Mike Baxter starting outfielder – are you ready?

Jason Bay is gone, Scott Hairston’s return – at best – is up in the air and the Mets are extremely unlikely to add a big-time free agent. Which means that all of the stars have aligned for Mike Baxter to be a starting outfielder for the club in 2013.

I think most people are in agreement that Baxter is a solid fourth outfielder and nice pinch-hitting option but hardly a guy you want to count on for 150 starts in a season. So, let’s see if we can talk ourselves into this move. Or at the very least not be disgusted by the thought.

In 2012, Baxter was terrific as a pinch-hitter but far less successful when he was give a shot at regular playing time. Here are his splits:

Starter – .224/.317/.367 in 167 PA
As sub – .438/.545/.625 in 44 PA

It’s almost hard to wrap our heads around how good Baxter was coming off the bench last year. Of course, a .538 BABIP will tend to make the rest of your stats look good. But even dismissing that for a second, Baxter had six doubles in 32 ABs as a sub and had 10 BB in 42 PA – both really, really strong marks.

On the flip side, Baxter had just a .280 BABIP as a starter. That’s far from an awful mark, as most hitters are in the .290-.310 range, but there’s certainly room for improvement there. If we look at Baxter’s batted ball profile, it suggests a player who should post higher than normal BABIPs. By far, the balls most likely to fall in for hits are line drives, at around 70 percent of the time. And ground balls (around .240) are much preferable to fly balls (around .130).

Baxter’s batted ball profile in 2012 was: 24.4% LD, 39.3 % GB and 36.3% FB. Let’s compare that to Lucas Duda, who had a 22.5/35.2/42.3 split and posted a .301 BABIP. And Duda’s BABIP was down 25 points from 2011, when he essentially had the same batted ball profile.

Of course, when we add in Baxter’s tremendous work as a sub, his season BABIP checks in at a robust .331 mark. And he was only able to post a .778 OPS with that elevated balls in play mark. That brings to mind two questions – Is the .331 repeatable and is a .778 OPS acceptable from a corner outfielder?

BABIP is a great stat but it is subject to fluke results just like any other statistic. The old rule of thumb was to take line drive percentage and add .120 to come up with what a player’s BABIP “should” have been. This is indicated by xBABIP. Using this method, Baxter’s xBABIP was .364 last year. A few years back, Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix came up with a more advanced xBABIP calculator, where you input many factors. Entering Baxter’s numbers from 2012, we get him with a .322 xBABIP.

FanGraph’s Jeff Zimmerman came up with an even better xBABIP calculator last year. Unfortunately, I could not get the calculator to work this morning. You can find the info here and if anyone could get it to run and post the numbers for Baxter in the comments, that would be great.

Even without the latest calculator, I feel comfortable thinking that Baxter’s BABIP from last year was not out of line from what we should have expected and it’s not unreasonable to assume he could do it again in 2013.

So, can we live with a .778 OPS from an outfield corner?

There were 29 left fielders last year with at least 400 PA and 12 posted an OPS lower than Baxter’s .778 mark. There were 32 right fielders and 12 of those posted an OPS lower than Baxter’s, including old friend Jeff Francoeur, who had a .665 OPS, which ranked 30th.

Assuming Baxter could duplicate his .778 over an entire season he would be below average, somewhere around the 40th percentile, for a corner outfielder. That’s not good but at the same time it’s not horrible, either. You could certainly do worse and for a stop-gap solution it’s hard to imagine being able to do much better.

Of course, it’s far from a sure thing that Baxter could manage that number. There are certainly doubts given how poorly he did as a starter last year, along with his .287 OPS in 22 PA versus LHP.

Yet at the same time, we’re dealing with a very small sample – just 211 PA. And Baxter also had to come back last year after a serious injury to his collarbone and rib cage suffered after he ran full speed into the outfield fence. Perhaps a healthy Baxter getting regular playing time improves in all areas from what he did a year ago.

We do know that Baxter has a nice line drive swing, he’s patient at the plate (11.8 BB%) and he hits RHP well. And we also know that absent the Mets making a big deal or an unexpected promotion of Matt Den Dekker – that Baxter will begin the year as a starter and likely will double his PA from 2012. So, get used to the idea.

13 comments for “Mike Baxter starting outfielder – are you ready?

  1. David Groveman
    November 16, 2012 at 9:48 am

    I expect a few things to keep Baxter on the bench.

    1) I fully expect R.A. Dickey to be traded (I could be wrong and it could be Wright or neither traded) for position player prospects at OF and C.

    2) Matt Den Dekker, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda and Jordany Valdespin could all out play him.

    3) Mets are in desperate need of a “goodwill” gesture from ownership to the fans. They need to infuse some cash into the club and sign SOMEONE. Even if it’s just Melky Cabrera.

  2. Name
    November 16, 2012 at 11:31 am

    I’m a little surprised there was no mention of the no-hitter catch. Like Thole, i’m betting that injury really affected his performance. That being said, i do think that on a good team, his best position would be as a 4th OF and late game pinch hitter.

    Also, i’m surprised no one has mentioned that $15 million of Bay’s contract is going to be deferred next year. That is a very significant amount and there’s a better chance they can make a splash and get a Bourn or Upton and retaining Hairston is only a matter of “if it’s worth it” rather than “can we afford him”. It also opens up a lot of trade options for OF.

    • November 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      The next to last graph referenced the catch and the injuries it produced.

      I remain unconvinced that the Mets will sink the “savings” (they still have to pay it in the near future) from Bay’s buyout directly back into the active roster. They still have massive debt payments to make and the $240 million they raised last year has already been spent.

      Is it possible that they put the Bay “savings” back into this year’s team? Sure, it’s possible. But I wouldn’t bet on the possibility, not even with your money.

