Who Will Be the 2016 Centerfielder?

There’s no nice way to put it. Juan Lagares did not have a good 2015. He took a step back offensively and defensively. He basically forced the Mets to go out and get Yoenis Cespedes and play him out of position

The Mets made it work in July and August. However, when you play with fire you eventually get burned, and the Mets got burned in the World Series. It showed the need to have an actual centerfielder in centerfield. On the flip side, Lagares started to play much better in the postseason, even if he wasn’t all the way back defensively. 

The Mets now have two options. They can go with Lagares or they can go out and sign someone. The argument for Lagares is:

  1. He was injured and may be better with an offseason to heal;
  2. Even in a down year, he was an above average defensive centerfielder; and
  3. He will have more time to work with Kevin Long to get better at the plate. 

The argument against Lagares was he regressed in every way possible. He had real platoon splits, and if you can’t hit righties, you can’t play everyday in the majors. Also, this is a championship contending team. You need to be ready to compete day one, especially when you’ve lost your two biggest trade chips on rental players. 

The cheapest option, and possibly the best, is to carry Kirk Nieuwenhuis as your 4th outfielder. After an abysmal 2015, he will be cheap. He’s also an every other year player:

  • 2012 – .252/.315/.376
  • 2013 – .189/.278/.337
  • 2014 – .259/.346/.482
  • 2015 – .195/.270/.375

Sometimes things don’t make sense.  That goes doubly for every other year players, but it seems to be a thing. If it continues, Nieuwenhuis is primed to be better in 2016, which would be good news. 

For all his faults, Nieuwenhuis is a useful player. He can play all three OF positions. He’s got some pop in his bat and some speed. Looking over his UZR, he grades out as average at all three positions (making him a much better CF than Cespedes). That’s important because very few big league teams carry a legitimate CF on the bench.

It’s important because if Lagares can’t hit righties again, the Mets need to figure something out quickly. We saw the platoon work in 2015, and it should in 2016:

  • Lagares vs. Lefties – .279/.325/.427
  • Nieuwenhuis vs. Righties – .245/.314/.423

The numbers aren’t tremendous, but keep in mind this comes with good to great defense. It also comes with a presumably improving Lagares and the good year Nieuwenhuis. Also, this is going to presumably come from the 7th or 8th spot in the lineup. 

If the Mets don’t like these numbers, they have a baseline for external options. Right now, here are the free agent centerfielders:

  1. Rajai Davis career .269/.316/.387 hitter with a 3.4 UZR last year
  2. Dexter Fowler career .267/.363/.418 hitter with a -1.7 UZR last year 
  3. Austin Jackson career .272/.333/.399 with a 7.5 UZR last year
  4. Justin Maxwell career .220/.303/.399 with a -1.6 UZR last year
  5. Colby Rasmus career .245/.313/.443 hitter with a 2.1 UZR last year
  6. Shane Robinson career .237/.302/.313 hitter with a 0.9 UZR last year
  7. Denard Span career .287/.352/.395 with a -4.9 UZR last year
  8. Drew Stubbs career .244/.313/.395 with a -0.2 UZR last year

Looking over the list, the only players that could be an improvement are Fowler, Jackson, or Span. I’ll address them in reverse order. 

Span is the best offensive player of the group and could leadoff. He is projected to receive a three year $36 million offer. It’s 50/50 if he’ll receive a qualifying offer. However, in a large outfield, it is not wise to go with a centerfielder with poor range.  He’s a definite no if he gets a qualifying offer. You do not want the Nationals getting your first round pick. 

Jackson is the best defensive player. He is projected to receive a three year $30 million contract, but he probably won’t receive a qualifying offer.  However, isn’t he essentially an older, more expensive Lagares?  I’m not sure this is the way to go. 

That leaves Fowler. The benefit of Fowler is he’s a switch hitting leadoff hitter. He’s in the middle of his prime. He just played well for a playoff team, even if he did not have a good postseason. He will receive a qualifying offer, and he’s projected to get a 4 year $56 million contract. 

There’s no doubt in my mind Fowler would improve this team. Realistically, the Mets should be able to get him and re-sign Daniel Murphy, who is projected to receive 4 year $48 million contract. To put it in perspective, Fowler and Murphy are worth a combined $26 million a year or just $4 million more than what Cespedes is slated to receive. If the Mets have money, this is the way to go. 

However, my Fowler/Murphy choice presumes they can sign them and give arbitration raises to everyone. If Fowler or Murphy prevents you from signing one pitcher, you go with Lagares. I’d be comfortable going that way. 

