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Lineup change won't help Reyes' value

4/23/2010

I have to admit I don't understand the fascination that New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel appears to have with moving leadoff hitter Jose Reyes to the No. 3 spot in the team's batting order. ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin does a great job covering the Mets, and in this article, he covers this weekend's pending lineup switch and how it is meant to get cleanup hitter Jason Bay going.

As the theory goes, with Reyes wreaking havoc on the basepaths, Bay would see more fastballs, so the opposing catcher -- this weekend, it's the capable Brian McCann -- would have a greater chance of throwing out Reyes. Whatever.

Reyes hasn't exactly been a frequent visitor to the bases this season, given his .226 batting average and .288 on-base percentage. He did rap out four hits against the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, including a triple and a stolen base, but he's 2-for-8 since then. In the past seven games, he has attempted one stolen base, and I'd say the reason for that is that he's not even close to full speed after dealing with hamstring problems. He's basically still in his own version of spring training.

Also, the Mets already have a base stealer hitting third in the lineup, the esteemed David Wright. He's 6-for-7 on steals, and well on his way to yet another 25-steal campaign. Wright stole 27 bases in 36 attempts in 2009, and although he hasn't been anywhere near as frisky on the bases as Reyes over the years, good luck finding a legit No. 3 hitter with 30-homer/30-steal potential. Wright is a career .499 slugger, and he has hit three home runs already, well above last season's awful pace. It's not an actual prerequisite that a team's No. 3 hitter hit home runs, but doesn't it help?

According to FanGraphs.com, Bay is actually seeing far fewer fastballs -- though in a very small sample size -- than at any point in his career. His career mark is 57.4 percent; he's at 48.7 percent this season. Pitchers are befuddling him with changeups, and Bay is hitting a lot more line drives and ground balls. His fly ball rate is at 31.4 percent; last season, it was a career-high 49.1. What do I make of this? All these numbers will, in time, get back to Bay's normal mean.

Overall, this bluster doesn't affect fantasy baseball very much because I don't see the move as permanent. Reyes doesn't have power. When healthy, he's one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. I fail to see how moving him from a spot in the batting order he is uncomfortable leaving will help him or the team. You want him batting more times, not fewer. Same with Wright. It's presumed he'd move back in the order to fifth, after slumping Bay. Regardless, Wright's numbers wouldn't change much.

I'd call this desperation time for Manuel as he tries to improve the team's .229 batting average and .664 OPS, each figure second-worst in the NL to the Houston Astros (who just got Lance Berkman back and should pass the Mets soon). Anyway, here are my predictions for Mets hitters:

Reyes: I'll call for a .275 batting average and 30 steals, which frankly still makes him a top-10 shortstop. He just can't run, yet. Bat him third and he still steals what he would have. Read Tristan Cockcroft's 2009 article on how base stealers can run from any lineup spot. He'll hit third for a few days, having little effect on his fantasy value.

Wright: He ends up with 25 home runs, 90 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. That's fantasy gold.

Bay: We knew Bay would regress off his 2009 numbers anyway, but I still expect 25 home runs, 90 RBIs and a .260 batting average. Welcome back, Kevin McReynolds!

Jeff Francoeur: Keeping up his walk rate -- and avoiding strikeouts -- will be difficult, but I could see him hitting .280 with 20-plus home runs. You'd take that from a 20th-round pick, right?

Ike Davis: I think part of the problem is the Mets have become like the Cubs, way too right-handed in the middle of the order. Mike Jacobs couldn't help. Daniel Murphy wouldn't have helped. Davis is raw, but would it be so bad to hit him cleanup? His power is legit, and I think the ability is there for him to take walks. By the way, he's off to a good start. I can see 15 home runs this season, and that's being conservative.

Angel Pagan: He's the short-term winner if Reyes hits third because he likely would lead off. Pagan led off in 77 games a season ago and hit .316 with a .358 OBP and .506 slugging. Wow, maybe he should hit third instead of Reyes? On second thought ...

Rod Barajas: In 2009 for the Toronto Blue Jays, Barajas hit .226 with 19 home runs. Cut the 2010 power in half -- OK, I'll give him 10, given that he can't hit 9.5 home runs -- and keep the average where it was. Do you want that on your fantasy team?

Luis Castillo: Bat him eighth. Forever. And last season's 20 steals are still possible, in theory.