Jason Bay & Carlos Beltran: Not Cutting Corners In Outfield


Citi Field is one, huge place.  It’s been noted time and again how the large dimensions make it difficult for batters to hit home runs, but sometimes overlooked is how a larger ballpark can make life difficult for the outfielders.  For example, there is less ground to cover in Citizens Bank Park or Yankee Stadium, meaning the Phillies and Yankees don’t necessarily need the strongest defensive outfielders.  The Mets, on the other hand, need to stock their outfield with guys who can get to fly balls.

So how are the Mets outfielders doing in the spacious ballpark in which they call home?  They are doing quite well actually.  Since Angel Pagan hasn’t played all that much, I’m going to specifically focus on the corner outfielders: Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, defense is tricky to measure, but thanks to advances in sabermetrics has become more quantifiable.  Whether a player has committed a small amount of errors doesn’t necessarily mean he is a good fielder, since you can’t commit an error on a ball you don’t reach.  As it so happens, Bay has committed just one error so far this season and Beltran hasn’t committed any, but their sabermetric stats hold up as well.

When Bay inked his four year contract, there were some questions as to how he’d be hold up in left field.  Not only has he held up this season, but he’s played a very underrated left field.  In addition to making several tough catches, he’s tallied five defensive runs saved above average, good for second in the National League with four others (number one is Gerardo Parra who has saved a ridiculous fifteen runs above average).  Bay has succeeded because he’s been able to get to more balls than the average left fielder.  Indeed, of those five runs saved, four can be accounted for based on the plus/minus system, which states just that.

The other run can be accounted based on Bay’s outfield arm, which has resulted in one outfield assist.  But a good outfield arm means more than just assists; it means being able to prevent runners from advancing.  There are five situations in which runners can take extra bases involving the outfield: going from first to third on a single, scoring from second on a single, scoring from first on a double, scoring on a sacrifice fly and advancing to third on a sacrifice fly.  In each of these situations, there are three outcomes: the runner may take the extra base, he may not attempt to take the extra base at all (in which he is “held”) or he may be thrown out trying to advance (in which he was “killed”).

In 30 opportunities for runners to take the extra base on a ball hit to Bay, 20 time they were held, a 66.7% clip that is above the 63.2% league average.  This stat is a little flawed because it’s not that likely for a runner on first to try advancing to third on a line drive single to left field.  It is more likely that a runner from second will try and score on a single.  In this scenario, Bay has also performed well, holding the runner five out of twelve times in addition to throwing one runner out at home.  It is also important to note that without looking back at every play, this information does not convey how hard each ball was hit or who was running.  However, these numbers to suggest that Bay has done a good job getting to balls quickly and preventing runners from advancing.

And then there’s Beltran, who made the widely publicized move to right field this season.  Like Bay, he too has made a few nice catches and has the stats to back them up.  He’s saved three runs above average, putting him in a tie for third among National League right fielders (Ben Francisco and Mike Stanton lead with five).  Two of Beltran’s defensive runs saved come from the plus/minus system, and the other based on his outfield arm.  In addition to two outfield assists, Carlos has a held percentage of 48.4%, which might seem low when compared to Bay’s rate, but remember that runners will more often go first to third on a ball hit to right field.  As it turns out, Beltran ranks above the league average of 43.3% in this category.  With a runner on third and less than two outs, Beltran is 0-5 at preventing him from scoring, but that might have to do with the fact that the right field dimensions at Citi are huge.

With Pagan back to roaming in center, the Mets outfield defense is actually pretty solid, all things considered.  Bay is performing better than his reputation and Beltran seems comfortable in right.  With the Mets pitching staff allowing fly balls at a 39.1% rate (seventh in the majors), all three will need to continue their defensive play to keep the Mets in games.