Ultimately, centerfield is one of the positions the Mets can improve easily in 2016. If the Mets can’t bring in Fowler, they’ll need it to come from Lagares. 

Albert Amora Very Good Move For Mets

With the Mets signing of Albert Almora, it is important to understand what the signing is and is not. The signing wasn’t to find the Mets everyday center fielder. Rather, this was purely a signing for depth and defensive replacement purposes.

Almora, 26, is a defensive replacement for all three outfield positions. Since 2017, he has a 6 DRS and a 11 OAA. Most of those stats were accumulated during an outstanding defensive 2018. Past that season, he has been a slightly above average defensive centerfielder. For the Mets perspective, that makes him a significant upgrade defensively.

Offensively, Almora really isn’t a good player. Since 2014, he has declined precipitously at the plate. After posting a 104 wRC+ that season, he dropped all the way down to a 36 in 2020. That 36 wasn’t even fully attributable to the shortened and disjointed season. In fact, when the ball was juiced in 2019, Almora only mustered a 64 wRC+.

However, that doesn’t mean Almora is completely over-matched at the plate. In his career, he has been able to handle left-handed pitching. In his career, he has just an 85 wRC+ against right-handed pitching as opposed to a 95 against left-handed pitching. Perhaps, he can be more than that. In fact, we know he once was.

On Baseball Savant, we see Almora has been able to hit both fastballs and breaking pitches fairly well at different points in his career. However, he has not been able to do both in the same season. In fact, in 2020, he did neither. Still, that doesn’t mean he can never do it. That is something to keep in mind for a player entering his prime.

In many ways, that makes Almora akin to what Juan Lagares once was for the Mets. He’s a defensive replacement who can be a viable platoon partner when he is hitting well. Of course, the fair question is what can Almora possibly offer if he’s not hitting because as we know, if he’s not hitting, he’s not really a good enough hitter to justify taking up a roster spot.

On that front, Almora has an option remaining. That means, if he’s bad, the Mets  can demote him to Triple-A Syracuse. Keeping that in mind, that makes him outfield depth this organization did not have over the course of the past two seasons. Mostly, because of that, this makes signing Almora a relatively risk free move.

If Almora recaptures something, he could emerge as an important part of this Mets team. If not, he’s a good depth piece. Over the last two years, we saw Brodie Van Wagenen trade valuable prospects to try to plug this role. This offseason, the Mets did this by signing him to a free agent deal. It was a good deal at that as well. That is why, in the end, this was a very good move for the Mets. They acquired depth and fulfilled a need without having to part with much.

Brandon Nimmo Is Not A Fourth Outfielder

Sometimes, a player gets tagged with a ridiculous label, and no matter how much they do to dispel it, it continues. Maybe it’s because Mike Francesa said it, or maybe it’s because people don’t appreciate him for some reason.

Whatever the case, Brandon Nimmo is not a fourth outfielder.

Calling him that is laughably absurd, and those doing it needs to stop. There is no evidence whatsoever which supports that position.

Nimmo broke out in 2018. In that season, Nimmo surpassed expectations hitting .263/.404/.483 with 28 doubles, eight triples, 17 homers, and 47 RBI. In that season and going forward, Nimmo has established himself as a good baseball player and terrific lead-off hitter.

Since 2018, Nimmo has posted a 140 wRC+. That’s the best mark of anyone on the Mets, and it’s the 12th best in the majors. Among outfielders, he’s ranked sixth.

When you look at WAR, he’s posted a 6.7 bWAR and a 7.3 fWAR. Yes, you’d probably expect that to be higher given his offense. However, there are a few reasons it’s lower.

First, Nimmo dealt with a neck injury in 2019 limiting him to 69 games. That had an impact on his production. However, it’s important to note he came back healthy and proved he could produce at his 2018 levels. He did just that in 2020.

The other reason Nimmo’s WAR takes a hit is because he’s playing out of position in center. As a corner outfielder, Nimmo has a 9 OAA and 4 DRS. As a centerfielder, he has a -1 OAA and -14 DRS. When he’s out of center, his defense doesn’t negatively impact his WAR.

Putting all that aside, Nimmo’s WAR over the past three seasons is 22nd best in the majors. This past season he was ranked 21st.

Looking at the leaderboard, Nimmo would be the best outfielder on 21 of the 30 MLB teams. Only the Dodgers, Brewers, Diamondbacks, and Mets have two outfielders ranked higher than him. In terms of the Mets, with Jeff McNeil returning to the infield, that leaves just three teams.

