Should the Mets re-sign Willie Harris?

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..

An internal solution to replace Jason Bay

Back-to-back multi-hit games have Jason Bay’s OPS up to .651 for the season. Earlier I wrote that it was time for the team to move on from Bay. I still believe that’s the direction the Mets need to go but right now Bay should continue to play to see if this is the beginning of a hot streak or merely some type of dead-cat bounce.

The main objection to benching/releasing Bay has been: Who will the Mets play instead? With Lucas Duda already installed as a regular to replace Carlos Beltran, there is no obvious answer. But while not obvious, there is an effective solution already on the roster. How would an OPS upgrade from .651 to .823 sound for left field?

That .823 OPS is what Scott Hairston and Willie Harris have produced as starters this season in 176 PA.

Somehow, someway along the line – platooning became a dirty word in baseball. It makes sense from the players’ POV. If you’re a full-time player you should make more money than a guy in a time share. But from a team or the fans’ POV, platooning is a great way to get production at a discount. There are many players who can hit well when they have the platoon advantage but are replacement-level when they don’t.

Perhaps platooning went out of favor when pitching staffs moved from 10 to 12 players. But in the National League, that leaves a five-man bench. With five reserves, it still should be easy to platoon at two positions. How many teams in the NL could institute a platoon and immediately upgrade their offense? When the Phillies, the best team in the league, could improve with a platoon over one of their regulars (Raul Ibanez) it makes sense that the rest of the league could, as well.

But as Mets fans, we’re not interested in improving the rest of the league. We want the Mets to optimize their resources and put the best product on the field that they can. And it’s very likely that the Mets can do better than Bay in the outfield.

The sticking point for a lot of fans with this idea is that no one particularly likes Hairston or Harris. But if you accept the idea of platooning, you should be able to find players that are more fan-friendly. And it’s very likely that the platoon could play right field, allowing Duda to move over to left field where he would be less of a defensive liability.

We saw Sandy Alderson release $18 million in salaries when he cut ties with Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez before the season started. Those two represented the sunkest of sunk costs. At some point Bay will be at a similar position. Perhaps since the fans don’t hate him, he can remain as a bench option and not have to be released.

But unless Bay consistently hits an outside pitch or an offering below mid-thigh, it seems unlikely that he will post an .823 OPS like the Hairston/Harris platoon. Bay should get the remainder of the 2011 season but if at the end of the year he still has an OPS below .700, the Mets should upgrade with a low-cost platoon for 2012.

Teams are always looking for the next thing. First it was players with low AVG but high OBPs that were all of the rage. Then it was guys who played great defense who were overlooked. Perhaps the next new thing will be something that’s not new at all. Guys who can rake from one side of the plate but who are not full-time players are the new market inefficiency!

If that’s the case, maybe there will be hope for Nick Evans after all.

Should Mets drop Willie Harris despite his hot streak?

Last year Willie Harris posted a .653 OPS (a drop of 104 points from a year ago) and it looked like his career was in jeopardy. He hooked on with the Mets and got off to a hot start in 2011. But by the third week of May, Harris was back to his 2010 ways, as he had a .203/.308/.304 line and a demotion/release seemed imminent.

But the Mets ran into some injuries – or is that the other way around? – and Harris got time to prove he still belonged. In his last 31 games, which includes nine starts, Harris has been on fire. He has a .358/.460/.434 line. What’s even more amazing is that Harris has struck out 14 times in 53 at-bats during that stretch. That means when he puts the ball in play, he has a .487 BABIP.

Obviously, no one can maintain a .487 BABIP over an extended period and it would be silly to assume that this was his true talent level. On the flip side, Harris had a .199 BABIP in 2010, which goes a long way towards explaining his dismal .653 OPS. That wasn’t indicative of his true talent, either.

Now Sandy Alderson has to decide if Harris is still an asset to the club. The veteran backup already survived one hurdle when the Mets decided to demote Ruben Tejada when Jose Reyes was activated from the disabled list. But what happens when David Wright returns?