      • Name
        November 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm

        Ah. Thanks for pointing it out, i missed that paragraph.

        Once the money is defered, you don’t consider that money part of this year’s payroll(basic finance 101). If you believe what Alderson said about the payroll for next year($100 million), then theortically should have around $15 million more to play with.

        However, you may be right that they don’t respend that money this offseason for 2 reasons.
        1. People don’t realize that Bay defered money and Sandy can get away with not respendin it. In fact, on this site it’s barely got any notice and we are all educated fans so the average fan probably wouldn’t even know.
        2. Sandy will fabricate some story about how he wants to see if the team is for real and then wait to spend that money during the trade deadline, if needed.

        It really depends on whether Sandy thinks this team can compete.
        My view is that any team can compete. There’s too many instances of predicated bottom-dwellers making the playoffs while the favorites don’t make it. Really, if the season could be accurately predicted by pundits and analysts, why even bother play the games?

    • 7train
      November 19, 2012 at 11:35 am

      I’m not all that optimistic that a lot of that 19 M will be going toward increasing the 2013 payroll. Some will probably go toward existing obligations that couldn’t be covered and the bulk of it will be saved for when it does have to be paid in two years. Maybe 5 M gets put in and that’s not going to make a huge difference.

      I don’t see too many players or agents having us at the top of their list either. Offense Vs. LHP, base running and defense in CF continues to be a huge problem and we do have someone who can help in that area. Andres Torres. He can be tendered a deal, split time in CF with Kirk and then traded mid season if a contender has their CFer go down or just cut and wouldn’t cost more than 3 M total.

      Barring a trade for a CFer or Pagan or Victorino coming here there really isn’t any other solution and both would require at least 2-3 year deals for quite a bit more than 3 M and then wind up blocking Kirk or den Dekker in CF if they do step it up.

      Try to get Reed Johnson to split time with Baxter in RF and with Hairston, Gomes or someone similar in LF. With a late inning lead put Torres in CF and Kirk in LF and we have a decent OF defense.

      Spin gets a utility role which could put him in the mix, Duda goes to AAA to work in LF and 1B and recover from his wrist surgery and hopefully either he or den Dekker earn a mid season promotion and Torres can be traded away or cut at that time. Meanwhile the focus should be on getting the right long term solution for catcher and OF in a trade from another teams prospects in A+ – AA so we don’t have to go through this nonsense every year.

  3. kjs
    November 16, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Baxter starting? Hmmmm. Then, I fully expect to be buying $2 tickets from my Mets freelance-ticket-seller friend by Mother’s Day.

  4. November 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    I think this all really boils down to one question: What is Mike Baxter’s peak as a professional baseball player? Is it more akin to his .125 average in 9 at-bats with San Diego? Is it the numbers he put up in 2012 as a pinch hitter? Is it his total numbers from 2012? Maybe it’s none of the above.

    The team needs to figure out exactly what he’s capable of, how much that injury affected him and what type of resources they’re going to allocate for the outfield. If they find he’s a borderline starting OF/solid fourth OF in MLB, I get a sneaky suspicion the Wilpon’s will have him starting.

  5. NCMetFan
    November 16, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Baxter as a starter is the wrong perspective in my opinion. Team Baxter at about $500K/year with a guy like Gomes or Harrison for $2MM/yr and things look better and both would be good 4th or 5th OFs next year if the Mets went for a higher dollar regular RF. I wouldn’t mind a platton pair like that in 2013. CF is the bigger concern for me since the Mets don’t have anyone with the athleticism to play CF that can also hit enough to be an everyday player.

    • Metsense
      November 17, 2012 at 8:01 am

      NL Avg: 23 HR, 78 RBI, .768 OPS
      Baxter: 3 HR , 17 RBI, .778 OPS (+12 OPS) 5.0 UZR
      Mike Baxter is the best option on the roster for RF but he profiles as a fourth OF and because of his contact a good PH. Maybe he is a sleeper, but as Brian pointed out,his starting stats indicate this is unlikely.
      The Mets need to acquire an everyday right fielder that is above average ofensively and defensively. They should not trade any starting pitching (their strength) for this player. They also don’t have the money for a “complete” FA. This is going to reduce the quality of the player. Signing both Gomes and Hairston would at least give the Mets two RH corner OF’s that have 20 HR capability and above avg OPS. Yes it is a band aid but a practical way to approach the situation.

      • norme
        November 17, 2012 at 10:49 am

        You’re take on the situation is accurate. As NCMetFan pointed out that leaves CF as the big hole. I guess that’s why the rumors are out there that the Mets might try to resign Torres. In other words, unless a trade is made the Mets will start the season with a woefully inadequate OF.

      • Name
        November 17, 2012 at 12:20 pm

        I don’t think you can peg Hairston as a 20 HR threat. Last year was the first year he actually got the 20 HR’s. Used appropriately,which i consider around 200-250 PA , i think you should only expect 10 HR’s from Hairston. I think people are overvaluing Hairston and that his 2011 numbers are more likely than his 2012 numbers.
        Gomes is more of a 20 HR threat than Hairston, but that’s only if he has a good year. Over the last 2 years, he has had HR every 22.2 AB. In order for him to get 20 HR’s, he would need around 440 PA, which if used correctly, he won’t get. I would expect 13-15 HR’s from him.

        These are guys i wouldn’t mind paying 2-4 mil, but at 5+ mil, it may be too much for a non full time player.

  6. Dan Satck
    November 18, 2012 at 2:59 am

    It would be a difficult thing to do to play Baxter against lefties. I still don’t trust him against lefties, but against rigties let him loose. In other words, yeah, I agree he’s a fourth OF like the rest of them.

  7. November 19, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Maybe Mike is spending the offseason building muscle and taking lots of batting practice.

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