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2020 Mets takeaways: The outfield

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A crowded outfield picture that somehow still has a big hole in the middle.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

While the 2020 season was overall a disappointment, the performance of the Mets’ outfield certainly was not. Despite some major defensive limitations. which we’ll get to in a minute, the Mets’ outfield posted a league-best 143 wRC+—14 points better than the second place Blue Jays—en route to a league leading 6.6 fWAR.

Michael Conforto held down right field, and was a bona fide star in this shortened season. The 27-year-old posted a .322/.412/.515 line with 9 HR, good for a 157 wRC+ that was the best of his career. It’s worth noting some extensive luck on balls in play - a .412 BABIP isn’t sustainable by anyone - but anyway you slice it, Conforto put together an extremely impressive season. The Mets have him for one more year in 2021, but Steve Cohen will hopefully make extending the home-grown slugger a priority.

The other consistent part of the outfield was Brandon Nimmo, who took most of the reps in center field. Nimmo bounced back in a big way from his injury-dampened 2019 season, posting a .280/.404/.484 line in 225 PA with 8 HR and a 148 wRC+. Who knew being able to turn your head is important for hitting? His 14.7% BB% was the 15th highest rate in baseball, as he continues to demonstrate a Joey Votto-like level of discipline at the plate as one of the game’s best leadoff hitters.

Left field, meanwhile, was a bit of a mish-mash. Dom Smith, Jeff McNeil, and J.D. Davis all saw time in the outfield, and all three had a fair bit of offensive success as we talked about yesterday. That combination of players (along with some time from Nimmo and other depth options) was actually among the best in baseball, trailing only the Nationals (home of Juan Soto) and Braves in left field wRC+ this season.

While the offensive output from these primary options was for the most part excellent, the defensive performance was anything but. Conforto was essentially average in right and Jeff McNeil was slightly better than that in left, but neither Smith nor Davis are outfielders and both struggled on the grass. The worst performer of all, however, was Nimmo, whose -19.2 UZR/150 in CF was the worst among all players with at least 150 innings in center. Small sample caveats apply, but the eye-test wasn’t great for Nimmo either, as balls routinely beat him over his head.

Seemingly aware of this issue, the Mets spent most of the season looking for depth options that could play an adequate center field. Jake Marisnick was a flop as he played only 16 games due to injury after being acquired in an offseason trade. Ditto Billy Hamilton, who the Mets traded for midseason before cutting him after only 25 PA. Old friend Juan Lagares appeared in two games but didn’t even get an at bat while Ryan Cordell went hitless in his eight PA. Guillermo Heredia was the final attempt in the season’s waning days and he hit well in his brief time, but has an extensive track record of being little more than a bench bat and isn’t a real center fielder.

This defensive issue leaves the Mets in something of a bind. Conforto, Nimmo, Davis, Smith, McNeil, and Pete Alonso (sophomore slump notwithstanding) are all good enough hitters to be starting, but none can play center field. Is the offensive upside worth the rough defense? Or do the Mets need to push someone out and bring in a bona fide option—like George Springer—to sure things up? We’ll explore arguments for either side in the coming weeks, but this will be one of the bigger decisions the Mets need to make this offseason.

Ultimately, this is a very solid group to start from as the Mets build their 2020 roster. All of these players, with the exception of Conforto, are controlled through 2022, jacking up their value—either to the Mets, or to other teams in trade talks—even further. If nothing else, this group can be expected to hit and hit well, and you could do a lot worse than trotting out the same group of guys next season.