It’s been widely reported that Kirk Nieuwenhuis will be strongly considered as a leadoff candidate this season despite a 31% strikeout percentage, a low contact rate and on-base percentage, and a poor batting eye.
Assuming he could improve his on-base and strikeout rates a little, his batting eye still is what it is, and he doesn’t fit the mold of an ideal leadoff man even if it’s only against right-handed pitching.
What’s troubling is that Kirk was at his worst when he worked deeper into counts – I’m talking 3-2 and 3-1 counts.
Are there some positives about Kirk that we don’t see that you can shed some light on, or is this simply a case of not having any better options right now?
I think Kirk will be the first to admit he has some things to work on this Spring. In his case, cutting down on strikeouts, improving on-base percentage; these are all goals, but not solutions. Kirk and a few others are working on a variety of things that will contribute to a lower strikeout rate, a higher on-base percentage, and more power.
That comes from better command of the strike zone, and better command of the strike zone comes from better pitch recognition, and a better understanding of strengths and weaknesses. In trying to get Kirk to improve in these areas, it’s a matter of looking at those areas and having a plan for what he’s going to try and do for those pitches.
I think there are a number of candidates for the leadoff spot, but we will see how that competition goes. Nieuwenhuis needs to improve, Matt den Dekker needs to improve. We have Collin Cowgill, who is a right-handed hitter. Where do Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin fit in? Again, it’s not a perfect scenario, but under current circumstances, these players aren’t ideal candidates, keeping the basic leadoff characteristics in mind.
Lets face it, the team has struggled to find a leadoff hitter ever since we lost Jose Reyes. Do you see yourself ultimately filling the leadoff position from the current group of in-house candidates and hope that one of them emerges and grows into the leadoff hitter role or are you keeping your eyes open for an external solution?
Basically, what I want to know is how are you going to tackle and improve this issue moving forward?
I wouldn’t focus exclusively on the leadoff position. If you go back to the leadoff position, our run production was pretty good. Now we had Jose all that season, so the leadoff spot was well filled. Last year, we didn’t score as many runs. It wasn’t simply a result of doing less well in the leadoff position. Ruben Tejada’s walk rate did drop significantly from the year before and from first half tot he second half. But one of the reasons we went after Michael Bourn was because we didn’t see a lot of good solutions in-house. We didn’t view Bourn as the perfect free agent for us, but he does a lot of positive things. Defense, leading off, speed, etc. There’s a guy who strikes out a lot, by the way. So, we recognize they’re hard to find, and when they come up we have to take a hard look at it.
I just think, realistically, you’re not going to find the perfect leadoff man in a Spring Training trade. It’s probably not going to happen. You’re just going to have to take a shot with somebody, and hope they grow into it. Or, recognize the limitations of the people you have and emphasize the importance of doing certain things. So for example, with Ruben, it’s about getting on-base. He’s not going to steal bases, but if we can get him back to a .360 OBP, we will take it.
I appreciated the time Sandy took to respond to my questions, and I felt he provided me with a lot of insight into how he views Kirk Nieuwenhuis and some of the other leadoff candidates in camp. Considering most of our options have no speed, I was surprised he didn’t add Daniel Murphy into the equation.
It’s obvious he sees the dilemma and isn’t locked into the current situation – and he shouldn’t be. He seemed sincere when he told us he really wanted to get Bourn and Justin Upton as well.
He admits the leadoff solution will not be resolved this Spring as most of us probably already knew. But honestly there was a part of me that was hoping for some late surprise deal, something that won’t happen.
Ruben Tejada seems like Plan B, but he regressed last season and that’s a big concern. The new outfielders we brought in all bat right-handed and won’t win regular jobs.
It’s something that will have to be resolved next offseason it seems, unless we actually acquire a star at this year’s trade deadline rather than trading one away.
Thanks to MetsBlog for transcribing and go read the full interview here. But make sure to come back and comment here!