Discussing the lineup is one of the baseball fan’s most beloved pastimes. There has not been a manager in history whose lineups have not been second guessed by his team’s fans—myself doing the second-guessing included. And that’s why I bring to you:what the Mets’ lineup should actually look like.
A lot of my ideas stem from the sabermetric process of building a lineup and stray from the more conventional way of thinking when it comes to lineup construction. That is explained here, in an article I consider a must-read even though it is nearing a decade old at this point. I don’t follow these ideas to a T, but they do heavily influence my way of thinking on how any team should build its lineup in 2020. So, let’s begin.
Versus right-handed starting pitchers
- Brandon Nimmo: This one is probably pretty obvious. While this calls for, typically, one of your three best hitters, coupled with a high OBP, we can make an exception for Nimmo (I personally think he is behind Alonso, McNeil and Conforto on the Mets Best Hitter Rankings). He walks all the time. Even in 2019, when he had a serious neck injury that hindered his offensive ability greatly, he managed a .375 OBP, walking in 18.1% of his at bats. If he reverts back to his 2018 form (148 wRC+), he might actually be one of the three best hitters the Mets have. He’s basically your perfect leadoff man.
- Pete Alonso: Pete is the best hitter on the team. The player who hits in the two spot gets more at bats than most, and more chances to drive in runs. I think the best player on your team should hit second, so here we are.
- Jeff McNeil: This is probably already a little different than most expected with McNeil slotting in at three, but this is the spot I differ with the article linked above the most. While I understand the logic of putting your fifth best hitter here (namely, they get up with no one on a lot), I would trade that for later-game at bats where McNeil is hitting behind Nimmo and Pete. McNeil is the second-best hitter on the team – he was tied with Pete for first on the Mets last year in wRC+, with both finishing at 143. He probably would hit leadoff on most teams, but I cannot justify taking Nimmo from that spot, so he slots in here for me.
- Michael Conforto: Conforto might look a little high on this list to some, but he’s here against right-handed starters because of his splits (and more on his lefty/lefty issues when we get to the second lineup). For his career, he has a slash line of .264/.382/.544 against righties, which fills the quota of a conventional lineup and a Sabermetric fueled one. Because Pete is up in the two spot, Conforto filling in as the second big bopper in the lineup against righties is huge for the length of the lineup.
- J.D. Davis: Another batter that on the surface seems high, and even I had him in a different spot when I first thought of how I would build the lineup if I was in Rojas’ shoes, but this is a good spot for Davis. Even though this is against a righty, he still finished 2019 with a .305/.336/.520 line against righties, good for a 134 wRC+. He was slightly worse against righties than lefties (139 wRC+ against southpaws), but the difference is so miniscule that it does not matter. He needs to be at the heart of the Mets order regardless of who is on the bump for the opponent.
- Robinson Canó: I love Robinson Canó. He is one of my favorite Mets. As it stands, he cannot hit third like he has been in these weird faux-spring training games. He was bad, overall, last year. Injuries hampered him a ton, and he limped to a .256/.307/.428 line (93 wRC+). But I have him this high because of his second half. He got healthy (a real shocker that he played better when he was not hurt), and hit .284/.339/.541, good for a 126 wRC+. He probably isn’t the 130-140 wRC+ guy he was in his prime, but I have little doubt a healthy Canó can have a 120s wRC+, and that certainly plays. I don’t think he’s washed, but I also would not put him in the three spot, either.
- Yoenis Cespedes: Okay, so he might be a little low, but I think I have some sound reasoning here. I have no doubt he CAN hit still; I would just like to see it before I put him square in the middle of the lineup. He’s always been good when he’s been on the field, but he has just missed so much time at this point that I would like to get him so less stressful at bats before I move him up. He does have potential to be much higher than 7th, though. This may be just a temporary spot for Yoenis.
- Wilson Ramos: Wilson Ramos is far from a perfect catcher at his age, but he can still swing the bat a bit. He had a solid .288/.351/.416 line in 2019, good for a 105 wRC+ — he did not set the world alight, but most teams would gladly take that production from 1) their catcher and 2) their eight hitter. He is still above average, but worse than the rest of the lineup, so he’s down here.
