March 20, 2012; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) turns the double play during the spring training game against the New York Mets at Digital Domain Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

Ruben Tejada Can Replace Jose Reyes-On Defense


Much of the focus this season will be on Ruben Tejada and how he can “replace” Jose Reyes.  While there is no real replacement for Reyes, Tejada, who is still just 22, will have to do his best.  Offensively, the task of replacing last year’s National League batting champ is daunting, but defensively, filling Reyes’ void might not be that tough.

Reyes has gained a reputation as a solid defensive shortstop throughout his career.  He certainly passes the eye test, given his speed and strong arm, and in past seasons, advanced metrics have backed up that claim.  In both 2006 and 2007, he saved 12 defensive runs, mostly resulting from his ability to get to balls that other shortstops could not.  UZR illustrated Reyes’ defensive skills as well; the Dominican native posted a UZR of 5.7 in ’06 and 11.6 in ’07.  But lately, Jose’s defense has been a little shakier.
Whether it’s been the leg troubles or because he’s lost a step since his younger days, Reyes has technically hurt the Mets on defense the past few years.  In ’08 and ’09, he cost the team two and one defensive runs, respectively, while breaking even in ’10.  Comparatively, UZR viewed Reyes more favorably in 2008 (1.7), about the same in 2009 (-0.9) and less so in 2010 (-5.0).  Last season, Reyes cost the Mets 11 defensive runs along with a UZR of -3.1.  Most of the decline can be attributed to Reyes’ inability to get to balls that other shortstops can-that is, his range has decreased.
How has Tejada stacked up so far?  He’s only played 69 games at shortstop, compared to 999 by Reyes.  Tejada saved one defensive run in 2010 and cost the Mets two in 2011, while posting a 0.2 UZR in ’10 and -0.2 UZR in ’11.  The sample size is small, and Tejada has certainly had growing pains, but breaking down his UZR from last season provides a more positive out look.  In 2011, Tejada’s accumulated 3.9 range runs, a component of UZR.  His overall UZR was brought down by the eight errors he committed and the lack of double plays turned, but he demonstrated his ability to cover range.  Considering that Tejada shuffled back and forth between short and second last season and that his double play partner was usually Justin Turner (or sometimes Willie Harris), his total UZR should improve this coming season (even with Daniel Murphy at second base).

Tejada has big shoes to fill at shortstop, and while he probably won’t replace Reyes offensively right away (he also is a completely different type of offensive player than Reyes), the Mets should be able to avoid a defensive lapse at the position. In fact, there is a good chance the Mets defense at shortstop will actually be improved by a full year of Tejada.  With a defense that is predicted to be among the worst in baseball this coming season, Tejada could be a bright spot on the field.

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