No, the Mets Do Not Have a Good Designated Hitter Situation

Last week, I discussed the significant disadvantage NL teams will have if the universal designated hitter is adopted for this season and NL teams were then forced to compete with AL teams for playoff spots. I did the best I could to estimated which players might be the greatest beneficiaries of playing time and then looked at how their teams might be impacted. One team jumped out in a negative way — the Mets finished dead last, receiving no benefit at all from Dominic Smith’s increased playing time at designated hitter. I did note that putting Yoenis Céspedes at the designated hitter spot would put the Mets in the middle of the pack in the NL, though that’s still hardly what one might consider a good situation. Still, it’s probably worth a deeper look.

Before we start moving playing time around to potentially maximize designated hitter production for the Mets, let’s take a look at the team’s projections. Below is every player projected to take at least 100 plate appearances in the field (over a full season), how those players project in their expected playing time, and their projections based on 600 plate appearances. Note that the fielding column is at their position and a positional adjustment has not been applied; only their time in the field is accounted for:

Mets Depth Chart Projections
Name PA wRC+ WAR WAR/600 PA
Jeff McNeil 616 119 3.6 3.5
Pete Alonso 658 131 3.5 3.2
Michael Conforto 560 124 3.1 3.3
Amed Rosario 644 95 2.2 2.0
Brandon Nimmo 497 110 1.9 2.3
Wilson Ramos 422 102 1.4 2.0
J.D. Davis 504 108 1.3 1.5
Robinson Canó 504 98 1.3 1.5
Yoenis Céspedes 238 110 0.8 2.0
Jake Marisnick 238 80 0.3 0.8
Jed Lowrie 105 90 0.2 1.1
Dominic Smith 168 92 0.1 0.4
Tomás Nido 166 61 0.1 0.4

Overall, we see a decent team with seven players who project as average or better, two more who are pretty close, and a few more solid bench options. One player worth highlighting is Robinson Canó. The second baseman is sometimes mentioned as a designated hitter candidate in part because of his declining defensive skills, his age (37 years old), and his once-potent bat. But Canó would not make for a very good designated hitter. He was a below-average hitter last season and even with the slight bounce-back expected by the projections, he’s still a below-average offensive player. To provide further context, here’s what all of the players above would look like over a full season as designated hitters:

Mets Hitters as Full-Time DHs
Name PA wRC+ WAR/600 PA DH
Pete Alonso 658 131 3.1
Michael Conforto 560 124 2.7
Jeff McNeil 616 119 2.2
Brandon Nimmo 497 110 1.6
Yoenis Céspedes 238 110 1.5
J.D. Davis 504 108 1.3
Wilson Ramos 422 102 0.5
Amed Rosario 644 95 0.4
Robinson Canó 504 98 0.3
Dominic Smith 168 92 0.1
Jed Lowrie 105 90 -0.3
Jake Marisnick 238 80 -1.2
Tomás Nido 166 61 -2.5

There’s normally a decently high standard for designated hitters. Last year, 17 players in the American League received a fair portion of their playing time at DH (at least 300 PA). Those players averaged a 120 wRC+, with a median of 126, and only six of the 17 players had a wRC+ of 110 or below. Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil would all make fine DHs while Brandon Nimmo, Yoenis Céspedes, and J.D. Davis would all be decent to average. Everybody else would be bad.

To get a sense of how to best optimize the situation, we can compare the players’ WAR/600 in the field to their WAR/600 as a DH:

Mets Lost Value as a Designated Hitter
Name PA wRC+ WAR/600 PA WAR/600 PA DH Lost Value as DH
Pete Alonso 658 131 3.2 3.1 0.1
J.D. Davis 504 108 1.5 1.3 0.3
Dominic Smith 168 92 0.4 0.1 0.3
Yoenis Céspedes 238 110 2.0 1.5 0.5
Michael Conforto 560 124 3.3 2.7 0.6
Brandon Nimmo 497 110 2.3 1.6 0.7
Robinson Canó 504 98 1.5 0.3 1.2
Jeff McNeil 616 119 3.5 2.2 1.3
Jed Lowrie 105 90 1.1 -0.3 1.4
Wilson Ramos 422 102 2.0 0.5 1.4
Amed Rosario 644 95 2.0 0.4 1.6
Jake Marisnick 238 80 0.8 -1.2 1.9
Tomás Nido 166 61 0.4 -2.5 2.8

Pete Alonso doesn’t lose much value at all moving from first base to DH, which would make him a fine candidate for the swap except then the somebody else has to play first base. Dominic Smith might be better than his projections, but he adds very little projected value at first and would negate Alonso’s move.

J.D. Davis makes some sense, though as a full-time DH, he’s still below average as a player, checking in at 1.3 WAR. If you could replace Davis’ production in the field with something comparable, the Mets would have at least an okay setup with the DH. In the infield, Jeff McNeil is pretty much maxed out. Plugging Robinson Canó and Jed Lowrie in costs the Mets a couple runs. In the outfield, giving the playing time to Nimmo and Céspedes actually nets the Mets three runs, and they end up with an extra run in addition to Davis’ 1.3 WAR at DH.

There are a lot of different machinations we can go through. We could make Céspedes the full-time DH. We could spread playing time around among Céspedes, Davis, Conforto and others. None of the options give the Mets a good situation. They might not be worst in the National League, but they never get close to adding an average player with the extra spot and they don’t get anywhere near average for an AL team.

The Mets have a solid team with decent options, but ultimately they are limited in the same way most NL teams are. They don’t have an extra, high quality hitter just sitting around, because that doesn’t make sense for roster planning when there isn’t a DH. They also don’t have extra starter-quality players who can come in to replace a DH-level hitter in the field. They have some good mix-and-match options, but the projections aren’t bullish enough on them to make a significant difference on paper. For the NL that’s fine, but if they have to compete against teams in the AL — particularly the Red Sox and Yankees — they will be at a serious disadvantage.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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2 years ago

You’re overlooking the obvious in your article. It would make the most sense for Pete Alonso and Davis to be the DH most often. I believe this would be the case almost any time Dominic Smith is in the lineup. That would give the Mets a significant advantage. Also when Alonzo and Davis are DH the defense is upgraded considerably. This is the most important reason why the DH would help the Mets

2 years ago
Reply to  hfreeney1

Dominic Smith is projected to be worth .4 WAR/600PA, just barley above replacement level. Any benefit from having Alonso or Davis at DH would be negated by Smith playing a replacement level 1B. Additionally (relative SSS alert) Alonso is a better fielder than Smith, so moving Alonso to DH and putting Smith at 1B actually hurts the defense instead of helping it. Saying “You’re overlooking the obvious in your article” seems to imply you didn’t actually read the article. The most logical case I can see for the DH actually helping the Mets is if Cespedes is able to take the role on full time.

Brad Johnsonmember
2 years ago
Reply to  pepper33246

The thing that really stands out to me about this particular DH situation is that Alonso almost can’t play 1B (imo the only mlb-caliber 1B he’s better than defensively is Seth Beer). ZP^ pointed out Smith has bad ratings in a tiny sample (basically, he made 2 bad errors in a few games during 2018), but if you scout him he looks pretty typical at the position. And if Smith really is as bad as his projection, then you put Cespedes, Cano, Davis, McNeil, and Lowrie into the mix and see what sticks.

I’m led to a different conclusion than Craig. The Mets put together a faux-deep roster. So much of the depth was inaccessible under NL rules. Adding the DH opens the door to actually get some value out of all their parts.

2 years ago
Reply to  pepper33246

Projections for a guy with such a small sample of MLB PAs and such a huge variance in wRC+ are mostly worthless. They’re just going to heavily regress no matter what, which may be right or wrong.

And by both DRS, UZR/150, and a basic eye test, Smith was a better defender at 1B than Alonso last year. Alonso is way better than advertised, but you’re incorrect in saying Alonso was better. For Smith’s numbers, you can’t just look at his defense in aggregate because he’s a garbage LF, and that gets lumped in to his DEF.

2 years ago
Reply to  DLHughey

Great call out that Smith’s numbers include his time in left field. I missed that completely, and was looking at the aggregate