clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How has the Mets' defense fared in the Sandy Alderson years?

New, 28 comments

Led by center fielder extraordinaire Juan Lagares, the Mets' defense has improved in several key areas in 2014.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Mets have one of the game’s best defenders in center field phenom Juan Lagares. Lagares’s range, arm strength, and overall defensive wizardry reveal themselves both to the naked eye and in the defensive metrics. In just 222 major league games, Lagares has saved the Mets a mind-boggling 58 runs on defense alone.

Lagares’s emergence is an important reminder of the impact that a good (or bad) defender can have on a game. A diving play made in a key spot or a crucial error committed by a defender can very well be the difference between a win and a loss, particularly in the low-run-scoring environment that exists today. By routinely converting potential hits into outs, players like Lagares save their teams a surprising number of runs and wins over the course of a season. Perhaps teams’ growing embrace of defensive shifts reflects, in part, a newfound emphasis on converting batted balls into outs.

In light of this renewed interest in defense, let’s examine how the Mets have fared defensively in recent years. Below, you will find, broken down by position, the team’s defensive output during each of Sandy Alderson’s four years as GM, with the team’s 2010 stats included as a point of comparison. We’ll use defensive runs saved (DRS) for simplicity’s sake (while acknowledging the imperfections inherent in all defensive metrics). All stats are current as of Labor Day morning.

Pitcher

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS
R.A. Dickey 8 R.A. Dickey 10 R.A. Dickey 6 Jeremy Hefner 3 Jon Niese 2
Johan Santana 4 Jon Niese 3 Bobby Parnell 4 Dillon Gee 3 Dillon Gee 2
Elmer Dessens 2 Pedro Beato 2 Jon Niese 3 LaTroy Hawkins 2 Rafael Montero 2
Jon Niese 2 Miguel Batista 1 Matt Harvey 2 Scott Rice 2 Kyle Farnsworth 1
Hisanori Takahashi 2 Chris Capuano 1 Johan Santana 1 Shaun Marcum 2 Jacob deGrom 1
Raul Valdes 1 Dillon Gee 1 Tim Byrdak 1 Collin McHugh 1 Bartolo Colon 0
Dillon Gee 1 Ryota Igarashi 1 Dillon Gee 1 Carlos Torres 1 Buddy Carlyle 0
Bobby Parnell 1 D.J. Carrasco 0 Miguel Batista 0 David Aardsma 0 Dana Eveland 0
Ryota Igarashi 1 Taylor Buchholz 0 Pedro Beato 0 Frank Francisco 0 Gonzalez Germen 0
Pedro Feliciano 0 Blaine Boyer 0 Jon Rauch 0 Tim Byrdak 0 John Lannan 0
Sean Green 0 Chris Young 0 D.J. Carrasco 0 Sean Henn 0 Daisuke Matsuzaka 0
Tobi Stoner 0 Josh Stinson 0 Jeurys Familia 0 Robert Carson 0 Bobby Parnell 0
Pat Misch 0 Daniel Herrera 0 Mike Pelfrey 0 Scott Atchison 0 Zack Wheeler 0
Manny Acosta 0 Dale Thayer 0 Jack Egbert 0 Anthony Recker 0 Scott Rice -1
Fernando Nieve -1 Pat Misch 0 Collin McHugh 0 Jeurys Familia 0 Vic Black -1
John Maine -1 Mike O'Connor 0 Rob Johnson 0 Gonzalez Germen 0 Josh Edgin -1
Mike Pelfrey -1 Chris Schwinden 0 Garrett Olson 0 Aaron Laffey 0 Jose Valverde -2
Jenrry Mejia -1 Tim Byrdak -1 Josh Edgin 0 Vic Black 0 Jeurys Familia -2
Oliver Perez -2 Manny Acosta -1 Jeremy Hefner -1 Bobby Parnell 0 Carlos Torres -3
Francisco Rodriguez -2 Jason Isringhausen -2 Justin Hampson -1 Matt Harvey 0 Jenrry Mejia -6
Francisco Rodriguez -2 Elvin Ramirez -1 Brandon Lyon -1
Bobby Parnell -3 Robert Carson -1 Aaron Harang -1
Mike Pelfrey -6 Chris Schwinden -1 Pedro Feliciano -1
Manny Acosta -1 Jon Niese -1
Frank Francisco -2 Daisuke Matsuzaka -1
Ramon Ramirez -3 Jenrry Mejia -1
Jenrry Mejia -4 Josh Edgin -1
Chris Young -5 Greg Burke -3
Zack Wheeler -4








Total DRS 14 Total DRS 4 Total DRS -2 Total DRS 0 Total DRS -8
MLB Rank 4 MLB Rank 11 MLB Rank 16 MLB Rank 15 MLB Rank 26

It’s hard to read too much into pitchers’ defensive metrics, but R.A. Dickey’s numbers do stand out. In his three years as a Met, Dickey compiled an impressive 24 DRS. Dickey is very good at fielding his position, and earned his first Gold Glove award last year as a Blue Jay.

Catcher

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS
Henry Blanco 2 Mike Nickeas 1 Josh Thole 4 Anthony Recker 1 Anthony Recker 4
Mike Nickeas -1 Josh Thole -4 Kelly Shoppach 0 Juan Centeno 1 Taylor Teagarden -1
Rod Barajas -2 Ronny Paulino -6 Rob Johnson -1 Travis d'Arnaud -2 Juan Centeno -1
Josh Thole -3 Mike Nickeas -3 John Buck -9 Travis d'Arnaud -12
Total DRS -4 Total DRS -9 Total DRS 0 Total DRS -9 Total DRS -10
MLB Rank 20 MLB Rank 30 MLB Rank 16 MLB Rank 26 MLB Rank 30

Dickey’s presence is felt here as well. The perils of catching a knuckleball every fifth day probably contributed to Mets catchers’ poor defensive ratings during Dickey’s tenure with the team (although Josh Thole did improve substantially in 2012). Keep in mind that the DRS metric overlooks the impact of pitch framing, an extremely important part of catchers’ games. Therefore, Travis d’Arnaud might be much better than his terrible DRS suggests, while John Buck was probably even worse.

First Base

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS
Ike Davis 12 Nick Evans 9 Lucas Duda 2 Josh Satin 3 Lucas Duda 7
Fernando Tatis 2 Daniel Murphy 8 Daniel Murphy 1 Justin Turner 1 Ike Davis 1
Mike Jacobs 1 Josh Satin 1 Zach Lutz 0 Ike Davis 1 Eric Campbell 1
Mike Hessman 1 Ike Davis 1 Justin Turner 0 Andrew Brown 0 Daniel Murphy 0
Alex Cora 0 Lucas Duda 0 Vinny Rottino -1 Zach Lutz 0 Josh Satin 0
Frank Catalanotto 0 Val Pascucci -1 Ike Davis -3 Lucas Duda -1
Daniel Murphy -2
Total DRS 16 Total DRS 18 Total DRS -1 Total DRS 2 Total DRS 9
MLB Rank 2 MLB Rank 1 MLB Rank 18 MLB Rank 14 MLB Rank 5

A few interesting notes here. First, Ike Davis had an incredibly strong rookie year at first base, with a 12 DRS that ranked first among National League first basemen. More improbably, after Davis’s season-ending injury in 2011, Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans more than picked up the slack, posting a combined 17 DRS at the position. After a couple years of mediocre play by Mets’ first basemen, Lucas Duda has been one of the better first basemen in the game in 2014.

Second Base

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS
Luis Hernandez 4 Ruben Tejada 1 Omar Quintanilla 0 Eric Young Jr. 0 Eric Campbell 0
Luis Castillo 1 Scott Hairston 0 Justin Turner -1 Jordany Valdespin 0 Omar Quintanilla 0
Fernando Tatis 0 Chin-lung Hu -1 Jordany Valdespin -2 Wilmer Flores -1 Wilmer Flores -1
Justin Turner 0 Daniel Murphy -2 Ronny Cedeno -2 Justin Turner -2 Dilson Herrera -1
Joaquin Arias 0 Willie Harris -2 Daniel Murphy -11 Daniel Murphy -13 Eric Young Jr. -1
Alex Cora -1 Brad Emaus -3 Daniel Murphy -10
Ruben Tejada -1 Justin Turner -13
Total DRS 3 Total DRS -20 Total DRS -16 Total DRS -16 Total DRS -13
MLB Rank 13 MLB Rank 30 MLB Rank 26 MLB Rank 29 MLB Rank 29

Here you see the results of a deliberate organizational decision to sacrifice defense for offense. While DRS is not kind to Luis Castillo’s earlier years with the Mets (-13 DRS in 2008, -12 DRS in 2009), the team certainly did not help its cause defensively by making Daniel Murphy a full-time second baseman. The numbers bear out what we’ve seen on the field every night, which is that Murphy struggles with the glove. And Justin Turner wasn’t any better as the team’s regular second baseman in 2011.

