Is Scott Hairston a good fourth outfielder?

A month-and-a-half after being non-tendered by the Padres, the Mets signed Scott Hairston to a one-year, $1.1 million deal, with an extra $400,000 in performance bonuses. Hairston, who played in 104 games for the Padres last year, should be the Mets’ fourth outfielder. He has some sock in his bat and is capable of playing all three outfield positions.

This move has been met with a collective yawn by the fan base. What has probably drawn the most reaction is who the Mets (did not) cut from the 40-man roster to make room for Hairston. With the additions of Hairston and Chris Young, the Mets cut Jason Pridie and Tobi Stoner from the roster. Some felt this was the perfect time to cut Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez.

I’d like to compare Hairston to another Mets outfield acquisition from the recent past. Here are their numbers in the year before being acquired by New York:

Hairston — .210/.295/.346 for an 80 OPS+
Player A — .250/.336/.361 for an 85 OPS+

Pretty similar, wouldn’t you say? Okay, how about their lifetime marks?

Hairston — .245/.303/.435 for a 94 OPS+
Player A — .257/.332/.405 for a 92 OPS+

Again, these guys look pretty similar. How are they defensively? Last year, Hairston saw the vast majority of his time in LF, where he had a -3 DRS and a -7.7 UZR/150. Previously he had been a solid defender, with a lifetime UZR/150 of 7.2 in LF and 7.7 in CF.

Meanwhile, Player A spent most of his previous year before coming to the Mets playing CF, where he posted a -9 DRS and a -42.9 UZR/150. In RF he had a DRS of 1 and a UZR/150 of 1.8 that same season. Lifetime, he had a UZR/150 of -3.1 in CF and 16.5 in RF.

OK, since neither guy was acquired to be a starter, how were they at pinch-hitting?

Hairston was 3-20 last year as a pinch-hitter and in his career had just a .170 AVG (17-100) in the role. Player A was 5-11 as a PH in the year before going to the Mets and had a .238 AVG (24-101) in the role.

Speed? Hairston was successful on six of his seven SB attempts last year and has a career-high of 11 SB. Player A came to the Mets successful on four of his five SB attempts the previous year and had a career-high of 18 SB. Power? Hairston had back-to-back 17 HR seasons before hitting 10 last year. Player A had back-to-back years of 19 and 18 before hitting 4 HR the year before he joined the Mets.

These two guys seem on the surface to be pretty similar. Have you figured out who Player A is yet? It’s our old favorite, Gary Matthews Jr.

Now, there are certainly reasons to prefer Hairston, not the least of which is that he is four years younger than Matthews was when the Mets acquired him. Also, Matthews came with two years remaining on his contract, with the Mets responsible for $1 million per year.

But Omar Minaya was raked over the coals for acquiring Matthews while the Hairston deal has barely registered. Last year the club was in more need of having a backup center fielder on the roster, with Carlos Beltran out for an unspecified time and only unproven Angel Pagan on the roster. This year, Beltran is supposed to be ready at the start of Spring Training and Pagan has proven he can handle CF on a regular basis.

I want Hairston to come in and hit like he did in the first half of 2009, when he had a .299/.358/.533 line in 216 PA. But the reality is in 584 PA since then, Hairston has hit for some power (17 HR in 528 ABs) but has delivered very little of anything else, including a .222 AVG. He has shown no special PH ability and last year’s defensive numbers, while not definitive of a decline, are at the very least worthy of an eyebrow raise.

Hairston seems like a perfectly reasonable fourth OF, although perhaps a bit expensive for a team counting every nickel and dime. The fan reaction to his signing seems appropriate. Hopefully he will give the Mets more production than Matthews did last year and not strike out in 41.4 percent of his ABs.

The silver lining is that at least he won’t start over Pagan on Opening Day.

Top 10 ways Mets have frustrated followers

It has been another frustrating season for the New York Mets and their fans.

The Mets spent eight days in last place early in the season and last led the National League East on April 30. Their offense totally collapsed in July, they couldn’t get a big hit when needed and key pitchers slumped at inopportune times.

Below I explore the 10 most frustrating topics for the 2010 New York Mets. Stats are through Tuesday.

1. Inability to hit and score in the second half

During the Jul. 6-Sept.1 period in which New York went 18-31 and dropped from two games back to 13 back, it endured four separate streaks of between three and seven games of scoring three runs or less (3,4,4,7). New York endured only two 3-game streaks prior to the break.

New York averaged 2.84 runs and hit .178 with RISP, .143 with two outs in RISP and .161 (5-for-31) with the bases loaded. The Mets entered the period batting .284/ .231/.208 in those situations.

