Like many of you, I've been wailing and gnashing my teeth at the prospect of Eric Young Jr being installed in the leadoff spot with little regard for hitting or fielding ability.
That said, there's a little logic to the idea that he might be a better player than his 1.4 career fWAR indicates. Not a player you really want to see playing everyday, but more than just a scrub.
Let's break it down:
He's been worth about +8 runs per 600 PA over his career, which is splendid. He was worth around +14 runs per 600 PA with the Mets in 2013, which is even more splendid, but he was probably over his head. Let's go with the +8 figure. Moving on...
Now it gets tricky. Young has a career wRC+ of 77. That's bad. That's bad even by shortstop standards. He's been worth about –15 batting runs per 600 PA.
But of course, most of his career has taken place at Coors Field, perennial offense inflator. And here's the key: Eric Young is a terrible Coors hitter. He's got no power and he's an extreme groundball hitter. Of the 287 MLB players who've had 1000 PA since 2010, EY has the 15th-highest GB% and the 22nd-lowest FB%. He is deeply unsuited to gain any kind of benefit from hitting at Coors, where fly balls travel further, come at the fielders faster in the thin air, and have more real estate to land safely in.
His career OPS is .663, but his OPS as a Met is .647. If we take that .647 as a realistic "Citi Field true talent", then we can conclude that his 85 wRC+ with the Mets is a better guide to his hitting ability than his career 77 wRC+.
The Citi Field figure would give him –10 batting runs per 600 PA. Still bad, but it's a half-win improvement.
And things get thornier still. By Fangraphs Def, EY's been around –4.5 runs per 600 PA in fielding + positional runs for his career (I'm using the total Def number to try to best combine his fielding value from all three outfield positions).
But again, Coors Field rears its ugly head. For the same reasons that Coors is a great place for fly-ball hitters, it's a tough, tough place to play outfield. The stadium features the highest BABIPs in the majors pretty much every year. And UZR has not been kind to Colorado outfielders: the Rockies have a combined outfield UZR/150 of –5 since the UZR era began (2002), with an MLB-worst –202 range runs — despite the fact that many of those same outfielders have gone on to post much better defensive stats elsewhere.
You know where I'm going with this: EY posted a +4 UZR and +0.3 Def runs in his partial season with the Mets. He's fast. He even got onto the gold glove shortlist. Is he actually a plus corner outfielder? I'm not sure. But I'm willing to bet he's at least a little better than his career numbers. Maybe significantly better.
ONCE MORE WITH FIELDING
A word on second base, EY's original position. By the advanced metrics, he's been basically a scratch defender there (+2 UZR, –2 DRS, +3 TZL) in a very very small sample of 359 innings (about 40 complete games).
The Rockies never gave him a chance there at the MLB level, but the Mets brass seem a little warmer on the idea.
At the minor league level, he produced a tremendous career 5.25 range factor at 2B. In the majors, a season at that figure would place him among the top 5 second basemen in baseball for every season since 1988. He also produced a +22 TZ across 2005–2008, the period for which we have minor league total zone data. Of course, range factor is an extremely dubious stat, and minor league total zone is not exactly gospel either.
Can he play a league-average 2B? Or maybe even better? I don't know, but it's possible we'll find out if Daniel Murphy goes on the shelf at some point.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Let's do the math. If we keep his career average for baserunning but substitute his Mets averages for the other stuff, we get:
+8 baserunning, –10 batting, 0 fielding & positional, +20 replacement runs
That's ~1.8 WAR per 600 PA.
If he could be a scratch gloveman at 2B, tack on +2 positional runs and he's at 2.0 WAR.
Should he be starting over Juan Lagares? Again, probably not.
But you can see how he might legitimately not be the replacement-level black hole WAR says he was in Colorado.