For the Mets, it's a 'Long' way to the top, or is it?
College Contributor Network
It has become a yearly routine where people bring down the New York Mets. And while some may argue this has been a routine that existed long before it "became" a yearly routine, that does not lead to any shortage of "New York Mess" headlines or "LOL Mets" memes.
But wait a second. The Mets were a second-place team in 2014. Sure, it was a tie for second, and at below .500, with perhaps the best pitcher in the division missing most of the season, but it was still a finish way higher than most expected.
On Thursday, the franchise announced it would be bringing in former New York Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long to take over the reigns of a team whose primary downfall in 2014 was its inability to get a runner out of the batter's box. The Mets finished with a total batting average of .239, with just the Reds and lowly Padres finishing below them. Terry Collins' unit also finished towards the league cellar in slugging percentage and OPS, mean Dave Hudgens' midseason removal as the team's hitting coach was warranted, as was Lamar Johnson's at season's end.
People know there is promise in the future for the franchise regarding its pitching rotation. Matt Harvey aims to make his return to the majors after missing 2014, but is coming off a 2013 which saw him dominate with a 2.27 ERA, .931 WHIP and just under 200 strikeouts in a shortened season for him.
Jacob deGrom took the National League by storm with his Rookie of the Year-caliber performance, and many baseball fans are well aware of the imminent presence of one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, Noah Syndergaard.
So what if the Mets can fix that offense? What if the offense is the final piece of the puzzle in returning the team to the playoffs for the first time since it wondered what could have been in 2006?
Long is the right place to start. Under his tutelage from 2007 through 2014, the Yankees were second in all of baseball in runs (a number that would have likely been higher had his lineup not been ravaged by injuries and underperformance the last two seasons). He entered Major League Baseball more than 25 years ago as a member of the Royals organization, and has worked with some of the best, alongside some of the most mediocre, offenses in baseball.
In a statement Thursday, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson praised Long's abilities.
"Kevin's experience, success and wealth of knowledge make him the perfect fit as our hitting instructor," he said. "This is a very positive step for the Mets."
But it was perhaps Long's words that speak at a higher level of understanding for Mets fans.
"I'm excited to get the opportunity to work with a team that I think is on the rise," Long said. "I had a great meeting with Sandy and Terry yesterday, and I can't wait to get started and help in any way I can."
While some could see this as a generic crowd-pleasing statement, he's not wrong about it: this is a team on the rise.
Many will recall, this is not the first time the Mets have opted to follow suit with Yankees hitting coaches. It happened in the last decade even, as Rick Down held the job in Flushing from 2005 through 2007. While Yankees hitting coach in 2002, Down oversaw the development of Yankee offensive powerhouses such as Rondell White, Drew Henson and Ron Coomer (in all seriousness, the Yankees belted 223 home runs that year, improving by seven in his final season the next year).
And the transition worked, to a degree. Down's presence helped lead a multi-talented Mets offense in 2006 to what should have realistically been a World Series appearance. Down, though not with the team for a long time, carried over success cross-town.
In 2015, the Mets will once more be bringing in the fences at cavernous Citi Field. The 125-home run performance by the team this past season once more put it towards the bottom of the league, and change proved necessary in order to generate some pop.
This is the second time in the ballpark's short history that dimensional changes have been made, and they may prove necessary. While the new figures aren't known as of yet, parts of right center at Citi stood at 398 feet, whereas at the more hitter friendly Shea Stadium, it bordered just above 375.
And though no team should "cater" towards its hitters, per se, the Mets may need to make these adjustments to generate the spark from its should-be stars. There is the case of Curtis Granderson, who locked a big contract with the team prior to the 2014 season, but underperformed with a .227 average and just 20 home runs and 66 RBI's.
But Long's presence will be of assistance to a man like Granderson, who belted career highs of 41 and 43 home runs in 2011 and 2012 respectively due to Long's suggestion of shortening his stride at the plate. The new coach's work was also noted in the Bronx with former Met Chris Young, who credited the now former Yankee with helping him get his swing back at season's end.
Ultimately though, there's only so much a hitting coach can do. Long had what should have been a star-studded lineup in 2014 with the Yankees, but major underperformance by highly paid players led to his dismissal. The Mets must be willing to, reasonably, break the bank to bring in formidable hitting. And though they could ultimately end up being suckers for a weak free agency pool, if the team plans on maximizing its pitching, it will need to do so with formidable hitting.
He may not be the be-all, end-all fix in Queens. But the team can now see it's not as "Long" of a way to the top as it may have once appeared.
Jon Alba is a senior at Quinnipiac University. There he serves as general manager of the school's television station, Q30 Television. Follow him on Twitter: @JonAlbaSFC