Culprits with runners in scoring position

Wright, 5-for-39

Davis, 6-for-35

Pagan, 10-for-35

Reyes, 8-for-31

Barajas, 0-for-6

Francouer, 4-for-34

Castillo, 4-for-22

Bay, 2-for-7

Note: Wright was 30-for-91 with runners in scoring position prior to that stretch; Pagan 24-for-64 and Barajas 16-for-56.

2. Dysfunctional front office

There has to be a disconnect somewhere when injured stars Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes and management continually have breakdowns in communication over injuries, return dates, etc. And it happened again this season more than once.

Who is running the show?  The Wilpons?  Minaya?  Nobody seems to know, resulting in the Mets’ front office becoming a laughing stock.  Questionable long-term investments in Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez and Jason Bay, among others have helped the Mets’ decide to fly Minaya coach on airflights.  Minaya and Manuel seem to be dead men walking at this point.

The front office took hits for not being able to effectively handle the Perez mess at the most crucial time of the season and endured ridicule over the Francisco Rodriguez abuse situation and revelations of his past bad behavior.  And they couldn’t seem to pull the trigger on deadline trades that could have helped the club.

Manuel doesn’t escape scrutiny, blowing out Fernando Nieve, who pitched 20 times by May 9, and stagnating top pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia’s development by adding him to the bullpen Opening Day instead of having him pitch every fifth day in the minor leagues.  Manuel lacked the presence and fire to get the most out of mercurial shortstop Jose Reyes and others, insisted on playing Jeff Francoeur and batting Luis Castillo and Ruben Tejada at the top of the order.

3. Jason Bay power outage

Boston GM Theo Epstein was ripped when he wouldn’t ante-up for Bay in the offseason, but whose laughing now?

Bay, who signed for four years and $66 million, hit .259 with a career-low .402 slugging percentage to go with a .749 OBA – second lowest in his career – with six homers and 47 RBI in 95 games before a concussion ended his season.

Among players with 400 plate appearances and a .400 slugging, Bay has the seventh lowest HR percentage (1.72) this season and by far the lowest among players who at one time hit 30 homers.

Bay hit two homers in his last 33 games (both in same game) and hit .170 with a .443 OPS in his final 14 games when the Mets were going through a July power drought.  He had a 6.72 HR percentage last season in Boston with 36 blasts.

One positive note for Bay-lovers.  The 32-year-old posted a.830 OPS at Citi Field.

4. Mike Pelfrey slump

I think everybody in Mets nation has bought into Pelfrey as a solid starting pitcher.  He’s the 10th right-hander in franchise history to post 15 wins, and Pelfrey started 2010 great and is finishing strong.  Unfortunately, however, most fans are fixated on Pelfrey’s slump, which happened to coincide with New York’s offensive woes in July and August.

And it was bad. After starting 10-2 with a 2.71 ERA, Pelfrey went 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in seven starts from June 30-Aug. 4, getting tagged for 62 hits and 16 walks in 30 innings.

It was too late for the Mets by the time the 2005 first-rounder turned it around, going 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA in his last nine starts.

5. Second base production – or lack thereof

Check out these OPS numbers:  Luis Castillo, .606, Alex Cora, .543, Ruben Tejada, .561.  Among players with 169 TPA, Cora is third worst, Tejada 9th and Castillo, 15th.  The trio has combined for one homer, 50 RBI and 67 runs in 686 plate appearances.

Among major league second basemen, the Mets rank last in OPS (.583) and homers (1) and 29th in average (.222) and doubles (19).

With the Mets second basemen mostly batting second, New York ranks 29th in the majors in OPS (.652), batting (.246) and homers (4) from the No. 2 spot.

6. David Wright slump

When the Mets needed a lift most from their best player, Wright couldn’t deliver.

Wright was third in the NL in RBI with 64 in 82 games on July 1, batting .317 with a .941 OPS.

When New York went 18-31 from July 7- Sept 1, Wright hit .242/.710 OPS and 22 RBI.  He was 5-for-39 with runners in scoring position and endured skids of 3-for-27, 2-for-33 and 1-for-15 during that period.  He has added a 5-for-39 skid in September.

Wright is a few strikeouts shy of  Tommie Agee and Dave Kingman’s franchise record of 156 strikeouts.

7. Rod Barajas disappearing after great start

Of his 12 homers, Rod Barajas had three multiple-homer games and belted game-winning homers in the ninth inning on May 4 & 7.

Barajas hit .269 with an .844 OPS in his first 41 games through May 31 with 11 homers and 30 RBI.  He hit .163 with a .444 OPS in his last 33 games with a homer and four RBI.  He had one RBI in June.

In 2009 at Toronto, Barajas was batting .311 with a 823 OPS and 34 RBI in his first 44 games before finishing the last 91 games with .194 average, .598 OPS and 48 RBI.

