Terry Collins was right – It’s tough to play RF in Citi Field

Last year when Brandon Nimmo missed over half of the season – and played for a month when he really shouldn’t have – the Mets struggled tremendously filling the center field position with anyone who could hit at an acceptable MLB level. MLB GMs are like generals – always fighting the last war. The Mets went out and got Jake Marisnick to play center if needed and several younger guys than they had last year to stash in the high minors who can (hopefully) handle the position offensively better than Carlos Gomez and Rajai Davis and others did a year ago.

And then Michael Conforto goes out and gets injured and now the Mets wonder who’s going to play right field.

Conforto missed time with a concussion last year and also spent some time in center field while Nimmo was out. For the most part, he was replaced by Jeff McNeil in right field. That would clearly be the best option for the 2020 Mets. The only problem is that McNeil is now the team’s starting third baseman. The Mets could move J.D. Davis to third base and go with a defensive alignment of Nimmo, Marisnick and McNeil. The big problem here is that Davis looked really bad in the infield last year.

Meanwhile, Davis has volunteered to play RF. It’s exactly what you would hope your players would do – be willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. But Davis wasn’t good in LF last year and the thought of him in the opposite corner is not a particularly good one.

In 2014, we saw noodle-armed Curtis Granderson in right field and we weren’t doing jumping jacks. So, when they signed Michael Cuddyer as a free agent for the 2015 season, the assumption was that Granderson would move to left field and Cuddyer would hold down right field, where he spent the bulk of his time playing previously.

But manager Terry Collins felt like right field in Citi Field was a difficult place to play and opted for Granderson to play there over Cuddyer, since he had more experience there. In 1,275.2 innings in RF in 2015, Granderson had a +12 DRS, so it looks like Collins made the right choice. Granderson and Jay Bruce split the position the following two seasons and the duo combined for a +5 DRS in 2016 and a +11 in 2017. The 2017 numbers are particularly striking because late in the year, Nori Aoki and Travis Taijeron held down the spot and that duo combined for a (-7) in just 276.1 innings, leading credence to Collins’ belief that RF in Citi was tough to play

Things got worse in 2018. Bruce saw the most time there but put up a (-7) DRS in 538.2 innings. Nimmo played 442 innings and put up a (-4) and Jose Bautista contributed a (-2) in 382.1 innings.

Conforto, who hadn’t played 100 innings in RF in any season prior to last year, helped put the recent team defensive ugliness in right field behind them, as he put up a league average DRS in 1,012.1 innings. And McNeil put up a +1 in 300 innings in right.

No one knows how long Conforto will be sidelined with his injury. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go sooner rather than later. If the Mets have to patch RF for just a handful of games, they’ll likely survive whoever they put out in right in his place. But if he has to miss extensive time, no one should want to see either Davis or Nimmo in right on a regular basis.

If doctors are able to determine that Conforto will need to be placed on the IL, my preference would be for McNeil to play RF and to use Eduardo Nunez at 3B. Nunez has been slowed the past few years by a knee injury but allegedly is healthy now. He’s been awful defensively the past two seasons at 3B – a downright ugly (-12) DRS in 425 innings – but in the three years prior, when the knee wasn’t an issue, he had a (-3) in 1,193 innings at the hot corner.

For a comparison, Davis had a (-9) DRS in 220 innings at third base last year.

Nunez has an .851 OPS in Grapefruit League play so far. He was not much with the bat the previous two seasons with the knee problems but in the three years before then, he had wRC+ numbers of 105, 101 and 112.

Ideally, Jed Lowrie would be able to play third base while McNeil was in right field but that doesn’t look like an option right now. Nunez offers the best chance for a replacement to be league average both offensively and defensively, assuming his knee problems are really behind him. Moving McNeil around would seem to be a less than ideal solution but McNeil has said he enjoyed the challenge of playing multiple positions last season. Since he was good at wherever they put him – that’s the type of team player you really want to have.

12 comments for “Terry Collins was right – It’s tough to play RF in Citi Field

  1. David Klein
    March 12, 2020 at 10:24 am

    Conforto was +6 outs above average according to statcast. Nunez has been worth 1.5 war in ten seasons and he really can’t play defense. I would go with McNeil in RF or Marisinick in CF with Nimmo in RF if Marasnick plays and go with Davis at third where statcast has him as a scratch defender.

    • March 12, 2020 at 10:44 am

      I think it’s a mistake to lump Nunez’ entire career together as one entity and pretend that he hasn’t been compromised by the knee injury. Or that what he did as a part-time player in the beginning of the decade influences what he’ll do in 2020.

      Now, it may be he’s never going to be like he was from 2015-17 ever again. But I’d bet on a healthy Nunez being a better all-around player than Marisnick, whose only good offensive season came in Houston in 2017.

      • David Klein
        March 12, 2020 at 10:56 am

        Right but Jake can play defense Nunez can’t while their career wRC+ is pretty close.

        • March 12, 2020 at 10:59 am

          Again, you’re not making any allowances for Nunez’ knee injury.

          A healthy Nunez being able to perform close to his 2015-17 levels is going to be a better defender at 3B than Davis and a better hitter than Marisnick.

          • David Klein
            March 12, 2020 at 11:05 am

            But by the defensive metrics he’s been a wretched defender his entire career

            • March 12, 2020 at 11:11 am

              A (-3) DRS from 2015-17 is certainly not wretched.

  2. March 12, 2020 at 10:52 am

    If Conforto is going to be out for a short period of time.

    LF – Dominic Smith/JD Davis
    CF – Jake Marisnick
    RF – Brandon Nimmo
    3B – Jeff McNeil

    or

    LF – Dominic Smith
    CF – Brandon Nimmo
    RF – JD Davis
    3B – Jeff McNeil

    If Conforto is going to be out for more than a week or so.

    LF – Dominic Smith/JD Davis
    CF – Brandon Nimmo
    RF – Jeff McNeil
    3B – Eduardo Nunez

    In the end, I don’t think Conforto should be out too long and the Mets will already need to contend with the added wrinkle of Yoenis Cespedes demanding playing time.

    • David Klein
      March 12, 2020 at 10:54 am

      Davis’ statcast numbers blows away Smith’s statcast numbers- JD should play everyday.

  3. John Fox
    March 12, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    Well, with opening day postponed at least 2 weeks, maybe Conforto will be able to play after all.

    • March 12, 2020 at 9:22 pm

      It’s a good thing for Conforto. And Betances, Cespedes and Lowrie, too.

      • TexasGusCC
        March 13, 2020 at 1:46 am

        Especially Cespedes.

        Can you imagine, the Wilpons passed on that $2.6B so they can still call the shots for five years, but no one is going to be able to forecast what damage will be done to attendance this year. That should depress the price. I don’t want to wish badly on AnyOne, but as someone who has an 85 year old dad, our pandemic is a growing concern. Ditto for 85 year old Fred Wilpon and 80 year old Saul Katz. God forbid anything, the inheritance tax is going to buckle that family and all because Jeff needed to be COO five more years.

  4. Chris F
    March 13, 2020 at 11:03 am

    The only thing I see in that list is mostly underperforming has been’s or never was’

    Any position would look difficult if it was staffed by mediocre or worse players

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