Third Base

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS
Mike Hessman 2 Daniel Murphy 2 David Wright 16 David Wright 5 David Wright 14
Fernando Tatis 0 Nick Evans 0 Ronny Cedeno 0 Zach Lutz 1 Josh Satin 0
Luis Hernandez 0 Josh Satin 0 Vinny Rottino 0 Justin Turner 0 Wilmer Flores 0
Justin Turner -1 Justin Turner -1 Justin Turner -1 Omar Quintanilla 0 Eric Campbell -2
David Wright -14 Willie Harris -4 Josh Satin -1
David Wright -6 Wilmer Flores -2
Total DRS -13 Total DRS -9 Total DRS 15 Total DRS 3 Total DRS 12
MLB Rank 23 MLB Rank 22 MLB Rank 2 MLB Rank 11 MLB Rank 5

Like Murphy’s defensive metrics, David Wright’s numbers clearly mirror what fans have seen with their own eyes—namely, that the third baseman’s defense has fluctuated wildly over the course of his career. After playing a solid third base and winning back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2007 and 2008, Wright struggled mightily from 2009 to 2011. In 2012, he turned things around and posted a spectacular year with the glove. Although he didn’t win it that year, Wright was arguably more deserving of a Gold Glove than he was for either of the two seasons he actually won the award. After a strong 2013, he’s been an elite defensive third baseman so far this year.

Shortstop

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS
Luis Hernandez 0 David Wright 0 Omar Quintanilla 1 Justin Turner 1 Ruben Tejada 4
Ruben Tejada -1 Chin-lung Hu 0 Ruben Tejada 0 Wilfredo Tovar 1 Eric Campbell 0
Joaquin Arias -1 Ruben Tejada -1 David Wright 0 Jordany Valdespin 0 Omar Quintanilla 0
Alex Cora -1 Justin Turner -1 Justin Turner -1 Ruben Tejada -6 Wilmer Flores -2
Jose Reyes -4 Jose Reyes -13 Ronny Cedeno -2 Omar Quintanilla -8
Jordany Valdespin -3
Total DRS -7 Total DRS -15 Total DRS -5 Total DRS -12 Total DRS 2
MLB Rank 21 MLB Rank 27 MLB Rank 19 MLB Rank 24 MLB Rank 12

The defensive metrics are surprisingly unkind to Jose Reyes, though Mets shortstops haven’t exactly lit the world on fire since he left the team. The Mets’ shortstop defense has consistently been in the bottom half of the league for years. Coupled with Murphy’s poor play at second, the Mets’ up-the-middle defense has been a troubling Achilles’ heel and has, at times, struggled to turn even routine double plays.

Left Field

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS
Angel Pagan 4 Mike Baxter 1 Scott Hairston 3 Eric Young Jr. 3 Chris Young 4
Jason Bay 3 Lucas Duda 0 Kirk Nieuwenhuis 1 Mike Baxter 2 Eric Young Jr. 3
Nick Evans 1 Nick Evans 0 Vinny Rottino 0 Kirk Nieuwenhuis 1 Eric Campbell 2
Jesus Feliciano 0 Daniel Murphy 0 Fred Lewis -1 Andrew Brown 0 Kirk Nieuwenhuis 2
Joaquin Arias 0 Fernando Martinez 0 Lucas Duda -2 Justin Turner 0 Matt den Dekker 1
Frank Catalanotto 0 Jason Pridie 0 Mike Baxter -2 Matt den Dekker 0 Lucas Duda 0
Gary Matthews Jr. 0 Scott Hairston -1 Jason Bay -3 Collin Cowgill 0 Bobby Abreu -1
Fernando Martinez 0 Jason Bay -3 Jordany Valdespin -4 Jordany Valdespin -1 Curtis Granderson -1
Lucas Duda -1 Willie Harris -5 Lucas Duda -11 Andrew Brown -1
Chris Carter -2
Total DRS 5 Total DRS -8 Total DRS -8 Total DRS -6 Total DRS 9
MLB Rank 14 MLB Rank 22 MLB Rank 26 MLB Rank 23 MLB Rank 7

No surprises here. Jason Bay and company were mediocre, Lucas Duda was a liability, and this year’s combination of Chris Young, Eric Young Jr., and others has been a major improvement. Like Murphy’s struggles at second, Duda’s poor defensive play was a fairly predictable consequence of moving him out of position in order to keep his bat in the lineup.

Center Field

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS
Angel Pagan 13 Jason Pridie 2 Andres Torres 3 Juan Lagares 26 Juan Lagares 30
Nick Evans 0 Scott Hairston 1 Fred Lewis 0 Marlon Byrd 0 Matt den Dekker 4
Jesus Feliciano -1 Willie Harris -1 Mike Baxter 0 Matt den Dekker 0 Kirk Nieuwenhuis 2
Gary Matthews Jr. -3 Angel Pagan -8 Kirk Nieuwenhuis -1 Eric Young Jr. 0 Eric Young Jr. 0
Carlos Beltran -5 Jordany Valdespin -2 Kirk Nieuwenhuis -1 Curtis Granderson -2
Scott Hairston -3 Jordany Valdespin -2 Chris Young -4
Collin Cowgill -2
Rick Ankiel -3
Total DRS 4 Total DRS -6 Total DRS -3 Total DRS 18 Total DRS 30
MLB Rank 11 MLB Rank 21 MLB Rank 18 MLB Rank 4 MLB Rank 1

After playing a great center field in 2010, Angel Pagan struggled in 2011, followed by a lost year for Met center fielders in 2012. Since his call-up last April, it’s been the Juan Lagares Show in Flushing. Despite possessing league-average offensive abilities (98 wRC+), Lagares’s defensive prowess makes him a strong 3.5-WAR player.

Right Field

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS Name DRS
Jeff Francoeur 16 Mike Baxter 2 Jordany Valdespin 1 Marlon Byrd 9 Curtis Granderson 3
Angel Pagan 4 Jason Pridie 1 Fred Lewis -1 Juan Lagares 2 Andrew Brown 1
Jesus Feliciano 2 Fernando Martinez 0 Mike Baxter -2 Mike Baxter 2 Matt den Dekker 0
Gary Matthews Jr. 1 Carlos Beltran 0 Kirk Nieuwenhuis -2 Matt den Dekker 1 Kirk Nieuwenhuis 0
Fernando Martinez 0 Nick Evans -1 Scott Hairston -4 Kirk Nieuwenhuis 0 Eric Campbell 0
Nick Evans 0 Scott Hairston -1 Lucas Duda -16 Rick Ankiel 0 Chris Young -2
Chris Carter -1 Willie Harris -2 Andrew Brown 0 Bobby Abreu -7
Lucas Duda -12 Jordany Valdespin -3
Total DRS 22 Total DRS -13 Total DRS -24 Total DRS 11 Total DRS -5
MLB Rank 3 MLB Rank 28 MLB Rank 30 MLB Rank 7 MLB Rank 20

Jeff Francoeur was a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder in 2010. By replacing him with Lucas Duda, the Mets went from having one of the game’s top-three right fielders to one of its bottom three. As a result, the team lost an incredible 46 runs in right field defense alone from 2010 to 2012. Marlon Byrd and Curtis Granderson were both major improvements, although the Mets’ decision to play Bobby Abreu for nearly 200 innings in right field this year proved costly.

Team Totals

Year DRS MLB Rank
2010 40 7
2011 -58 27
2012 -44 26
2013 -9 19
2014 26 8

While it’s difficult to assign credit or blame to the organization for specific players’ defensive contributions, there were a few deliberate organizational decisions that deserve scrutiny. The strong defensive outfield that Alderson inherited turned into one of the weaker outfields in baseball for the next two and a half years. Part of this was the result of defensive declines by Angel Pagan and Jason Bay, but the decision to play guys like Lucas Duda and Jordany Valdespin out of position greatly exacerbated the Mets’ defensive struggles.

To their credit, the Mets changed course during the 2013 season by moving Lucas Duda to first, trading for Eric Young Jr., and calling up Juan Lagares. They continued to improve their outfield defense this year by bringing in Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. The front office and coaching staff also deserve credit for playing Lagares nearly every day (despite some occasional and inexplicable lapses), even in the face of less-than-stellar offensive production. The organization correctly recognizes that Lagares’s defensive prowess makes up for his offensive shortcomings, and then some.

The team’s middle-infield defense still leaves a lot to be desired. Despite his admirable efforts to learn the position, Daniel Murphy remains a defensive liability at second base. Ruben Tejada is having his best season with the glove, but never developed into the defensive whiz at short that some had expected. The prospect of a Wilmer Flores-Dilson Herrera double play combo doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either. Meanwhile, David Wright has made an impressive turnaround at third. It’s obviously impossible to quantify the coaching staff's influence, but it is worth noting that Wright’s turnaround coincided with the hiring of Tim Teufel as the Mets’ third base coach and "secretary of infield defense."

It will be interesting to see how the front office decides to fill the holes at shortstop and left field in the offseason. Clearly, the Mets’ greatest needs are on the offensive side of the game, but if recent history is a guide, the organization may be reluctant to acquire a strong offensive player that represents a significant defensive liability. That teams (and fans) are turning more attention to defensive ability when evaluating players is an encouraging sign that defense is enjoying a welcome resurgence in the game.