Alexander Han – Who’s in Left Field?


With most of the team's starters now set, the one choice that seems to still be up in the air is that of third outfielder, alongside Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes. 

Many Mets fans were relieved that Michael Cuddyer forced himself out of the team with his misplays in left field in Game 1. However, what is the choice going forward? Collins put Juan Lagares into the lineup for Game 3 against Dodgers left-hander Brett Anderson which worked out well with one hit, one BB and three runs scored. 

But Collins positioned his decision a game-by-game call, citing Cuddyer’s poor 1-for-12 track record against Anderson as a key factor. On the basis of this, it sounds like Collins will weigh up the players’ records vs Kershaw. He’ll see that Lagares is 0-for-7 and Cuddyer 4-for-16. Conforto hasn’t faced him. Knowing Collins, he may play the veteran. However, I think that would be a grave mistake.

1) By the numbers, Conforto should be the best hitter vs both left and right-handed pitchers

Of the three, Lagares has the best OPS vs left-handed pitchers. However, Conforto’s .481 OPS came from just 15 PAs and therefore can’t really be considered a proper sample. Looking at his numbers in AA this year, he hit .897 OPS vs right handers and a fairly even .904 OPS vs left handers. In other words, he has the ability to hit left-handed pitching, which is not surprising when you look at his opposite field power and his superior eye for the strike zone. Those are skills that usually play well against same-handers.

Conforto MLB
Conforto AA
vs L
vs R

2) There is no justification for Cuddyer to start another game for the Mets.

I dug out the three players’ performance in the clutch.

OPS with:
Bases Empty
Men On Base
K% bases empty
Two things stand out for me here. Firstly, Cuddyer has been just as bad as he looked, possibly even worse. The higher the stakes, the lower the man’s OPS. Both Lagares and Conforto, on the other hand, have been great in the clutch.

What’s more, this isn’t a recent thing – in 2012, 2013 and 2014 Cuddyer consistently had lower numbers with RISP than with empty bases. Not as stark a difference as this year but still.

3) Conforto is the better defender by the numbers although I’d still give this one to Lagares

Conforto has been a positive surprise in left field and easily holds own defensively. Lagares vintage 2013 or 2014 would be anyone's first choice in center field. In 2015 not so much so; in fact, according to FanGraphs Conforto had the better Ultimate Zone Rating projected over 150 games.

2015 UZR-150
career UZR-150

To be fair, the right comparison would be to somehow project the overall outfield strength with Cespedes in LF and Lagares in CF, vs Conforto in LF and Cespedes in CF. 

I don’t know how to do that quantitatively but my gut tells me I love an outfield of Cespedes, Lagares and Granderson. It gives me a feeling of invincibility – where extra-base hits go to die! I’d hope Lagares feels the excitement too and regains some of his old form.

And again, the one indisputable conclusion is that Cuddyer has no place on a winning playoff team. Not unless he bats like Manny Ramirez.

4) Lagares gives you more speed on the bases

I’m not sure this is a big edge given I doubt that Lagares is going to be stealing many bases, but certainly he’s a better bet than Conforto to score from second base on a short single, or go first to third, etc. He adds an extra dimension to your lineup. 
5) On balance, Collins should go with Lagares for now

I love Conforto’s cool, solid batting skills and his performance under pressure. I think it was a mistake to limit him to a platoon down the stretch in August and September – a case of a team trying to justify a player with an expensive contract. However, given his lack of practice against lefties, it would be cruel to insert him against the best southpaw of them all. If we make it through to the LCS we may face the Cubs, who are more righty-heavy and if Conforto tears it up there, he could still play himself into a full role yet.

Collins made the right choice here. But Collins, stick with the hot hand this time. Lagares’ 0-for-7 vs Kershaw is not a big enough sample. Lagares gives you possibly the best outfield in the playoffs, and he gives you a bit more dynamism on the basepaths. He looks comfortable.

In any case, whatever you do, don’t bank our series hopes on Cuddyer. He seems like a great guy, a team player and a man you can rely on. Just not with runners in scoring position.


Thomas Brennan said...

Alex, ranking the 3, I vote Lagares, then Conforto, then Cuddyer for the 3rd OF slot tonight, in that order.

Alexander Han said...

Same here Tom. Let's hope the old gaffer sees it the same way!

Tonight feels like it will hinge on a swing, a catch, a baserunning play....

Alexander Han said...

Update - it seems Collins has done the right thing and stayed with Lagares. I'm getting more and more faith in Collins' judgement on lineup selection. Not so much still when it comes to bullpen and pitcher management, but hey nobody's perfect. Here's to shelling Kershaw tonight. Let's Go Mets!

Anonymous said...

I think Collins has been pretty close to perfect so far this series. Mattingly is the guy who has been screwing up.

I thought that Cuddyer at 1B was the only real decision to make for tonight's game -- Lucas was brutal yesterday -- but I would not have based any of it on the numbers. Collins is in the dugout, in the clubhouse, and I hope that he watched Duda carefully and saw how he reacted to a terrible, four strikeout game. Is there was sulk, if he seemed shaken, I might have given Cuddyer the start. If Duda seems determined, ready, I would have gone with Lucas, who has earned a high degree of faith. He can turn a game around with one swing. Likewise, I'd guess there's some internal intelligence about the state of Cuddyer's knee, wrist, overall health. Dodgers have several lefties in the pen; Cuddyer might be most useful for that one PH appearance.

I have no problem at all with Duda starting tonight over Cuddyer. But I definitely would have THOUGHT about it.

With Conforto -- who had a quality AB last night against a tough LHP -- I believe the die has already been cast. If TC is going to begin starting Conforto against lefties, Kershaw would not be the first option. Again, Conforto will be a weapon off the bench.

James Preller

Mack's Mets © 2012