In 2011, Jose Reyes led the league in batting for the Mets and was with another team the next year. In 2012, R.A. Dickey led the league in strikeouts and the next year he was on another team. In 2013, Eric Young Jr. led the league in stolen bases. While he will likely open the year with the Mets, it’s anyone’s guess what his role will be on the club.
Following the 2013 season, the Mets acquired outfielders Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. When they did not trade second baseman Daniel Murphy, it seemed like Young Jr. would be relegated to fourth outfielder status. But then manager Terry Collins indicated that Young Jr. was his preferred option to be the team’s leadoff hitter and now no one knows what to expect.
It’s fun to watch a speedy guy run the bases and Young Jr. is no different. He gave the club a different dimension and every time he got on base he was a threat to put himself in scoring position. The rub was he just wasn’t very good at getting on base. The old baseball wisdom is that you can’t steal first base and Young Jr.’s .318 OBP ranked eighth among the 12 guys on the team to amass at least 200 PA last year.
The polar opposite of Young Jr. would be Lucas Duda, a big slow guy. Duda came to the plate 34 fewer times than Young Jr. yet scored just six fewer runs because he was better at getting on base. We all recall the times when Young Jr. seemingly scored a run by himself. But his electricity on the basepaths does no good if he’s sitting in the dugout after another weak groundout.
In 425 PA in the 2011-12 seasons, Young Jr. had a .358 OBP, 40 points higher than what he did last year. So, if he gets the playing time this year what will he do? Here’s what we predict:
Interestingly, not one of us thinks he can match the .358 OBP he put up over the two seasons prior to joining the Mets. Yet four of us think he’ll get over 400 PA, enough to be way more than a traditional fourth outfielder. Jim O’Malley thinks he’ll get the most playing time and sees another 40-SB season for him. Doug Parker thinks he’ll get less than half the playing time and post just a .635 OPS when he does play. The majority of us are closer to Doug’s point of view.
Here’s what the group forecasts for Young Jr. in 2014:
Before Collins indicated that he was in Young Jr.’s corner, we projected 496 PA and a .680 OPS for Juan Lagares and 512 PA and a .738 OPS for Young. Now we think Young Jr. will get 376 PA and a .678 OPS. Actually, 1,384 PA isn’t a bad total for two outfield spots, if these three make up the vast majority of playing time. Perhaps the question is if Collins will be satisfied with 872 PA of roughly a .680 OPS from Lagares and Young Jr.
It certainly could work. If Lagares is as good defensively as he was a year ago, he’ll still be an asset. And if the Mets get more from catcher, first base and shortstop than they did in 2013, it would make carrying Young Jr. easier, too.
Collins has gotten a free pass from nearly everyone because of a belief that he couldn’t be judged on his record as he simply didn’t have the horses. Now Sandy Alderson is telling ownership that the Mets have the talent to win 90 games. Collins’ bosses think this team has the horses. It will be interesting if Collins changes how he rides his players this year with these new expectations.
Given his druthers, a jockey would prefer to ride a fast horse. Perhaps that’s why Collins has been so public in his support of Young Jr. How Collins handles the outfield and how Young Jr. responds when he gets playing time will be two of the key storylines in the early months of the 2014 season.
Check back Monday for our next entry in the projection series.