This means if Nimmo were to be dropped on any MLB roster, he’d be one of the best outfielders on that team. Likely, he’d be a top two outfielder on that team.

This isn’t what a fourth outfielder looks like. This is what an All-Star caliber outfielder looks like. That’s really what Nimmo is.

And really, we should know better. We know what fourth outfielders look like. Fourth outfielders are players like Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Alejandro De Aza, and Timo Perez.

To call Nimmo a fourth outfielder is to say he’s no better than them, and that’s absurd. Nimmo is far better than them. When you look at the numbers, Nimmo is better than the majority of Major League outfielders.

Jackie Bradley Jr. May Not Be Viable CF Option For Mets

The Mets are in need of a centerfielder this offseason, George Springer is obviously the top target. Arguably, he is THE top target for the Mets. The problem for the Mets is Springer will be that for several baseball teams.

One of those teams is his hometown team Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox not only offer a return to home for Springer, but they also have Alex Cora, who Springer developed a good relationship with during their time on the Houston Astros. Combine that with the Red Sox deep pockets (even if they cry poor), and even with Steve Cohen, he may be difficult to sign.

If that is the case, the Mets will need to look towards their Plan B. Perhaps the top Plan B option is Jackie Bradley Jr.

The positives with Bradley is his defense. This past year, he was the second best center fielder with a 7 OAA. DRS doesn’t rank him as high, but his 5 OAA did rank him as fifth best.

The OAA mark wasn’t a short sample size anomaly with Bradley’s 6 OAA ranking him 14th. His -2 DRS tells a different story. In 2018, he was at a -1 DRS. Really, when you look at it, there has been a wide disparity between how OAA and DRS views Bradley’s defense.

According to OAA, he’s a very good fielder, and DRS has him as slightly below average. Splitting the difference, from 2018 – 2020, Bradley’s 7.9 UZR is the fourth best among center fielders.

There is a potential reason for that disparity. As described quite well and in-depth by MLB TonightsEric Byrnes, center field in Fenway Park is very complicated.

No matter which metric you rely, it is a clear Bradley would be a significant upgrade defensively at an important position. That said, there is a debate as to how much of an upgrade he represents. There is also the issue as to how long he can be that upgrade.

Next year, Bradley will be 31. While he hasn’t show issues with slowing down per se, he has never been fast for his position. In fact, even at his quickest in 2018, his 27.8 ft/sec sprint speed was only 50th best at the position.

Really, Bradley relies upon positioning and a good quick jump to field his position. In terms of positioning, the Mets promise to truly fortify the front office, which would give him what he needs to succeed from a positioning standpoint. However, once he loses a step, his days in center may well be over.

That is very problematic for Bradley as he is not a very good offensive player. For his career, he is only a 93 wRC+. Heading into 2020, he was really declining at the plate posting a 90 wRC+ over the previous three seasons.

That indicates his 119 wRC+ in 2020 was a complete outlier. When you dig through the numbers, it was a the result of a wholly unreliable small sample size. His .343 BABIP will regress back to his .298 career mark. According to his Baseball Savant page, his hard hit percentage and exit velocities are in a three year decline.

This all makes Bradley a massive risk. He’s at an age when his skills will be in decline. That does double for his speed and jump. He does not have the bat where he can play at a corner outfield position. Really, where his bat is now, you cannot justify playing him everyday unless he is playing a very good to elite center field.

If you are the Mets, this should be a good indication Springer needs to be the top target this offseason, and he may be the player they need to go past their point of comfort to ensure he comes to the Mets. If not Springer, there aren’t really any viable Plan B options because it would seem Bradley isn’t one.

Beltran Wearing A Mets Cap On His Hall of Fame Plaque Isn’t a Guarantee

Now that Carlos Beltran has officially retired, the Hall of Fame discussions can now begin.  In the case of Beltran, one of the Top 10 centerfielders of all-time and the best Puerto Rican baseball player not named Roberto Clemente, the discussion for him is not whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame.  Rather, the discussion is what cap he will wear when he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame.

As we learned from Gary Carter, Beltran is not going to be able to just pick whatever hat he wants.  This means no Astros, despite him winning the World Series there, and no Cardinals, where he cemented his place in Cooperstown.  Unless the Hall of Fame invokes the Reggie Jackson, you can go into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee regardless of tenure with them, Beltran is going to have three choices: (1) Royals; (2) Mets; or (3) Blank.

