For at least two years now, everyone has assumed that Brett Baty was going to be the Mets’ third baseman of the future and Mark Vientos was going to have to scrounge for playing time. And that may still be the way things play out in the long run. But Baty’s miserable 2023, combined with Vientos showing signs of life here down the stretch, makes one at least consider that Vientos could be the one to claim the starting job at the hot corner.
The Mets called up Vientos in mid-May and gave him sporadic playing time. The results were not pretty, as he had just a .229 BABIP along with a 28.6 K%. You’d have to hit quite a few home runs to make up for that combo and Vientos had just 1 HR in 49 PA.
Prior to his recall, Vientos was indeed hitting a bunch of homers, as he had 13 HR in 166 PA for Syracuse, along with a 1.104 OPS. It was nowhere near as rosy for him in his second go-round in Triple-A this year, as he hit just 3 HR in 98 PA and recorded an .831 OPS. Yet it was enough for a second tour with the Mets, who called him up the third week in July.
This time around, Vientos got much-more consistent playing time. And the results were … not much better. In his first 77 PA, Vientos had 1 HR and a .549 OPS. He had better luck with the hits falling in, as he posted a .284 BABP in this stretch. But once again, he was getting eaten alive by strikeouts, with a 31.2 K%.
Vientos was involved in a collision while trying to field a popup, one that landed him briefly on the IL. He did a one-game rehab in Syracuse and returned to the majors in late August. In his first two games back, Vientos went 0-6 with three strikeouts. But then things started getting interesting.
In his last 81 PA, Vientos has a .273/.309/.533 line, which is an .841 OPS. The hits are falling in, as evidenced by his .319 BABIP. But what really stands out in this stretch is his six homers. That’s the type of power you need to compensate for a 29.6 K%.
It’s a brief sample and essentially, we’re going to have a six-week stretch by the end of the season. Is it enough to be confident that he’s turned the corner? You’re starting to see people say that Vientos always needs time to adjust to a new level. And who knows – maybe that’s true. My preference would for Vientos to play Winter Ball this year and continue to hit home runs at a good clip.
At this point, we know Vientos is going to strike out a lot. We hope he’s going to hit a fair number of home runs. If he does, the wild card becomes what will his personal BABIP become? A mark in the .290-.300 range is normal for the league. But individuals can and do have marks that differ greatly from that. In 3.039 PA in the majors, Brandon Nimmo has a .332 BABIP. In 2,886 PA in the majors, Pete Alonso has a .259 BABIP. Those are extreme examples but an indication of the potential range of outcomes for established MLB hitters.
So, what might Vientos look like if he played a full season and hit 30 HR and had a .300 BABIP? One player who has come close this year is Oakland’s Brent Rooker, who has 29 HR and a .308 BABIP in 502 PA as an OF/DH. In his age-28 season, Rooker has a 125 wRC+ and a 1.8 fWAR. The problem is strikeouts, as Rooker has a 32.5 K%.
How important are the strikeouts? Kyle Tucker has 29 HR, a .283 BABIP, a 13.8 K% which has helped him to a 139 wRC+ and a 4.8 fWAR. It’s not all due to strikeouts – Tucker is a much-better baserunner and isn’t as bad in the field as Rooker. But again, these are extreme examples to indicate the potential range of outcomes.
Would you sign up for 575 PA and a 2.5 fWAR from Vientos next year? My guess is that most would say yes. So, how likely is Vientos to carry a league-average BABIP?
Some might think his minor league record might give us a clue. And the good news is that Vientos had marks between .311 and .350 at every minor league stop where he had at least 100 PA. But minor league BABIPs are not necessarily indicative of what players will do in the majors. We know that Alonso runs very low marks in the majors. But it was a different story in the minors.
In Lo-A, Alonso had a .357 BABIP. In Hi-A it was .314 and in Double-A it was a .344 mark in his stint with over 100 PA. Alonso had marks that essentially matched Vientos. Until they hit Triple-A. Vientos had a .350 BABIP in 427 PA in Syracuse in 2022 and a .340 in 269 PA this season in Triple-A. Meanwhile, Alonso had a .284 BABIP in 301 PA in Triple-A.
But Alonso didn’t play that level in Syracuse. Rather, 2018 was the last year that the Mets’ top farm club was in Las Vegas. It was tough for Alonso to post a high BABIP when he was hitting 21 HR in 258 ABs. Which one is more impressive, Alonso’s 7.0 HR% in 301 PA in the PCL or Vientos’ 7.8 HR% in the IL in 166 PA before his first recall?
Regardless, we see the first chink in Alonso’s BABIP marks in Triple-A, where he posted a mark 64-points lower than he did in Double-A. Perhaps we’ll see Vientos be able to top Alonso’s MLB BABIPs because he didn’t have that same Triple-A decline.
In 214 PA in the majors, Vientos has a .277 BABIP, which is right around the .280 mark that Alonso had in his rookie season with the Mets. But you probably recall that Alonso hit 53 HR that year, for a 7.6 HR%. Vientos has 8 HR for a 3.7 HR%. But as noted earlier, most of Vientos’ homers have happened in his last 81 PA, where he has a 7.4 HR%.
It’s wishcasting of the highest order to think that Vientos will be able to match Alonso’s power over a full season. Vientos is going to have to prove he can do it over a sample larger than 81 PA. But he’s not going to be able to add a ton more PA before the end of the season. Which is why my hope is that he gets more playing time this year in a Winter Ball league.
And while he’s there, he should look to make a little better contact, too.