Wilmer Flores, Meet Keith Miller

wilmer-flores-keith-miller

If you had Wilmer Flores in the pool as the Mets Opening Day shortstop, get ready to collect. As incredible as it sounds, the Mets, a team hoping to vault into contention via their cache of young pitchers,  are actually planning on starting the season with a previously-failed shortstop prospect manning this vital position; pointing to a small sample size (occurring in September no less) as the rationale for this move. It would be far better for them to just admit that they can’t afford a roster full of  the caliber of players that a contender needs, a but honesty was an early casualty in the post-Madoff era.

I am rooting for Flores and I really want the Mets to go back to the playoffs. I don’t need to be right about this one. I will gladly suffer self-congratulatory remarks from a champagne-soaked Jeff Wilpon in the Mets clubhouse after an NLCS win rather than dealing with another losing season. But, after 40-plus years (gulp!) of Met fandom, I have been conditioned into expecting the worst. And I think we’re going to get it. The Mets have a long history of trying to shoehorn bad fits into their lineup, often with disastrous results. The Howard Johnson in centerfield experiment still gives me (and I suppose Hojo as well) nightmares. I have racked my brain trying to come up with a scenario for Flores that might have if not a happy ending, at least a less bad one. Then I remembered Keith Miller and the great 1990 Centerfield Experiment.

If anyone epitomized the term “nice little ballplayer,” it was Miller. He played all over the field and could run a little. On a team loaded with superstars, the blue collar Miller was a welcomed throw back. In 1990, the season after they traded both incumbent centerfielders, the Mets handed the center field job to Miller. The results where less than stellar. Miller didn’t field well enough to overcome his 250/350/404 slash line for the first month of  the season. The Mets, picked by many to win the division where struggling (manager Davey Johnson would be fired 42 games into the season) and looked for upgrades. They found one in Daryl Boston, whom they picked up off waivers on April 30. Boston was soon inserted into centerfield and slashed 273/328/440 the rest of the way. One of my favorite Shea Stadium scoreboard witticisms was BOSTON POPS! on the marquee after an extra base hit from Daryl. Not a gold glover by any stretch, he was nevertheless defensively  an improvement over Miller and overall, represented an upgrade for the Mets in center.

With a new manager and a new centerfielder, the Mets somewhat righted the ship. They won 91 games, four behind the division winning Pirates. There where only two NL divisions and no wildcard then, so they went home. This was the end of the great 1980’s Mets run and they wouldn’t have another winning season for seven years and not break the 90-win plateau until 1999. As for Miller, he was dealt after the 1991 season in the ill-fated Bret Saberhagen trade.

Flores reminds me somewhat of Miller: a decent bat and no real defensive position. Miller had “potential” written all over him until prolonged exposure to major league pitching revealed his limitations. I suspect the same will happen with Wilmer. BTW–Miller hit .373 for the 1987 Mets, higher than any average Flores has put up anywhere.

The Miller-to-Boston switch might be the best we can hope for at short this year. The Mets themselves have great expectations for this season and the noise will likely increase as Opening Day draws near. If the team and Flores stumble early, like Miller and the 90 Mets did, will GM Sandy Alderson finally bite the bullet and bring in a real shortstop? Perhaps he can finally convince Seattle to part with either Brad Miller or Chris Taylor. Or will he  (dare I dream it?) trade for one of the Cub shortstops? These types of upgrades would make the contender talk much more realistic. Or was Terry Collins really serious the other day about an open competition between Wilmer and Ruben Tejada?

A Mets fan since 1971, Dan spent many summer nights of his childhood watching the Mets on WOR Channel Nine, which his Allentown, PA cable company carried. Dan was present at Game 7 of the 1986 World Series and the Todd Pratt Walkoff Game in 1999. He is also the proud owner of two Shea Stadium seats. Professionally, Dan is a Marketing Manager in the Bulk Materials Handling industry. He lives in Bethlehem PA with his wife and son, neither of whom fully get his obsession with the Mets.
  1. Reese Kaplan February 23, 2015 at 2:33 pm
    While I can buy the defensive comp (though you might have thrown Juan Samuel in the OF to that mix as well, or HoJo or Kevin Mitchell at SS), there is no comparison between Flores’ bat and Miller’s. Miller was a singles hitter throughout his career who would be lucky to hit 5 HRs per season. Flores has hit as many as 23 in a season in the minors and 6 as a part time player last year in the majors after Collins inexplicably kept him buried on the bench until August. He was a superior offensive player in every way except baserunning, so I think the comparison you make is a little bit apples to oranges.
    • Dan Capwell February 24, 2015 at 2:51 pm
      Thanks for checking in Reese, I read your posts frequently. As someone else points out, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, except for the fact that both the 1990 Mets and the 2015 Mets fancied/fancy themselves as a contender and yet are going into the campaign with a square peg in a very important round hole.

