The key to being a good manager, according to Jim Leyland, is being sure to put your players in a position to succeed. One of the keys to preventing runs is doing a good job of having your pitching and defense work together.  The biggest key for the Mets will be in not giving away extra runs.

The Mets’ starting position players are not known for their defense. This is less of a problem for pitchers like Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, who strike out lots of hitters, but it is an issue for pitchers who do not.  Critics will often say you have to play who you have, but players are available to balance, particularly with expanded rosters, the needs of each pitcher.

In the Mets’ heyday (or heyest day) of the mid-80s, manager Davey Johnson was clever about his personnel use.  Most Met fans are familiar with Howard Johnson playing shortstop, poorly, on days where Sid Fernandez pitched. The truth is that Johnson started behind all the Mets staff, but he did evolve to playing shortstop mostly behind Fernandez. As Johnson was not a strong infielder, putting him in a premium position is risky, unless there is a reduced chance of him getting balls hit to him. Likewise, if Fernandez is going to pitch, a good manager puts better outfielders on the field.

It is fun to note that Fernandez was what is known as a fly ball pitcher. He was *the* fly ball pitcher. In September of 1993, he pitched a game where there were no infield assists – it was all fly balls and strikeouts. The newspaper article mentioned it was the 11th time in MLB history. The Mets usual outfield included Bobby Bonilla and Vince Coleman. In this game, the Mets had a good set of defenders. When Fernandez pitched, Bonilla played third. Fortunately for Fernandez, Coleman’s season was ending when he came off the Disabled List at the end of July.

With the current starting pitchers (or at least as planned), deGrom is a strikeout pitcher, with slight ground ball tendencies.  Syndergaard is a strikeout pitcher with stronger ground ball tendencies. Marcus Stroman is a severe ground ball pitcher.  Steven Matz is a slight ground ball pitcher in batted ball distribution.  When you have these pitchers, putting a solid infield together becomes critical.  Having a strong catcher, with top framing skills becomes more valuable.

The current infield of Jeff McNeil at third, Amed Rosario at short, Robinson Cano at second base and Pete Alonso at first gives the Mets a solid fielding infield.  Rosario was improving, and Cano is a veteran and they make an adequate/average double play combination.

The pitchers can have confidence the manager is putting them in a position to win.

Then the Mets run into problems.  Wilson Ramos has a quite natural aging curve to his defensive stats.  He came in the league decent, improved and was above average, and over his 10-year career has seen his defense decline, and he is a not a good fielder.  This hurts the Mets in a couple of ways – not just stolen base runs, but also in framing runs and giving the opponents extra chances.  With a strikeout staff, framing can really get the Mets out of tough innings.

What the Mets cannot afford to do is put fielders and pitchers in a position where they are not likely to be successful.  J.D. Davis is not an outfielder.  In limited time in left field, he struggled.  Dominic Smith is not an outfielder, either.  When manager Luis Rojas writes Davis in left field and Michael Conforto in right field and Brandon Nimmo in center, he is giving up runs. He is not putting the team on the field that is most likely to win, given the starting pitchers.

When Stroman pitches, you can put Davis, Nimmo and Conforto in the outfield.  Even in today’s environment of launch angle, Stroman is going to allow only a handful of chances to those outfielders.

Which brings me to Sunday, July 26, 2020’s starting pitcher Rick Porcello.  Porcello is the opposite of the rest of the staff.  He is an extreme fly ball pitcher – like Fernandez, Lucas Giolito, and Justin Verlander. Porcello might be successful with the Mets, but if they start an outfield of Davis, Nimmo and Conforto, he will probably not be.  That is a good time to put Davis at third and give Jake Marisnick a start in the outfield.  Instead of a personal catcher, think of it as a personal outfielder.

The lesson is to put the defense on the field that supports your pitchers. Give the ground ball pitchers a tight double play combination.  Give the fly ball pitchers good outfielders.  Give the strikeout pitchers a good catcher.  The roster is big enough to have those variety of players.  Put those players in a position to succeed.

18 comments on “Managing the Mets’ defense to support the pitchers

  • John Fox

    For late game defensive moves when the Mets have the lead as in the first 2 games of the year, Rojas is more proactive than Mickey Calloway Both of those games he put in Andres Gimenez to replace Cano, and in one game he put Marsinick in center late and moved Nimmo over to left.

    • Chris Dial

      Thanks.
      Re: Def. Replacements: That is definitely a good sign. Porcello is going to need better outfielders. I didn’t break down the relievers wrt FB/GB tendencies, but there is very little the Mets can do on balls over the fence.

    • Name

      Apples to oranges comparison.

      The roster is 30 with a DH right now compared to 25 last year.

  • Chris F

    McNeil is not a third baseman. He cannot throw and and hes a marginal fielder at MLB game speed. He easily could have 4 errors already.

    He belongs at 2B.

    • Chris Dial

      Re: McNeil 3B – Do you have anything to back that up, or is it just your feelings? All I care about is whether he turns batted balls hit to him into outs, and he does.

      • Chris F

        Basic hard hit ground ball eats him up. Error.
        Throwing behind runner to 1B. Bailed out by Alonso.
        Throwing behind runner to 1B. Bailed out by Alonso, again.
        (1 game – both easily could have been errors).

        Yesterday. Fielding error, with a terrible throw that followed.

        He easily could be sitting at 4 Es in the first series.

        He is not a third baseman. Even if he cleans up the glove work (may be possible), the arm is too weak and inaccurate for 3B.

        • Chris Dial

          Whatever you do, do not look at any Matt Chapman highlights this year, if you think that’s what makes someone a 3B.

          Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

          • Chris F

            All Im saying is that McNeils defense at 3B will be a considerable disappointment. He will be a net negative on all defensive metrics.

            • Chris Dial

              Perhaps you know something we don’t. DRS, UZR and RED all have McNeil as “average” at third base, not just over his career but each season as well.

              He’ll likely perform as an average 3B.

              • Chris F

                How many big league innings? Not many. Mark my words, and Im happy to eat them if Im wrong, but McNeil is not the answer at 3B.

  • Chris Dial

    What comparison is apples to oranges?

    • John Fox

      I think he was referring to my comment about the increased late inning defensive moves, meaning any comparison with last year is invalid because with the increased roster sizes its more practical to make more defensive replacement moves than it was before

  • Metsense

    This was a good article from the defensive perspective.
    Left field is a problem. Marisnick has a career OPS vs RHP of .636. That is low for a position player. When Porcello is pitching and Marisnick starts against a RHP then the Mets should expect a hole in the batting order. Against a LHP he has a .701 which is still below average but bearable. Marisnick starting this not the solution. I hope Cespedes can sometimes play LF and solved this problem.
    Catcher is another defensive problem but again the alternatives are offensively challenged . Ramos should start 80% and have a defensive replacement when they have a late game lead or in a blow out. It might keep him fresh. His .768 OPS is hard to replace the the starting lineup with Nido (547 OPS) or Rivera (627 OPS) .
    Rojas should include Nido along with Marisnick and Gimenez in his late game defensive platoon. BVW should address this in the offseason.

  • Brian Joura

    Do you have any feel for the scale between an offense and defensive metric? How much better does Marisnick have to be on defense to make up for a 200-point shortfall in OPS?

    Davis had a PT edge last year. But he also posted a 2.4 fWAR compared to a 1.1 for Marisnick. And I feel like there’s more of a chance for Davis to improve upon his defensive numbers than for Marisnick to improve upon last year’s .700 OPS.

    I want to see Marisnick with more games played than PA. That’s how I think you maximize his particular good-glove, soft-bat skill set.

    • Chris Dial

      I’m going to try to get both those answers together – basically, on an everyday basis, Marisnick is not worth playing – his defense doesn’t outweigh his poor hitting. That’s the key to manipulating his value. In most games he gets 2-3 chances, or 1 behind Stroman. Behind Porcello, there are 13-20 OF chances. Marisnick’s value where the OF chances far exceed average sees his value go up significantly.

      So yes, in a game where he gets 4 PAs, but 5-7 chances (depending on spray and ground covered as a CF), his defense does offset his bat.

      I’d rather have someone other than Marisnick, but he is who is on the roster.

      FWIW, JD’s WAR lead is 13 runs. Behind Porcello, that would completely evaporate.

      • Brian Joura

        B-R has Porcello giving up 203 fly balls last year in 32 games, a little over six per game. 27 of those were HR so it we subtract those out we get 176 or 5.5 per game. I know we get into problems with determining fly balls versus line drives but if we include the line drives, that’s 350 for him (including homers) in 2019 or just under 11 per game. In 2018, he allowed 305 FB + LD in 33 games. That’s a little over 9 per game. It seems the 5-7 estimate of OF chances for one player behind Porcello is too high.

        And are we counting too many line drives? Surely there are line drives caught by infielders. And how does the classification work? If a batter hits a ball right up the middle on a line that hits the dirt just past the second base bag – is that a line drive? Should that count as a chance since it won’t be caught?

        A HR can’t be caught. It seems intuitive that a certain percentage of line drives cannot be caught, either. So we have X amount of fly balls and line drives but Y amount of balls where it’s possible that an outfielder can record an out. And how many of Y are plays that are virtually automatic?

        The Inside Edge fielding numbers on FanGraphs show that in the 733 innings Marisnick played in CF last year, he had 246 balls hit to him. Of those 246, they rated 196 of them routine. Of the remaining 50, 20 of them were rated impossible. So we’re looking at 30 plays in about 83 games or so of playing time. Of those 30 plays, he made 17 of them.

        I have no doubt Marisnick is better defensively in CF than Nimmo. I also have no doubt that Nimmo in LF is better than Davis. But if you automatically start Marisnick instead of Davis for 32 starts, it seems like you’re looking at fewer than 20 plays that don’t fall into “routine” or “impossible” where the defense could potentially make a difference.

        Davis took at least two lousy routes on fly balls yesterday but even a perfect route on those two wouldn’t have resulted in an out. I’m sensitive to the fact that Porcello needs good outfield defense. But right now Porcello has to be much more worried about throwing meatballs to the plate that get hammered. The Stroman injury buys him time but I don’t see how you can accept the kind of outing he gave yesterday in a 60-game season.

        • Chris Dial

          I don’t know what you did to get those numbers, but they are wrong. Try this: Rick Porcello=> 2019 Game Logs => look at the FB column.
          I downloaded. He gave up 350 FBs and 147 LDs. And 31 HRs. He did give up 27 HRs in 2018.

          So that’s 500 balls in the air in 32 games, or about 15 per game.

          Perhaps you were looking at “hits given up on FBs”.

          I hope this post was helpful.

          • Brian Joura

            According to Baseball-Reference, where I’m getting all of my numbers, Porcello gave up 198 hits last year, so when I have him with 350 FB + LD — it’s clearly not on hits given up.

            Porcello 2019

            Total Batters Faced – 768
            Minus Strikeouts – 143
            Sub Total – 625
            Minus Walks – 45
            Sub Total – 580
            Minus Ground Balls – 219
            Sub Total – 361

            There’s no way his total in 2019 can be 500 balls in the air.

            Edit: You have 350 FB, which is the same total I have for FB + LD. Maybe you are double counting his LD?

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