NY Mets: How the team should manage their crowded outfield
The New York Mets have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to their outfield depth. Although they missed out on George Springer, who signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Mets landed two capable outfielders in Kevin Pillar and Albert Almora Jr. Both Pillar and Almora Jr. could be starters on other teams, but instead they joined a crowded outfield in Queens to help the team win their first championship since 1986.
Originally, a five-man outfield was not supposed to happen. Like many teams, the Mets operated under the presumption that the universal designated hitter would be implemented in the 2021 season. That did not come to fruition, so the Mets are left with five solid outfielders for only three spots.
This is a good thing for the Mets and manager Luis Rojas, who can get creative with the lineup and mix-and-match outfielders depending on the pitching matchup and stadium. The question, then, is how Rojas will manage his outfield heading into the regular season and when is the best time to deploy his reserve outfielders.
New Mets outfielders Albert Almora Jr. and Kevin Pillar have several paths to playing time with the Mets, but it will be contingent on their offensive performance.
It is expected that the Mets will start with Dominc Smith in left field, Brandon Nimmo in center field, and Michael Conforto in right field. This makes sense because Smith and Conforto are too valuable offensively, and Nimmo is exceptional at getting on base, making him a perfect leadoff candidate.
So where does that leave Pillar and Almora Jr.? To start with Almora Jr., it is important to recognize what his strengths and weaknesses are. In his last full season with the Cubs back in 2019, Almora Jr. was a liability on the offensive end, compiling an OPS+ of 67 and a bWAR of -1. A rise in his HR% coincided with a drop in his batting average, and the diminishing returns resulted in him losing his starting outfield job to Ian Happ.
Almora Jr. is still very young, and he will be 26 years old come mid-April. He’s still got a lot of baseball yet to play. He has also shown flashes in the past that he could be an average offensive contributor. Back in 2017, Almora Jr. hit .298/.338/.445 with 8 home runs and 46 RBI. However, Almora Jr. was brought to the Mets for his defense, where he has graded as being above-average so far in his big league career.
However, Almora Jr.’s arm strength is also low by outfield standards, ranking below-average in that department for outfielders. As a result, Almora Jr. would be best deployed as a late-inning defensive replacement for the corner outfield spots, especially left field.
Pillar, on the other hand, is coming off perhaps his best offensive year. He compiled a .288/.336/.462 batting line with 6 home runs and 34 RBI over 54 games. He also had an above-average wRC+ (106) for the first time in his career.
Pillar’s bread and butter, though, has always been his defense. Speedy and with great instincts, Pillar has carved out a niche on a major league roster as a defensive center fielder, despite never receiving a Gold Glove Award. Because Nimmo only marks as an average-to-slightly-below-average defensive center fielder, Pillar will find himself receiving playing time as a defensive replacement late in games out in center field.
However, Pillar has a unique opportunity to cut into Nimmo’s playing time even more, depending on whether his offensive outburst in 2020 carries over into 2021. In particular, Pillar could force Rojas to platoon him with Nimmo, especially against left-handed pitchers. In 2020, Pillar held a .342/.390/.579 batting line with 4 home runs and 15 RBI against lefties, whereas he only hit .258/.304/.394 against righties.
Want your voice heard? Join the Rising Apple team!
The Mets are looking at a deep outfield to begin the year. If Rojas is correctly analyzing their strengths, he would deploy Almora Jr. and Pillar in the matter described in this article to start the year. If Pillar and Almora Jr. both become solid bench contributors for the Mets in 2021, the team is going to quickly forget about losing out on Springer.