Ruben Tejada was on a roll the first five weeks of the season, with a .305/.362/.400 line before he went down with an injury. There was some concern that he would not be the force he was early in the year when he finally made it back on the active roster, but Tejada has put those fears to rest by picking up right where he left off. In eight games since being activated, Tejada has an .807 OPS.
In case you didn’t see it – because if you saw it you wouldn’t forget it – Tejada was running down to first base and did a face plant into the ground. At first it seemed that he left the game because of a head injury, as he landed on his chin/jaw. But it turned out to be a strained quad that landed him on the disabled list. Tejada ended up missing 44 games.
Shortstop became a revolving door for the Mets with Tejada on the DL. The team used five different players in his absence, including David Wright for a few innings. Backups Ronny Cedeno and Justin Turner both landed on the DL after Tejada but the Mets were able to stay afloat, going 24-20 with Tejada sidelined.
Tejada made his first start back in the final game of the Yankees series and returned with a flourish, delivering two hits and two RBIs. He proceeded to take the collar in back-to-back games as the team played uninspired ball against the last-place Cubs in the first two games of the three-game set. But Tejada has been on fire since then, going 10-22 in his last five starts.
A quick look at the stat sheet shows Tejada with zero home runs this year. But it would be erroneous to think of him as a weak hitter. Instead, he hits hard grounders and stings line drives to all parts of the field. It would be a mistake to tinker with Tejada’s approach at the plate. Yet it would not be hard to imagine him becoming a double-digit HR guy if he spent an offseason in the weight room and tried to turn on every pitch.
Fans should be thrilled with the hitter Tejada already is. The best batted-ball outcome for a batter is a line drive, as line drives end up hits somewhere around 70 percent of the time. Last year Tejada posted a 25.7 LD%, which is a great mark for a hitter. The Mets as a team had the third-best LD% in the majors last year and Tejada’s 25.7 percent mark was tops on the team.
Many people thought that mark was unsustainable and that Tejada’s line drives would fall off considerably in 2012. It’s the main reason few thought Tejada would be able to reproduce 2011’s .331 BABIP or .284 AVG. But in 155 PA this year, Tejada has a 29.4 LD%, the seventh-highest mark among hitters in MLB with at least 100 PA this season.
While fans should love the results when Tejada hits the ball, there is some concern about his plate discipline in 2012. Last year he had a 0.70 BB/K ratio, with 35 walks and 50 strikeouts. But so far this season that mark has been cut in half. Tejada has 10 BB and 29 Ks for a 0.34 ratio. However, since returning from the DL, Tejada has cut down significantly on his strikeouts.
For the season, Tejada has an 18.7 K% up from 13.3 a year ago. But in his last eight games he has fanned just five times in 38 PA, for a 13.2 K%. Before hitting the DL, Tejada whiffed 24 times in 117 PA for a 20.5 K%.
Inevitably, Tejada will be compared to his predecessor. There was much hand-wringing when the Mets let Jose Reyes leave via free agency. Reyes was coming off a terrific season in 2011, marred only by a few DL stints. So far in 2012, Reyes has not missed significant time but has been nowhere near productive as he was last year.
Let’s run a quick chart, comparing Tejada to Reyes and that other NY shortstop – Derek Jeter:
In about 45 percent of the playing time as Jeter and Reyes, Tejada is more than holding his own with his more expensive position-mates. WAR sees Tejada’s defensive edge virtually equaling out the playing-time edge of the veterans. By the end of the year, it’s possible that Tejada will have a higher fWAR than both Jeter and Reyes. How many of you saw that one coming?
So keep doing what you are doing, Tejada. Making the plays in the field and hitting line drives makes you a valuable player. And a few years down the road it will make you a very wealthy man, too. Then you can really be compared to Jeter and Reyes.