In the first inning or so of Thursday’s Mets-Marlins game, after another moment of messy Marlins defense, I quipped on twitter: “Maybe the #Marlins are not very good at defense.” The statement was truer than I realized.
The statement drew some responses, including from NL East Chatter who asked “when have the Marlins been good defensively?”
The answer is roughly once a decade. So far in 2012, the Marlins are 14 runs below average in defensive runs saved, the third-worst mark in the Majors. That’s a small sample size and all, so lets move back further. (I like DRS for team-based evaluations, but that’s just a personal choice.) The truth is, the Marlins have compiled a mind-boggling decade of defensive ineptitude.
Year – DRS – (MLB Rank)
’11: -75 (30)
’10: -38 – (25th)
’09: -70 – (29th)
’08: -6 – (t13)
’07: -68 – (29th)
’06: -12 – (18th)
’05: -74 – (28th)
’04: 10 – (9)
’03: -21 (21)
In the last nine full seasons, the Marlins have been among the worst six defensive teams in baseball five times. A big part of the problem is that the team’s best hitters (Miguel Cabrera, Hanley Ramirez Dan Uggla) over this era have been lousy defenders, but the team’s failings are bigger than that.
They have been particularly bad in the last three seasons, and seem to be off to bad start in 2012. A hundred things would have to go right for the Mets to win the NL East/win a wild card/stay competitive in 2012, but the fact that the Marlins still have trouble catching the baseball might be one of them.
Damn it, internet, I spent an hour this morning answering a mailbag question about when Lutz will be called up, and then minutes after I press “Publish,” the Mets placed Jason Bay on the DL and called up Lutz.
Some of this will be excerpts from that post, some will be new-ish.
He’s a high strikeout, high walk, high-power, guy off to a great start in AAA this year (.333/.419/.556) supported by an unsustainably high .439 BABIP. All the same, in his 303 career AB in AAA, he’s hit .304/.387/.521 with an 11% walk rate, 27% strikeout rate, extra-base hits in 10% of his plate appearances, and a .393 BABIP.
In his AAA career since 2010, he’s hit .278/.412/.544 against lefties in 79 AB. Big sample? Nope, but it’s all we have, and what we have is a guy with a .956 OPS vs. AAA lefties.
He’s primarily a third baseman, with 223 professional games at the position, although he’s played a little first (31 games) in the minors. He would probably be a below average defender in the majors at third. I don’t see especially nimble footwork or lightning quick hands. He could play the position, but just end up costing his team some runs if he did it everyday.
Lutz has never played a professional game in left field. Unlike Jordany Valdespin, who has made the transition to center field, he is not fast. In his minor league career, he is 1-for-6 stealing bases. His lone stolen base came back with St. Lucie in 2009. I suspect that, at best, he would end up being a below average defender in left field.
Until Andres Torres returns, the choices are:
Left-handed hitters: Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Lucas Duda, Jordany Valdespin
Right-handed hitters: Scott Hairston
Nieuwenhuis, Valdespin and Hairston can all play center field to some degree.
Against right-handers, I’d go with the lefty-swinging kids. I’d put Valdespin in center, Nieuwenhuis in right and Duda in left. Valdespin is the fastest of the three. Nieuwenhuis, an amateur pitcher, has the best OF arm. Valdespin has played 14 games in the outfield as a professional and they have all been in center field. He’s never seen a ball slice to the corner at game speed. Nieuwenhuis played a little right field in Buffalo in 2011 and in Brooklyn in 2008 and just has seen more balls of all kinds in the outfield. I would understand if Terry Collins and the Mets wanted to keep Duda in right and put Nieuwenhuis in left to honor the work Duda has put in to improve in right-field. There would even be some statistical justification for this: left-fielders and right-fielders see roughly the same number of balls in play. The kids should play.
Whether it’s, left-to-right: Duda, Valdespin, Niuewenhuis (preferred) or Nieuwenhuis, Valdespin, Duda or even Valdespin, Nieuwenhuis, Duda, matters less than that they’re all in the lineup.
Against lefties, Hairston should start. Whether he starts for Duda or Valdespin can be a case-by-case question. When Hairston starts, Nieuwenhuis plays center, as he’s been doing.
Also, against lefties – Lutz should start at first base. This accomplishes the twin goals of getting him in the lineup and getting Ike Davis, who might or might not have Valley Fever, some regular rest.
When Andres Torres Returns…
That’s a lot of variables. Lets pick that up in a week.
Just your ordinary win, Mets 5-Giants 4.
Except it wasn’t. Here’s the gif of Aubrey Huff failing to cover second. I laughed. At McCovey Chronicles, Grant Bisbee discusses Huff’s all-around game at more (hilarious) length.
As of this writing, David Wright’s broken pinkie is still swollen, and it appears “likely” that he will head to the disabled list. While he is on the disabled list, the current plan is to move Daniel Murphy from second to third base and play Justin Turner and Ronny Cedeno at third, and call up a utility infielder, probably Josh Satin to man the bench. This is a mistake. If indeed, the Mets do plan to put Wright on the disabled list Saturday, they should call up Zach Lutz. Lutz is younger than Satin (by a year and a half) and a more powerful hitter.
Lutz been injured regularly, but when he’s played, he’s hit. Thus far in Buffalo in 2012, he’s on an eight-game hitting streak as part of a .323/.382/.581 start in nine games. He’s no Adrian Beltre at third, but he’s played at the hot corner his whole professional life.
I touched on this possibility issue earlier this week and concluded that Lutz was a better option to man third than Josh Satin or Vinny Rottino. At the time, I was operating under the premise that if the Mets were going to DL Wright, they would not want to move Murphy off of second, consistent with Terry Collins’ early spring proclamations that Murphy was his second baseman and the team was not interested in moving him for a temporary absence. Two weeks on the DL counts as temporary. If that was the plan in March, it should the be plan on April 14. A week of baseball is fun to watch, but analytically, nearly useless.
As Wright’s injury made it appear that he would miss significant time, Collins’ public stance shifted, and he indicated that he would be willing to Murphy over to third, his natural position. Ted Berg argued Friday simply and correctly that “Daniel Murphy should play second.” I agree. Ted approached it from the premise that Collins was rational to want to move Murphy to third, his best position, and that doing so, and putting either Turner or Cedeno, who appear more comfortable at second, could lead to more runs/better results in 2012, but that 2012 does not matter as much for a team that appeared headed for last place as recently as Opening Day. Instead, the focus should be on 2013 or 2014 and figuring out how the pieces fit together, and whether Murphy, and his bat, can be an asset for the Mets at second.
I want to take this argument a step further. Regardless of whether the Mets’ primary goal is winning in 2012, or diagnosing which players are part of a playoff team in 2013/2014, Zach Lutz is a better option than Josh Satin if David Wright goes to the DL.
Lets start with the 2012 wins/runs matter most case. In this case, with Wright on the DL, the Mets are looking at filling two positions, second and third with any two of the following players: Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, Ronny Cedeno, Zach Lutz, Josh Satin, or Jordany Valdespin. Murphy is going to play.
The Mets’ current plan has Murphy at third, Turner/Cedeno at second and the call-up off the bench. In this case, the AAA guy would be the right-handed bench bet. Lutz, who is a year and a half younger is the better bat. Leave aside all position questions for the moment. Which stick do you want coming up late in a game? The following table compares the AAA performance of Lutz and Satin.
Both are relatively high strikeout and high walk guys. However, Lutz has shown a game power and an ability to drive the ball at the highest level in the minors that Satin has not. More of Lutz’s plate appearances have turned into extra-base hits and many of his extra-base hits have gone over the wall. Satin’s only advantage over Lutz is that he can play second. However, if he joined the Mets, Satin would be third on the depth chart at second behind Turner and Cedeno. He would be third in line at third. His only role would be to hit. Thus far in 2012, Sating has played first base exclusively for AAA Buffalo. You want versatility? Fine. Satin has played one position – first, in competitive games in 2012. His glove is not an asset. If the Mets are going to call up a guy to be a bench bat, they should call up the better hitter – Lutz.
