We all love going home. We’re comforted by the familiar faces and the home-cooked meals. All of your old friends are still there; your bedroom is just as you left it. You’re happy; you’re comfortable.
But then there’s the darker side of coming home. Two minutes in and your mom is nagging you about your haircut, your dad is regaling you with stories about his new online friend, the Nigerian prince, and your douchebag brother who still lives at home at age thirty-five punches you in the shoulder and wrestles you to the ground. Yea, you begin to wonder why you bothered coming home at all.
This is the dichotomy facing the Mets. Despite their otherwise-impressive record at home, the Mets have performed markedly poorer at Shea Stadium than away from it.
Home Away Diff
ERA 4.03 3.65 9.4%
AVG .243 .284 16.8%
OBP .313 .351 12.1%
SLG .426 .467 9.6%
RS/G 4.47 6.00 34.2%
Based on current park factors, Shea is a 93 for runs and 94.6 for homeruns, where 100 is a neutral park and numbers lower than 100 represent parks that are favorable to pitchers. I suspect that the Mets’ collective struggles at home account for a lot of this slant, though it’s difficult to discern if the Mets are hitting more poorly at home because Shea is tougher to hit in this season or if Shea’s park factor is lower because the Mets have been underperforming at home. It’s the proverbial chicken and the egg.
Shea Stadium has had park factors of 99 in each of the past three seasons, so there’s definitely reason to believe that the Mets are just playing more poorly at home for some reason. There’s also the fact that their team ERA is almost a half-run worse at home than on the road. If Shea were simply depressing offense across the board you would expect to see some evidence in the team’s pitching performance. However, the Mets are scoring many fewer runs at home while allowing significantly more.
Let’s look at what the Mets’ individual hitters have done.
Jose Reyes .260/.312/.452 .273/.358/.427
Paul Lo Duca .295/.357/.400 .265/.294/.372
Carlos Beltran .217/.344/.491 .358/.446/.743
Carlos Delgado .216/.310/.456 .321/.392/.618
David Wright .313/.372/.547 .346/.426/.602
Xavier Nady .325/.398/.610 .214/.267/.369
Jose Valentin .228/.286/.421 .303/.329/.500
Cliff Floyd .244/.358/.478 .231/.301/.330
Unless Shea Stadium has some personal axe to grind with Puerto Ricans, it’s hard to imagine why Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Jose Valentin have performed dramatically poorer at home than on the road. All three players are batting less than .230 at home while each is batting over .300 on the road. Despite the low batting average, Beltran has respectable discipline and power numbers at home, while his road numbers are historically good. Likewise Delgado, who has hit the hell out of the ball away from Shea.
Even David Wright, who has hit splendidly at home, shows a substantial improvement on the road. It should be noted that certain players, most notably Xavier Nady, have hit much better at home. Paul Lo Duca and Cliff Floyd have both fared better at Shea as well.
Collectively, though, the Mets have been a far more dominant team offensively when the are away from home. Whatever effect the ballpark has on this disparity, it likely can’t account for a 34% difference in runs scored.
It’s conceivable that the Mets perform better on the road because there is more pressure to perform at home. It’s no secret that there are high expectations of this ballclub. The Wilpon’s have invested $100 million this year and many more millions in the coming years with the expectation that the Mets will field a competitive team. To this point, they have done so in spades.
Yet, there is a very discernable difference in the atmosphere of playing at home. The fans — and there have been a lot of them this season — hang on every pitch. The fans sense when tension is growing in the game and they let it out in collective sighs. On the road, when a pitcher falls behind a batter, he has only to contend with the matter at hand. At home, he has that matter compounded by the aggregate groans of 50,000 fans. It’s easy to sit here and say that these ballplayers are being paid to handle the pressure, but it’s rarely that simple.
Despite their struggles offensively, the Mets’ won-loss record at home (20-13) isn’t much lower than their won-loss record on the road (23-12). A lot of this is due in large part to the inordinate number of walk-off victories the Mets have orchestrated at Shea. That type of win definitely builds team character, but it is also an indication of the paper-thin margin of error that separates winning from losing. A few bad breaks (or good breaks that didn’t happen) and the Mets are more like 17-16 at home, if not worse.
Right now we’re only talking about thirty-some-odd games. Yet, as the season wears on and the Mets position themselves for a run at the pennant, it will become increasingly important for them to have their hitting shoes on at home, in front of the paying fans. The Carlos’s especially need to kick it up a notch or two. The end result — wins and losses — are all that really matter, at least on a superficial level. It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on some of these trends to see if they even out over the course of the season.