At some point the lockout will end and an abbreviated Spring Training will begin. The assumption of many is that Robinson Cano will be auditioning for a spot on the team and they will be watching his performance closely. Wouldn’t it be something if Buck Showalter after a Grapefruit Leage game said this – “Cano swung the bat pretty good but did you see him loaf down the line on a grounder and hardly move at all at the one ball that was hit in his direction?” A boy can dream.

Often times we focus on an individual but today let’s think in terms of pairs. No, not Dan Halem and Bruce Meyer. Rather players who are linked in my mind, if no one else’s. We’ll examine five pairs of teammates. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first.

5. Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil
Both of these players need to produce more than they did last year. Lindor owes us a much, much better start than he had in 2021 and McNeil needs to perform better all six months or however long this season turns out to be. The question for both of them is can they do it together? How much of Lindor’s poor start is attributable to his frustration with McNeil? Perhaps it’s very low or nothing at all. Or perhaps it’s more than any of us ever imagined. And given McNeil’s reluctance to go along with the shift, imagine how furious he must have been with the alleged information overload given the Mets’ hitters last year. Perhaps if McNeil is left alone to do his “grip it and rip it” thing in the batter’s box, he’ll play nice in the sandbox with Lindor. And if he doesn’t, Showalter won’t put up with such outright insubordination.

4. Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker
If the 2021 season ended at the All-Star break, there wouldn’t be much, if any, concern about these two. Walker made the All-Star team. While Carrasco took longer than expected to come back from injury – and didn’t pitch in the majors until after the break – the primary thought would likely be that he had the time off needed to come back strong. Instead, Walker imploded and Carrasco laid an egg. Absent a big free agent acquisition, the Mets need one of these two to be a reliable third starter. A healthy Carrasco at his career average would easily fill that bill, as would first-half Walker. Do either of those players exist here in 2022? One of them significantly improving with the gopher ball would be a very nice thing.

3. Mark Canha and Dominic Smith
Smith fell on his face last year and Canha was brought in to be a starter. But if Cano can win a roster spot with a strong Spring Training, why can’t Smith win a starting job? None of us really want to see Smith back in the outfield. But none of us want our starting OFer to continue his downward trend from a .913 OPS to a .795 to a .745 mark like Canha has done over the past three years. Canha is a far superior defensive player, so if he puts up an OPS near .800 then this imaginary competition is clearly over. But what if Canha is on the interstate and Smith is hitting with the power – if not the BABIP luck – that he did in 2020? Ideally, players excel both at the bat and in the field. But if the choice is this year’s version of Kevin Pillar or Juan Lagares on one hand and a guy with a .272 ISO like Smith had in 396 PA in 2019-20 in the other, give me the hand that can rake over the hand that can field.

2. Starling Marte and Brandon Nimmo
Many view Marte as the club’s new center fielder. Some even think he should take over the leadoff spot in the batting order from Nimmo, too. Both of these seem like bad ideas to me.

The hitting one should be fairly obvious, as Nimmo bests Marte in the one category that really matters – OBP. Yes, yes – dudes love speed and Marte will definitely steal more bases than Nimmo. But if the choice is a low OBP-high steals guy versus a high OBP-low steals guy for your leadoff spot – you should pick the high OBP guy 100 times out of 100.

The Mets may not have learned that lesson but hopefully fans who watched Amed Rosario and Eric Young Jr. and Mookie Wilson and Frank Taveras and Bud Harrelson bat leadoff due to their ability to steal bases – and how bad the club’s offense was with these guys at the top of the order – know better.

This topic was covered back in 2013 if anyone wants a trip in the way-back machine.