Harris will be in the mix along with Lucas Duda, Nick Evans and Jason Pridie for the players the Mets consider moving to make room for Wright. Pridie seems like the most logical candidate to go but as a natural center fielder and a good defensive player, Pridie offers something that no one else does among the team’s reserves.

If Angel Pagan gets banged up, Pridie can step in and handle CF. Harris could, too, in a pinch but he would not be an ideal solution. So, it comes down to how highly Alderson and the Mets value defense in a bench player. Does CF defense outweigh Harris’ versatility and recent hot bat? Most likely the answer is no.

Still, we should look at what Harris has done this year and how likely he is to keep it up going forward.

Overall, Harris has a .378 BABIP this year while his lifetime mark in the category is .286, meaning he is vastly outperforming what we would expect. The alarming thing is that even with this good fortune on balls in play, Harris carries just a .265 AVG, due to those strikeouts we mentioned earlier. Harris has a 26.6 K%, easily the highest mark of his career. His lifetime mark is 17.8 percent and the trend is not favorable, as Harris established a career-worst last year with a 22.9 K%.

The hits are falling in for Harris now because he is ripping line drives. He has a 23.6 LD%, his highest mark since 2003. Last year his LD% was 16 percent. Since more line drives result in base hits than any other batted ball type, this is an extremely important item. His groundball rate is essentially the same as last year. So Harris has traded fly balls – the batted ball most likely to result in an out – for line drives, the best possible outcome a player could have.

Unfortunately, Harris has had a LD% over 20 just once in the last six years, back in 2007. He’s unlikely to keep up this pace, and when the pop-ups replace the line drives, we’ll see that .265 AVG drop pretty quickly.

As more of the regulars return, Harris will see fewer chances to start and more pinch-hitting opportunities. And the veteran has really struggled as a PH this season. In 38 PA in this role, Harris has a .182/.289/.242 mark for a .532 OPS.

It seems fair to say that Harris has two main advantages: defensive versatility and his OBP. In his last five years, Harris has posted a BB% in double digits, including this year’s 12.3 percent mark. So, even once the BABIP regresses and his AVG plummets, Harris should maintain a good OBP due to his good batting eye.

Ultimately, the Mets should keep Harris over Pridie, even if Harris is unlikely to keep up his current pace. Pridie has not done much better than Harris as a PH this year (.552 OPS) and if Pagan has to go on the DL, they can simply recall Pridie to take his place.

Having already moved Tejada, the Mets need a reserve capable of playing on the infield more than another extra outfielder. This gives Harris his greatest advantage in maintaining his roster spot. Harris might be in trouble should Ike Davis return, but that seems more doubtful each passing day.

Mets struggle with 2nd spot in lineup

Fans often make big deals about who bats where in the lineup but in the overall scheme of things it does not matter very much. Now, that does not mean teams should pull their lineup out of a hat or start batting their pitcher leadoff. But the standard lineup does not come out much worse than the optimized lineup over an entire season and if Joe Star wants to bat third – that’s an easy concession to make.

But you will have to forgive members of the 2011 Mets if they check the lineup and then mutter if they see themselves batting second on a particular day. This year, the Mets have gotten less production from the second spot in the order than they have from the eighth. And it’s not any one person you can point to and blame for this, either. The Mets have had 11 different players get at-bats in the two-hole this season.

The National League average for hitters in the second spot is .258/.318/.370 for a .688 OPS. This is higher than the average for the either the seventh (.682) or eighth (.656) spots in the average NL lineup. Overall, the Mets rank 14th in OPS production from the second spot in the order, a point ahead of the Nationals. The Marlins bring up the rear with a .564 OPS, with most of the damage done by Omar Infante, who has a .575 OPS in 241 PA.

