Dr. Gold Glove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The K

USA TODAY Sports

Matt den Dekker has plenty of flaws. Given the state of the team right now, why not let him get considerable time in the field and at the plate at the MLB level and see what happens? It's not like past Mets teams haven't had success with offensive liabilities at the plate, but promise in the field.

65, 91, 64, 90.

If those were RBI or stolen base totals, those would be some impressive numbers. Unfortunately, this sequence does not represent a positive accumulation of stats. It is the number of strikeouts that Matt den Dekker accrued in 2011 and 2012 during his time with the St. Lucie Mets, the Binghamton Mets, and the Buffalo Bisons. Making things worse are his equally atrocious walk rates: 24, 27, 20, and 14. Unlike the strikeouts, which have stayed static, the walks have trended down.

Year Team At-Bats Strikeouts Walks K % BB % BB/K
2011 A+ 267 65 24 21.5 7.9 .37
2011 AA 272 91 27 29.0 8.6 .30
2012 AA 238 64 20 23.9 7.5 .31
2012 AAA 295 90 14 28.4 4.4 .16

With the recent injury to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the odds that den Dekker makes the team out of Spring Training increase. Despite only being a bone bruise that will keep him out for a week or so, it will highlight two things: den Dekker's own skills, as he gets more time at the plate and in the field, and the Mets' thin depth at the position. As things are, den Dekker is 25 and will turn 26 in August. He would otherwise be playing in Triple-A, so he's on the cusp of having to put up or shut up, in terms of proving he can be a major league player with any kind of role.

If Nieuwenhuis isn't the starting center fielder, for whatever reason, none of the other names in camp is exciting or intriguing enough to bump den Dekker off the roster. Plus, den Dekker is, on the surface, the only real center fielder of the bunch who might fill in for Kirk for any prolonged period of time.

And, oh, that defense. If there's one thing you can't trash Matt den Dekker about, it's his outfield defense. The reviews are glowing. While there are no public defensive metrics that can give us a more accurate and concise gauge of how good his glove is, it certainly passes the eye test. Scouts universally agree that his glove is a legitimate plus attribute and that it could put him in the running for a Gold Glove.

In order for den Dekker to become a regular major league player, he still seemingly has a large hump to get over. Very few major leaguers have gone on to have any kind of success with strikeout and walk numbers like his. Between 2011 and 2012, he averaged a 25.7 strikeout percentage and a 7.1 walk percentage in about 1,000 at-bats. During that same period of time, a few other major leaguers outfielders have had similar percentages. The difference between those players, and den Dekker? Unlike the Floridian lefty, the linked players have mastered the art of hitting MLB pitchers, despite whatever their peripheral numbers might suggest. Plugging den Dekker's 2011 and 2012 numbers into a major league equivalency calculator, the results are less than inspiring:

Year Team MLE ABs MLE Batting Line MLE BB MLE K Stolen Bases
2011 St. Lucie 276 .227/.278/.340 16 72 9/15
2011 Binghamton 281 .178/.240/.305 19 99 10/16
2012 Binghamton 245 .258/.308/.409 14 70 8/16
2012 Buffalo 298 .186/.219/..303 11 96 9/11

Those are not very good hypothetical equivalencies. The best of that bunch, .258/.308/.409, would tolerable but still not particularly good. At least we would have his defense, though. And then it hit me: What player do you immediately think of when you say, "Well, he can't hit a lick but at least he plays really good defense?"

(A special thanks to Youtube user TreacherousTetractys for uploading this time capsule)

As a child of the mid 80s, growing up and coming of age in the 90s, Rey Ordonez is the single greatest defensive player I've ever seen. I never saw Keith Hernandez play. I never saw Ozzie Smith play. I don't really remember Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime. I do have many memories of Rey Ordonez, and how he made challenging plays at one of the most defensively challenging positions look routine. I also have memories of his bat, or lack thereof.

Year Games Batting Line Strikeout Percentage Walk Percentage Total Zone fWAR
1996 151 .257/.289/.303 10 4.2 11 0.3
1997 120 .216/.255/.256 9.2 4.6 20 0.8
1998 153 .246/.278/.299 10.9 4.2 -4 -1.2
1999 154 .258/.319/.317 10 8.3 33 3.3
2000 45 .188/.278/.226 10.3 11 -1 -0.7
2001 149 .247/.299/.336 8.5 6.7 4 0.4
2002 144 .254/.292/.324 9.2 4.8 -5 1.4

Many malign Ordonez because of his lack of any kind of presence in the line-up, or because of the less-than-pleasant words he had for the Mets organization and their fans when the he and the team parted ways, but I think that's missing the point. He was Rey Ordonez, possibly the greatest defensive shortstop in baseball history in a single season (1999), and certainly the greatest defensive shortstop of the ‘90s.

For the most part, Ordonez was a replacement-level player, peaking in 1999 at 3.3 fWAR, with all of his value coming from his glove. For as much as Ordonez and den Dekker are similar in that they possess very good defensive abilities at premium positions, have very low walk rates, and have generally low batting averages, den Dekker is a much more dynamic player.

Rey Ordonez has a career slugging percentage of .310, a career 54 wRC+, a career 59 OPS+, and once hit a whopping 3 home runs in a single season in 2001. Matt den Dekker his a minor league career slugging percentage of .459, a minor league career wRC+ of 122, and hit 11 home runs in 2011. Ordonez once stole 11 bases in 16 tries, and for his career was 28 for 52, good for a 54% success rate. den Dekker stole 24 bases in 34 tries in 2011, and is 48 for 67 in his career, which represents a 72% success rate. Despite what we've seen from his glove, it would be a little foolish to immediately pencil den Dekker in as a perennial Gold Glover, expect that he toes the replacement level line despite a general lack of offense. The fact that he would, on the surface, have other tools to augment not being as statistically superior with the glove as we might hope and/or assume helps, though.

Do I want Matt den Dekker to improve? Yes. Would I prefer that he hits .300/.400/.500 with amazing defense? Absolutely. Even with all of this spring training optimism, that's not very likely.

That said, if he makes the team, I'm not going to sweat all of the strikeouts, the lack of walks, and a batting line that probably will be pedestrian. The team has gotten by — and even thrived — with similar players. At this point, I am throwing my hands up and saying, "Bring on MDD!"

Let's see if den Dekker can contribute in a positive way. What's the worst that can happen? With an outfield of Lucas Duda and a variety of unproven AAAA players, converted infielder-to-outfielder projects, veterans looking for one last hurrah, and various other ne'er-do-wells, we sure as hell could use the defense.

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