Grapefruit League games are officially underway for the New York Mets. After spending the offseason rebuilding the team into a contender, the Mets now find themselves with a wealth of players at every position. Each Wednesday leading up to opening day, a new position will get its own preview. Check out the previous breakdowns in the links below. Today, the third basemen will get their due.
Despite being connected to multiple third basemen this winter, the Mets ultimately stood fast and decided not to pursue any top talent. This leaves J.D. Davis to once again take the lead in the hot corner. Whether the stars simply didn’t align on another deal or if Sandy Alderson really means it when he says Davis will play a key role for the team, the position as of now is his.
First off, just to get it out of the way, yes, Davis is arguably the worst fielding third baseman in the league. In only 770 innings there, he owns -19 DRS, -3.0 UZR and -2 OAA. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy fix here. His struggles are present in just about every aspect of the position. Is there still hope for improvement? Sure. Crazier things have happened certainly. But barring something drastic, expect Davis to be a defensive liability again.
Offensively, there is a lot to unpack here. Davis was a breakout success for the Mets when they acquired him from the Houston Astros in 2019. After a couple of low-contact, low-power seasons in Houston, something clicked for Davis in New York and suddenly he looked like one of the best hitters in baseball. In 2019 he slashed .307/.369/.527 with a 137 OPS+ and 22 homeruns. He owes this massive increase in power to elite marks in exit velocity (91.5 mph) and hard hit percentage (47.9%). Likewise, his overall increase in hits can be attributed to a ridiculous .355 BABIP.
What makes this performance ever more impressive is that the predictive metrics show that Davis actually underperformed in 2019. His xBA (.317) put him in the 99th percentile of the league, and his xSLG (.560) and xwOBA (.394) were beyond elite as well.
With stats like these, many had Davis primed to become a superstar in 2020. Of course, the Mets wouldn’t have been in the market for a third basemen this winter if that happened. Call it bad luck or a regression to his mean, either way Davis had a down, albeit not terrible, 2020. A .247/.371/.389 slash line with only six homeruns and multiple prolonged slumps dampened much of the mood around Davis.
That said, there was some good in 2020. He was walking more, with an impressive 13.5% walk rate, and his OPS+ was still an above average 112.
Davis’ regression played a major role in the Mets’ inability to drive in runners in scoring position last season, having hit just .167 in 50 plate appearances with runners on second or third. Across the board he saw a notable decrease in power, as well as a sharp drop in average launch angle (10.6 in 2019 to 3.3 in 2020). One possible explanation for all of this could be Davis’ newfound struggles against breaking pitches. In 2019 he hit .313 and slugged .563 against breaking pitches, only to see those numbers drop to .150 and .250 in 2020. This should be an area of focus this spring, with Davis needing to make some serious adjustments if he wants to return to his 2019 level of production.
The Backup Once Again
Luis Guillorme is the primary backup for yet another position. Just as he will likely see the second most reps at second base and shortstop, the same looks to be true at third. Surprisingly, third base is the closest thing to a weakness he has on defense. In just under 150 innings, Guillorme has put up a mediocre -3 DRS, -1.4 UZR and -1 OAA. Luckily, most of the damage here comes from 2018, with 2019-2020 being much better in each stat. He also owns an above average .963 fielding percentage and just one error at third. If he continues his current trajectory, Guillorme might end up being a plus defender in every position he plays.
To quickly go over his offensive ability, 2020 was Guillorme’s first good season with a bat. Should he prove his .333/.426/.439 slash line and 141 OPS+ last year isn’t a fluke, he might just become the best infield utility player in the league. Should Davis go through a stretch of prolonged struggle in 2021, don’t be surprised if Guillorme starts to see more regular play time.
A Familiar Veteran
Just as Guillorme is the backup once more, Brandon Drury again finds himself competing for a bench role. As a non-roster invitee this spring, he will have to prove he deserves a spot on the 26-man roster. With the relative uncertainty surround Davis as a starter, this might convince the Mets that Drury’s ability to play the position gives him the edge over the other veteran NRIs who predominantly play at shortstop or second base.
Having said that, Drury’s defense isn’t great at third. DRS is the least bullish on him at -9 in more than 1000 innings. His UZR is slightly better at -2.4, and he did put up a passable 0.9 mark in 2019. His 2 OAA is the most encouraging here. This also includes an excellent 6 OAA in 2019, hinting at recent improvement.
Defensive improvements are the most Drury can hope for at this point in his career since his bat skills are non existent. A career .248/.296/.411 hitter, his lone productive season came back in 2016 when he owned a 101 OPS+. On the flip side is 2020, which saw him slash an abysmal .152/.184/.174. Again, a strong showing in spring training might give a glimpse of hope, but after six years of bad to middling play, Drury faces an uphill battle.
That wraps things up for the third basemen and the infield. Next Wednesday will see the first look at the outfield, starting with the right fielders.
Featured Image Courtesy of the Rich Schultz/Getty Images
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