Last winter the Mets made the decision that Ruben Tejada was going to play shortstop in the minors and was not a candidate for the team’s second base job. Sandy Alderson kept true to this vision by including Tejada in the first round of cuts. The decision made sense. The 21-year old had not overwhelmed with the bat in his first exposure to the majors plus the Mets needed to cover themselves in the case of an injury to Jose Reyes.

If Reyes injured himself during the 2011 season, Tejada would not have to “re-learn” shortstop, as he would already be playing the position every day in Buffalo. If Reyes was traded at the deadline, Tejada would be ready to take his place. And if the Mets kept Reyes for the whole year but were unable to come to terms with him on a new deal, well, you get the idea.

But with this being the Mets, no well-thought out plan goes off without a hitch. They soon found themselves with both starting infielders on the disabled list and before that ditched their Opening Day second baseman. So the infield was in a complete state of flux. When the Mets finally decided to cut bait with backup infielder Chin-lung Hu, and with David Wright just a day away from officially being placed on the DL, the Mets recalled Tejada.

Many were optimistic about Tejada because he looked extremely good defensively in 2010 and in the last month or so of the season he finally started to hit. While he had just a .588 OPS overall last year, in his final 89 PA he posted a .303/.379/.434 slash line. Eight extra-base hits in 79 ABs was impressive, as were his 9 BB versus 13 Ks.

But was this merely a small sample size hot streak or was it indicative of Tejada figuring things out at the major league level?

Tejada’s numbers at Buffalo before his promotion were hardly overwhelming. In 39 games and 167 PA, he had a .267/.337/.407 line. On the positive side, his plate discipline remained strong, as he had 15 BB and 20 Ks. Also he had 12 extra-base hits in 150 ABs, which led to a .140 ISO. Last year at Triple-A, Tejada had 12 extra-base hits in 218 ABs for an .064 ISO.

Tejada found himself back at second base in the majors, as the Mets moved Daniel Murphy to first base and Justin Turner to third. But a death in the family of Reyes caused the Mets starting shortstop to leave the team for a few days, and Tejada found himself as the club’s starting shortstop three consecutive games.

The Mets went just 1-2 in those three games, but that had little to do with Tejada, as he went 5-for-11 at the plate. While he did commit an error which led to two unearned runs, it was in the ninth inning of a game in which the Mets already trailed by two runs.

Mets fans have seen Tejada in 16 games this season and he has a strong batting average but is not drawing many walks or contributing many extra-base hits. He has a .302/.345/.321 slash line (.666 OPS) with just one double in 53 ABs. Furthermore he has 3 BB and 9 Ks. Tejada is succeeding thanks to a .356 BABIP. Since he doesn’t have great speed and carries just a 15.6 LD%, it’s extremely unlikely that BABIP is sustainable.

For comparison, Murphy has a .786 OPS and a .329 BABIP while Turner has a .796 OPS and a .337 BABIP

At some point, Wright and Ike Davis will return from the disabled list and the question becomes who takes over permanently at second base. Both Murphy and Turner are hitting well and Murphy has proven himself at least adequate defensively at second base.

Meanwhile one of Tejada’s strengths is his defense. But while he looks good in the field the numbers are less than glowing. It’s important to remember that defensive numbers need a greater sample size to stabilize. But we can only go off what we have. Here are some defensive numbers in 2011 at second base among our three players:

Innings Fld. Pct. DRS UZR/150
Murphy 167 .978 -4 13.9
Tejada 111 1.000 -1 -15.7
Turner 125 .985 -2 -7.2

DRS stands for Defensive Runs Saved and is a metric which compares how many runs a player saved (or hurt) his team in the field compared to an average fielder. UZR is the number of runs above/below average a fielder is in range, double plays and errors. The “/150” part is extrapolating to a 150-game season. UZR loves Murphy because of his range. It doesn’t like Turner because of his double play rate. And it doesn’t think Tejada has much range and it questions his DP ability, too.

We can also look back to last year with Tejada. In 388 innings at second base, he had 0 DRS and a -11.3 UZR/150. UZR thought he was okay turning a DP but had issues with his hands and his range.

In 499 innings at second base in the majors, Tejada has a RngR (the range portion of UZR) of -3.7 which is not what we would expect from a player whose defense is supposed to be one of his strengths. While 499 innings is still a relatively small sample, and not necessarily indicative of his true talent level, it is definitely a warning sign, especially given that it has been sub-par both last year and so far in 2011.

