Hatin’ on Shawn Green

It’s amazing how quickly — and with such finality — New York fans can get down on a particular player.

In a town that boos the greatest baseball player on the planet (perhaps of all time), even after winning the AL MVP, it shouldn’t be surprising that New York Mets fans and media are down on Shawn Green.

The question is why? What did Green do, or not do, in the mere 34 regular-season and 9 postseason games he played as a Met?

I could maybe understand it if the price for Green was a top prospect, such as Lastings Milledge or Mike Pelfrey, or if he came in with a bad attitude or a Dave Kingman-like demeanor. Or if he jogged around like a prima donna. But instead, the Mets gave up a mediocre minor league prospect, he came in happy to be a Met, hustled all the time, and fit right in with his new teammates.

Lets see … he batted .257 with 4 HRs, 9 2Bs, 15 RBI, and 14 runs in those 34 games as a Met. Not outstanding, but not terrible, either. Then he batted .304 with a .407 OBP and 4 RBI in the postseason, including some big hits in key situations. As a Met, he had good at-bats, often getting into deep counts. He ran the bases well. His defense was somewhere between adequate and ordinary; his most embarrassing occurrence in the field was his too-big hat flying off his head on nearly every fly ball — something he joked about.

Oh, wait, no, actually his defense was awful, right? Dreadful. Horrendous. Disgusting. Or at least, that’s what the media and most rabid, perfection-seeking fans will tell you. They even have the “stats” to prove it.

Let me tell ya somethin’ about stats … as the great longtime minor league official Bobby Bragan once said, “Say you were standing with one foot in the oven and one foot in an ice bucket. According to the percentage, you should be perfectly comfortable.”

Go ahead and follow that link … I’ll offer it again – it is the Baseball Think Factory’s defensive leaders by position for the American League and National League. I encourage you, because I do want you to see that Shawn Green was statistically ranked as the fifth-worst defensive right fielder in the NL last year (just ahead of, ironically, Moises Alou). However, I also want you to look at where that same system ranked Andruw Jones (second-to-last among CFs), Aaron Rowand (third-to-last), Garry Matthews Jr. (second-worst AL CF), Torii Hunter (fifth-worst), and Melky Cabrera (second-worst LF).

So if we’re going to go purely by the numbers, I’m feeling confident that we have a right fielder that ranks right up there with Torii Hunter, and is better than the likes of Andruw Jones and Garry Matthews Jr.

Truth is, Shawn Green’s defense is not what it used to be. At one time, he was one of the better corner outfielders in the game, and strong enough defensively that the Arizona Diamondbacks used him in centerfield for 41 games as recently as 2005. His range has diminished a bit, and his arm is not the rocket launcher it once was. But he can still play well enough in right field to be an asset, rather than a liability. The problem, however, lies in two specific balls off the bat of Scott Spiezio. The first would have been a homerun, had Green not jumped up at the right time and deflected it just before it went over the wall. Unfortunately, he did not catch it, and Spiezio ended up with a triple anyway. The second, a perfectly-placed Texas Leaguer that Green may or may not have misjudged. He dove for the ball but it bounced off his face. He did the right thing by keeping it in front of him, but it still rolled around long enough for Spiezio to get another triple. (Interestingly, Endy Chavez misplayed at least two balls in the same game, yet he is forgiven — probably because he later made the second-greatest catch in the history of postseason baseball.) Since these two plays came at key moments in the postseason, coupled with the fact that the Cardinals were continually hitting balls into the right-center gap — thus, you were seeing Green constantly chasing after the ball — people judge him as an awful outfielder.

The same people that judge Green on those three plays also have erased Oliver Perez’s 6.55 ERA, based on 12 innings pitched in the postseason. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Shawn Green should have caught some of those line drives in the gap. Maybe he should have come down with the ball in his glove on both of those Spiezio hits. But I think even Mike Cameron would have had some difficulty in those situations.

Personally, I think it’s silly to dismiss Green because of his defense, but if you do that’s fine. Overall, he’s still a solid option to start in right field, and should do just fine batting seventh in the Mets’ powerful lineup.

There’s something in particular that many Mets fans and pundits miss when it comes to Shawn Green: he is a BALLPLAYER. Some people don’t know what that means, so I’ll explain. A ballplayer knows how to play all aspects of the game, and is equally adequate in every facet. That means a player may not be fleet of foot, but he’ll cut the bags perfectly, hustle, know when to take an extra base on an outfielder, and know how to get a good jump. A ballplayer uses his mind as well as his body. He understands what preparation means, and does all he can to gain an edge on the opposition. So he’ll see things others may not, such as a pitcher telegraphing his pitches, a catcher falling into a pattern of game-calling, or a fielder cheating one way or the other. A ballplayer plays the game hard, all-out, all the time, and through pain when necessary. He also knows his limitations, and is constantly making adjustments.

That last point Shawn Green is certainly past his prime as a superstar slugger, and his skills have diminished. But he still exhibits all of the traits mentioned above. Yes, he’s lost some range in the field, but I guarantee he will do a better job of positioning himself from batter to batter, and pitch to pitch, to make up for it — and you’ll never see him lazily trot after a ball. He’ll also be sure to take better angles toward balls in the gap, and make accurate throws to the correct bases, all the time, and hit the cutoff man when necessary. Yes, these are small, boring things, but if you pay attention to MLB games you’ll be surprised to see how many times big league outfielders misplay balls off the wall, or overthrow a cutoff man. The little defensive plays don’t make ESPN’s web gems, but they’re just as important as the diving, sliding, sno-cone catches that make the highlight reel.

Similarly, Shawn Green is well aware that his bat speed is not what it used to be. He’s just as aware that he doesn’t need to be middle-of-the-order slugger in the Mets’ heavy-hitting lineup. In the limited time he played last year — September and October — he already started to cut down his normally big, loopy swing, worked the pitcher, slapped the ball the other way, and performed well as a situational hitter. Sure it would be great if he could blast 35 jacks again but he’s not that hitter any longer, and batting seventh he doesn’t need to be. His new approach is perfect for his new role, and his presence doing all the little things at the bottom of the lineup will pay off in spades for the top of the lineup. For example, his ability to take pitches and go deep into counts help wear out a pitcher. Similarly, his ability to put the bat on the ball and go the other way makes him ideal for executing the hit-and-run — those are also skills put to good use with a man on third and less than two out. Further, now that he’s not swinging for the fence, I can see his average staying up around .280 – .290. If he can hit at that level, work counts, prolong innings, and drive in runs, I don’t care if he goes the whole season without a tater — the home runs will be a bonus. We don’t need bombs from the bottom of the order, we just need people to push the lineup back toward Jose Reyes et al.

Some people are so down on Shawn Green they’re convinced that he won’t last the season as a Met. I for one, am hoping he does. He’s a solid, heady veteran and team player who plays hard, gets big hits in the postseason, and does all the little things you need to win. Isn’t that exactly the type of guy you want on your team?

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.