Through the end of April, the Mets have an interesting outfield situation. The best numbers being put up by their outfielders belong to the two backups, Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo. Both these players have exactly 43 PA each to date, which basically means the two players are tied for the role of fourth outfielder at this point. The normal starters, Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce have respectively 113, 82, and 98 PA.
But the two backups have the better production so far. Lagares is slashing at a .342/.395/.368 rate, while Nimmo has a stunning line of .313/.488/.563. That translates to an OPS of .764 for Lagares, and 1.051 for Nimmo. The regular outfielders are all lower, with Bruce checking in .736, Cespedes at .729, and Conforto at .708 for their OPS totals.
With respect to defense, former gold glover Lagares is way ahead of the pack with a UZR of 1.8 and some spectacular plays to boot, including his homer-robbing catch in the recent San Diego series. The other outfielders all have posted negative UZR figures, with Nimmo at -.02, Conforto at .01, Cespedes at -1.0, and Bruce bringing up the rear with a -1.3 UZR so far this year.
By pure merit, Lagares and Nimmo should be getting more playing time. It’s a near inverse ratio for playing time so far, with the most PA going to the players with the lesser stats, and the two playing the best getting the least PA. There is some progress on this front. Recent reports state that manager Mickey Callaway wants to give some starts for Bruce at first base against right-handed pitchers. Although Bruce did not play any first base during spring training, he has started taking some grounders during practice. His MLB experience at the position is just a handful of games with his original team, the Cincinnati Reds.
Since both Nimmo and Lagares are good enough to start on at least some MLB teams, some might suggest that the Mets should trade one or the other, to shore up another position, perhaps catching. That could be short-sighted, both Cespedes and Bruce are north of thirty while Lagares and especially Nimmo should have years of productive play ahead.
As a small consolation, if Lagares and Nimmo remain the backup outfielders for the rest of the year, they could have the distinction of being the best pair of backup outfielders in MLB history, ever.
As a comparison, the powerhouse 1998 Yankees won 114 games. Their two main backup outfielders were Tim Raines and Darryl Strawberry, with a combined OPS of 1.674. Adding Lagares and Nimmo’s OPS yields a total 1.815, with far better defense. In 1998 Raines was 38 and Strawberry 36, and both played more DH than outfield that year.
Both Lagares and Nimmo are likely to tail off some at the plate as the season wears on. But it sure would be nice if Callaway could find a way to take better advantage of his backup outfielders.