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How Should The Mets Split Outfield Playing Time When Beltran Returns?

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With Carlos Beltran's return imminent, the Mets have a good problem -- Angel Pagan. According to Fangraphs WAR, Pagan is the second most valuable player on the Mets, his 2.5 WAR just 3 runs less than David Wright. Given Pagan's success and the nature of Beltran's injuries, the best option for the Mets might be to leave Angel in center and relegate Beltran to rightfield. The Mets are insistent, however, that Beltran will return to centerfield, something I won't mind, and that Pagan will become a backup, something I definitely mind. 

In a straight choice between either Jeff Francoeur or Angel Pagan playing 100% of the remaining innings in RF, I would of course choose Pagan. Angel fields better, he hits better, he runs the bases better, and he plays to Citi Field's strengths better. Francoeur throws harder. Angel has better hair. There's no comparison. 

Francoeur should at least play against lefties, though, right? Francoeur has a career .832 OPS against lefties as a RHB. Pagan, a switch-hitter, has managed just a meager .697 OPS vs. left-handers. 

We can't just accept these numbers at face value, however. For the reason a player with a platoon split of .600 OPSvR/.900 OPSvL isn't as favorable a matchup against a given lefty than a player with a platoon split of .800/.900, Pagan, the superior hitter to Francoeur for his career, can't actually be said to be 135 points of OPS worse than Francoeur against lefties.

For simplicity's sake, we'll just assume .697 OPS is Pagan's true talent against lefties. While the sample size isn't ideal, switch-hitters do display the most variation in their platoon splits. For Francoeur, we'll regress him against 2200 PA of a league average platoon ratio, as recommended by The Book and outlined by devil_fingers.

Francoeur's career platoon split is .349 wOBA vL -.305 wOBA vR/ .317 career wOBA =13.9%. I'm going to use the same league average split Matt used in his article, 6.1%. So regressed over 2200 PA...

(.1388*912+.0611*2200)/(912+2200)=8.4% 

Adjusting for our new estimation of Francoeur's true talent we get an 8.4% split compared to 13.8%. Also as Matt did, I'm going to split the percentage based on his career % of PA against lefties (~28%). 8.4%*72%=+6% wOBA vs. lefthanded pitching. Finally, we find Francoeur's estimated true talent against lefties is .336 wOBA, essentially average.

We also have to account for defense. Pagan's a carrer +7 UZR/150 in CF with adequate sample size, so I'll estimate about +15 RS/150 as a RF. Weighting Francoeur's most recent seasons more than his great defensive years with the Braves, I'd say he's a neutral RF.  

Over roughly 100 remaining PA remaining versus lefty pitching:

Games 26 26
PA 100 100
Fielding Innings 230 230
wOBA 0.336 0.304
DRS/150 0 15
Batting Runs 0.6 -2.6
Fielding Runs 0 2.6
WAR 0.06 0

 

The difference comes out to be completely negligible. Over the course of a few seasons there might be a slight advantage in platooning them, but even then, Pagan's defense and offensive improvements could make up the difference pretty easily. Since Pagan is hitting so well recently and Beltran's defense may be compromised by his knee problems, I would personally assume Pagan starts every game in rightfield. Beltran will likely need to be rested though, which should be coordinated against lefties, so Francoeur can start, shifting Pagan back to center. 

All things considered, here are the optimal alignments:

vs. RHP

  • 100%--Bay-Beltran-Pagan

vs. LHP

  • 75%--Bay-Beltran-Pagan
  • 25%--Bay-Pagan-Francoeur

Contrary to the Mets' rumored plan to leave Pagan with the least playing time of the four outfielders going forward, Pagan should probably be the last to see the bench, before Bay even. I fear the Mets have fallen into the trap of thinking most good fourth outfielders are athletic and speedy; Angel Pagan is athletic and speedy. Most good rightfielders hit for power and have strong arms; Francoeur hits for power and has a strong arm. These vague notions, however, ignore the realities of each player. Francoeur's a nice, average player, but he's a fourth outfielder on this team.