How the Mets can add Giancarlo Stanton-like improvement to the team

Former Baseball Prospectus writer Joe Sheehan posted the following nugget on Facebook the other day:

“The #Twins’ improved run prevention is entirely coming on contact. Last year, the Twins allowed a .320 batting average on balls in play, with 356 doubles and triples conceded. This year, the Twins have allowed a .298 BABIP, and 300 extra-base hits in play. That’s a full season of Byron Buxton, and it’s getting Sano out of the outfield in favor of Kepler, and it’s committing to Polanco at shortstop.

“This is the Twins’ best defensive team — their first good defensive team — since they moved into Target Field in 2010. The commitment to young, athletic players in the field is the biggest reason why they’re going to the playoffs.”

As a fan of a team that doesn’t necessarily put an emphasis on defense, this jumped out at me. Of course, Buxton has been making headlines and highlight reel defensive plays all season. In case you hadn’t heard, Buxton, always considered one of the top prospects in the game while he was making his way up the minors, improved his defense dramatically this season because last year he analyzed Statcast fielding data. Here’s how Travis Sawchik of FanGraphs put it:

Everyone knows Buxton is fast. The eye test tells us that. Statcast confirms that our eyes are not betraying us. But by focusing on his first step, both the quickness and direction of it, Buxton has essentially used Statcast to improve what we have collectively often referred to as “instinct.” While some of that instinct is innate, perhaps some of it is also learned and can be improved through practice. Buxton’s remarkable defensive campaign of 2017 seems to be loud proof of that.

We know that the Mets’ front office is open to Statcast numbers, at least on offense. One of the deciding factors in (finally) picking Lucas Duda over Ike Davis was that Duda had better exit velocity numbers. Is it possible that the same front office could be open to using Statcast defensive numbers to improve the team?

Unfortunately, we can’t answer that question. We can’t even really make any suggestions on who should look to improve upon what because the defensive Statcast numbers are not all publicly available. But we can go back and take the information from Sheehan that opened this piece and apply it to the Mets and see how the team fares.

Let’s go back to 2014, the last year the Mets finished under .500 and count this year as being complete, even though there are still three games left to play. The final 2017 numbers will be different, but not materially so. And let’s add some other numbers to examine, too. We’ll break up our look at defense between the four infield and the three outfield positions initially. Here’s what we have:

Year BABIP BB/9 K/9 HR/9 2B/3B allowed INF DRS OF DRS
2014 0.295 3.13 8.01 0.87 292 8 24
2015 0.288 2.36 8.23 0.94 258 -45 32
2016 0.308 2.73 8.68 0.95 287 -34 17
2017 0.319 3.71 8.61 1.37 296 -65 10

DRS was used here because of the whole number aspect of it. If we used UZR the numbers would be different but the conclusions would not significantly change. With that out of the way, let’s look at the numbers in the chart.

The thing that jumps out at you is how shockingly bad the infield defense is this year. And the only thing that’s kept it from being worse is the promotion of Amed Rosario to plug the leak at SS. But the problem has been merely shifted to other positions. In 188.1 innings at 2B, Jose Reyes has a (-4) DRS while Asdrubal Cabrera has a (-6) DRS in 274.1 innings. In 331.1 innings at 3B, Cabrera has a +2 DRS. But Reyes had a (-5), T.J. Rivera had a (-4) and Wilmer Flores had a (-8) at the hot corner.

And unlike other years, even the first basemen have negative DRS numbers here in 2017. Dominic Smith has a (-6) and Flores has a (-3) in a combined 529.1 innings. In 89 innings at the position, Jay Bruce was a league average fielder at the position. And Bruce was a plus defensively in the outfield, with a +10 DRS in 800 innings in right field.

Remarkably, there’s a 6-to-7 win improvement available to the Mets just by utilizing league-average fielders in the four infield positions. Rosario should give the club that at shortstop. The expectation was that Smith would give them that and more at first base but he’s been significantly worse than that in the brief sample we’ve seen. Throughout his minor league career, we’ve heard he was a plus defender at first but the numbers don’t bear that out at all. Is it a small sample fluke or indicative of something else? Being a negative fielder will put more pressure on his bat and it’s far from certain his bat will be able to carry that particular load.

Some may be surprised at how good the outfielders have been because you always hear about how bad the Mets are defensively. But we absolutely need to make a distinction between the infield and outfield units.

Of course, a lot of the credit for the outfield defense goes to Juan Lagares, who has bounced back to his Gold Glove level and has an impressive +13 DRS in 547.2 innings in CF. But in LF, the Mets have received league average fielding this year and over in RF they have a +9 DRS so it’s not like they’ve received infield-level defense from their outfield corners this year.

The Mets believe that power pitchers can negate the influence of poor fielders. A staff filled with hard-throwers should result in a bunch of strikeouts and a bunch of easily-fielded, poor contact. They’ve gotten the strikeouts but the other half of the equation hasn’t quite worked out as planned. It’s impossible to tell how much of that is because of starts going to Chris Flexen and Tommy Milone rather than Noah Syndergaard.

But it’s hard to look at the numbers and conclude that the Mets can just punt infield defense again. The negative factor of the infield defense as rated by DRS is equivalent to the production above average this year of Giancarlo Stanton, who has a 6.4 fWAR. It’s simply mind-boggling. Here’s hoping that with the better quantification of defense available through Statcast numbers that the Mets will change course and look both to identify and address their defensive shortcomings.

26 comments for “How the Mets can add Giancarlo Stanton-like improvement to the team

  1. David Groveman
    September 28, 2017 at 10:48 am

    I had someone mention to me that the Mets should go after Shohei Otani. I quipped that we could just as easily clone 25 Ted Williamses but I’m starting to wonder. The Mets should make some signings but the amount of positions that need to improve are high.

    They need a legitimate hitter at 3rd, they could use an improved option in center, they need to improve defensively at shortstop, second and first, their catcher needs to be a net positive and they probably need another starting pitcher… if not a few relievers too.

    The Mets could look to add a player like Shohei Otani to kill two birds with one stone. Baseball is long past the era of two way players but the Mets being an NL team and needing help in the outfield makes it intriguing.

    I still think that the offseason plan begins with Mike Moustakas but I wouldn’t be upset to see the Mets enter the bidding for Otani, if only because the need for a pitcher is real.

    • Name
      September 28, 2017 at 3:19 pm

      There’s no bidding for Otani as he’s subject to the international cap rules – so every team is going to offer their max, or get creative/borderline bending the rules (opt out after 1/2 years? player option at the end of contract for an insanely high amount?)

      It’s pretty much of his decision of where he wants to play (would he want to play for a 90 loss Mets team?) and what team is going to “promise” him the type of playing time he desires (one would assume an AL team with a DH is more appealing)

  2. MattyMets
    September 28, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Great post. Sandy Anderson has always overvalued walks and power and undervalued speed and defense. Citi Field was built for the latter, but he changed the makeup of the team and the dimensions of the ballpark to shoehorn in the former. I hope he’s seen the error of his ways.

    The Twins are a remarkable example. On paper they are not a deeply talented team. Ervin Santana is their ace and the rotation is mediocre behind him. Yet, here they are, headed to the playoffs.

  3. Jimmy P
    September 28, 2017 at 11:23 am

    A plus-second baseman — and I have no one in mind — would be a huge boost. Strong defense and speed and enough offense. Otherwise Mets are looking at a negative defensive alignment at 2B, i.e., up the middle.

    A guy like Pokey Reese comes to mind but, of course, he comes with drawbacks. But even with those shortcomings, do his strength fit this team?

    Mets will stand pat at catcher. Probably keep Cabrera at 3B. Smith at 1B is a problem, IMO; or, at least, a significant risk. “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

    They need another outfielder who can play. I’d love to see Cain but, well, we know who owns the team. They may go cheap here and add a 4th OF type.

    A quality starter seems necessary, and so does another battle-tested, late-inning reliever.

    Good post, Brian. Interesting to look at from that perspective.

    • September 28, 2017 at 12:04 pm

      Of course, the biggest drawback is that Pokey Reese hasn’t played in the majors since 2004! Were you thinking Brandon Phillips?

      Thanks for the kind words.

      • Jimmy P
        September 29, 2017 at 11:18 am

        I’ve made that same mistake before, weirdly. Thinking: Dee Gordon.

        At least I didn’t type PeeWee Reese.

  4. Dudd
    September 28, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    Dee Gordon? The Marlins need to cut payroll and Gordon is currently earning a lot. Flores for Gordon? And then sign Frazier or Nunez. You gotta figure they’re not going to chase Moustakas.

    • September 28, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      I think Dee Gordon is overrated and the contract is definitely an issue. But I’d still do this if I was the Mets. Not sure the Marlins would pull the trigger, though.

      • Jimmy P
        September 29, 2017 at 11:20 am

        Yeah, that’s who I meant.

        The Mets have money to spend, they just don’t have “enough” money to spend.

