Most Mets fans are counting down the days until Ike Davis and David Wright return from the disabled list. This seems innocent enough, as you always want your middle-of-the-order hitters in the lineup. But seemingly the fans want them back just as much for the accompanying removal of players from the current roster. And fans assume that the two players cut will be Scott Hairston and Willie Harris.
When the Mets signed Harris and Hairston in the offseason, the reaction to Harris was, “He can’t possibly take any more wins from us if he’s on our team.” Harris seemingly made a career of coming up with big plays against the Mets. The reaction to Hairston was basically a shrug.
Then, much to our surprise, both veterans pummeled the ball in Spring Training. Harris put up a .268/.397/.518 line during Grapefruit League play while Hairston posted a .345/.406/.672 slash line. Together, the two batted .307 with 10 2B, 3B, 7 HR in 114 ABs. Both made the Opening Day roster and the Mets figured to have one of their strongest benches in years.
With Jason Bay sidelined to begin the year, Harris and Hairston saw some early starts in addition to their pinch-hitting duties. Harris did well, while Hairston did not. Bay did not make his first start of the year until April 21st. In that span, Hairston had a .179/.258/.321 line. But what got lost in the shuffle was Hairston did fine as a starter and was terrible coming off the bench. Here were his splits while Bay was on the DL:
Start – .250/.368/.500
Bench: 1-for-12 with six strikeouts
Since few fans saw Hairston’s impressive Spring Training performance, their first exposure to him was mostly whiffing as a pinch-hitter. And a story line was born. While Justin Turner had the good fortune to start with a hot streak before stinking up the joint (.184/.241/.265 line in his last 54 PA), Hairston started off slow and was labeled a stiff.
Some fans reading this will say it’s just a cold streak for Turner and are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, that same courtesy was not extended to Hairston, who had a much tougher time as he had to pinch-hit in nearly 40 percent of his PA during his rotten start to 2011. And he still had an OPS 63 points higher than Turner does in his current poor stretch.
To compound matters, Hairston has some track record of being a productive hitter in the majors but because he did it for other teams, it seemingly holds no weight with Mets fans. This is a guy who hit 35 HR in 610 ABs in parts of three seasons with the Padres from 2007-2009. Hairston is a guy with a lifetime .823 OPS versus LHP in 671 PA.
But that’s nothing compared to a 17-game hot streak covering 74 PA by a spunky redhead.
Earlier we saw Hairston’s splits to open the season as a starter and coming off the bench the first three weeks of the season. Let’s do those same numbers for the entire season up to this point.
Starter – .313/.389/.469 in 11 starts
Bench: .182/.250/.364 in 24 PA
A large part of Hairston’s job is to perform as a pinch-hitter and it certainly is a knock against him to be hitting below the Mendoza Line here. Hey, would it be piling on to point out it’s still significantly better production than Turner (as a starter) in his last 54 PA?
Right now we could use a little more context. According to Baseball-Reference, the National League average for subs (what I referred to as “bench” above) is a .225/.297/.320 slash line for a .617 OPS. For the season Hairston has a .614 OPS in this role. So, what on the surface looks like lousy production is actually league average when we view it in its proper context.
Hairston is a league-average bench player who has performed quite well when given a chance to start. He’s also a RH power bat, which the club does not have many options for replacements, as Nick Evans failed to produce in his latest limited stint with the club.
So, this is a serious question – Do you think Turner could be a suitable replacement for Hairston as power RH bat off the bench? Because his ability to play numerous infield positions is definitely a point in his favor when the decision on who to cut comes about when the disabled corner infielders return.
His 17-game hot streak aside, Turner is not a guy we should view as a starter. So, is he merely a defensive replacement or is he also a viable bat off the bench? I can see an argument being made that his performance so far in RBI situations make him someone you would want off the bench in a key situation with ducks on the pond.
But even if you think Turner would be great in this role, hopefully you will reconsider your view on Hairston. Instead of counting down the days until the Mets can cut him, we should view him as a perfectly acceptable bench player, one with power and the ability to play multiple outfield positions.
Harris, on the other hand, we can cut him any day you like.
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