By: Scott RossPublished: April 28, 2022

Is It the Balls or Is it the Mets?

The New York Mets got plunked three more times on Tuesday night in a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. It brought their season total of HBPs to 18, putting them on pace for 153, which would shatter the single-season record of 105 set last season by the Cincinnati Reds.

Mets starter Chris Bassitt was pissed.

"It's extremely annoying to see your teammates constantly get hit, and if you get hit by certain pitches it is what it is, but to get hit in the head the amount that we're getting hit is unbelievable," Bassitt said after the game. "I had some close calls tonight, and I've been hit in the face [by a line drive] and I don't want to do that to anybody ever, but MLB has a very big problem with the baseballs. They're bad. Everyone in the league knows it. Every pitcher knows it. They're bad.”

Bassitt, who had a great night, giving up 2 hits and striking out 6 over 6 shutout innings, was sure to get his pound of flesh before hitting the showers, hitting Cardinals first baseman Brendan Donovan with a pitch in the bottom of the 5th.

It’s been a weird season to be sure, what with the lockout limiting spring training to just a few weeks, and we know that Major League Baseball has in the past tweaked the balls without saying anything, so it’s entirely possible that this year’s balls are unusually un-uniform, thus making it difficult for pitchers to get a consistent grip on the ball. Walk rates are up by the slightest margin, just .03 per game, batting averages are down a single point, while slugging is off by 24 points—maybe the pitchers are having the tiniest bit of trouble. But if the ball was really the driving force behind the regular indignities suffered by the Mets this season, we should be able to see something similar across the Majors, and that something isn’t there.

Going back to 2018, the first month of the season (including 2020, when the season didn’t start until July) has been the most perilous for batsmen. From 2018 through 2021, batters in the first month of the season were hit 1.19% of the time, compared to 1.10% of the time overall. This April, it’s 1.136%, so April HBP’s are actually down slightly, thought still a bit higher than the year-long average. What's happening, HBP-wise, is totally normal. Unless you're the Mets.

Rather than the ball being the problem, it would appear the problem is the Mets. It’s possible that opposing teams simply don’t like the Mets, or maybe they resent the fact that the Mets have compiled the best record in baseball (feels weird typing that). Perhaps opposing pitchers feel it’s open season on the Mets’ hitter because they think their pitchers won’t retaliate, as they’ve hit just 6 guys so far.

Just how much more often are the Mets’ getting hit? Their 18 HBPs is 7 more than the #2 Orioles, and 12 higher than the Major League average. Historically speaking, the 18 HBPs through the first 19 games ranks sixth all-time, with the 2018 Chicago Cubs ranking #1 with 21 (and the 2020 Cubbies coming in at #2 with 20). There is some upside, however, as the five teams that have been hit more times through their first 19 games compiled a record of 410-291, for a .585 winning percentage, which translates to 94.75 wins. And four of those five teams—including all four from the Divisional Era—made the playoffs, including the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals.

Maybe the Mets should just take their lumps and their base, and keep racking up the W’s--they're 9-1 in games in which they've been hit. Living well is the best revenge, after all.

Stats courtesy Baseball Reference

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