Why I want Matt Den Dekker as the Mets’ Opening Day CF

Let’s say the Reds called up the Mets and offered Drew Stubbs straight up for Lucas Duda – should the Mets make that deal? Stubbs had a poor year last year but he’s a center fielder who plays pretty good defense and who can hit the ball over the fence. While he strikes out an alarming number of times, his overall contributions as a ballplayer still have some value. Last year he posted a 1.3 fWAR, compared to the (-1.1) fWAR that Duda notched in about 100 fewer PA.

Duda is likely a better hitter than he showed last year but it seems pretty clear that he will never be a truly valuable player as long as he is forced to be an outfielder, which seems to be his destiny on the Mets. Throw in the fact that Stubbs is a righty hitter to balance the lineup and that he is likely to not make a great deal of money in his first year of arbitration and it probably becomes a no-brainer for Sandy Alderson to make this deal.

With Joey Votto entrenched at first base, the odds of Cincinnati offering Stubbs for Duda are about nil. But the idea of this article is not to drum up a campaign to trade for Stubbs. Instead it’s to recognize that the Mets have a player in the farm system who’s pretty darn similar to Stubbs and if it makes sense to trade for Stubbs than it makes sense to promote an in-house option who profiles similarly.

Matt Den Dekker is a pretty good comp for Stubbs. Den Dekker is probably a better defender although he likely does not have as much raw power. But if you were to get a scouting report on Den Dekker, it would be pretty similar to what was said about Stubbs in the first graph – good defense, can hit the ball over the fence, strikes out an alarming number of times.

Of course, most people reading this right now are shaking their heads, saying there’s no way that Den Dekker is ready. In his first exposure to Triple-A last year after a mid-year promotion, he put up a .220/.256/.373 line in 317 PA – hardly numbers that scream for a starting job in the majors. Of course, Den Dekker did a similar thing the previous year at Double-A, where he put up disappointing numbers in his first exposure to the level.

Den Dekker returned to Binghamton at the start of 2012 and hit the cover off the ball. He posted a .960 OPS in 268 PA. If we combine what he did at Double-A in 2011 and 2012, we come up with a .284/.351/.490 line in 582 PA.

Let’s pretend that the Mets did not promote Den Dekker in either 2011 or 2012 and that his combined ’11-’12 numbers at Double-A were numbers he posted in a full season at the level last year. Would you be so hesitant to give him a shot in the majors in 2013?

According to Jeff Sackmann’s MLE calculator, Den Dekker’s combined Double-A line in Binghamton translates to a .215/.272/.353 line with 13 HR in 526 ABs in the majors with the Mets. Last year Stubbs produced a .213/.277/.333 line with 14 HR in 493 ABs with the Reds.

Seemingly, it comes down to two things with Den Dekker – how good you think he’ll be defensively and how much contact he’ll be able to make against MLB pitchers.

It’s hard to judge minor league defensive numbers but the scouting reports are all positive on his defense. I think there’s little doubt that he would instantly become the best defensive player on the team if he was promoted to the Mets. But is he Stubbs-level good (6.8 UZR last year, sixth-best among full-time MLB CFers) or is he closer to Michael Bourn (22.4 UZR)? Right now we can only speculate.

It’s easier to be pessimistic about his chances to consistently hit MLB pitching. Last year in Triple-A he had a 28.4 K%, tied for the eighth-worst mark in the International League among players with at least 250 PA. For a comparison, old friend Val Pascucci had a 31.2 K% in Buffalo last year.

While it’s safe to predict a K% over 25 percent for Den Dekker in the majors, it’s what he does in his other trips to the plate that would determine his success. He had a .429 BABIP in Double-A last year, the top mark in the loop. However, his .279 BABIP in Triple-A was 116th out of 138 players with 250 PA. In other words, he was pretty unlucky in Buffalo.

Does he really need to go back to Triple-A and have his luck even out before he’s worthy of a promotion to Queens? Especially since he’ll be playing in the hitter’s paradise known as the Pacific Coast League? Do you really expect Den Dekker to go to Las Vegas and not hit well? Then seriously, what’s the point of having him start the year in Triple-A?

Den Dekker turned 25 last August. He was a four-year player at the University of Florida, a major Division I school. He’s an older player, one who has never (to my knowledge) been dogged with confidence issues like Duda.

The Mets should be bold and promote Den Dekker to the majors and tell him it’s okay if he hits .215 as long as he catches every ball and hits the occasional HR. All he has to do is turn in the 2012 version of Stubbs at the plate to be an upgrade for the team. And they don’t even have to trade Duda to make this possible.

I don’t expect this to happen. Instead, we’ll see Den Dekker – who does not have to be put on the 40-man this winter – in Las Vegas hitting up a storm. And then people will say with a straight face that it was necessary experience for him, ignoring that his luck on BABIP was due to regress in a positive direction and that his offensive numbers in the PCL would experience a bounce compared to the International League.

