The saying around the Mets the last few years has been "As Jose Reyes goes, so goes the Mets." This is one of the few truisms that actually proves to be true. Take a look at the striking difference in Reyes in wins over losses during the last season and a half:
In wins - 1.013 OPS
In losses - .507
In wins - .892 OPS
In losses - .633
This huge differential is not true for the Mets' other big hitters. For example, David Wright's numbers were very consistent last year: 1.002 OPS in wins versus a .915 OPS in losses.
The reason observers have pounced on this without even quoting the numbers is that Reyes really is the engine that drives the Mets offense. Who else on the whole team has the energy, enthusiasm and spark to lead the team through a mid-season series in Florida? Nobody.
The rest of the team is made of "professional" ballplayers who show little or no emotion and just go out there and do their jobs. Reyes is not only the most talented player on the team, but he is the one guy that offers something that can't be measured by stats: a charisma that is catching.
So for the Mets to break out of the rut they are in, someone, somehow must "fix" Reyes. So what is wrong with him?
In 2006, he was arguably the best player in the league, hitting .300/19/81, and he continued that barrage the first half of '07 (.307/4/35). He was actually very consistently productive in that time period. But since then Reyes has dive bombed to .251/8/22 in the second half of last season, and only .272/4/20 so far this year.
So what changed? Was the change really related to Willie Randolph benching him for not running out a ground ball? That has been bandied about in the NY media repeatedly over the last year. But I think the change was related to something else that happened around mid-year and has been largely overlooked.
The Mets fired hitting coach Rick Down on July 7, 2007, and replaced him with the great role model of Rickey Henderson! Howard Johnson actually took over as hitting coach, with Rickey becoming the new first base coach, and HoJo has continued to act as hitting coach this season, even after the Mets' slide last season.
Look at Reyes' numbers last year by month -
May - .266
June - .330
July - .265
August - .272
September - .205
I think what happened to Reyes in July was simple: he just went into a slump, similar to what happened in May. But the difference was that in May, he had a professional hitting coach to help him work his way out of it. Remember, Down is the coach who helped Reyes improve his walk totals from 27 in 2005 to 47 in just the first half of 2007! Down has been coaching since 1977, so he has over 30 years experience. Compare that to HoJo's run of five years of minor league coaching, and you start to wonder what exactly the Mets were thinking making the move in the first place.
The solution to the Mets' problems does not lie with only firing Willie Randolph. The Mets need a new direction from the top, so firing Willie is probably a good start. But to help Reyes get back on track, and help the Mets start winning games again, the Mets need to hire a real, professional hitting coach. Only then will the last year be put behind them.