- Amed Rosario: Rosario had the best season of his short career in 2019, hitting .287/.323/.432, good for an even 100 wRC+. He struggled in the first half, as he hit just .260/.299/.414 (88 wRC+), but vastly improved his line in the second half, hitting .319/.351/.453 (114 wRC+). Regardless of that, I might keep him in the nine hole anyway – if he does continue to hit better than his first half, he could serve as a table-setter of sorts for the potent top of the lineup. And frankly, the Mets offense has enough talent in it that he may be stuck down here regardless.
So, that is the lineup vs. right-handed pitching. Something that is quite obvious is how I tried to keep the lefties separated for whichever relievers they will have to see, but it is nearly impossible to balance that perfectly, especially since the Mets are right-handed heavy. Now, onto the lineup vs. lefties, which is a little different.
Versus left-handed starting pitchers
- Brandon Nimmo: You can pretty much copy and paste his blurb from above here. He is worse against lefties for his career (119 wRC+ vs. a 133 wRC+ against righties), but, again, I cannot justify dropping him lower.
- Pete Alonso: the best hitter hits second. Pete is the best hitter. Onto the three spot.
- Jeff McNeil: It’s certainly weird to have two lefties in your top three against a lefty starter, but I think McNeil is a good enough hitter that it doesn’t matter (124 wRC+ against southpaws definitely plays). The top three should stay the same. Now here is where it differs.
- J.D. Davis: Again, J.D. needs to be in the heart of the order. His 139 wRC+ against lefties was fifth on the team behind Nimmo (small sample size), Wilson Ramos (shocking, but I don’t think I would hit him fourth regardless. Also, may or may not be playing), Todd Frazier (who took his talents to Texas), and Pete Alonso (too good to hit fourth). Davis was better against lefties than McNeil and Conforto. The Mets need his bat here, because a lot of what is to come against lefties is rough.
- Yoenis Cespedes: Yes. Before you say anything, it is wildly hypocritical to put Cespedes here after saying above that I want him to ease into baseball after not playing since a random Subway Series game in the middle of 2018. But alas, the Mets have issues against lefties, and frankly I feel forced to put him here. They will face significantly fewer lefties than righties, so it’s a chance they should take.
- Wilson Ramos: Yet another surprising pick, but one look at his splits against lefties convinced me to give him an important role in the lineup against southpaws. The Buffalo absolutely decimated southpaws in 2019, to the tune of a gaudy .346/.423/.523 line (151 wRC+ !!!). You could honestly make the case for him to go even higher and I would not argue much, though I’d want him sixth to have a little bit more speed in the middle of the lineup. He has always been a lefty masher, as well. He has a career 126 wRC+ against them, compared to a 97 wRC+ against righties. That type of bat is hard to find and shoving him in the bottom of the order against a lefty would simply be a waste.
- Michael Conforto: The biggest thing holding Conforto back from being a superstar is his issues against same side pitching. In each year of his career, his wRC+’s against lefties are as follows: 2015: 39, 2016: -16, 2017: 93, 2018: 122 (!!!), and 2019: 90. Outside of 2018, he simply has not hit lefties. While in the early parts of his career he just did not play against lefties (because the bat was unusable), he has been a full-time starter the last two seasons. One was excellent, one was below average. I want him to move up against lefties, but, for me, he has to start here and hit his way higher.
- Robinson Canó: A lot of why Canó is down here is stated in the blurb above. On top of that, he never figured lefties out in 2019, hitting a miniscule .217/.282/.292 (57 wRC+) against them last year. Even during his strong second half, he hit a (weird) .186/.310/.386, good for an 82 wRC+. He just cannot be higher until he amends this performance.
- Amed Rosario: Amed has the biggest potential for upward mobility in this current lineup, but I have him down here for the reasons listed in his other blurb. He did kill lefties in 2019, hitting .311/.360/.527 (134 wRC+), so having him down here seems, frankly, like a waste. But, I would like to see Conforto and Canó get more chances against lefties before I jettison them down to the eight and nine spot. Amed being here gives the lineup incredible length, and if he continues to hit them well, a chance to move up to the seven spot.
The Mets’ offense has the potential to be a ton of fun, but there are right and wrong ways to optimize it. Trying to balance the lefties and righties the best you can (the Mets have four lefties to five righties), as well as playing to their handedness splits, could allow the Mets to optimize what is, on paper, a good hitting team.
Just, please, hit Nimmo leadoff.