Who’s batting leadoff for the Mets in 2014?

Reverse LogoThe Mets walked away from the winter meetings with some questions answered. They have a veteran starting pitcher in Bartolo Colon. They have to outfielders with some pop in their bats in Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. They are actively looking for back end of the bullpen relievers (connected to Chris Perez, Mitchell Boggs, John Axford and Kevin Gregg) and will trade Ike Davis (it’s just a matter of time).

However, with all of this movement, one part of their team remains a massive question mark, and that’s who will bat leadoff.

Looking at who will receive regular or semi-regular at bat’s on this team, there are really only four candidates to bat leadoff; Juan Lagares, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and Eric Young Jr. Yes, Granderson and Young have experience batting leadoff, but the way the team is set up, the Mets need those two players extra base hit ability in the middle of the order, backing up David Wright. Of the four candidates mentioned, Lagares needs to be eliminated immediately. Lagares hasn’t shown he can hit well enough to hit at the top of the order and make up for his lack of plate discipline. He shouldn’t be hitting anywhere other than in the seven or eight spots in the batting order, so that he can continue to develop and possibly turn into a higher in the order type hitter. That leaves Murphy, Tejada and Young Jr. In order to adequately compare these players, since Murphy doesn’t have much experience batting in the leadoff spot, we have to compare how all three players bat in lead off situations. Those situations can be defined as any time they got up with nobody on base and zero, one or two outs. In Tejada’s case, we’ll look at what he did in 2012 as the 2013 season was a lost one for him.

Murphy – PA: 398 AB: 380 AVG: .292 OBP: .324 SLG: .424 OPS: 748 BB%: 4.0 SO%: 14.3

Tejada – PA: 361 AB: 338 AVG: .293 OBP: .334 SLG: .358 OPS: 692 BB%: 5.3 SO%: 14.1

Young Jr. – PA: 286 AB: 258 AVG: .275 OBP: .346 SLG: .311 OPS: 657 BB%: 9.1 SO%: 18.2

What does the above say? It’s confusing. Murphy is clearly the best hitter, with the best OPS, but he has the worst walk rate and OBP. Young Jr. has the best OBP and walk rate, but also has the highest strike out rate, the lowest average and the lowest OPS. Tejada has the best AVG (by a point), but is in the middle in the other categories. Adding in stolen bases only further complicates the matter as Young Jr. has elite speed, Murphy has “smart” speed (meaning his ability to steal bases is more about getting good jumps and reading pitchers than speed) and Tejada has shown no consistent ability to steal bases in the majors, even though he did have a good history of it in the minor leagues. When you add in that Murphy’s stolen base ability is more about guile than speed, it leaves one to believe that those stolen base totals can’t be counted on.

On top of the numbers, there are other complications to the leadoff equation:

1. Murphy’s status – Murphy was made available during the winter meetings and there were teams that called. Reportedly, the Mets were seeking a lot in return for Murphy, leading most insiders to believe he won’t be traded. That’s my belief as well, but the offseason is a tricky thing to judge. If a team needing a second baseman decides to meet the Mets asking price, who’s to say Murphy won’t be dealt. If he is, then Young Jr. becomes your leadoff hitter as he would probably slot into Murphy’s position at second base.

2. The shortstop dilemma – Right now, Tejada is the Mets shortstop, but Sandy Alderson has been working hard on alternatives, such as Stephen Drew. Drew doesn’t look like he’s coming here as the Mets are only willing to offer a two year deal, which matches what the Red Sox are offering. In that scenario, it’s believed that Drew will rejoin the Red Sox. The Diamondbacks have an excess at the position as well, but that might go into any trade for David Price, or the Diamondbacks might just hold onto their excess in case one of their shortstops doesn’t progress as they think they should. Jed Lowrie is probably able to be had, but Billy Beane has no reason to trade him and the asking price is probably high. Yunel Escobar could be a possibility, but just like with Beane, the Rays have no need to trade him. Jose Reyes and Elvis Andrus could also probably be had, but they have big, long contracts (especially Andrus) and will cost in players and prospects. This factor could totally change the leadoff spot as some of the players mentioned could hit leadoff (Andrus and Reyes), hit in the middle of the order (Drew and Lowrie) or claim a strangle hold on the two or eight spots in the order (Escobar or anyone from Arizona). It’s also conceivable that Murphy could be involved in a trade bringing back some of these players (Reyes, Lowrie, Escobar) that would also change the dynamic.