And how about consistent logic?
Terry Collins argued on Friday that it made sense to bat Justin Turner third in the batting order to keep everyone else in their normal spots where they are comfortable. Why would that same argument not apply in the field, except more-so? In that case, Murphy stays at second where the Mets want to figure out if he can become an everyday player, and Cedeno and Turner stay in their bench/defense roles.
And More 2012 Wins
And Lutz is a Better Hitter than Cedeno AND Turner
Plug Lutz’s career AAA numbers into the wonderful Minor League Equivalency Calculator and it spits back an MLB line of: .249/.318/.417. That doesn’t look too sexy, does it?
Ronny Cedeno is a career .246/.287/.353 hitter in over 2300 MLB plate appearances. Justin Turner is a career .249/.325/.339 hitter in his 535 MLB plate appearances.
Lutz is a better hitter than both, and yet, the plan seems to be that one of the two of Turner and Cedeno who will be playing everyday at second while Murphy shifts across to third, while Satin, an inferior hitter to Lutz, rides the bench in the big leagues. If the Mets were to call up Lutz, and play him, Turner and Cedeno would still be hanging around as defensive replacements if the team had a lead late in games.
The Future Matters Too
The Mets need to be in the business of maximizing the value of their talent on hand. Murphy is healthy, is a big leaguer hitter, and is most valuable if he can learn to play second. He won’t get better playing second, if he’s playing third.
Wright is under contract for 2012 and 2013 with a Mets-only option on 2013 that would make it difficult, if not impossible to trade him this year. If Murphy’s going to be part of the Mets lineup in 2012 and 2013, second base is his best, if not only, best option.
Lutz is younger than Satin
Zach Lutz – born June 3, 1986
Josh Satin – born December 23, 1984
If the goal is winning games in say 2013 or 2014, Lutz, who is younger than Satin and more powerful, has a better chance to be a part of the puzzle.
The only way it makes sense to move Murphy to third while Wright is on the disabled list is to begin the process of determining whether Murphy is Wright’s replacement at the hot corner. Is this the part of the story that no one dares discuss?
There will be thousands of words written about this subject Saturday and Sunday. But if Wright’s broken pinkie forces him to the DL, it’s time to see whether Zach Lutz can hit big league pitching and play third in the show. The argument here is not that Lutz is a star. The argument is simply that he’s a better hitter, and a better fit for a Mets’ roster missing David Wright, than Josh Satin.
David Wright has a “small fracture in the middle joint of his right pinky.” It sounds neither serious nor fun. Wright is heading to see a hand specialist today, Wednesday, and Terry Collins seems to hope that he will be back by Friday.
And if that doesn’t happen? The people want to know about contingencies.
If you had to call someone up to play 3B for the Mets tomorrow who would it be, Zach Lutz from Buffalo or Jefry Marte from Binghamton? Marte is higher on your list and off to a good start, but a level below with shaky defense.
Jonathan C writes:
Personally, I would really like a look at Lutz in the bigs, the man can hit. He would have (or should have) been here, had it not been for the freakish injuries he has suffered.
The first issue is determining the length of Wright’s absence. If he’ll be back in a few days, the Mets can just play Justin Turner or Ronny Cedeno at third until Wright returns. If it’s looking more like 10 days or so, the team would do well to place Wright on the DL, let him heal fully and make a move.
There are lots of options. Terry Collins has repeatedly said that he does not want to move Murphy from second temporarily. Lets assume, for the purposes of this discussion that even if Wright is placed on the disabled list, he will be back around the minimum (15 days). Even if he’s out a full three weeks, that falls into the temporary category. Under this scenario, Murphy stays at second, and the Mets need to fill third. Here too they have choices: they could call someone up and install him at third, or two call someone up and have him help the combo of Cedeno and Turner as third basemen and depth pawns.
It’s not going to be Jefry Marte. He’s 20 years old, with 19 plate appearances above advanced-a and he’s not on the Mets 40-man roster. He’s always had some pop, and he made some nice strides in cutting down on his strikeouts and increasing his walks at the end of 2011 which seem to have carried over into 2012. However, he needs the development time in the minors.
