The Mets have long struggled with infield defense, culminating in last year's all-around disaster. Between all four spots, they totaled an incredible -68 defensive runs saved (roughly equivalent to losing seven games more than they would have with average defense) -- a mark double that of the second worst team.
No position was better than -10 defensive runs saved, with shortstop taking the cake at -24. There was no place to go but up and thankfully, with some new faces and some positional changes, the Mets should be in line for a big step forward.
Asdrubal Cabrera was one of the worst offenders in 2017 and while he's the only starter returning, he should benefit considerably from a positional change. While he is not expected to be a defensive whiz at second base, his performance there over the course of his career has far exceeded his performance at shortstop, where he has been a major liability almost every season. In a small sample in 2017, he was still a net negative at second, but more consistent time there should help significantly.
The new kid in town, Todd Frazier, is an excellent defender in his own right, but moreover, will provide a stabilizing force to the infield. Instead of piecing together a group of middling-to-poor defenders who never play the same spot for more than a couple of weeks, he is lined up to hold down the hot corner for the foreseeable future, bringing with him a career 30 defensive runs saved and thousands of innings of experience.
The biggest transformation should come at shortstop, where slick-gloved Amed Rosario is ready to take the helm. His debut last season didn't go as smoothly as expected, but even with nerve-related bobbles and mental mistakes, he was well above average and showed off range the Mets haven't seen since the days of Rey Ordonez. Another year older and wiser, Rosario is poised to dazzle defensively and can single-handedly (okay, maybe he'll need both hands) turn the team's biggest weakness into its biggest strength.
Simply having the same group playing together day-in and day-out will improve the defense overall, as players get to know one another and learn to accommodate one another's weaknesses. Unfortunately, the stability of this trio will not carry over to first base, a position still very much in flux for the Mets.
Adrian Gonzalez, the presumptive starter despite an exceptionally poor spring, has generally shown a solid glove at first base, showing more range than most at the position and the kind of steady confidence that comes from playing nearly every game every season for a decade-plus.
2017, a disastrous year for Gonzalez in many ways, also saw his first below average fielding season since his days as a Padre. A half season is a very small sample, but at his age it's reasonable to expect that he will be a step slower going forward. Still, he's far from a liability and can handle what he's given.
Platooning with Gonzalez to start the season -- and perhaps getting some starts against right-handed pitchers -- will be the defensively-challenged Wilmer Flores. A small sample of work at first base has shown more promise there than elsewhere on the diamond, but it's unlikely he'll blossom into a plus glove any time soon. Still, he more than anyone has suffered from constant positional changes. And if this season brings him a consistent stretch at first base, it's quite possible we'll see him hone his skills.
The ultimate X factor at first base, in more ways than one, is Dominic Smith. Robbed of his ability to compete for a major league role in Spring Training by a quad injury, there's no timetable for when he might return to Queens.
A quick start in Triple-A combined with a continuation of Gonzalez's struggles could have him back in a month or so, but it's equally likely that he'll go the better part of the season before getting the call. And when he does arrive, will he bring the sharp defensive skills that garnered him praise in the minors? Or will he be the slow, awkward fielder he appeared to be in his poor debut? A new training regimen and a trimmed-down physique may help, but missing out on more learning opportunities will not.
Even with question marks surrounding first base, the Mets are looking at a quartet capable of making a complete turnaround on last year's defensive disaster and putting up an above average season. Especially on the left side, their potential is sky-high and they offer fans -- not to mention the Mets pitching staff -- a lot to look forward to.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring