The Mets were awful in the field in 2017. They finished last in the NL in turning batted balls in play into outs. Since the Mets pitching staff is no longer the dominant, strikeout force that it once was, General Manager Sandy Alderson admitted that the organization will finally be giving defense more emphasis. As Alderson recently told the NY Post:
When your pitchers aren’t striking everybody out, as we’ve had in the past, the defense becomes a little more important. And I think probably recognition after this year that if we’re going to have pitching that puts the ball in play a little more, then the defense is going to be more of a priority.
Mets DRS – Defensive Runs Saved
There’s certainly plenty of room for improvement. The Mets finished dead last in all of MLB in DRS according to FanGraphs. It wasn’t even close either, as they scored a -73 with the Tigers next to last at -62. That translates to 7 more wins just by becoming an average defensive team. Visitors to this blog read back in February that the aging Mets defense relied on good positioning.
The final roster had only one above average defender when measured by DRS. No surprise that the player was center fielder Juan Lagares. Juan had a DRS of 15. The next highest player still on the team was Yoenis Cespedes, bad legs and all, with a DRS of 2. Everyone else was at or below 1.
Mets Infield for 2018
The infield defense was the biggest weakness. The Mets shortstop position ranked last defensively in all of MLB with a -24 DRS, trailing the Athletics who had a -17. The player with the most innings at shortstop for the Mets this year was Jose Reyes. No surprise then that he also ranked as the worst defensive shortstop in all of MLB with a -15 DRS. Asdrubal Cabrera wasn’t far above him, with a -8 DRS while playing short.
Replacing Reyes and Cabrera at short with Amed Rosario in 2018 is going to make a big improvement. Alderson noted as much in his September 22nd news conference:
Fortunately, we have seen that with Rosario, we’ve seen it with Lagares, we’ve seen with some improved defense just over the last six weeks or so. So I’m hopeful that the defense will be improved. But it’s always a balance across the board. It’s kind of a net. How good is the team on a net-net basis? That’s the balance we have to strive for year-to-year.
Dom Smith was touted as a defensive upgrade at first base. But he was shaky at times, though his minor league defense has always been excellent. Smith ranked near the bottom in MLB for first basemen with a -7 in DRS. It didn’t help his cause that he struggled at the plate too. Although his 9 home runs showed he does have major league power – which had been questioned. Can he hit enough at the big league level? If he gets off to a slow start offensively next spring, as he tends to do, then Wilmer Flores could fill in at first. Flores had a -3 DRS as a first baseman, but that was better than his -8 DRS while playing third. Wilmer is just not a viable third baseman defensively.
Third base is the key position to watch. Assuming the Mets exercise their option on Cabrera, he’ll be either at second base or third. If the Mets trade for or sign a true third baseman, then Cabrera moves over to second where he had only a -6 DRS. If they don’t get a new third baseman, then Cabrera probably plays third. He had a 1 DRS while at third this year, where he showed a strong, acurate arm. In that case, Flores could play second base. Wilmer had a passable -1 DRS when at second. Or they could use some combination of Rivera/Reynolds/Cecchini at second base.
Sandy Alderson has indicated that he’s happy with the catching tandem of Kevin Plawecki and Travis d’Arnaud. If Plawecki continues to hit, or d’Arnaud continues to miss time with injuries, he figures to be a defensive upgrade there as well.
It’s unclear right now exactly how the Mets defense will change in 2018. But it would be very difficult not to be an upgrade over the 2017 roster.
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