COMMENTARY | The New York Mets have seen their hot start to the season get erased as they've struggled in May. Their inability to score runs has been one of the main culprits during this month-long cold streak, and Ruben Tejada is one of the main offenders. In 12 games played and 46 at-bats, Tejada is hitting .174/.224/.217 in May. During this slump, he's seen his season batting average drop all the way to .222. More importantly, his on-base percentage has taken a nosedive, currently standing at .295.
Following a year in which he hit .289/.333/.361 as the starting shortstop and primary leadoff hitter for the Mets, he hasn't been able to get into any kind of groove in 2013. Manager Terry Collins has tried using Tejada at the top of the order to bust him out of his slump, but it hasn't worked. He's also moved him to multiple spots the lineup to try and spark his shortstop, but he's continued to have no luck.
Most of his troubles have been happening this month, and Collins recently told his shortstop to stop swinging with an uppercut. Fly balls would do nothing for him since he's only slugged two long balls in more than 1,100 career at-bats. While Tejada's swing has taken on more of an uppercut recently, his fly ball rate (33%) isn't much different than what it was during the 2012 season (30.3%).
If his uppercut swing isn't leading to more harmless fly balls, then what else is going on? In 2012, Tejada posted an impressive 30% line drive rate with a .339 BABIP. However, he's seen both of those numbers drop significantly to 20% and .261, respectively. On the flip side, his ground ball rate has skyrocketed to 47% in 2013, which is up from 39.7% last season.
I attribute his alarmingly high ground ball rate to dealing with more change ups this season. The frequency in which he's seen that pitch has increased almost three percent from last season (7.7% to 10.4%). That difference is by far the greatest out of any of the other pitches he's seen in 2013. Change ups thrown at him are typically down and out of the zone, which would lead to more ground ball outs.
However, one could argue he's laying off balls out of the zone more often this season, as his O-Swing% is 25%, compared to 31.3% in 2012. So, if he's swinging at fewer pitches that aren't being called strikes, how can we say it's the change up out of the zone he's chasing too much? Even though he's not chasing those bad balls as often as last season, he's making more contact in 2013 (80.3% compared to 73.4% in '12).
Everything eventually ties back to the balls he's been swinging at outside of the strike zone. Despite swinging at less overall, he's making more contact, and the pitches he's connecting with are likely change ups. With an increase in change ups seen, he's continually been out in front of the pitch, leading to more ground balls than we usually see from Tejada.
The young shortstop has bought into the organizational philosophy of forcing pitchers to work deeper into counts. His walk rate has increased from 5.4% to 8.8%, but he needs to be a little more aggressive. That will allow him to get some better pitches to hit earlier in the count, which hopefully would increase his line drive rate. If that happens, his BABIP will climb back up to his 2012 level, and Collins would probably feel more comfortable leaving his shortstop in the leadoff spot, instead of moving him around.
Matt Musico's Mets opinion has been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Rising Apple. He also provides his analysis and opinion on the rest of Major League Baseball at his personal blog, On The Way Home.
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