Have the Mets really improved themselves at shortstop?

ShortstopWednesday 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.

player GS RF/9 lg RF/9 Rtot DRS
Flores 96 4.16 4.38 -8 -10
Cabrera 131 3.42 4.21 -15 -7

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.

22 comments for “Have the Mets really improved themselves at shortstop?

  1. Barry
    December 10, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    Totally agree. This is a real head-scratcher.

    • Joe Mets Fan
      December 10, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      They should of signed Ian Desmond.

  2. Tom Kiders
    December 10, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    I agree as well. I think it is time to let Flores be your SS out of spring training and let him play w/o looking over his shoulder. The $ paid for Cabrera could’ve gone toward reliever and/or power hitting OF

  3. Scott
    December 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Fellas, the eye test, did you watch many games? Flores is not an adequate ML shortstop and the second part of the year he did not hit well enough to make up for that. Maybe 2B, but Walker is a better player. He’s the Zobrist of this club and if Wright breaks down he gets first shot at third.

  4. Big Metfan
    December 10, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    I would like to point out that you’re comparing Cabrera to a couple of players that are both injured and may never be the same. I like the move because it provides the Mets with a comparable player as well as some insurance at a critical position.

  5. Metsense
    December 10, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    From my earlier post:Cabrera in his worst years is equivalent to Flojada in their best years. He is a switch hitter, only 30 years old, and consistently averages 15 home runs a year. He is defensively weak SS but he makes the the routine play (97.3 %) better than Flores (94.9 %) and equal to Tejada (97.0 %). Cabrera is an upgrade in a limited shortstop market at a reasonable salary and contract length.
    Walker is a better all round player than Murphy. The team improved at two positions, offensively and defensively, at a minimal expenditure. The line up is lengthened , two switch hitters were added for versatility, no long term salary commitments, and the bench is stronger. It wasn’t flashy but it was solid baseball moves. Now they should sign Heyward or Cespedes for some flash!

  6. LongTimeFan1
    December 10, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    The eye test and athleticism matters as well as facts. Can’t just whip out the stats while ignoring tools and skills.

    Flores is not starting shortstop material with slow feet and long takeback, most impactful with plays to his right and over his head.

    Additionally he has no power to right field, his mechanics make that a certainty that was later exploited by the opposition.

    He’s also severely lacking in foot speed making him a base running liability. A shortstop should never be such a liability, not even capable of stealing a base, just two in his career including postseason.

    At the very least, Cabrera is a significant speed upgrade and has the capacity to drive the ball to all fields, deepens the lineup and offsense. His crappy OBP is even an improvement over Flores’s.

    And any upgrade he adds defensively – and per scouts, he does – makes us a better team.

    Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy

    • December 10, 2015 at 2:41 pm

      Power to the opposite field is a prerequisite for a good SS? Learn something new every day. Just hope you’re not going to be dismayed by Cabrera’s total of zero homers to the opposite field in 9 years in the majors and over 1,100 games played.

      Cabrera can beat Flores in a footrace but the value that will translate on the field is negligible.

      He’s been a below-average defensive SS since 2008.

  7. Chris F
    December 10, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    As big metfan alluded to, our two shortstops have had very serious lower leg injuries, the recovery from which can be lengthy, painful, and leave the person with chronic issues. At the very least its reasonable to expect both will be slower, prone to additional injury (esp with Flores ankle injury), and in real pain. The Cabrera signing is a way to instantly solve SS and move on to other matters that need attention. Is he the best? no. Is he the worst? not really. This isnt a head scratcher at any level, it was a required move. We have proven MLB athletes in the middle infield now. Both can hit. Ok defenders. Sure, AC is slow, but he can be in the right position a lot.

    • December 10, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      Really? A non-displaced fracture is a very serious injury? Then why is the recovery time for a non-athlete listed at 6-12 weeks?

      • Chris F
        December 10, 2015 at 4:59 pm

        According to Collins being interviewed yesterday, the club views both injuries as very serious WRT full speed play

        • December 10, 2015 at 5:02 pm

          Well, it is something that’s likely to keep Flores from playing for at least two months, so I would consider that serious, too. But since it’s four months before ST games begin, I think we should keep perspective.

        • TexasGusCC
          December 10, 2015 at 11:19 pm

          Wait a second Chris, did you just quote Collins?

          Chris, you and I made fun of him All Year!

  8. blaiseda
    December 10, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    It brings certainty and flexibility without significantly adding payroll and adds a veteran presence on the infield for the next two years, while we wait for Dilson to develop, see how DW stands up to the rigors of a full season, and see if Reynolds, Cecchini or mostly likely Rosario deserve the call up.

