How can a decision about a starting role on a major league team come down to fifty-odd plate appearances over three weeks? How can a team dedicate another 600 plate appearances on the basis of a few muffed grounders or a seeing-eye double past a lunging infielder? It all seems so haphazard for a front office management team that has so far seemed to exude a calm and calculated aura.
Some of this frustration can be summed up by railing against the tyranny of the small sample size. Many position battles are creations of the media. Is Michael Pineda really battling for the final rotation spot, or has the team decided that he's probably ready for the show after looking at his entire minor league history, talking to his minor league coaches and dissecting his minor league data? Are Homer Bailey and David Freese, major league players with major league numbers and experience, really going to show their new teams anything they haven't seen in the next 50 PAs? Seems doubtful.
But part of the frustration here in New York is because we are possibly faced with one of the rare true position battles in baseball this year.What makes the Mets's second base battle so 'real' is that there are so many 'new' facets to this situation. The front office is new to the organization. One contender (Brad Emaus) is a Rule Five pick from another organization. Another contender (Daniel Murphy) is new to the position. The last contender (Luis Castillo) is anything but new, but has perhaps the lowest ceiling on a team looking to be more competitive in the future. The dark horse (Luis Hernandez) has proven that he has no bat, very little upside, and yet has elbowed his way into the discussion.
With all this novelty, a month of getting to know each other might actually be very important for the main characters in this novella. While the front office can research the data backing up each player, and can talk to plenty of coaches that have worked with Daniel Murphy in the past, they'll still be greenhorns. And watching Daniel Murphy take grounders at second base every day can help augment the importance of the small sample they are dealing with. Emaus has a track record, but none at the major league level. This month will be important for these three entities.
And that is immensely frustrating as a fan that understands how random a 50-PA sample can be. Remember Jeff Francouer's first 50 PAs as a Met? .312/.327/.542 with 3 home runs. And how did that turn out again? And we're going to follow that same path with the second baseman? So, yeah, making a decision that way is upsetting.
But it gets worse, as a fan, than watching a front office try to base a decision on a small sample size. In this situation, it seems likely that arguments behind the scenes will end up deciding the situation. We don't like appeals to authority, but in this case, since the evidence at hand is so frail, we have to sit back and read the tea leaves as they come in.
"Second base is an offensive position." - Rich Coutinho, paraphrasing Sandy Alderson March 16th on Metsblog
"I don't think anybody has broken away from the pack." - Sandy Alderson, March 16th as quoted by Andrew Marchand
"I want to show I can play every day," - Luis Castillo, March 16th as quoted by Andrew Marchand
Does it get any worse? Apologies to these reporters, who must do their jobs, and in some cases do them excellently, but asking the major players in a front office to opine about something like this is sort of like pulling nails. They can't tell you a decision is made until it's made. We can't give too much weight to that day's three-to-five plate appearances between the candidates. We can't trust our eyes too much, and we can't trust our ears, it seems.
So we're stuck. Isn't that... frustrating?