Who Should Start in the Outfield and Why

An article by posted on July 1, 2014

young lagares

With the recent demotion of Wilmer Flores, the Mets front office made the decision to go with six outfielders on their active roster, and no one with any experience at shortstop other than current starter Ruben Tejada.  I’m actually glad that Flores is going down to be mentored by Wally Backman if he isn’t going to play.  The less time he spends with Terry Collins the better. Collins has yet to develop a single position player in four years during a rebuilding period.  I cant imagine a worse job being done at anything than the way he has handled young position players.

That being said, what’s done is done, and since we do have 6 OF on the current active roster, lets see what OF configuration gives us the best chance to win some ballgames. Baseball Reference has our Pythagorean Record at 41-41 based on the number of runs we’ve scored vs the runs we’ve given up.  That means with an average competent manager at the helm, that didn’t do anything great, but also didn’t make catastrophic in-game moves, that we’d be a .500 ballclub right now. That doesn’t include the baffling lineup decisions before the game has even started. They can use all the help they can get.

Here are our current outfielders and the Mets W-L record when they start:

Curtis Granderson (L)  31-44

Bobby Abreu (L)   8-13

Kirk Nieuwenhuis (L)   5-0

Eric Young Jr. (S)  24-21

Juan Lagares (R)  16-24

Chris Young (R)  22-26

The Mets are 8-9 when they face a left-handed starting pitcher this season, and the options for the OF are much more limited as Captain Kirk and Bobby Abreu haven’t hit LHP at all, so you have four choices when the opponent sends a southpaw to the hill.

Juan Lagares is outstanding defensively and has absolutely crushed LHP this season

.381/.386/.548   2-2B   1-3B   1-HR   4-RBI   1/12-BB/K   0/2-SB/CS  .934-OPS

The numbers are mostly batting average driven as the 1-BB and 12-K shows, but with everyone else in the lineup looking for a walk, somebody has to look for a hit.  He should probably hit second or even third in the lineup against lefties, or fifth or sixth so he can drive in some runs which he has a knack of doing.  He also has a .316 batting average with 2 outs and RISP.

Curtis Granderson has been good against LHP this season and plays a really good RF.

.247/.352/.429   2-2B   4-HR   15-RBIs   11/26-BB/K   0/0-SB/CS   .780-OPS

He has the most home runs on the team vs LHP, and is one behind team leader Lucas Duda with 11 overall.  I would rather not see him batting leadoff.  It seems reasonable to put your highest OBP guys in front of Grandy to see if we can get a 2 or 3 run HR every now and then instead of hitting right after our pitcher does.

Chris Young has been very disappointing this year, and a terrible allocation of limited funds as Alderson gave him $7.25 million for the 2014 season. The only good thing about the signing is that it’s only a one year deal, and we are 8-6 when he is in the lineup against LHP.

.174/.310/.283   2-2B   1-HR   5-RBIs   9/9-BB/K   1/0-SB/CS   .593-OPS

Besides the drop in extra innings against Philadelphia that cost us the game, CY has been at least serviceable defensively this season, but a shadow of his former self both offensively and with the glove, especially against LHP.  His numbers are not good, but they are better than the other OF on the roster against lefties.  He should hit no higher than 7th, and should probably be in the 8th spot.

Eric Young Jr. is really the only other option against LHP, but EY has been really bad vs lefties this season, and with lefties facing 1B when they are on the hill, which gives them a huge advantage in holding runners, and shutting down the run game, it negates EY’s greatest strength.

.212/.241/.269   1-2B   1-3B   0-HR   1-RBI   1/13-BB/K   1/1-SB/CS   .510-OPS

If you want to rest Curtis Granderson against a LHP and the 33-year old needs a day off from time to time, then Eric Young should play. Whatever the reason, we seem to win with EY in the lineup.  Otherwise, when a LHP is starting against the Mets, we should see an OF configuration of Chris Young in left, Lagares in center, and Grandy in right.  All three are really solid defensively, and are by far the best at the dish against lefties.

The options in the outfield get a little trickier when the Mets are facing a right-handed starting pitcher. Lets take a look at how our guys are faring against righties.

Surprisingly, Kirk Nieuwenhuis has the best numbers against RHP this season, and we are 5-0 in games that Kirk has started this season.  If I’m the manager of a 37-46 ballclub, and I have a guy on the team that has great numbers vs righties, plays good defense, can steal a base from time to time, and my team is 5-0 when he starts, I think I would be inclined to play him.

