In baseball, defense isn’t mentioned a whole lot. Staring pitching, offense, and bullpen are the areas a lot of fans view as the key aspects of a team. While that is true, sometimes it leads to defense being brushed off to the side, but that is just as important. A good defense can win a team some games, while a bad defense will cost a team a couple games.
If you’re looking for a team that brushes defense to the side, look no further than the New York Mets, who don’t seem to value defense at all. In each of the past four seasons, the Mets have been in the bottom 10 in baseball in defensive runs saved (DRS). In the last three, they’ve ranked 30th, 27th, and 29th, respectively. They have a combined -242 DRS over the last three seasons. Pretty bad right?
In 2019, the only team worse defensively than the Mets were the 108 loss Orioles. They were the only team in the bottom five in DRS with a winning record. But lets take it further, only two teams in the bottom 12 that made the playoffs were the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. Only five of the 12 finished with a winning record. On the other end of the spectrum, 7 of the top 12 made the playoffs and 9 finished with a winning record.
But what if this is just a one year thing?
So lets go to 2018, where eight of the top 12 finished with a winning record and five of 12 made the playoffs. 7 of the bottom 12 had losing records, and only two of the five that had winning records made the playoffs. If you want to see a bigger sample size, we’ll look at 2017, where 9 of the top 12 teams finished with a winning record and 7 made the playoffs. Out of the teams that finished in the bottom 12 in DRS, only one finished with a winning record and made the playoffs. Out of the other 11 that finished with losing records, eight had 90+ losses and four lost 95 games or more.
Defense is really important.
But how do the Mets improve their defense?
More consistency from Amed Rosario
Over the first three months of the season Amed Rosario was a disaster defensively at shortstop. His DRS got to as low as -18 and at one point he was on pace to finish the season with a DRS in the -30s. It got so bad the Mets considered moving him to centerfield. But from July on he rebounded nicely, having a +2 DRS the rest of the season. While his -16 DRS on the season ranked him second to last among qualified shortstops, that doesn’t show the improvement he made as the season went on, and despite that, his UZR and UZR/150 ranked him in the middle of the pack. The Mets will need more of the second half Amed Rosario to improve their defense in 2020.
A switch at catcher?
Before the Mets signed Wilson Ramos last offseason, they reportedly offered Yasmani Grandal a 4 year 60 million dollar contract. Grandal rejected that offer and later signed a one year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, meaning he is on the free agent market again this year. The difference between the two catchers defensively is startling. Out of ten qualified catchers, Grandal was first in framing runs above average and Ramos was eighth. Ramos was dead last in DRS and it wasn’t even close. Grandal would be a massive improvement defensively and last year he was a better offensive player than Ramos as well. Ramos’ wRC+ last season was 105, 5% above average. Grandal’s was 121, 21% above average. Grandal has been a far more valuable player recently, having 9.9 fWAR over the last two seasons compared to 3.6 fWAR for Ramos in the same span. Now, there seems to be a narrative among some Mets fans that Grandal doesn’t want to come to the Mets, that is false. Trading Wilson Ramos and signing Yasmani Grandal is one of the easiest ways the Mets can drastically improve their defense without losing any offense this offseason and they should make every attempt to do so.
A True Centerfielder
This is the hardest option because, quite frankly, this free agent class for centerfielders is bad. It includes: Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, Juan Lagares, Carlos Gomez, Leonys Martin and Keon Broxton. Three of those players were on the Mets last season, two of the three were DFAed. Those six players combined for a -0.6 WAR. Looking beyond free agency, there are two centerfielders that could be available in a trade. Those two are Jackie Bradley Jr and Starling Marte. Bradley was once an elite defender in CF but has declined the last two seasons with a -2 DRS in 2018 and -1 in 2019. While his UZR and UZR/150 were still good in 2018, they took a big hit in 2019 falling to -1.2 and -1.8. The player I’d be most interested in is Starling Marte. Now, I know I know, his DRS last year was -9, which suggests he’s not a centerfielder anymore. But hear me out, the previous year his DRS was +1, which is fine, and his UZR was 3.2. It was the first year in his career his DRS was worse that -2 and his sprint speed was still elite. There aren’t many options out there and I think Marte is a good bet to have a bounce back year defensively in 2020. This will also allow Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo to play regularly at the corner outfield spots, where they are more comfortable. Lets compare:
Michael Conforto career defensively by position:
CF: -15 DRS -4.3 UZR -6.7 UZR/150
RF: +4 DRS 2.4 UZR 2.6 UZR/150
LF: +10 DRS 7.1 UZR 4.8 UZR/150
CF: -7 DRS -5.5 UZR -9.9 UZR/150
RF: -2 DRS -0.2 UZR 0.7 UZR/150
LF: +1 DRS 2.0 UZR 3.2 UZR/150
Pretty clear difference right? The optimal outfield would be Nimmo in left field, Marte in center, and Conforto in right. The only question is do the Mets have the resources to pull of a Starling Marte trade? That’s a question for a different day.
Point blank, the Mets defense has been a train-wreck recently, and to be a playoff team it needs to improve. Playoff teams don’t play bad defenders all over the field. This is an area the Mets have ignored, and that needs to change.