The Guardian’s Mets Piece Is Off-Base

By: Brian Mangan

There is an article making the rounds of the Mets blogosphere today which appeared in The Guardian, a huge British national daily newspaper. The article strongly criticized the Mets and appeared to truly resonate with a large segment of the fan base.

However, although there are many reasons to criticize the Mets ownership — and I do it on this blog myself — the author of the Guardian article, Jonathan Bernhardt, is way off base in his analysis. In fact, there were a few points in the article where I wondered whether he was a baseball fan at all, or merely just some journalist forced to write an article about it. (It turns out that Bernhardt does indeed write about baseball, but it appears that most of it is focused on criticizing the Mets).

Because of this, I am going to do something that I rarely do, and I am going to break down the more absurd parts of the article, Fire Joe Morgan style, and try to bring some sanity back to the discussion.

Wilmer Flores, a player who barely made a dent in Triple A, will be the Mets’ starting shortstop. It says everything about the team’s ambition.

This is simply absurd, and made me stop reading. I literally had to stop and pick the article back up later in the day. It is the first line of the article. Here’s the short version of why it is idiotic and destroys the authors credibility from the outset: Wilmer Flores batted .321/.360/.543 with 28 HR and 143 RBI in 162 games in Triple-A. His Triple-A manager, Wally Backman, says Flores is the best RBI guy he’s managed, and says things like this, which he said at the Queens Baseball Convention on Saturday:

“This is going to be my sixth year back with the Mets and [I’ve never had] a guy who could drive in runs like this. A lot of these guys are in the big leagues now, but I’ve never had a guy who produced runs like Wilmer.”

There are questions about Flores’s defense, of course, but to say he barely made a dent in Triple-A is just stupid.

Three years ago, it was essentially public knowledge that Flores would be moving off the position … Everything that was true in 2012 about Flores remains true today except that he is older, and as a general rule players don’t get better defensively as they age; they get worse. There are certainly exceptions, but Flores did nothing to show that he was one of them.

This is the crux of the argument against Flores, and I get it. Except that he’s faster and more agile now than he has ever been before, according to his Triple-A manager again:

“Because Flo has done that strength and conditioning … he improved his range last year a step, and he’s doing it again now in Florida.”

Not only that, but Backman also said “I think he [Flores] is going to be an adequate shortstop,” defensively in the big leagues. Backman is high on Flores overall:

“I would like to see Flo get a chance … I think about coming to the big leagues as a young player, I think if they give this kid an opportunity, he might surprise a lot of people. I want to see him given the opportunity to see if he can surprise guys, it wouldn’t surprise me, because I’ve had him.”

In addition to the praise from the manager that watched him play every day, you have a decent statistical sample (-3 Defensive Runs Saved, +4.0 UZR) and to many, he passed the eye test.

Sorry Bernhardt, just because you are ignorant does not make it true. Flores did plenty to show that it is possible that he could play the position defensively.

The idea [of Flores breaking camp with the big club] was barely entertained by the Mets coaching staff, … because Flores couldn’t play short well enough to even split time with Tejada or play a utility role around the infield.

This is the first line that made me think Bernhardt not only didn’t know about the Mets, but maybe was some Brit who doesn’t know anything about baseball at all.  If you have a top prospect who needs to work on something, you don’t bring him to the Major Leagues to have him “split time” or be a utility guy. You send him to Triple-A so he can work on his craft. The same thing happens with every team around baseball, with just about every prospect who a team thinks is worth something.

That Flores was not promoted to ride the pine is an endorsement of his ability.

This organizational juggling routine wouldn’t be a big deal if Flores was hitting … But in 375 MLB plate appearances, Flores is only batting .240/.275/.356 (.631 OPS).

Well, if you want to base things on 375 MLB plate appearances, rather than thousands of plate appearances in the minor leagues, sure. Not to mention that Flores was being jerked constantly between defensive positions and being benched regularly — a fact which Bernhardt acknowledges when heit fits his narrative but ignores when it might help to explain Flores’s early struggles.

I suppose if you’d like to judge players on their first few hundred at bats in the major leagues, you’d have no interest in Pee Wee Reese, Al Simmons, Paul Molitor, Ryne Sandberg, George Brett, or Rod Carew, all Hall of Famers, all who posted OPS+ of less than 100 in their age 21 and/or 22 seasons. These are not just stars — these are Hall of Famers.  Here are some players who posted an OPS within +/- 5 points of Flores in their age 22 season as rookies: Bert Campaneris, Shawon Dunston, Howie Kendrick, Lenny Dykstra, Marcell Ozuna, Bernie Williams. Even Jose Reyes hit .269/.294/.383 for an OPS+ of 78, worse than Flores, over his first 962 plate appearances.

Dismissing a prospect on his first 375 plate appearances is just dumb, outright.

It might also be acceptable if the team was rebuilding, but it’s not: New York finished 2014 tied for second place in a division that has mostly stepped backwards or tread water this offseason.

Funny how he says “tied for second place” rather than “below .500” or “79 wins.” This is just deceptive. It doesn’t invalidate his underlying point — that the Mets are close enough to “go for it” — but jeez, man, do you have to be such a worm to make your argument?

Stephen Drew, who signed with the Yankees to play second base but is still a competent shortstop? $5m.

Drew his .179 last year.  .179!! Yet he thinks Flores’s .240 average, as a 22 year old, is bad …

Wilmer Flores is not a credible shortstop. He’s not even demonstrably a league-average bat.

Opinion couched as fact, and clearly inconsistent with the sentence before about Drew. There are plenty of reasons to give it a shot with Flores – legitimate baseball reasons.

Listen, there is a lot of truth in the Guardian article. He’s right when he points out how absurd it was for Flores to be recalled, benched, demoted, recalled, and then shuffled from shortstop to second base in a season that didn’t matter. He shares the same sentiment as a lot of fans and observers when he says that Mets ownership is an embarrassment. He’s right when he says this:

It’s sad. These Mets could’ve been something in 2015 with a reasonable budget.

But overall, Bernhardt, if you want to write a hatchet piece about the Mets, at least sound like you know anything about baseball in general, or the team that you’re covering, so that people who matter will listen to you.

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Brian Mangan is an attorney living in New York City.