Through games of Friday, the National League averages 4.42 runs per game and the Mets are above average with a 4.62 mark. That feels a bit unreal as the lineup is composed of four anchors and three under-performing starting outfielders. Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes appear to be coming around at the plate, which will certainly help things. But it still leaves the Mets with decisions on what to do at catcher, first base and shortstop.
At catcher, the Mets have suffered bad luck, as no team would look good if the two catchers on their major league roster went out with injuries at the same time. At first base, the Mets made a bad gamble and it’s working out about the way they should have expected. But the play of Amed Rosario is not so cut and dry.
You could argue that what Rosario has produced so far is exactly what the Mets should have expected based on what he did last year. Or you could say that you expected more after he got his feet wet last year. To me, the more interesting question is not what a surprise what he’s done so far is – it’s what we should expect from him going forward.
Neither Steamer nor ZiPS is particularly bullish in this regard. Steamer projects a .661 OPS for the rest of the season while ZiPS pretty much agrees, forecasting a .669 mark. Let’s assume that’s the right ballpark of what to expect. Can the Mets live with that?
The three under-performing positions are in a way all inter-related. In the NL, it’s assumed that every team will have an anchor from the pitcher’s spot and most nearly every team will have another spot in the order which is mostly dead weight. The question is how strong is the rest of your team? Is your offense so good that you can handle one-third (or more) of the lineup being anemic? For most teams, and most likely the Mets, the answer is no.
It’s why there’s been so much virtual ink about upgrading the catching position. It’s why it’s so frustrating that the team continues to give PA to a guy with a giant fork in his back. And it’s why the Mets need to seriously address the Rosario question.
There’s no answer at shortstop in either Triple-A or Double-A. If we didn’t know better, we might think there’s an answer in Las Vegas. Former first-round pick Gavin Cecchini is finally hitting like a top prospect in the PCL should. After putting up an .838 OPS in Vegas in 2016 and a .709 mark last year – both in 440-plus samples – Cecchini has a .352/.403/.563 mark in 71 PA this year.
The easy thing to do would be to chalk this up as a sample size thing. But Cecchini has a different approach at the plate this year, as he’s embraced the launch angle philosophy. After GB/FB ratios of 1.41 and 1.75 the last two seasons in Vegas, Cecchini has a 0.75 mark this year, thanks to a 43.6 FB%. And he’s not just hitting the ball in the air, either. He’s pulling the ball at a high rate. After pull percentages in the 40s the past two seasons, he’s pulling it 58.2 percent of the time. And the results have been noticeable. While hitting for a high average, 12 of his 25 hits have gone for extra-bases.
But unless he’s overhauled how he’s throwing the ball, he’s not equipped defensively to be a shortstop in the majors. If he’s able to keep up this kind of hitting, he might force the Mets’ hand in a couple of months. However, at this point, that seems to be wishful thinking all the way around. If the Mets really believed in him – and they’ve given little reason to think that they do – you could argue for switching guys around the infield and let Cecchini play 2B. But that seems highly unlikely so let’s move on.
Jose Reyes has done nothing at the plate and it’s been years since he’s been an asset in the field. Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting everything in sight but still gives us reminders of his range limitations, even at the less demanding position of second base. An interesting ploy might be to go back to Davey Johnson times and use Todd Frazier at shortstop. But it’s hard to seriously make that suggestion when the team is in first place by half a game.
So, there are no answers either in the majors or high minors. The Mets would likely get held up as much on a deal for a front line shortstop as they would for a front line catcher. At this point, their best plan of action is to monitor the trade markets for both catcher and shortstop but play the status quo at both positions and hope for some internal improvement.
First base is another thing entirely, though. Bruce apparently doesn’t want to play there. But even if he doesn’t really mind – which we have to consider as a possibility – he’s saying and doing all of the right things. He’s showing respect for the veteran incumbent by saying he doesn’t want to play the position. But he’s also pointing out that he’s an employee and he does what he’s told. And right now that’s taking grounders at the position, getting ready for game action there.
Adrian Gonzalez was an All-Star caliber player in his prime. But he was below average for the position in 2016 and he posted a .642 OPS in an injury-plagued year in 2017, which was his age 35 season. This year he has a .612 OPS after 71 PA, with a mark that high only due to a BB% double that of a year ago. You might think that he’s making up for things with timely hits. But you would be wrong, as his WPA sits in negative numbers. And it’s not like he’s wowing us defensively to make up for things. UZR has him at 0.1 while DRS has him at (-1).
Moving Bruce allows the club to get either Brandon Nimmo or Juan Lagares into the lineup. When given the opportunity, Nimmo has continued to build on his 2017 late-season success, as he has a .487 OBP. And while Lagares is hitting even more grounders than normal after spending the offseason working on his launch angle, the BABIP gods are smiling on him and he remains the best defensive outfielder on the club by a large margin. Both are significant improvements on what Gonzalez has given the team so far.
The plan for the Mets right now has to be to hope for continued improvement from the OF, make the first base switch and fingers crossed for the best with Rosario and the catchers. As unimpressive as Rosario’s been at the plate, we have to recognize that it could be worse, as he sits currently with a .333 BABIP. And much like Gonzalez, he’s got a WPA in negative numbers, with a (-0.44) mark. It’s ugly and as one of the masses who called for him to be promoted earlier than he was last year, it’s caught me off guard. But at this point all we can do is hope he makes the plays defensively and earn his keep that way.