Why is Gary Matthews Jr playing over Angel Pagan?

I have made no secret of my dislike of the current Mets management team.  Omar Minaya and his front office did not make the necessary bright moves to make this team better for the upcoming season.  By giving an epic dumbass like Jerry Manuel so little help before the season starts, Omar is basically daring Jerry to make horrible decisions that result in poor results.  In order for Jerry to be good at his job, he needs stability; open competitions in spring training will almost guarantee that Jerry makes the worst possible decision that negatively affects the Mets’ short-term and long-term goals of playing meaningful games in September.  It’s like giving a monkey a gun; sure, you blame the monkey when he kills innocent bystanders, but the man who gave the monkey the gun deserves some blame too, right?

Much has been said about the Mets’ opening day lineup.  Here is a table of the top 10 worst position players in baseball last season by WAR, minimum 300 plate appearances:

Player WAR
Yuniesky Betancourt -2.2
Jose Guillen -1.9
Delmon Young -1.3
Aubrey Huff -1.0
Garrett Anderson -0.9
Gary Matthews Jr -0.8
Alfonso Soriano -0.7
Ronny Cedeno -0.6
Chris Davis -0.6
Mike Jacobs -0.6

Yes, two of the top ten worst players in baseball last year were players identified by Omar Minaya as players he should acquire to help bolster the 2010 New York Mets.  That’s pretty remarkable.  Even on a scouting level, I can’t imagine anybody watched Jacobs and Matthews last year and identified them as players worth acquiring, let alone starting, for the 2010 season.  Give Omar some sort anti-award for blatantly ignoring even the most basic of statistics and going with his gut and acquiring two of the very worst players in baseball from last season anyway.

It’s bad enough to acquire these guys; it’s another matter all together to be starting them over players who out-performed them last year.  Let’s focus on Gary Matthews Jr. for now, I’ll get to the Mike Jacobs/Chris Carter disaster another time.  Angel Pagan threw up a .306/.350/.487/.837 slash line last year, good for 2.8 WAR, or 3.7 more WAR than Gary Matthews Jr produced last season.  Is Pagan likely to repeat that sort of production?  Probably not, but he would have to regress pretty heavily to come close to being as bad as Matthews was last year.  Add in that he’s a younger player, and a much better defensive player, and the choice should be pretty obvious; Pagan should be starting, Matthews should be on the bench.

Yet after three games, Matthews has earned two starts and will likely earn more in the future.  The reasoning is stupid; Jerry believes Pagan is a top of the order player, and thus is utterly incapable of batting lower in the lineup when Alex Cora bats leadoff*.  Of course, Angel Pagan’s isolated slugging last year was .181, and Gary Matthews Jr’s was .111, and Pagan had two more homers, three more doubles, and eight more triples than Matthews last year, so I’m not really sure what Manuel’s point is here, other than “I don’t understand the game of baseball or how to identify a good player from a very, very bad one.”

* Which is crazy enough as it is; Cora’s career OBP is .313, his OBP last year was .320, and he’s not typically known as a fast player, so by any reasonable idea of what a leadoff hitter should be, Cora fails .

This problem figures to be worsened by the return of Jose Reyes in the lineup.  Reyes is, of course, a much, much, much better player than Alex Cora (who would rank 26th on that list above of “Worst Players in Baseball by WAR in 2009″), so overall, the lineup itself will be better.  But it will still be far from optimal, as Pagan will be sitting in favor of Matthews, with Reyes and Castillo holding down the top of the order.  Without an open position at the top of the lineup, Manuel will likely continue to sit Pagan, and the team will suffer for it.

This is why Jerry Manuel cannot be trusted to make any decisions.  This isn’t even a tough decision; Pagan was one of the Mets’ pleasant surprises last season, a player who by the end of the season, was one of the team’s most valuable position players.  Gary Matthews Jr was one of the worst players in all of baseball.  Yet Matthews has a name, and he was good enough at one point in his career to become grossly, grossly overpaid, and he made that one catch at an All Star Game, so he must be better than ordinary ol’ Angel Pagan!  It’s this type of decision-making, that starts at the front office level and permeates into the field manager level, that will doom Mets fans from seeing playoff calibre baseball in Queens as long as guys like Minaya and Manuel run the ballclub.

One Response to “Why is Gary Matthews Jr playing over Angel Pagan?”

  1. dave g says:

    I can’t believe he said “Pagan is a top of the order player” and uses that as a reason why he’s not playing. How about you still bat him 2nd behind Reyes, bench Matthews and bat Castillo/Cora either 8th, or preferably 9th. This is definitely Manuel’s worst personnel decision ever, and that’s saying something. Jacobs getting the starting job over Carter is a close 2nd.

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