3. Juan Lagares – If Lagares hits, his glove will keep him as a regular in the lineup. If he doesn’t hit, Young or Granderson will move over to centerfield, opening a spot in the order for Young Jr. in leftfield. If that occurs, Young Jr. becomes the leadoff hitter. There has also been chatter from the Mets about starting Young Jr. in leftfield from the start. That’s a mistake, as Lagares is too good as a fielder to be ignored, unless his bat is totally abysmal.

So, what’s the final conclusion from all of this? If the Mets stay status quo with everyday players, their best option would be a bit of a revolving door in the leadoff spot. Assuming Tejada is your everyday shortstop and Lagares is your regular centerfielder, Young Jr. will be slotted into the leadoff spot approximately half the time, giving days off to all three outfielders and filling in for Murphy at second when he either gets a day off or has to fill in at another position (first base or third base) to give that player a day off. When Young Jr. isn’t in the lineup, Tejada should hit there, as long as Tejada hits like he did in 2011 or 2012 as opposed to 2013.

There is some evidence that Tejada could get back to that point. Tejada’s strike out rate in leadoff situations in 2013 was only 12.7%, the lowest in the last three years. His walk rate in those situations was 7.0%, higher than in 2012 and only 2.1 points behind his rate in 2011, 9.1%. This seems to indicate that he was extremely unlucky in 2013, leaving hope that if he can stay healthy, which is part of the reason the Mets have him in fitness camp, he can return to his 2011-2012 form.

None of this is ideal, but it’s one of those situations that the Mets will have to live with in 2014. With the potential power they now have in the lineup, I think it’s something that, if managed correctly, will not be a major hole in the order. Of course, that also means that Tejada and Young Jr., if they are the primary leadoff guys, will have to play their part. Since this season could be a make or break for both of them, regarding their roles in the future, there is probably a good chance they will succeed. We’ll see. Let’s just hope that the leadoff spot doesn’t become what it was last year before Young Jr. arrived, which was an unmitigated disaster. That would put a team that now looks like a competitive club for the first time in several years, back into the 74 win team they have been two years running.

14 comments for “Who’s batting leadoff for the Mets in 2014?

  1. Metsense
    December 12, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    It really comes down to who is the 3rd OF, Lagares or EY ?
    Young: 1 HR, 318/329/647 : Lagares: 4 HR, 281/352/633
    The two are similarly inept offensively, with EY an elite base runner.
    Defensively, Lagares is an elite CF but EY seems to be average in LF.
    An outfield of EY – C Young – Granderson is a good defensive outfield.
    EY’s base running seems to be more needed than Lagares’ defense.
    Murphy is more suited at #2. Tejada can’t be considered because of 2013.
    It looks like going into spring training, Lagares is going to have to significantly prove he is better with a bat than EY to take the 3rd spot and therefore bat first. Tejada needs to prove he can hit major league pitching again before he is even considered.
    The reality is that the Mets still have two offensive holes in their lineup and a rookie catcher that needs to establish himself, a first baseman that was sent to the minors last year, one free agent that is looking for a bounce back year and a second free agent that is coming off an injury plagued year. That is a lot of pieces that need to flow together seamlessly.

    • eric
      December 12, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      Not sure how the year is going start, but by year’s end, Lagares will be leading off or batting 2nd most of the time. Stud in the making. I

    • Jerry Grote
      December 12, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      I don’t think either Granderson or EYJ have the arm to play in RF. If that’s the case, you almost have to have both Young and Lagares in the field at the same time.

      Personally, I’d stick Murphy at leadoff. He’s got good base stealing speed, has some pop, can run the basepaths perfectly well. Put Duda’s .360 OBP in batting second, David third and Grandy 4th.

      Sidenote: it was shown on Fangraphs that a player’s speed impact on the game reaches an inflection point at age 29 and begins to go down quite rapidly. Eric Young was born in 1985.

      • December 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm

        Duda is too slow to put in the 2 hole and would clog up the bases. How about CY instead and Duda clean-up?

        • Jerry Grote
          December 13, 2013 at 9:58 am

          I don’t buy the speed thing at all Pete. I mean, I realize that Duda’s slow. But you need to have guys on base to score runs.

          Putting Duda at 4th brings into question who will bat 3rd and 5th, which for me doesn’t work. Now … if you are going to go off the deep edge … this lineup would be different:

          Murphy
          Wright
          Duda
          Granderson

          Yes, I get the l-r-l-l hitter order. But you’ve Granderson in a position to drive in the three guys most likely to get on base on the entire team. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that a simulation on that order lineup would produce unusually high runs.