Under normal circumstances, the case for the Mets should be quite easy with him playing more games in a Mets uniform than with any other team.  Beltran had his best years in Queens posting 31.3 of his 69.8 career WAR with the team.  He won all of his Gold Gloves with the Mets, and five of his nine All Star appearances came as a member of the Mets.  Some of his greatest highlights (and lowlights) came with the Mets.  In many ways, his entire career is defined by what he did with the Mets.

With this being the Mets, this isn’t normal circumstances.  There are indications this was and continues to be a very strained relationship.

The biggest indication of this was the fight over Beltran’s 2010 knee surgery.  It created a he said – she said situation where Boras insisted the Mets were informed, and the Mets acted as if they were blindsided.  For younger fans, the perfect analogy to this was the hysteria surrounding Matt Harvey and his innings limits during the 2015 season.

Beltran had knee problems for two seasons, and when push came to shove, he had the surgery upon the recommendation of a world class knee surgeon.  The Mets position was Beltran needed to clear medical decisions through them.  As the New York Post reported, “the Mets are claiming this was done without clearance and that the Mets are threatening to take some form of action.”

Action never came, but the bad feelings persisted.  Much of that can be directly attributed to Fred Wilpon’s interview with the New Yorker:

At one point, I mentioned to Wilpon the theory that the Mets might be cursed. He gave a sort of half laugh, and said, “You mean”—and then pantomimed a checked swing of the bat.


When Carlos Beltran came up, I mentioned his prodigious post-season with the Astros in 2004, when he hit eight home runs, just before he went to the Mets as a free agent. Wilpon laughed, not happily. “We had some schmuck in New York who paid him based on that one series,” he said, referring to himself. In the course of playing out his seven-year, $119-million contract with the Mets, Beltran, too, has been hobbled by injuries. “He’s sixty-five to seventy per cent of what he was.”

Wilpon reportedly apologized, and Beltran being the man he was accepted said apology.

After that, the Mets did give him the perfunctory video montage his first game back at Citi Field.  However, that was about it from the team.

Immediately after being traded from the Mets, Beltran’s number 15 was immediately assigned to Val Pascucci, and it has been assigned to Fred Lewis, Travis d’ArnaudBob Geren, and Matt Reynolds.  This was not done with Mike Piazza‘s 31 or Tom Seaver‘s 41.  In sum, the Mets not taking the number out of circulation indicates the team had no intentions of retiring the number.  That’s odd considering Beltran’s Hall of Fame resume and tenure with the Mets.

It’s also odd how long it took the Mets to acknowledge Beltran’s retirement and to provide well wishes to one of the best players in their history:

In that time frame, the Mets wished Hasdrubal Cabrera a Happy Birthday, corrected the tweet to say Asdrubal Cabrera, and tweeted the April 15 glove promotion.  The silence on Beltran was almost deafening.

It seems to be symbolic on a frost between both sides as evidenced in Beltran’s Players’ Tribune piece.  Beltran talked about getting called up and breaking into the majors with the Royals.  He waxed poetic about tips he received from Reggie Jackson during his time with the Yankees.  He spoke about the championship run with the Astros.  As for the Mets, he mentioned getting traded in 2011.  Overall, there wasn’t any quip about something positive that happened to him during his time in Flushing.

There could be many reasons for that, but given the history between the two sides, it doesn’t seem accidental.

Overall, there seems to be some chasm between the Mets and Beltran.  It’s a real shame too because Beltran’s Hall of Fame case was built during his time with the Mets.  For the Mets, they have not had many players as great as Beltran in their history.  Beltran is definitively their best center fielder, and quite possibly, the best outfielder in their history.

Five years from now, when Beltran is inducted into the Hall of Fame, he should be talking about wearing a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, and the Mets should be planning a number retirement ceremony.  Based upon what we’ve seen over the past few years, that doesn’t seem as much of a certainty as it should.

The good news is that there’s still time for the Mets to sell Beltran on wearing a Mets cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.  That starts with the easiest decision imaginable with the team inducting him into their own Hall of Fame.  It would also behoove them to take 15 out of circulation.  This is just a step, but an important one – one the Mets need to do if they want to add a third Hall of Famer to the legacy of the New York Mets organization.


Congratulations to Curtis Granderson or Carlos Beltran

With the World Series beginning tonight, Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson will be battling it out to win their first ever World Series ring.  This could be the last chance either player gets to win that elusive ring.

