The Mets Outfield: Golden Glove, Tarnishing Bats

It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.

Looking for offense? Join the rest of Mets nation, whose hopes for a productive lineup rely largely on two aging corner outfielders and a glove-heavy center fielder. That said, all of the three options here have clear full-time jobs — well, heh, assuming they stay healthy — and they all have the potential to contribute in standard mixed leagues, even if they probably shouldn’t be drafted with such expectations.

First, a quick word about Citi Field. Last year, the park favored pitchers slightly overall, though it was found to increase home runs a tad, particularly for right-handed hitters. We’ll see how the Mets’ decision to move in the fences, yet again, bodes for offense, but suffice to say, the ballpark shouldn’t be viewed as a major impediment to run production.

Left field / Curtis Granderson / 34

PA HR RUNS RBI SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
2014 season 654 20 73 66 8 12.1 21.6 .227 .326 .388 .265 108
2015 Steamer 535 19 61 56 6 11.2 24.2 .222 .314 .398 .263 106

As could be expected after leaving Yankee Stadium, Granderson didn’t return to the 40-homer power he flashed a borough away a couple of seasons ago, though his numbers were still depressing for a guy rapidly approaching his mid-30s. He did cut down on his strikeouts while producing his best whiff and contact rates in three years, and he banged out 20 home runs while appearing in 155 games. But his .227 average was by far his worst over a full season, ditto for his .388 slugging percentage, and he can no longer be counted on to deliver double digits in steals.

Like many Mets, 2014 was a year of ups and downs for Granderson, evidenced by some wild monthly swings in wOBA, and he got off to an abysmal start, slashing .136/.252/.216 in April. That’s when he began using a drill used by Kevin Long, his old hitting coach with the Yankees, and the results picked up, at least somewhat: he hit .244/.339/.420 the rest of the way. It’s worth noting here that Long has now joined the Mets, and it hasn’t been lost on anyone that trying to help Granderson regain the all-star form he had with the Yankees will be a top priority for the new coach.

There’s also the possibility that a regular — and less prominent — role in the lineup could help him. Last year, the Mets, desperate for a legitimate bat atop the order, slotted Granderson into the leadoff spot for 235 plate appearances, only to watch him compile a .637 OPS. Although the team still doesn’t have a true leadoff hitter — more on that momentarily — hopefully they’ll realize that Granderson is miscast in that role, and perhaps the prospect of a healthy David Wright, an established Lucas Duda and the addition of Michael Cuddyer will allow Granderson to hit further down in the order, where his mediocre batting average wouldn’t be so exposed.

For fantasy purposes, both Steamer and the fans think he can bash 20 home runs again, and the pushed-in fences in right field will only help. Granderson might be just a one-category pony at his stage in his career, but then again, only 19 outfielders reached the 20-dinger plateau last year. He’s currently being taken after the first 60 outfielders are off the board, a clear sign that fantasy owners in standard formats don’t trust him as a starting option, but he can probably still help fantasy owners in standard mixed leagues as a decent reserve.

Center field / Juan Lagares / 26

PA HR RUNS RBI SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
2014 season 452 4 46 47 13 4.4 19.2 .281 .321 .382 .341 101
2015 Steamer 583 8 53 49 12 4.9 20.1 .249 .291 .352 .302 84

Guess who led the Mets in WAR last year? Hint: it has something to do with the guy whose name and statline is listed in this space. OK, so that was a dumb question, but I bring that up to illustrate that Lagares is so good defensively that his mediocre bat isn’t enough to prevent his performance from nearly reaching all-star quality. The glove certainly does count for something in fantasy — it all but assures him everyday playing time, which by default gives him some value in NL-only leagues — but if he could hit, he could be relevant in other formats.