Can Josh Thole take over full time?  Thole had four RBI in his first nine at-bats, but just nine in his last 162 at-bats.  He is batting .241 with a .564 OPS in September with two RBI in 54 at-bats.

8. The struggles of Pedro Feliciano

It’s hard to quibble with a man who is leading the NL in appearances for the third straight season and could have joined Paul Quantrill as the only pitchers in history with four straight 80-appearance seasons if he only had pitched in two more games in 2007.  But Feliciano has allowed 12 more hits and nine more walks in the same amount of innings this season as last.

Again, during the Mets’ biggest offensive swoon, Feliciano came up small.  In 26 games from June 29 to August 31, the 33-year-old was 1-4 with a 6.06 ERA and 27 hits and 10 walks allowed in 16 1/3 innings.

Overall this season, Feliciano has been hit at a .351 clip by right-handers (.285 career), .328 on the road (.263) and .303 with runners in scoring position (.226).  Only a great September run (2 runs, 5 hits in 12 IP) has given Mets fans hope that he hasn’t used up his effectiveness for 2011.

His OPS by days rest increased with days off:

.579 with no days;

.660 with one day;

.817 with two days;

.967 with three days;

1.750 with five days

.984 with six days.

9. Oliver Perez and John Maine

If New York was going to contend, it needed two of the three pitchers among Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine to come through.

For the most part, Pelfrey took care of business, but Perez and Maine didn’t.  Even before Maine got hurt, he didn’t pitch well. He was 1-3, 6.13 ERA and a 1.815 WHIP in nine starts.

Perez was even worse.  After a solid 2008 campaign and signing a 3-year/$36 million contract, Perez is 3-8 with a 6.75 ERA and 1.964 WHIP in 30 games.  After a knee injury shut him down last season, Perez was 0-4 with a 6.65 ERA this season and completely killed club morale by refusing an assignment to Class AAA.

10. Opening with Gary Matthews Jr. in CF

Jerry Manuel had Matthews in center field over Angel Pagan on Opening Day.

Matthews was less than underwhelming, batting .190 with a .507 OPS in 65 plate appearances. He drove in just one of the 50 batters he had on base – a 2 percent ratio that is the second worst in the major leagues this season behind only Ryan Langerhans (4/61; .164).

Who can replace Matthews?

The New York Mets farm system has proven to be a boon for the major league club early in the 2010 season, and there’s no reason to believe it can’t help again in centerfield.

Highly-touted first baseman Ike Davis was the first to impact the Mets when he broke onto the scene on April 19 to replace a slumping Mike Jacobs. Davis proceeded to hit a pair of singles against the Chicago Cubs in that game. That 6-1 victory kicked off a 10-1 stretch, and Davis’ bat and defensive prowess has been a positive force in that shaky stretch after the series win over the San Francisco Giants.

Even Chris Carter finally earned a spot on a big league roster. Carter, a batter who moonlights as a first baseman and corner outfielder, was traded from the Boston Red Sox in the deal that gave Billy Wagner a new home in 2009. Carter was expected to see some time with the Mets that year, but a waiver claim by the New York Yankees prevented him from joining the new system until this season. Backup Frank Catalanotto’s .160 average finally earned him a pink slip and Carter was called up on May 24. He hasn’t set the world on fire, but is hitting .312 with 4 RBI in 16 at-bats.

Gary Matthews Jr. has long been the next on the chopping block, even before Catalanotto lost his job. The 35-year-old is hitting just .182 in 55 at-bats and is likely around because he’s the only possible back up to center fielder Angel Pagan. Some claim the Mets front office are too cheap to dump the $2 million he’s owed through 2011, even though the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim paid $21.5 million in the winter deal that sent them reliever Brian Stokes.

Former second round draft pick Jason Pridie was expected to be the in-house favorite to take over the job. Pridie is seeing something of a second chance with the New York Mets system and is the Triple-A Buffalo Bison’s starting center fielder. Capable of having occasional power, a high average and some stolen bases, he was hitting .282 with 9 stolen bases in 39 games through 2010. Pridie, however, ended up on the disabled list on May 18 with a right hamstring strain and remains there today.

The next best in-house solution is Jesus Feliciano. Feliciano will turn 32 in early June, but has made a living as a career minor leaguer. He was picked in the 36th round of the 1997 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed in 1998 and showed promises of a high average and stolen bases into 2000 with the Dodger’s High A club. He fell out of favors with the Dodgers’ organization, but showed some promise playing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Washington Nationals’ farms until a poor showing at Double-A in 2006.
The Mets assigned him to Triple-A in 2007, where his game returned. His average hasn’t sunk below .300 since 2007 and he stole 30 bases between 2007-2009. His .483 average and 8 runs for the week of May 17-23 earned him the International League’s Batter of the Week title. Not manning centerfield fulltime this year, Feliciano is capable of playing all three outfield positions; he boasted a .994 fielding percentage in 126 games in centerfield two years ago.