Between the two, it certainly looks like this will be Beltran’s last chance.  The 40 year old is coming off a season that saw him hit just .231/.283/.383 in 129 games.  During the season, his teammates jokingly buried his glove.  After the year, they may be cremating his bat as he has seen more and more of his at-bats go to Evan Gattis.  Once considered a sure thing in the postseason, he’s just 3-17 in this postseason including going 1-12 in the ALCS.

As for Granderson, you don’t know.  After just a dismal April, the slow starter began hitting again.  From May 1st until he was traded to the Dodgers, he was playing about as well as anyone hitting .263/.383/.570.  After becoming a Dodger, things were much different for Granderson.  In 36 games for the Dodgers, he hit a paltry .161/.288/.366.  In this postseason, he’s just 1-15 with an 0-7 in the NLCS.  Things have gotten to the point with him that there are actually calls for him to be left off the World Series roster in favor of Charlie Culberson.  Sure, this has something to do with Corey Seager‘s back injury, but still, many seem unaware of Granderson hitting three huge homers in the 2015 World Series.

Between the two, Beltran looks closer to the end than Granderson.  Whereas the decision may be all but made for Beltran, it appears Granderson will get to make the choice himself.  Still, as we know even if Granderson returns to play a 15th season at the age of 37, there is no guarantee he will ever get back to this point.

So this may very well be it for the both of them, and that’s a shame because both have been great players with Beltran likely being a future Hall of Famer.  Both were great Mets as well.  Beltran played at an MVP level for the Mets for many years, and he built his Hall of Fame case with the Mets.  He will go down as the best centerfielder in Mets history.

As for Granderson, he will go down as not just a very good player, but one of the finest human beings to ever wear a Major League uniform.  He’s the rare player that gets asked if he’s doing too much with his charitable endeavors.  In some ways, he played the Keith Hernandez type role with this current Mets core helping teach them how to be winners.

They both deserve rings, but in the end only one of them will get them.  All Mets fans should be thrilled for that player while feeling melancholy for the other.  No matter what happens both will forever be Mets, and both should forever be remembered fondly by Mets fans.

Five Mets Players Who Need A Bigger Role Now

The Mets have unofficially announced they are focusing their attention to the 2018 season.  Gone are Addison Reed and Lucas Duda, and in their stead are four promising minor league relievers.  The Mets have added AJ Ramos with an eye towards him being the primary set-up man for Jeurys Familia next year.  Amed Rosario has already played his first game with the Mets, and according to Sandy Alderson, Dominic Smith is not far away.

Seeing Ramos in the bullpen is a good start.  Rosario and Smith are even better.  However, that’s not enough.  As the 2017 season comes to an end, the New York Mets are going to have to find out about a number of players and how they factor into the 2018 season:

INF Wilmer Flores

2017 Stats: .287/.320/.486, 14 2B, 3B, 11 HR, 32 RBI, SB, 0.2 WAR

With Neil Walker being an impending free agent, Asdrubal Cabrera possibly having his option declined, and David Wright‘s continuing health issues, the Mets will enter the offseason with question marks at both second and third base.  Ideally, Flores could slot in at one of those two spots.

It was just two years ago, the Mets thought Flores could be the everyday shortstop for a playoff caliber team.  Since then, we have seen uneven performances at the plate and on the field.  The Mets have seemingly come to terms with him being a platoon bat, but lost in that is the fact he is still just 25 years old and an improving player.  That is exhibited by him being much better against right-handed pitching hitting .281/.326/.467 off of them.  If Flores can continue hitting like that against right-handed pitching, he could conceivably play everyday.

The key for him is to find a position.  That’s easier said than done, but he is a significantly better second than a third baseman.  In 667.0 innings at second, he has a career -7 DRS and a 0.3 UZR.  In 911.0 innings at third, he has a -16 DRS and a -4.4 UZR.  With that said, let Flores focus on second and see if he can be a solution there next year.

RHP Rafael Montero

2017 Stats: 1-7, 5.56 ERA, 21 G, 7 GS, 56.2 IP, 1.729 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, -0.4 WAR

Montero has survived this long on the roster, and he has finally shown the Mets some glimpse of the talent that caused the Mets to keep him on the 40 man roster.  Since his latest last chance to prove himself, Montero has a 4.14 ERA, 1.297 WHIP, and a 9.0 K/9.  In this stretch, we have seen him pitch into the seventh inning, and we have seen him meltdown.

While there have been promising signs, his usage runs counter-intuitive to his utility to the Mets.  If Montero is going to be with the Mets next year, it is going to have to be in the bullpen as there will be no room for the Mets to even consider him being a part of the rotation next year. This means the Mets should be utilizing the rest of the season to see how he pitches out of the bullpen whether it is using him as a long man or as a late inning reliever.

