Over the past few days (and weeks (and months)) beat writers and bloggers have been lambasting the New York Mets’ outfield, citing its collective lack of experience, speed, and right-handedness. As the Michael Bourn saga came and went, suggestions were made for various trades and signings the team could make to improve their outfielders. As workouts begin and spring training lineup cards get filled out, they’ll likely continue.
Which brings us to an article from Off the Bench, suggesting the Mets should add Detroit Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch. You may read the article here if you like. Boesch, of course, is left-handed and isn’t a very good defender. But is it a good idea? Let’s take a quick look at how he stacks up to the projected corner outfielders, Lucas Duda and Mike Baxter (the chart includes 2011 and 2012 statistics):
From here, it’s somewhat hard to paint a convincing argument for Boesch. He was a more valuable player over the past two seasons than Duda, but it’s an incomplete statement (Boesch was more valuable in 2011, but less valuable in 2012). Both Boesch and Duda are poor defensive outfielders, which is why Baxter (whose defense has been a strength in right field) has been more valuable than either, despite such limited playing time.
The linked article argues that Boesch’s high potential should make him a worthwhile signing but, as he is almost a full year older than Duda and only three months younger than Baxter, is this really a fair card to play? Boesch had a breakout year in AA-Erie in 2009, which led him to jump into the majors as a largely full-time player in 2010. In that 2009 season at age 24, he put up the following numbers:
By all means this would qualify as a breakout campaign for a guy who hadn’t hit more than 10 home runs in a minor league season prior to hitting 28. Because of this season, he was afforded lofty expectations as a key player for the Detroit Tigers. Is it fair to deny him his potential following a breakout season? No. But if we agree on that, shouldn’t it then be unfair to deny the Mets’ outfielders their potential? Let’s compare Duda’s and Baxter’s age 24 seasons:
So, at a similar age, both Mike Baxter and Lucas Duda enjoyed similar success. Duda and Baxter enjoy, perhaps, a leg up on Boesch as both had 60% of their plate appearances in those seasons in AAA. So, while Boesch was posting a .828 OPS in his breakout AA campaign, Duda split a .917 OPS in AA Binghamton and a .999 OPS in AAA Buffalo, and for Baxter 1.000 and .772 respectively. To Boesch’s 3.85 K/BB ratio, Lucas and Mike registered 1.40 and 1.56 marks. Both Mets outfielders posted superior batting averages and on base percentages, and Lucas Duda’s .265 ISO was 30 points higher than Boesch’s (note: though Baxter at this time was in the Padres’ system, Duda and Boesch both came up through the same minor leagues).
The following year, Boesch posted a 1.075 OPS in only 66 plate appearances before joining the majors for good. Similarly, Duda managed a 1.011 mark in 2011 before becoming an everyday player for the Mets. Baxter, who clearly doesn’t profile as a power hitter, managed a .899 OPS with 18 home runs in AAA at age 25.
At this point it’s evident that Boesch cannot be established as a superior hitting prospect to Lucas Duda. And though he’s a far better power hitter than Baxter, the line is somewhat blurred by Mike’s ability to draw walks (the point here is that the comparison isn’t clear as they profile as different styles of hitters, and neither is inherently more valuable). The remaining basis for comparison is their defense.
In their major league careers, Brennan Boesch has posted a -10.7 UZR/150, which fits almost halfway between Mike Baxter’s +9.3 and Lucas Duda’s -35.1. For both Boesch and Duda, the numbers aren’t completely fair as both have been much better in left field than right (-2.8 for Boesch, -17.5 for Duda). So it’s clear that Boesch has a distinct advantage defensively, but Duda should be offered a slight nod in that his inexperience in the outfield offers some room for improvement.
In short, we can see that Boesch doesn’t have much offensive upside compared to Lucas Duda, but has been a better defender. Meanwhile, he has shown much more potential as a power hitter compared to Mike Baxter, but Baxter’s glove appears much more valuable. He’s also older than Duda and almost as old as Baxter, which suggests that he should hit his offensive peak at around the same time. In all it seems that Boesch may not offer a significantly better ceiling than either of the Mets’ corner outfielder, and as he hits left-handed, he doesn’t seem like a good fit for the Mets.
As the trade rumors and combinations continue to swirl around the outfield, be sure to take off the rose-colored glasses. Don’t accept that someone is more likely to rebound on the basis of not-being-a-Met, and don’t get swept in the hype without research. The Mets outfield likely isn’t as bad as most suggest, and ought to garner some respect as the season progresses.