The Mets are pretty banged up so far during spring training, with notable injuries to David Wright and Ruben Tejada (although Tejada returned yesterday). However, the injury to Scott Hairston is significant as well. Besides the fact that Hairston can provide a power hitting, right-handed bat off the bench, he provides depth in center field. With Andres Torres suffering his second injury in camp, Hairston’s return to health is even more important.
Last year, Hairston hit .235/.303/.470 with seven homers in 145 plate appearances. Those numbers aren’t great, but the power was there and three of those home runs came in a pinch hitting role. But equally important, Hairston played all three outfield positions, including center field, where the Mets lack depth. And surprisingly enough, Hairston has played a solid center field throughout his career.
Hairston has appeared in 117 games in center field during his career, totaling 981 innings. His .982 fielding percentage in center might not be that impressive, but advanced metrics paint a more positive picture. He’s saved six defensive runs, which can be broken down into one run saved as a result of the plus/minus system (i.e. range), three runs saved as a result of his arm (throwing out base runners and halting runners from advancing) and two runs saved from robbing a hitter of a home run. Hairston has also posted a lifetime UZR of 5.5. Perhaps surprisingly, Hairston’s range graded out well – 7.5 range runs above average (his UZR was dragged down by 1.8 error runs below average). The ability to cover ground is important given Citi Field’s dimensions.
Terry Collins has stated that the team will try other options in center field, including Jason Bay, Mike Baxter and Jordany Valdespin. Of the three, only Bay has Major League experience in center, having played 40 games (274 innings) at the position. Baxter, while never playing there in the bigs, has appeared in 43 minor league games in center field. Valdespin has not played one professional inning in center field. Experience alone suggest that Hairston is the most capable fielder and the numbers back that assertion up as well. Besides not playing center field since 2005 as a member of the Pirates, Bay has a lifetime UZR of -3.5 at the position, along with costing his team four runs on defense. In the minors, Baxter posted a total zone rating of -10 in center. And while Valdespin is a great athlete, there is no guarantee he’ll learn how to play center in enough time to make him a viable option.
So Hairston is the best backup center fielder on the Mets roster, and he is on the shelf. With questions surrounding the team’s pitching staff, coupled with the fact that Bay and Lucas Duda aren’t the strongest corner outfielders, having a center fielder who can cover ground and hold up defensively is important. Hopefully Hairston will be ready by Opening Day so the team won’t have to resort to one of the aforementioned options.
Topics: Amazins, Andres Torres, Center Field Depth, David Wright, Jason Bay, Matt Kaufman, Mets, Mets Center Field, New York, New York Mets, Rising Apple, Ruben Tejada, Sandy Alderson, Scott Hairston, Scott Hairston Injury, Terry Collins