The Mets need to do this because Montero is out of options.  This means he either makes the Opening Day roster in the bullpen, or the Mets stand to lose a player they have stubbornly held onto for so long.  Before making that decision, they should at least see if the new and improved Montero can hack it in the bullpen.

CF Brandon Nimmo

2017 Stats: 16 G, 25 PA, 21 AB, 7 H, 2B, 2 RBI, .333/.440/.381

While the Mets left side of the infield defensive deficiencies have been oft discussed, not nearly enough attention has been paid to the centerfield situation.  On the season, Mets centerfielders have a 0 DRS, which may not sound so bad on the surface.  However, consider this is 19th in all of baseball.  Also, consider this number has been propped up by Juan Lagares having played 216.0 innings at the position posting a 7 DRS.

The Mets answer lately has been Michael Conforto, who has a 0 DRS, which is remarkable considering he has never really played there full-time at any level.  There is still the possibility he could be adequate there, but shouldn’t the Mets first find out about Nimmo first?

Nimmo has been a center fielder throughout his minor league career.  While there is some debate over his ability to play the position, he does have the experience out there, and he deserves to benefit from the same major league coaching that has helped Conforto play there.

More than that, Nimmo has shown the ability to be a top of the order hitter who can get on base.  At a minimum, he has showed enough to earn the opportunity to serve as part of a center field platoon with Lagares.

Lastly, Nimmo was the first first round pick of the Sandy Alderson Era.  Doesn’t the team owe it to themselves to see what a player they heavily invested in can do at this level before looking to further address the outfield situation in the offseason.  Consider that once the Mets sign another outfielder, whether that is Jay Bruce or Lorenzo Cain, the Mets have effectively made a first round pick a fourth or fifth outfielder without so much as giving him an opportunity to win a job.

RHP Paul Sewald

2017 Stats: 0-3, 8 H, 4.07 ERA, 35 G, 42.0 IP, 1.238 WHIP, 10.9 K/9, o.4 WAR

After being used in a variety of roles this season, Sewald has found himself being used in the seventh inning or later in his last 10 appearances.  In those appearances, Sewald is 0-1 with six holds, a 2.79 ERA, 1.034 WHIP, and an 11.2 K/9.

Even with him walking five batters over that stretch, Sewald has shown he should get a closer look in one of the two primary set-up roles.  With Reed going to the Red Sox, and Ramos presumably becoming the new closer, there is no reason why the Mets wouldn’t use Sewald as their eighth inning reliever to close out the season, or at least until Familia comes off the disabled list.

If Sewald shows he can handle the stress of protecting a late inning lead at the major league level, the Mets are that much closer to building a bullpen that can compete in 2018.

3B Neil Walker

2017 Stats: 63 G, 266 PA, 233 AB, 35 R, 62 H, 13 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 34 RBI, .266/.347/.455, 0.9 WAR

Since Wright went down with spinal stenosis, third base has been a black hole for the Mets.  With Wright presumably missing the entire 2017 season, it is now clear the Mets cannot rely upon him to return to play third or any position next year.  With no prospects coming through the pipeline, it is likely the Mets will have to address the position in free agency or via trade.

If they are going the free agency route, it may behoove them to re-sign Walker.  The two sides were interested in a long term contract extension this offseason.  Just because the two sides were unable to reach an accord does not prevent Walker from returning.

Considering Walker’s back issues as well as his getting older, he may be best suited to playing third base.  Certainly, the way he has hit as a Met, he does have the bat to play the position.  The only question remaining is if he can play the position.  The Mets have 59 games to find out.

If Walker can do it, the Mets know they have a team player who has been a liked figure in the clubhouse.  They will also have a veteran who can help show Rosario and Smith the ropes.  More than that, they have a middle of the order bat to really extend the lineup.

Why Was Wilmer Flores On The Field?

At this point, it’s almost become rote. The Mets have a lead late in the game, and Terry Collins inserts Juan Lagares into the game as a defensive replacement. 

The move makes a lot of sense. Not only is Lagares a Gold Glover in centerfield, but the Mets also lack another true defensive center fielder.  Another thing the Mets lack is a true defensive third baseman. 

With David Wright‘s injury problems, the Mets have been forced to play players out of position. The results have been poor. The Mets collection of third baseman have a -1 DRS and -2.7 UZR which rank 20th and 27th in the majors respectively. 