Here are the choices: Josh Satin, Zach Lutz and Vinny Rottino.
The arguments for Lutz:
- He’s on the Mets 40-man roster
- Dude can hit. He’s hit a combined .296/.378/.500 in 72 games in parts of three seasons in AAA.
- He’s a better third baseman than Josh Satin. Satin, a natural second baseman, began playing a lot of third base in 2011. Lutz has a better range factor at third (2.13) than Satin (1.97)
The arguments against Lutz:
- He gets hurt a lot (but he’s healthy now).
- He’s not a really good 3B. His career .942 fielding percentage in the minors at third is a touch better than Satin.
The arguments for Satin:
- He’s on the Mets 40-man roster
- He hit a combined .323/.411/.495 between AA and AAA in 2011 as a 26-year old
- He’s versatile. He can play 1B, 2B, or 3B
- He’s got strong eyebrows
The arguments against Satin:
- He’s not a third baseman. Drafted as a 2B out of Cal, he’s played 68 games at third as a professional almost all in 2011. I don’t think he has the arm for third base. He committed about one error every 10 games at third, a rate that would put him right near the top (err bottom) among MLB 3B. He has a .931 career minor league fielding percentage at third.
- He has a complicated swing with lots of moving parts that might fall out of whack coming off the bench without regular game exposure.
The arguments for Rottino:
- He’s hit .293/.360/.433 in almost 2,000 plate appearances over seven seasons in AAA since 2005.
- He can play first, the outfield corners and is a former catcher if the Mets want a little help or the flexibility to pinch-hit for a catcher more regularly.
The argument (s) against Rottino:
- The Mets would have to make space for him on the 40-man roster and potentially expose one of the other two guys to waivers.
- He’s not really a 3B. He has not played third in a minor league game since 2009 and looked a little shaky there in spring training.
And the Winner Is
Lutz. Lutz will be 26 in June while Satin’s already 27. For what it’s worth, I had Satin ranked #24 among Mets prospects coming into this year and Lutz #28. Lutz is closer to a third baseman than Satin, who’s played first exclusively for the Bisons this year.
If the Mets need to place David Wright on the disabled list, I’d sure like to see if Zach Lutz can hit in the big leagues.
I described Kirk Nieuwenhuis on last week’s podcast as a deadly low-ball hitter. This is a swing from his MLB debut on Saturday on his second hit – a clean line drive single into right field. The pitch is in Nieuwenhuis’ happy spot: down in the zone.
Nieuwenhuis talked to Kevin Burkhardt about some of the emotions of his debut, his best attributes as a player, and the best all-time butchering of his name in the video clip below.
Matt den Dekker has officially been invited back to big league camp. This is interesting in the sense that as a guy who was not on the Mets’ 40-man roster, he could have been borrowed from minor league camp anytime the Mets wanted to grab him as depth for the big league game. The Mets’ moment of center-field panic/chaos seems to have passed with both Andres Torres and Scott Hairston improving, and making noises about being ready for Opening Day.
Mike Baxter’s in centerfield Friday against the Braves, and Jordany Valdespin will see some time after looking awkward on a fly-ball Thursday. Den Dekker remains a very long shot to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster.
Which brings us to a question on Twitter.
League average #8 hitter is a funny concept, but I’ll bite, and the answer is: probably not yet.
According to Baseball Reference, National League #8 hitters hit .246/.315/.359 in 2011.
As I pointed out earlier this week, PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus’ forecasting system sees Matt den Dekker as capable of putting up a weighted mean: .229/.278/.352. It isn’t until den Dekker’s 80th percentile forecast, which PECOTA pegs at .257/.308/.394 that den Dekker exceeds the average rate stats compiled by NL #8 hitters in 2011.
So, it’s not impossible that the 24-year old den Dekker, who hit .235/.32/.426 in a half season of double-A in 2011, could outhit the NL average #8 hitter right now, but the odds are decidedly against it.
Also, Josh Satin was optioned to minor league camp, while Omar Quintanilla and Fernando Cabrera, who were not on the 40-man roster were simply sent down.
