Ruben Tejada: Mets Season in Review

Ruben Tejada, perhaps #MetsTwitter’s least favorite Met, came into 2014 looking to rebound from a dismal 2013 that saw him OPS a pitchery .519 in two months of work, surrounded by a pair of injuries and a lengthy stint in AAA. He spent two stints at a fitness camp in Michigan with several teammates, and entered the season with a thin grasp on his starting position.
Both his bat and glove were question marks heading into the season. Could he prove 2013 a fluke?

How He Fared in 2014:

Aug 24, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) hits a two run home run during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

In short, yes. Ruben got off to a poor start again in 2014, posting a 40 weighted Runs Created+ (a statistic similar to OPS+) through May 9th, at which point the Mets called up Wilmer Flores to play at short. Though he was walking quite a bit, he still was displaying poor luck on balls in play; his .242 BABIP was 140 points below expectation.

Since then, things came together. His BABIP normalized (.295 vs. .310 expected), he struck out less (16.3% vs. 21.5% prior), and he hit a solid .254/.355/.342 over his last 320 plate appearances. Though detractors continue to point to intentional walks raising his on base percentage, it’s worth noting that the 103 wRC+ he posted over that span *does not* take IBB’s into account, and would rank fifth among qualified shortstops.
Defensively, after a season that saw Tejada record 8 errors in only 499 innings, along with -6 Defensive Runs Saved and an 0.2 Ultimate Zone Rating, he bested each mark comfortably. He again recorded 8 errors, but in nearly double the sample (939.1 innings), along with 3 defensive runs saved and a 3.0 UZR – both ranking in the top 8 among 22 qualified shortstops.

Areas to Improve Upon:

Tejada’s plate discipline improved in 2014, with a healthy walk rate alongside a small increase in strikeouts. His power improved as well, notching a career high 5 home runs. Despite that, Tejada must develop a more consistent approach if he wants to be a quality starter in this league. When it’s on, Tejada has the stroke to be a .280+ hitter with some doubles – exactly the player he was in 2011 & 12. When it’s off, he’s often uppercutting pitches for easy flyouts or pulling choppers.
His wRC+ each of the past four years: 99, 93, 49, 89. It’s safe to think that 2013 is an anomaly, but it’s imperative that Tejada gets that trend going positive going forward.
Projected Role in 2015:
Backup middle infielder. Though Tejada’s season largely put to rest the concerns raised by his awful 2013 season, it’s expected that the Mets will acquire a shortstop from outside the organization, either by the free agent market or trade. Failing that, the starting job will likely go to prospect Wilmer Flores, whose bat shows higher potential, for as long as his offense can offset his substandard defense.

Contract Status and Trade Rumors:

Sep 23, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) throws to first base sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

MetsBlog’s Matt Cerrone has reported that Ruben Tejada stands a chance of being non-tendered this winter. While it’s certainly a possibility, it depends heavily on how the Mets want to handle shortstop this winter. If they plan to acquire a starting shortstop this winter, it’s much more likely Tejada is gone. If they plan to start Flores, the odds suggest that Tejada will be kept as a backup and hedge at the position.

Ruben will be arbitration-eligible for the second time in 2015 after attaining Super-Two status last year. His salary will increase; probably toward the low 2’s. At that price, he’s a valuable backup with a strong glove at shortstop or second base, and enough of a bat to handle either spot in the event of an injury. There’s still a chance he starts in the event that Daniel Murphy is traded, as Wilmer Flores could slot in at second with prospect Dilson Herrera in AAA.
Though it seems unlikely, there’s a chance a market develops for Tejada. Though the shortstop market has more talent available than last year, Ruben could be an attractive piece to a team like Detroit, who desperately needs a shortstop but can’t afford free-agent prices as they try to re-sign Max Scherzer to an already expensive rotation. Even in the event that Tejada doesn’t fit on the roster, it’s probably unlikely that he gets non-tendered, if only because he retains some value as a backup.