Mets’ lineup change shows confidence in Starling Marte and may help Francisco Lindor

ATLANTA — Last week, a few opposing scouts noticed how the Detroit Tigers pitched to Francisco Lindor. They found it interesting that Detroit’s right-handed pitchers kept throwing breaking balls and a lot of spin to the New York Mets’ switch-hitting star shortstop. The Tigers’ hurlers kept getting him out, too.

One way for Lindor to see more fastballs, and, perhaps by extension, get going offensively? Have Starling Marte bat in front of him. If Marte reaches base, teams need to respect his ability to run. So, in theory, Lindor may see more fastballs and pitches inside the zone.

That’s one of a few potential benefits from Mets manager Carlos Mendoza’s recent lineup switch. The change also reveals some encouraging signs.

After using a lineup featuring Brandon Nimmo, Lindor and Pete Alonso at the top in that order throughout spring training and the first 10 games, Mendoza the past two games switched things up. He has gone with Nimmo, Marte, Lindor, Alonso.

The top of the order the past couple of days reflected the lineup’s look in 2022. That was the last time the Mets thrived. In the first half of that season, they consistently stacked together quality at-bats.

“Just trying to find that consistency in the lineup,” Mendoza said. “This is the one through four that they used a lot in 2022. Just trying to get guys going in certain spots and see how it goes.”

Marte was a key part of 2022 whose production went missing because of a few ailments in 2023.

The lineup change is the latest example that the Mets like what they’re seeing from Marte.

For New York, that’s a significant development.

In Marte, 35, Mets coaches see someone who is looking healthier than a year ago when he was coming off double groin surgery. Marte is using his lower half with more efficiency and explosiveness. His swings look good. He’s seeing the ball well. He’s stealing bases. He’s helping.

“I feel good,” Marte said through interpreter Alan Suriel. “Everyone knows I wasn’t right last year, that my legs weren’t right and I wasn’t reacting the same way. But this offseason I put in all the work that I possibly could to be ready for the season. And right now, everything feels fast. Everything feels in control. I hope it continues to be that way so I can help the team as much as I possibly can.”

After taking two out of three from the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park, the Mets (5-7) resembled the kind of competitive team that many expected them to be in 2024. Marte was among the key reasons why.

Long before the Mets’ 16-4 win over the Braves on Thursday got out of hand, Marte got things going. After drawing a walk in the first inning, he scored from second base on an aggressive send from third base coach Mike Sarbaugh. On Brett Baty’s single, Marte used his speed to beat left fielder Adam Duvall’s throw home for the game’s first run.

Starling Marte reacts after scoring in the first inning on a Brett Baty single. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Would he have been able to do that last year? He was able to steal bases last year, but some other movements seemed to be harder on him.

“Last year, for me, it wasn’t necessarily running in a straight line; it was always just rotating and turning,” Marte said. “So I can’t really answer that. But it would’ve been more difficult. But this year, I feel faster, I feel 100 percent better. It almost feels like there’s a guarantee that I am going to score if I get a good jump on it. If they make a good throw, it can be a close play, but more often than not, I feel like I can get there, that I can be safe.”

After going 2-for-5 with a walk on Thursday, Marte through the Mets’ first dozen games owns a .271/.340/.354 slash line.

On the other hand, Lindor has continued to slump. He went 1-for-6 on Thursday and is hitting .098.

Perhaps Marte’s presence ahead of him may help.

“Whatever it takes,” Lindor said. “Getting a lot more fastballs is definitely going to help, for sure. Hopefully I get going here soon and contribute to what the team is doing.”

Mendoza listed some other potential positives from the switch.

“Try to create something, traffic for him, open up holes, things like that,” Mendoza said. “Marte will be aggressive on the bases. And they’re used to it. Lindor is used to having Marte in front of him, Pete behind him. Again, trying to find that consistency here in the early going.”

It’s worth trying. Though the Mets’ lineup has received contributions from Marte, Baty and Francisco Alvarez — a few questions heading into the season — as it awaits the arrival of J.D. Martinez, New York clearly needs Lindor to start hitting consistently.

On Thursday, the Mets happened to score a bunch. The Braves’ shoddy defense in the second inning played a part in that as did two hits apiece from Nimmo, Alonso and Jeff McNeil, plus DJ Stewart’s two-run home run. Then ex-Met infielder Luis Guillorme took the mound in the ninth inning and allowed four runs courtesy of Tyrone Taylor’s grand slam. The lineup change was not exactly responsible for the scoring outburst.

Generally speaking, from an analytical standpoint, the impact of a batting order over a season can be negligible. The gains can be marginal. But it’s still worth pursuing.

In addition to the confidence in Marte, the potential help to Lindor and the overall success of the lineup, the switch reflects Mendzoa’s willingness to make changes. Quickly into the season, Mendoza recognized a need to move Alvarez and Baty higher up in the order. Now, he’s seizing an opportunity to do something else.

(Top photo of Francisco Lindor: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

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