What I expect that we’ll see is Kirk Nieuwenhuis in CF for the Mets, even though Nieuwenhuis has the exact same contact issues that Den Dekker does and Nieuwenhuis comes without the possibility of Gold Glove-level defense. The scouting reports said that Nieuwenhuis was stretched defensively in center and was better suited for a corner. To the naked eye, Nieuwenhuis’ defense looked okay and he had a (-2) DRS and a (-1.2) UZR in about half a season’s worth of play in the outfield in New York.

Last year with the Mets, Nieuwenhuis put up a .358 BABIP and a .691 OPS. What happens when he posts a .300 BABIP? Nieuwenhuis was lucky last year in the majors and was barely an MLB-quality player. But he’ll get every chance to win a job in the majors in 2013 because he had a hot April in 2012. From May 1st until he was sent down, Nieuwenhuis had a .319 BABIP, a .624 OPS and a 32.3 K%.

Whatever success the 2013 Mets achieve is likely due to good starting pitching. You can help pitching with a strong defense and/or strong hitting. It’s my belief that Den Dekker’s defensive advantage is likely to be more of a strength for the 2013 Mets than Nieuwenhuis’ offensive advantage, assuming there even is one. Both Nieuwenhuis and Den Dekker are LHB and recall that the latter’s Double-A MLE was for a .625 OPS while the former posted a .624 OPS over his final 226 PA.

17 comments for “Why I want Matt Den Dekker as the Mets’ Opening Day CF

  1. NormE
    October 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Good, thoughtful post!

    Barring any trades/injuries, I am beginning to think that the 2013 Mets should start the year with Nieuwenhuis in RF, Den Dekker in CF and a platoon of Bay and Duda in LF. Not exactly overwhelming. I’m assuming Hairston will sign elsewhere for more money.

    • October 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks Norm!

      I think MDD is an ultra long shot. I expect we’ll see some kind of Baxter/? platoon in his place.

      • norme
        October 30, 2012 at 1:50 pm

        I like Baxter, but I think his greatest value is off the bench. Yet another example of the Mets being left-handed hitting heavy. The “heavy” part wouldn’t be too bad if the quality was greater.

        • norme
          October 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm

          Forgot! Hope all of the Mets360 contributors in the storm’s path are okay. No problems down here in the Low Country.

    • 7train
      October 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      Good thoughtful post seconded.

      MDD is undeniably a talented player at a premium position and one who has very neutral platoon splits in the upper minors so what side of the plate he hits from is no where near the issue some of of our other prospects face. If den Dekker makes it, he makes it as a full time CFer and that puts everyone else in place. Duda/Bay, Kirk/Lagares, Baxter/Vaughn, Spin/Campbell, Harris/Ceciliani, or any of a bunch of different combo’s over the next few years (if necessary)

      MDD has a few less line drives, couple more GB’s, a few less BB’s and a couple less K’s Vs. LHP but all in all when he hits, he hits RHP and LHP.

      I don’t think it’s wise to claim bad luck on a low BABIP in AAA while setting a high BABIP in AA as a given. Realistically it’s somewhere in between. His combined 2011 and 2012 splits are:

      Vs. LHP .282/.334/.454 with a .170 ISO 24.9 K%, 4.7 BB%

      Vs. RHP .265/.326/.463 with a .197 ISO 26.2 K%, 7.9 BB%

      The most concerning part of his last couple years though is his power in AAA last year got worse as time went on in an attempt to cut down on the K’s and raise the BA.

      July 2012 .190/.216/.352 ISO .162, K% 34.8, BB% 3.6 and 42% GB rate.

      Aug. 2012 .257/.295/.327 ISO .070, K% 25.4, BB% 4.1 and 51% GB rate.

      If Matt has to become a GB hitter in order to cut down on his K’s and raise his BA he’ll become even more dependent on BABIP and it’ll come at the expense of his power which combined with his defensive ability at a premium position is what makes him such an intriguing prospect to begin with.

      The first half of 2013 should be devoted to seeing if he can retain his power (relative to league average in the PCL) while narrowing his K/BB rate and maintaining a reasonable BA/OB because if he can’t do it in AAA he certainly won’t be doing it in the Majors. In addition the PCL should be perfect for Matt as pitchers are reluctant to toss one over and if anything would help improve his eye and contact it’s this sort of situation and if he does that everything else will just fall into place. A full season in the PCL would really go a long way toward flattening out the learning curve in the bigs that MDD has experienced at every climb of the ladder but as the primary AAA depth at CF will more likely be called upon at some point. Roster spot wise it may not be feasible but this is the best reason for tendering Torres because with a talent like MDD the only thing that matters is giving him the best possible chance to make it, not rushing him up because of Organizational weakness like so many in the past

      He’s a long shot but he’s been counted out before a number of times and gotten close. With any luck he can overcome the final hurdle and establish himself in Queens mid season 2013 but the last thing we should be doing is giving him a position only to have to send him down like Lucas, Kirk, Fern, Milledge, ect ect.

