As the saying goes: One man’s trash is another man’s gain.
In search of a player who could help jumpstart a lethargic lineup, New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson made an intriguing trade on June 18 to acquire Eric Young Jr., who was designated for assignment by the Colorado Rockies on June 12, in exchange for right-handed pitcher Collin McHugh.
So far, the speedy Young is producing more than anyone could have expected. The 28-year-old New Brunswick, N.J., native was hitting just .242 with one home run, six RBIs, eight stolen bases and a .290 on-base percentage in 165 at-bats for the Rockies this season. In 13 games with the Mets, Young has done his best Jose Reyes impression, igniting the offense by hitting .321 (18-for-56) with one stolen base, six doubles, seven runs scored, 10 RBIs and a .371 on-base percentage.
Speaking of Reyes, the Mets haven’t had a true leadoff hitter since he departed the organization following the 2011 season. Not only that, but the Mets desperately need outfielders, so it would be convenient if Young could stick.
There is an abundance of evidence that suggests a successful leadoff man can improve a lineup. Heck, just look at this year’s Mets, for example. The major league- high nine leadoff hitters they used during their first 67 games combined for National League-worst numbers in batting average (.207) and on-base percentage (.261). Thanks in part to that, the Mets rank 12th in the National League in runs with 320.
Historically, teams that struggle to get consistent production from the top spot in the batting order often struggle to win. Since 1921, the 112 teams (including the 2003 Mets) that used at least 10 different starting leadoff hitters combined to amass a .459 winning percentage, Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal pointed out in a June 19 article. This year’s Mets joined that club when they auditioned Young in the leadoff spot during his Mets debut on June 19 against the Atlanta Braves.
This isn’t surprising. The more players who get on base for the power hitters in the middle of the lineup, the more runs a lineup will score. Typically, teams look for a player at the top of the order who can get on base and swipe a bag or two. When a fast player like Young reaches base at any point in a game, it changes the way a pitcher goes after the following batters, causing them to throw more fastballs to keep the runner from stealing.
Before anyone gets carried away, though, let’s remember that the Rockies gave up on Young after four-plus seasons for a reason. The knock on Young is that he can tend to be a little over anxious at the plate at times, prompting him to chase pitches outside the strike zone and fall behind in the count. To combat that, he will have to be more disciplined to lay off the borderline pitch and work deeper into counts.
The thing that will help Young is more regular playing time. Young, a spare part with the Rockies, played in a career-high 98 games last season and finished second on the team with a .377 on base percentage. In 2011, despite appearing in just 77 games and accumulating 227 plate appearances, the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder, led Colorado with 27 stolen bases in 31 attempts, an element missing from the Mets since the days of Reyes.
Given these statistics, Young clearly has more of an ability to be a better leadoff hitter than any of the Mets’ current options. Before Young’s arrival, manager Terry Collins cycled through 10 leadoff hitters, including Mike Baxter (who was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas on June 9) and Daniel Murphy – their best hitter not named David Wright, which exposed the rest of the lineup.
Young gives the Mets the potential to solidify the team’s leadoff spot. That’s not to say Young is the long-term answer for the organization. His defensive ability is average at best, and his track record of over 313 games with Colorado carries far more weight than his 13 games with the Mets.
But if Young can continue to provide the Mets with a spark for the remainder of the season, he may prove to be an astute pickup.
Justin Silberman is a journalism and new media major at Towson University, located in Baltimore, and true Mets fan.