With the acquisition of Todd Frazier, the Mets' contingent of position players is largely settled. But some questions remain, including one that has plagued the team for several seasons now: who will lead off?
On Friday, new Mets hitting coach Pat Roessler mentioned Frazier, Brandon Nimmo, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Jose Reyes as potential leadoff candidates. And there should be even more candidates than the above. So, who should it be?
The classic "old school" leadoff man is whoever is fastest -- who will steal the most bases? Of the Mets' projected starters, clearly Amed Rosario fits that mold best. He is projected to steal anywhere from 15-to-25 bases in 2018, and his raw speed is clearly elite.
But emphasis has increasingly shifted to on base percentage in recent decades -- who will make the fewest outs and provide the most baserunners for the heart of the order? In that sense, Rosario might be the last player they want in that spot. He had just a .271 OBP in 2017, on account of a minuscule 1.8 percent walk rate. He will likely improve on both measures as he matures and settles into the majors, but a realistic expectation is that he will get on base roughly 30 percent of the time, and that simply won't get the job done at the top of the lineup.
With no traditional leadoff candidate in the lineup for much of the year, Michael Conforto batted first more than any other player. His stellar .384 OBP led the team. And while he wasn't a stolen base threat, he was a smart baserunner who minimized outs made on the basepaths. It's quite possible that combination will earn him more time at the top of the order, but as he continues to rehab after season-ending shoulder surgery, the Mets have likely two months of lineups that will have to be drawn up without him.
The biggest beneficiary of Conforto's extended absence is probably Brandon Nimmo, who will most likely be the long side of a centerfield platoon until Conforto returns. Nimmo's 2017 line of .260/.379/.418 suggests he is very much the quintessential modern leadoff hitter, despite his lack of footspeed.
Even accounting for some regression in Nimmo's OBP, his elite eye at the plate suggests he will draw more than enough walks to earn his chance at the top of the order. Nimmo's challenge will be to try to reign in the strikeouts, so that his high walk rate isn't canceled out by a low batting average. But barring injury or unexpected Spring Training performances, the smart money is probably on Nimmo getting the lion's share of leadoff opportunities, at least against right-handed pitchers.
The dark horse candidate for the leadoff spot is the newest Met, Frazier. A low-average power hitter is a rare sight at leadoff, and it's probably a stretch to imagine that he'll hit there regularly during the season, but he has surprisingly good qualifications for the role. His .344 OBP in 2017 would have been one of the best on the Mets team. And while that number was inflated by a career-high walk rate, there are indications that he made a significant adjustment to his plate discipline and that this will not turn out to be a fluke.
Frazier can also sneak in some speed, topping out at 20 stolen bases in 2014. He's never batted leadoff in his career before, but if injuries or ineffectiveness leave that door open, it would be interesting to give him a shot at it.
With no all-around classic leadoff hitter on the roster, and Conforto's health leaving some question marks, it's very likely that the Mets will try several different players at leadoff, much as they have done for the past few years. On paper, Nimmo is the most likely candidate to stick, but they have a variety of players in that lineup and have the flexibility to try different looks in the role.
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