I left out an important caveat from yesterday’s post about non-Torres, non-Hairston and non-Nieuwenhuis options in centerfield: it’s very possible that one, or even all three of those guys, will be ready to go on Opening Day. Thus the argument about whether the Mets should roll with Mike Baxter or Jordany Valdespin could well be a lot of wasted breath. All the same, it’s nice to be prepared to panic, you know?
If you were in a cave all weekend, emerged, and decided that this blog would be the first Mets thing you read 1. Thank you and 2. you should know that David Wright was in New York City for an “ultra-sound guided” cortisone shot for his injured rib cage muscle, while Tim Byrdak had surgery on a torn meniscus.
Wright’s injury matters much more to the 2012 Mets and the franchise’s future. The reason is simple: he has been much better than Byrdak, will continue to be much more valuable than Byrdak, and the replacement options are far worse.
On last week’s Mostly Mets Podcast (on itunes here), I expressed concern over Wright’s pulled muscle keeping him out of games. It’s now one week later, and thus one week closer to Opening Day, and he is neither throwing nor swinging a bat. The Mets are still 24 days from Opening Day against the Braves. There’s no guarantee at this point that Wright is actually going to miss regular season games, but it is guaranteed that coming off the worst season of his professional career, he will have missed a significant piece of March, and have, at best, an abbreviated spring training. As of Monday, March 12, Terry Collins claims to be “not concerned” about Wright, who will play 2012 as a 29-year old, being ready for Opening Day. However, at this point, it’s just one more piece of the data indicating his decline.
A Steep Decline
In 2007, David Wright, was by Fangraphs WAR, the second-most valuable position player in baseball, trailing only Alex Rodriguez, and ahead of Albert Pujols and Magglio Ordonez. In 2008, he was ninth, absolutely still elite.
You want scary, here’s David Wright’s production by year.
That looks bad, doesn’t it? Well, what about the time he’s missed? Ah-hah. He hasn’t actually missed that much time. After playing in 160 games in both 2007 and 2008, Wright slipped to 144, 157 and then 102 games in 2011.When he has played, he’s been a shell of his former self. The following graph illustrates Wrights’ production on a per game basis.
One of the arguments around Wright is that he’s been almost too willing to play play hurt. Essentially, a broken back maimed his 2011 production. And now, he has begun 2012 with a nagging injury that has a history of re-aggravation, especially in older players.
What if Wright has to miss time?
The next-best Mets third baseman, Daniel Murphy is trying to learn second this year. Murphy, who was drafted as a 3B out of Jacksonville, played 28 games at the hot corner for the Mets last year. Murphy was primarily a third baseman all the way through his brief minor league career, accumulating 196 games at the position, compared to a combined 44 at first, second and left field. Is it any wonder he appears like he’s thinking his way through the defensive routines at other positions.
If Murphy slides back to third, that would demand the Mets find a second baseman. Justin Turner hit .242/.325/.330 in 399 AB after June 1 last year. Ronny Cedeno is a career .246/.286/.353 hitter in 2309 plate appearances over parts of seven MLB seasons. Reese Havens is hurt again and can’t figure out why. Jordany Valdespin hit .280/.304/.411 in 27 games at triple-A at the end of 2011.
Or if Murphy stays at second, the Mets could call on the very fragile Zach Lutz who has totalled 135 games the last two seasons and has never played 110 in his career. Sure, he can hit some as his .286/.380/.486 minor league line attests, but he can’t stay on the field.
And the Money
The Mets will pay David Wright $15 million in 2012. The team holds a $16 million for Wright for 2013 which he can void if he is traded. Ted Berg has been over this many times, but any team trading for Wright during the 2012 season would be trading for only a partial season of Wright. However, if the Mets pick up his 2013 option, they could trade a full-season of Wright and presumably reap more in prospects than a half-season’s worth. The best scenario for the Mets was probably that Wright played well enough in 2012 to make him attractive on the trade market after the 2012 season.
Again, if Wright is hurt and misses time, or if injuries exert a downward pressure on his production, as they have for the last three years, he becomes a much less valuable asset on the field or in trade.
