On Luis Hernandez, and What MLEs Tell us about the 2B Competition

Yesterday, in the New York Post Mike Puma wrote that “manager Terry Collins is preparing to name Luis Hernandez the starter at second base.”  There were many reasons to be skeptical of this assertion.

First, it ran counter to the Mets’ original plan of a four-headed competition between Luis Castillo, Daniel Murphy, Brad Emaus and Justin Turner.

Second, there was zero confirmation of the Post report elsewhere.  In fact, there were a number of direct refutations.  Among them:

  • Andy Martino in the Daily News continued to refer to the second base situation as “fluid.”
  • Adam Rubin at ESPN wrote that the “widespread belief inside and outside the organizationis that Daniel Murphy will be on the major league roster, and the primary second baseman will be either Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus or Castillo.”
  • Anthony DiComo at MLB.com wrote directly, “Contrary to a published report, the team has not yet decided on a starting second baseman, nor does it imminently plan to select one.”
  • Andy McCullough of the Star/Ledger has Collins himself walking away from the Post story: “Still, Collins labeled “a little premature” a New York Post story that
    indicated Collins had already chosen Hernandez as his favorite for the job. Collins also down played stories that painted him as a detractor of Castillo. “I don’t understand where that came from,” Collins said. “Because I’ve never been around him.”
  • (Edit: it occurs to me that it’s in the other outlets best interest to play down the Post’s scoop.  No one wants to look like they’ve been beaten to a story.  Even so, it’s better to be a day late and right rather than a day late and wrong, right?)

Third, Luis Hernandez really isn’t a productive offensive player or anything close.  He might be the best defender of the quintet, but he can’t hit.  He’s a career .245/.286/.298 hitter in 265 AB in the big leagues.   That should probably be the end of the discussion.  However, lets keep going through this.  He’s also the owner of a career .251/.300/.328 line in 3,279 minor league AB.  Sure, he hit .298/.343/.427 for Binghamton last year, in the summer in which he turned 26.  Then followed that up with a .280/.319/.376 performance in Buffalo.  That’s his peak.

Joe Sheehan, in his online newsletter made the tremendous point: the Mets pitching staff will, aside from Mike Pelfrey, feature guys who are fly-ball pitchers, de-emphasizing the need for a premium defender at second.  To quote Joe, who’s been one of my favorite writers for a long time: “My point? You would be hard-pressed to find an MLB team less likely to generate groundballs to the right side this year. The Mets are one of the last teams in baseball that needs to trade offense for defense at second base…..Luis Hernandez shouldn’t be within 50 miles of the second-base job, because even if he is the best second baseman in camp, he’s not the one they need.”

Ted Berg wrote some of the response I wish I did: Justin Turner needs a lobby.

Actually, I wanted to expand on Ted’s point.  Lets compare the now five candidates in a more rigorous way.  I translated the minor league performances of Turner, Emaus and Hernandez into a Major League equivalent using the wonderful Minor League Equivalency calculator.  I applied the ballpark adjustments where possible, in Hernandez and Emaus’ minor league stops, but used the generic International League translation for Turner, so I could combine his Norfolk and Buffalo numbers. I left Castillo’s 2010 performance speak for itself.  I left Murphy’s line in from 2009, untranslated as well.  Here’s what it looks like:

Player Level – Team AB H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS
Luis Hernandez AA – Binghamton 225 67 12 4 3 .227 .268 .316 .584
Luis Hernandez AAA – Buffalo 189 45 8 3 0 .237 .273 .311 .584
Brad Emaus AAA – Las Vegas 322 74 20 2 7 .229 .311 .369 .680
Brad Emaus AA – New Hampshire 145 32 5 0 4 .218 .322 .331 .653
Justin Turner AAA – Buffalo & Norfolk 404 108 25 1 9 .267 .319 .402 .721
Daniel Murphy MLB – NYM ’09 508 135 38 4 12 .266 .313 .427 .740
Luis Castillo MLB – NYM ’10 247 58 4 2 0 .235 .337 .267 .604

 

And what happens?
Two of these things are not like the others.  That’s right.  Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy separate themselves from the group as the only ones with OPS above .700.

Can Murphy be better offensively in his second big league season than his first?  Quite possibly.  Can he hack it at second?  I’d sure like to find out.

MLE hates Emaus.  It trims his raw .298/.395/.495 line from Vegas to .229/.311/.369.  Ouch.  I’ve touched on this before, but Vegas is a great place to hit.  Moreover, guys who thrive in the minors by drawing walks sometimes have more trouble in the big leagues against the best pitchers in the world, who (Oliver Perez aside) throw more strikes.