As for defense, Marte has a negative DRS in center field in each of the last three seasons. Perhaps he’s just been unlucky in the balls hit his way. However, you’d think his luck would come close to evening out over 2,650.2 innings over the last three seasons. Marte has a (-14) DRS in center in this span. Nimmo was bad in 2019-20 but was a plus fielder last year. His sample size isn’t as big as Marte’s but – let’s be honest – Marte being terrible in a larger sample size isn’t exactly helping his case that he’s a better option. Maybe a larger sample size gets Nimmo more chances to field like he did last year and the difference between the two players defensively is even clearer.

The best-case scenario is that the Mets get a defensive improvement in center and move Nimmo to left. But just because there’s a new outfielder in town, that doesn’t necessarily make him better. In the specific case of Marte, it’s difficult to make the case the new guy is an upgrade.

One other thing to consider with defense. In 870.1 innings, Nimmo has a +7 DRS in left field. That’s pretty good. In 4,952 innings in left, Marte has a +71 DRS. That’s outstanding. Marte has played 5.7 times as many innings in left field. If we multiply Nimmo’s DRS by 5.7 to get them on equal footing, he would have 39.9 DRS. It’s far from a sure thing that Marte is better than Nimmo in CF. But it’s clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s far superior in LF. Hands down, the best defensive alignment would be Marte in LF and Nimmo in CF. It will be curious to see if Showalter sees it that way.

1. Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer
Since 2015, deGrom’s first full year in the majors, these are the top two pitchers in the game. Scherzer holds a slight advantage in fWAR, with a 39.7-35.4 edge. He’s also pitched 176 more innings. Both pitchers come into 2022 with questions. With deGrom, the concern is how he’s recovered from the injuries that kept him out of most of the second half. With Scherzer, the issue is if he’ll be able to remain an elite pitcher at his advanced baseball age.

But isn’t there at least a tiny bit of concern how they’ll function together on the same team? On the plus side, deGrom doesn’t seem to have the ego that most elite pitchers do. He wasn’t the high draft pick with a guaranteed MLB future. Also, while many picked greatness for Scherzer, it took awhile for him to get untracked. He made his MLB debut in 2008 but didn’t have his first 5-win season until 2013.

On the surface, there’s no reason that the two shouldn’t get along. They should each take pressure off the other. But sometimes the pretty girl doesn’t like it when an equally pretty girl comes around. My guess is that this is not a big worry – probably in the low-to-mid single digits. But if any team would have what looked to be a perfect pairing on paper fall apart, it would be the Mets. The Spring Training fluff story I want to see is that deGrom and Scherzer are inseparable in St. Lucie.

16 comments on “Pairs of teammates to watch when Spring Training begins

  • Wobbit

    I guess we’re going to disagree on the leadoff question. While Nimmo’s OBP was extraordinary, his inability to take advantage of his speed, otherwise called bad baserunning, led to far fewer runs than it should. Nimmo attempted no SBs for most of the season, and the Mets underperformed offensively, at least partially as a result.

    But besides the leadoff question, the even more salient discussion should look at the #2 hole, where Nimmo is a perfect perfect perfect fit. As I said here last week, Nimmo might, given the chance and an adequate number of PAs, be the best #2 hitter in the game. He can willfully take more pitches, will see more fastballs, and can spray the ball around to great effectiveness.

    Forget the leadoff question, I want Nimmo as the number two, especially with Marte on base.

    With regard to the two aces… I see them hitting it off, even if a little forced in the beginning. Both need the help of the other at this points in their careers. Max will take some of the glaring media obsession away from deGrom’s fragile body, and deGrom can soften Max’s landing into the final act of his career in New York, of all places. The last thing either of them wants or needs is a conflict or rivalry.

    • Brian Joura

      You’re arguing for an idea, a concept. But we have over 120 years of baseball history to examine this question – Is it better to have a fast guy or a guy with a higher OBP in the leadoff spot? You should read the linked article from 2013, where I did the research. It’s one thing to have an idea when we have no proof. It’s another matter entirely when we can see exactly how this has panned out with all 30 teams over their entire existence. It simply results in more runs when you bat Pete Rose first rather than Omar Moreno, regardless of how big an advantage Moreno has in SB.

