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Using xBABIP to Examine the Offensive End of the Mets’ Shortstop Dilemma

It’s no secret that a vast majority of Mets fans want Wilmer Flores to be playing shortstop every day. It’s also no secret that manager Terry Collins has some strange infatuation with Ruben Tejada, opting again and again to give him starts at shortstop.

Although Collins hasn’t given the media any clear reasoning as to why this is, there are a few reasons we can speculate. The biggest one is defense — Ruben Tejada has made major strides at shortstop this season, posting the highest DRS of his career. Flores, on the other hand, is a second baseman, and even his defense at second is questionable — he really profiles more as a corner infielder. However, with the other three infield positions being blocked by Daniel Murphy, David Wright, and the new-and-improved Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada is the odd man out.

The other side of the coin is the one I’m going to be focusing on: offense. When Tejada started getting regular playing time as a 21-year-old in 2011, he showed some legitimate offensive potential, hitting line drives at an extremely impressive 28.1% rate (would have ranked 2nd among qualified batters,) good for .287/.345/.345 in 877 PAs between 2011 and 2012. Then, in 2013, he came to spring training out of shape, hit .202, got sent down, got hurt a couple times, and basically threw yet another monkey wrench into the Mets’ rebuild. The job became his to lose in 2014, and he’s hit a measly .228/.348/.280, the OBP even being inflated by the amount of intentional walks he received in the 8 hole. His 0.4 fWAR this season cancels out his -0.4 last season, making him a perfect replacement-level player.

Meanwhile, Wilmer Flores has been a top offensive prospect in the Mets system since he was signed out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old in 2007. ¬†His numbers finally started to reflect his talent in 2012, when he hit .300/.349/.479 between high A and AA. In 2013, he exploded in AAA, and the past two seasons has hit .321/.360/.543 with 28 home runs and 47 doubles in exactly 162 games. Sure, he plays in Vegas, one of the most hitter friendly parks in AAA, but these are still numbers that demand attention — attention that he hasn’t yet seemed to receive from Terry Collins. Despite Tejada’s offensive struggles, he has still started 86 games at short this season, as opposed to Flores’ 20. One of the reasons a few Mets fans have been pointing to is the fact that Flores has yet to actually produce at the major league level, hitting only .220/.254/.304 in his 201 big league plate appearances. But is that slash-line an accurate reflection of his talent? And, for that matter, is Tejada’s?

For this mini-evaluation, we’ll use slash12′s xBABIP formula. It’s never a perfect system, but it will give us a good estimation of what these players slash-lines¬†should look like (or at least their average and OBP.)

After inserting Ruben Tejada’s batted ball profile, we get that his xBABIP for 2014 is .329 — much higher than his actual BABIP of .288. We can then plug that backwards into the BABIP formula to determine how many hits he theoretically should have. Since the formula is (H-HR)/(AB-HR-K+SF), we can plug in everything except for hits to get (H-2)/(289-2-65+0)=.329, simplify that to (H-2)/(222)=.329, multiply both sides by 222 to get H-2=73, and we can come to the conclusion that Ruben Tejada should have 73 hits on the year, instead of the 66 he has. This would make his batting average .253 and his OBP .364 (although, keep in mind that that’s being inflated by the 10 intentional walks he’s had while hitting 8th in the order. If we decided to remove those, his OBP would drop to .345).

Now, doing the same to Wilmer Flores is slightly tricky, as we don’t have nearly as large a sample size worth of batted ball data to use. In the interest of accuracy, we’ll use his career profile, so we can at least get a sample of 201 PAs instead of his 100 this year. Plugging his batted ball profile into the xBABIP calculator, we get a result of .333, compared to his actual career BABIP of .268. Doing the same backwards math we did with Tejada, this brings his expected career batting average up to .272, and his career OBP up to .304.

Now, these are only two stats, and they only tell us so much — Flores seems to be a better hitter, but his career 4.5% BB rate is clearly overmatched by Tejada. There isn’t a formula out there for expected slugging percentage — at least, as far as I know — so we can’t really determine what that would be (and subsequently, what their OPS would be). We could assume the same ISO, which would not be entirely accurate, but it would give us a .305/.669 for Tejada and a .355/.659 for Flores. Still, I think it’s clear, both from my biased perspective as a Mets fan and my objective perspective as a baseball fan, that Flores has the brighter future offensively — but it’s up to the Mets to decide how to capitalize on it.