You’ve heard it all offseason: “The Mets are going to be big spenders in the 2020 offseason. Steve Cohen is going to bring big names to New York.” With the signing of James McCann, that seems to be the direction the team is headed. Steve Cohen has made it clear by saying that the Mets will be spenders this offseason, but they will not “act like drunken sailors.” This team has a lot of spots to fill, but one major hole within the Mets’ roster is at the Centerfield position. George Springer is by far the best Centerfielder in this free agency class, but it raises the question: Why should the New York Mets go after Springer?
Lack of Outfield Defensive Ability
The 2020 Mets gave temporary positional homes to players like Jeff McNeil at 3rd Base/Left Field and Dom Smith in Left Field. While their bats were great additions to the lineup, their defense left a lot to be desired. In the outfield, Dom Smith posted -2 Outs Above Average. This, combined with his way below average jump (-2.2 feet covered vs the average) and Sprint Speed (29th Percentile in 2020), Dom Smith is simply not suited to play the outfield at this point in his career. Jeff McNeil, while an improvement over Smith, was still a lackluster defender in the outfield. His time in Left Field put McNeil in the 36th percentile with regards to OAA, as well as the 40th percentile in Outfield Jump (-0.8 feet covered vs the average). It is difficult to run multiple players out of position and be successful. While McNeil and Smith did the best they could, there is room for immediate defensive improvement in the outfield.
George Springer not only improves on our out of position players, but he is also an improvement on our current centerfielder, Brandon Nimmo. Everyone knows Nimmo is an on-base machine, with an On Base Percentage in 2020 of .404, and a career On Base Percentage of .390; but what he provides as a leadoff hitter, he deprives the Mets of defensive production. To put it nicely, Nimmo was a very bad defender in centerfield. His production, or lack thereof, put him in the 2nd percentile of all outfielders in terms of Outs Above Average, and the 25th percentile in Outfielder Jump in 2020. Nimmo has shown flashes of success, but for a team with championship aspirations, a solidified above-average defender is needed in centerfield, and Brandon Nimmo is too inconsistent to be patrolling centerfield for 160 games.
Lack of Options in Free Agency
George Springer is at the forefront of a very strong free-agent class. But when you look deeper, the outfielders in this class are rather weak. Without looking at corner outfielders, let’s first dive into the centerfielders of this free agency class. Behind Springer, the best available talent, by statistics and metrics, is Jackie Bradley Jr. A well-above-average defender, generating OAA in the 99th percentile, Bradley Jr provides defense that will benefit all ballclubs. Where he suffers is on the offensive side of the ball. Jackie Bradley Jr. did not hit the ball particularly hard in 2020 (34th percentile) and is known for high strikeout rates (career 24.6%) and a below-average launch angle of 9.6 degrees for his career. Given this, combined with a career On-Base Percentage of .321, it is hard to justify giving him a multi-year contract and batting him in the top half of a contending lineup.
There are those along the lines of Joc Pederson and Eddie Rosario, but both are below average defenders and are not suited to play centerfield at a championship level. Pederson, in 2020, split his time between Left and Right field. In that time, he managed to be in the bottom 25 percent among outfielders in Outs Above Average, Outfielder Jump, and in the bottom 41 percent in Sprint Speed. What he lacks in defensive ability he can not make in speed, thus limiting his ability to start on a championship roster. Rosario is very similar but is worse offensively according to Baseball Savant metrics. The outfielders available this offseason are not as plentiful as one may have thought, making it more important to get “The Guy.”
Skills He Brings to the Team
All this time I have been discussing the alternatives. The Mets are in dire need of defensive assistance, and that has been the forefront of my discussion. But now, I think it is necessary to discuss what Springer brings to the table, and why his skills in New York may lead to a potential championship.
On the offensive side of the ball, George Springer is well above-average in all aspects. In 2020, he slashed .265/.359/.540, which is right around his career averages. One notable improvement Springer made was launch angle. In 2019, Springer’s launch angle was 10.4 degrees, but in 2020, that improved to 18.3 degrees. This increase, combined with a decrease in strikeout percentage (20.3 to 17.1 percent), allowed Springer to see more strikes and hit the ball with more authority. While the offense is not one of the Mets’ top priorities, added firepower in the lineup will never hurt.
The Mets’ greatest need this off-season, in my opinion, is outfield defense. George Springer provides that and more. His ability to man centerfield for 160 games at a high level is what the Mets have been missing for some time. Posting an Outs Above Average of 1 in the shortened 2020 campaign, and 8 in 2019, Springer is a consistent, above-average centerfielder fit to start on championship rosters (as he has already done with the Astros). Not only is his defense well above-average, but Springer is also in the 86th percentile in terms of sprint speed, making him a gap to gap threat.
The 2020 free-agent class is full of great players that can help a lot of ballclubs. From the perspective of the Mets, outfield and defense are 2 of their top concerns, and George Springer checks both of those boxes. I love Brandon Nimmo as much as the next person, but I do not believe he is made for centerfield at this point in time. For a team looking to make the right moves to win now, George Springer is the best course of action for our offense and defense and will be a piece that leads the Mets to a deep playoff run.
Featured Image: KeithAllisonPhoto