To say that the Mets during the Sandy Alderson years undervalued defense would be putting it lightly. In fact, and usually to their detriment, there were times that the team deliberately sacrificed defense to get more pop in the lineup. Anyone remember Lucas Duda in left field? Actually, throwing players into the outfield to shoehorn them into the lineup wasn’t all that uncommon under the Alderson-led Mets.

Collectively for the 2011-2018 time-frame, the core years of Alderson’s time as GM, the Mets were almost unbelievably bad from a defensive standpoint. The team was at or near the bottom of baseball in the big three defensive metrics of DRS (27th), UZR (28th), and OAA (30th). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the team itself was pretty bad through almost that entire stretch save a surprise World Series run in 2015 and a 2016 Wild Card berth.

Bad defense was by no means the only reason the team was so unsuccessful during the austere years, of course, though it might be best to avoid discussing how that defense manifested in a specific play during one particularly important 2015 series. The quality of a team’s defense doesn’t necessarily predict its overall success, though. Just look at the 2022 Phillies.

Still, for a franchise that continues to find the most success when it sticks to its tradition of building through quality pitching, it makes sense to surround that pitching with the best defense possible. Unsurprisingly, the 2023 Mets are projected to earn most of their wins through elite pitching.

So what can we expect from the 2023 Mets in terms of defense? With the starting lineup effectively unchanged from last year, the answer is essentially “more of the same.” The 2022 Mets were 15th in DRS, 19th in UZR, and (interestingly) 8th in OAA. From a DRS perspective, the worst position for the team was by far third base, with Eduardo Escobar (-11) and Brett Baty (-3) doing the most damage there. From an individual player perspective, Escobar’s third base foibles were followed by Mark Canha (-5 in LF and -4 in RF) and a collection of subpar performances sprinkled throughout the outfield and infield. The 2022 team won 101 games, so it’s hard to be overly pessimistic about them fielding an overall average defense this season.

One major wildcard regarding the overall defensive performance of…well everyone in baseball is the upcoming restrictions on shifting. An important note about DRS and UZR is that they do not take shifting plays into account, which could theoretically skew the numbers we’ve been discussing in terms of team and individual performances. How much could this impact the Mets relative to other teams should there in fact be an impact at all? A lot, potentially. The 2022 Mets had the 9th highest shifting percentage in baseball last season, and it stands to reason that if there will indeed be an impact then the Mets would be one of the teams to feel it most.

The picture below is from Baseball Savant and illustrates the Mets’ fielder positioning during the 2022 season.








What likely immediately jumps out to you is the mess that is the left side of the diamond. It seems to have been a focus area for the Mets (aggressive) shifting strategy. Could this have negatively affected Escobar both in terms of his ability to play defense adequately as well as how that performance is reflected in metrics that don’t take shifts into account? Well, 2022 was by good measure Escobar’s worst defensive performance at third base per DRS, UZR, and OAA for his career. We have to take into account the real possibility of an age-related performance decline, but it seems like an interesting coincidence nonetheless. Of additional note is the fact that 2022 was the first year that Francisco Lindor had a negative DRS (-2), and he also calls the left side of the infield home.

All things being equal, it doesn’t appear that defense will make or break the Mets’ 2023 season. All bets are off in a short series where one mistake could have massive repercussions, though. Still, it will be interesting to see how some of the most popular defense metrics are affected by limits to the shift and, ultimately, the in-game impact the changes have on the field.

3 comments on “The Mets’ defense and changing the rules

  • Metsense

    So many fans rely on the “eye test” for defense efficiency but the eye test is a fallacy because it doesn’t account of the balls that a player don’t get to that they should have gotten to. Advanced metrics didn’t take in account of that shift. At last, the metrics should calculate a more true value the player.
    Defense is so important but the Alderson years it was horrible and it was frustrating. Eppler has emphasized defense and that makes the pitching staff even better. The goal should be that every position is manned by at least a average defensive player. It is easier said than done.
    The new anti-shift rules should benefit Lindor in his fielding metrics because he will cover the middle of the infield and take away hits and also cover the shortstop hole on that Escobar doesn’t have the range for anymore.
    Your conclusion that Mets are an average defensive team is spot on.

    • Brian Joura

      “Advanced metrics didn’t take in account of that shift”

      This was once true but no longer is. OAA uses how far the fielder travels to make the play, which it calls the intercept point. No longer is the play tied to initial fielding position and the need to throw out plays where a shift was on.

      Last year, FG updated the range component of its version of WAR to include OAA.

      A FanGraphs WAR Fielding Update

  • JimmyP

    Alderson was horrendous, just abysmal, and a big reason for the lost decade. Look at the men he hired.

    Oh, well.

    Defensively, I am still mostly an eye test advocate. Mets have some issues moving forward:

    * No suitable backup CF (assuming Marte doesn’t want to bounce around, and that it’s not in his best health to do so). Pham looks bad out there.

    * We can hope that Baty improves. We can pray. But he’s clearly worse than Escobar at 3B, and we know that Escobar is not average.

    * We can hope that Alvarez improves. We can pray. But he’s below-average at C.

    There are good reasons why, on an individual basis, the Mets make the decisions to go with Baty at 3B and Alvarez at C in the near future. But those moves will have a negative effect on the overall team defense.

    i attribute some of the Mets consistency in 2022 to the steady, quality defense they put on the field game after game after game.

    Oh, and while I’m here: for God’s sake, give Mauricio and outfield glove. Another year of him playing poor SS makes no sense to me.

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