      • Metsense
        October 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm

        I also thought that this post was well written and the issue presented well. The Mets strength is their starting pitching in 2013. Bad defense can sabotage good pitching. The Mets need to improve their defense and MDD could be the answer but I have to agree with 7Train that he should not be rushed because if there is any possibility that he is a MLB player then he should be promoted when he is ready. Kirk Nieuwenhuis has the advantage going into spring training. Jordany Valdespin is a dark horse to beat Kirk out.
        Matt Den Decker would have to have an outstanding spring to get the job. If Valdespin and Nieuwenhuis don’t hit by June then Den Decker might get the job just because of his glove.
        Torres should not be tendered.

        • October 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm

          Thanks to 7train and Metsense for their kind words!

          I guess I’m not worried about rushing a 25 year old. I’m more concerned with a guy that age having the prime of his career spent in the minors. I’d use ST to look at his defense more than his offense. If he looks like a potential Gold Glove winner bring him north regardless of what he hits.

  2. October 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    The K% & BB% concern me. They’re both worse than Stubbs was in the minors. If Den Dekker were a RHH with a platoon split (rather than a LHH with a platoon split), I’d be much more interested in the prospect of him as the Opening Day CF. I get that you trade some Ks for some power, and that’s fine, but looking just at raw power (ISO), K%, and BB%, he comes off as a lesser Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Admittedly, there’s a defensive gap in the other direction, but if Nieuwenhuis is healthy I’d probably go with him since he’s already on the roster, and send Den Dekker to Vegas to work on pitch recognition (and to see how much of that BABIP was bad luck and how much was just the fact that it’s harder to make good contact against better pitching). And you can look at your initial question another way. Let’s say Stubbs (who hit for less raw power in the high minors than Den Dekker, but who also walked more and struck out less) were a left-handed hitter. Would the Mets have any interest in him?

    • October 30, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      I would hope that the Mets would be interested in a CF in his 20s who can play the position successfully regardless of what side of the plate that he hits from. He has a 4.0 fWAR season under his belt already.

      • October 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm

        Fair. I’d hope they’d also take his .773 OPS in the cozy confines of the Great American Ballpark and his .630 OPS elsewhere into consideration. But I know your point was not advocating that the Mets should trade for Stubbs. IMO, there’s just a lot more than a little bad luck on balls in play to warrant some more time in AAA for Den Dekker. Especially since he’s yet another LHH.

  3. October 30, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    I was wondering. The San Francisco Giants just won the world series with the least amount of home runs in the major leagues.But they had the most productive outs scoring runs. I think the Mets should look for a hitter who can make contact and put the ball in play. We over glorify the long ball and fail to see that with so many strike outs in this line-up where is the continuity for rallies? I think a year after his valley fever Ike will be stronger and will cut down on his KO’S.Let’s leave the kid in AAA for a full season. Adding another Lucas Duda to the line-up isn’t going to help.I feel if the Mets are able to trade for a solid 2 for the rotation they will have a chance at the wild card next season. They need to take the pressure off Johan and allow him to rest his arm during the season so that he’ll wind up in a range of 180 innings pitched.I do believe in the old baseball adage that pitching,defense and timely hitting wins games(and World Series).

  4. Willis
    October 30, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    I’d like to see the Mets explore a trade for Bourjos. I have no idea what it would take but he’s been displaced in LA and the Angels need pitching. He’s a good defender.

  5. David Groveman
    November 5, 2012 at 10:02 am

    The Good News:

    Matt Den Dekker will get a considerable look to stick with the big-league ballclub this Spring. My belief is that he will need to win the job as I expect that the jobs will be Nieuwenhuis’ and Duda’s to lose.

  6. November 5, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Does that mean you expect Lucas Duda to play center field? Or lose playing time?

  7. November 5, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Well, sigh, I don’t think Den Dekker projects to be much more than a good 4th/5th outfielder on a good team. I do think the Mets need to start putting a premium on DEFENSE, because it’s crazy to build around young pitching only to undermine it with poor team defense. So, sure, I could see him filling a slot for a while, though I think if the Mets want to truly improve they are going to have to bring more talent into the fold. Den Dekker might be the best we’ve got, but a .220 BA with swing-and-miss issues is not going to be enough to make much of a positive difference. Sandy needs to keep looking. In sum: While I don’t “want” Den Dekker to be the Opening Day CF in 2013, I could be temporarily okay with it. But I almost surely don’t want him to be there in 2015.

  8. November 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    For all the talk one hears from Mets management about hitting with patience but still being aggressive the Mets sure have a monopoly on strikeouts with Duda leading the youngsters.If they can’t put the ball in play how do you expect their OBA to ever go up? Even Daniel Murphy the poster boy for the Mets philosophy on hitting only had 36 walks in almost 600 at bats speaks volumes.

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