There are three primary narratives playing out this season for the 2023 Mets, and all of them are having an impact on the team’s underwhelming performance in a season preceded by sky-high expectations: the state of an old starting rotation that is struggling both with performance and health, another year in which we’re discussing a sputtering offense absent firepower, and the team’s preference for playing veterans over prospects who’ve been knocking too loudly on the door to ignore. Those last two points are intertwined, of course, with the former seeming to have solved the latter out of necessity (at least for now).
The “Baby Mets” have garnered plenty of attention over the last couple of weeks as they’re credited with helping the team get back on what appears to be the right path, at least on offense. Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, and to a much lesser extent Mark Vientos have been a shot in the arm for a lineup that has been worse than advertised and unsurprisingly lacking power minus Pete Alonso. Alvarez, one of the top prospects in baseball, was called up due to injuries, and Baty’s play in Syracuse forced their hand as the team’s offense at the hot corner was a black hole to open the season.
The focus of this piece is on Baty, who tore the cover off of the ball during Spring Training yet was optioned to Syracuse before the team broke camp. There were, according to General Manager Billy Eppler, “more development markers for him to reach.” Of course, the reality is more likely that the reason for the very short trip to AAA was that the Mets are paying Eduardo Escobar $10 million to start at third base. Escobar wasn’t and hasn’t been the only reason for the team’s poor offense, of course, but the team ultimately relented with Baty effectively proving them wrong by carrying his torrid spring over through nine games in Syracuse.
One of the most appealing aspects of Baty’s profile, of course, is that he has the potential to help plug the seemingly perpetual power gap in the Mets’ lineup immediately and moving forward as the future at third base. Perhaps ironically, he’s hit for less power in terms of SLG and ISO than Escobar has over roughly two dozen more plate appearances and both have the same number of home runs (4). Baty’s been getting on base much more frequently, however, while boasting a higher walk rate and OBP. His overall offensive output, reflected by his wRC+ of 101, has outpaced Escobar (wRC+ of 88) by a decent bit even considering Escobar’s rotten BABIP luck so far this season. Both have been equally about average on defense at third base, though UZR clearly likes Escobar’s range much more than Baty’s. As always, take small sample sizes with a grain of salt, particularly as it pertains to defensive metrics.
Where Baty completely outshines Escobar is just how hard he hits the ball. Baty is in the 86th percentile or above for average exit velocity, max exit velocity, and hard hit percentage. Escobar is in the 49th percentile for max exit velocity and, unless I’m reading incorrectly, Statcast doesn’t even list his percentiles in most other categories at the moment.
Although Baty has had some issues with contact at the big league level (he’s in the 29th percentile in whiff percentage), he’s clearly been demonstrating the offensive profile to be a mainstay in a competitive major league lineup and perhaps more if he can clean up that contact rate. Escobar, in contrast, is on the downswing of his career but may now be in a role that will provide the most success for him as well as the team. With the Mets optioning Luis Guillorme to AAA to make room for Vientos, it seems that Escobar has moved into an infield super-sub role covering second base, third base, and shortstop. While this obviously limits the team defensively, it likely enables the best offensive alignment they can realistically field with the current roster options.
The Baby Mets are sure to be the topic of continued discussion throughout the season, particularly and especially as they inevitably hit bumps in the road as they adjust to the big leagues. The expectations for the team will undoubtedly play a role in how it responds to these downswings, but outside some unexpected trade deadline acquisition (or horrendously bad turns at the plate), Baty (and Alvarez) should at this point be penciled in as your starters moving forward. Will the team, and specifically Buck Showalter, have the wherewithal to not panic and plug in veterans should the going get tough? That remains to be seen, though it will be interesting to see how this core of veterans and youngsters meshes if given time. The shine and novelty will wear off of the new guys at some point, but the hope is that consistent performance will remain and the new and existing core of this Mets team will continue to solidify in the coming months.