Donnie Stevenson, the Mets newest coaching hire, may not actually exist, but since the Mets “added” him, the bats have come to life.
Following Saturday night’s Mets victory over the Phillies, Pete Alonso raised some eyebrows when he mentioned that the team had just brought in a new “mental/approach coach” named Donnie. With a straight face, Alonso went on to credit Donnie for helping the team prepare for the game. When pressed for more information about the coach, Alonso stumbled a bit before recalling that his last name is Stevenson. In a subsequent interview, Michael Conforto chuckled his way through his own Donnie-related responses, although he also gave Stevenson some credit for the team’s offensive output. Following Sunday’s wild win, a game in which the Mets scored 8 runs, highlighted by a 6-run 8th inning, Alonso told ESPN reporter Steve Levy, “I’d like to thank Diesel Donnie, our new approach coach. He’s been doing a great job today. We worked on ripping heaters in the cage, and we applied that in the game today.” Two days in and the new guy has a nickname. He must be doing alright.
In all likelihood, Donnie Stevenson is an inside joke. It’s possible he’s a current team member’s alter ego like former major leaguer Nyjer Morgan’s Tony Plush, or an inanimate object like the cardboard cutout of Cleveland Indians owner Rachel Phelps in the Major League movie, or even an entirely conjured personality like the 1985 Sports Illustrated April Fool’s Day prank Sidd Finch. As fake as Stevenson may be, his impact looks quite real so far.
Before we delve into the relative sleepiness of the Mets bats in 2021 so far, it’s worth noting that these severe batting slumps are not limited to this team. According to ESPN.com, “Major league batters are hitting just .232 overall through April, down from .252 two years ago and under the record low of .237 set over the infamous 1968 season that resulted in a lower pitcher’s mound.” And while almost 5% of all hits have been home runs this season, it’s still worth noting that home runs have decreased from 1.39 per team per game in 2019 (a record) to 1.28 last season, and then to 1.14 this year. In addition, just three years ago, batters totaled more strikeouts than hits for the first time in major league history. This year, batters have already struck out over 1,100 more times than they’ve gotten hits. So while the Mets shortcomings at the plate have been frustrating, it’s a league-wide experience.
Of course, this does not absolve the Mets of anything. Interestingly, it might seem that the Mets have the worst batting in baseball, but they don’t. In fact, their team batting average (.241) is in the top 1/3 of the majors and their on-base percentage (.322) is 7th-best overall. As we all know though, it’s not just about if the team gets hits, it’s about when they get their hits. The Mets have only scored 71 runs in their first 22 games. Their .207 batting average with runners in scoring position is the worst in the National League, while their slugging percentage and OPS with runners in scoring position (.270 and .582) are the worst in baseball, by a wide margin.
It would be easy to point fingers and identify the culprits; pretty much the entire lineup has been responsible. Their two best hitters so far, JD Davis and Brandon Nimmo, were both injured during Saturday Night’s win, although it’s likely that neither will miss significant time. Actually, their best hitter so far is Jacob deGrom, and while I’d normally use the fact that the team’s best hitter is their best pitcher to add to my criticism, there’s something about the throwback to little league days that makes that note kind of fun. Aside from those guys, however, only Alonso comes close to meeting any expectations, albeit tempered ones.
So now it’s May. Even if it’s going to be a pitching-favored season throughout the league, the Mets obviously realize that they’re going to have to hit better than they have so far. Perhaps, they decided that inventing a coach to inspire them to score some actual runs was the way to go. Whether it was a way to take pressure off and approach their at-bats differently, or just a way to laugh and let off some steam, so far so good. If they can continue this trend and bust out of their team-wide season long slump, then the joy around them will be quite genuine.