The Mets are expected to activate Daniel Murphy and install him as the team’s third baseman in Tuesday’s game against the Cubs. We should all be glad that Murphy is back from the disabled list to lengthen the lineup. And we should be just as happy that the team is finally playing a better defensive lineup. In addition to Murphy at third, rumor has it that Ruben Tejada will be playing short and Wilmer Flores will move over to play second.
But the question becomes what to do with Dilson Herrera, who seems to be the odd man out. Herrera didn’t take advantage of his opportunity to establish himself in the majors. But he was also hurt for nearly a month. Anyway, the easiest thing to do is to send him to the minors where he can play every day. And if there’s anything we’ve learned about Sandy Alderson, it’s that he never misses a chance to take the easiest way.
My belief is that Herrera is a future star and Flores is a future utility player. Their offensive numbers have been similar up to this point, with a slight but definite edge to Herrera. There’s absolutely no doubt that Herrera is a better runner and a better fielder. So, in the Mets’ universe, it makes perfect sense to pick the inferior player to play right now as the club looks to fight for a playoff spot. The younger player always gets the short end of the stick, even if the older player is 23.
Here’s an age-based comparison of the two players:
The first set of numbers belong to Herrera and the second set to Flores. At age 19, Herrera hit better but Flores was at the higher level. Let’s call it a wash. At age 20, Flores had a slight edge in the FSL, where he was repeating the level. Not shown here is that Flores also played at the FSL at age 18, too. Anyway, when both players advanced to Double-A, Flores was good while Herrera was great. Not shown in this chart is that Herrera got a cup of coffee in the majors at age 20.
Their hitting in the PCL was a wash. The difference is that Flores did this over nearly a full season while Herrera’s total was about a month. And Herrera got off to a slow start. In his final 64 ABs before getting called to the majors, he was batting .422 with 9 XBH. In the 67 ABs before Flores was promoted to the majors, he was batting .313 with 7 XBH.
And neither one was very good in the majors at age 21. Yet Herrera held a 65-point edge in OPS.
Flores did better in his second go-round in the PCL, upping his OPS to .935 in Las Vegas. But once we take the appropriate air out of that, we see it’s not very impressive. Our research shows that you should remove 19% of a player’s OBP and 34% of their SLG to get a better representation of what the same season numbers look like going from the PCL to the majors.
Applying those to Flores, we get these numbers for the past two years:
2013 – .887 OPS in LVG, .639 OPS translation, .542 actual OPS in majors
2014 – .935 OPS in LVG, .672 OPS translation, .664 actual OPS in majors
Flores underperformed what we would have expected him to do in 2013 but did exactly what we would have expected in 2014. And we see his 2015 MLB numbers are virtually the same as his 2014 numbers. Everyone’s wowed by the home runs but in 256 PA this year, Flores has a .665 OPS. Last year in the majors, he had a .664 OPS. This is who he is as a hitter.
Last year, Flores’ supporters said that the reason he didn’t do better was because his playing time was sporadic and he was hitting eighth in the order. This year he’s been a full-time player and has moved up in the batting order, even hitting cleanup. While we see a slightly different shape to his numbers in 2015, his overall production is a carbon copy of what it was a season ago.
Now, the supporters say that his offensive numbers suffered because he was focusing on playing shortstop. The story goes that his fielding was impacting his offense. So, we’ll sink more time into Flores, hoping he’ll develop into an impact bat once the pressure of playing a position he’s played the majority of his life is removed.
It brings to mind a scene from the movie, “And the Band Played On,” which was a story of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Matthew Modine plays a doctor on the front line and he’s testifying before Congress, trying to get more money to research the disease to find a cure. The amount he’s requesting seems like an incredible amount – in hindsight it was a drop in the bucket – so the idea was dismissed out of hand. To which Modine’s character replied:
“How many dead hemophiliacs do you need? How many people have to die to make it cost efficient for you people to do something about it? A hundred? A thousand? Give us a number so we won’t annoy you again until the amount of money you begin spending on lawsuits make it more profitable for you to save people than to kill them.”
How many PA do we have to waste on Wilmer Flores, starting infielder? Yes, he’s still young and the possibility he can improve certainly exists. But the key word is possibility. It’s one among several outcomes and at this point it’s not the most likely one. He has 704 PA in Triple-A that are not good once you take the air out of them and 647 PA in the majors that are equal to or worse than his adjusted Triple-A numbers. There’s just no way to dismiss 1,351 PA as a small sample.
Herrera was much better than Flores at Double-A, they were equivalent in Triple-A, although Flores had a much bigger sample and Herrera was promoted once he started hitting. And Herrera’s shot in the majors was superior to Flores at the same age. He’s a natural second baseman and much better defensively than Flores. He’s much, much faster than Flores and he’s not above taking a walk.
The case for Flores is based on the hope that he can improve on what he’s done at Double-A, Triple-A and the majors, despite 1,626 PA at those levels. If he improves, you live with the questionable defense, the poor running and the inability to draw walks.
The case for Herrera is based on the hope that he can reproduce his Double-A numbers if he’s given more than the 96 PA he had in Triple-A or the 93 he’s had in the majors this year. Herrera doesn’t need to improve as much as he needs the chance to play. On an age-based comparison, he’s been better in the batter’s box than Flores, he’s superior everywhere else and there’s more chance for a 21 year old to improve than a 23 year old.
Flores gets the shot because he’s older, not because he’s better. Anyone offended by Dillon Gee given preference over Rafael Montero should be offended here. Anyone offended by Bartolo Colon given preference over Noah Syndergaard should be offended here. Anyone offended by Rick Ankiel getting preference over Juan Lagares should be offended here. Anyone offended by Michael Cuddyer getting preference over Michael Conforto should be offended here.
You should play your best guys, regardless of how old they are or how much money they make. In the meantime, we’re left rooting for Flores. If history is any judge, he’ll go through a five-game streak where he pops a couple of homers and has everyone convinced he’s turned the corner. And then we’ll have a three-week stretch where he does nothing. It’s been 19 days now where he’s done nothing so a mini-hot streak should be just around the corner.
Let’s hope it lasts more than a week this time.
Meanwhile, Herrera should get a bunch of playing time in Las Vegas, where he will likely put up good numbers. And some people will say with a straight face that he “needed the extra seasoning.” If only we could wager on these things happening what a good world it would be.