The Gary Matthews Jr. experiment has been nothing short of a spectacular failure and must come to an end. Any experience Matthews has in center is outweighed by his aging body and the black hole at the plate he has become. Some Met fans have become so anxious to cut bait with this guy that they proposed signing career minor leaguer Darnell McDonald after the Red Sox designated him for assignment on May 24. But even before the Mets could consider offering 31-year-old, defensively-challenged outfielder a deal, Boston GM Theo Epstein recalled him and jettisoned a reliever.

Of course, they could always call up Fernando Martinez again, despite the fact he’s hitting just .244 with 2 home runs after a .290 and 8 home run performance with the Bisons in 2009. That and nobody believes he can be a major league center fielder.

Minaya fighting last war

Most of the fan base is up in arms over the acquisition of Gary Matthews Jr. But there is really not much to get upset about and it makes perfect sense, in an Omar Minaya type of way.

They say that generals are always fighting the last war. For Mets general manager Omar Minaya, that means he is doing whatever he sees fit to stock the team’s reserves, as the Mets were caught short after all of the injuries they suffered in 2009. He re-signed Alex Cora and seemingly inked half a dozen backup catchers. And the latest move on this front was acquiring Gary Matthews Jr. from the Angels.

There has been a lot of angst from Mets fans about this move. Matthews is a player in decline and he has a huge salary. However, the Angels are picking up most of the freight. There are conflicting reports out there as to how much salary the Mets are paying, but it is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 million over two years.

But before we go off half cocked about this move, we need to understand it in its proper context. Matthews is a backup capable of playing center field. The Mets will be without Carlos Beltran at the beginning of the season, and Angel Pagan has not been a paragon of health throughout his career. Matthews opens the season as the fourth outfielder and becomes fifth on the depth chart when and if Beltran returns.

Was this a good move on Minaya’s part? In a word, no. But it is also not a move to lose any sleep over, much less one to light the torches over and send Minaya out of town.

We all know Minaya has a preference for veterans, so it should be no surprise that he looked to fill a backup role with a 35-year-old player. But there is no center fielder ready to step in from the high minors, so there should be little gnashing of the teeth over this move.

It would have been better to have simply re-signed Jeremy Reed, but Reed was not considered a high priority for the Mets earlier and he ended up signing with the Blue Jays back in January, before the Beltran mess became public.

But the reason Reed would have been better is because he would have been a minimum wage guy, rather than one making three times (or more) like the portion of the Matthews deal for which the Mets are responsible. Reed is the better defensive player, but Matthews posted an OPS last year that was 92 points better, a rather sizable difference.

Matthews may have been unhappy about his playing time in Anaheim but it is unlikely he will see more with the Mets. If he does, it is because Beltran has to miss significant time. He certainly is not playing over Jason Bay and it is very unlikely he will take playing time away from Jeff Francoeur, either. Personally, I don’t think he is ahead of Pagan in the pecking order, either.

Here are the ABs for Matthews the past four seasons: 620, 516, 426, 316. I see that trend continuing in 2010. Reed got 161 ABs for the Mets last year and that is a reasonable guess for how much playing time Matthews will receive in New York.

It is disappointing that the Mets gave up Brian Stokes in the trade. In 93 games over two seasons with the Mets, Stokes had a 3.82 ERA. He was a serviceable reliever and a good guy to have working low leverage innings. However, Jerry Manuel seemed reluctant to give Stokes much of a chance last year, putting Sean Green into more important situations than Stokes despite all evidence to the contrary that Green was going to be productive.

But the Mets had essentially already replaced Stokes when they signed Japanese reliever Ryoto Igarshi from Japan. They also have Kelvim Escobar as a potential replacement in the pen.

The bottom line is this is not a move for the fan base to get bent out of shape over. Matthews is not a very good player, but he is not going to have a very big role. Yes, he is overpaid, but the Angels are picking up the vast majority of the money he is owed. No, he is not worth Stokes, but the Mets showed little desire to give Stokes a bigger shot and they have ample replacements.

If this had been a trade for a typical fourth/fifth outfielder, hardly anyone would have paid attention. But Matthews is a name player with a big contract, so it became newsworthy. Don’t get caught up in the name on the back of the jersey. Instead, focus on the likely role he will have on the team before. Instead of moaning about what a bad move this is, put it in proper context and give it an appropriate response.

Yawn.