    AC is our everyday SS and Tejeda is his back up. Flores is now the utility guy mostly playing 2B & 3B. He plays 2B against most lefties and fills in for DW against righties when he needs a break. If Dilson is ready by July we can flip Walker at the deadline or we keep him the full year we QO Walker and get a supplemental pick. Flores stays on the team for 2 more years getting 300-400 at bats per year and hopefully builds enough value that we can trade him if we decide we don’t need a 3B or 2B by 2018.

  9. James Preller
    December 10, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    I don’t understand this signing in isolation. For example, I look at the Royals signing Soria for 3/$25 and feel like I’d be personally more excited about a development like that.

    The Mets appear to have limited money to spend, so this kind of marginal upgrade doesn’t do much for me.

    I keep thinking that has to be (please, dear reader, imagine capital letters there, for “has to be”), so corresponding move.

    One other thought: If they flipped Lagares and signed Span, I’d be happy with that.

    • TexasGusCC
      December 10, 2015 at 11:25 pm

      James, just a difference of opinion: Soria isn’t consistent enough for that money. Cabrera has been pretty consistent and getting an everyday player, or potential everyday player for reliever money is a steal.

      I say potential starter because I feel he replaces Uribe with abilities to play the middle infield. I actually am pleased, so far. When do we dump Tejada?

      • James Preller
        December 11, 2015 at 5:47 am

        At the end of Spring Training!

        It’s been nagging at me and now I think I understand.

        He’s insurance.

        First, to back up, we know that Sandy hates to non-tender players. He’s philosophically opposed of giving them away. (See: Davis, Ike, for example.)

        Let’s say that Tejada is awarded $2.5 million through arbitration. The Mets will not be on the hook for that full figure unless he makes the Opening Day Roster. If he doesn’t, they are only obligated to pay a portion of his salary.

        I have not reviewed the finer points of the rule — whether he has to be released, or traded, or simply sent down to the minors — but the essence is there. If he doesn’t make the team, the Mets can keep him around as insurance, and still get out of it at a fraction of the cost of his contract.

        It may be that they see this as a cost worth paying; plus, Sandy may also figure that he can flip Tejada in late March to somebody if it comes to that.

      • James Preller
        December 11, 2015 at 5:56 am

        Texas, just to clarify my thinking, but most analysts I’ve read tend to believe that Cabrera is only slightly better than Flores. When you factor in that Flores is still developing — that there’s clearly room for offensive improvement — it’s hard to say that the Mets are getting much of an upgrade at the position for the money, $18.5 million over two years. If some of that same money went to a quality setup man, Sipp, for example, I personally feel that the team would get more bang from the buck. I just think the bullpen in modern baseball is of vital importance, the Mets pen falls short. The great closer is there; the rest is largely up in the air. One more high-quality arm would help settle the situation enormously.

        That is: With a small market team, it may be an either/or situation.

        If they have the resources to accomplish both — and CF — and then I have no problem with it. Flores becomes the super sub they need, and a role that likely suits him.

  10. Matty Mets
    December 10, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    As Brian pointed out in his post, another shoe will drop. Either of Flores or Tejada could be trade bait. Another option is just insurance for Wright. Last year it caught us by surprise and we wound up with the dreadful Eric Campbell in the lineup. Flores and Cabrera can both play third.

    • Chris F
      December 11, 2015 at 7:31 am

      Flores cannot play third. I wish we could all get through that. His arm isn’t strong enough to play SS let alone 3B. Far too little range and very slow feet. At 38 yo, Uribe would be a better choice than Flores.

      • James Preller
        December 11, 2015 at 8:33 am

        I think Walker is the guy who could ultimately play some 3B for Mets, particularly against all those slider-throwing RHP that David can’t touch.

        I don’t know about Walker’s willingness to jump around between 2B and 3B — and, frankly, the bench vs. LHP (w/ Flores getting those starts at 2B) — but that’s a scenario that makes sense to me.

        Uribe probably wants to start somewhere; it would take money to keep him and I don’t think the Mets are going to do that.

        Right now infield is Duda, Walker, Cabrera, Wright, w/ Cuddyer as backup 1B/5th OF. I see Tejada getting traded/released before Opening Day. They need one more infield addition, plus a CF/4th OF.

        Interesting to see how Kirkkkkk and/or Kelly Johnson fit into this.

        Again: I really think David is toast. Boy would I love to be surprised. Admittedly, I was shocked every time he drove a ball last season, and it did happen sometimes. Still, the bat is slooooow. Butch Huskey speed.

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