Here are how the Mets have done with the second spot in the lineup:

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
Justin Turner 35 163 143 15 36 8 0 1 19 12 19 .252 .333 .329 .662 .282
Dan Murphy 22 95 86 11 22 6 0 2 7 6 9 .256 .319 .395 .714 .267
Willie Harris 11 48 40 13 11 1 0 1 4 7 16 .275 .396 .375 .771 .435
Angel Pagan 8 35 31 2 2 0 0 0 0 3 6 .065 .171 .065 .236 .080
Josh Thole 8 32 27 3 5 0 0 0 4 5 6 .185 .313 .185 .498 .238
Ruben Tejada 2 9 8 1 2 0 0 0 1 1 2 .250 .333 .250 .583 .333
Chin-lung Hu 2 5 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 .000 .200 .000 .200 .000
Jason Pridie 3 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000
Scott Hairston 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 .000 .500 .000 .500 .000
Ronny Paulino 1 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000
Carlos Beltran 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 .000
Francisco Rodriguez 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
D. J. Carrasco 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Pedro Beato 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Team Total 100 397 348 45 78 15 0 4 35 36 64 .224 .314 .302 .616 .263
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/5/2011.

Now let’s compare their OPS while hitting second compared to their overall OPS and their OPS at whichever position they’ve hit in the most outside of the second slot.

Overall OPS OPS batting 2nd OPS in other position
Turner .696 .662 .700 (6th)
Muprhy .774 .714 .745 (4th)
Harris .644 .771 .627 (7th)
Pagan .697 .236 .831 (5th)
Thole .660 .498 .734 (7th)

Of the five players who’ve batted the most in the second slot, only Harris has done better there than elsewhere. Most players have performed noticeably better when they hit elsewhere in the lineup, no one more so than Pagan. That .236 OPS is not a typo – he really stunk up the joint when he was hitting second.

The fact that the Mets have one of the better offenses in the National League is surprising given how many big bats have spent time on the DL for them this season. It’s even more of a shock given how poor they have been at the second spot in the lineup.

Hopefully, when David Wright returns after the All-Star break, he replaces Turner in the lineup and Pagan replaces Turner in the second spot in the order. I do not believe that Pagan will be the anchor he was earlier in the season and I expect him to provide better production going forward than any of the team’s numerous other candidates did in the first half of the year.

Comparing Scott Hairston and Justin Turner

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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Mets bench rundown: Willie, say goodbye

Justin Turner and Jason Pridie make me happy. They do just what they were hired to do: provide steady defense and the occasional surprising big hit. You can’t really ask more than that.

I LOVE Ronny Paulino. He’s a lefty masher and used correctly – i.e., by anyone NOT named Willie Randolph or Jerry Manuel — he can be a valuable contributor to any team.

I think Willie Harris is a spy, a mole for the Mariners/Braves/Nats/Phillies.

For years, he was a thorn in the Mets’ tuchus, getting a big hit to extend a Nationals’ rally here, making a big Brave catch to stifle a Mets’ walk-off attempt there. It seemed as if his entire career was built on making Met fans grit their teeth and shake their fists. For years, I would pine for one of two things: he’d retire or we’d sign him. Much to my off-season joy, the latter occurred.

Careful what you wish for.

Willie Harris has been nothing but a complete waste of time, attention and bench space. Almost as if he’s decided to continue his avocation, but from the inside this time: he’s STILL destroying the Mets and making the fans howl. If he’s not striking out in the pinch with a runner on third and two outs, he’s mind-numbingly taking it upon himself to jump start the offense. On a night like May 9, with the NYers scratching to re-knot the game at 2-2 in the ninth, he lucked himself into a pinch single. He then immediately reversed his fortunes by taking off on what can most charitably be called an “ill-advised” steal attempt. Of course, he was out from here to Canarsie. Then, of course Troy Tulowitzki happened once again and that was the ballgame.

So now I’m left pining for him to retire again.

