The Mets Outfield: Why It Might Actually Work

With Spring Training only a month away (Huzzah!), and little movement on the part of the Mets front office, it is looking more and more like the Mets will mix and match their outfield with a bunch of ragtag journeymen and hope for the best.

Before I go any further, let me make it perfectly clear that this is clearly not an ideal situation and I am grasping at straws with this post. But I do think this may be able work. Call me an optimist, call me an idiot, call me crazy – you’re probably right on all accounts. However, it is what it is, and when you dig into the numbers you’ll find that maybe all hope is not lost after all.

2012 MLB Outfields and the Mets

Before we get into the current situation, let’s take a look back and see how Major League outfields performed as a whole. In 2012, the Major League averages for all three outfield positions were as follows:

Left Fielders: 619 AB – .260 Average, .756 OPS

Center Fielders: 631 AB – .265 Average, .748 OPS

Right Fielders: 623 AB – .262 Average, .761 OPS

Now let’s look and see how the 2012 Mets outfielders fared:

Left Fielders: 607 AB – .222 Average, .661 OPS

Center Fielders: 596 AB – .247 Average, .711 OPS

Right Fielders: 601 AB – .245 Average, .715 OPS

Oof — that’s rough, though not surprising to anybody who followed the Mets on a regular basis like all of us. On the bright side though, it can’t get much worse! And maybe…just maaaybe…it might even get better. Let’s now look ahead to 2013 and see what we have to work with.

Left Field 

All indications are that Lucas Duda will be the starting left fielder for the Metsies in 2013. After some high (and probably unfair) expectations last year, Duda disappointed, hitting only .239 with a .718 OPS. He did, however, manage to hit 15 home runs, and while his batting average and OPS were well below the league average for left fielders last year, they were an upgrade over 2012 Mets left fielders. The problem – and you’ll see this is a problem for all three positions I’m going to cover – is Duda only had 401 at-bats last season, almost 200 less than the league average. It’s hard to say if his numbers would have gotten better or worse with an extra 200 at-bats, though to due his experience and the fact that he seemed to perform a little better after getting recalled from the Minor Leagues late in the year, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his numbers would at least stay relatively similar.

The X-factor in all of this is Scott Hairston. If Hairston were to re-sign with the Mets, they could use him in a platoon with Duda in left field. Let’s say they do just that.  Here is a look at Duda vs. right-handed pitching last year and Hairston vs. left-handed pitching last year, to which I then combined for an average among the two:

2012 Lucas Duda vs. RHP: 267 AB – .240 Average, .745 OPS

2012 Scott Hairston vs. LHP: 189 AB – .286 Average, .867 OPS

Total: 456 AB – .263 Average, .806 OPS

While the batting average is just about on par with the league average, the OPS is a very nice upgrade. While it might dip a little bit with an additional 150 at-bats or so, I don’t think it would be significant enough to drop below the league average. Together, Duda and Hairston combined could make for a pretty nice left-fielder. Defensively they will probably be atrocious, but at least they have the ability to do some damage with the bat to make up for it.

Center Field

This is where I really start to get ridiculous. According to MLB Depth Charts, which has become my new obsession, the Mets will most likely go with a platoon in center field of Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Collin Cowgill. Nieuwenhuis showed some potential when he was first called-up last year, but eventually it all caught up to him and he was nothing more than a replacement-level player for the rest of his time on the Mets. Cowgill didn’t get much of a chance with the Oakland A’s in 2012, and was probably going to get even less of a chance this year, due to their crowded outfield. So, as we did with Duda and Hairston, here’s what the combination of Kirk and Collin might have looked like last year:

2012 Kirk Nieuwenhuis vs. RHP: 221 AB – .271 Average, .740 OPS

2012 Collin Cowgill vs. LHP: 44 AB – .318 Average, .844 OPS

Total: 265 AB – .295 Average, .792 OPS

Again, a very solid combo and well above league average. But also only 265 at-bats. That’s not much of a sample size at all, especially when you’re comparing it to an average of 600+ at-bats. That being said, even if Cowenhuis (or Nieuwengill? Or maybe neither…) regress to the mean, that mean is still a .265 batting average and .748 OPS. I don’t think that’d be too much of a shock if that happened, looking at this tiny sample size.

Right Field

Rounding out the outfield, MLB Depth Carts says the Mets will go with a platoon of Mike Baxter – the little gentleman that he is – and someone called Andrew Brown. I believe he gave me a free oil change one time. In all seriousness, apparently Brown had a cup of coffee with the Rockies last year, so we do have a few at-bats to look at. They look like this:

2012 Mike Baxter vs. RHP: 160 AB – .288 Average, .836 OPS

2012 Andrew Brown vs. LHP: 40 AB – .275 Average, .775 OPS

Total: 200 AB – .282 Average, .806 OPS

Once again we see a very nice combination, but we run into the same lack of sample size as we did in center field. I highly doubt an .800 OPS out of these two guys over the course of a full season. I also highly doubt a .761 OPS out of them, which was the 2012 league average. But even a .745 OPS would be a 30 point upgrade from last year’s Mets right fielders, and I would absolutely sign on for that.

Simply put, in order for this plan to work, these players need to prove that the stats I just spewed are actual expected platoon stats, and not just the result of a miniscule sample size. I think bringing back Scott Hairston is a bigger deal than people may think, as it gets them a legitimate power threat against left-handed pitching, which they currently do not have outside of David Wright. However, when you look at the league averages of outfielders from the past year, combined with what the Mets outfielders did, I don’t think it’s as hopeless as it looks. There’s a chance this outfield might have a chance to put up some decent numbers offensively. At least, we have no choice but to hope so.