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For Albert Almora Jr., the Mets hope for a change in fortune

Many outfielders before him have failed, but can we be sure that Albert will be Almora the same?

MLB: New York Mets at Houston Astros Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Alejandro De Aza. John Mayberry Jr. Chris Young. Michael Cuddyer. Willie Harris. Keon Broxton. What do all of these men have in common? I mean other than being Mets, you dang weisenheimer.

The answer is that they were all outfielders acquired to fill holes in the roster by the Mets within the past ten-ish years at relatively low prices who ended up being varying levels of bad. Now that we’ve taken this horrible trip down memory lane, we can finally get to the man who, at least in his role, follows in the cleat-steps of the aforementioned guys: Albert Almora Jr.

Now, I’m aware that immediately going to the De Aza Zone with someone before they even play a regular season game with the Mets is a bit harsh, but Almora’s performance before he came to Port St. Lucie wasn’t exactly encouraging. Of course, all 2020 stats should be taken with one or more grains of salt, and even beyond that, Almora was platooning which resulted in him starting only six of the 28 games he appeared in before getting sent to the alternate site. Thirty four trips to the plate and five hits over a month isn’t exactly worth basing many future projections on, but even with an extra 330 plate appearances to look at, 2019 isn’t much better.

Appearing in 130 of the Cubs’ 162 games in 2019, Almora had an OPS+ of 67, a bWAR of -1.0, and essentially set himself up to get his job stolen by Ian Happ. If you’re looking for positives, his HR% went up compared to all of his seasons before 2019, but when you look at everything else, a few extra dingers can only do so much. With his playing time limited and his performance on the downward incline, the projection systems of ZiPS, Steamer, and the Marcel Projection on Baseball-Reference essentially have Almora finding himself somewhere between not good and actively bad. None of them see his OPS cross the .700 threshold, none see his home runs eclipsing 10, and none of them see him as a positive contributor.

Before a final assessment is made, it feels worth mentioning that Almora’s decline in performance basically coincides with a foul ball struck by him flying into the stands in Houston and striking a young girl, causing permanent damage. A distraught Almora was comforted by teammates and managed to finish the game. At that point in the season, Almora was hitting .259/.302/.438 with seven home runs and 20 runs driven in after appearing in 52 of the Cubs’ 54 games.

From that point forward, things got drastically worse for the center fielder. Starting only 44 games out of the 78 he played after the foul ball incident on May 29, Almora slumped to a .215/.242/.328 line with only five more home runs in 187 trips to the plate. For those keeping track at home, that’s a 170 point loss in OPS after the foul ball. Perhaps that isn’t the answer for everything, but it’s certainly worth considering.

With a few paragraphs worth of being mean to Almora’s performance in the rear-view mirror, it’s easy to see a lot that would make you believe that he finds himself on a one-way trip to the land of Mayberry, but it’s not a guarantee. As I said, Almora barely received playing time in the pandemic-shortened 2020 so there isn’t much to go off of there and while it’s only spring training, Almora has actually been adequate at the plate and in the field to this point. It’s not the most likely scenario, but with a full season to be played and another year separating him from the foul ball that lingered in his mind, the Mets might find themselves a Nori Aoki in a sea of Chris Youngs.