There is no question that the potential universal DH would have been a great benefit for the New York Mets. Adding the DH would allow the Mets to maximize their defensive potential by improving three areas of their defense, shifting Brandon Nimmo to left field, Dominic Smith to first base, and Pete Alonso to the DH role most of the time. Since that rule won’t be changed until at least 2022, the Mets have to figure out how to get through this season balancing their needs on offense and defense.
Last week saw some glaring examples for the Mets, who are struggling to get their offense going outside of J.D. Davis. Since his return from the injured list, Davis is batting .423 with two doubles, two home runs, and six RBI’s, making him a valuable piece in a lineup where guys like Michael Conforto, Francisco Lindor and Smith are off to slow starts. The issue lies in the fact that Davis is a subpar defender, with multiple errors in Chicago costing the Mets dearly in starts by Taijuan Walker and David Peterson.
Outside of Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ starting staff is heavily reliant on infield defense, which makes it logical to consider starting Luis Guillorme or Jonathan Villar at third base more often. The problem there is that they aren’t nearly as dangerous with the bat as Davis, who can help carry the team for a couple of weeks if he is in a groove.
The outfield defense is also an issue, although this doesn’t fall exclusively on Nimmo, who has worked hard to improve defensively in center field. Smith has done his best to be a passable option in left field, but asking a natural first baseman to be more than an adequate outfielder is tough. The Mets are also getting good defensive effort at first base from Alonso, who has improved his fielding tremendously since his rookie year, but Smith still remains the superior defender at first base.
For the most part, the Mets have prioritized offense, opting to start Davis, Nimmo, Smith and Alonso while using defensive substitutions late in the game. This strategy can work when the bats are clicking, but it’s a tough sell when the offense is struggling and the defense is costing the Mets runs.
In the short term, a good case can be made to use Guillorme at third base on days when Marcus Stroman starts, allowing him to fully benefit from excellent infield defense. Using either Albert Almora Jr, who made a great catch yesterday to save two runs, or Kevin Pillar in center field against left-handed pitching would give either Nimmo or Smith a breather while boosting the Mets’ outfield defense as well.
The kind of nuance involved in the day-to-day flow of a season doesn’t make the defensive question easy for the Mets to answer short of games in American League parks where they can utilize the DH to get Almora or Pillar into center field. The answer here is really situational, depending on the day’s pitcher, the opposing lineup, and the ballpark they are playing in.
Sandy Alderson has historically prioritized offense over defense, which helped create a bit of the mess that the Mets have in that regard, but the team has taken steps to address that balance by acquiring more two-way players like Lindor and James McCann. Transforming the Mets into a well-rounded defensive team won’t happen overnight so these offense-defense lineup decisions will have to be handled carefully to get the most out of this roster.