On May 26 the New York Mets fired hitting coach Dave Hudgens, replacing him with Lamar Johnson. Through the first two months of the season the Mets are ranked in the bottom third of Major League Baseball in just about every key batting statistic, including on-base percentage and batting average, and they have a National League worst .352 slugging percentage. Johnson, who has been coaching in the Mets’ system for the past decade, has not served as a MLB hitting coach since 2004. Johnson says that he can turn the offense around, but that does not seem likely.
With all of the Mets issues at the plate, they are still 8th in the NL in runs scored. That mere mediocrity actually covers up that New York’s hitting is even worse than they have shown this year. They are one of, if not the worst, power hitting teams in all of baseball. They are also working with a lot of players who do not yet have a track record of success in the majors. Even excluding pitchers at the plate, for which the Mets set a record of ineptitude earlier this year, the team is near the bottom of baseball in batting average and slugging percentage.
The Mets are actually drawing walks at a fairly decent rate, but that lack of actual bat-to-ball hitting will limit how successful they can be in terms of scoring runs. Johnson can only do so much teaching at the current juncture. For one, the Mets are right in the thick of the season. This is not early March, when a player can take a suggestion and put it to practice in simulated games for as long as he needs to perfect it. Attempting to overhaul swings mid-year is more likely to turn out disastrous than helpful.
One thing Johnson can do is try to work on the approach players use. That represents the simplest way to make in-season, or even in-game, adjustments. However, this issues loops back around to the original problem with the team this year. That is, they do not have a talented lineup. It would be all well and good to tell Eric Young Jr. that he should try to hit the ball on the ground more. The man, however, simply does not have the bat control to mold him into good hitter. If he did, with that speed, he would be an all-star.
Johnson may very well be a great coach, but there is little he can do at this point. The team is hitting about as poorly as expected. The Mets are merely looking for distractions and scape goats for their miserable play over the last month. If ownership and management were serious about improving and competing this year, they would have made a legitimate on-field move, like signing Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales (who is still available).
As David Wright, Curtis Granderson and, hopefully, Travis d’Arnaud begin to come around, the team can increase its stock of reliable bats. Even if that were to happen, Johnson would be working a miracle by simply keeping the Mets on their current scoring pace. At 30 years old, Chris Young is not going to suddenly learn to get on base, Bobby Abreu is not getting any younger, and Young and Ruben Tejada are among the worst hitters in all of MLB.
Lamar Johnson has his work cut out for him. Perhaps he can make just enough of a difference to earn himself another year on the job, where he can have a full spring to try and work his magic. As it stands, the Mets are going nowhere offensively with their current lineup.
Commentary by Brian Moore
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering New York Baseball