In my last article I wrote that, while Mets batters have struggled against left-handed pitchers this season, they have actually hit well overall in games started by left-handed pitchers. I used this point to suggest that Rockies catcher Ramon Hernandez is not the type of bat the Mets should try to acquire. A number of people asked me for some specific players who I liked better than Hernandez.
While I hadn't thought of any specific players at the time, I did have an archetype in mind. When it became apparent that people were interested, I decided to look for a couple of guys who fit the bill. The qualifications I considered were:
- It must be likely that the player would be available.
- The player should be expected to come cheaply – I don’t believe that the Mets should sell on their future for the present.
- The player must hit lefties.
- The player should have some kind of positional flexibility.
I believe there are two main ways the Mets could efficiently go about strengthening their offense against lefties. They could aim for an outfielder, someone who could platoon with Lucas Duda/Kirk Nieuwenhuis, or a middle/corner infielder who could spell Daniel Murphy or Ike Davis against lefties. In either situation the player could be more readily used off the bench than a backup catcher, which is a huge bonus.
I found one example of each of these options and figured I’d come back and share them.
Chris Denorfia, OF, San Diego Padres. At age 31, and on a cheap one-year deal, Denorfia would be my pick over the more powerful (and more talked-about) Padre, Carlos Quentin. With a career .280/.344/.408 (110 wRC+) batting line and a seemingly league average glove from the corner outfield spots, Denorfia is a good, not great, player in a mold that Mets fans are used to. While Denorfia is a league average hitter against righties (101 wRC+ for his career), he has been significantly better against lefties, posting a career .308/.376/.421 (124 wRC+) line against them. His bat would fit very nicely in the Mets' starting lineup against lefties, and the fact that he’s useable against right-handed pitchers would provide some extra flexibility. Citi Field would be a friendly park to Denorfia, who has spent the last five seasons in Oakland and San Diego. Denorfia also has excellent numbers as a pinch hitter, posting a .303/.360/.470 (119 wRC+) career line when coming off the bench.
Jeff Baker, UT, Chicago Cubs. Baker’s bat is not as strong as Denorfia’s (his career batting line of .270/.321/.426 is actually below league average) but he plays a ton of positions — you could see him occasionally playing first base, second base, third base, or the corner outfield spots — and his platoon split is bigger than Denorfia's. Acquiring Baker may be a cheaper way to get similar production against left-handed pitchers, though. While Baker is not the kind of guy you’d want up against righties (his career 64 wRC+ and 28.6% K rate are not pretty) he can definitely hit lefties, posting a .307/.356/.525 (127 wRC+) line for his career. He’s not as patient as Denorfia is against lefties (7.3% walk rate compared to 9.5% for Denorfia) but makes up for it with power, slugging over 100 points higher than Denorfia. The most worrisome of Baker's traits is his pinch hitting record, as he has struck out in almost a third of his 165 pinch-hit plate appearances, posting an ugly .195/.267/.342 (52 wRC+) line.
Denorfia and Baker are very different kinds of hitters, but each would doubtless help the Mets. Denorfia would make a nice table-setter, batting in front of David Wright and Scott Hairston when the Mets face a lefty starter. This would be a great way to maximize the value of his high on-base percentage. Baker could bat later in the lineup and provide a power boost to help make sure that Wright and Hairston don’t get stranded on base. Denorfia probably fits better offensively, since he is less of a liability against right-handed pitchers, but it may be easier to fit Baker onto the roster, especially with Jason Bay due back soon.
I wouldn’t pay too much attention to their respective performances coming off the bench, as pinch-hitting is a split based on a very limited number of plate appearances. I believe that these two players represent what the Mets need – part-time players who can provide flexibility, won't cost much, and can come off the bench to neutralize the left-handed relievers who have been trouble for the Mets this season.