Kolten Wong May Be Better Option Than DJ LeMahieu
With Robinson Cano‘s PED suspension, there’s at least the suspicion the Mets could look to replace him through free agency. Given Steve Cohen’s deep pockets, the popular name initially surfaced is DJ LeMahieu.
It’s certainly understandable why the Mets would have interest in LeMahieu. First and foremost, he has versatility allowing the Mets to move him and Jeff McNeil around the diamond.
He’s been a top five MVP finalist and a Silver Slugger both years with the Yankees, and he’s more than shown the ability to handle New York. The latter point is something which should never be discounted.
Still, LeMahieu isn’t perfect, and there are some indications he may not be a good fit with the Mets.
First and foremost, he is a Yankee Stadium monster. Over the past two years, he has hit .366/.421/.642 with a 183 wRC+. Away from Yankee Stadium, LeMahieu is a .309/.354/.439 with a 112 wRC+. Another important note is he has a .378 BABIP at Yankee Stadium and a .334 BABIP at home. That BABIP point is noteworthy because prior to his becoming a Yankee he was a .307 BABIP player. This means what he has done the past two years is outside of what his normal skillset is.
Put another way, if you take LeMahieu out of Yankee Stadium, we can very likely expect his offensive numbers to regress significantly. Now, if he is a 112 wRC+ player, that is very valuable. Realistically speaking, it should not be out of the realm of possibility he around that, but it should be noted LeMahieu was an 90 wRC+ hitter before signing with the Yankees.
Another important note with LeMahieu is his defense is slipping. When he was with the Colorado Rockies, he was a two time Gold Glover. This was more than reputation as his defensive metrics were quite good as well. In his final two years in Colorado, he had a 9 and 13 OAA as well as a 12 and 14 DRS. Simply put, there may not have been a better defender at second than him.
However, over the last two years, his defense has slipped. After a slightly above average 2 OAA and 3 DRS, he dropped to a -1 OAA and 0 DRS. That isn’t surprising as that occurred in LeMahieu’s age 30 and 31 seasons. That’s an important consideration as he is now at an age when his defense typically declines year-to-year.
What makes that all the more alarming is Michael Kay’s report on The Michael Kay Show that LeMahieu is looking at a five year deal. If you are the Mets, you already have a former Yankees second baseman signed to a burdensome contract. There is absolutely no reason to willingly become tethered to another one.
If the Mets want to bring in another second baseman a much more preferable option would be Kolten Wong.
Wong is coming off back-to-back Gold Glove winning seasons at second. Looking at his defense, he has had a 16, 19, and 6 DRS in each of the past three seasons and an 11, 8, and 2 OAA. It should be noted here last season’s numbers were not necessarily indicative of a drop off as much as it was because of the shortened 2020 season (yes, you can argue the same with LeMahieu).
At the plate, Wong is a batter who does not strike out often, and he has really improved his eye at the plate. Both his strikeout and walk rates have been above-average the past two seasons. That is a large reason why Wong has improved to being a 103 wRC+ over the past two years which is an improvement over his 96 career mark.
No, Wong is not as exciting as LeMahieu, and his ceiling may not be the same. However, Wong doesn’t present the same troubles LeMahieu present. He has not shown signs of decline in the field. His offensive stats have not been buttressed by unsustainably high BABIPs or by playing in an extreme hitter’s park, and he’s not going to command that monster contract which promises to be an albatross at some point.
Another very important consideration is there is not a wide chasm in terms of overall production from these two players. Over the past two years, LeMahieu has accumulated an impressive 8.7 WAR. For his part, Wong has accumulated a very overlooked 6.3 WAR. Yes, LeMahieu has been better, but not to the point where he should get significantly more in terms of years and AAV.
Overall, if the Mets don’t want to entrust second base to McNeil (which they should), it would seem the much better action would be to sign Wong to a shorter term and cheaper deal. With Wong, there is not the same regression fears, and it will open up money to invest in other areas of need.