Opening Day Lineup Makes No Sense

When the Mets take the field later today, they do so with probably the worst possible lineup that could’ve been assembled. For those that haven’t seen it yet, it’s:

  1. Jose Reyes 3B
  2. Asdrubal Cabrera SS
  3. Yoenis Cespedes LF
  4. Curtis Granderson CF
  5. Neil Walker 2B
  6. Jay Bruce RF
  7. Lucas Duda 1B
  8. Rene Rivera C
  9. Noah Syndergaard P

There are many things to focus on here, but it would probably be belaboring the point. Reyes has a .321 OBP over the last three years. Michael Conforto should be the everyday right fielder. Basically, you can pick a part of this lineup and have room to really disagree with it.

Instead of focusing on those issues, it is probably more important to focus on the decision to bat Bruce over Duda because it is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with this lineup.

Due to a myriad of factors in the lineup, Terry Collins had little choice but to bat his two left-handed sluggers back-t0-back in the lineup.  Normally, you would like to split them up for many reasons, but the one most often cited is you don’t want to give the opposition the opportunity to bring their LOOGY into the game to pitch to consecutive lefties.  Effectively speaking, putting consecutive lefties in the lineup makes the opposing managers decision making that much easier.

At first glance at this lineup, it was one of the things I thought about, but then after careful consideration, I realized batting Bruce and Duda back-to-back in the lineup could be a stroke of genius.  If handled properly, you are baiting the opposing manager into bringing in a LOOGY, which in turn, would permit the Mets to unleash their weapon – Wilmer Flores.

Last season, Flores wasn’t friendly to left-handed pitching hitting .340/.383/.710 against them.  Basically speaking, Flores transforms to Babe Ruth when a left-handed pitcher on the mound.  More than anyone not named Cespedes, this is the player on the team you want at-bat with a left-handed pitcher on the mound.  By putting the lefties back-to-back in the lineup, you create a situation where you get to pick your spot to put Flores up at the optimal time.  When that manager goes to the LOOGY, the Mets can then go to Flores.  It’s actually quite brilliant.

Except it isn’t.

This would really only work if Duda hit in front of Bruce.  Remember this is a National League team, and as such, the Mets have some constraint using bench pieces.  You need to hold back a bat or two to pinch hit when the pitcher’s spot comes up.  If you hit Flores for Bruce, this means you are then going to have to bring another player into the game to play right field.  This means in one at-bat you have burned two players.

When you extrapolate further, it makes less sense.  Between the two lefties, Bruce is the better hitter against left-handed pitching.  For his career, Bruce is a .226/.292/.419 hitter against left-handed pitching to Duda’s .224/.295/.364 batting line.  Assuming you’re not going to have back-to-back pinch hitters, you want to keep Bruce in against the LOOGY over Duda.  Keep in mind, this is really the only situation in which you should prefer Bruce over Duda as a hitter.

In 2014 and 2015, Duda was the Mets everyday first baseman, and over that time frame, he hit .249/.350/.483 while averaging 28 homers and 82 RBI with a 133 OPS+.  Now, to be fair, Duda did struggle last season with the back injury hitting just .229/.302/.412 with 7 homers and 23 RBI in 47 games.  However, Duda did look better this Spring, and in reality, if you think Duda is going to be that type of hitter again, he should be on the bench.  With the Mets tendering Duda a contract and not trying to move Conforto to first, it appears they believe he will return to form.

From 2014 – 2016, Bruce has hit .231/.295/.440 while averaging 26 homers and 84 RBI with a 98 OPS+.  Keep in mind, Bruce did this while hitting at the band box that is the Great American Ballpark instead of Citi Field.  Looking at that, wouldn’t it be fair to say Duda is the better hitter than Bruce, and therefore, should bat higher in the lineup?

And that is where we come to the problem with the lineup.  At the core, the lineup shows Collins believes Bruce is a better hitter than Duda, which is just wrong.  It is this lack of critical thinking that is reflected in each and every part of this Mets lineup from the lead off hitter straight down to the seventh spot in the lineup.  It’s a problem.

Hopefully, Bruce goes out there and has an incredible season besting what Duda’s averages has been.  Hopefully, Bruce makes Collins look like a genius.  Hopefully, the only changes needed for this lineup is Travis d’Arnaud catching the rest of the staff, and David Wright triumphantly returning to the lineup.

There’s a lot to hope for there, but it is Opening Day where we all get to hope that everything will break right, and the Mets will win the World Series.  With the Mets pitching, there is a legitimate reason to hope.