The Difference Depth has made in New York
By: Craig Lowell | September 3rd, 2015, 12:55 PM
On the evening of July 24, following a 7-2 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the New York Mets were just one game above .500 and three games behind the Washington Nationals for first place in the NL East. The standings looked the same a week later, but everything was about to change heading into Friday when the Nats arrived at Citi Field.
On each of those Fridays, Mets GM Sandy Alderson swung a trade to bolster what had been a historically bad Mets lineup. The name that has garnered most of the attention since then is power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, but perhaps just as influential was the deal that was made after that Dodgers loss, when Alderson shipped a pair of low-level pitching prospects to Atlanta for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson. While Cespedes has been the feared middle-of-the-order hitter that the Mets were so desperate for, it’s been Uribe and Johnson—and the versatility they’ve provided—who have done wonders for the kind of lineup that manager Terry Collins is able to draw up every night.
The month of August was an incredible one in Queens, as the Mets clubbed a franchise record 45 home runs and turned that three-game deficit into a 6.5-game lead over Washington by month’s end. Eight of those homers came from Cespedes, who has exceeded expectations in his first month as a Met with a slash line of .275/.330/.545. There’s no discounting the impact that he has made on the lineup, as his presence in the middle of the order has enabled the team’s other big bats to see much better pitches.
Meanwhile, Uribe and Johnson accounted for eight more homers between them during that time, and a much more pedestrian slash line of .209/.274/.409. More importantly though, they have provided Collins with legitimate, experienced Major League bats that he can use strategically to take advantage of pitching matchups, move players around the diamond, and provide valuable pinch-hitting and defensive replacements late in games.
Uribe’s impact has been lessened since the return of franchise third baseman David Wright, but prior to the captain’s arrival, Uribe spent two weeks providing excellent defense and timely hitting as the starter. And Johnson, who has evolved from a second baseman early in his career to a jack-of-all-trades utility man now in his 10th season, can be deployed at any infield position except shortstop, and both corner outfield spots as well. That kind of versatility has enabled Collins to move Daniel Murphy around the infield, using him at both corner spots as well as second base, and providing a terrific backup option at first during Lucas Duda’s current DL stint.
Even Cespedes has been contributing to the versatility of the outfield. Able to play both left and center, he has enabled Collins to sit Juan Lagares against right-handed pitchers—against whom he has just a .588 OPS this year—and provide a massive defensive upgrade over Michael Cuddyer when he plays left field.
With these three players now in the fold, the Mets can go at least three deep at every single position on the diamond save for shortstop and catcher, and in some cases have four or five different options (numbers in parentheses indicate the number of appearances made at that position during August):
C – Travis d’Arnaud (21), Anthony Recker (5)
1B – Lucas Duda (12*), Daniel Murphy (11), Michael Cuddyer (7), Kelly Johnson (1)
2B – Murphy (9), Johnson (13), Wilmer Flores (11), Ruben Tejada (11), Juan Uribe (1)
3B – David Wright (6), Uribe (18), Murphy (6), Tejada (none since June 27)
SS – Flores (15), Tejada (14)
LF – Yoenis Cespedes (19), Cuddyer (3), Michael Conforto (18), Johnson (2)
CF –Juan Lagares (23), Cespedes (17), Curtis Granderson (1)
RF – Granderson (26), Cuddyer (2), Johnson (4), Lagares (1)* currently on the DL
That level of depth and versatility has done wonders for the team’s overall production, as Collins has been able to take advantage of favorable matchups and rest players during the dog days of August when other teams are struggling to keep their regulars fresh. In fact, the Mets’ biggest advantage right now may be the fact that they don’t even have a regular starter at most positions (the exceptions being catcher, right field, and first base once Duda comes back).
That, more than anything else, is likely the reason for players like Cuddyer, Lagares, and Flores stepping up their production at the plate over the past month. Take a look at the August performance of those players, compared to how they did for the first four months of the season:
April – July
.250 / .303 / .380
.375 / .423 / .583
.251 / .280 / .331
.291 / .304 / .509
.251 / .283 / .387
.306 / .337 / .506
That increased production, combined with the injection of Cespedes, Uribe, and Johnson into the offense, the promotion of Michael Conforto, and the return of David Wright, means that the days of Collins having to fill out a lineup card worthy of a Triple A team are over. Thanks to the deft maneuvering of Alderson, the Mets are no longer a team that has to rely solely on its pitchers, but one that sports a well-built, balanced roster that can carry them deep into the postseason.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference