OK, call me a front-runner if you must, but based on what I’ve seen of Eric Campbell so far (and with a mere handful of at-bats it ain’t much), he looks to have qualities that would do much to inject some sorely needed jolt into the Mets’ lineup. I speak not so much of numbers, as the vast majority of his stats are those of the minor league variety, but rather the look he possesses at the plate – that of a discerning hitter with a good eye and a quick bat, a more “mature” hitter if you will. At age 27, Campbell appears to have reached that developmental sweet spot where game experience and youthful reflexes meld to create what is often the beginning of the prime of many players’ careers. When a hitter looks as relaxed yet as potentially lethal at the plate as Campbell has, it sticks out in a lineup like the Mets typically field where the only comparable component is Daniel Murphy, who just happens to be the best hitter on the team at this point.
Naturally, finding Campbell more playing time would cost someone else theirs, and profiling basically as a corner infielder his slot would be most likely at first base. So is it poor Lucas Duda’s fate to be relegated to the bench again just when he thought the matter was finally settled with the trade of Ike Davis? Maybe so. An examination of the numbers of both players over their minor league careers reveals relatively similar figures with respect to average and OBP, with a slight edge toward Duda in slugging percentage. What is more revealing are the walk to strikeout ratios of the two, particularly over the last few seasons. Duda’s composite numbers in this area covering 2012, 2013, and the first six weeks of this season (including both minor and major league appearances) show a K/BB ratio of .48 based on 147 walks to 306 strikeouts over the course of 1034 AB’s. Conversely, Campbell’s K/BB ratio over the same period registers an eye-opening .92 based on 145 walks to 157 strikeouts over the course of 883 AB’s. In other words, nearly an identical number of walks despite 151 fewer AB’s, and a strikeout rate about 40% lower than Duda’s. For a team that professes to follow a hitting philosophy that’s all about getting on base, you would think that Mr. Campbell’s numbers would rate some attention.
None of this is to say that Eric Campbell is the answer to fixing what has become one of the most maddeningly impotent lineups Met fans have had to endure in a while. It is just that if legitimate power isn’t really part of your game, you have simply got to be able to string some hits together consistently and Campbell’s game plays better toward this end than Duda’s. And yeah, Campbell may be more reminiscent of Dave Magadan at the plate with his heavy topspin than the kind of slugger we all daydream about in a typical first sacker, but as we’ve hardly seen much more than the usual in the way of longballs from the Dude (a rate of about 1 tater per 29 AB’s), the give-up in terms of slugging would not appear to be a deal breaker.
Would a straight platoon be in order? I think not. This would still have the effect of giving the majority of at-bats to Duda over Campbell, and based on his minor league batting splits since 2012 (.293 vs. RHP and .365 vs. LHP), the team would still appear to be better off giving the Soup Man the lion’s share of hacks. When a team with the generally anemic offense that the Mets have finds a possible means of augmenting their lineup from within the organization, can they really afford not to explore it? After all the Duda vs. Davis nonsense fans had to endure while the team’s management fiddled with the roster to seemingly little effect, would it not be fitting that the answer for first base turned out to be someone other than either of the apparently anointed candidates?
Regardless, Campbell’s apparent batting prowess deserves a more extensive trial. Hopefully his versatility and continuing contributions will compel Terry Collins to find a way to shoehorn him into the lineup on a regular basis.