Kevin Long Did a Good Job in 2016
The Mets ranked dead last in the majors with a .225 team batting average with runners in scoring position. As a result of this and other issues, there was much hand-wringing over the Mets offense, and by natural extension of that, hitting coach Kevin Long. However, lost in all of the hand-wringing and finger-pointing was the fact that many of the Mets batters actually had a good season. In fact, much of this correlated with these batters working with Kevin Long. Here are some examples:
Entering the 2016 season, Cabrera was a career .267/.329/.412 hitter who averaged 28 doubles, 11 homers, and 57 RBI. Last year, the year that enticed the Mets to move quickly on the shortstop in free agency, Cabrera hit .265/.315/.430 with 28 doubles, 15 homers, and 58 RBI. Cabrera was much better than that this season.
Overall, Cabrera, while dealing with a knee injury all season long, hit .280/.336/.474 with 30 doubles, 23 homers, and 62 RBI. Judging on that alone, it was Cabrera’s best year at the plate (and his second best season as per OPS+). However, those numbers don’t tell the full story. After Cabrera came off the disabled list in August, he finished the season hitting .345/.406/.635 with 11 doubles, 10 homers, and 29 RBI. Effectively speaking, a healthier Cabrera helped power the Mets to the postseason.
Entering the 2016 season, Walker was a career .272/.338/.431 hitter who averaged 25 doubles, 13 homers, and 60 RBI. Despite this being a year in which Walker dealt with numb feet and missed the month of September due to back surgery, Walker hit .282/.347/.476 with nine doubles, 23 homers, and 55 RBI. Overall, Walker tied his career high in homers and had his highest slugging percentage and OPS. He also had his second highest batting average and OBP. It was his third highest OPS+. If Walker was healthy or played in September who knows how much better those numbers would’ve been.
On their own those numbers were great, but there was a significant improvement to Walker’s game. Despite Walker being billed as a switch-hitter, he really wasn’t. Entering the 2016 season, Walker hit .260/.306/.338 with six homers and 75 RBI over seven major league seasons. As a right-handed batter in 2016, Walker hit .330/.391/.610 with eight homers and 16 RBI. He was a completely different hitter from the right side of the plate who more than doubled his career home run total from that side of the plate. With that Walker went from a switch-hitter in name only to a real threat from both sides of the plate.
Entering the 2015 season, Cespedes was a career .263/.316/.464 hitter who averaged 27 doubles, 24 homers, and 87 RBI. He was a batter that struck some fear when he cane to the plate, but he was hardly considered one of the top power hitters in the game.
When Cespedes game to the Mets at the trade deadline last year that all changed. In 57 games, Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 with 14 doubles, 17 homers, and 44 RBI. The numbers were striking as they were unexpected. This year, Cespedes proved those numbers weren’t a mirage. In 132 games with the Mets, Cespedes hit .280/.354/.530 with 25 doubles, 31 homers, and 86 RBI. It’s all the more impressive when you consider Cespedes did this while dealing with a quad issue for about half the season. During Cespedes tenure with the Mets he has hit for a higher average, OBP, SLG, and homers. He is now one of the most feared power hitters in the game.
Sometimes becoming an effective player is just focusing on the things you do well as a player. As we have seen in Flores’ young career, the two things he does well is hit for power and hit left-handed pitching. Before going down for the season with a wrist injury, Flores was at his absolute best in both departments.
In 107 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, Flores hit .340/.383/.710 with four doubles, 11 homers, and 28 RBI. For the season, Flores hit .267/.319/.469 with 14 doubles, 16 homers, and 49 RBI. It was a career best batting average, OBP, and slugging for Flores in a season he tied his career high in homers. It should also be noted that Flores was getting progressively better as 2016 progressed. With that, Flores showed he was not just an improved hitter in 2016, but he was a player who is poised to have an even better 2017.
Before being traded to the Mets yet again, Johnson was hitting .215/.273/.289 for the Braves. When Johnson returned to the Mets, he asked Long to do for him what Long did for Daniel Murphy. The result was Johnson hitting .268/.328/.459 with eight doubles, nine homers, and 24 RBI in 82 games. With the 34 year old Johnson didn’t just turn his season around, he might’ve also lengthened his career.
In response to the positive impact Long had on some key contributors to the 2016 season, many Mets fans will point to some of the perceived failures of Long this season. Just remember the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
With respect to Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto, their numbers will tell you both players took a major step back in 2016. However, Conforto had a wrist injury, and d’Arnaud had a shoulder injury. Those injuries most likely had a big impact on their performances especially when you consider Conforto hit .365/.442/.676 and was the major league leader in hard hit ball percentage.
Another player many fans will point to is Curtis Granderson, who took a step back from his outstanding 2015 season. It should be noted, Granderson hit .302/.414/.615 in the final month of the season, and he became the oldest Mets outfielder to hit 30+ home runs in a season.
As for the rest of the team, many suffered their injuries, and they had their ups and their downs as the season progressed. However, the Mets were able to withstand the injuries and the ups and downs of the season because the Mets got some terrific and unexpected offensive seasons from some of their players. Kevin Long goes a long way in explaining how that happened.
Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online