Platooning From A Position of Strength

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I was watching MLB Network this morning as they did a replay of yesterday’s episode of ‘MLB Now’ with Brian Kenny. Dick Scott, the Mets new bench coach, was on the phone. The questions were about prospects and was there anyone he considered able to assist the major league team this season.

The former Director of Player Development made a great point. While farmhands like Matt Reynolds and Dilson Herrera might be called up this season, someone like Amed Rosario or Gavin Cecchini could get a September callup and Dominic Smith is a year or two away…there’s just no room in Queens.

This is the first time I can remember when the Amazin’s head into Port St. Lucie with just about everything already locked up. There are no position battles on the horizon and the only true question is who will support Jeurys Familia, Jerry Blevins, Addison Reed and Antonio Bastardo in the bullpen.

But even as I write that, I realize that there’s maybe two spots available between Hansel Robles, Josh Smoker, Dario Alvarez and Rafael Montero. And that’s not mentioning the fact that roster spots will eventually be needed for Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia and Josh Edgin.

Face it Mets fans, we’re rooting for a team with a plethora of major league talent and with more quality position pieces on the horizon.

It’s a roster that’s been assembled to get the best for what’s been paid for it. I’ve willingly altered my opinion on Juan Lagares and his role, accepting that the former Gold Glover will be an exceptional 4th OF in a platoon with Yoenis Cesdepes. But it’s not really a platoon with our big-ticket big bat.

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The platoon is really with Michael Conforto since he’s projected to sit against LHP, moving Cespedes to his natural position in LF. According to August Fagerstrom’s recent article on FanGraphs, the duo of Lagares and Conforto is the fifth most promising projected platoon.

With Conforto playing 2/3 of the time against righties and Lagares the other 1/3 against lefties, they combine to project a WAR of 2.9, a Defensive Runs Above Average (Def) of 2.0 and a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 107, or seven points above league average.

Now while that 107 is one point less than what Gerardo Parra put up last year, his WAR was a 0.4 and his Def was -22.1. It’s equal to the Braves’ Nick Markakis and while his WAR was 1.6, his Def was -10.8. Long story short, the Mets are getting a better than average outfield with good defense to boot.

Of course, if you read what Sandy Alderson said yesterday on this subject, nothing is written in stone yet on the outfield alignment and both Conforto and Lagares can shift to right field, rendering Curtis Granderson as the one who shifts to the bench against LHP and not the kid. It’s a good problem to have.

But like I said, they were the fifth best projected platoon. Want to guess which pair was No. 1?

Here’s a hint – One is a Pittsburgh native, the other proved last year that he lives and cries for the Orange and Blue.

The newly-acquired Neil Walker and Wilmer Flores are likely to share at-bats at second base this year since according to Fagersrom, Walker “has been 40% better against righties (123 wRC+) than lefties (83) throughout his career”. Between his plummet last year to a 58 wRC+ against LHP and Flores’ .310 batting average and .955 OPS against southpaws, it makes sense we’ll see Wilmer when Walker sits.

Whether Wilmer is playing second at the time is a different matter. He’s going to be asked to play the entire infield and against LHP, Terry Collins might want to sit Lucas Duda since Ruben Tejada has a better glove up the middle.

And while David Wright has a career .340 average with a 1.005 OPS against lefties, he’s going to sit at times in 2016. So Flores at third, Duda at 1st, Cabrera and Tejada up the middle? And I’ve failed to mention if Dilson Herrera comes north with the team. A .400 hitter in 115 ABs against LHP at Las Vegas, maybe he starts at 2nd?

These are the types of problems Collins will have to deal with. Problems from a position of strength, where the wrong answer may only go 1-for-3 instead of 2-for-3. That’s the kind of season we’re optimistically in store for and I can’t wait.

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