The bench for the Mets is comprised of Henry Blanco, Frank Catalanotto, Alex Cora, Gary Matthews and Fernando Tatis. Blanco and Cora are fixtures, there as much for their ability to play key defensive positions as anything they do with their bats. The other three players need to produce more offense to justify their spots on the major league roster.
Tatis is off to a dismal start, with a .222/.282/.389 line after 40 PA. But Tatis has two things going for him that help negate his poor start at the plate. First, over the past two seasons, he has put up a .289/.352/.458 line for the Mets over 685 PA. He has shown manager Jerry Manuel what he is capable of doing at the plate. Also, Tatis can play virtually anywhere on the field and serves as the team’s emergency catcher. So, while the club expects more offense out of Tatis, his place on the bench is every bit as secure as Blanco and Cora’s.
However, with the other two bench players on the roster, the time has come for the Mets to make at least one and possibly two moves to upgrade the talent available on hand for Manuel.
Matthews was brought in during the offseason because of his ability to play center field. Much was made of the move at the time because of Matthews’ contract. But the Angels are picking up the vast majority of the money owed Matthews, with the Mets responsible for about a million per season over the next two years. So far this year, Matthews has a .143/.234/.190 line in 47 PA. In 12 games as a sub, Matthews has one hit in 13 ABs for an .077 average and is 0-9 as a pinch-hitter. With RISP, he is 1-14.
With offense as dismal as that, Matthews better provide Gold Glove type defense in center field. UZR likes what it has seen of Matthews this season, as he has an 11.3 UZR/150 in center field, with most of that value coming from his throwing arm. But John Dewan’s system is less impressed. It has Matthews at -2 Defensive Runs Saved.
If Matthews’ defense is as good as UZR thinks in this very small sample, the Mets could justify keeping him on if they had another hitter on the bench to use as their primary lefty bat. Right now that is Catalanotto, who is no one’s idea of a big bat. Even in the best of times, Catalanotto was a contact hitter without much extra-base power.
This season Catlanotto has a .167/.200/.208 line in 25 PA. One could argue that he has not had enough at-bats to determine if he is still a worthwhile major league player. But the fact of the matter is that Catalanotto has played just two games in the field this year. His main job is to hit and he is simply not doing that. While Tatis and Matthews at least give the club defensive options, Catalanotto serves in the role once filled by guys like Julio Franco and Rusty Staub – bat.
It is deflating as a fan to see Manuel send up Tatis as a pinch-hitter and then once the opposing manager makes a pitching change to bring in a tough RHP have Manuel respond by sending Catalanotto to the plate.
It makes things even harder to stomach when the Mets have an in-house solution raking at Triple-A. In 109 ABs for Buffalo, lefty Chris Carter has a .339/.395/.615 line. The MLE calculator at Minor League Splits translates that to a .289/.327/.503 line in the majors for the Mets. Forget the actual results – just the possibility of an extra-base hit makes Carter a more attractive option than what the team currently has for LHB off the bench.
The knock on Carter is that he does not have a defensive position. But if Catalanotto can be on the team and play the field just twice in the first 30 games, just how important is a defensive position for the role in which Carter would play? Carter has served as DH in 11 games this season for Buffalo. But he has also played LF six times, RF six times and first base five times.
While Catalanotto once was an infielder capable of playing both 2B and 3B, he has played 1B and LF in his two games for the Mets. He has not played 3B since 2001 and has played all of three games at 2B, for a total of seven innings, since 2002.
Yes, Catalanotto has more defensive value than Carter. But that value is miniscule to begin with and is wiped out completely by the role Manuel gives him on the team. And even if he receives full value for his defensive, uh let’s call it potential, Carter’s advantage with the bat runs circles around him anyway.
In Sunday’s game, Brian Wilson was on the mound in the late innings throwing 97 mph fastballs. If the Mets wanted to counter with a lefty bat off the bench, would you rather see Catalanotto, Matthews or Carter hop off the bench? Catalanotto did come up against Wilson in the eighth inning. He struck out on three pitches. Matthews came up earlier in the game and struck out on four pitches.
This is not about one game. Rather this is about the complete lack of production from lefty hitters off the bench for the Mets so far this season. The 2010 Mets are a flawed team but one that has a chance to compete for a playoff spot in a National League with few (if any) elite teams. And the Mets are making things harder than they have to be with their bench as it is currently constructed. The Mets have just three hits this season from their lefty pinch-hitters, which is unacceptable.
Call up Chris Carter and make him the team’s primary LHB off the bench.