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

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

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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Topics: Daniel Murphy, Eric Young Jr, Juan Lagares, Ruben Tejada

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  • Dan Haefeli

    If Tejada can near the .345 OBP he posted between 2011-12, he’s my guy. Either way he’s definitely my leadoff hitter against lefties (career .367 OBP/ .348 in 2013).

    I’d probably go Murphy/d’Arnaud/Wright/Granderson/(1st baseman)/Young/Tejada/Lagares vs. RHP and swap Murphy/Tejada vs. LHP. Of course that’s contingent on d’Arnaud’s development.

  • Joe.02

    The Mets need to obtain a true lead-off hitter. It can not merely find a buyer for Ike and make some extra moves (cheap bullpen arm, utility IF etc.) and rest on its laurels. Lead-off is a key issue & given Chris Young or Granderson doesn’t really add much to the subpar options last year, the admirable moves made so far have not addressed it.

  • Herman_Metswille

    I think the Mets should obtain a slick-fielding, hard-hitting, base-stealing shortstop and let him bat leadoff. If by chance that doesn’t happen, Tejada should lead off. I hate to be less than optimistic, but what with injuries and guys hittling 50 points less than their normal batting average, EY should get plenty of playing time at the leadoff position.

  • Eric Kench

    WHY? WHY? WHY? Why does everyone think that Terry Collins is gonna bench the NL stolen base leader? WHY?. Eric Young Jr. had a very high OBP in the minors. It was higher than Jose Reye’ss whom I thought would be a a good no. 2 hitter when he first came up. Eric Young Jr. was simply not given the opportunity to develop when he was in Colorodo.

    • Rich S

      I agree, Eric. People are very quick to devalue the SB aspect of Young’s game. Here’s a thought. If Tejada and EY get on base at .340 clip (not great), which one is more valuable on the base paths and will create more runs? Isn’t that the end game? It’s not even a debate. Case opened, case closed…. Next…

  • Bill

    This fan’s opinion may bring some disagreement, but my my candidate for lead-off hitter is . . . Juan Lagares . . I wrote a fairly lengthy comment on this to a different article two or three weeks ago and can’t seem to find it now but several of my points included:a
    – in the months of June through August, Lagares hit .288 with an OBP of .312. He had a horrible start in April and May, then another swoon at the end of the year
    - 12 of his 20 walks came in August and September – I’m thinking that is something that will get better over time. Remember that Jose Reyes didn’t walk at all for a long time and nobody wanted to rail him out of town
    - He has enough speed to play center field very well. He could turn into a very good base runner with 20 to 30 steals not out of the question. You cannot judge a player’s stolen base stats when he hits 7th – not the place to be stealing a lot of bags – why wear yourself out on the bases with the 8 and 9 hitters up? And he did steal a half dozen bases this year – i THINK i remember, but don’t have the data to back it up that those steal were when they gave him a few games at lead-off when Young was not playing.

    There is just something telling me that he will have a real breakout year in 2014. I am much more of a fan of Lagares than Eric Young, although I kinda like that one guy’s suggestion of slotting EY in at shortstop. He is athletic enough and has to be as good as Tejada ???