Plan to start Luis Hernandez at second a mistake

In this morning’s New York Post, Mike Puma wrote a column based on a person “with direct knowledge of (Terry) Collins’ plans” saying that the Mets are going to name Luis Hernandez as the team’s starting second baseman.

How many people saw that one coming two weeks ago?

The last time we saw Hernandez, he was limping around the bases after hitting a home run off Tim Hudson. Previously in the at-bat, Hernandez fouled a ball of his right foot and had actually fractured a metatarsal bone. So if nothing else, we know that he is tough.

We also know that Hernandez has a lifetime .255/.302/.331 line – in the minors over 3,324 PA. The overwhelming majority of evidence screams that he cannot hit major league pitching. In 290 PA in the majors, Hernandez has a .245/.286/.298 line.

There is no reason to think that Luis Hernandez is the answer at second base.

If the Mets are so concerned about defense at the position, they should simply play Ruben Tejada there. It’s hard to imagine Tejada doing worse than he did last year, when his .588 OPS was percentage points better than what Hernandez has done in the majors. The difference is that Tejada did it at age 20 while Hernandez put up his marks over his age 23-26 seasons. Tejada has room for growth while Hernandez is what he’s going to be at this point.

Puma says that Collins is the one pushing for this move and he has to win a battle with the front office to get his guy. If putting a no-bat, questionable glove (UZR does not love his range at either 2B or SS in his limited time in the majors) is going to be the first defining moment for Collins as a manager, well I am extremely unimpressed.

My first choice for the position is Daniel Murphy. My second choice would be Luis Castillo. My third choice would be a Brad Emaus-Murphy platoon. My fourth choice would be Tejada. Which makes Hernandez (at best) the fifth choice at the position, and it’s not clear that he’s a better pick than Justin Turner, who significantly out-hit Hernandez at Triple-A last year.

Now, it’s possible that this story about Hernandez was floated as a trial balloon to motivate the others in camp to step up their game. So far, every single word out of Collins’ mouth this Spring has been positive. It’s easy to see him being underwhelmed about what he’s seeing so far in the second base competition and using this as a motivational tool for Murphy, Castillo and Emaus.

I hope that’s what this is. Because if Collins really has Hernandez in his Opening Day lineup, there’s only one way this story unfolds for the Mets. Last year Gary Matthews Jr. was in the Opening Day lineup while a far better player in Angel Pagan rode the pine. Matthews was finally released in mid-June.

Last April, I wrote the following about Matthews and Pagan, “If the choice is between a guy we know is no good (Matthews) and a guy who may or may not be good (Pagan) – always, always, always go with the guy who at least has a chance to be good.”

That same thing applies to Hernandez and Murphy. We know Hernandez is not a major league quality hitter. We can easily deduce that from his minor league numbers and his brief time in the majors backs that up nicely. Murphy has generally hit in the majors and is doing so once again this Spring (.303/.455 SLG in nearly 3X the playing time as Hernandez).

Murphy will be an asset offensively at second base. We do not know if he would give that back on defense. There’s a chance he will. There’s also a non-zero chance that he won’t. Hernandez would have to be the equivalent of Bill Mazeroski defensively to make up for that bat and there’s nothing in his record to say that he would.

Forget the whole Bernie Madoff mess. Forget the possibility that Carlos Beltran won’t be ready to play on Opening Day. Forget the fact that Johan Santana may not pitch at all this year. Choosing to start Hernandez at second base is worse than all of those things.

The Mets have no control over the Madoff fiasco. They can’t make injured players be healthy. But they can put the best players on the field that they have under contract. And sitting Murphy for Hernandez is not only a mistake, it’s one of huge proportions.

Just like starting Matthews over Pagan.

*****

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4 comments for “Plan to start Luis Hernandez at second a mistake

  1. 86mets
    March 15, 2011 at 8:54 am

    All the more surprising since Collins went out of his way to declare that 2B is an offensive position in his mind. So to declare a career .255 minor league hitter the starter at 2B is, to say the least, a questionable move. As you say Brian maybe this is simply a motivational move by Collins to light a fire under Murphy & Emaus. But why say player X is going to be your starter when players A & B and even C (Emaus, Murphy, Castillo) are the primary contenders for the role? How does he explain to Hernandez a week before Opening Day that either Murphy or Emaus is going to start while Hernandez likely goes back to Buffalo? Wouldn’t that be rather awkward? More so since Hernandez seems to be a Collins favorite. It is very possible that Collins is trying to get Hernandez on the team in some form or fashion. I just hope it doesn’t become a battle between him and the front office which could clearly become a distraction to the rest of the team.

    • Brian Joura
      March 15, 2011 at 8:59 am

      That’s the beauty of the person “with direct knowledge of (Terry) Collins’ plans” – it’s not Collins who said this – he can easily deny the statement if it turns out they go in another direction.

  2. March 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    I’m not really sure how lighting a fire under the 2B contestants helps Murphy much if he just isn’t a good defensive second baseman. The fact is, he’s a corner infielder by trade with some time there. He can probably play second from time to time, but he’s going to need a lot more practice just being a non-impact as a regular, and I don’t see him ever as an above average defender there.

    I love Murph, he hits, he’s scrappy, does what he’s asked to and tries everything. Unfortunately he is not instinctively a great second baseman.

    • Brian Joura
      March 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm

      That’s a good point about Murphy and fire.

      Murphy doesn’t have to be an above-average defender. He doesn’t even have to be average. He just has to not be awful. Last year 27 2B had at least 400 PA and the median OPS was .739 while Murphy has a lifetime .768 OPS in the majors. He’s above average offensively for the position so as long as he isn’t 2009-Luis Castillo bad defensively – he’s at least average at the position.

      He showed good range at first base and a decent glove. He’s already got infield experience at third base. I think that he’ll make most of the plays he’s supposed to make at second.

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