Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
There was a moment in the Mets' victory on Monday in Miami when it was easy to dream on their defense. Amed Rosario dashed to his right to backhand a grounder and made a strong, nervy throw to second instead of throwing to third for perhaps an easier play. Asdrubal Cabrera made a smooth turn at second and a strong relay to complete a double play.
In their recent history, the Mets' glove story was mostly nightmare stuff. But that perhaps has changed during their quick start in 2018. Their fielding has impressed scouts, registered some solid numbers in defensive metrics, and set social media abuzz after slick plays such as that aforementioned DP.
"I would say it's improved," one opposing team's scout said of the Mets' defense. "Infield defense has improved with Rosario and Cabrera up the middle. (Adrian) Gonzalez handles himself well at first while (Todd) Frazier is OK at third. "
Another evaluator, from a different organization, opined that he'd give the Mets a "B-plus" on defense right now. "Solid up the middle and on the infield corners," the scout added.
In their first 10 games, in which they have set a franchise record by going 9-1, the Mets have converted 76 percent of the ground balls hit against them into outs, according to Mark Simon of Sports Info Solutions, a company that collects and analyzes sports data. That's ranked ninth in Major League Baseball.
Last season, the Mets turned only 71 percent of ground balls into outs, which was 29th across MLB. Think of it this way, Simon noted: teams essentially batted .290 when they hit the ball on the ground against the Mets last year. This year, it's .240.
Overall last season, the Mets were judged to be the worst defensive team in the big leagues by one metric, Defensive Runs Saved. They had minus-75 DRS, according to FanGraphs. Their 92 errors were the most the Mets have had in a season since 2014. They haven't had a Gold Glove winner since Juan Lagares got his in 2014.
On April 11, 2017 -- one year ago today -- the starting infield in a game in Philadelphia looked like this: Lucas Duda at first, Neil Walker at second, Cabrera at shortstop and Jose Reyes at third.
Now, it's much different. Rosario's youth and range get some of the credit, scouts say.
But there may be growing pains at short, too, which should be no surprise considering at 22 years old, Rosario was the seventh-youngest player in the majors to make an opening day roster this year. In the same game that he started that nifty double play, Rosario picked up his glove too early on a ground ball and it squirted through for an error.
One of the scouts described Rosario as "close" to being an elite defensive shortstop, but added, "This year is a learning curve. His talent is above average. Not quite like (Trea) Turner (of Washington)."
The other scout called Rosario a "solid type. Don't think he will be in the elite class."
Whatever ultimately happens with Rosario's progression, he's helping the Mets play better 'D' now.
Not that there aren't blemishes, still. The club has made eight errors in 10 games, tied for fifth-most in the majors, though that's not always the best measuring stick for defense, which can be difficult to gauge regardless of method. Plus, three of the gaffes came in one game -- April 8 in Washington.
They still struggle to control the running game, though we'll see if Tomas Nido, just called up from the minors, can help there. Nido is replacing Travis d'Arnaud, who has a partially-torn UCL in his right elbow and went on the disabled list.
Kevin Plawecki, the other catcher, is 0-for-5 throwing out thieves. D'Arnaud was 1-for-8. Met pitchers, in general, are not considered adept at holding opposing runners on, which is no help.
"They need to do a better job," one of the scouts said. "Some are slow (to the plate). Some ignore the runners."
Some observers wonder about the outfield, though both Lagares and Yoenis Cespedes have made splashes with strong throws for outfield assists already. Is Michael Conforto good enough to play center all year? One scout said since Conforto is "not a true centerfielder, " he'll "only be fair" at the position.
"That's a question we'll have to see," added the second evaluator.
Same with the Mets defense overall. For now, though, it's one of the reasons this year's club has made franchise history.