Why Byrdak’s Injury Doesn’t Matter (Much)
The prognosis on meniscus surgery is up to six weeks, so he should be back before the end of April.
Here’s what he’s done the last six years.
Year – IP – fWAR
2006 – 7 – -0.4
2007 – 45 – 0.6
2008 – 55. 1- -0.6
2009 – 61.1 – -0.6
2010 – 38.2 – -0.1
2011 – 37.2 – 0.4
Byrdak accounted for 2.6% of the Mets’ pitcher innings in 2011. And 2011 was the first year since 2007 when he pitched above replacement level. He might be a terrific photo-bomber and an outstanding Hulk Hogan, but those contributions far eclipse his actual ability to impact a baseball team’s season.
If the Mets are absolutely committed to breaking camp with a left-handed reliever, the options include Garrett Olsen, Chuck James or Danny Ray Herrera. Surely, over a handful of April innings, or even a full season’s worth, any of the trio could roughly approximate Byrdak’s expected contributions.
The Mets also have a pair of hard-throwing left-handed relief prospects: Robert Carson and Josh Edgin. Carson, unlike Edgin, Olsen, James and Herrera is on the 40-man roster. Carson, who can run it up to 95 mph, has thrown one spring training inning after a strained intercostal muscle limited him early in camp. Byrdak’s injury opens up a pretty big opportunity for Carson, who struggled as a starter in double-A a year ago as he was both fairly hittable, and faned under 16% of batters, while walking over 9%. Even so, I had him ranked #27 among Mets prospects coming into the year on the strength of his velocity. He has about two few weeks to prove that his command is ready for the show. Coming off an injury, with a history of poor command, this seems unlikely, but it certainly creates a story-line for the next fortnight.
Edgin, who was officially added to big league camp Monday, is a nice story as a the team’s 30th round pick in 2010. I had him ranked #19 this winter. His fastball might be a tick or two behind Carson’s on the gun, but it is more effective in games because it has better movement. Also, he commands his slider better. Edgin fanned 24% of batters he faced in the Florida State League in 2011 after whiffing 37% in the South Atlantic League. While those numbers are excellent, they also point out how likely it is that he can make the Mets roster out of Spring Training. He’s never pitched above a-ball. That’s zero at-bats against double-A or triple-A hitters outside of spring training.
A leap from a-ball to the big leagues is simply not common nor does it set a player up to have immediate big league success.
I watched about the first half of Thursday’s game on my iphone on a bus heading from Winston-Salem until I lost 3G service/fell asleep. Technology is amazing.
1. After Lucas May doubled home a few runs, I joked on Twitter that he had locked up the backup catcher position on the Mets. It was a joke, but there’s more than a kernel of truth in it. Josh Thole played 114 games last year, so the Mets have to be planning for catchers other than Thole to play a minimum of 40 games. There seems to be a consensus that the #2 job is Mike Nickeas’ to lose (see here). I think that’s not right. He’s supposed to be a good defender, but even over 40-50 games, can the Mets afford his bat? In his first 69 AB in the big leagues, he’s hit .190/.246/.264. That’s an OPS+ of 43.
If you’d like a more robust sample, and so would I, Nickeas has hit .211/.275/.296 in 412 plate appearances over four seasons in triple-A between 2008 and 2011 as a 25-28 year old.
By contrast, Lucas May, who will be 27 this year, hit .269/.344/.471 in 676 PA in the last two years in AAA split between Omaha and Reno in the PCL.
I’m not trying to tell you that Lucas May will be some kind of star. What I am suggesting is that the backup catcher will play regularly enough 40-50 games, that the extra offense he provides over Nickeas will win him the roster spot.
2. Kirk Nieuwenhuis struck out in both of his first two plate appearances. In the first, he chased a high fastball from Carlos Zamabrano. In the second, he was frozen by a fastball low and away. It’s the first at-bat that I think is more revealing. In watching his games at AAA last year, and in camp this year, he has consistently struggled on fastballs above the belt. It’s a theme. He’ll either need to learn to hit that pitch (and I’m not sure he can) or two, lay off them.