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Injuries stalled an otherwise fine season for Luis Guillorme

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Guillorme played well when not hurt

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Mets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

As has become an annual tradition, Luis Guillorme’s seasonal highlight came during spring training. Leading off the bottom of the fifth inning against the Cardinals, Guillorme faced fireballer Jordan Hicks in what was Hicks’s first appearance of the year. Hicks threw a first-pitch strike and then got Guillorme to swing through a fastball to make the count 0-2, and then Guillorme did something magical. Fouling off sixteen of the next twenty pitches, Guillorme worked the most laborious walk of his life, rallying the Mets dugout and forcing Hicks out of the game after facing just one batter. And as was the case when Guillorme first made a spring training highlight, his following regular season play didn’t produce nearly as many headlines as did that one at-bat.

But that doesn’t mean that Guillorme had a bad season. Entering the season as a third-string infielder, Guillorme still provided positive value despite injuries and his place on the depth chart.

Guillorme’s flexibility and excellence on the infield solidified his place on the roster even after the Francisco Lindor signing, as the Robinson Canó suspension left the Mets an infielder short heading into 2021. Coupled with his improving offensive production over his past three seasons, many fans suspected that Guillorme could have evolved into a regular player or even a full-time starter if the team couldn’t find a solution at third base. The signing of Jonathan Villar provided him some competition heading into the season, but considering both players had complementary skills, it seemed likely they would split time wherever they were needed on the infield.

But then a couple things happened. Guillorme suffered an oblique strain in late April that put him out for six weeks, and coupled with J.D. Davis’s injury in early May, this gave Villar the starting role at third base. Villar proceeded to ball out, effectively earning the starting position for the rest of the season as a competent veteran and electric leadoff batter for a stretch in the second half.

And that was too bad for Guillorme, because before his injury he was hitting even better than Villar. Guillorme was hitting for an .812 OPS in 23 plate appearances before his injury—a good deal better than Villar’s .704 OPS in 39 plate appearances during the same time span. Those 23 plate appearances are arguably too small a sample to declare Guillorme the better hitter than Villar, but they did at least continue the upward trend Guillorme experienced from 2020.

Guillorme’s return in June coincided with a Villar injury, allowing him some more time as a starter. Unfortunately for Guillorme, it took him a month to find his footing as he slogged through a .671 OPS through 64 plate appearances in June. An .810 OPS through 52 plate appearances in July put him back on track, but then the infielder missed all of August with a hamstring strain and didn’t play well at all in September.

Though Villar had an unexpectedly successful season, his negative defense at third base (-5 OAA in 2021), poor discipline at the plate (.35 BB/K ratio), and carelessness on the basepaths (seven times caught stealing) arguably makes Guillorme’s consistent play more attractive by comparison. But Guillorme was hurt this season and Villar was not, and that made all the difference. It’s not inconceivable that Guillorme would have been this season’s folk hero instead of Villar had they swapped places, but Guillorme’s oblique and hamstring wouldn’t oblige that hypothetical.

In the end, Guillorme started 36 games for the Mets this season and played in 69 total games, finishing the season with a 99 wRC+ in 156 plate appearances, more than twice as many as he’s had in any other season. It was a perfectly fine performance for a backup infielder, one that showed regression to his 2019 output after an offensive explosion in 2020, but perfectly fine nonetheless. The question for Guillorme is whether the Mets settle for perfectly fine in 2022.

It is unclear how the Mets intend to handle Davis or their other disgruntled young infielder Jeff McNeil. If the team deals both players and doesn’t replace them with obvious starters, then Guillorme very likely has a spot on the team next season. But if the Mets retain at least one of their young infielders, sign Javy Báez, and return Canó to his spot at second base next season, Guillorme’s position on the team may hinge on mutual interest between the Mets and Villar.

It has been reported that Villar is interested in returning to the Mets next season, and if the team sees him as a solution to a potential vacancy at third base, then Guillorme likely still has a spot as a backup infielder and a left-handed bench bat. But if the Mets sign a full-time starter and tag Villar as the team’s utility infielder, it doesn’t leave much room for Guillorme on the big league roster. The only thing Villar consistently does better than Guillorme is hit for power, but that’s no small thing for a lineup that didn’t slug very well in 2021, and the Mets may reasonably value Villar over Guillorme for his durability.

Guillorme’s 2021 wasn’t exactly his coming-out party, but he did see the most major league playing time in his career, and in his 69 games he just about lived up to his expectations. Whether that merits a place on the 26-man roster in 2022 is still up for discussion, but there shouldn’t be any more questions about Guillorme’s potential contributions as a solid backup infielder for a major league team.