.320/.379/.600   4-2B   1-HR   7-RBI   3/8-BB/K   0/0-SB/CS   .979-OPS

Sure, he only has 29 AB so far, but what we are doing right now isn’t working, as we are 29-37 vs RH starting pitchers this season.  We may have a young homegrown outfielder who can play.  Imagine that.

40 year old Bobby Abreu has been really good at the plate against RHP in 2014, and throughout his career, for that matter.

.284/.375/.432   9-2B   1-HR   11-RBI   13/12-BB/K   0/0-SB/CS   .807-OPS

As good as Abreu has been at the plate, he has been pretty awful in the field.  He’s 40, its not his fault.  He would be a really good option at DH, and an AL contender should offer a AAA bullpen arm for him at the deadline, but he cant play the outfield regularly.  He should get an occasional start and PH.  He can also DH when we play an interleague game on the road.  I like having him on the team as a mentor to our young hitters.  He’s just not an asset for a NL team.

We’ve already decided that Granderson, should play against LHP.  Lets see how he is faring against righties this season.

.225/.347/.395   11-2B   1-3B   7-HR   21-RBI   38/52-BB/K   6/2-SB/CS   .742-OPS

Again, with his extra base power, on a team with very little power, I don’t like him in the leadoff spot.

The Mets are 24-21 when Eric Young Jr. is in the starting lineup, and 23-18 when EY starts in the OF and bats leadoff.  They’re also 6-4 when EY is starting since he was activated from the DL.

.248/.355/.341   7-2B   1-3B   1-HR   10-RBI   19/31-BB/K   20/1-SB/CS   .696-OPS

Whatever the reason, the Mets are a better team when EY is in the starting lineup.  The speed he provides on the basepaths is sorely missed when he isn’t playing.  How many times have we seen a walk, single, single, and we have the bases loaded and end up not scoring a single run in the inning?  When EY gets on base, whether it be a BB or a single, he steals 2B, moves to 3B on a flyout, and scores on a groundball.  When EY gets on base, he often scores without the Mets getting a single hit. If we can’t hit for average, and we don’t have power, then we have to have his speed in the lineup.  His .355 OBP vs RHP is outstanding coupled with his speed, and he may get turned around in the outfield sometimes, but his speed allows him to get to flyballs that most guys can’t.

I was shocked to see that the Mets are 16-24 when Juan Lagares is in the starting lineup. His defense is excellent, and he’s crushed LHP, but his numbers are less than stellar when facing RHP.

.254/.305/.362   9-2B   1-3B   1-HR   14-RBI   8/32-BB/K   0/2-SB/CS   .667-OPS

As much as I love Lagares, and hope he blossoms into an All-Star that patrols CF for the next 10+ years, I’m not sure he gives us the best chance to win when the Mets are facing a RHP right now.  If he can learn to be a threat on the basepaths, and get his OBP to at least .325, then he is a sure fire, no doubt, everyday center fielder. But until he does, the numbers say he is our 5th, or possibly 6th, best option offensively against RHP.

Our last option vs RHP is C. Young.  He’s actually hitting RHP better than he is LHP this year.  Very strange season for CY.

.212/.270/.371   6-2B   6-HR   18-RBI   9/33-BB/K   6/3-SB/CS   .641-OPS

CY does have a few HRs and a few SBs, but at this point I’d much rather see someone else in the outfield, especially since he will be playing against lefties.

If we’re trying to stay in the race, then put Kirk in there to see if he can sustain his current level of production against RHP, and see if we keep winning when he starts. Give him a couple of weeks to see if it’s a fluke. What if it isn’t?

Granderson should play most days, but again, he is 33 and needs a day off from time to time. If we’re trying to win, Eric Young has to be in the lineup and leading off when were facing a righty. Abreu can start a game here or there vs RHP, but please Terry put in a defensive replacement when you have a lead.

Lagares should play everyday against LHP, and when Grandy needs a rest, or if Kirk’s numbers regress. He should also enter the game as a PH to face a lefty, and as a defensive replacement.  He has a .320 average when the game is close and late, so his bat would be a plus in a tight game late.  I’m not saying he shouldn’t play, he should play almost every game, but strategically. If the Mets think they are still in it, you need to play to your players’ strengths. 

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About the Author ()

I’ve been a die-hard Mets fan for 30 years. When I’m not watching Mets baseball, I’m talking or blogging about it. My favorite Mets story is about the bottom of the 10th, Game 6, ‘86 series. The Kid, Kevin Mitchell, & Ray Knight all said the same thing, verbatim, at 1B. “I wasn’t making the last out of this f’n World series.”

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