The baseball season officially begins when the Wise Guy Baseball annual arrives in the mail. Gene McCaffrey is not only the most entertaining but also the most astute player picker out there. Let's see what he has to say about the Mets starting infield from his book and provide some more insight.
Catcher - Josh Thole
McCaffrey: "I see him on some sleeper lists, and I concur. He's A.J. Pierzynski with more walks."
Thole had 11 extra-base hits in 202 at-bats. But he walked 24 times and had a .357 on-base percentage and a spread relative to average of .080, which is good as it relates to projectable on-base ability. We prefer our on-base guys have high walk totals because that's far more bankable than batting average, which tends to swing rather wildly. I did think that Thole was going to be a dud. That was the likelihood given his lack of pop and his projected defensive ability. But his caught stealing percentage improved from 24 percent in the minors to 44 percent in limited Major League duty last year. Is that a fluke?
First Base - Ike Davis
McCaffrey: "Very impressive when a 23-year-old rookie left-handed power hitter hits lefties better than righties. K-rate of 23 percent is not great but hardly insurmountable and of course can improve. I think Ike should be ranked above Paul Konerko, Aubrey Huff and Mitch Moreland."
Here's some more info on the first bit. Nice catch by Gene. Four of the six rookies who managed it before 2007 ultimately became All Stars.
Second Base - Daniel Murphy
McCaffrey: "I think he can play second base. He can hit for average with some pop. Tore up the Dominican League."
I have my doubts about Murphy being able to switch to second just because history is against it. I'm rooting for it, though. It's funny that last year they were giving Murphy bobblehead dolls away with purchases at the Mets store at Citi Field. One regime later, and he's back in the plans.
Second Base - Luis Castillo
McCaffrey: Not listed.
Here's to wishful thinking.
Shortstop - Jose Reyes
McCaffrey: "I like the stat 'SBO' in the Ron Shandler Forecaster, a formula that measures what percentage of the time a guy runs -- stolen bases plus times caught stealing divided by singles and walks. Reyes was a 46 percent SBO guy for three years then fell to 36 percent in 2009 and 27 percent in 2010."
Reyes really needs to run to have value, and he has the organization perhaps working against him, depending on how you read this quote. Reyes' career rate is not at the commonly accepted break-even point. But steals lead to errors and the threat favorably changes defensive alignments and probably results in more fastballs being called by catchers. These factors are not calculated in break-even rates to the best.
Third base - David Wright
McCaffrey: "Every year he doesn't do something. This is a backhanded testimony to his status as a five-category player. One year he hits 33 homers, 10 the next. He might score 87 runs or drive in 72. His steals range from 15 to 34. His average took a little hit last year -- .305 hitter batting .283. He is a foundation player though -- whatever he doesn't do leaves four categories that he does and he's durable."
Wright strikes out so much now. It's basically a function of his swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone. When you quantify something, you start to believe that it's fixable, but there's always been a reason for every hitter suddenly striking out a lot. What I mean is, fixing this will be a lot harder for Wright than it seems -- "Hey, just don't swing at bad pitches? Check!" I'd like to see how wildly strikeout rate varies with individual hitters in this modern, high-K era. For years he was steady at a solid 19 percent or so. But he's jumped the past two years to about 26 percent. Is this the new normal? That's the topic for another day.