As Spring Training draws near, Mets fans have begun to accept the fact that the duo up the middle for the 2015 season will start out as Daniel Murphy at second base and Wilmer Flores at shortstop (with Ruben Tejada as backup). According to General Manager Sandy Alderson was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article titled “With Shortstop Market Dry, Mets Likely to Stick With Flores” by Jared Diamond as saying, “Given the fact that we think that we’re going to have better pitching than most, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we need to have more defense than most.” By better pitching, I assume he means they will induce weak contact up the middle and that therefore the defense of the players at second and short are of less importance, as long as they can hit. The only improvement to the pitching staff is the return of Matt Harvey from Tommy John Surgery, but let’s see how the Mets players fare defensively and their rank.
First up is Daniel Murphy. The second baseman is viewed by many as a great hitter without a position because he is an inept fielder (which is why he has been difficult for the Mets to trade. Out of 20 second basemen that had more than 900 innings player, here is how Murphy performed and ranked relative to the 19 other second baseman according to FanGraphs metrics.
It is clear that he is in the bottom tier of second baseman and below average in every category. What is more interesting though is that while Murphy is not a great or even an average fielder, the Fans Scouting Report from Tom Tango’s website has him as the worst second baseman in the league (relative to those who played more than 900 innings). With a 50 being an average fielder, Murphy overall received a 34 across all votes for reactions, acceleration, velocity, hands, release, throwing strength and accuracy. However, Jose Altuve who is clearly the worst by the metrics provided by FanGraphs is a 65. One of the best. It is no doubt that Mets fans are clearly skewed in their opinions of their second baseman who might be bad, but the fans are clearly overreacting.
For the shortstop position, I evaluated the top 38 shortstops (those who played more than 400 innings at the position during the 2014 season, to get a fair evaluation of both Tejada and Flores). Surprisingly, they both ranked in the top half in every category and with an ultimate zone rating within the top 10 for shortstops throughout the league. This is less surprising for Tejada who tends be an average defender in my eyes but Flores is looked as oversize and not athletic enough for the position. Similar to Murphy, Mets fans are once again overly pessimistic about their shortstops based on the 2014 season. For Tejada, he received an average rating of 48, ranking 30th out of the 38 shortstops. For Flores, Mets/baseball fans gave him 38 out of 100. This tied for second worst with Jonathan Villar but still ahead of Hanley Ramirez. I understand if watching Flores play is not the most graceful, but I think it is an insult to a 24-year-old to compare him unfavorably to 40-year-old Derek Jeter, with no range.
While Murphy lacks a great glove and in the eyes of Mets fans is terrible, he is at least consistently one of the best hitters on the team and is able to get on base. Steamer projects him to hit at .314 wOBA and an OPS of .712 which is all down from last year and his lowest yet. If he can outperform his Steamer projections which tend to be conservative then he can make up for his lackluster defense. Flores projects to perform similar to last year, however he continues to improve his hitting. After being called back up from the minors in July, Flores performed much more strongly at the plate, especially in September.
However it is quite shocking to see how poorly he makes solid contact with the ball in general with very low BABIPs in both August and September. What was more surprising to see was his splits versus right-handed pitchers versus left-handed pitchers.
For some reason he just cannot hit left-handed pitchers. His slugging, OPS and BABIP are all abysmal so even when he does make contact it is weak at best.
Against righties he has an interesting hot zone that he can hit well in the middle or on the corners but not in the areas in between. If he can get his hitting under control and manage to hit lefties, then I think Flores can prove to be the permanent solution at shortstop.
On the other hand if Tejada manages to win the shortstop job, then the Mets will be in danger. But Tejada, similar to Flores took advantage of playing time in September making the most of it and managed to perform the best he had performed all year by a wide margin. So the Mets could be set at second base and shortstop if Murphy and Flores are able to produce strong years offensively, to at least balance out Murphy’s defense.
While it may be good that the second baseman and shortstops have shown that they have the potential to hit and field, does their fielding not really matter because of the strength that is the Mets’ pitching? The original claim is that they can make up for the lack of fielding at these positions, although so far it seems that shortstop won’t be really an issue.
As seen from the data table above from BaseballReferece.com, three of the five pitchers are above-average strikeout pitchers and four out of five are fly ball pitchers. However, if they are truly fly ball pitchers one must be concerned with Curtis Granderson in right field and Michael Cuddyer in left field. However, with Juan Lagares in center field who may be able to run down anything, they should hopefully be able to do enough that anything that they can’t get to, Lagares will at least try his best to make it there. Although, if for some reason he gets hurt or there are ground balls headed up the middle towards his directions there may be some concern that too many of them will reach him in the outfield.
To further analyze the how important the role of the second baseman and shortstop are for the Mets in the field, I looked at where balls were hit against the four starting pitchers (Jacob DeGrom, Jonathan Niese, Zach Wheeler and Bartolo Colon) in 2014 that will definitely be in the 2015 rotation using the MLBAM PITCHf/x database available from Darren Willam’s website BaseballSavant.com. In 2014 there were 2,162 balls hit against these four pitchers that were put into fair territory. Of which, 23.7% were hit to the second baseman or shortstop including line drives, pop outs and fly balls. However looking at ground balls where the major concern for Flores and Murphy exists, these will account for 20% of the plays. In fact, out of all 30 teams, the Mets were in the bottom 3rd of ground balls being hit to second base or the shortstop. So based on the data it is true that they don’t need to worry as much as other teams as they will be less impacted if a similar pattern continues and as long as their pitchers remain fly ball pitchers.
Based on all the data provided, the Mets will be good enough at second base and shortstop to be successful on both offense and defense. Fans need to be optimistic about their players instead of continuing to have a negative attitude especially when the statistics show otherwise. Being positive, combined with a successful season should make for ebullience at Citi Field in 2015.
Follow Seth at @SRGourmetSports
• Diamond, Jared. “With Shortstop Market Dry, Mets Likely to Stick With Flores.” WSJ. Wall Street Journal, 9 Dec. 2014.
• MLB Hot Zones. ESPN Stats and Information Group
• 2014 Scouting Report – By the Fans, For the Fans. Tom Tango
• Fangraphs.comNext post: Flip This Bat: Tom Lawless Edition
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