Tejada has been impressive in his brief stint in the majors in 2011. But it’s important to remember that his batting success has been all BABIP, which is likely to regress. And his fielding has been no better (and perhaps worse) than both Murphy and Turner in a similar number of innings.

Viewing all of the evidence, it seems clear that once Davis and Wright return that Tejada should go back to the minors where he can play every day and work on all facets of his game. He’s not going to benefit by sitting on the bench and he has not earned the right to play ahead of either Murphy or Turner at this point.

And hopefully Reyes will still be on the club when the corner infielders finally return.

3 comments on “What should we make of Ruben Tejada?

  • Tim

    Great article, Brian. I agree with your general conclusions, but would argue that not only is Tejada not ready when compared with Turner or Murphy, I don’t think he belongs in the discussion at all. If you look at all three players’ combined stats in the majors *and* the minors, they have a surprisingly similar number of plate appearances (2,361 for Turner, 2,134 for Tejada and 2,034 for Murphy). In those plate appearances, Tejada has hit consistently lower than both players, with a much lower OBP, slugging percentage and BA (almost 40 points lower than Turner). To be fair, he’s been playing with guys 4 or 5 years older than he is, but the numbers are, at best, mediocre for a guy with over 2,000 plate appearances in professional baseball. For a more telling view, look at how Tejada’s minor league slash line of .272/.343/.358 compares with Jose Reyes’ .284/.337/.422 line in the minors. Reyes batted 12 points higher, with effectively the same OBP and almost 70 points better slugging, all by the same age and in only 1,441 PA.

    What about speed? Tejada has also been caught stealing 21 times in 71 attempts to Turner’s 21 caught stealing in 69 attempts, has 1 more triple, 25 fewer homers and 52(!) fewer doubles. (Reyes had far fewer doubles than either guy and a couple fewer HR. On the flip side, he had 16 more triples and 31 more SB than Tejada and Turner combined). In other words, Tejada at the same point in his career is Reyes without the speed or the power. While Turner clearly doesn’t have Reyes’ speed, his career .306/.369/.437 (across all levels) is pretty respectable. For example, compare that to the .284/.357/.425 major league career line of some guy named Edgardo Alfonzo. Not too shabby.

    Now, given Tejeda’s age, maybe I’d support him more if he was an exceptional fielder. But his 4.229 range factor per game after 105 games at 2nd is no better than Turner’s 4.341 in 419 games. (Ironically, Edgardo Alfonzo’s career RF/G at second? 4.341). Murphy’s RF/G is a quite good 4.707, but with only 41 games under his belt at the position between the majors and the minors, it’s hard to say how that will hold up.

    While this supports your conclusion that the Mets should send Tejeda to the minors, I’d argue they’re better off sending him to a team willing to offer some solid prospects. Assuming, of course, they can find one.

    Comparing Turner and Murphy, it’s essentially a push. Turner gets on base a bit more (.369 to .348) while Murphy has more power (.445 to .437). And, again, I’m not ready to award the fielding advantage to Murphy on the basis of 10% of Turner’s time at the position. Like many people these days, I tend to favor OBP, and give the edge to Turner. But, the Mets could do worse than Murphy at second (and frequently have).

    To me, the real question for the Mets is whether they can get any trade value out of Tejada and/or Murphy to upgrade other need areas. Give the day-to-day job to Turner when the corners come back (and, yes, please keep Reyes). I don’t know if Turner will ever be an All-Star, no matter how great his line looks compared to Fonzie. But he should be able to hold down the job until better options come along while (hopefully) allowing the Mets to convert the higher-name-recognition guys into more valuable prospects. And Turner and Murphy’s essentially equal production offers the Mets — for the first time in recent memory — some solid options at second base.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for reading and commenting Tim!

      Given Tejada’s age, I still think there’s room for growth and the best is still to come. As for the other two, I prefer Murphy, who I feel is more capable of maintaining his current production than is Turner.

      But, as you said, it’s nice to have options!

  • Metsense

    Great article and analysis. Great response from Tim. Murphy (especially to an AL team) or Tejada in a future trade is the direction I like.The article, analysis and response only confirmed my “gut” feeling. Thanks for the info.

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