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08 August, 2011

Jose Reyes and the batting title

  by Gus Ramsey

   Everyone knows the Mets have never had a no-hitter. But did you know they have also never had a player win the batting title? In 1969, Cleon Jones gave it a good run, hitting .340. Pete Rose won the title that year with an average of .348 and Roberto Clemente hit .345. No shame for Cleon finishing third to those two guys.
   In 1998 the Mets got close again. This time John Olerud set the new Mets standard, hitting .354, but Larry Walker won the title with a .363 average. In '90 Dave Magadan finished third, seven points behind Willie McGee.

  So now here stands, or actually sits, Jose Reyes with a ten point lead on Ryan Braun in the batting race. The Nats Mike Morse and Reds Joey Votto are also within striking distance.

 Reyes went on the DL today with a hamstring pull. Same leg, but different location on the hamstring, that shelved him for 3 weeks around the All-Star break. Will this visit to the DL be good or bad for Jose's chances? Well, he is currently in his first extended slump of the season,  just 7 for his last 33. His once hefty .353 average has dropped down to .336. Ryan Braun has maintained his .326 average over that time. Braun is a career .328 hitter in August and .299 in September/October. For his part, Reyes is a .303 and .250 career hitter in those months.  So it would appear Jose is going to have to come back and earn the crown.
   One thing that Jose will not be able to count on is the infield hit. At the beginning of the season, Jose was dropping bunts for hits almost every other day. Since he returned from his first hamstring injury, I can't remember him trying it once. I would think if he comes back in September he won't be willing to go all out and risk a serious hamstring injury headed into his free agency. So the speed part of his game, that gives him an advantage over Braun, Morse and Votto, may be negligible.
  Baseball rules stipulate a hitter needs 502 plate appearances to qualify for the batting crown. Reyes currently has 462, so he can't post his .336 and sit there as the clubhouse leader. There is one rule that not every fan knows about, but it may not be of any help to Jose. If a player does not have enough PA's to qualify for the title, he is given a 0-fer the number of plate appearances needed to get to 502. Tony Gwynn won his seventh batting crown this way in 1996 when he was four plate appearances short.
    Now, in order for this to come in to play for Reyes, he would likely have to be out until late  September. He is averaging 4.7 plate appearances a game, so he would only need to play in eight to ten games to reach to 502. I would expect that between the three players in his rear view mirror, one of them will finish around .330.  If Jose is still out in the second week of September, there will no doubt be a lot of "What's the point in bringing him back? No need to risk another injury when the season is basically over," talk. But an 0-40 drops Reyes all the way down to .307. It could be an interesting internal debate with Jose and his management team. Clearly, the wise thing would be to sit if he wasn't feeling 100%, but a small part of him would at least be thinking about coming back and trying to get some ABs. Let's say Reyes comes back and goes 8-30 with 5 walks. That gives him a .331 average but leaves him five plate appearances short of 502. He takes an 0-5 and drops to .328.
  Clearly there is a long way to go and a myriad of ways this could all play out, but every Mets fan is already thinking the same thing, "Wouldn't it be just like the Mets to have a player lose a batting title this way?" 

POST SCRIPT (9/29/2011)
   Jose Reyes won the batting title. He did it in controversial style by dropping a bunt hit in the first inning of the final day of the season and then taking himself out of the game. Ryan Braun needed to go 3-4 that night to win the crown. He went 0-4. Reyes took a lot of heat for his actions. I understand why Reyes did what he did, I just wish he didn't think that way. I want a guy who says, "Screw it. I'm going to go out there and get 3 hits today and bury the other guy. He'll need to go 8-9 to beat me." Bob Ojeda summed it up best on the Mets post-game show saying, "It just didn't feel right." I wish Reyes had wanted to put on a show for those who came out to say what may have been goodbye. I wish Terry Collins had said "Jose, I understand where you are coming from, but that's just not a good idea." I appreciate Collins wanting to keep the equity he had built with Reyes throughout the year. It may prove to be valuable when Reyes decides where he'll play next year, but I'd like to think there was a way it could have been handled to serve both sides. So yes, the Mets have their batting champion and in typical Mets fashion, they couldn't even do that the right way. 

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