, just doesn’t have it anymore. He’s 13-for-83 (.157) with two homers at Citi Field this year. He’s hitting .265 with four homers away from home, but that’s still nothing to get excited about.
Consider, too, that Wright has yet to hit his first homer on the road this year. The newer parks do tend to be more hitter-friendly, so the fact that he’s hit two at home could be seen as a slight anomaly of sorts.
Not that the Mets are ready to get rid of either Wright or Granderson, but their struggles and that of the team in general do indicate an unwillingness to change their approach in Citi Field. That’s a big part of baseball, after all; playing to the home field. A smart team adapts its roster to it’s home surroundings since, well, you’re supposed to dominate in your own house.
Get a bad mix of players and it could be disastrous. When you have short porches, you fill your lineup with pull hitters. When you have large expanses like Citi Field, you bring in line-drive hitters and settle for the occasional homer while working out runs through extra-base hits and smart baserunning.
Instead of Wright watching his long fly balls die on the warning track, perhaps he should start thinking about hitting to spots. Perhaps Granderson should think more average than power when playing at home.
Citi’s predecessor, Shea Stadium, was clearly a pitcher’s park. Yet the Mets put together some pretty fine offensive teams there, teams that actually won World Series championships. The Mets of Sandy Alderson are obviously not the Mets of Frank Cashen.
Still, there’s no reason for this team to be floundering at home. An attitude adjustment, not shorter fences, is what this squad needs.
Whether they can make it in time to save this season is the question. They haven’t done it over the last three years.
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