If there has been one pleasant surprise about Sandy Alderson’s tenure with the Mets, it has been his ability to turn a joke, whether it’s about the team’s financial situation, last year’s all-star vote, or the team’s abysmal looking outfield.
Last week Bryan Mcwilliam examined what possible outfield options the Mets still had in the free agency market, because as everybody knows, the Mets current outfield contains exactly zero major league caliber starters.
As currently constructed, the 2013 outfield looks like it will consist of Lucas Duda, Collin Cowgill, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter and, for the purposes of this exercise, Scott Hairston. If you’re thinking, “Wow! Four of those five should never be starting at a major league level,” you’re right. If ever there was an outfield that could make a man pine for the days of Art Howe’s Shane Spencer-Karim Garcia platoon, this is it.
Everyone knows the outfield is bad, but could it be possible that it will be better than in 2012? Let’s look at the numbers.
Last season, the median fWAR for team outfields was 8.8 Wins Above Replacement. Values ranged from the Angels at 19.8 fWAR to the Astros at 2.3 fWAR. The Mets finished the season 29th with 4.1 wins being contributed by the outfield. Statistically, it was the worst season for a Mets outfield since 2003, when Roger Cedeno was still driving us crazy, Raul Gonzalez somehow played 107 games, Jeff Duncan had a robust 44 OPS+, and Cliff Floyd was the new kid on the block.
In other words, the 2012 Mets outfield was atrocious.
If there’s a silver lining, the fWAR number is dragged down by -1.1 fWAR from Duda and -0.8 fWAR from Jason Bay, so there is definite room for improvement in 2013.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Mets outfield should look like in 2013 using Bill James’ projections.
Keep in mind, a major league average starter will provide his team with about 2.0 wins above replacement.
|Player||Games Played||Slash Line||wOBA||Approximate fWAR*|
*Remember defensive play factors into this as well as offensive production. These approximations are also very unscientific.
James predicts Duda to bounce back somewhat in 2013, posting nice offensive numbers (most likely in left field), but of course his terrible defense (this is an understatement) drags down his contribution to the team.
Nieuwenhuis, Baxter, Cowgill, and Hairston all figure to form some sort of platoon at the center field and right field positions. If they can do so as productively as James predicts, the Mets outfield is in decent shape, giving the team a solid 5.7 fWAR, a marked improvement from 2012.
If you toss in possible contributions from Jordany Valdespin, Andrew Brown, and perhaps Matt den Dekker later on in the season, the Mets outfield could be looking at a 2 win improvement over last season.
Before we get too excited over that, 6.1 fWAR would still put the Mets 23rd overall in Major League Baseball. For comparison’s sake, Carlos Beltran had 7.6 fWAR during the 2008 season alone.
Additionally, James’ projections tend to be more optimistic than other models, like MARCEL and ZiPS, the outfield may underperform the low standards set here.
There is still a lot of work to do to get the Mets outfield back to even an above-average level (as they were from 2005-2009), but it will take some time. If the Mets are to return to playoff contention, the outfield must significantly improve, but for now, it seems as if they are on the right track.
Follow Joe Vasile on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.
 Hairston has not signed yet, as of the writing of this article, but most insiders suspect he will re-sign.