As Spring Training wears on, we grow ever closer to decisions being made as to who will break camp with the team and make it to the big leagues. And as this spring training continues, I can’t help but wonder what the purpose is of having Willie Harris on the Mets’ Opening Day roster.
From a theoretical perspective, I see a reason for Harris. He hits left-handed, and can play almost any position on the diamond. But there’s another player on the roster who does something very similar: Daniel Murphy. My confusion is, though the skills of these two players are a bit different, I’m not convinced that both players need to be on the team. After all, bench spots are a finite resource, and when you’re a team as mediocre as this year’s New York Mets, getting maximum production from the bench could mean the difference between contending for a wild card spot or placing fourth in the East.
I’d like to start with hitting, since, well, hitting is the most important job of a bench bat. While projection models aren’t everything, but for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at a few 2011 projections for Willie Harris and Daniel Murphy:
- Bill James: K% – 12.5% BB% – 8.1% OBP – .339 SLG – .455 wOBA – .348
- Marcel: K% – 16.4% BB% – 7.8% OBP – .329 SLG – .418 wOBA – .326
- Bill James: K% – 25.3% BB% – 12.7% OBP – .329 SLG – .366 wOBA – .309
- Marcel: K% – 21.6% BB% – 11.6% OBP – .323 SLG – .379 wOBA – .316
So here, it appears obvious that in every category other than BB% – these two projection systems predict much more success for Daniel Murphy than Willie Harris. This holds ESPECIALLY true in slugging percentage and K% – where Murphy is a much better bet to hold off on Ks and hit for power – two things that I would figure that Harris would be more likely to be the better bet for. Interesting.
So let’s talk about defense a little. It’s no secret that Harris can play seven positions, all the ones except 1B and catcher, in fact. Daniel Murphy can play four, with varying levels of competency. Those four are: 1B, 2B, 3B, and LF. Theoretically, Murphy can play RF as well – though given how bad he’s been defensively in left, that’s probably not a very good idea.
Harris has a reputation as being a reasonable defensive player – but his value might be overstated. Harris has never logged much time at short, and hasn’t played 2B consistently in a long while. When he HAS played 2B recently, it was ugly. So really, the guy is a 3B and an OF. And aside from his abberant ’08 season – his fielding has been porous in the outfield to say the least. There’s no good situation for putting Harris in centerfield, and he’s hardly played in right.
Meanwhile, Daniel Murphy’s fielding travails are well-documented – but he was a passable 3B in the minors and a pretty good 1B in the majors (UZR/150 of 8.7). Though he’s never played 3B at the major league level, it can be assumed that he would not be quite as good defensively as Harris at the hot corner, but that could be up for discussion.
In terms of hitting, Murphy is an obvious choice for a roster spot. In terms of fielding, Harris probably holds a small advantage due to his ability to play center and his 3B skills. But in terms of flexibility, Murphy offers more than Harris, in my opinion. Being able to play 1B, 2B, 3B, and LF outweighs the merits of being able to play all three outfield positions and 3B…especially when Scott Hairston already plays all three outfield positions and is all but guaranteed a roster spot.
At best, the Mets will have five bench spots on the 25-man roster. Beyond the eight starters, the Mets will almost certainly carry a backup catcher (Mike Nickeas or Ronny Paulino), a middle infielder (Chin-lung Hu), and a fourth outfielder (Scott Hairston). While the team would benefit from a left-handed bat with some flexibility, the team would probably be better served in bringing Daniel Murphy north as its first choice, as he can back up both corner infield spots, and be a better bat off of the bench. If the Mets are *really* smart, they’ll cut Harris and leave the fifth bench spot open for a player who has more of a future with the team, or who can provide more of a spark with the bat. With Murphy, Hu, and Hairston, the team will already have all the flexibility it needs.