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
      Devin Mesoraco 1300 229 .715
        Adrian Gonzalez 7859 187 .672
        Juan Lagares 1770 64 .765
        Jose Lobaton 1221 57 .470

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
Matt Reynolds 96 130 .626        
Kevin Plawecki 409 118 .764        
Gavin Cecchini 7 82 .529        
Travis Taijeron 0 59 .540      

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.

8 comments on “How veterans and young guys have performed in depth roles for the Mets

  • Pete from NJ

    After reading your analysis my mind started to move in too many directions. So my comment will focus on last year’s backup infielders. So if I was the decision maker, I would subjectively pick Louis Gullorme over Adedeny Hechavvarria simply because Ioved his reputation with the glove.

    But my staff would advocate for the veteran simply because of a consistent if not spectacular result. The unknown is riskier than what you call-mediocre Then I would look at the results of the veteran, cut him before the bonus vests and then bring in the youngster. Try something new theory.

    So besides my bias towards agreeing with the Mets organization theory what to other front lines teams do in their veteran/young player makeup?

  • TexasGusCC

    One reason to use veterans off the bench was explained once… somewhere. Seems that young players need repetition more to hone their skills, so they aren’t as comfortable with lack of frequent playing time. Veterans have been able to better “perfect” their swings/approaches and so they can play less frequently without developing bad habits.

    My additional take on this, is your examples of different professions that we all use and we all want experienced people. They have been in these situations before and they are better prepared or there is a lesser chance for panicking/freezing in game spots, such as running the bases. Remember Kolton Wong as a rookie getting picked off first base to end a World Series game?

  • Pete from NJ

    A take on Gus’ comments while picking up the sports page with the headline: “Mets move on…” Lois Rojas as a manager is a equal to a rookie making the team out of spring training while winning a starting position in the field over a Mediocre veteran.

    Bit of a gamble if you think about it.

    • TexasGusCC

      Pete, I didn’t like it in November, I don’t like it now; the old wisdom of “get the best and you’ll never regret it” is how I live my life. Girardi was the pick, as was Showalter now.

      All we can do is hope Rojas has some good fortune and his coaches do their jobs very well. Especially the rookie pitching coach.

  • Metsense

    The AAA farm should be stocked by prospects that are nearly major league ready. The Mets have promoted Alonso, McNeil, Nimmo, Rosario, Smith, Nido and Guillermo in the last three years. With these promotions the upper level minors are depleted. Therefore the team needs to fill vacancies. They should look for Dilson Herrera types ( age below 27, good minor league numbers) and should promote them (instead of Panik like veteran) because they may have a better upside or ceiling.(Dilson signed as FA with Balt in Dec).So my philosophy is to have young guys in the minors where get repetitions but when they master AAA ( like JD, Guillorme,Smith and Herrera) then put them on the major league roster and supplement the remaining bench with veterans.
    Maybe someday the Mets will be in position in trade a good starting player because they have a prospect that is forcing his way onto the major league roster because he projects to be better than the starter. Hopefully this will occur in 2021 with Gimenez and Rosario. Will the Mets take the chance on the inexperienced rookie or remain with the proven veteran? I think that a well-run front office will choose the rookie and faith in their scouting and system.

    • Remember1969

      On only a slightly different level, they did that in 2020 . his name is Luis Rojas.

      • Metsense

        And they also did it in 1984 when they hired Davey Johnson. I see so many similarities in the hiring; minor league experience, player respect and fresh knowledge and new ideas . Unfortunately for Rojas, Brodie isn’t Frank Cashman.

    • TJ

      The Mets are in that exact situation now with Dom Smith due to the emergence of big Pete. Now, I like Dom and wish he stays, but if they deal him I want it to be in a package for a stud, not just to temporarily plug a current need.

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