      Now, if you want to say that Marte is really a .383 OBP guy like he was last year, rather than the .335 guy he was from 2017-2020, then maybe there’s something to batting him leadoff. But that screams outlier to me.

  • JimmyP

    I am 100% with Brian on Nimmo at leadoff. It feels obvious to me. Also: not being a basestealer does *not* mean he’s “bad baserunner.” Nimmo is an excellent baserunner, IMO. Good jumps, good reads, cuts the bases well, etc.

    The other flaw in moving him to 2nd in the order is that now you want him to change how he hits, see more fastballs, and so on. Why mess with success? He’s one of the elite OBP guys in baseball. He doesn’t make outs and he gets on base. Leave it alone.

    Likewise, Brian makes a compelling argument for leaving Nimmo in CF.

    And likewise, once again it is very clear that the Mets still need a RF. Counting on Canha for that role is basically crossing your fingers and hoping things work out.

    I will still be surprised if McNeil or Smith are on the team by the end of Spring Training. I think the lockout happened before Eppler could get through his “honey do” list. I think last season’s team needs more turnover.

  • Metsense

    McNeil had better get along with Lindor and start hitting because second base this is the only open position to be a starter. Otherwise, he would just be a versatile bench player. When Vientos or Baty are ready then he could lose his starting position anyway. McNeil needs to hit.
    The metrics support Nimmo to bat first and play CF and Marte to bat 5th and play LF. Marte’s stolen bases would generate more Mets offense with Canha, McNeil, Davis and McCann following him. His stolen bases would be more valuable. ( my Tom Tango influence in me).
    The Mets should obtain in a starting pitcher better than Walker and Carrasco. Then if Walker or Carrasco falters then the discussion would change to Megill or Peterson.
    Smith has to earn his playing time and has little opportunity to do so. Canha is the starter.
    Should should be no worry about Scherzer’s age even if he slips some. There should be plenty of worry about deGrom’s health. After all, he didn’t pitch in the second half. Scherzer and deGrom are consummate professionals even if they don’t become social friends.

  • JamesTOB

    I think who leads off should be answered by who would be better batting second if the other one leads off. It seems evident that Nimmo would be better than Marte in the no. 2 hole. Nimmo is the better leadoff hitter, but his patience at the plate gives Marte the time to attempt to steal second base. If Marte isn’t on base, Nimmo can still do his thing ahead of Lindor and Alonso.

    • Brian Joura

      When I first started following baseball, conventional wisdom was that you batted your best hitter third. Modern baseball analysis says you bat your best hitter second. The Mets have three options for that spot right now – Alonso, Lindor and Nimmo. The question is if these guys fit better at other spots. Nimmo certainly fits in the leadoff spot and Alonso fits in the cleanup spot.

      With the departure of Conforto and the likelihood that Dom starts the year on the bench, the Mets won’t have the lefty-heavy lineup of previous years. But it’s probably still a good idea to split up the lefties they do have.

      Perhaps Metsense can weigh in with what Tom Tango says in “The Book” about lineup construction. If I recall correctly, every spot has an ideal role except for one, which will surprise most greybeards.

      • Metsense

        This is an article that summarize the chapter from Tango’s , The Book.
        The Book says the #5 (Marte) guy can provide more value than the #3 (Escobar) guy with singles, doubles, triples, and walks, and avoiding outs, although the #3 guy holds an advantage with homeruns. After positions #1 (Nimmo), #2 (Lindor), and #4 (Alonso) are filled, put your next best hitter here, unless he lives and dies with the long ball. Stolen bases are most valuable ahead of high-contact singles hitters, who are more likely to hit at the bottom of the lineup. So a base-stealing threat who doesn’t deserve a spot higher in the lineup is optimized in the #6 hole, followed by the singles hitters.
        The Book is based on research, analysis and facts. Marte is ideal for the #5 spot.

        • Brian Joura

          Thanks Metsense!

          If you want to maximize Marte’s baserunning, it seems you should bat him 6th. But I agree with JP here that there’s no reason to run him wild. My expectation is that Showalter bats him 3rd.

          • Metsense

            I want to maximize him bat and let the base stealing and speed be a bonus. Yes, he has a career 1.042 OPS in only 126 PA in the 6th spot but it might be taken as an insult by Marte to bat 6th when he qualifies for the 5th spot.
            Batting 3rd would devalue his speed. He wouldn’t want to be thrown out stealing and take the bat out of Alonso hands. Also even Bartolo Colon can score from first on an Alonso homerun.

  • ChrisF

    One of the *big* issues about the Marte v Nimmo debate is simply games played. How can Nimmo be counted on for premium positions on the field or in the line up? The plain fact is, he’s only played in > 100 games once in his career (forget 2020). Meanwhile only once has Marte *not* played in 100 games in a season. Nimmo’ a lack of reliability makes him a liability.

    • Brian Joura

      Nimmo’s health is a concern.

      But you’re at DEFCON 5 which seems a bit extreme. He’s had three years where there was potential to play a full season and he’s been injured in two of them. But neither the neck injury nor the finger injury are ones that we think of as chronic. It’s preferable to have those than hamstring injuries. Maybe he ends up like Nick Johnson, just coming down with a different injury every year. It happens to some players.

      And 100 games for Marte is pretty random. In his 10 years in the majors, he’s played more games than Nimmo played in 2018 just one time. A typical Marte season, he misses at least a month’s worth of games. Throwing out his first year and the Covid year, he’s played fewer than 140 games six times in eight years. 135, 135, 129, 132, 61 and 120. I guess he replaces Conforto in more than one way.

      • ChrisF

        The plain fact is Nimmo is hurt a lot and so far has been unable to be counted on to play 2/3 of a season on a regular basis. Sure 100 games is arbitrary, but Nimmo is failing to get to that mark. Im not saying Nimmo shouldnt have a role etc, but given the lack of games it is a genuine concern that cant be dismissed in comparing players.

      • ChrisF

        in the overlapping years of activity we have – in % games played the following

        year, nimmo, marte

        2017, 43%, 48% (drug suspension)
        2018, 86%, 90%
        2019, 43%, 81%
        2021, 57%, 74%

        In the 2013-2016 (inclusive), Marte averaged 138 games (135, 135, 153, 129) for 85% of full seasons.

        Look, Marte is a doper. I dont have a ton of respect for the guy. He got caught juicing once, but certainly is a serial cheater. He aint my first choice to have on the team. But the fact is, he’s played a lot more games than nimmo has. He is far more likely to provide consistent service.

  • Remember1969

    I like Nimmo in centerfield for another reason – it is less demanding on Marte’s legs to play left if he is going to play every day. And as the older player (and the one under Mets contract for longer), save the guy with the better speed. The fact that he is that much better a left fielder is gravy.

    Now for the batting order question – Nimmo leads off. And because he is actually a pretty good overall baserunner, maybe he learns a bit about stealing bases from Mr. Marte himself. Win-win. When you think about it, Nimmo has not had a real base stealer to learn from. Since Nimmo has been in the big leagues, the teammate with the most stolen bases has been Amed Rosario.

    • JimmyP

      I don’t care if Nimmo steals more bases. I don’t think he’s got that kind of speed and it doesn’t seem to be in his nature. It is tough on the body.

      Right now, I think Marte steals under 30 in 2022. He’s an older guy and it’s time for him to steal less. A weapon to use sparingly.

      I like team speed a lot — mostly because it plays on the defensive end, scoring from 2B on a single, going from 1st to 3rd, etc.

  • Wobbit

    A good lively discussion, gentlemen… all good points. Let’s hope we get to see it play out.

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