What is it about Ruben Tejada that makes an entire fan base this dumb? What has Ruben Tejada done? Since this is a fan-run site that combines old school methodology with newer analytical tools, let's just analyze Ruben Tejada's career and try to figure it out.
Ruben Tejada is a 25-year-old infielder for the New York Mets. After making his debut as a 20-year-old in 2010 as an alternative to the incumbent Luis Castillo at second base, the youngster followed that season up with a very strong 2011 which saw an OBP of .360 with as-advertised strong defense. Before his debut, few prospect gurus were writing about him. Mack had the best take on Ruben Tejada, it seems, when he responded to an Amazin' Avenue interview that "Ruben Tejada will eventually be a utility infielder" (2010). My favorite prospect expert, John Sickels, also had a good take on Ruben before his debut,
"At worst a fine utility guy, but given his youth (age 20) and contact hitting ability he could get beyond that. I like him as a sleeper for long-term success."
Sickles gave him a rank of C+ which, at the time, was good enough for 10th in the Mets system. He ranked Tejada behind the following (with their career fWAR in parentheses):
1.) Jenrry Mejia (1.1)
2.) Wilmer Flores (2.3)
3.) Fernando Martinez (-0.6)
4.) Ike Davis (5.8)
5.) Jon Niese (12.3)
6.) Reese Havens (never made major leagues)
7.) Kyle Allen (never made major leagues)
8.) Jeurys Familia (1.1)
9.) Brad Holt (never made major leagues)
10.) Ruben Tejada (4.8)
Despite being the ranking and general consensus that his skill set suits best in a supporting role, Tejada has accumulated the third most value out of the top 10 prospect class from 2010.
After success in 2011, Ruben Tejada's role--and the way fans saw him--changed forever when star shortstop Jose Reyes left for Miami. The Mets took a committee approach early in 2012 with Ronny Cedeno, Omar Quintanilla and Ruben Tejada all splitting time early in the year. After hitting .325 with good defense in the first half, Ruben won the job. He finished the year with a very respectable 1.7 WAR and a .333 OBP in just over 500 at bats (good for 6th and 3rd, respectively, in the National League amongst shortstops with at least 500 ABs).
However, the story of the 2012 season starts back when, well, Ruben Tejada had no obligation to be playing baseball. See, the Mets were coming off of a disappointing season and subsequent off-season that saw a star player leave for a division rival. Many Mets arrived to camp early. Ruben Tejada arrived on February 25th, when he was asked to. Alderson said things. Terry Collins said things. The beat reporters latched on to the story. This, after all, was the guy supposed to grab shortstop by the reigns and run with it. This was the guy who, despite not being required to do so, was already getting crucified by his own coaching staff for, well, showing up on time. This, all before he stepped off of the plane in Port St. Lucie. This, because a 22-year-old didn't properly plan picking up his visa to get to camp early--something he intended to do. This, all when Ruben Tejada was the age of a college senior, one with a language barrier. This, all as a guy who showed up on time and had previously never done anything other than outperform most every one of his peers.
Still, 2012 was a very successful one for Ruben Tejada, following up an outstanding 2011 as a part-time player.
However, the supposed "coachability problems" did not stop there.
In 2013, coaches reported that Ruben Tejada came to camp out of shape. Members of the media again latched on to the story and Ruben Tejada had a terrible start to 2013. He made a surprising number of errors and despite his defensive numbers being above average, us fans knew better. It was because he was out of shape, of course. Right? Had to be. That's what the reports said. That's what the coaches said, after all.
His bat also took a major turn for the worse. By the time he broke his leg on a play on September 18th, he had a .202 average and a 49 wRC+ in 227 at bats, horrible numbers by any standard. His .228 BABIP, an unsustainably low number, compounded his woes, but yet again, fans knew better. It is because he came to camp out of shape. Coaches knew better. It is because he has a work ethic problems.
But why did Ruben Tejada have only 227 at bats in September? After a different leg injury in late May, the Mets sent Ruben to Vegas once he was healthy instead of putting him back on the 25-man roster. In a lost season, the Mets wanted
"You know, one of the problems with Ruben is, it's like pulling teeth. Extra batting practice, extra this, extra that, doesn't happen unless someone else is insisting on it. And that's what we need to see. We need to see a commitment to improvement", said General Manager Sandy Alderson during a broadcast booth interview.