As it happens, Lagares’ .281 average isn’t bad at all, though it’s boosted by a regression-ready .341 BABIP. In fairness, Lagares was a high BABIP guy in the minors, and he did hit more line drives last year and slightly improved his contact rate, but his 66.2 F-Strike% ranked fifth among players with at least 450 plate appearances, and his share of called strikes was above league average as well. Entering his third major league season, I’m more inclined to learn toward the .249 average projected by Steamer than the .270 mark forecasted by 24 fans, though February is the time to indulge in some optimism, and besides, Lagares runs well enough to fuel hope that he can continue his batted ball luck.

For a guy who hit just 31 home runs with a .403 slugging percentage in 633 minor league games, there’s little reason to expect a double-digit dinger spike or a bunch of RBIs. His potential to deliver 20 steals, however, is much more intriguing; manager Terry Collins says Lagares is the early candidate to bat leadoff for the Mets, where he swiped nine bags (just four less than his season’s total) in 37 starts last year. This was a guy who stole 21 bases in Double-A as recently as three years ago, and if he can improve on his ugly walk rate, he might be a cheap source of steals off the waiver wire for owners in deeper mixed leagues.

Right field / Michael Cuddyer / 36

PA HR RUNS RBI SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
2014 season 205 10 32 31 3 6.8 14.6 .332 .376 .579 .351 151
2015 Steamer 594 19 64 70 7 7.8 18.6 .255 .315 .418 .287 110

The Mets pounced on Cuddyer shortly after the offseason began, as he filled two glaring holes in their lineup: the need for a credible corner outfielder with some pop and a platoon option with Duda against left-handed pitching. Although his offensive output will obviously be diminished a notch now that he’s no longer calling Coors Field home, Cuddyer remained a competent hitter on the road over the last three years, and again, Citi Field isn’t exactly O.co Coliseum when it comes to suppressing power.

The most immediate question is whether he can stay healthy. He made three trips to the disabled list last year due to a broken left shoulder and strained left hamstring, and ended up spending parts of each month sidelined. He hasn’t appeared in 140 games since 2010 and averaged just 93 games in each of his three seasons in Colorado. For his part, Cuddyer says his 2014 ailments were freakish and that he doesn’t think of himself as injury-prone. (Where have I heard that before?)

When he’s on the field, he’ll be relied upon to help bring legitimacy to the middle of the Mets’ order, which should give him ample RBI opportunities even considering the team’s mediocre lineup. Even if he doesn’t return to the .330 batting average he flashed over the past two years, a floor of, say, .270 shouldn’t hurt owners too much if he can provide a few home runs and help out in a couple of other counting categories.

On that subject, keep in mind that Cuddyer has only surpassed the 20-homer mark twice in his career, the most recent occasion being 2009, and he’s moving to the NL East, where only Citizens Bank Park aided hitters in the long ball department. And speaking of the NL East, the Braves and Marlins figure to field competent starting rotations, and the Nationals, well, the less said about them and their soul-crushing starting five, the better.

Ideally, Cuddyer will be a guy to target after the first 50 outfielders are off the board, as the prospect of a return to the disabled list, or the very real possibility that his skill set will start diminishing as he enters his late 30s, is too great to ignore. He remains a solid bat who can help in several categories (and having first base eligibility won’t hurt) but there’s probably too much risk for him to be drafted as more than a No. 4 outfielder.

***

As for the rest, John Mayberry Jr. was brought in to add some right-handed hitting depth off the bench. He popped 40 home runs from 2011 to 2013 and has hit very well against lefties in his career, compiling an .857 OPS. Were one of the corner outfielders to get hurt, Mayberry could end up platooning with Matt den Dekker, a defensive player who has the ability to contribute steals but little else, or Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who, besides adding another welcome Dutch surname to the Mets, has hit right-handed pitching decently (.752 OPS) in his career.



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Karl, a journalist living in Washington, D.C., learned about life's disappointments by following the Mets beginning at a young age. His work has appeared in numerous publications, and he has contributed to the 2014 and 2015 editions of The Hardball Times Annual. Follow/harass him on Twitter @Karl_de_Vries.

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John B.
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Cuddyer and Granderson in LF?

Taking shifts to an extreme I see.