My strong preference was for the Mets to sign Shin-Soo Choo this past offseason. However, Sandy Alderson did not want to put all of his eggs into one basket and instead spent $32.25 million on Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. While it will be interesting to see the value the Mets get for their free agent dollars versus what Choo puts up, it will also be interesting to see at the end of the year how Choo does versus the Mets’ leadoff hitters.
Eric Young Jr. has started most of the games for the Mets as a leadoff hitter. Let’s see how Young Jr. and Choo are doing here in the early going:
Choo – 67 PA, .283/.418/.358, 6 runs, 0.36 WPA
Young Jr. – 66 PA, .255/.344/.309, 12 runs, 0.33 WPA
Young Jr. is holding his own versus Choo, despite a 123-point deficit in OPS. Amazingly, he’s scored twice as many runs as Choo here in the early going. Texas, considered a good-hitting squad, has struggled to score runs. The Rangers’ leadoff hitter is doing his job, but even though he’s getting on base at an outstanding clip, the guys behind Choo are not doing their part to drive him in.
Meanwhile, Young Jr. is doing a better job of getting on base than a season ago and once he reaches, he’s been his usual outstanding self turning singles into doubles by stealing bases. He’s already swiped nine bags (after not having a steal in his first four games of the year) and has yet to be thrown out.
In his brief career with the Mets, Young Jr. has an amazing 87% success rate on steal attempts, successfully swiping 47 bags in 54 attempts. With a break-even rate in the neighborhood of 70%, Young Jr. has been both prolific and productive with his steals. Unlike a lot of guys who run, he has truly added value on the basepaths.
The key question going forward is: Can Young Jr. continue to get on base 35% of the time? He has a lifetime .326 OBP, which is not very good. In 2013, he was worse, with a .310 mark. But in limited action the previous seasons, Young Jr. had a .342 OBP in 2011 and a .377 mark in 2012. In 425 PA over those two years, he posted a .358 OBP.
Mets fans can be forgiven for dreaming that Young Jr. posts an OBP that high over 600 PA in 2014. If he can do that – and continue with his amazing SB success rate – he can be the impact leadoff hitter the club so desperately needs.
Still, it’s hard to believe that Young Jr. is going to add nearly 40 points of OBP to what he produced in 2013. He’s extremely unlikely to do that if he continues to strike out at such a high rate. Young Jr. has an unsightly 30.3 K% so far this season. The fact that he’s nearly doubled his strikeout rate and increased his OBP by a significant amount is a bit mind-boggling.
It’s amazing what a .389 BABIP will do for a fellow.
It’s been a joy to watch Young Jr. in these last 10 games. He’s gotten on base seemingly at will and has been unstoppable in the running game. Unquestionably, he’s been a catalyst at the top of the order. When fans of Young Jr. talk about his strengths, they see this type of play lasting all season long. Nothing would be better for the Mets than for their leadoff player to give this type of spark throughout the campaign.
Yet the prudent thing to do would be to enjoy this version of Young Jr. for as long as it lasts but to recognize that he’s playing at a level that is likely beyond his reach in a full season. Assuming both players are healthy and get a large number of PA, it’s my firm belief that Choo will be much more productive than Young Jr. because at the end of the day, his huge edge in getting on base will trump the SB advantage that Young Jr. holds.
The injury to Lagares means that Young Jr. will not lose any playing time when Young returns from the DL. If there can be such a thing as timely injuries, the Mets’ outfielders have spaced their injuries out so that their four players for three spots will not be an issue for at least the first month of the season. Perhaps if all four are healthy at the same time, it will allow Terry Collins not to do his usual “run guys into the ground” routine.
There exists the chance for Collins to give all of his outfielders plenty of playing time. He can look to get his guys the most favorable matchups and not be forced to play someone with a .496 OPS 49 times in 52 games, like he did with Ike Davis last April and May. Events may play out in the most favorable way possible for Young Jr. in 2014.
But he still won’t be as valuable as Choo.