Very few people would argue against the notion that experience matters. You’re going to have open heart surgery, you want a doctor who’s done the operation 100 times before. You’re getting new brakes done, you want someone who’s not taking the wheels off the car for the first time. You’re being sued you want a lawyer who’s defended people in the same situation over and over again.
It’s not a great leap to go from experience mattering in those scenarios to holding the belief that experience matters in baseball players. You want the experience and the All-Star resume of Michael Conforto rather than turning RF over to Tim Tebow. Of course that’s an extreme situation. But let’s take another situation, one that’s maybe a little more common. Should you prefer an experienced player like Adeiny Hechavarria over a relatively inexperienced guy like Luis Guillorme?
There’s no right answer to that question.
Coming into 2019, Hechavarria had over 3,000 PA in the majors and a .635 OPS, including a .624 mark in 2018 split among three clubs. He was a good defensive shortstop who had never displayed the ability to hit in the majors. Then, in 151 PA with the Mets, he put up a .611 OPS, or basically what we would expect. But then all of the planets aligned and in 70 PA with the Braves after the Mets cut him rather than pay him a roster bonus, Hechavarria put up a 1.039 OPS.
Did Hechavarria play well with the Braves because of his previous MLB experience? That seems preposterous given that his previous experience with the bat was nearly all bad. Instead, he played well because in the tiny sample of 70 PA, the hits fell in for him. At age 30, he got very lucky in a small sample. Luck doesn’t care if you have experience or not. We saw Kirk Nieuwenhuis come up at age 25 and put up an .821 OPS in his first 114 PA. The rest of the year he had a .618 OPS in 200 PA. The hits fell in right away for the rookie.
We can name other youngsters who had fortune smile on them in small samples before the age of 30. There was Ike Davis in 2010 who in 149 PA put up a BABIP 63 points higher than his career average at the age 24. And there was Josh Satin in 2013 and Eric Campbell in 2014. And we can name guys on the wrong side of 30 who had good luck in small stretches, too. Rod Barajas had a great month in 2010 at age 34. Another catcher, John Buck at age 32 in 2013, had a similar stretch of good play. And who can forget 32-year-old James Loney who hit like Babe Ruth for two weeks back in 2016.
Despite witnessing first hand that luck can happen to young guys and old guys, the Mets seemingly have a preference for veterans. Sure, you can point to Pete Alonso and say the Mets gave the rookie the shot. But it’s kind of hard to say that hitting 53 HR over 693 PA is luck. So, let’s ignore guys who play a full season. Instead, let’s look at guys in part-time roles, guys who are there for depth as much as anything else.
It’s difficult to say Player X was depth and Player Y was not. So, let’s use the blunt tool of playing time, as measured by PA. Let’s go over the past three years and look at the guys who had playing time between 50 and 500 PA. Furthermore, let’s not count guys who failed to top 500 PA because they were traded or spent considerable time on the DL/IL – things that were mostly beyond their control. A healthy Yoenis Cespedes certainly gets more than 500 PA in 2017 and 2018.
We’ll break our guys in the past three years into two groups – those with fewer than 500 MLB PA in one group and those with more than 1,000 MLB PA in the other. And see if there’s a reason to prefer the experienced guys. Let’s start in 2019 and work our way back.
|Name||Previous PA||2019 PA||OPS||Name||Previous PA||2019 PA||OPS|
|J.D. Davis||181||453||.895||Juan Lagares||1834||285||.605|
|Dominic Smith||332||197||.881||Adeiny Hechavarria||3004||151||.611|
|Tomas Nido||100||144||.547||Joe Panik||2598||103||.738|
|Luis Guillorme||74||70||.684||Carlos Gomez||5128||99||.616|
This was clearly a win for the young guys. Davis and Smith were hands down the best players in our depth group and only one of our experienced guys did better than Guillorme. And the parameters of our experiment worked in the favor of the experienced guys, as Keon Broxton and his .371 OPS didn’t quite reach our 1,000 PA requirement, while Aaron Altherr and his .458 OPS was kept off the list as he only amassed 35 PA before the Mets sent him away. And ditto for Rajai Davis and his .631 OPS in 29 PA.
Now let’s look at 2018:
|Name||Previous PA||2018 PA||OPS||Name||Previous PA||2018 PA||OPS|
|Jeff McNeil||0||248||.852||Wilmer Flores||1582||429||.736|
|Dominic Smith||183||149||.675||Austin Jackson||4278||210||.639|
|Tomas Nido||10||90||.438||Jose Bautista||6845||302||.718|
|Luis Guillorme||0||74||.523||Jose Reyes||7989||251||.580|
Another win for the young guys. Again, we see the top youngster blowing away any and all of the veterans. Plus, one can make the case that if Lagares continued to hit as well as he was before he got injured, he would have finished with more than 500 PA and not counted for the veterans. But he was included here because his solid OPS was achieved with a .392 BABIP, one he clearly wasn’t going to keep up for the remainder of the season. My opinion is that expected lousy performance going forward would have kept him from 500 PA, even if the injury didn’t happen.
Now let’s examine 2017:
|Name||Previous PA||2017 PA||OPS||Name||Previous PA||2017 PA||OPS|
|T.J. Rivera||113||231||.760||Wilmer Flores||1220||362||.795|
|Brandon Nimmo||80||215||.797||Juan Lagares||1498||272||.661|
|Dominic Smith||0||183||.658||Rene Rivera||1199||187||.669|
|Amed Rosario||0||170||.665||Nori Aoki||2670||116||.746|
This one’s pretty much a draw. Nimmo and Flores had similar OPS totals but with 147 more PA for Flores. The youngsters counter with Plawecki and Rivera both performing similar to Aoki, but combining for over 200 more PA.
Putting all three years together, we have 32 seasons in our sample, with 16 being in the sub-500 PA group and 16 being in the 1,000-and-up group. Six people in the young group put up a season with at least a .750 OPS, compared to just two from our veteran group. On the flip side, five of our youngsters finished with an OPS below .600, compared to just two from our veteran group.
It seems that the Mets will accept mediocre (defined as below average) from their veterans but will cut bait with them if they are horrible. Or perhaps with two of the five horrible seasons from our young-gun group coming from a defensive-minded catcher, maybe they’ll prove more equal in this regard over the long haul, not giving a bigger break here to young guys at all.
Looking at these numbers, it’s hard to come away with the idea that veterans >>>>> youngsters. The 2019 Mets had more experience at Triple-A but those veterans when given a shot in the majors, well, they bombed. So as we look at 2020 and see a Syracuse team with not as much MLB experience as the year before – maybe that’s not a terrible thing.
The model should be to acquire a Davis like J.D., rather than Rajai. The former Davis was a young guy who was blocked in Houston. The latter Davis had a ton of MLB experience but couldn’t get anything more than an NRI. Maybe the fact that the top outfielder at Triple-A this time has only 397 PA in the majors (compared to the 4,581 R. Davis had last year) isn’t anything to fret about at all. While Jarrett Parker only has 397 PA in the majors, he has a .771 OPS in those trips to the plate.