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May 25, 2013; Flushing, NY,USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) reaches on bunt single to third during the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Leading Off?

The topic of who will lead-off for the Mets in 2014 has been robustly discussed since the end of last season. Since the roster for 2014 is not yet finalized, any speculation is just that, simply a way to keep baseball top-of-mind as we head into the holiday season. On Mets Hot Stove Last night, the potential lineup below was posted:

Ruben Tejada- SS

Daniel Murphy- 2B

David Wright- 3B

Curtis Granderson- LF

Lucas Duda- 1B

Chris Young- RF

Travid d’Arnaud- C

Juan Lagares- CF

A debate among Mets Twitter ensued, with many interesting options discussed. Should Daniel Murphy lead-off? How about Lagares? Should Granderson bat toward the top of the order? Let’s take a look at some options for the top spot in the lineup.

Ruben Tejada- I admit to being surprised by how many people think Tejada is a good choice. Last year, Tejada hit .202 with a .259 OBP. For his career, Tejada has a .323 OBP, which is less than ideal for a lead-off hitter. In addition, Tejada is a singles hitter and is not a threat on the basepaths, which means no additional pressure is put on the pitcher, and it will take multiple singles, or an extra base hit(s) to score him.

Daniel Murphy- This is an interesting possibility. Murphy is a career .290 hitter, but has a modest career OBP of .333. Murphy has become a very good base runner (kudos to him, as this was the weak spot of his game). Last year, he stole 23 bases, and was caught only 3 times, for a success rate of 88%. Daniel served as the lead off hitter last year before the acquisition of Eric Young, Jr. While Murphy has some attributes that may make him a good choice, in the Mets’ lineup, he may be better suited to spot where he can drive in runs (he had 38 doubles and 13 home runs last year).

Juan Lagares- Many want Lagares to be the starting center fielder next year. If so, would he slot into the lead off spot? His ,.281 OBP would suggest that he would not, and that would be supported by his 20 walks in his 392 official at bats. Lagares has some speed, but is not an accomplished base runner (last year he stole 6 bases in 9 attempts). Over and above his statistics, Lagares has shown little plate discipline, which does not align with the Mets’ offensive philosophy.

Eric Young Jr.- For some reason, EY is often omitted from the discussion about lead-off candidates. EY is also not an ideal choice, with a 2013 OBP of .318 (as a Met), and a career mark of .325. But here’s the difference. Young has roughly the same OBP as the players previously discussed, but Young certainly helps create runs with his speed. He led the NL with 46 steals last year, with a success rate of 80%. With his ability to get into scoring position, Young can score on a single, rather than on multiple hits or extra base hits. When the Mets acquired EY on June 18th last year, they were 13 games under .500. The rest of the way (more than half the season), they played essentially .500 baseball ( 1 game under). Terry Collins often cited EY’s filling the lead-off spot as a reason for the improved play. What else changed with the Mets after June 18th that could have been factors for the resurgence? The presence of Zack Wheeler certainly mattered. However, David Wright and Matt Harvey went down due to injuries in the second half. The team was basically the same, so something had to have happened. Was it all EY? Of course it was not. But to discount the value that he brought to a struggling team would also not be a fair assessment.

The problem with EY is getting him into the lineup. The Mets have a pleasant dilemma in the outfield, with Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, Juan Lagares, and EY (plus a fifth outfielder). The question now is, barring a trade, whether the need for a lead-off hitter will force EY into the outfield configuration. On a championship team, Young undoubtedly is a reserve player. However, the Mets aren’t there yet. If Young can increase his OBP by 25 points through better pitch selection and more walks (as Terry Collins has indicated), he may be the best lead-off candidate on the roster. Where he plays will be a tough decision for Terry Collins to make. However, not putting EY in the lead-off mix may not be wise.

As mentioned above, all of this speculation may be rendered moot if the Mets acquire a true lead off hitter (perhaps at the shortstop position). But for now, it’s fun to share ideas, debate them, and count the days until spring training.

What are your recommendations for the top spot in the 2014 lineup?

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Tags: Daniel Murphy Eric Young Jr Juan Lagares Ruben Tejada

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