 

My Solution

If putting the best roster together for Opening Day were the only thing that mattered, I’d take Turner and Murphy and let Chin-lung Hu sub for both late in games defensively.  Both Turner and Murphy can play multiple positions, even if they’re not great anywhere.  It would actually produce some really interesting tactical options.

If maximizing the total talent in the organization is more the goal (rather than making the playoffs in 2011) it could well make more sense to keep Emaus, who would have to be offered back to the Jays if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster.  Given that, they could use the first few months of the season to find out if he’s worth keeping.  I think this is the likeliest scenario, with Turner, who still has options, dispatched back to the farm and Murphy and Emaus in a semi-platoon.  If Emaus is an asset, so much the better.

I’d release Castillo.  He won’t be a Met after this year.  It’s time to figure out who can contribute to the next Mets playoff team.

 

The Prospects

Reese Havens has 68 career at-bats above advanced-A.  He could well be the long-term answer, but he must show he can stay healthy for a full season first.  As Mike reported, he was idled for three days this past week in spring training with “soreness.”  This isn’t a big deal yet, but bears monitoring.

Jordanny Valdespin owned a .315 OBP in advanced-A and AA last year and a walk rate of 2.9%.  When he learns to get on base, then we can talk about him as a viable MLB solution.

 

There are 6 comments

  1. VCarver

    This is the best analysis I’ve read anywhere of the 2B competition, using MLE and pointing out the heavy fly ball tendencies of Mets pitchers. It all makes so much sense and I agree with every recommendation you’ve made. I only hope Alderson and company will use such reasoning when making their choices.

  2. Max

    I’m not sure I agree with Joe Sheehan.

    -Young and Capuano are flyball pitchers, yes. Chris Young, absurdly so.

    -Pelf usually is more of a groundballer but he and Niese were neutral last year. Hard to say if Pelf will revert or not.

    -Dickey WAS a groundball pitcher last year, moreso than Pelf.

    More importantly, I see a starting staff whose defining characteristic, just like last year will not be flyballs or groundballs but a low strikeout total, meaning more balls in play. So even if the staff leans towards flyballs, there will be plenty of groundballs to go around.

      1. sylvan

        Yeah, if Young got hurt and Mejia took his place, this could be a pretty GB-to-the-right-side-heavy rotation.

  3. stickguy

    I have been supporting the turner as the RH batter in a platoon option for a while now. Guy really rakes lefties (OPS last year of 1.00+ vs. LHP).

    I would bet on Turner putting up better numbers, and just as good D, than Emaus.

    But, I could support giving Emaus a shot if they think he has potential.

    The real given is that Castillo has to go!

    So, give Emaus/Murphy a month to see how everyone is doing, then adjust. If either (or both) of them aren’t cutting it, replace them. By then, havens might be racing up the depth chart, Turner could be having a big year, etc.

    Or of course, the ML guys could be working out!

    But certainly, based on upside potential and looking to the future, it can’t be Castillo playing.

  4. sylvan

    The primary question about Emaus, as I see it, is: is he still developing as a hitter, or has he peaked already?

    In 2009, Ike Davis put up a .309/.386/.565 line at Binghamton, for an MLE of .233/.294/.403. In 2010, he was thrown (almost) directly into the majors. Instead of batting .233, of course, he continued to grow as a hitter; his K/BB ratio got better rather than worse with the jump to the majors at age 23, and he hit .264/.351/.440.

    Justin Turner is a year older than Emaus, and has made a return trip to AAA. His MLE for his first go-round in AAA: .264/.321/.335. But he hit for more power this year, pushing his MLE higher, from a .656 OPS in 2009 to .721 OPS in 2010.

    That’s 65 points of OPS improvement for Turner’s MLE following his first year in AAA. If (if!) Emaus developed his game to a similar degree thanks to his AAA experience, then we would expect him to put up a .745 OPS in MLB in 2011.

    So if you think that Emaus has probably grown as a hitter based on his taste of AAA pitching last year, whereas Turner, after 2 years in AAA, has already learned everything he’s going to learn in the minors, I think you project Emaus to hit better going forward. If you think Emaus has already peaked, or Turner hasn’t peaked yet, then Turner projects better.

    Of course, this is all neglecting defense, but there’s not much to go on there (unless you swear by minor league TotalZone, which hates Turner and likes Emaus for some reason).

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