There is no diminishing what Mets’ Pete Alonso is on pace to do

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Hey kids, old man baseball here to talk about runs batted in.

You remember RBIs, right? These days, you might think it stands for Retro Baseball Institution and should be removed from the standard boxscore like that last telephone booth was from Manhattan a few weeks back.

We certainly have divined and defined stats that provide better insight into a hitter than RBIs, which for more than 100 years, along with batting average (remember that one too?) determined the best hitters in the game.

But even here in 2022, an RBI does assure that a run has been scored, and since no game has ever been won without the victorious team scoring more runs, there has to be some importance, right? Mets manager Buck Showalter thinks there is. So does Mets hitting coach Eric Chavez. And so does Pete Alonso, who said, “It puts a run up on the board, and when we play the game, it’s a run scoring competition, not a hitting competition.”

Alonso is not just some bystander in this matter. He led the National League in RBIs, entering the game Wednesday night against the Brewers, with 59. That put him on pace for 152, which among other things, would smash the Met record of 124 held by Mike Piazza (1999) and David Wright (2008). That was a pace for the most in the NL since Sammy Sosa drove in 160 in 2001 (fill in your own punchlines here). It was a pace to tie him for the 36th most runs manufactured in any one season with Albert Belle (1998), Lou Gehrig (1936) and Rogers Hornsby (1922). This kind of company cannot be meaningless, right?

Pete Alonso
Jason Szenes

“That’s pretty cool,” Alonso said when told of where he was projecting.

If historic is cool, then it is way cool. And meaningful since he had driven in 18.4 percent of the runs for the team averaging the second most per game in the majors. One reason RBIs have been downplayed is recognition that so much of it is about opportunity, and with Brandon Nimmo, Starling Marte and Francisco Lindor offering speed and on-base skills in front of the cleanup hitter, Alonso, is going to have lots of RBI chances.

But part of capitalizing on opportunity is availability, and if you ask Showalter about Alonso’s assets, the first item the manager will cite is his first baseman’s toughness. He was involved in a serious accident in spring in which his pickup truck was struck and flipped three times. He has been hit by pitch seven times in a variety of vulnerable spots. Yet, he started for the 63rd time in 64 games.

And then there is what you do with opportunity. Alonso had the majors’ third most plate appearances (77) with runners in scoring position. He also had a .368/.481/.877 slashline in those situations. That translates to a 1.358 OPS and among the 138 players with at least 50 plate appearances in such spots that trailed only the potential NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt (1.455) and AL MVP Jose Ramirez (1.401). His 44 RBIs in that situation trailed only the 45 of Ramirez, whose 62 RBIs had him on pace for 176, which would be the fourth most ever. Alonso’s runners in scoring position OPS pace also would smash the Mets’ record of 1.187 by Tim Teufel in 1987.

Mets
Pete Alonso celebrates and RBI single.
AP

Chavez and Showalter believe there is a skill in excelling in driving in runs. Showalter said part of it is that pitchers are aware of who is good at it, and “it causes an anxiety” that leads to badly executed pitches in clutch moments. Chavez spoke of reading what is needed and what the pitcher might do in big spots.

In the first inning Tuesday night, for example, Alonso came up with second and third and one out. First base was open. So, Alonso was not expecting to be challenged. He went up looking for a breaking ball. He laid off the first one in the dirt, then lashed an Adrian Houser curve into center for an RBI single. It moved Chavez to turn to assistant hitting coach Jeremy Barnes and praise what a good hitter Alonso is, noting how hard it is to lay off a pitch you are looking for even if it is not in the strike zone to wait for one you can handle.

“The best thing Pete has told me is he doesn’t want to be a power hitter,” Chavez said.

Mets
Pete Alonso gets a handshake from Mets manager Buck Showalter.
Jason Szenes

Of course, Alonso is that. He has won the last two Home Run Derbies, which speaks not just to his might, but that he embraces pressure spots, rather than becoming flustered by them. He currently leads the NL with 18 homers. But the hit off Houser was Alonso’s 10th single with runners in scoring position this year. Six have been from center to the opposite field. That is as many, for example, as major league batting average leader Luis Arraez, who is renowned for going line to line.

“I’ve always prioritized being a good hitter first,” Alonso said. “For me, I consider myself a line drive hitter with strength, and anytime I hit a line drive, it’s got a really good chance to go over the wall. But I want to put together good at bats by studying the pitchers, knowing the situation, having a plan and staying within myself and just hit the ball hard, whether it goes over the wall or not. I want to help my team. That’s priority No. 1.”

He’s No. 1 in the NL in RBI — on pace to clobber the record for a team that has been around for six decades. That means something, even if RBIs might mean less than ever in the modern view.

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