Ruben Tejada and the Mets Future


Ruben Tejada, the Mets’ starting shortstop, might be one of the most discussed players on the New York Mets. Though his play has largely been average, the young infielder is considered by fans anything between a potential asset to a current liability to a pariah.

Brian Mangan, who writes for the Read Zone, recently wrote an article about Tejada that he and I were discussing earlier on Twitter. I like Brian, he seems like a good dude, and in no way is this meant to be a takedown piece. In fact, this article is borne somewhat out of our earlier discussion. Feel free to read his first before continuing here. In any case:

Jul 19, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) stretches for the throw to force out San Diego Padres catcher Rene Rivera (44) during the third inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

To say Ruben’s 2013 was bad is a massive understatement – he hit .202/.259/.260 over two plus months surrounding a hamstring injury, a lengthy AAA stint, and a broken leg. Perhaps without merit, this season is often given significant weight relative to his 2011 & 2012 seasons, despite the sample sizes – 877 plate appearances of .287/.345/.345 followed by 227 plate appearances of .202/.259/.260. But delving into the numbers, it’s not entirely fair at that. After all, Tejada’s .247/.330/.326 in April was perfectly cromulent – a 91 wRC+ and 0.4 fWAR both outpaced the league averages (86, 0.3 respectively).

May? Awful. .173/.206/.204 in 102 plate appearances. Awful enough, that it alone has lowered his career OPS by nearly 22 points. But if you want to hear about that, and why you shouldn’t worry about it, I’ve written about it before (as I’m sure anyone who saw the title/author combination already knew). Brian’s article linked above specifically considered Tejada’s 2014 a failure. But is it?

Surely, Tejada got off to a slow start this year. His line on May 9th, the day Wilmer Flores was recalled to take his job, was only .181/.299/.205. His 21.2% strikeout rate suggested that Tejada’s failures were due to a surprising inability to make contact. Underneath that, however, were some signs that a positive turn was ahead. His walk rate (9.5%, excluding unintentional passes), high line drive rate and .242 BABIP through that point suggested significant positive regression – regression which as occured.

Since that point, Tejada’s hit .260/.382/.335 over 55 games (50 starts). His strikeout rate over that span is only 17.2%. His walk rate has risen even further, to 12.3% (again, excluding intentional walks). Speaking of intentional walks (as Brian specifically uses them to show Tejada’s inflated On Base Percentage), his OBP over that span would be .366 without any free passes – still excellent. His Isolated Power (ISO) over that span – .075 – is actually somewhat better than expectation as well.

Jun 27, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) singles against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Tejada’s 2011, which was generally lauded as a miniature breakout, saw him post an on base percentage of .360, slugging percentage of .335, and an ISO of .052 – all of which he’s matching or outpacing on over the past two and a half months. His value has increased as well. Over that span, he’s been a 2.5 – 3 WAR player – a perfectly reasonable starter.

But, importantly, let’s look at the overall point of Brian’s article: The Ruben Tejada experiment is over. He’s failed.

Has he though?

We can look at what he did back in April and be discouraged. Or we can look at what he’s doing now, and see it for what it is – a potentially valuable, inexpensive starter for the Mets. Does this mean he should be the starter for the foreseeable future? Not necessarily. Priority number one has to be improving left field, currently the only position the Mets aren’t at least competitive at.

Beyond that, it still behooves Sandy Alderson to improve the team however possible. But it also behooves him to fully assess the situation before doing so. Should the Mets have an opportunity at Troy Tulowitzki, they need to make that move yesterday. But barring that, there still exists the internal issue – Wilmer Flores.

Flores, who turns 23 in two weeks, has torn it up in AAA Las Vegas: .330/.373/.574 this season. Unfortunately, Flores currently lacks a position. With the other three infield positions performing largely to expectation, shortstop represents Wilmer’s only opportunity in the majors. The Mets have long felt that Flores lacks the range to play shortstop, but back in May they were desperate enough for production that they eschewed their concerns. The production showed up – not from the player they expected – but the position is certainly no longer a liability.

What to do about Wilmer though? He ostensibly has nothing left to prove in AAA, but is otherwise completely blocked in the majors barring an injury or trade. There shouldn’t be a Tejada vs. Flores dynamic though, necessarily. The question comes down to what they feel is more important to the future of this team. Their decision seems to be to get as much information on Tejada’s ability at the major league level. It’s the more conservative decision – Tejada’s out of options, after all.

Many consider the Ruben Tejada “experiment” to be over. I’d argue there are still two months left.

This isn’t, of course, to say that Tejada should be the shortstop of the future. Brian properly points out that shortstop and left field are the two positions with the largest room for improvement, and Sandy Alderson should absolutely pursue all avenues for improving either. But that shouldn’t preclude the fact that not only has Tejada shown his potential to be a starting major league shortstop, but that he’s currently being the player everyone hoped he could be in 2011, and still has plenty of time to improve upon that.