Collin Cowgill and the New York Mets Outfield: Fun With Numbers


After yesterday’s trade of R.A. Dickey, et. al. for catcher John Buck and prospects Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and Wuilmer Becerra we’re almost too trade-hungover for today’s trade of prospect Jefry Marte for Oakland outfielder Collin Cowgill. Knowing Sandy Alderson and Athletics GM Billy Beane (an Alderson protege), both front offices walked away feeling like they got the better end of the deal.

May 29, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Oakland Athletics left fielder Collin Cowgill (12) hits a RBI single in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Twins won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In Marte, Alderson gave up a mid-level prospect with upside, albeit one with a muddled path to the major leagues (David Wright appears to have third base on lockdown, and Ike Davis will be hard to unseat at first base). In Cowgill, Alderson received something the Mets lack entirely: a righty-hitting outfielder. Toby Hyde over at Mets Minor League Blog provides some commentary on the trade and looks at Cowgill’s background statistically. In short, Collin Cowgill seems like a  righty hitting Mike Baxter – an outfielder with somewhat disparate platoon splits (.281/.330/.536 vs LHP, .357/.402/.456 vs. RHP in the minors, but with an unsustainable .376 BABIP against righties). In limited major league time, the splits are .298/.379/.405 and. .223/.273/.241, respectively. So, in essence, the Mets have added a potential second-half of a platoon to go with their three platoonable left-handed outfielders. The bad news is that the Mets still don’t appear to have an everyday outfielder on their roster (though if Lucas Dudacan hit to his potential it would at least offset his defense). The good news is, they can fill at least one spot every day. Here’s a list of the current Mets outfielders and their platoon splits (major league, career):

September 30, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Cody Ross (7) at bat in the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Red Sox 6 – 3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

If we’re using OPS to determine the outfield, it looks like this: vs. RHP: Duda (.805), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.740), Mike Baxter (.810)vs. LHP: Duda (.657), Nieuwenhuis (.515), Cowgill (.784) Seeing as how both Duda and Nieuwenhuis are both everyday outfielders in this scenario, and that they’ve both been below-average hitters against left-handed pitching in the past, it seems prudent for Sandy Alderson to add another right-handed outfielder. I scoured the list of free agent outfielders and assembled a list of all free agent right-handed outfielders with positive career bWAR and (in my opinion) a reasonable chance of success in 2013. The list is: Scott Hairston, Cody Ross, Nick Swisher, Austin Kearns, and Juan Rivera. Because his name is brought up often, I also included Michael Bourn.

It’s safe to say that Bourn and Swisher are out of the Mets’ range: they’re both seeking larger, multi-year deals and would cost the Mets their first round draft pick as they both rejected their qualifying offers. (If that weren’t bad enough, the pick would go to either the Yankees or Atlanta.) From looking at the chart (I’m omitting Swisher and Bourn for reasons explained above), we see that Cody Ross is the best hitter against left-handed pitching, followed by Hairston, Rivera, and Austin Kearns (I’m simply ranking them by career OPS). Against right-handed pitching, the order is Kearns, Rivera, Ross, then Hairston. All four are worse than Lucas Duda, and though Kearns has a higher OPS than Nieuwenhuis, he can’t play center (he logged 33 innings in center field in 2010, and none since). To get a better picture of what we’re trying to assemble, let’s combine the charts, and sort it by OPS:

Oct. 3, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets right fielder Lucas Duda (21) at bat against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. The Mets won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

We know that Baxter, Duda, and Nieuwenhuis should be on the roster, as should newly acquired Cowgill. As such, the Mets have room for one outfielder, and possibly two should changes be made. Looking at the chart, Ross and Hairston appear to be the best options. Both players are looking for multi-year deals, and are said to be seeking around the same amount of money. That said, Cody Ross’ better numbers vs. right-handed pitching (in a 56% larger sample) make him the more desirable option. Should Ross be out of the Mets range, bringing back Scott Hairston would still be a significant improvement to the current outfield situation. Juan Rivera and Austin Kearns could be safe short-term options if the Mets are looking to be fiscally conservative in 2013, but are probably not even medium-term options due to their apparent lack of power or versatility. So, assuming the Mets do sign Ross, we can assume the outfield to be: vs. RHP: Duda (.805), Nieuwenhuis (.740), Baxter (.810) vs. LHP: Duda (.657), Cowgill (.784), Ross (.928) Between these five outfielders, the Mets would have two above-average outfield bats in the lineup each day. Should Baxter or Duda struggle early in 2013, the Mets have in Ross a veteran capable of playing every day. With the potential addition of d’Arnaud to the lineup, it would take some of the pressure off the outfield to provide an elite bat. The lineups would probably look something akin to:

*I couldn’t find a projection for d’Arnaud in ’13, and I don’t know enough to project one myself. It’s far too early to accurately predict next year’s lineup, but it’s starting to look like the Mets might only be one or two pieces away from fielding a competitive everyday lineup (a right-handed 1B/OF would help fill a big hole.) If this is where the Mets stand in April, the lineup would at least be good enough to provide respectability in an increasingly-competitive National League East. Sandy Alderson’s plan hasn’t turned the Mets around overnight, and they may not make the playoffs next year, but Alderson is only a move or two away from showing the fans that he’s serious about not punting 2013.