      The ’90 Mets at least had Darryl Strawberry in his prime, these Mets have really no one in the lineup that isn’t a serious question mark. At best, the Mets are on equal footing with several other wildcard contenders (I am conceding the division to Washington) and it will IMHO come down to the old Bobby Valentine adage about it not being the best team that wins but the team that plays best.

      With Flores and Murphy up the middle, do you really think the Mets can outplay the competition?

  2. norme February 23, 2015 at 5:12 pm
    I think the point that Dan is trying to make is not that Flores and Miller are comparable in physical abilities, but that they are examples of the Mets trying to put a square peg in a round hole (or it it vice versa?). Flores has never looked like a major league-caliber SS. Unfortunately, Sandy couldn’t/wouldn’t pull the trigger a a deal to bring one in. The FA market was not exactly overwhelming. Thus, we have the usual pablum being fed to us about the SS talent on hand.
  3. John February 23, 2015 at 9:24 pm
    How about Daniel Murphy as a better comp? He was a 1B/3B turned into a 2B on the strength of his bat. I’d say its worked out pretty well so far. I don’t think anyone believes Flores is going to be a star, but he’s had a better minor career than Murphy, usually playing competition above his age. I just can’t Agree with anything about this article because it doesn’t have any analysis at all, simply stating that since this kind of thing didn’t work once (25 years ago!), it won’t work again in a totally different scenario, and ignores more recent successes of the same kind.
    • Dan Capwell February 24, 2015 at 7:15 am
      Didn’t work once? Try Howard Johnson in center, Jose Reyes at second, your precious Murphy in left (and then at first), Mike Cameron in right….this trick never works for the Mets. If you think an up the middle combo of Murphy and Flores will be even adequate defensively, then you are probably a Mets season ticket holder.
  4. DaveSchneck February 23, 2015 at 9:52 pm
    Dan,
    Like you, I am greatly disappointed in Alderson’s winter, as it fell short for a GM that really was striving for a division title in 2015. As usual, Alderson chooses his words carefully, but it is clear that while he expects an improvement this year, 89 wins likely won’t challenge the Nats for the NL East title.

    While a SS upgrade certainly would have been nice, going with Flores doesn’t bother me as much as it does many others. Tulo wasn’t happening given his hip, the Cubs weren’t dealing Castro, and the remaining candidates weren’t enough of an upgrade to part with high end prospects. I was most disappointed that Alderson did not acquire a Drew or Drew-type insurance plan for Flores. Most agree that Flores will never be a plus defender, but if he shows he can contribute with the bat, and make the routine plays in the field, his performance won’t make or break the team. The offense will hinge first on how the vets perform – DW, Grandy, Cudder, and Duda, and second on how the leadoff hitter performs. Last will will be TDA and Flores. And, if Flores flops in the field but the vets hit, Tejada won’t bother us as much. But, if we get the 2014 DW and Grandy, the 40 game Cuddyer, and the 2013 Duda, Flores at SS will really bug us if he doesn’t look good in the field or atthe plate. Of course, our wheeling and dealing GM can always deal for an upgrade mid-season, although I can’t remember the last time post-Steve Phillips (excluding the Kazmir debacle) that the Wilpon-led Mets actually did that.

    • Dan B February 24, 2015 at 9:12 am
      Dave, you make an excellent point about the “insurance” plan. If you believe there was no better replacement for Flores (I guess there has been no shortstops available for the past four years), I find it hard to believe there was no shortstop available that was better then Tejada. Why not at least upgrade the backup shortstop and give the Mets some insurance and possibly veteran leadership? Oh yeah, I forgot. Those players don’t make minimum. Gotta preserve that payroll flexibility!
      • argonbunnies February 25, 2015 at 12:09 am
        Tejada’s not making minimum anymore either. Non-tendering Ruben and signing Everth Cabrera for what the Orioles gave him would have increased the budget by only $1mil.
  5. Bat February 24, 2015 at 10:16 pm
    Cappy, was HoJo really tried in CF? Somehow I don’t remember that.

    I’m reminded of one of the best quotes about the 80s Mets, and there were a lot of course:

    Whitey Herzog said “The Mets have Gold Glovers in Hernandez at 1B and Carter at C, and six DHs playing the other positions besides P.”

