New York Mets News

What To Do With Eric Young, Jr?

By Rich Sparago

This week, Terry Collins said that he’d like to have Eric Young, Jr. lead off in 2014. Collins added that he felt Young could reach an OBP of .350 by walking more, and bunting for more base hits. This caused quite a stir among the fans. How could Young increase his OBP by 40 points in 2014? If Young plays, he’ll take playing time away from Juan Lagares. These were the most common sentiments.

Sep 12, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets left fielder Eric Young Jr. (22) rounds third and scores after being driven in by second baseman Daniel Murphy (not pictured) during the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start here. On a contending team, Eric Young, Jr. is a super-sub. He can play the outfield and the infield reasonably well, and pinch run.

That said, the Mets are likely not going to compete for a playoff spot this year. So is Young a possible leadoff hitter? His OBP last year was .310, which is not good enough. But can he get to .350?

On Metsblog, Maggie Wiggin noted that Young would need 22 more hits than he had in 2013 to get to that mark.  Some of these hits could come via the bunt (Young certainly has the speed). He could also increase his OBP by walking more, something he has said he is going to work on in spring training.

Is it out of the question for Young to get to .350? Well, in 2012 he had a .377 OBP in 174 ABs. With increased focus on raising his OBP, and the opportunity to do so in two different ways, I think he can get there. I really do. If he were to get on base more, his stolen bases would increase (46 last year), he would score more runs, and end up with a higher wRC+ (78 last year).

Then there are the Juan Lagares implications. If Young plays left field, Chris Young will likely get most of the time in center field, meaning reduced playing time for Juan Lagares. How detrimental will that be for the Mets?

It’s no secret that Lagares dazzeled with his defense last year, posting a UZR of 24.4. On offense, Lagares is a work-in-progress. He hit .242 last year, with an OBP of .281. Of greater concern was his (lack of) plate discipline. Last year, Lagares swung at 35% of the pitches he saw that were outside of the strike zone. In addition, he swung and missed almost 20% of the time.

That leads to the question of where Lagares could slot in the lineup. Leadoff? Second? Without significant improvement, it’s hard to see him in either spot. Then there’s the bigger question. Does Lagares’ defense justify limited offensive production? That’s up to Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson. However, given his numbers, it’s hard to see Lagares batting in any spot other than the 8th spot. And absent a signing of Stephen Drew, that spot will likely belong to Ruben Tejada.

Where does Eric Young, Jr. fit with the 2014 Mets? With some hard work and an improved OBP, I say he could be the leadoff hitter. With a better OBP, he could help to create runs. This would mean that he’ll need to play left field, with Chris Young and Juan Lagares sharing time in center field.

This may not be a popular opinion, but I think a team does need a leadoff hitter. That person’s job is to be on base, and in scoring position, in front of the big bats. That means every time the lineup turns over – not just in the first inning. With a solid spring training, Eric Young, Jr. could fill this role. Terry Collins thinks so.

What do you think?

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