Suckond Base

The offensive output from Mets’ second basemen has been pretty dreadful.  This should really come as no surprise to anybody who has watched a Mets game this year.  I’m not really going out on a limb by saying that Luis Castillo, Alex Cora, and Ruben Tejada have been bad hitters, this season.  The question I’m concerned with is, exactly how bad have they been in 2010?  How can we put their poor level of play in perspective?  Here’s an attempt to show just how badly they have hit this season.

After posting one of his best-ever line drive rates in 2009, Luis Castillo has crashed back down to Earth, hitting a career-high percentage of ground balls while hitting a career-low percentage of line drives.  The end result has been a .257 BABIP, which is about what you’d expect out of a player hitting line drives about 14.7% of the time. Castillo’s BABIP doesn’t usually stray too far from his batting average, as he pretty much always puts the ball in play; he rarely strikes out and never homers.  All told, Castillo has “produced” a .242/.336/.284/.620 line on the season.  This makes him the best hitting Mets second baseman by a fair margin this season.  For this production, Castillo will make $6 million this year.

Alex Cora is posting career-low totals in just about everything.  He’s struggling to hit above .200, he has provided no power to speak of (9 extra base hits in 187 PA), and he rarely walks.  This has produced a downright ugly .207/.265/.278/.543 line on the season.  His batted ball numbers are pretty consistent with his career lines, and yet he’s posted a career-low .226 BABIP, which does not vibe well with his line drive percentage, so it’s possible he’s due for an upturn in luck over the last two months. He’s still not going to get a whole lot better, and it’s borderline crazy that the team valued his contributions to be worth $2 million this season, with a vesting option for next season to add insanity on top of crazy.

I don’t want to rip Ruben Tejada, as he had no business being in the major leagues as a 20 year old.  He was overpromoted after injuries to Castillo and Jose Reyes forced the Mets to carry an extra middle infielder while Cora was forced into a starting role, which says more about the Mets’ depth issues in Buffalo than it does about Tejada’s own talents.  Still, it’s worth pointing out that Tejada has outhit Cora on the season with a .211/.297/.250/.547 line, though when there are several pitchers in the National League who have outhit Cora, I’m not sure if that’s anything worth bragging about.  

It is interesting to point out that despite a much better defensive reputation, it’s Tejada who has produced a negative UZR rating at second base this year, with a -1.5 in only 166 innings.  By comparison, Cora and Castillo have been about average defensively, with Cora producing a 1.3 UZR in 344 innings, and Castillo producing a 1.1 UZR in 438 innings.  Judging by my own eyes, though, I would like to see a larger sample size for both before conceding that either Cora or Castillo is a good defender.

Now that we’ve established that Castillo, Cora, and Tejada have been bad this year, let’s try to put thsi in perspective.  They are 26th in the majors in on-base percentage, thanks entirely to Luis Castillo’s batting eye, the one useful hitting skill held by a Mets’ second baseman. They are eleventh in walks, with Castillo leading the way (28 of their 42 walks came from him in roughly half their plate appearances). They are dead last in the majors in slugging percentage, ahead of only the sixth-best organization in baseball Seattle Mariners.  The Mets are the only team in baseball without so much as a single home run by a second baseman this season, and only two teams have fewer doubles this season than the Mets, which goes a long way towards explaining that league-low slugging percentage.

All told, Mets second basemen have produced a .232/.306/.289/.594 line on the season.  That .594 OPS is the worst in the major leagues at second base by over 30 points.  If you prefer more advanced statistics, their .273 wOBA, 8 points behind the 29th ranked Cubs.  That is a truly woeful wOBA.  Your eyes do not deceive you; Mets second basemen have been the worst hitting in the majors this season.  For the privilege, the Mets have paid $8 million, and are scheduled to spend another $8 million on the same cast of characters again next season.

To be fair, this isn’t the worst collective hitting performance by a team at a specific position this season.  The Mariners*, Nationals, Tigers, and Astros have had worse performances out of their catchers, the Mariners*, Astros, and Orioles have had worse performances out of their shortstops, the Mariners* and Angels have had worst performances from their third basemen, the Indians have seen their center fielders perform worse this season, and the Mariners* have gotten worse from their designated hitter spot.

* And you wonder why the #6org tag exists; that’s four separate positions where the Seattle Mariners have had worse offensive performances than 2010 Mets second basemen!

The front office simply cannot afford this type of production at second base again next season.  Most enlightened baseball fans felt that giving Luis Castillo $24 million over four seasons after the 2007 season was an unwise decision, as he was a no-power second baseman whose only skills at the time were legging out ground balls for base hits and batting eye, and he was gradually starting to lose his legs.  Today, his legs are gone and all that remains is the batting eye.  Whether it be Omar Minaya or (hopefully) somebody else, the team cannot afford to punt an entire position this badly next season.

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