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Eric Young Jr. & the leadoff spot: making the best of a bad situation

Eric Young Jr. (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)
Eric Young Jr. (Photo credit: Paul Hadsall)

When Eric Young Jr. stole two bases in the final game of the season last September to cement his status as the National League’s leading base stealer, it gave Mets fans a little something to cheer for after the pre-game ceremony honoring Mike Piazza had ended.

The June 18th, 2013 trade for Young was a turning point in the Mets season – not because Young is a great player, but because it meant they stopped playing Lucas Duda in left field. And Duda is one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball history. Young also gave Terry Collins a regular leadoff hitter, although he wasn’t very good at it.

While many fans and big league managers fall into the trap of thinking a leadoff hitter needs to be fast, that’s only part of the equation. Leadoff hitters need to get on base above all else, and Young is not particularly good at doing that.

  • Cincinnati’s Joey Votto led the National League with a .435 on-base percentage. Cincinnati’s Shin-Soo-Choo had the highest on-base percentage in baseball as a regular leadoff hitter – .432.
  • Eric Young  had a .318 on-base percentage in 2013, just slightly lower than his .325 career mark.

Some take hope from the fact that Young had a significantly higher on-base percentage when he was actually leading off an inning – .380. With no one on base, Young’s on-base percentage was .343. With runners on base, his on-base percentage was just .260.

If Eric Young is going to play on a regular basis, it does make a certain amount of sense to put him at the top of the lineup to maximize his skills. But on a good team, Eric Young shouldn’t be a regular player – he doesn’t hit for power or average, he doesn’t walk, and he doesn’t play great defense.

To his credit, Collins seems to recognize that Young has these shortcomings. The Mets’ manager told reporters this week that he’d like Young to have a .350 on-base percentage. Collins believes Young can do this by bunting more and being more selective early in the count. I don’t know how much Young is willing (or able) to change his game at age 28, but I hope he can figure out how to get on base more often.

There is not an ideal leadoff hitter on the New York Mets’ roster, and Collins seems to have his heart set on playing Eric Young. It would be nice if he rewarded his manager’s faith.

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5 thoughts on “Eric Young Jr. & the leadoff spot: making the best of a bad situation

  1. One thing I don’t like about the current Mets regime is this taking pitches philosophy. If you have a hitter who has some discipline issues, like den Dekker, then it seems useful to teach them to wait for their pitch. Maybe even Chris Young could benefit from that. But you can’t make it a blanket philosophy, as the Mets have. Players with a good batting eye need to be turned loose, they need to be aggressive at the plate. Otherwise, you’re going to create what you’re trying to prevent–more two strike counts and more strikeouts. EY was a better player for the Mets when he first came over, less so as time went on. Hmmm. Might want to think about that. Maybe we should just leave him alone. Also, although I tend to be a Sandy Alderson supporter, our hitting and pitching coaches are the worst in the league. I think we’d get better results with better coaches.

    I disagree (re: Twitter feed) about the value of the stolen base however. Like most of these new aged stat attempts, there are too many things impossible to quantify–like the disruption to the pitcher’s concentration. I think the stolen base, if anything, is under utilized. Again, I’d like to see teams more aggressive, not less.


    1. I’m not a fan of trying to make every hitter follow one approach, regardless of whether it plays to their skills. But I’m not sure I’d rank Dan Warthen and Dave Hudgens as the worst coaches in the league – Hudgens, in particular, has not had all that much talent to work with. Barring a miracle season, I’m on board with making changes in the manager’s office and coaching staff this winter.

      For those who didn’t see the link to Scott Lindholm’s article on the value of stolen bases in my Twitter feed, here’s the link:

      I don’t completely agree with his conclusions, either. There is value to disrupting a pitcher’s concentration, assuming you’re not also doing the same thing to the hitter at the plate. And when a team is struggling, sometimes you need to do anything you can to try to manufacture runs. In general, though, I prefer aggressiveness on the bases to take the form of going from first to third on a hit rather than stolen base attempts.


  2. The obvious question, then, if EY becomes the regular lead-off hitter, is where does he play? Having just signed Chris Young, you know they’ll want to trot him out there as often as possible, and obviously Granderson plays everyday as well. So do we leave Lagares and his fantastic defense down in Triple-A? That would seem to be a mistake to me. Or if EY plays second base, what do we do with Murphy, move him back over to first?
    Just a suggestion, but why not utilize EY the same way the Angels used Chone Figgins a few years back, playing 40-50 games per year at multiple positions, keeping each of the regular starters fresh? He would still get 500+ at bats, and none of the other players would be permanently displaced.
    Something else. Perhaps, just perhaps, Travis d’Arnaud would be their best option as a lead-off hitter. His on-base skills in his final three minor league stops were pretty nice, and putting him at lead-off might reignite his once impressive bat skills, which became noticeably less aggressive in his 99 at bats with the Mets last season.


    1. Given Eric Young’s skills, the age of Curtis Granderson, and the fact that neither Chris Young nor Juan Lagares are 150-game players, I’d plan on each of the four playing in around 120-130 games. Lagares would be my regular center fielder when he was in the lineup, Granderson would be my regular right fielder when he was playing, and the Youngs would do most of the bouncing around.

      If Eric Young is going to be a regular player, he may as well lead off since the Mets do not have a good candidate for the job and it does take advantage of his one talent – speed.

      I don’t like the idea of batting Travis d’Arnaud leadoff for two reasons. First, while on-base percentage is more important, you do need to have somespeed or you’ll be clogging up the bases and forcing the team to play station-to-station baseball more often. (Lucas Duda would be an almost ideal leadoff hitter – and perhaps an acceptable major league outfielder – if he had anything approaching average speed.)

      Second, I’d like d’Arnaud to have a chance to prove he can hit before he’s put into a position where he’s important to the offense. (You can make the argument that d’Arnaud will never see a good pitch to hit except by mistake if he has to bat in front of Ruben Tejada or the pitcher, and you’d be right… but the truth is that there just are not enough good bats on the Mets to put together anything close to an ideal lineup.)


      1. I do agree with you that d’Arnoud has to prove himself before he hits at the top of the lineup, but with this lineup, just putting a bat in his hands probably makes him one of their top four hitters. I have no idea how fast d’Arnoud is, but if he’s average speed, I’ll take his (potential) OBP over a faster player with a .315 OBP any day. Wade Boggs, with below average speed, used to bat lead-off for the Red Sox for many years, and usually scored over 100 runs per year. Catcher Jason Kendall hit 1st for the Pirates for a few years, too. Also, the idea of a “lead-off” hitter is overrated in the first place, since other than the 1st inning, they aren’t guaranteed to bat first in any other inning. What we’re trying to do, then, is give the most at bats per game to our best overall hitters. If d’Arnoud ends up being one of our top four hitters, then it would seem to make more sense to give him more at bats per game (which someone batting at or near the top of the order will get), than someone who might be speedier, but who is a (potentially) inferior hitter (and who may end up batting 3rd, 2nd or 6th in any particular inning other than the first.)
        As for the outfield, I agree with you that no one of them needs to play anything like 160 games per year. Granderson should play the most, with Lagares occasionally getting a day off in center (2nd game of a double-header, for example) while Chris Young should play somewhere around 125-135 games. Figuring that there will almost certainly be injuries, having EY as a 4th-outfielder is a nice situation. Committing to playing him nearly every day, though, even with his speed, is probably going to be a mistake.


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