        Big decisions are where do they get the most bang for the buck.

  5. Chris F
    September 28, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Id take a good look at the bespectacled wonder: Eric Sogard.

  6. September 28, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    Great article Brian. You are my second-favorite blogger!

    As I suggested in Mets Today, they should bring up Luis Guillorme, and put him at second. With Rosario at short and Lagares in center, the Mets are strong (and relatively cheap) up the middle. They can then add power at either infield corner.

    • September 28, 2017 at 5:09 pm

      Thanks Dan.

      Interesting idea about Guillorme, which would certainly address the defensive aspect of things. But I’m far from sold on his ability to be even a remotely productive offensive player in the majors at this point. And I just can’t sign off on a proposal that has both Lagares and Guillorme in the same lineup where there’s also unknowns with catcher, SS and 1B.

      • Jimmy P
        September 29, 2017 at 11:23 am

        Guillorme has surprised me so far — much in the way that Nimmo has surprised me this year — but there’s no way he jumps up from AA to start for the Mets in 2018.

        I strongly dislike guys with no power and no blazing speed. But he has shown a knack for getting on base, seems to be a ballplayer (if not, you know, a major leaguer).

        I won’t completely write him off. But he seems like he would have been great as a SS for some 1960s team.

        • September 29, 2017 at 3:07 pm

          I don’t mean to give the impression I’m down on Guillorme. I think I was higher on him than a lot of people coming into the year and he certainly had a nice bounceback season.

    • NormE
      September 28, 2017 at 6:49 pm

      From everything I’ve read about Guillorme (having seen only a bit of him in spring training) and his talented glove, I think he should be given an honest chance to win the job in 2018. After all, the internal choices are, at best, underwhelming.
      Let’s get rid of Reyes, who is only going to get older, with his half-hearted defensive play. TJ Rivera is a fine utility player, but doesn’t stand out defensively. Flores is a minus anywhere he plants his glove. If his bat is needed play him at 1B in a platoon with Smith.
      Cecchini probably hasn’t had a fair shot, but I’m not convinced. Reynolds is not a starter. Evans, who knows? Probably 3B is his best spot.
      With Amed and Luis up the middle, the number of runs saved should make the lot of the pitching staff much easier—-at least enough to make up for any shortages on offense.

      • Jimmy P
        September 29, 2017 at 11:24 am

        I think they need to go outside for help.

        Mets just can’t bring back the same old group and expect a new dynamic.

  7. Pete from NJ
    September 28, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    Shohei Ortani would be great addition for any team and maybe even more so for the fans. Can anyone spell marketing. Just dreaming of course but the pitcher perhaps is equal to Thor plus as a hitter the first one of the bench to pinch hit.

    Previous post about Louis Guillome is interesting. Yes he’s hit at every level but I’ve never heard about his defense. As a dreaming optimist, his addition is everything Dan wrote and a gift from the gods.

    Pitching both starters and relief, OBP and some timely hitting. Maybe easier said then done.

  8. Metsense
    September 28, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Great article Brian. The best way to improve the infield would be to get a good second baseman. Flores is the square peg that won’t fit the round hole. He has value and two years control. Package him with Harvey and trade them to an American League team.

  9. Chris F
    September 28, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    Great read Brian. Thanks for digging into that.

  10. TexasGusCC
    September 29, 2017 at 1:01 am

    Great article Brian. Flores for second sacker in 2018! Can we ever give this poster boy for deprived players everywhere a chance?

    • September 29, 2017 at 7:46 am

      I’m all for giving him a chance by trading him to an AL club where he can be the designated hitter he was born to be.

      • TexasGusCC
        September 29, 2017 at 3:38 pm

        I’m will to wager, and I don’t do this often, that whenever Flores gets a full shot (at least 135 games started) at second base, he finishes in the top half of second basemen in WAR.

  11. Eraff
    September 29, 2017 at 8:06 am

    You can’t decide to take The GW when you’re already on The Tappen Zee….and I don’t expect Sandy to suddenly transform himself or the team.

    There are inherrent design flaws to the current roster construction, but the best path to 2018 success remains a bolstering of the Present Model— Health of SP’s…. bolster the Pen….. Moose and Bruce, or something like that.

    2.0 comes some time after 2018

    • Jimmy P
      September 29, 2017 at 11:26 am

      They aren’t getting either Moose or Bruce.

      With Moose, it’s a good thing.

      With Bruce, they blew it when they traded him away to shine for the Indians. Of course, they needed the money . . .

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