Then there are the two OTHER Stooges on the bench, Chin-lung Hu and Scott Hairston. I would hope their days are numbered as well. It looks as though Hu can’t hit his hat size and his glove isn’t Rey Ordonez-style spectacular enough to warrant keeping him around, other than for the entertainment value of his last name. As for Hairston, when he’s in the field, my heart skips when the ball heads his way – and NOT the same way it does when the ball is hit to Carlos Beltran or Angel Pagan. I think he enjoyed the old “Yo La Tengo!” story so much, he decided to act it out every now and then. And he won’t make anyone forget Rusty Staub in the pinch, either.

Do the right thing, Sandy: relegate the Dr. Seuss book that is “Hairston Harris Hu” to the children’s library where it belongs, and bring up a kid apiece to take their place.

Will Pridie remain when Pagan returns?

When the Mets placed Angel Pagan on the disabled list, they surprised some by recalling Jason Pridie to take his place. Pridie was not hitting early in Triple-A, and some thought Nick Evans deserved a shot for getting the short end of the stick in the past or that prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis merited a promotion based on his early production at Buffalo.

But with Pagan down and the Mets unwilling to play Carlos Beltran in center field, Evans had little shot of getting the call. And the Mets would have had to add Nieuwenhuis to the 40-man roster to promote him to the majors, something they were not ready to do. So almost by default it became Pridie, despite his .582 OPS in the International League.

Originally a second-round selection of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Pridie was taken one pick ahead of Joey Votto. While no one expected big power numbers from him, the scouting reports said that Pridie could do a little bit of everything and he drew comparisons to both Johnny Damon and Steve Finley, two players who had success in the majors over long periods of time.

Pridie did not burn up the minors, but he proved enough to be selected by the Twins in the 2005 Rule 5 Draft. He did not last the year in the majors with Minnesota and eventually wound up back with Tampa Bay before the end of the year. But the Twins eventually got him back, as he was included in the big Matt GarzaDelmon Young trade between the two clubs after the 2007 season.

The combination of Denard Span and Carlos Gomez made Pridie expendable in Minnesota and he was waived by the Twins prior to the start of Spring Training last year. He was signed by the Mets and played adequately in 40 games at Triple-A, where he posted a .280/.330/.384 line. He still showed good speed and defensive ability, but hardly the power that was expected back when he was drafted.

Pridie had a shot to win a backup job for the Mets in Spring Training, but he did not play well in the Grapefruit League and was easily beaten out by both Willie Harris and Scott Hairston for the reserve outfield positions. But the Pagan injury punched his ticket back to the majors.

In his brief time this year with the Mets, three of his seven hits have gone for extra-bases, including two home runs. In six games as a starter with the Mets, the club has gone 4-2, not including last night’s win when Pridie replaced Hairston and played the final seven innings in the Mets’ 2-1 win.

At age 27, and with 1,662 PA at Triple-A under his belt, Pridie has nothing left to gain by playing in the minors. So the question becomes: Should the Mets keep him when Pagan is ready to return from the disabled list?

Pridie can play all three outfield positions and looks comfortable out in center field. Meanwhile, neither Hairston nor Harris has been playing all that great here in the early going. But those two both offer something that the lefty-hitting Pridie does not, which may ultimately be the reason he returns to Triple-A.

Harris has the ability to play the infield while Hairston is a righty batter. Right now the only other major league caliber righty hitter on the bench is Ronny Paulino and most managers bend over backwards not to use their backup catcher unless it is absolutely necessary.

So, Hairston may wind up staying over Pridie, even though Hairston has not been a good hitter since the first half of the 2009 season. Pridie’s best hope to remain with the Mets, outside of maintaining his .538 SLG mark, is that the Mets cut ties with Chin-lung Hu, leaving Justin Turner to spell Jose Reyes if the Mets’ leadoff hitter is ever held out of the lineup.

Top 10 Spring Training stories for Mets

After four months without MLB, Spring Training is always a welcome sight. Even though the teams never have full lineups, the pitchers rarely throw at peak form and managers make moves they never would during the season – we can’t help but to look at the stats and look at things that jump out. There are always going to be people struggling and people exceeding expectations. But sometimes the surprising thing is who is doing what – and to what extent.

With that in mind, here are my Top 10 surprises in Spring Training for the Mets.

