2:30 pm Jun. 29, 2012
The New York Mets are 41-36, which is obviously better than expected so far. But they'd be doing even better if they could, well, field.
R.A. Dickey has been the best starting pitcher in the National League, and Johan Santana, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese have been very effective. David Wright has been one of the strongest position players in all of baseball.
The Mets have been let down badly by their bullpen, which is easily the worst in baseball. But their defense has been just as harmful to them, and may the worst in the league, too.
The team has taken numerous steps to address the bullpen, within their financial limitations, shuffling pitchers from Triple-A, converting pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia from starter to reliever, revamping pitcher roles. They've accomplished little, but they're doing what they can.
Little has been done to address the defense, however, and there's essentially nothing the Mets can do with the personnel on hand.
Here's a handy guide to the worst offenders defensively, and why they aren't likely to be improved upon, or even replaced.
Lucas Duda has been awful in right field, but the Mets need Duda's bat in the lineup, and there's nowhere else for him to go. First base is occupied by Ike Davis. Duda would be just about the identical liability in left field. So Duda, for better or worse, is in that lineup to try and outhit his glove. So far, he has, though not by a lot. But it's ugly out there in right field.
Daniel Murphy is still learning to play second base, and it shows. He's been bad there, and unfortunately, his above-average bat went missing about a month ago, so he's not helping the Mets at all at the moment. However, the alternatives are people like Jordany Valdespin, no guarantee to better Murphy's glove and extremely likely to underperform his hitting, and Ronny Cedeno, who would be out of position at second base and hits like Daniel Murphy in a slump at his best. So it is best for the Mets to wait for Murphy to bust out of his slump, at which point they simply need him to outhit his glove, like Duda.
Ike Davis has been slightly worse than league average at first, a far cry from the plus defender he was in 2010 and 2011. Essentially, the hope is that as Davis breaks out of his season-long slump at the plate, there's a carryover effect in the field. The Mets don't have much in the way of alternatives, with Justin Turner an out-of-position backup at first base, and Lucas Duda unlikely to be better than Davis defensively at first, while opening up a hole in right field.
And it goes on from there. Jason Bay was terrible defensively in left field; his replacements, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Scott Hairston, have been well below average in left field. Josh Thole is a below-average defensive catcher; his backups, Mike Nickeas and Rob Johnson at Triple-A, simply don't hit well enough to justify major league roster spots.
Plus defenders have been David Wright at third base, Andres Torres and Nieuwenhuis when he plays center field, Ruben Tejada and Omar Quintanilla at shortstop. The problem here: other than Wright, the other four are defensively redundant. In fact, Tejada may be a defensive downgrade from Quintanilla. But Tejada can and should play the position, since he is much younger with the higher upside.
And despite a combined 635 2/3 innings of plus defense in center field by Torres and Nieuwenhuis, more combined time in the field than Wright has logged at third base, the defense hasn't been even adequate in total.
That leaves exactly no positions where the Mets can upgrade defensively with internal options. There's trades, but again, the Mets bump up against the same problem as with the bullpen. Potentially sacrificing prospects when the team is likely in an early stage of a rebuild seems like a mistake, and taking on salary simply may not be possible at the moment.
So get used to the defensive miscues, and take heart in this: not only are Santana and Dickey tremendous pitchers, they both field their positions extremely well. On the mound, at least, the Mets are good.