One of the 2016 Mets’ biggest strengths appears to be their depth. In Juan Lagares, Alejandro De Aza, Wilmer Flores, and Kevin Plawecki, the Mets have four bench players who would probably start for several other teams.
The Mets’ depth offers them the opportunity to do what both the 1969 and 1986 championship Mets teams did so skillfully: employ platoons. Let’s explore what platoon advantages the Mets can exploit against both right-handed and left-handed pitching.
The ideal infield setup against right-handed pitchers is pretty straightforward. As you can see below, based both on the players’ career track records and their numbers in 2015, the Mets’ best infield would have Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate, Lucas Duda at first, Neil Walker at second, David Wright at third, and Asdrubal Cabrera at short. To measure players’ production, we’re using wRC+, arguably the best catchall offensive stat, which scales hitters’ production to 100 (100 being league average, 90 being 10% below league average, and 110 being 10% above league average).
|Player||Career wRC+ vs. RHP||2015 wRC+ vs. RHP|
Things get a bit more interesting against lefties. Conventional wisdom is that Wilmer Flores will start most games—somewhere on the diamond—against left-handed pitchers. This makes sense, given that he hit an excellent .310/.355/.600 (162 wRC+) with seven home runs and 16 RBIs in 107 plate appearances against lefties last year. The question is whom Flores will replace in the lineup.
Terry Collins has addressed Flores’s role several times. In almost every instance, the Mets’ skipper mentioned Wright and Duda as the two players with whom Flores will primarily share time. Wright will probably sit from time to time as a precautionary measure, rather than in a strict platoon scenario. Indeed, Wright should never sit against left-handed pitching, which he’s crushed throughout his career.
It’s interesting that Collins repeatedly mentions Duda as a possible platoon candidate. Were Flores to platoon with an infielder, it seems that Walker would be the better candidate, given his struggles against left-handed pitching.
Both last year and throughout their careers, Duda has hit lefties better than Walker has. In fact, Duda demolished left-handed pitching last year, hitting an outstanding .285/.333/.545 (144 wRC+) with seven home runs and 21 RBIs in 132 plate appearances. While his career numbers against lefties—.229/.300/.369, 91 wRC+—are slightly below league average, Duda has hardly been a black hole when facing left-handers.
Collins seems reluctant to even discuss Walker in a platoon role. Knowing Collins, that probably has to do with Walker’s veteran status and the fact that he hits from both sides of the plate. In fact, Collins recently admitted as much, saying, "We know his numbers against lefties aren't great but he's still a switch hitter."
Neither factor justifies starting Walker over Duda against southpaws. No matter how you slice it, Duda is a better hitter against lefties than Walker is. For that matter, so are both Wilmer Flores and Eric Campbell. Matt Reynolds, who crushed left-handed pitching to the tune of a .297/.342/.510 batting line last year in Triple-A, would be another candidate to start at second against lefties.
In other words, Walker should be the Mets’ third-string second baseman when a southpaw is on the hill. (As an aside, Ruben Tejada, whom the Mets just placed on waivers, has been slightly above league average against lefties in both 2015 and over the course of his career. The fact that he could have been such a valuable infield platoon option makes the Mets' decision to waive him a bit puzzling.)
Another scenario to explore would be to start d'Arnaud or Plawecki at first base against lefties while the other starts behind the plate. Plawecki would surely be better against lefties than he was last year in a sample size of just 42 plate appearances. That said, given Duda's outstanding production against left-handers in 2015 and his tolerable career numbers against them, he seems to have earned the first opportunity to start when they're on the mound.
Finally, the Mets could consider starting Campbell at first when facing lefties. However, considering that Duda and Campbell have similar career numbers against lefties, and that Duda was much better against them last year, Duda again appears to be the better choice. Based both on recent and career production, the Mets’ ideal infield against lefties would seem to have d’Arnaud behind the plate, Duda at first, Flores at second, Wright at third, and Cabrera at short.
|Player||Career wRC+ vs. lefties||2015 wRC+ vs. lefties|
As is the case with the infield, the best outfield alignment against righties is obvious: Conforto in left, Cespedes in center, and Granderson in right. All three players have been excellent both last year and throughout their careers against right-handers.
|Player||Career wRC+ vs. righties||2015 wRC+ vs. righties|
|Alejandro De Aza||106||117|
Against lefties, it’s clear that both Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares should start. Of the Mets’ five outfielders, those two have far and away the best track records against southpaws. The question is what to do with Conforto and Granderson.
Based on statements from Collins and hitting coach Kevin Long, the Mets seem prepared to give Conforto at-bats against lefties. Indeed, Conforto has a strong track record in the minors against left-handed pitchers, hitting .333 (17-for-51) against them last year in Double-A. However, given Collins’s loyalty to his veterans, it’s hard to see him benching Granderson against all lefties.
What’s more likely to happen is that Conforto, Granderson, and possibly even Cespedes get occasional days off against left-handed pitchers to make room for Lagares. That said, the ideal situation to start the year would probably have Cespedes (who does not like playing right field) starting in left, Lagares in center, and Conforto in right against southpaws. While Conforto should get the opportunity to prove himself against lefties, the Mets could always shift to a four-man shuffle if he struggles.
|Player||Career wRC+ vs. lefties||2015 wRC+ vs. lefties|
|Alejandro De Aza||79||23|
Simply put, the Mets have too many position players vying for too few positions. It’s a great problem to have. By embracing platoons, the Mets can use their deep arsenal of talent in a way that makes sense, and carry on the tradition of previous great Mets teams.