10. Tim Byrdak with 2 Saves
In 343 games in the majors, Byrdak has 3 Saves and a 4.35 ERA. While it’s surprising that he has yet to give up an earned run this Spring, it’s only 6.1 IP. Last year with the Astros he had an 11.1 scoreless innings streak and a 14.0 streak. But if you had given us five guesses before Spring Training started about who would lead the club in Saves in late March few, if any, would have said Byrdak.

9. Fernando Martinez and his .364/.481/.591 line
When the Mets signed Martinez as a 16-year old, he was a five-tool talent and everybody’s expectations were through the roof. Now after an injury-marred minor league career, most people have written him off as a starter, much less an impact major league player. So, while it was only 22 ABs, it was still very nice to see Martinez put up sparkling slash numbers.

8. Kirk Nieuwenhuis gets 32 ABs despite .094 AVG
One of the most useful things to see in Spring Training is who gets a lot of ABs. Those are the guys that the club wants to see play, usually because they are competing for a roster/starting spot. But when a minor leaguer gets that much time, it’s a clear example that the club thinks highly of him. Nieuwenhuis benefits from being a CF but that doesn’t explain this much playing time with so little production. I had him rated fifth in my top prospects ranking and it’s clear the Mets are high on him, too.

7. Taylor Buchholz approaches 2009-10 innings total
Elbow surgery, along with a back injury that landed him on the DL last year, limited Buchholz to just 12 IP the past two seasons. This Spring, Buchholz has logged 11 IP, the top total of any reliever on the staff. And to make things even better, he has yet to allow a run. Buchholz has been fortunate, as he has allowed 15 baserunners in those 11 innings, but his health and performance have been good to see.

6. Daniel Murphy not locking up 2B job despite .811 OPS
Murphy has picked up right where he left off offensively despite missing most of the 2010 season. With only Jonathon Niese being likely to deliver big ground ball numbers to the right side of the infield, it should be an easy decision to install Murphy as the regular at second base and look to replace him defensively in the late innings with a slim lead. After all, an .811 OPS would tie for the sixth-best mark among second basemen in the majors last year. After scoring just 656 runs last year, which ranked 13th in the 16-team NL, the Mets should look for offense wherever they can get it.

5. Reserve outfield production
Not many people were enthusiastic when the Mets signed Jerry Hairston and Willie Harris for backup outfield spots. Hairston had a .652 OPS in 2010 while Harris was nearly as bad with a .653 mark. But in 78 Spring ABs, the duo has combined for 28 H, 9 2B, 1 3B and 4 HR. They also have 14 R and 11 RBIs.

4. Rule 5 picks struggling
Most people expected that Brad Emaus and Pedro Beato had good shots to make the roster. But Emaus got off to a terrible start before finally getting some hits the past few days. Beato has gone the opposite route, starting off strong but really sputtering later in the Spring. Emaus still has a chance to make the team because of support for his game in the front office. But Beato seems like a long shot. And cynics will point out that the owners will recoup $50,000 if they return both players.

3. Luis Hernandez named front runner by NY Post
Although the line is blurring, mainstream outlets (yes, even the Post) still have stronger editorial standards than independent blogs. So it was a huge deal when Mike Puma’s story broke that Terry Collins wanted Hernandez to be the starter at 2B. While the Mets have termed the story premature, there seems no doubt that Collins was impressed by what he saw from Hernandez last season. It will likely come down to Emaus or Hernandez at second base and it will be interesting to see if the manager wins out over the front office. I’m rooting for the front office.

2. The return of Jason Isringhausen
Another thing no one saw coming was the signing of Isringhausen, who inked a minor league deal on February 15th. After back-to-back years with elbow surgeries, it seemed like his career was over. But Isringhausen is seemingly back at full strength and has survived pitching on back-to-back days. He’s now the leading contender to be the team’s primary setup man and is hands down the feel-good story of the Spring.

