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Mudville: June 16, 2024 2:42 am PDT

The buck stops at home plate here at Baseball or Bust.

Better yet, $341 million bucks stop at home plate.

In baseball, it’s often someone else’s fault. When your $341 million player isn’t hitting,  someone takes the fall. Francisco Lindor was batting .163 in his first 23 games for the Mets with as many strikeouts as hits, 14, so hitting coach Chili Davis and assistant hitting coach Tom Slater were fired.

GMs love to fire hitting coaches. While Lindor was terrible, Pete Alonso was doing well under the Davis/Slater combination with a .282 average, five home runs and 16 RBI and was hitting the ball hard to all fields but someone had to pay the price for Lindor’s failings.

What this does, of course, is paint a nice big bullseye on Lindor’s back. There is no one else to blame now so he must start producing. From this point forward, the honeymoon is over for Lindor. Will he get back to the All-Star player he once was with the Indians and how quickly will that happen?

Lindor gave the typical answer about Davis’ firing, saying, “it breaks my heart that he is not here with us.’’

But what’s really going on is that the GM Zack Scott wanted the Mets to have more of a launch angle approach and wants more individual analytical game plans set up for the Mets hitters.

“Well, at least now we officially know and for longtime fans who love baseball being baseball, you’re out of luck. Learn to deal with it and let the kids play.”

Scott was part of the brain trust that fired Davis in Boston, so essentially Chili was a dead coach walking this year with the Mets. Another red flag rose for me when the owner Steve Cohen started having individual dinner meetings with his players. Believe me, those kind of meetings are never good for a coaching staff and a manager. Luis Rojas better start getting the Mets on a winning streak. He was inherited as well by Scott and all these assistant GMs who rise up the ranks always have their perfect manager candidate in mind when they hit the GM jackpot.

Mets players like Rojas so that helps, but a win streak will help Rojas much more, basically scholarship time is over for the Mets’ young manager.  Don’t forget the Mets were 26-34 in 2020. With the firing of Davis/Slater, Hugh Quattlebaum, who went to Amherst, always a bonus these days, and Kevin Howard were hired as hitting coaches. Howard came from Cleveland this past offseason where Lindor last resided. Interesting.

The Mets were 29th in scoring at 3.23 runs per game and the perplexing lack of support for ace of aces Jacob deGrom certainly contributed to the change in coaches. The Mets were fifth in on-base percentage at .325 but 27th in slugging at .364 and dead last in home runs with 18.

It can’t be the players, right?

To Alonso’s credit, he questioned the move, saying, “It doesn’t make sense right now.’’

It’s all about making Lindor more comfortable. It’s always about making the big money player more comfortable. The financial numbers change, but the meaning is always the same. If the Big Dog is happy, the hitting coach is rock solid.

Francisco Lindor: The Mets' 341 million dollar man. (Photo: Alejandra Villa Loarca/ Newsday)

I warned you that Lindor’s hitting could be an issue because scouts had told me that his swing has gotten much longer after his home run success, beginning a few years ago.

Scouts know. Even though no one wants to listen to them anymore.

Lindor did have a good spring, but none of that carried over from the spring to April. I asked one scout who has seen a lot of Lindor this season, “What’s going on with his swing?”

He answer was telling. “He switched the approach that he had all spring when he was playing for dollars,’’ the scout said of Lindor locking down the huge contract.

Follow the money.

“He’s swinging out of his ass on every pitch now and is not making adjustments,’’ the scout said. “When you go 0-for-21 and you are making $35 million a year, I don’t know about that.’’

The good news for the Mets is that Lindor has time to get it right, but he must get back to being the focused hitter he once was, not the hitter who is swinging at curve balls and fastballs the same way with essentially no discipline. The new hitting coaches may make him feel more comfortable, you know come up with that individual analytical-based plan for each hitter.

Two new hitting coaches means Lindor is down two excuses.

The Mets are hitting .206 with runners in scoring position, too, so that is the first order of business  to fix.

Ousted Mets hitting coach Chili Davis (AP Photo)

KILL THE AUTOMATED UMP: Progress has arrived, and it was not pretty in Tampa against Dunedin Tuesday night at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the opening of the Florida State League which is now called Low A Southeast, even though all the teams are in Florida.

Maybe that is how the MLB Elites view Florida – as the Southeast. C-ya Florida State League, we have a better name for you now.

The game lasted nearly four hours, so the automated strike zone didn’t exactly speed things up and there was no bottom of the ninth in Tampa’s 11-7 win. There were 21 walks and 21 Ks in the game and nine different pitchers – with no pitcher lasting more than 3 1/3 innings – so they got off to a roaring start in the Low-A Southeast Automated Umps League.

The one-knee down framing exercise that used to be known as catching was pretty atrocious too. Said one scout at the game, “I could identify all the catchers in a lineup today because that’s how many times I saw them running back to the backstop to get the baseball.’’

As for the automated strike zone, “It was horrible,’’ the scout said. “It must have still missed 20 pitches at least. They better start announcing that the home plate umpire is being told through an automated system, ball and strike, so please stay off the umpires. The players don’t know what to do because there is a delay on the call. Welcome to 2021.’’

Meanwhile, over in AAA East League, Gwinnett beat Charlotte 10-9 Opening Night. There were 30 Ks in that game and 442 total pitches. That game lasted a mere 4:16. Good times. It will all get better there when the Automated Umps arrive.

Pittsburgh Pirates starter Mitch Keller. (AP Photo)

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING: Commercials tell the truth, sometimes, especially the Fernando Tatis commercial for MLB The Show. To a background of personal highlights, Tatis says, “Apparently, I’ve been breaking the unwritten rules of baseball. I’m sorry if things got too exciting and this isn’t the game that you remember but, here’s the thing, we are never going back.’’