Tejada rehabbed over the winter of '13-'14 and attended Mike Barwis' conditioning program in Michigan. Twice: in November for "phase one" and again in January for "phase two". On his own dime. Away from his family in Panama. Reports were that the Mets were pleased with his progress as well as those who joined him (players like Lucas Duda, Dominic Smith and Wilmer Flores). That should be good enough for the fan base, right? And the beat reporters? And the coaches? ...right?
February 24th, 2014:
|A screenshot of Kevin Kernan's spring training coverage before the 2014 season. http://nypost.com/2014/02/24/frustrated-tejada-still-out-of-shape-mets-keep-eyes-on-drew/.|
Despite spending his winter away from home, attending not one but two training camps on his own dime and committing himself to rehab, nutrition and fitness, word leaked out that the Mets still were not happy with his conditioning.
However, it does not matter. Ruben Tejada has always been someone I would, if I were a scout, describe as having a thick lower half with a low center of gravity, not unlike how many scouts describe Michael Conforto. Despite his scale number or how he carries his pounds, Ruben Tejada never missed a beat in the field. He has been an excellent defender every year--even, supposedly, when he was "out of shape" and had a "poor physique coming into spring training". In fact, out of the 149 shortstops to play in the major leagues since 2010 (when Ruben made his major league debut) Ruben ranks 21st in defensive value out of those 149 shortstops despite 15 of the 20 shortstops ahead of him playing more innings.
The above is a long way of saying this: His weight hasn't made a difference. Ruben Tejada's defense--the tool that got him to the big leagues, that made Mack Ade and John Sickels predict he would have a long career as a major league utility infielder--never suffered despite weight changes that, to be fair, may have been fabricated by a
I went to spring training this year. I met Ruben Tejada, stood next to him, watched him play and saw what coaches mean when they say "out of shape". He is a thick guy. He carries 200 pounds on a frame that is generously listed as 5'11".
1.) Ruben Tejada's weight or how he carries it does not effect his defensive value.
2.) Ruben Tejada is a major leaguer because of his defensive value.
Because #1 above is true does not negate #2 or in any way change it. Fans need to realize that. Despite playing very solid defense at multiple positions in the major leagues, despite leg injuries and ruthless comments by his manager and his manager's manager and boos from fans and position changes and rumors and scrutiny, Ruben Tejada is still considered a second division player. He is still frequently considered someone who "has to go" for the current version of the Mets to take the next step. Odd, considering that his wRC+ (a very good encompassing metric for offensive production) is 83 for his career. I say odd because another player the Mets tried at shortstop who fans seem not to hate for whatever reason, also owns a career wRC+ of 83. I speak of Wilmer Flores, a player who seems to get a free pass because occasionally he hits home runs and has never been in his manager's doghouse. (That Flores' defense is inferior to Ruben Tejada's and his bat exactly as valuable is a comparison for another day).
Ruben Tejada has been, well, everything Ruben Tejada was always supposed to be. He is a very good defensive player who can play multiple positions on the infield, thrive in a supporting role and survive as the starting shortstop on a championship team assuming the rest of the supporting cast is more than adequate. What am I missing here?
Mets fans really need to stop being idiots when it comes to Ruben Tejada.
But we're fans. Sandy Alderson likes to joke about the emotions of the average baseball fan and Ruben Amaro Jr. calls it exactly as he sees it vis-a-vis what the fans actually know about the game but at the end of the day, we are fans. Fans complain. Most fail to understand even the basics of the sport they cheer so ardently for. Many are, for lack of a more eloquent term, complete idiots. Considering that, I understand the unfair treatment of Ruben Tejada. I don't agree with it, but I understand it.
What is Alderson's excuse? What about Collins? What about an entire organization that seems unable to appreciate Ruben Tejada being exactly what Ruben Tejada was advertised to be?
As easy as it is to ridicule baseball fans (and I believe a front office or a coaching staff has the right to parody its fan base), I am going to do the same thing to the Mets organization here. Because they have been and continue to be complete idiots when it comes to Ruben Tejada.
Sound off in the comments section. I'm ready.