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Alejandro De Aza has struggled, but Mets aren’t ready to cut him yet

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The 32-year-old has been terrible at the plate this year.

MLB: New York Mets at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Mets outfielder Alejandro De Aza has struggled mightily this year, and his lack of production might have peaked last night in the Mets’ extra-inning win over the Braves. With a runner on first an nobody out in a scoreless game in the top of the tenth inning, De Aza bunted into a double play. He had already gone 0-for-3 on the night before that, and his line for the season is now just .169/.221/.247.

Among hitters who have made at least 90 plate appearances, De Aza’s 29 wRC+ this year is the third-worst in baseball. He’s drawn walks less and struck out far more often than his career norms, and he’s barely hit for any power. At the moment, the Mets aren’t discussing designating him for assignment.

In each of the past two seasons, De Aza struggled with the team he began the season with and hit better after getting traded elsewhere. He spent most of the 2014 season with the White Sox, where he had just an 86 wRC+, but was dealt to the Orioles in late August and had a 144 wRC+ for them, albeit in just twenty games. Last year, he got off to a slow start with the Orioles with a 67 wRC+ in 30 games, got traded to the Red Sox and had a 121 wRC+ in 60 games with them, and got traded once more to the Giants, where he maintained that level of production with a 120 wRC+ in 24 games. It’s been a strange two-plus years for him, but in total, he was roughly a league-average hitter.

De Aza has swung less often this year than he did in either of the last two, both at pitches in and outside the strike zone. The more drastic drop has been in the zone, where he’s swung at 61.1 percent of pitches after swinging at them 70 percent of the time over the past two years. When he has swung, though, he’s been really ineffective, as he’s made contact just 71.8 percent of the time, by far a career low. So it’s not surprising that his strikeout rate has spiked to 31.3 percent.

When he has made contact, the results haven’t been great, either. De Aza has just a .241 batting average on balls in play, very far below his .327 career mark. Some regression to the mean there would help move the rest of his numbers toward his career norms, but that isn’t the only thing that would need to change for De Aza to be an asset going forward.

A left-handed hitter, De Aza has always fared better against right-handed pitching in his major league career, with a 103 wRC+ against righties and just a 77 wRC+ against lefties. But the Mets have deployed him appropriately this year based on those splits, and just 13 of his 96 plate appearances have been against lefties.

In terms of pitch types, De Aza has been at his worst this year against three pitches: slider, curveball, and changeup. While he hasn’t swung-and-missed at fastballs all that often, he has done so at least 24 percent of the time against all three of those pitches. He’s always whiffed on those pitches more often—as hitters generally do—but the rates this year are much greater than they were in each of the past two seasons.

At the moment, the Mets have less of an outfield logjam than they did when the season began. Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson still occupy center and right field, respectively. But Juan Lagares, who has played the role of fourth outfielder, is on the disabled list with a thumb injury. Michael Conforto, who was so great after being called up last July and in the first month of this season, is now in the minors after hitting very poorly for almost two months.

Brandon Nimmo is up to take Conforto’s spot and figures to get regular playing time over De Aza. If Nimmo hits well enough to stay in the big leagues and Conforto works things out in Vegas and prompts his return to the Mets, that could leave De Aza as the odd man out. If Lagares comes off the disabled list, that, too, could put the Mets in a position to cut an outfielder. For now, it makes sense that the Mets are sticking with De Aza, frustrating as he’s been to watch this year, but there’s not much silver lining in his numbers this season.