Mets need to add offense

Posted on July 21, 2010 by

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So far, all of the focus on potential trade targets for the Mets has been around adding a starting pitcher. And given the recent performances of Mike Pelfrey (1-4, 9.11 ERA in last 6 games) and Hisanori Takahashi (2-2, 7.18 ERA in last six) it is not hard to understand why. But the biggest bang for the buck may be adding another bat to the lineup.

The Mets are 12th in the NL in runs per game with an average of 4.34 over 94 games. And the problem is getting worse, as since the beginning of July the Mets have scored just 47 runs in 16 games (2.94). Some will counter that with Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo and Jose Reyes returning to the team’s lineup that the offense will come around. That may be true. But there is no guarantee that two guys in Beltran and Castillo who are on the wrong side of 30 are guaranteed to return to their former selves.

Reyes and David Wright are the two building blocks of the team and there is no reason for the Mets to investigate trading for either a third baseman or shortstop. So, let’s look at the other positions on the team and how they are faring.

Catcher – Rod Barajas is not a very good hitter. Most of us knew this when he signed with the Mets but his hot streak to start the season clouded many people’s judgment. Since May 9th, Barajas has a .218/.263/.314 line in 168 PA. Last year over a full season, Barajas went .226/.258/.403 for a .661 OPS.

There is an easy upgrade available by making Josh Thole the everyday catcher. Coming into the season, most people believed that Thole could produce a good AVG and OBP with the Mets but they did not feel he could catch in the majors. Now he has become R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher. If you are good enough to catch a knuckleball pitcher, you can catch anyone. And Thole has been on fire since opening the season in a BABIP slump. After posting a .213 BABIP and a .172 AVG in April at Triple-A, Thole hit .318 the next two months at Buffalo. With the Mets he has 12 hits in 24 at-bats. Thole should be the team’s starter.

Second Base – Castillo has a .279 AVG and a .370 OBP in his career with the Mets. He is not meeting those numbers currently (.243, .345) but he also was playing with a bone bruise in his foot. Castillo deserves a chance to see what he can do while healthy, but the Mets should be open to seeing what players are available at second base. However, the Mets have been extremely reluctant to pursue another second baseman as long as they are paying Castillo to play.

Left Field – Jason Bay has been a huge disappointment. But if the Mets are reluctant to pursue an upgrade at second base, where they have the remainder of this year and next season to go on the four-year $24 million deal that Castillo signed, imagine what their reticence to replacing Bay and his four-year, $66 million (and easily attainable option) must be. Fans have little recourse other than to cross their fingers and hope for the best.

Center Field – Beltran is likely to be an improvement over Jeff Francoeur, the man he essentially replaced in the lineup. Of course, when Francouer had a .675 OPS, the bar is set pretty low. Beltran has an .872 OPS while a member of the Mets. The team would be thrilled if he approached last year’s .325/.415/.500 line. There is no chance the club looks for an upgrade here.

Right Field – Angel Pagan loses value moving from center to right but is still a very productive player. Since playing both games of a double header on April 27th and essentially becoming a full-time player, Pagan has a .323/.375/.506 line over 289 PA. He is an above-average fielder, a good baserunner and can hit virtually anywhere in the lineup. While some have trouble seeing him as anything more than a fill-in, Pagan is well on his way to becoming one of the team’s core players. Trading him would be a mistake.

That leaves one position where the Mets could improve the offense – first base. In less than three months with the club, Ike Davis has become a sacred cow, one who has been declared “good” despite what the numbers say about him. But let us try to be objective about Davis. First let’s start with the positives.

It is fun to root for homegrown players and Davis was the club’s 2008 first-round draft pick. Everyone wants a slugger at first base and Davis has 30-HR potential. Defense is often overlooked at first base but Mike Piazza will tell you how tough it is to play the position. Davis has made some highlight-reel plays at first base and draws plenty of accolades from broadcaster Keith Hernandez, one of the finest defensive first basemen of all time.

However, despite his youth, fielding and HR potential, Davis is currently a poor first baseman by major league standards. Since he did not start the season in the majors, let’s compare Davis to his peers by rate stats rather than counting stats like HR and RBIs. There are 28 first baseman with enough plate appearances to qualify and here are Davis’ ranks in each category:

AVG – .258 (20th)
OBP – .330 (T 24th)
SLG – .448 (17th)
BABIP – .308 (15th)
wOBA – .340 (22nd)
BB% – 9.6% (20th)
K% – 26.4% (T 22nd)

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Davis right now is a below-average first baseman. Yes, he is better than any of the other options that the team has, but in the overall scheme of things, the Mets are trotting out an inferior player compared to what their competitors are playing at first base.

There are plenty of players the Mets could acquire to play first. They include Lance Berkman, Adam Dunn, Prince Fielder, Adam LaRoche, Derrek Lee and others. Some of these players may not be an upgrade from Davis when you take into account youth and financial commitments. But first base does represent an opportunity for the Mets to improve their offense.

Bottom line is that while it is fun to root for Davis and watch him grow into a major league quality player, his inclusion on the 2010 squad is a detriment to the team’s hopes to make the playoffs. Are the Mets close enough to making the playoffs to trade a 23-year old former first-round pick? What type of player can Davis be reasonably projected to be? How much are you willing to trade to make a playoff push in 2010? These questions and others must be answered.

To qualify as the 14th-best first baseman, or generally average at the position, you would need to post a .275/.368/.463 line this year. How much above that, if any, is Davis likely to produce the next few years?

It is refreshing to see the Mets give home-grown players like Jon Niese, Josh Thole and Ike Davis a shot. But as much as I would like to see a team entirely made up of products of the Mets’ farm system, I would be more interested in a playoff appearance. If a package headlined by Davis could net the team a slugging first baseman like Dunn or Fielder, it would be a mistake for the Mets not to pull the trigger.

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Posted in: Perspectives