Here's a GIF of Byrd's second homer, which came in the third inning:
Call it going by the numbers, call it playing a hunch. Whatever it was, it worked for Byrd, manager Terry Collins and the Mets, who trounced the Nationals, 10-1. According to the New York Post's Mike Puma, the righty-swinging Byrd was in the lineup against Dan Haren based upon his previous 8-for-16 career performance against the Nationals righty, as well as Haren's struggles against same-side hitters this year, with a .321 batting average allowed, compared to .258 against lefties. Those odds apparently bolstered Byrd's confidence. From Puma's article:
“I was feeling good in B.P. and I was joking around with [Recker],” Byrd said. “I said, ‘Hey, if I get some pitches tonight, get some strikes, I’m going to hit two home runs tonight.’ I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
But Recker said Byrd’s prediction wasn’t a joke.
”He was dead serious,” Recker said. “And he did it. That’s amazing to me. He called it. You don’t see that very often.”
Unreported are all the times that a player who's "feeling it" predicts a homer or two and doesn't deliver, but why spoil the rare story of productivity from a 2013 Mets outfielder? Manager Terry Collins' pasture players are hitting a combined .220/.296/.399 this year, for the league's second-lowest batting average, lowest on-base percentage and fourth-lowest slugging percentage from NL outfield units.
Lately, Collins has tried to get the most out of his roster by platooning lefty Rick Ankiel and righty Juan Lagares in centerfield and has occasionally used lefties Mike Baxter or Jordany Valdespin to supplant Byrd, whose current platoon splits don't have nearly as much daylight between them — 31 points of OPS — as his 2010-2012 numbers (122 points of OPS, based on .308/.345/.462 in 345 PA against lefties, .264/.318/.367 in 920 PA against righties). With four homers in a seven-day span, Byrd has raised his OPS 129 points and is now hitting a respectable, if lopsided, .255/.310/.489.
Numbers like Byrd's 8-for-16 against Haren qualify as the kind of small sample size about which far too much attention is usually paid, but that doesn't mean there isn't something to them given the particular strengths or weakness of the two players in the matchup, such as handedness, an ability to feast on a certain type of pitch or in a certain location. It's easier to take Collins' decision — which also included playing Lagares — more seriously given that Haren's decline in recent years has a whole lot to do with the way his bread-and-butter pitch, his cutter, plays against righties.
According to the data at BrooksBaseball.net (which recently underwent a particularly attractive facelift that makes the site even more usable), since the beginning of the 2012 season, 50.5 percent of Haren's pitches to righties have been cutters, and on those pitches, batters have hit .332 and slugged .485. Another 25.3 percent of those pitches have been sinkers, against which righties are hitting .346 with a .600 slugging percentage. The PITCHf/x data at MLB GameDay indicates that Byrd tattooed a splitter for his first homer in the second inning and a cutter for his second homer in the third inning.
It's tough to separate a player's intuition about when a matchup favors him from the type of confidence that even the most borderline major leaguer must inure himself with in order to survive. Thus we might take Byrd's tale with a grain of salt, not that we should prefer players to brazenly predict prior to games that they'll break out in such fashion. And while it's generally a good idea not to take those 10- or 20-PA head-to-head samples too seriously, it's worth considering the forces in play behind them, and the ability of managers to align those numbers with the additional statistical and scouting information with which they're armed. So it's at least worth tipping a cap to Collins for putting his player in a position with the best chance to succeed, and to Byrd for making his manager look like the second coming of Earl Weaver, for at least one night.