1. The domination by Chris Young
I was not in favor of the Young signing. He had pitched just 96 innings the past two years due to shoulder surgery. Even when he was healthy, Young never topped 179.1 IP in a major league season. His last good year came in 2007 and there were serious questions about his velocity. Yet somehow this Spring, Young leads the team’s starters with a 1.33 ERA in a team-high 20.1 IP. He’s been touched by the gopher ball and still has a sub-par strikeout rate (3.98 K/9) but it’s hard to argue with the results, including six shutout innings this weekend.

Using spring stats to pick the Mets’ Opening Day roster

The Mets have played 16 Spring Training games so far and have 18 to play heading into Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. We know that Spring Training stats are “useless” and we also know that clubs make decisions based on them all the time. So, who makes the Mets based on Spring Training results so far?

The assumption here is that Carlos Beltran is able to start the year with the team and not the disabled list. Hey, it’s Spring Training – if you’re not going to be optimistic here, when are you going to be that way? Here’s the rest of the team if we just go off stats:

C – Josh Thole, Mike Nickeas
Thole is having a tremendous ST while Nickeas (.158/.190/.158) is not. But neither are the other two catchers still in camp. Besides, the backup is just a placeholder until Ronny Paulino is ready.

Corner Infielders – Ike Davis, David Wright, Daniel Murphy
Davis is crushing the ball (.350/.480/.700) while Wright finally got his first hit of the Spring. Murphy has been the best hitter among the candidates for the second base job but has done nothing to ease minds over his ability to handle things there defensively.

Middle Infielders – Luis Castillo, Jose Reyes, Chin-lung Hu
Castillo has just a .627 OPS but that’s better than Brad Emaus (.504) or Justin Turner (.341). Reyes has struggled mightily so far (.143/.182/.190) but Hu has been a nice surprise with the bat (.273/.385/.364).

Outfielders – Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, Lucas Duda, Scott Hairston, Willie Harris
Bay is hitting for AVG but no power. Pagan has two doubles and a HR among his seven hits. Duda has a .568 SLG. Hairston’s .478 SLG looks great until you notice he has a .464 OBP, which is phenomenal. Harris has been even better with a 1.012 OPS.

Starters – R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, Chris Young
Dickey and Pelfrey both got roughed up in their last starts. Niese has a 1.59 ERA with 10 Ks in 11.1 IP. Young has allowed 7 H and 2 BB in 9 IP so far.

Relievers – Francisco Rodriguez, Manny Acosta, Taylor Buchholz, Tim Byrdak, Jason Isringhausen, Pat Misch, Bobby Parnell.
Rodriguez, Buchholz and Byrdak have each not allowed a run so far. Acosta and Parnell have identical 1.50 ERAs while Isringhausen is right on their tails with a 1.80 mark. Misch wins the long reliever role with a 2.25 ERA.

Traditionally, teams do not need five starters at the beginning of the year. I left Chris Capuano off the team so he could get a start or two in the minors while giving more time for the final spot on the roster to shake out.

Can Beltran stay off the DL? If so, which one of the three OF reserves cools off? Can Castillo do enough to keep his job or will the Mets live with Murphy as their starter and use Harris to fill in for defensive purposes late in close games?

Finally, I left off Mike O’Connor from the team even though he has yet to give up a run. Byrdak has more experience in the LOOGY role and I chose to go with a long man, at least for the early part of the year.

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Willie Harris sees first action at second base

“I was nervous as heck,” Willie Harris said. “I’m nervous at times when I take balls in the outfield. But when you’re nervous, that means you care. I got my confidence back as soon as we turned the double play. The confidence was there all of a sudden. Once you get that first one out of the way, it’s good to go after that.”

As for third base, where he has actually only made 26 major league appearances (nine starts), Harris said: “I haven’t been in a [Grapefruit League] game at third, but I’ve been taking groundballs everywhere — second and third. I feel pretty comfortable at third base. Second base was a little bit nervous for me today because I know what’s going on. I want to do well. Not only that, what brings on those jitters is you want to show people you can play the position and maybe get a chance to play that position on a regular basis.”

