WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: Brandon Nimmo #9, Billy Hamilton #21 and Michael Conforto #30 of the New York Mets celebrate a 3-1 victory over the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on August 5, 2020 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The New York Mets’ defense is their biggest weakness and it’s time they focused on fixing it, even if it means sacrificing some offense. 

Kyle Newman

The New York Mets have ignored their defense for a long time. Over the last five seasons, no team in MLB has had a worse team defensive runs saved. In 2019, they were third to last in MLB with -82 DRS—only the Detriot Tigers and Baltimore Orioles were worse. There’s a strong argument to be made that the Mets’ poor defense cost them a playoff spot.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the Mets bullpen from 2019. The two biggest disappointments in 2019 were Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. There’s no arguing that their performance cost the Mets a ton of games.

However, they really weren’t as bad as their ERA or blown saves say. Yes, Jeurys Familia had a 5.70 ERA—that’s horrible anyone can see that. However, his FIP or Fielder Independent Pitching was 4.88. This basically means that if you remove the defensive elements of the game and focus solely on the things Familia could control, then he was only allowing 3.92 runs per nine innings.

That 0.98 run difference is gigantic. If the Mets defense was just league average then Familia’s ERA could have dropped a run or more. Does he still look bad if his ERA is 5.00 in 2019? Absolutely, but it likely doesn’t cost the Mets a playoff spot.

The same was true for Edwin Diaz to an even greater extent. His 5.59 ERA is bad, but his FIP was just 4.51. Again the Mets defense made a below-average pitcher into a terrible one.

The same thing is happening in 2020. The New York Mets are already dead last in MLB in DRS and it’s costing both their bullpen and their starting pitching. If they don’t act soon, it could cost them yet another playoff berth.

The damage that’s done

Defense is often the aspect of an MLB roster that flies under the radar the most. Fans only really care about defense when a player either makes a terrible or amazing play. The average play doesn’t really phase anyone. A fly ball over the head that turns into a double, a shallow base hit, a ball down the line, a swinging bunt. A lot of these plays are seen as inevitable. They don’t have to be.

The ones who feel the effects of those plays are the pitchers. Nobody has felt that worse than Rick Porcello. Mets’ fans have been disappointed with Rick Porcello’s early-season results. Through three starts Porcello has a 6.92 ERA, .309 BAA, and a 1.77 WHIP. Those numbers are deceiving.

Porcello has a .378 BABIP, hasn’t allowed a home run in 2020, and a 2.82 FIP. Porcello’s 2.82 FIP is 37th among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 10 innings. No pitcher in the top 40 in FIP, has a larger gap between their ERA and FIP than Porcello.

This isn’t to say Porcello is an elite pitcher getting shafted by his defense. He has his own issues—mainly the hard-hit rate allowed and his line drive allowed rate. Still, Porcello isn’t as bad as he’s looked in his first three starts.

The sad thing is, the Mets proved it in Porcello’s third start. On Aug. 5, Porcello went up against the Washington Nationals. The Mets sent out a lineup that featured Andres Gimenez at shortstop, Billy Hamilton in center, and Luis Guillorme at second base. It was without a doubt the best defensive lineup the Mets put out in 2020 and as a result, Porcello allowed just one run over seven innings. He probably could have gone longer; he only needed 81 pitches to cruise through seven innings of work.

Porcello is still the only Mets’ pitcher to have thrown seven innings in 2020. In fact, no other starter has even faced one batter in the seventh inning. The Mets beat the Nationals 3-1 that day.

Despite the success of that lineup, the Mets haven’t run out a similar lineup since. That one game is the only one so far in 2020 where the Mets ran out both Billy Hamilton and Andres Gimenez.

That’s a crime and it’s hurting their pitchers. The Mets have eight pitchers who have a FIP at least one full run better than their ERA. Among them Porcello, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo, Justin Wilson, Jeurys Familia, and Dellin Betances.

The defense is letting the Mets fringe pitchers and bullpen down. The highest FIP among those pitchers is Wacha’s 4.47. Everyone else on that list has a FIP below 4.00.

It’s time the Mets devote some resources to defense. If they want to be contenders in 2020, this is a non-negotiable issue.

How to improve

The Mets have a few avenues to improve the team drastically. The first and most obvious way is to move Andres Gimenez to shortstop.

The Mets’ young star is phenomenal defensively. Third-base coach Gary DiSarcina even compared him to Omar Vizquel. Despite that gold glove potential at shortstop, the Mets continue to move him around the infield to make room for Amed Rosario.

This would make sense if Rosario was a strong defensive shortstop, but he isn’t. Rosario is one of the worst defensive shortstops in MLB. Since making his full-season debut in 2018, only Xander Boagerts has been worse defensively than Rosario.

His -28 DRS over the past three seasons are nearly double the next closest player, Alcides Escobar (-16). They have no reason to continue to force Rosario at shortstop. They can try him at different positions, mainly second base.

Rosario hasn’t played second base in his professional career, but it’s worth a try. Shortstop is the more important defensive position and Gimenez is the better defender. To continue to play Rosario at shortstop and Gimenez at second base just makes no sense. All it’s doing is creating a suboptimal defensive infield.

That’s a simple change that doesn’t remove a bat from the lineup and clearly makes the Mets a better defensive team.

The next change is a substantial one. Billy Hamilton should be playing in centerfield every day. The Mets outfield defense is simply awful. Both Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto are worth -4 DRS. That puts both dead last in DRS in MLB at their respective positions.

The idea here is that Michael Conforto would DH for the time being. Brandon Nimmo would move over to right field where he is a much-improved defender and Billy Hamilton, a Gold Glove centerfielder, will play center field.

The biggest issue with this lineup is the offense. Billy Hamilton is one of the worst offensive players in baseball. Hamilton is 0-for-9 to start his Mets career. His career slash line of .241/.296/.325 is less than inspiring. However, his defense is simply too valuable to the Mets to not be in the lineup every day.

Dom Smith would be the lineup casualty. Smith’s power has been there in spades to start the season, but his overall offensive numbers aren’t great. Smith’s slashing .233/.324/.533. His power is carrying his profile right now, but if that dries up, he becomes a liability in the lineup himself.

It makes more sense for this team to have Smith use his power off the bench or rotating in when others have off days. Make no mistake, this hurts the offense in a major way, but it does so much more for the Mets defense.

Making this move vastly improves the Mets outfield defense while losing Smith’s bat in the lineup is just one spot. If the Mets start hitting with runners in scoring position Smith’s absences in the lineup won’t be a major one.

The issue with this plan is that Cano’s bat needs to be in the lineup when he comes back. The most obvious way for that to happen is having him DH. That means Conforto has to move back to right field and Nimmo’s bat needs a place in the lineup again. Nimmo’s .433 OBP needs to be in the lineup every day.

So who sits for Hamilton? It may have to be Rosario if he continues to struggle. Playing Jeff McNeil at second base and Hamilton in center would provide the Mets strong defense.

Maybe the best course of action is to trade Rosario. The Mets’ pitching staff has been decimated by injury. Four starting pitchers are on the injured list. With the emergence of Gimenez, it may be in the Mets’ best interest to move Rosario for a starting pitcher with control beyond 2020.

But that’s a debate for another time.

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