Daniel Vogelbach is a polarizing figure on the Mets. There’s a significant chunk of the fanbase that have elevated him to cult-hero status because of his complete lack of an athletic-looking body. If you met him at your kid’s football game and he told you he was a truck driver, you’d say – that sounds right. And there’s a decent amount of fans who think that the club absolutely needs to upgrade from him to be a serious World Series contender, regardless of what he looks like.

A year ago, the Mets received dreadful production from the designated hitters before the All-Star break. Perhaps the numbers didn’t stand out so much in a bad way but that was only because of the production of starters who were given a half day off by being in the lineup as a DH, instead of their regular position. The big upgrade came when Pete Alonso was the DH. In 27 games at that spot, Alonso delivered an .830 OPS. While that was beneath his mark as a 1B, it dwarfed what others did at the position. Here’s how every player with at least 10 PA as a DH did for the Mets, outside of Vogelbach:

Player PA OPS sOPS+
J.D. Davis 164 .745 111
Pete Alonso 115 .830 131
Dominic Smith 59 .625 78
Mark Vientos 33 .558 59
Darin Ruf 28 .345 -1
Eduardo Escobar 22 .573 63
Robinson Cano 19 .316 -10
Nick Plummer 15 .000 -100
Jeff McNeil 14 .071 -77

First off, the last column, sOPS+, compares how the player did in this split compared to how the league overall did in the split. Last year, MLB DHs had a .710 OPS. So, Alonso’s production at DH was 31% better then what the average player did as a DH.

Second – and this is said in complete hindsight – why did the Mets trade Davis again? To see what he did as a DH and especially compared to what Ruf gave the club, it’s hard not to be dismayed. It’s kind of like wondering why the Mets kept trading All-Stars to get a 3B in the 1970s, when they should have been content to just let Wayne Garrett hold down the position.

Third, while the seven people listed above once you get past Alonso were all small samples, collectively, it’s a giant pile of stink. Smith’s .625 OPS was the best of the bunch and four players finished with a negative sOPS+. Remember in Spring Training when people were boasting that Cano was going to be able to hit when he was 50 and how big a steal it was to get Plummer? Those were innocent times.

Now, let’s look at what Vogelbach did for the Mets as a DH:

177 PA, .853 OPS, 142 sOPS+

Vogelbach’s detractors will point out that he can’t play the field, you have to pinch-run for him in any close and late situations and he can’t be allowed to face LHP. All of those things are true. But holy cow, Batman, way to bury the lede. It’s like looking at President Bush or President Obama’s resume and harping about the summer jobs they had when they were 15.

Ideally, the Mets would have a Shohei Ohtani-type as their DH, someone who could play against all types of pitching and run the bases adequately. But the role of the DH is to hit, so it really doesn’t make a ton of difference if they can’t play in the field. And having Vogelbach fill the long side of a platoon and be a productive player at – checks notes – $1.5 million in 2023 is a great, great value.

Everyone is excited over the recent extension for Jeff McNeil and rightly so. McNeil will be paid $12.5 million per year the next four seasons. With a win on the free agent market valued at roughly $8 million, if this was a free-agent signing, the Mets would be valuing McNeil at around 6.25 fWAR over the four years. Of course, he wasn’t a free agent and this contract buys out his final two arbitration seasons. Even factoring that in, it’s a bargain. In his last four years, which includes the Covid year and his rotten 2021, McNeil has produced 13.2 fWAR.

Last year, Voelbach produced a 1.5 fWAR, including a 1.0 mark with the Mets, who essentially stopped having him face LHP. Vogelbach’s production last year would be valued at around $12 million on the free agent market and the Mets have him for – checks notes again – $1.5 million.

All of the people singing the praises of the McNeil deal should be happy for the Vogelbach contract, too.

Of course, the Mets are no longer in the position of needing to win the dollars per production game, something for which we’re all thankful. At the same time, we should be thankful for 400+ PA for Vogelbacch as the DH at $1.5 million, rather than, say, having those same PA going to some guy in clear decline.

Tommy Pham’s not going to give you a 144 wRC+ like Vogelbach gave the Mets last year and the Mets have to pay him four times as much. And before you get giddy about Pham’s ability to play the OF, know that in the last three years, he has a (-6) DRS, a (-6.7) UZR, a (-11) RAA and a (-13) OAA. He’s willing to stand in the field with a glove on his hand but he’s not pushing the team forward in that department.

