With all three of the Mets’ starting outfielders on the shelf, Willie Harris has received regular playing time the final week-plus of the season. In fact, Harris is tied with Jose Reyes for most games played for the 2011 Mets, something that no one saw coming when he inked a minor league deal back in January. It has been a nice bounce-back season for the veteran, which brings us to today’s question. Should the Mets bring back Harris for 2012?

Our own Chris Walendin did a comprehensive look at the Mets’ 40-man roster situation and concluded that Harris would not be back. Now, this does not mean that Chris is Nostradamus but if after his thorough research into the matter a player comes up on the wrong side of the fence – I think it is safe to say the player faces an uphill battle to return.

Yet, Harris still has all of the same attributes that made him attractive to Sandy Alderson in the offseason. And he has the advantage of having performed well while a member of the team. Harris has indicated that he wants to return and he seems to provide the veteran leadership that so many deem desirable.

The case for Harris is that he is versatile with the ability to play in both the infield and outfield. He bats lefty, is an experienced pinch-hitter and has some nice OBP skills. Harris has posted BB% in double digits in each of the last five years, including the 12.8 percent mark he’s recorded in 2011.

The Nationals cut ties with Harris after he played three years with the club. In 2010, he had just a .183/.291/.362 line for an OPS 104 points lower than it was the previous season. But there was reason to believe that Harris could improve on that performance as he had just a .199 BABIP that season.

Jeff Zimmerman over at Fan Graphs just posted an xBABIP calculator that he found from another source that he believed to be the most accurate model. Basically xBABIP is trying to remove “luck” from BABIP by looking at a hitter’s batted ball profile (line drives, ground balls, fly outs, pop-ups, etc.) and determining what his BABIP “should” be.

In 2010, Harris had a BABIP of .199 but according to this calculator, his batted ball profile indicated he should have had a .299 BABIP, which is normal for a hitter. So, it seemed like Harris’ poor 2010 season was due more to “luck” than a skill decline.

Fast forward to 2011 and we see that Harris has a .333 BABIP. The calculator gives him a .312 mark, meaning that perhaps he has had “good luck” this season. But if he indeed has had good luck, why would the Mets be interested in re-signing him, especially as his OPS sits at just .689 before Tuesday’s 0-for-6 effort?

Harris got off to a rotten start with the Mets in 2011 but has been much better since before the All-Star break. In his last 147 PA, he has a .273/.384/.347 line. That may not seem like much, but it includes 41 times that he entered the game as a pinch-hitter. NL pinch-hitters have a .214/.291/.313 line this season. Context is everything and Harris’ overall numbers have to be balanced by his pinch-hitting numbers and a manual adjustment needs to be made.

It should be pointed out that Harris has not performed very well as a pinch-hitter this season. In 71 PA in the role – he has a .183/.286/.217 mark – which is worse than NL pinch-hitters as a group. But again, Harris got off to a dreadful start and has been much better lately. He started off 1-22 as a pinch-hitter but since then he’s been 10-38 (.263). In his last 47 PA as a pinch-hitter, Harris has a .370 OBP, which is outstanding.

Of course, you cannot just cherry pick your end points and pretend like those first 24 PA didn’t count. They absolutely do. But I like to see players finish strong and Harris has certainly done that, especially in his role as pinch-hitter. If you just look at his overall .183 AVG as a pinch-hitter you might claim he was incapable of handling the role but I don’t think that statement would be accurate.

Ideally, Harris is the 24th or 25th player on your roster. However, the Mets have a 40-man roster crunch and they may prefer to leave Harris unsigned until after the Rule 5 Draft. It would not surprise me to see Harris left available as a free agent and then brought back in December or January. If he does return, I will enjoy seeing him on the 2012 Mets because he does a good job as a bench player.

And Harris has a .750 OPS as a starter this year. If he is pressed into duty as a full-time player due to an injury to someone else, he shouldn’t embarrass the team with additional playing time.

In Harris and Scott Hairston, the Mets had two nice bench players in 2011. However, Nick Evans seems poised to replace Hairston as the team’s RH pinch-hitter. Unless the Mets are happy limiting Daniel Murphy to a reserve role, they do not have a LH pinch-hitter to replace Harris who also offers defensive versatility with the ability to play multiple positions..

One comment on “Should the Mets re-sign Willie Harris?

  • Chris Walendin

    In addition to his positional versatility, his comfort level with a bench role, and his veteran leadership, Harris is also apparently very popular in the clubhouse. Those intangibles shouldn’t be overpaid for, but they also can’t be ignored. I’m not in love with the idea, but I could see Harris being a Met again in 2012. Though I agree that if it is in the plans, it’s unlikely to happen prior to the Rule 5 draft (although I would have said the same thing about Tim Byrdak, so what do I know).

    And just to clarify, in my piece from earlier this week, I tried to stick closely to the elements of the Mets’ offseason over which they will have complete control. The thought process there was that those one-sided decisions were more predictible, since I only needed to consider the wants and needs of the Mets (as opposed to those of both the Mets and the player). The lone exception I made was with Jose Reyes, because that situation, however it resolves, will have such a massive impact on the franchise. But in ignoring the rest of the departing free agents (including Harris), I didn’t mean to imply that I thought they wouldn’t be back, only that they should be treated similarly to the rest of the 2011-12 free agent pool. Generally speaking, I think that the free agent situation will be much easier to analyze after the Rule 5 draft, at which point we’ll know exactly how many open spots they have available and what holes need to be filled.

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