    Even though I was a Mets fan, I always found that jab from the manager of our biggest rival to be quite amusing because Davey and even Cashen (e.g., Samuel in CF) did seem to be pretty unconcerned about defense most of the time.

    • argonbunnies February 25, 2015 at 12:08 am
      I have a (completely untestable) theory that the baseline for defense has sunk since the 1980s. Most “bad fielders” in the ’80s were still competent — you simply didn’t get promoted up the minor league chain until you could handle whatever position you were playing. In other words, 6 DHs today are a lot worse than 6 DHs in 1986. Speaking of ’86, the Mets got most of their SS innings that year from the good-glove-no-bat Rafael Santana.

      Whether my theory is right or wrong, one thing that’s clearly been true from the ’80s till today is that playing people out of position gets ugly real fast. No matter your baseline talent and number of reps at other positions, virtually nobody can jump into a new position and instantly be adequate. Hojo and Hundley in the OF, Jason Phillips at 1B — this never works, but the Mets keep trying it. Maybe other teams do too and I just haven’t noticed.

      I’m not saying it’s NEVER worth it — maybe Murphy has, in fact, been the Mets’ best 2B option for the last few years, regardless of how badly he’s fielded — but I’ve gotta think that there comes a time when enough’s enough.

      A year of playoff dreams seems like that kind of time to me.

      • Joe Janish February 25, 2015 at 5:51 pm
        I agree with Argon’s “theory” and also support it without data. Sure, throughout history there were the Zeke Bonuras, Dick Stuarts, and Dave Kingmans, but by and large, MLBers could man their position fairly adequately — and if they couldn’t, they hit like Zeke Bonura, Dick Stuart, or Dave Kingman. Further, those who were inferior fielders ALWAYS were “hidden” at a corner spot — poor fielding simply wasn’t accepted up the middle, and slick fielding was the standard and priority at SS and 2B.

        Whitey’s joke was just that — a joke. In truth, the Mets of the mid-1980s had about average to slightly above-average fielding, but Whitey could put them down (and everyone else) because the Cards always had the most stellar fielding in the league. In 1985, the Mets were second only to the Cardinals in errors and fielding PCT (only .001 behind!), put up league-average numbers in ’86 and ’87. Whitey’s joke came out of jealousy — he had neither the bats nor the strikeout artists that kept the Mets a tick above. Wally Backman was one of the worst fielders on those Mets clubs from the 80s (though, in truth, his fielding reputation was pretty solid until an awful 1986 season in the field), but the glove he brought every day would be considered above-average today.

        Of course, it’s really difficult to compare defense across generations, especially considering that errors can’t be trusted as an indicator of anything, and not much else was counted prior to the last decade or so.

        • Bat February 25, 2015 at 6:13 pm
          That, Joe, is – in and of itself – a good joke: proving defense is good by errors and fielding percentage. Those are old school stats that indicate guys like Rafael Santana or Kevin Elster were good because they could catch balls hit right towards them, or close thereto.

          Errors and fielding percentage don’t indicate anything about range, which is a major factor in whether someone is actually a good fielder.

          As we all know, official scorekeepers rarely charge fielders with an errors unless they boot a ball or doing something blatantly similar so a discussion of errors is not indicative of whether a team’s defense is sound or porous.

          And Joe you know Whitey’s joke was “just a joke” and “came out of jealously” how exactly? I always enjoy when you say things like that…as if you sat around with a player / manager and he told you that personally, and therefore your opinion on the subject is dispositive.

          You do not know that is a joke any more than I know it is not a joke.

          Mere conjecture.

          In my opinion, Herzog was well aware that Santana as well as some of the other Mets could catch the ball, but he was poking fun at the Mets penchant for playing guys out of position.

          Just my opinion.

        • Joe Janish February 26, 2015 at 1:09 am
          Bat, I can’t figure it out — are you agreeing with me, or not?

          I did point out that the only thing counted in the past was errors, and that errors aren’t very helpful in discerning defensive value. So, your comment is either an echo of mine, or … hmm … what?

          OMG you’re right — I WASN’T sitting next to Whitey when he made that quip so I can’t know for absolute sure that a) it was a joke; and b) it came out of jealousy. Darn! YOU GOT ME!!!!!!!!!!

          NEWS FLASH: THIS ENTIRE BLOG IS PURE CONJECTURE!!!!! I’ve made that clear on numerous occasions.

          And yet here’s the final twist: you say that Herzog was “… poking fun at the Mets penchant for playing guys out of position.” Isn’t “poking fun” somewhat similar to a “joke”?

          (BTW, just curious: which players were playing “out of position,” do you think? Looking at the rosters of the 1984-1990 Mets, I don’t see too many regular/everyday players out of position. HoJo on occasion, sure, and Kevin Mitchell in ’86, and then Juan Samuel playing CF in ’89, but otherwise, not many examples.)

          Quite complex the personality you are, Bat. Thanks for playing!

    • Dan Capwell February 25, 2015 at 9:21 am
      Hojo in Center–it actually happened!

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NYM/1992.shtml

      • Bat February 25, 2015 at 3:40 pm
        Thanks Cappy.

        Like I said, somehow I never knew that happened even though I was a die hard back then also.

      • Joe Janish February 25, 2015 at 5:53 pm
        HoJo at short wasn’t exactly a sight for sore eyes, either, and that happened far too frequently. He had the athleticism and skills to play the position, but never got enough reps to be competent.
  6. argonbunnies February 25, 2015 at 12:15 am
    Flores seems to have good hands and is perfectly fine at getting rid of the ball once he’s got it, including turning the DP. He’s not going to be tripping over himself and creating embarrassments and setting off “gotcha” moments for Sandy and Terry. I expect Wilmer will hold the SS job all year.

    What he won’t do is get to the ball in the hole. But the Mets can just pretend that isn’t happening, just as the Yankees did with Derek Jeter for 9 years. Now all Wilmer has to do is raise his OBP 100 points…

  7. Bat February 25, 2015 at 3:36 pm
    Argon, I almost wrote in my post above that Herzog’s comment didn’t apply to Rafael Santana, but I was typing on my cell phone and I didn’t feel like making the post any longer.

    Yes, the Mets had Santana at the time, but he was kind of a forgettable player and the joke wasn’t quite as funny if Herzog had said “The Mets have Gold Glovers in Hernandez at 1B and Carter at C, and Santana fairly competent defensively at SS, and five DHs playing the other positions besides P.”

    Of course Herzog was just focusing on the two guys that were among the league’s best defensively (Mex and Kid) and grouping all of the other guys together.

    So again I almost mentioned Santana as not fitting in, but I have a new phone and I was typing and it was difficult so I just said forget it.

    Thanks for your comment.

    • norme February 25, 2015 at 5:27 pm
      As I recall, Raffy was a good guy but not an all-star caliber SS. He had great hands and an accurate, but not strong arm. His range was limited but, unlike Mr. Flores, Raffy looked like a SS. When Kevin Elster eventually became the starting SS the infield defense became more solid. Whereas Raffy occasionally got timely hit, Elster never seemed to do that. Boy do I miss Reyes.
  8. Keith Miller February 25, 2015 at 3:41 pm
    ………….uhhh, no.
  9. JB February 26, 2015 at 4:43 pm
    1. I understand the defensive problems, but a 754 ops from CF in 1990 must have been above leaugue average. To blame the slow start from that team on Miller is preposterous.

    2. Flores had always played SS, and is not being thrust into a position that is not “natural” for him. It’s the same type of “talent evaluators” who projected Miller (or HoJo or Samuel) COULD handle center who said Flores couldn’t handle SS. It wasn’t based on reality, it was based on projections of his size, and “slow feet”.

    3. Putting Flores at SS is putting a slow and slightly large round peg into a round hole. He’s not a square peg in a round whole…

  10. david February 28, 2015 at 4:10 am
    All teams try to move players around the diamond, but Mets have some whoppers over the years.

    As for the failure to bring in a backup SS, I would like to see in house option Matt Reynolds get some ABs if he starts out hot in Vegas, or the Mets see enough in ST to send Reuben to the minors (not likely). Reynolds or Drew, meh.

    Rosario and Cecchini far away, but inside 3 years I’d expect to see GC break into the big leagues.

    I also miss Reyes.

  11. bigblue March 1, 2015 at 10:03 pm
    Until the ownership sells. We will continue to be a 75 win team. Alderson is only doing what he’s told. This team will still be in the bottom half for offense. It’s a shame that Mets fans are being lied to again. This ownership is a joke. They only care about the money.. Im sure they knew what Madoff was doing. i would not be surprised if they were in on it.
  12. John March 15, 2015 at 3:52 pm
    My guess is that we will not be talking about shortstop next year. Flores will take control of the job and run with it. He can flat out hit and the more he plays he will just get better. He will never be Ozzie Smith. You have to take into consideration that the league is now a strike out league and the Mets pitching staff for the most part are just that. I am not saying the double play is not a big part of baseball, its just becoming smaller and smaller.