The main culprits there are Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores. Reyes has a career -8 DRS and -4.5 UZR at third base. Flores has a career -10 DRS and -1.9 UZR at third. Simply put, neither player is a third baseman. 

We all saw that on yesterday’s game. Flores doesn’t have good range at third, and he’s iffy with his throws. In the sixth, he spiked a throw to home plate when he had Christian Arroyo dead to rights. It took a good play by Kevin Plawecki to save him from the error and to record the out. 

There was no one to bail Flores out in the ninth.  In what could’ve been a game ending double play, Flores threw the ball offline. A Neil Walker stretch prevented the ball from going into right field, big it couldn’t get the force out at second.  As we know, this came back to haunt the Mets in a 6-5 loss. 

The obvious question that arises is why was Flores still on the field. The Mets had a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning. Their closer, Jeurys Familia, is a sinker ball pitcher who generates a number of ground outs. With that being the case, isn’t it incumbent on Collins to put his best defensive infield out there?  

Matt Reynolds, who is generally regarded as a good defensive infielder, was available on the bench. Certainly, he’s a better defender than Flores at third. Much better actually. Why wasn’t he in the game?  
Keep in mind, this was another game Collins over-managed. He used four relievers to pitch two innings. He went to the extreme on the matchups to the point where he removed his eighth inning reliever, Addison Reed, because a left-handed batter was coming to the plate. He did that despite Reed pitching extremely well against left-handed batters during his time with the Mets. 

If Collins is willing to empty his pen, why not his bench?  What’s the justifiable reason for keeping the better infielder on the bench with a sinker ball pitcher on the mound?  There is no good reason. 

Look, we can all agree that it’s the players in the field who win or lose games. Certainly, Flores helped lost this game with his error. Familia was the one who gave up the subsequent hits. However, ask yourself whether Collins put his team in the best position to succeed in the ninth inning. 

The answer to that needs to be a clear and unequivocal, “No.”  

Duda’s Busting Out

After Lucas Duda missed most of last year with a fracture in his lower back, there were obvious concerns about him this year. Those concerns are magnified when you consider he spent time in the DL in 2015 with a lumbar disc herniation. With him starting the year hitting .222 in the first six games, those concerns started to become out and out fear. 

Well, like most of the Mets offense Duda put those concerns to bed with a monster game last night. 

In last night’s game, Duda was just a triple short of the cycle. Overall, he was 4-6 with a double and two homers. One of those homers was an absolute bomb. It cleared the batter’s eye in centerfield and reportedly travelled 448 feet. Looking at it live, that seems short by 50 feet or so. 

What made the night all the more impressive was his double and his first home run came off left-handed pitching. In fact, this season Duda has five extra base hits, and four of them came off left-handed pitching. 

This is important because Duda has typically struggled against left-handed pitching. For his career, he’s a .226/.297/.372 hitter against them. Year-in and year-out Duda has struggled against left-handed pitching with the lone exception being 2015. 

In 2015, Duda changed his approach against left-handed pitching. He used more of the field focusing less on pulling the ball. He was at his best when he was driving it to center field. Overall, Duda hit .285/.333/.545 against left-handed pitching in 2015. 

As evidenced by Duda’s home run to dead center, he is returning to the form that permitted him to have a career best year against left-handed pitching. So far, Duda has two doubles and two home runs off left-handed pitchers. Each of these hits were to center or left field. 

It’s too early in the season to judge if this will continue for him. Still, you can’t help but feel hopeful seeing him change his approach at the plate. His changing his approach makes you believe he’s going to repeat his terrific season in 2015. 

If that is the case, Collins has more options in the lineup and on the field. This will permit Duda to not only play everyday, but also to be a force in the lineup.  

For now, it appears Duda is back (no pun intended). If he is, this team got infinitely better. This is great news for him and the Mets and terrible for the rest of the National League. 

Charlie Blackmon Is Not An Upgrade

Ken Rosenthal’s recent reported for Fox Sports the Mets are interested in pursuing a center field upgrade for the 2017 season.  At this point in the offseason, we have a general idea of the centerfielders that are available in trades.  The Pittsburgh Pirates are known to be willing to move Andrew McCutchen for a king’s ransom.  The Kansas City Royals are willing to move both Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson.  And while the Colorado Rockies have steadfastly maintained he is not available, many assume the Ian Desmond signing could possibly make Charlie Blackmon available.

There are debates to be had on each of the aforementioned players.  McCutchen is coming off a career worst year, and he has rated as one of the worst center fielders in baseball over the past three seasons.  Dyson may be nothing more than a left-handed hitting Juan Lagares.  Cain has his injury issues.  Then there is Blackmon.

