Is Willie Harris a good bench option for Mets?

The Mets will likely carry five outfielders on their Opening Day roster and four of them are set in Bay, Beltran, Pagan and Hairston. The Mets signed Willie Harris to a minor league deal and at the time it seemed as much to keep him off other teams, as Harris has a history of making big plays against the Mets, than it was to fill the team’s final outfield spot.

So, what does Harris do? He hits a game-tying home run in an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday and follows that up with a game-tying two-run homer in the 10th inning of the team’s first Spring Training game, salvaging a tie against the Braves.

How nice it would be to see Harris do the things he usually reserves for the Mets against other teams in the division! He has played for both the Braves and Nationals the past four years. While his career line against the Mets is .159/.319/.212 – the lowest slugging percentage against any team against which he has played at least five games – fans immediately think of how he has beat them with his glove.

According to Marty Noble at MLB.com, Harris “has made at least five catches to deny them significant run production in the last four seasons.

“I don’t know why, I just make catches against the Mets,” Harris said. “I’ve never tried to, they just hit more balls that were hard to get to. I know I have a lot against them. It made me think I was supposed to be here. Now, I am.”

Now the question becomes: Should a half a dozen fielding plays outweigh his entire record – fielding and batting – when determining who gets the final outfield spot? Of course not. So, let’s look at his entire record.

On the plus side, Harris can play anywhere in a pinch, having played all three outfield spots along with 2B, 3B and even SS in his time in the majors. Most of his time has come at 2B (208 games), CF (230) and LF (274).

He’s been an essentially average defender at 2B, with a career UZR/150 of 0.1, thanks to good hands and less than average range. In CF, he’s somewhat the same, although a tad worse with a -2.9 UZR/150. It’s LF where he has really shined with the glove throughout his career, with a 14.3 UZR/150.

Now, let’s look at his hitting. Lifetime Harris has a .239/.327/.352 slash line, which to put it nicely is not very good. Last year he hit .183/.291/.362 which is pretty awful. So, was last year the beginning of the end as Harris as a major league hitter or were there other factors at work?

The last two seasons, Harris has become much more of a fly ball hitter. After having a FB% in the 20s and 30s his first seven years in the majors, Harris had a 46.7 FB% in 2009 and a 42.6 mark last year. Since fly balls are the most likely ball to result in an out, Harris has produced BABIPs of .271 and .199 the past two years.

Now, no one can put up a good offensive season with a .199 BABIP. So, was that a good indication of his true talent or was it more a result of bad luck? Two researchers named Dutton and Carty have come up with a model to predict what a player’s BABIP should be, based on his batted ball results. When you plug Harris’ 2010 numbers into their calculator, it spits out a .321 xBABIP.

It’s unlikely that Harris would put up a .321 BABIP. He has a lifetime .281 mark in the category and only once in his career has he put up a mark that high. But while the model is probably optimistic in its assessment, it does indicate that he had some bad misfortune to put up a .199 mark last year. In other words, there’s good reason to expect him to bounce back offensively.

So, we have a versatile defensive player with a history of making good plays in the field, even if his defensive reputation is a bit ahead of what the numbers say. And we have a player who suffered some poor luck on batted balls last year. Even in his down year, Harris had a strong walk rate (12.6 BB%) and a career-high .179 ISO.

Finally, Harris helps himself by being able to steal a base. He was successful on five of seven attempts last year and has 101 SB in his career at a 74 percent success ratio.

Ideally, in a backup you want a guy who can handle pinch-hitting, has versatility, and can do at least one other thing well. Harris had 11 pinch-hits last year and had an OPS 38 points higher as a PH than he did overall in 2010. We know he can play multiple positions. Harris can also run a little, has some sock for his 5’9 frame and can come up with a big defensive play.

Despite his poor year with the bat in 2010, Harris seems like a solid bench guy for the Mets in 2011. And if he hits game-tying home runs against the Braves, so much the better.

4 comments for “Is Willie Harris a good bench option for Mets?

  1. 86mets
    February 27, 2011 at 11:38 am

    In the NL, if you’re keeping 12 pitchers, which most teams do nowadays, it’s always a real asset to have a player (or players) who can play multiple positions. With only 5 bench spots available, being able to play 3 or more positions can be invaluable to a manager. Since Harris can play at least 4 positions at a minimum of league average ability then he could really be a crucial part of the bench. More so because he hits left-handed and there are so many more RH relievers than LH ones for the most part. His ability to pinch hit AND play 3 or 4 positions means he’s almost a lock to make the team. He reminds me in a way of Lenny Harris, only much, much more versatile with a glove.

  2. March 1, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    His numbers haven’t been good the past two years, where will he bounce back to?

    As far as his role as a bench player, does his ability to play multiple positions outweigh someone who’s faster, a better bat, younger or even a defensive star at one position? I’d much rather leave him off the team in favor of a younger, more well-rounded player. At least Endy Chavez, a great fourth outfielder, was fast and could hit a little.

  3. Brian Joura
    March 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Harris had a .364 OBP in 2009. That’s a good number for a starter and a great number for a reserve.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: