Perhaps now that the World Series is over, we’ll get some hard news coming from Mets land. The only thing that has happened semi-recently has been the announcement that Terry Collins and all of his coaches will return next year. While this news was met by the fan base with the mixture of yawns and disappointment that no one will pay for the second-half collapse, I would like to focus on one thing I am happy about – Tim Teufel will return.
Teufel replaced Chip Hale on the coaching staff, both as third base coach and as infield instructor. Hale had generally received positive reviews in his tenure with the Mets and he brought with him some fresh perspective, having joined the team after a stint with the Twins. But Teufel, who both played and managed in the Mets system, was a very capable replacement.
A third base coach is a weird position. It’s fairly high profile but if I asked you to name the five best third base coaches in the majors, you would probably struggle to come up with a list. They are almost a little bit like offensive linemen in football, where you only notice the bad ones. If asked to name the most memorable third base coach in my lifetime, I would probably nominate Waving Wendell Kim, who got his nickname for his propensity to send runners home from third, despite how shallow the left fielder was or how slow the baserunner.
Teufel didn’t really make a bunch of headlines as a third base coach. Perhaps his biggest story was when he shook Chipper Jones’ hand during the veteran’s final regular season game. Instead Teufel’s biggest impact came as his work as the team’s infield instructor. His highest profile case was helping Daniel Murphy stay healthy at second base. But perhaps his greatest success came with his work with David Wright.
Wright won the Gold Glove Award in both 2007 and 2008, although it’s debatable if he deserved it in either season. But he was an above-average defender at the hot corner those seasons. Yet from 2009-2011, Wright turned in a combined (-34) Defensive Runs Saved and a (-31.1) UZR. His defense alone was costing the Mets a game per season in this time frame.
Teufel noticed that Wright was setting up poorly prior to the pitch, causing him to be slow getting to balls hit in his general direction. Wright told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post back in March of the changes instituted by Teufel:
You almost want to be like a tennis player,’’ Wright said. “You want to be on the balls of your feet when the ball is hit so you can go either way. Teuf wants to eliminate your feet coming off the ground and just be more side to side so when the pitch goes into the zone, you’re ready.
“The more moving around you got going, the harder it is to time, especially me when I’m playing third, I do a lot of walking around.”
The results were both immediate and drastic. Wright cut down his errors and displayed the best range of his career. His .974 fielding percentage was a career-best and the advanced fielding metrics loved his production, as he notched a +16 DRS and a +15.4 UZR. Wright may or may not win the Gold Glove Award this year but his defense was outstanding.
Meanwhile, Murphy stayed healthy after having back-to-back season-ending injuries in the field at second base. The advanced numbers were not thrilled with Murphy’s season (-11 DRS, -9.0 UZR) but to the naked eye, he looked like he made great strides, especially with turning the double play. Double play rate was actually the strongest of Murphy’s UZR defensive rates. He really fell short in range and error rate but we saw improvement in both of these categories as the year progressed.
Murphy finished the year with 15 errors, but he ended the season with 23 straight errorless games. As for his range, Murphy was hurt by his positioning more than anything else. He frequently would play six-to-eight steps on the outfield grass in the middle of the season. But by the end of the year, Murphy was right on the edge of the infield dirt. If he would play at a normal depth, it’s not unreasonable to expect Murphy’s range to revert back to what it was in previous seasons.
Even Ruben Tejada showed defensive improvement in 2012. After posting a (-0.3) UZR/150 in 2011, Tejada notched a +1.8 UZR/150 last year. The only infielder to regress defensively was Ike Davis. It’s hard to say how much of Davis’ slippage was due to his bout with Valley Fever in the Spring but he should get some sort of allowance. However, Davis appeared lackadaisical in the field and it’s no longer a given that he’s the team’s best defensive player.
Defense was a huge question mark for the 2012 Mets and with the help of Teufel, it was not nearly the anchor it appeared it could be at the start of the season. During Spring Training, we were hoping that Murphy could make it through the year without getting injured and that Wright would not have to be moved to the outfield. Not only did both of those things come to pass, but Wright might cap his season with a Gold Glove Award.
Mets fans have a right to cast a watchful eye towards their coaches after the season-long bullpen fiasco and the team’s inability to hit in the second half of the year. But the same fans should be grateful for the work of Teufel, who did a yeoman’s job working with the team’s infielders on their defensive issues.