Wednesday at the Winter Meetings was quite eventful for the New York Mets. They responded from Tuesday’s disappointment of not signing Ben Zobrist to completely revamp the middle infield. First came the Jon Niese to Pittsburgh for Neil Walker trade.
Then later they reached an agreement with free agent Asdrubal Cabrera on a two year $16 million deal.
The team made it clear that Cabrera was signed to be the team’s primary shortstop. This, at least for the time being, moves Wilmer Flores into a backup role at several infield spots. He may become Walker’s platoon mate at second since Walker, a switch-hitter who usually struggles with lefty pitching, could use a partner.
Given that my blog articles have gone on and on about how inadequate the Mets’ shortstop position was you would think I would be clicking my heels over the Asdrubal signing. After all my position has been that Flores was an inadequate fielder with an acceptable bat while Ruben Tejada was the opposite.
But one really has to question whether an upgrade has occurred here at all. Unfortunately it will come down to comparing Flores defensively to Cabrera and that is a challenge that even advanced Sabermetrics struggles with.
Want to start a vociferous argument with a bunch of your baseball buddies? Ask them whether Derek Jeter was a good fielder. You will get the full gamut of answers from people saying that he was a Gold Glove caliber player and will quickly recall his diving into the stands for foul balls and his incredibly heads up play nailing Jeremy (not Jason) Giambi at the plate in the playoffs. They will regale you with recollections of his jump throws from the hole.
But others, especially those who are not Yankee fans, will point to every fielding metric from UZR to defensive runs saves and on and on to say that Saint Derek got to a lot fewer balls than the other shortstops of his era.
Looking at Asdrubal and Wilmer using fielding metrics for the 2015 season. These stats come from the incredible source Baseball Reference.
Here’s what the top columns represent:
GS – games started at SS
RF/9 – range factor per 9 innings
lg RF/9 – what the league range factor was per 9 innings
Rtot – Total fielding runs above average
DRS – defensive runs save above average
This table shows that there is no real evidence to say that at this point in his career Asdrubal Cabrera is a superior defensive shortstop to Wilmer Flores.
Perhaps their difference is to be found on offense. And perhaps this will be enough of a difference to justify replacing Flores with Cabrera. We’ll look at two projection systems, Steamer and Marcel.
Cabrera: 530 pa, 14 HRs, .243/.305/.394 OPS 699
Flores: 322 pa, 10 HRs, .264/.302/.421 OPS 723
Cabrera: 537 pa, 14 HRs, .251/.309/.412 OPS 721
Flores: 482 pa, 14 HRs, .262/.302/.408 OPS 710
The differences are quite minor. One can conclude that in 2016 Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores have approximately the same offensive potential.
So if offensively there is little difference and defensively there is not much difference then what have the Mets purchased for $8 million a year for this year and next? Frankly, not much.