COMMENTARY | Sandy Alderson is known for a lot things, but his signature on every team he's been in control of is their ability to take pitches. After the 2012 All-Star break, the New York Mets abandoned the organizational philosophy of taking pitches, and the lack of discipline showed. The Amazins erased their surprising 46-40 first half record with a horrendous 28-48 mark following the mid-summer classic.
During spring training in Port St. Lucie, Terry Collins was apparently getting yelled at five times a day from upper level management about the team's lack of discipline, reports Mike Puma of the NY Post. Following a year in which they saw an average of 146.82 pitches per game, they've increased it to 156.91 before getting swept in a doubleheader against the Colorado Rockies on April 16. I've been impressed with a number of players and their approach at the plate, but the biggest difference from 2012 to 2013 is that of Jordany Valdespin.
Puma notes that Valdespin has experienced the greatest jump with regard to pitches per at-bat. The utility player saw an average of 3.84 pitches per at-bat in 2012, and has increased that to 4.59 through nine games played. While I'm pleased in this vast improvement in Valdespin's plate discipline, I'm not very surprised because I saw it coming. His performance last season was impressive, but the part of his game that needed the most improvement was to be more patient at the plate.
He put up good power numbers in 206 plate appearances (eight home runs, 26 RBIs), and was tied for third on the squad with 10 stolen bases, but his .286 on-base percentage made me cringe. There were plenty of times we saw him swing at pitches in the dirt, or swing at pitches early in the count that he shouldn't have been swinging at, which ruined that specific at-bat. Valdespin ended up playing in the Dominican this past winter with Licey to work on his patience, and the results there acted as foreshadowing for how he's performing now.
In 128 at-bats with Licey, Valdespin drew a total of 23 walks, which was a big reason to him posting an impressive .380 on-base percentage. Compare that to the 10 walks he drew during the 2012 regular season, and we're looking at two different ballplayers.
He continued making progress with his approach at the plate in spring training, winning a spot on the roster thanks to his .313/.361/.522 line to go with four home runs and nine RBIs. Since he's not a natural outfielder, the organization felt uncomfortable handing him a starting job, but Terry Collins has been giving Valdespin praise since he reported to camp. He does a lot of things for this club that the Mets could use: home run power at the top of the order, adds some excitement with his style of play, and can use his legs to creative havoc on the base paths, while preventing it in the field.
With his .333/.400/.407 start to 2013, there has been chatter as to whether or not he should lead off for the Mets regularly instead of Collin Cowgill. It was said during camp that the most productive players would win the outfield roster spots. This philosophy looks to be continuing into the season, as the most productive players have been getting more playing time, and it should be that way. With an outfield that doesn't have any proven major league players, Collins needs to continue mixing and matching to yield the best results possible on a daily basis.
As long as Valdespin continues to produce at the rate he's been since he played winter ball, he should be in the lineup every day, whether it's somewhere in the outfield or giving Daniel Murphy a breather at second base. He's not the best defensive outfielder there is, but his speed has been able to erase some of his mistakes out there. As he continues to get more playing time because of his production, he must stay true to the approach that gave him that opportunity. If he sticks with it, he will prove to be a valuable player for the New York Mets.
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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