On June 18th, after a doubleheader sweep of the Braves in which Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler earned victories, Sandy Alderson announced that the Mets had acquired Eric Young Jr. from the Colorado Rockies for Collin McHugh. Many assumed that this was simply a swap of players who had been designated for assignment, and not really a big deal. However, the Mets have been playing much better baseball since June 16th, the day Kirk Nieuwenhuisbeat the Cubs with three-run home run in the bottom of the 9th. While there are many reasons for the Mets’ resurgence (starting pitching and bullpen to name two), there seems to be strong agreement that Young has been an important contributor. Let’s look at why that may be.
Young came to the Mets with a 2013 batting average of .242 and an OBP of .291. Since donning the blue and orange, Young has hit .300 with a .381 OBP in the leadoff spot. He has stolen 9 bases as a Met, and played solid defense in the outfield and at second base. Young also plays the game at full throttle, and his hustle and execution of the finer points of the game have been infectious among his teammates. In today’s game against the Phillies, Young showed his value in the 5th inning. He reached on a single off Cole Hamels. Young promptly stole second base, advanced to third on a fly ball to center field, and scored on a David Wright single. That’s “small ball” defined. This style of baseball gives the Mets another way to score, and with the way the team had struggled to score runs prior to Young’s arrival, this added offensive dimension was sorely needed.
Young has added value in other ways. Prior to his injury, Lucas Duda had been the Mets’ primary left fielder. Duda’s production at the plate was sub par, with a .235 average and 11 home runs. Duda’s outfield defense is well known to be below average, so Young’s arrival has likely brought the Duda outfield experiment to an end. The time had come to recognize that Duda is not a major-league outfielder, and Young’s arrival seems to have helped the Mets to that conclusion. The improved defense in the outfield has helped keep the Mets in games, made the pitching better, and helped to energize the team. Young has also demonstrated versatility, playing center field and second base in addition to left field. This may help the Mets find playing time for players such as Andrew Brown (who could play left). Young could also allow players, such as Daniel Murphy, to take days off during the hot weather and tough schedule that are ahead.
The biggest question about Eric Young is whether or not he can sustain his current pace. Having never been a day-in and day-out player, this is a fair question. On a contending team, Young may project as a super-sub, a fourth outfielder and utility infielder. However, being under team control for the next 3 years, Young has likely shown enough to warrant a spot on the 2014 roster. One thing is indisputable. Young is the best leadoff hitter the Mets have had since the departure of Jose Reyes. He may or may not be in that role next season, but for now, Eric Young Jr. has been just what the doctor ordered for the Mets.