          Likewise, you’ve probably maximized the number of ABs the teams best hitter will get in a season.

  2. Sean Flattery
    December 12, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    To begin the year, I would say Collins leads off EY when he’s in lineup, and C. Young leads off when EY is on bench.

  3. Chris F
    December 12, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    I think there is now way you sit down a gold-glove guy that posts a 3.7 WAR (BB Ref) as a rookie for a guy that has never posted a 2. Lagares glove and potential at plate (has had a terrific DWL season with the bat) for outweighs the speed of EY. I like him for sure, but he fell out of every day with the signing of Chris young. The only guy with any long term future is Lagares, and he should play every day IMO.

    • Chris F
      December 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm

      Good glove potential that is.

  4. Herb
    December 12, 2013 at 11:19 pm

    I think this is a moot argument. From everything we have been hearing this week, Eric Young is going to get regular playing time, either in LF or 2B, and he will be batting leadoff. And, IMHO, that is unquestionably the right decision.

    The job of the leadoff hitter is to get on base and to then get himself into scoring position, setting the table for the real hitters who bat behind him. OBP and SBs are the stats you should be considering when selecting your leadoff hitter. Leading off is not about AVG or SLG or OPS. Those are more importand stats for the #s 3, 4, 5 & 6 hitters and to some extent for #2. Murphy’s career slash line when batting 2nd in the order (.300/.346/.433/.779) are much better than the leadoff stats quoted above. If he is still with us in 2014, he should clearly bat 2nd. My vote for leadoff hitter is EYJ.

  5. December 12, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Why is Andrus included in your column? The Rangers traded Kinsler to make room for Profar. So unless you’re going to include Murphy in your deal doesn’t make sense. On a lighter point. I know we all make grammatical mistakes even after reading our comments before posting. But the last time I checked the number 2 is spelled with a w in it.

  6. Chris F
    December 13, 2013 at 8:03 am

    How about Lucas Duda?

    • Jerry Grote
      December 13, 2013 at 9:51 am

      People get their shorts all bunched up about “clogging the base paths” because of Duda’s lack of speed. I suppose its more important if Duda clogs the base path for Chris Young’s double than it does for David Wright’s double.

      But if David Wright hits a double and there’s nobody on to score, what the heck is the difference? Putting the guys that get on base at the top of the order is what eventually will create wins, because it will be statistically mean they will get the most ABs and therefore increase the number of runners you have. More runners=more runs.

      I appreciate the importance we’d like to put on lead off, but it’s misplaced. On the whole, a team needs to get on base and this team particularly will be challenged by that next year. You’ve brought on two guys that are not skilled at getting on.

      But to twist around the entire team and take a 4 WAR player out of CF, of all places, so you can get a 1 WAR, .330 OBP leadoff guy is the most absurd thing I’ve read in these parts. Play the best 8 position players.

      I mean, for Pete’s sake, a guy “leads off” *once per game*. Let’s not make it more than it is. What wins games is keeping the other team from scoring (defense/pitching) and getting on base/not using up outs. They have nearly equal value.

      • Joe Vasile
        December 13, 2013 at 10:12 am

        Jerry, you took the words right out of my mouth. For one, OBP is the absolute King at the top of the lineup. Duda (or Satin when he plays) should be leading off. Period.

        People get hung up on speed a lot, but the research done by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman and Andrew Dolphin in “The Book” shows that speed actually plays a lot better at the bottom of the lineup, in about the 6-hole. The reason is because, like you said, at the top you have your XBH guys advancing the people on base, but at the bottom, you have mostly singles hitters. By putting a speedy guy in front of a singles hitter, he can go 1st to 3rd or score from 2nd on a single, where say, Duda wouldn’t be able to do so. The Wrights, Grandersons and Murphys of the world are more likely to hit the doubles, triples, and homers that can score Duda from a base other than third.

      • Chris F
        December 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm

        I would also add that at fat cmp this winter the reports are that Duda has really worked to elevate his foot speed, and in fact is returning in January to go through another round. Although the led off guy by rule only gets one guaranteed lead off, the chance for more ABs and thus more odds of being up first again is reasonable, especially following the pitcher yielding some inning ender AB.

        Either way, if Duda is gonna be near a high 300s or 400 OBP, then he should be first and let Murph, DW, and Grandy chase him like a scalded cat around the bases. with a 90 foot head start itll take 2 bases to catch him!

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