Looking for bright spots as the Mets pitchers and catchers report? Here’s one: Jerry Manuel has vowed to put his team through a starter course in fielding fundamentals. If you doubt they need it, consider some of these facts:
First, the Mets fielded at exactly the league average, .984, last season, but that’s deceptive as it doesn’t give an indication of how many balls they didn’t get to.
Here’s a bigger indication of where the problem lies: With 4,278 putouts, they were the third worst team (after the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals) at getting to the ball. But the biggest need for improvement is in double plays, where they were tied for the fourth lowest total in the league (134). In fact, according to Baseballreference.com, the Mets were the worst team in the National League in making double plays — that is, they had the fewest measured against the number of opportunities.
The good news is that the Mets can expect an enormous turnaround in fielding with the return of just two players — Carlos Beltran, who played just 81 games last year and may be ready to report with all the other regulars on February 23, and Jose Reyes, who appeared in only 36 games and is ready right now. Without Reyes, the Mets, mostly using three different players to fill in at short, had the worst range factor and double-play effectiveness at the position in the NL. With Reyes, they can expect to be about the best.
And here’s another reason why Reyes’s return is such a huge boost: When in form, Jose is one of the three or four best hitting shortstops in baseball. When he was out last year, the Mets shortstop combo posted an on-base/slugging percentage of just .623, 27th worst in the major leagues. Jose back in the lineup adds at least five more wins all by himself. The bad news is that it still leaves the Mets about 20 short of what’s needed to win the NL East.