All of the speculation in Mets land recently revolves around who the new manager is going to be. There is a debate going on about how much autonomy the new manager will actually have, but seemingly one thing he will have control over is setting the batting order. Now, for the most part, lineup construction is overrated and studies have shown that the difference between the best and worst lineup is much less than many fans think.
Still, it is fun to think about and a good way to think about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various players. Plus, with questions about who is going to be the team’s second baseman, and to a lesser extent, catcher, the batting order figures to change depending upon who mans those two spots in the lineup.
I am going to make two assumptions here. First, the new manager will not bend over backwards like the previous two skippers to have opposite-side-of-the-plate hitters next to each other in the lineup whenever possible. After all, the Phillies have done quite well with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard hitting back-to-back the past few years.
Second, that the injured Mets hitters will all be back and ready to go on Opening Day. This may be wishful thinking on my part, but it seems a somewhat reasonable position to take and if nothing else a more defensible one than this time last year, when we knew that Carlos Beltran was not going to be ready at the beginning of the year. Hopefully, there are no Spring Training injuries like what happened to Daniel Murphy last season.
Here is how I would have the Opening Day batting order:
The leadoff spot in the order is probably the only spot where nearly everyone agrees who should be the choice. Last year’s failed experiment of having Reyes hit third is too fresh in everyone’s mind for the new manager to try something as idiotic. Pagan is the only other realistic option to bat leadoff and I believe his bat is better suited to hit lower in the order.
Not many people expect Castillo to be on the team when Opening Day rolls around. Everyone focuses on what he cannot do, rather than what he can. Castillo gets on base and is comfortable taking pitches allowing Reyes a chance to run. Plus, Castillo himself remains a very good basestealer and batting him second gives him chances to do that. Many expect the Mets to run much less than last year. However, I do think that Reyes will still get the green light more often than not. Most likely, Pagan will end up hitting second, but I do not like that position for him. If Castillo is not the starting second baseman, I would prefer to see Thole bat second.
Many will prefer to see Wright hitting third, but this is the one area where his increasing strikeout rate bothers me. It is a tiny thing, but I prefer Pagan’s 16.8 K% to either Wright’s 27.4 or Beltran’s 17.7 strikeout rate in this position. There is the prestige of batting third in the order, as this is the spot usually reserved for the team’s best all-around player. And many feel that Pagan does not deserve that, especially after his second-half numbers (.263/.304/.374) last year. But I like the combination of his contact, speed and ability to drive the ball here.
Bay might be the team’s best long-term choice for cleanup hitter, but on Opening Day I would like him to have a little less pressure so I have him batting lower in the order. Besides, Beltran started to shake off the rust at the end of the year and showed the type of hitter he can still be. In his final 23 games (91 PA), he had a .325/.374/.614 line. That’s a pretty nice guy to have hitting fourth.
Last year, Wright quieted the doubters by hitting 29 home runs, putting the power outage of 2009 firmly behind him. Here’s hoping he can do the same thing to those who worry about his increasing strikeouts. After posting declining strikeout rates from 2006-08, Wright has seen an increase in both of the past two seasons, up to 27.4 percent last year. Hopefully the new batting coach can get Wright to consistently stand closer to the plate and teach him to lay off the high fastball in 2011.
Much like Wright a year ago, Bay will have to address the people who wonder where his power went. One thing Bay does have going for him as he attempts to return from a concussion is that his injury happened in the field, not at the plate. Hopefully Bay does not have the issue with inside pitches that Wright had when he first returned from his beaning.
Most people would have Davis batting much higher in the order; I nearly hit him eighth. Davis performed better than we had any reason to expect in 2010, a season where most figured him to get a September call-up, at best. But it was hardly a dominating offensive performance. He was very streaky and the overall picture showed a batter with a .791 OPS, despite a torrid September when a .375 BABIP led to a .952 OPS. While Beltran has a long history of success in the majors, Davis is just starting his resume. While I am rooting for him to build on his season, I still have doubts if he can hit enough on a consistent basis to be a middle-of-the-order force.
There has been talk that the Mets are looking for a catcher and this could be an indication that the club is not happy with Thole as the starting backstop. This is crazy talk. Thole needs to be the everyday catcher. His defense was much better than advertised and he even showed some pop in his bat with three home runs, a surprising total given how much he chokes up on the bat. His .357 OBP tied him with Jorge Posada for the ninth-best total among catchers with at least 200 PA last season. Thole is an asset as the team’s catcher and he needs to be the starting receiver on Opening Day.
Many people are already writing off the 2011 season as a rebuilding/restructuring one for the Mets. But any team with Reyes, Beltran, Wright and Bay in its lineup has a chance to put up a lot of runs on the board. Last year the National League average runs scored was 701 and the Mets tallied 656. With healthy years from their stars, the Mets could add 100 runs to their output from a year ago, no matter how the batting order is assembled.