The defense of Juan Lagares and Marlon Byrd has been key to the Mets' improvement.The Mets season didn't necessarily turn when Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit his dramatic walk-off homer to beat the Chicago Cubs on June 16.
That move improved the team significantly both in the field and at the plate.
That outfield will be tested this series on the offensive end by pitchers like Arizona Diamondbacks ace Patrick Corbin and on the defensive end by a spacious ballpark with nooks and crannies in the deepest parts of the park.
Mets Outfield in 2013
MLB Rank in Parentheses
As the chart on the right notes, the Mets outfield has gone from living up to the expectation that it would be among the worst in franchise history to being respectably average.
The three players who have gotten the most at-bats -- Marlon Byrd, Juan Lagares and Young, are hitting a combined .286 with eight homers and 59 RBI since June 17. The overall outfield batting average is 60 points better and their OPS has jumped 64 points.
The Mets outfield has hit a little bit of a skid recently (a .212/.280/.318 slashline in seven games this month), but that has not impacted their play on the other side of the ball.
By the eye test, you can tell that the Mets outfield defense has played well recently, but we can apply the numbers to show that too.
Mets Outfield Defense
One of the tools at our disposal allows us to estimated batted-ball distance, and though there is some margin for error (due to the way data is collected), the before/after differences for the Mets are stark. Again, refer to the chart on the right for specifics.
An increase in out rate of four percentage points may not sound like much, but think of it of what it is in terms of on-base percentage -- about a 40 point difference.
And they've also succeeded in making the more difficult play.
Instead of the stumbles and missteps that took place in the season's first two-and-a-half months, you're seeing plays like the diving catch Eric Young Jr. made to rob Todd Helton of a bases-loaded hit on Tuesday night, the frequent sprinting catches by Lagares, and the terrific throws from Byrd (save for his one day last week battling the sun).
The Young catch was one of 20 "Good Fielding Plays" (think Web Gem nominees, as charted by a video-review crew from Baseball Info Solutions) Mets outfielders have made on catch attempts in the last 48 games.
That's the same number that they had in the first 64 games of the season. In those games they made more misplays/errors (also charted by video review) than catches. Since the start of the Atlanta series, the Mets have had more positive plays than negative ones.
The sum of this has been that a better outfield has made for a better and more watchable team. The Mets were 25-39 prior to changing their outfield look.
They are 27-21 since then.