Source: ESPN New York

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Is Willie Harris a good bench option for Mets?

The Mets will likely carry five outfielders on their Opening Day roster and four of them are set in Bay, Beltran, Pagan and Hairston. The Mets signed Willie Harris to a minor league deal and at the time it seemed as much to keep him off other teams, as Harris has a history of making big plays against the Mets, than it was to fill the team’s final outfield spot.

So, what does Harris do? He hits a game-tying home run in an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday and follows that up with a game-tying two-run homer in the 10th inning of the team’s first Spring Training game, salvaging a tie against the Braves.

How nice it would be to see Harris do the things he usually reserves for the Mets against other teams in the division! He has played for both the Braves and Nationals the past four years. While his career line against the Mets is .159/.319/.212 – the lowest slugging percentage against any team against which he has played at least five games – fans immediately think of how he has beat them with his glove.

According to Marty Noble at MLB.com, Harris “has made at least five catches to deny them significant run production in the last four seasons.

“I don’t know why, I just make catches against the Mets,” Harris said. “I’ve never tried to, they just hit more balls that were hard to get to. I know I have a lot against them. It made me think I was supposed to be here. Now, I am.”

Now the question becomes: Should a half a dozen fielding plays outweigh his entire record – fielding and batting – when determining who gets the final outfield spot? Of course not. So, let’s look at his entire record.

On the plus side, Harris can play anywhere in a pinch, having played all three outfield spots along with 2B, 3B and even SS in his time in the majors. Most of his time has come at 2B (208 games), CF (230) and LF (274).

He’s been an essentially average defender at 2B, with a career UZR/150 of 0.1, thanks to good hands and less than average range. In CF, he’s somewhat the same, although a tad worse with a -2.9 UZR/150. It’s LF where he has really shined with the glove throughout his career, with a 14.3 UZR/150.

Now, let’s look at his hitting. Lifetime Harris has a .239/.327/.352 slash line, which to put it nicely is not very good. Last year he hit .183/.291/.362 which is pretty awful. So, was last year the beginning of the end as Harris as a major league hitter or were there other factors at work?

The last two seasons, Harris has become much more of a fly ball hitter. After having a FB% in the 20s and 30s his first seven years in the majors, Harris had a 46.7 FB% in 2009 and a 42.6 mark last year. Since fly balls are the most likely ball to result in an out, Harris has produced BABIPs of .271 and .199 the past two years.

Now, no one can put up a good offensive season with a .199 BABIP. So, was that a good indication of his true talent or was it more a result of bad luck? Two researchers named Dutton and Carty have come up with a model to predict what a player’s BABIP should be, based on his batted ball results. When you plug Harris’ 2010 numbers into their calculator, it spits out a .321 xBABIP.

It’s unlikely that Harris would put up a .321 BABIP. He has a lifetime .281 mark in the category and only once in his career has he put up a mark that high. But while the model is probably optimistic in its assessment, it does indicate that he had some bad misfortune to put up a .199 mark last year. In other words, there’s good reason to expect him to bounce back offensively.

So, we have a versatile defensive player with a history of making good plays in the field, even if his defensive reputation is a bit ahead of what the numbers say. And we have a player who suffered some poor luck on batted balls last year. Even in his down year, Harris had a strong walk rate (12.6 BB%) and a career-high .179 ISO.

Finally, Harris helps himself by being able to steal a base. He was successful on five of seven attempts last year and has 101 SB in his career at a 74 percent success ratio.

Ideally, in a backup you want a guy who can handle pinch-hitting, has versatility, and can do at least one other thing well. Harris had 11 pinch-hits last year and had an OPS 38 points higher as a PH than he did overall in 2010. We know he can play multiple positions. Harris can also run a little, has some sock for his 5’9 frame and can come up with a big defensive play.

Despite his poor year with the bat in 2010, Harris seems like a solid bench guy for the Mets in 2011. And if he hits game-tying home runs against the Braves, so much the better.