In the Sunday edition of the New York Post, there was a sports article entitled “J.D. Davis made Mickey Callaway look like a lineup genius.” This was a reference to the fact that Davis had a big day batting cleanup in the Saturday home game against the Nats, knocking out three hits including two homers. At this point Davis has shown he can be productive hitting fourth, at least against lefty pitchers. However, there is another aspect to lineup management besides the batting order, and that would include the positioning of players. In that regard, Callaway has not looked very genius-like in the assignment of positions on the field, at least with respect to Davis and Jeff McNeil.
Both players are knocking the cover off the ball, especially McNeil with his .409/.519/.591 slash line. Davis is producing as well, slashing .280/.357/.600. However, in the field, both have looked shaky at times, and there is a simple solution that a lineup genius should be able to figure out.
Davis has seen most of his action at third base, although he is a flexible player who has had experience at the corner infield and corner outfield positions, while McNeil is more of a natural infielder who has seen a lot of action in left field in the early going. Neither is fielding as well as their hitting, and the spots they are occupying in the field has a lot to do with that.
In the first game of the recent Marlins series, McNeil was playing left field. In the fifth Martin Prado lifted a foul fly into the left field corner, and McNeil got his glove on the ball but failed to catch it. It was not an error, but it was a catchable ball for a lot of left fielders. Prado, given second life, responded with a base hit.
In the sixth inning of the same game, with a runner on first, third baseman Davis fielded an easy chopper and then made a rather casual throw to second to get the runner there, but there was not even an attempt by Robinson Cano to complete the double play. Even more egregious was the following play, when base runner Rosell Herrera tried to advance to third on a single to right center. Mets CF Juan Lagares fired an on the money one hop throw to third, and Herrera appeared to be a dead duck. However Davis failed to come up with the catch. The error was surprisingly charged to Lagares, apparently because of the one hop nature of the the throw, although it was eminently catchable. Herrera eventually scored.
In the home opener, J.D. Davis pinch hit and struck out. He did stay in the game and he was placed at third base. The previous third baseman, McNeil, also stayed in the game but was moved to left field. McNeil fielded a shallow fly in left with a runner on third. A good throw could have caught the runner, but McNeil, not used to these outfield throws, made one that was off-line allowing the runner to score.
Then, in the Sunday game against the Nats, left fielder McNeil misplayed a fly ball into a double that allowed two runs to score in a game in which a Mets comeback fell just short. It was not an easy catch, but it was one that would have been caught by a lot of outfielders.
In the five and a half years that McNeil was in the Mets minor league system, he only played some nine games in the outfield, by far most of his playing time was at second or third bases. Both McNeil and Davis deserve plenty of playing time, but it seems the most bang for the buck would come with McNeil at third and Davis in left.