Then big block letters flash on the screen. The Game Has Changed.

Well, at least now we officially know and for longtime fans who love baseball being baseball, you’re out of luck. Learn to deal with it and let the kids play.

MEANWHILE, WHO KNEW? One of the most interesting games of the week was the Pirates 2-1 win over the Padres. Mitch Keller, Pirates starter, did what a lot of pitchers should be doing and it gives me a bit of hope, not much, but a bit. Keller cut back on his velocity to gain better command and wouldn’t you know it, he pitched much better this time out. Amazing what happens when pitchers command the fastball and actually, you know, pitch as opposed to throw max effort, something 1976 Cy Young winner Randy Jones broke down to me in The Story two Sundays ago. Take a little bit off and command the baseball. That’s how you command the hitter.

Pirates manager Derek Shelton, who thankfully speaks plainly, said of Keller: “We have to command the fastball first with him for everything else to be effective. Because when he commands the fastball the curve ball comes out of the same slot enabling it to play better.’’

In an earlier meeting against the Padres this season, Keller could not get out of the fourth inning and allowed nine hits and seven runs. This time he pitched two outs into the sixth, allowing zero runs and only two hits.

There was more real baseball wisdom from Shelton, when he mentioned the team’s aggressive base running made the victory possible. “We have to be more aggressive on the base paths,’’ he said simply, emphasizing the importance of what used to be a given in baseball before the unwritten rules were changed.

Who knew? Command the fastball, spot the curve ball from the pitching mound and be aggressive on the base paths. What a concept. It’s almost baseball.

San Francisco's Buster Posey is showing signs of being back to being the same leader Giants fans have come to expect. (Photo: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

A GIANTS STEP: With the Giants in first place in the NL West it’s interesting to note that Mike Tauchman arrived and made an immediate impact, like I thought he would, hitting a three-run home run. They have an interesting mix in San Francisco, former stars on the downside of their careers who still know how to play the game and know how to win, mixed in with the other players. Buster Posey (6), Brandon Belt (7), Brandon Crawford (5) and Evan Longoria (4) have combined for 22 home runs. It’s a great start and they all need to stay healthy. Baseball is always better when the Giants are in the hunt. The vibe at Oracle Park is one of the best in the game.

The starting pitching has fueled the good start, it usually does. The Giants are fourth overall in MLB with a 3.26 ERA. Their starters are No. 1 with a 2.53 ERA. Will all the veteran players stay healthy as the year goes on? With the Dodgers suddenly slumping at the plate and Corey Seager struggling at shortstop, the consistent play of Crawford keeps the Giants balanced in the field.

Posey is off to an incredible start with a .382/.440/.735 slash line and 1.175 OPS. Belt said of Posey, “He looks like he did back in the day. He looks healthy. He looks like that leader we had for the past 10 years when we were winning World Series a few years back. It’s great to have him back to being that leader on the field.’’

“What the Giants have done well is that they’ve pitched their asses off,’’ noted one NL talent evaluator. “And all those veteran guys, with the exception of Longoria, have three rings. They know how to win.’’

A’S UP, JAYS DOWN: A team that will be dangerous when it learns how to win is the Blue Jays. The George Springer injury situation continues to set them back because he was to be the leader of that team, and the stabilizing veteran. For all their young talent the Blue Jays still have to figure some things out. One player who has figured it out is Vlad Guerrero Jr. “He’s the closest thing to Manny Ramirez in the game right now,’’ said a scout who watched the Blue Jays in Dunedin. “They have to fix their situation at third base, though.’’

Cavan Biggio is struggling at third, having made six errors, and is hitting only .185. Shortstop Bo Bichette has made seven errors so until the Blue Jays clean up their defense they will hover around .500. Bichette is really having trouble throwing the ball to first and has been saved from even more errors by deft scoops from Vlad Jr. The Blue Jays are on a tough west coast trip and not playing in Toronto again this year has to be a difficult situation with home games in Dunedin and then moving up to Buffalo. In essence, the Blue Jays have no home. A’s lefty Cole Irvin completely shut them down Tuesday as he went eight innings. The A’s are solid year, in part, after year because of the guiding hand of manager Bob Melvin, who always downplays his important role.

As for Irvin, Melvin noted: “He pitched great, nine strikeouts, one walk, three hits, eight innings. You don’t see that very often anymore. Eight innings, I either fell asleep or had a lot of confidence in him.’’ Irvin is 3-3 with a 3.09 ERA. He was purchased from the Phillies at the end of January. He doesn’t exactly light up the radar gun but knows how to pitch, mixing 89-mph away and then busting right-handed hitters inside at 93. He hides the ball well and that is a big part of his success. And how about this: He worked so quickly the game was only 2:18. Baseball could use more of that kind of well-pitched game and certainly the Phillies have to be wondering how he got away and got better. Irvin changed his mindset and uses that as fuel on the mound. More pitchers could use this approach.

“I pitch with that mindset of knowing there’s someone out there that doesn’t think I should be in a big league uniform,” Irvin said. “It’s still grinding me and making me work harder every day. I want to get my first complete game and have multiple in my career. As I progress, maybe the goals change. I’m still pitching with that mentality and I don’t want to lose that.”

Good for him. More pitchers, more players should have that mindset. It’s not just a robot process. The emotion of wanting to win and showing that someone was wrong in their evaluation of you, is priceless.

STAT OF THE DAY: In 2000 when batters had two strikes on them they went on to hit .193 with 31,354 K’s. In 2019, the last full season, batters with two strikes went on to hit .173 with 42,810 K’s, a 36.5 percent increase in K’s.

The art of putting the ball in play with two strikes is long gone.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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