The 2016 Blackmon was one of the best center fielders in all of baseball.  In 143 games, Blackmon hit .324/.381/.552 with 111 runs, 35 doubles, five triples, 29 homers, 82 RBI, and 17 stolen bases.  His oWAR was the highest of any outfielder in the National League.  That is all the more impressive when you consider that means he rated better than bona fide superstars like Yoenis Cespedes and Bryce Harper.  He had the highest wRC+ out of any center fielder in baseball not named Mike Trout.  With stats like these, Blackmon quite justifiably won his first ever Silver Slugger.

With the Nationals giving up a massive haul of prospects to acquire Adam Eaton from the Chicago White Sox, you could imagine what teams would be willing to offer for Blackmon.  Offering up such a haul could be a very costly mistake.

The 2016 season was Blackmon’s third season as a starter for the Rockies.  In the prior two seasons combined, Blackmon was a .287/.341/.445 hitter who averaged 88 runs, 29 doubles, six triples, 18 homers, 65 RBI, and 36 stolen bases.  Putting the sometimes overstated Coors Field effect aside, that’s a pretty good player.  Still, is that the type of player that is worth giving up a massive haul of prospects?  Maybe, if he brings real value to a team as a defensive center fielder.

He doesn’t.  Over the past three seasons, Blackmon has averaged a -3 DRS and a -6.6 UZR in center field.  In essence, Blackmon is below average in center field.  Now, it is difficult to play center field in Coors Field.  However, the same could be said for playing center field at Citi Field.  Since the ballpark has been opened, Lagares is the only center fielder who has played over a thousand innings in a season that has posted a positive DRS and UZR for the Mets.  Therefore, expecting an improvement in center for Blackmon due to a change in ballpark would be folly.

Even assuming Blackmon would be a better fielder, would his improvement as a defender offset what would likely be a reduction in his offensive numbers?

Over time, there has been a noted Coors Field effect on players where we see drastic home/road splits.  Blackmon is no different.  In his career, he has been a .334/.389/.511 hitter at home and a .261/.305/.422 hitter on the road.  That should give any team pause, especially the Mets with Blackmon hitting .219/.254/.375 in 18 career games at Citi Field.  The obvious caveat there is sample size and his having to fact the Mets pitchers.  Despite that, there is every reason to believe Blackmon would regress offensively away from Coors Field, especially when we see most hitters regress after leaving Coors Field.

For example, in Matt Holliday‘s career he is a .361/.427/.656 hitter at Coors Field.  In his last three years as a Rockie, he hit .329/.400/.579 while averaging 44 doubles, four triples, 32 homers, and 113 RBI a season.  In his three seasons after leaving the Rockies, Holliday became a .308/.391/.524 hitter who averaged 40 doubles, one triple, 25 homers, and 96 RBI a season.  While Holliday was still a very good hitter after leaving the Rockies, he was no longer the same offensive player. 

The obvious counter-point to Holliday is Dexter Fowler, who is a career .298/.396/.490 hitter at Coors Field.  As a Rockie, Fowler was a .270/.365/.423 hitter who averaged 24 homers, 11 triples, eight homers, and 42 RBI as a regular.  Since leaving the Rockies, Fowler has been a .266/.369/.419 hitter who averaged 25 doubles, six triples, 13 homers, and 43 RBI.  Arguably, Fowler has not experienced a drop off in his offensive production since leaving the Rockies.  However, it should be noted that unlike Holliday, Fowler has played in Minute Maid Park and Wrigley Field, two ballparks that traditionally favor hitters.

Even with the outfield walls being reconfigured, Citi Field is still not a hitter’s park.  In that respect, it is likely Blackmon sees a regression similar to the one Holliday experienced playing in O.co Coliseum and Busch Stadium.  In addition to the Coors Field regression, we may likely see a regression in Blackmon’s numbers from the 2016 season as much of his offensive production was fueled by a .350 BABIP, which is 27 points higher than his career mark entering this year.  It is also hard to believe Blackmon will build off his 2016 season with him turning 31 next July.

Ultimately, it is quite likely he regresses in 2017 at the plate whether or not he is playing in Coors Field.  Moreover, given the advanced data and his getting older, it is a real debate how much longer Blackmon should play in center field.  With these red flags, and what a possible prospect cost would likely be, the Mets should not look to trade for Blackmon.

Editor’s Note: this was first published on Mets Merized Online