Do you remember when Citi Field opened the Mets vowed they they were going to build around pitching and defense? Then, they immediately signed Jason Bay, who played well defensively, but that wasn’t the point.
Enter Matt den Dekker, who doesn’t have the inside track at making the team as the center fielder despite being the their best defensive outfielder.
Terry Collins managed arguably one of the greatest defensive center fielders in history when he had Jim Edmonds. Collins said they compared favorably in their ability to chance down fly balls in the gap with their speed, “although nobody got a jump like Jim Edmonds … it seemed like he took two steps before the ball was hit.’’
That comes from knowing the hitters and the pitch, so maybe that part of it will come to den Dekker. However, and this is the rub, he’s not even close to Edmonds at the plate and it could cost him a spot on the roster.
Den Dekker made another spectacular catch Monday when he went against the wall in left-center to rob Detroit’s Austin Jackson of extra bases. It is one of several he’s made this spring, each one seemingly more scintillating than the previous.
Den Dekker told reporters later in Lakeland he was “just doing my job,’’ but for a team lacking in offense, that’s only part of what the Mets need from him.
“If you are going to be a platoon player, you got to be able to do something off the bench in the National League, and that’s not just play defense,’’ Collins told reporters.
Center field in Citi Field – even after the fences were moved in – is a vast area of real estate. Plus, the Mets have a young pitching staff in need of any help possible. The Mets also have a defensive liability in left fielder Lucas Duda. Having den Dekker in center addresses all those factors.
At .220, Den Dekker has not hit consistently this spring, but perhaps in this era of statistical analysis, the case could be made he saves a considerable amount of runs. Add runs saved to RBI and that’s a productive player.
The problem is the Mets don’t have enough offense elsewhere to where they could carry den Dekker. It is an offensive game, until it is lost with poor pitching and defense.
Den Dekker is ideal as a late-inning defensive replacement for a loaded team, but seriously, how many games will they realistically be in for that to matter? The fact is more games are lost earlier than in the last two innings. That’s when they’ll need his glove.
Last season at Double-A Binghamton, den Dekker hit .340 with eight homers and 29 RBI, but with 64 strikeouts in 238 at-bats. At Triple-A Buffalo, he hit .220 with nine homers and 47 at-bats, but with a staggering 90 strikeouts in 295 at-bats, roughly once every three at-bats.
General manager Sandy Alderson said strikeouts are acceptable if they come with high on-base percentage and power numbers. The selection of run production potential over strikeouts applies to Ike Davis and Duda, but den Dekker hasn’t shown that upside, yet.Den Dekker has tinkered with his mechanics, such as widening his stance, which leads to a shorter stride and consequently a shorter stroke. All too often he’s given away outs with a long, looping swing.
Den Dekker struck out twice more yesterday to give him ten for the spring, but also had a two-run single against lefty reliever Phil Coke.
“He’s working on some things, he’s really trying to be a little more selective at the plate,’’ Collins said. “He’s making huge progress and defensively, I am not sure we have anyone better.’’
Defensively, the Mets don’t have anybody better, and as they struggle to find runs they might consider looking at the flip side and run prevention. Also, remember we’re not talking about den Dekker’s offense compared to Mike Trout’s, but to that of Jordany Valdespin and Mike Baxter.
Put in that context there’s even less of a disparity. Put that way, the question becomes: How many more runs will Valdespin, Baxter and Collin Cowgill generate with their bats than den Dekker saves with his glove?