With Mets batters being hit by pitches at a high rate this season, the team is running out of patience and looking for answers. At least one Mets player thinks there is a culprit: the baseballs Major League Baseball is using this season.
The reason for the Mets’ frustration is clear: First baseman Pete Alonso has been hit in the head twice — the second incident, which happened Tuesday, resulted in a broken helmet — and shortstop Francisco Lindor has also been hit in the head. Overall, the Mets have been plunked 19 times in 20 games, which is eight more than any other team had entering Wednesday’s action.
While Alonso was able to start for the Mets on Wednesday, and none of the incidents have led to serious injury, emotions boiled over Tuesday in the team’s 3-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mets’ Dominic Smith was hit by reliever Nick Wittgren in the sixth inning; Alonso took a changeup recorded at 83.1 miles per hour from Kodi Whitley to his helmet in the eighth, leading to both benches clearing; and Starling Marte was hit by Aaron Brooks with a 92.7 m.p.h. sinker in the ninth. Marte’s hit by pitch came with the bases loaded, driving in a run.
Wednesday’s game, a 10-5 win for the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, had a continuation of the drama between the teams. Edmundo Sosa of the Cardinals was hit by a Carlos Carrasco slider in the bottom of the fourth inning and J.D. Davis of the Mets had to leave the game after being hit in the ankle by a Génesis Cabrera fastball in the top of the eighth. The Mets said X-rays of Davis’s foot were negative but that he would require further evaluation.
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There were also two close calls on inside pitches. Brandon Nimmo of the Mets narrowly ducked out of the way of an errant sinker in the second inning — recovering to hit a two-run double two pitches later — and Nolan Arenado of the Cardinals reacted angrily to an inside pitch in the bottom of the eighth, leading to the benches clearing for a second straight game. Arenado was ejected by home plate umpire Jeremie Rehak.
Asked if Arenado’s reaction was out of line, Mets Manager Buck Showalter implied his team had handled things the right way.
“I’ll let them handle their players,” he said. “I know our player got hit in the head and went to first base.”
Chris Bassitt, an All-Star pitcher who had started Tuesday’s game for the Mets (and hit one batter), addressed the spurt of hit batsmen after his start, saying he blamed the baseballs, which are “all different.”
“It’s extremely annoying to see your teammates constantly get hit, and if you get hit by certain pitches it is what it is, but to get hit in the head the amount that we’re getting hit is unbelievable,” Bassitt, who was hit by a line drive in the face last season, told reporters. “I had some close calls tonight, and I’ve been hit in the face, and I don’t want to do that to anybody ever, but M.L.B. has a very big problem with the baseballs.”
“They’re bad,” he added. “Everyone in the league knows it. Every pitcher knows it. They’re bad.”
The league office issued a statement about the issue on Wednesday.
“M.L.B. is always concerned about keeping hitters safe from dangerous pitches,” the statement said. “We closely analyze trends in the game and have active conversations with our players and coaches to address concerns.”
Part of the issue could be a struggle for some pitchers to grip the baseball in the wake of M.L.B.’s crackdown on the use of foreign substances. Last season, some pitchers, including Gerrit Cole of the Yankees, were accused of using products like Spider Tack to improve grip and increase spin rate, leading M.L.B. to conduct on-field inspections in an attempt to eliminate the substances from the game.
“You want to talk about Spider Tack and all this other stuff, yeah, get that out of the game,” Mets catcher James McCann told reporters after Tuesday’s game. “I agree with that. But give them an on-deck circle just like the hitters have. Let them have a grip on the baseball.”
While the Mets’ average of 0.95 hit batsmen per game in their first 20 games was extraordinarily high, the M.L.B. rate has not gone up. Entering Wednesday, teams were having a player hit 0.42 times a game; last year’s overall mark was 0.43. Hit by pitches have fluctuated over the years, but they have steadily been over 0.3 since 1995 and reached a near record high of 0.46 in 2020 (in 1898 and 1899, the average was 0.47).
The idea that the baseballs could be different, however, is not without merit. An investigation for Business Insider by Bradford William Davis and the physicist Meredith Wills identified two distinctly different baseballs that were used in games in 2021. Further changes to the ball this season could help explain an offensive drought in which home runs are being hit at a lower rate than in any full season since 2014.
Regardless, Showalter believes something is amiss in how often his players are hit.
“It’s one thing to get hit in the toe or knee, but we’re getting a lot of balls in the head and the neck, and it’s just not good,” Showalter told reporters on Tuesday. “Not good. You care about your players, and without getting into right and wrong and what have you, you reach a point where it’s about safety of your players.”
“We’re lucky,” Showalter said of Alonso. “You’re talking about a pitch that broke his helmet. It’s not good. I’m not happy.”