Do the Mets really have the best outfield in baseball?
Back in November, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson turned heads by glibly answering, “What outfield?” when asked about the makeup of that unit heading into the season. It became a rallying cry for frustrated fans later in the winter when the Mets did nothing to address the situation, heading into April with a starting trio of Marlon Byrd, Lucas Duda and a Kirk Nieuwenuis/Collin Cowgill platoon.
Predictably, that unit scuffled over the first half of the season, to the extent that the Mets promoted and demoted various outfielders, even signing Rick Ankiel for a stretch. So it was interesting Wednesday to hear Alderson offer this choice quote:
“Interestingly, we spent the first half of the season adding players,” the GM said on a post-trade deadline conference call. “We’ve added to the starting rotation, we’ve added in the bullpen, we’ve taken what seemed to be a fairly barren outfield in the beginning of the season, and turned it into maybe the most productive outfield in baseball.”
Can that be? A quick look at the numbers reveals that, amazingly, Alderson is not far off in his assessment. Mets outfielders compiled 3.4 Wins Above Replacement in July, according to Fangraphs, second behind only the Rays (see the top 10 in the Fangraphs chart below). Compare that to June, when their 0.6 mark ranked 25th in MLB, or May and April, when their 0.0 and -0.3 marks indicated that the Mets, in theory, would have been better off with a random group of minor leaguers.
The biggest difference has been Juan Lagares, who (along with Duda’s absence) has transformed this bunch from a poor defensive outfield into a significantly above-average one. Lagares has also hit with aplomb since taking over the everyday center field job, just as Byrd has transformed into a reasonable cleanup option for the Mets. In left field, the Mets have also received unexpected production from Eric Young, Jr.
Can they keep it up? Probably not. WAR is a flawed stat, the offensive figure above is partially BABIP-fueled, and nothing in Lagares’ profile suggests he will continue to hit like this (a .369 average in July). A slump also seems inevitable for Byrd, who has been white-hot since May, while Duda’s return from the DL will damage the unit’s defensive production.
But at the least, it appears Alderson’s “What outfield” quip no longer applies. And that, for the Mets, is an unexpected accomplishment.
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