Some have tried to justify the Pham signing by saying that’s the going rate for a declining player to be your fourth outfielder. It floors me that anyone could be so cavalier to give money above minimum wage plus playing time to someone so overwhelmingly likely not to be worth rostering. All so – heaven forbid!! – you don’t have to give the playing time to a youngster.

Even if you think that youngsters will pee their pants in the middle of a pennant race, why not get a veteran who doesn’t have a big name to fill the role instead? The Mets signed Abraham Almonte to a minor league deal. Last year, Almonte had a 92 OPS+ in limited ABs and the year before he had a 93 OPS+ in 175 PA. Pham had an 87 OPS+ last year. The Mets are paying Pham 7.5X more than they would pay Almonte or any other Quad-A guy with MLB experience.

Do you think they’re going to get 7.5X the production?

We should celebrate the guys who are both productive and who out-perform their contract. Last year, the Mets had 14 position players who made more than $1 million and eight of them out-performed their contract. Five of the others are no longer on the team and the sixth, Ruf, is hanging by a thread.

It makes no sense to me to give a contract – and a roster spot – to a guy who seems unlikely to be worth either. There’s an old saying, “If you take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.” This doesn’t mean the big decisions are made correctly with magic. Rather, it means if you’re careful with the small decisions, you’ll do the same with the big ones and both will work out fine.

Vogelbach is a “pennies” decision for the Mets who in his age-30 season in 2023, coming off a productive 2022 campaign, should be a slam dunk. Pham is a “pennies” decision for the Mets who will be in his age-35 season in 2023 and coming off a down year a season ago. A betting man shouldn’t wager on that outcome being particularly good for the Mets.

Pham will look better in the uniform than Vogelbach. If you met him at your kid’s game and he told you he was a professional athlete, you’d say – that sounds right. But, as Billy Beane once famously said, “We’re not selling jeans here.” We’re trying to win games and Vogelbach’s bat is going to do a whole lot more to accomplish that objective than Pham’s.

Even if he only plays in two-thirds of the games and you have to pinch-run for him in certain spots.

7 comments on “Low-cost decisions with Daniel Vogelbach and Tommy Pham

  • MikeW

    I’d rather have an athlete who can play the outfield than Vogelbach, but the way that you look at it in a value based view, you are spot on.

    • Brian Joura

      I don’t get this POV.

      The Mets have three baseball players in the outfield who can play all three positions if need be plus they have Jeff McNeil and Darin Ruf to play a corner spot, too. Why do they need an athlete?

  • T.J.

    I don’t have a problem with Vogelbach being retained at $1.5 million. He is an extreme one-dimensional player, and likely to regress to mean on that OPS+, but it’s his spot to lose.

    Agree on head-scratching dealing of J D Davis, and the entire Ruf trade…even without Ruf’s collapse…Eppler overpaid.

    Kid or AAAA player over Pham…maybe, but Mets don’t have a kid that profiles for the 4th OF spot. Pham underwhelms but in my mind clearly better that AAAA minimum wager like Almonte. Pham’s OPS+ vs LHP pretty good 2019-2022. Pham may be slightly negative in the field but he isn’t a statue. Uncle Stevie/Eppler may have overpaid $2-$3 million for him.

  • David_Hong

    Good low risk moves that will give Mets more flexibility and depth offensively.

  • Metsense

    Pham doesn’t make sense at $6m. He is trending downward at age 35. He is a leftfielder and RHB DH. They already have an age 35 leftfielder and RHB DH that is trending downward signed to a $3m contract in Ruf. Ruf is familiar with 1B and RF also. Both shouldn’t be on the roster but the Pham signing compounded the problem. Odubel Herrara, age 31, as a 26th man would have made more sense. Hey, there is not anyone else out there left. He is the centerfielder and also LF and RF experience. He can pinch run for Vogelbach also. He is a better fit than Pham and cheaper also. Heck, he might take a minor league contract.

    • Brian Joura

      We might see Keith Hernandez’ head explode if the Mets sign Odubel – he’s not exactly a great fundamentals guy.

      • Metsense

        “He’s not exactly a great fundamentals guy ” is putting it diplomatically!

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