No doubt about Vogelbach's turnaround at plate

Mets designated hitter reaches base three times, swats two-run homer in loss to Braves

August 23rd, 2023

ATLANTA -- Those seeking scapegoats for the Mets’ 2023 season have often found  an easy target. Vogelbach leads active qualified players on the team in strikeout rate and, entering Tuesday’s play, sported a WAR total right around zero -- the definition of replacement level.

Penciled in as the Mets’ Opening Day designated hitter against right-handed pitchers, Vogelbach retained that role despite his struggles, at times blocking younger teammates from playing time.

Lately, though, Vogelbach has represented everything unexpectedly good that has happened for the Mets. His two-run homer Tuesday evening was not only the lone bright spot in a 3-2 loss to the Braves at Truist Park, but part of a longer productive stretch spanning more than six weeks.

“That’s why you never doubt yourself,” said Vogelbach, who reached base three times in four plate appearances to extend his hitting streak to five games. “You’ve got to keep going. I’m really proud of the way we’ve been playing baseball.”

Vogelbach’s latest home run was an opposite-field shot that nearly scraped the wall in left-center, prompting manager Buck Showalter to offer surprise that the ball cleared Truist Park’s hitter-friendly fence.

Showalter also noted that Vogelbach was “getting back to who he is” -- specifically, a patient slugger who clubbed 30 home runs and was an All-Star for the Mariners as recently as 2019.

Vogelbach just seemed anything but that type of player from April through June. Consider his tale of two seasons:

First 61 games: .206/.321/.338, 5 HRs
Last 28 games: .269/.367/.513, 6 HRs

Early this season, Vogelbach insisted he was hitting the ball as hard as ever without results to show for it. While that was true to an extent, he has since tweaked his game to produce better real-world results, including more than a 115-point increase in his expected slugging percentage and more than a 2-mph increase in his average exit velocity.

Vogelbach is also lofting the ball in the air more often, allowing his best-struck hits to become doubles and homers.

“I believe in myself that I can hit up here,” Vogelbach said. “Through ups and downs, you never lose that doubt.”

Whether any of this affects his future is unclear. Vogelbach made $1.5 million this season on a contract option that the Mets guaranteed in the offseason -- an easy decision for the front office at the time.

Vogelbach will be eligible for a final year of arbitration this time around, meaning the Mets will almost certainly have to give him a raise to keep him in Queens -- a reasonable thing to consider even if Vogelbach serves as nothing more than a left-handed bench bat, but perhaps not the direction the team will ultimately go.

Non-tendering Vogelbach would mean cutting ties symbolically as much as physically, given the extent to which he has absorbed criticism from his home fans.

But Vogelbach still has five-plus weeks to continue shedding that reputation. Especially now, with Mark Vientos on the injured list, Vogelbach has been playing most games as the DH and making the most of that chance, producing at one of the better clips of his entire career.

Now is the time for him to state his longer-term case.

“My job is to come here every day, be the best teammate I can be and produce,” Vogelbach said. “I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But if you want to have a future, you have to produce.

“Wherever it may be, whatever may happen, I believe in my abilities. I know that wherever I’m placed, I’m going to help that team win.”