Should Willie Harris Bat Cleanup?

I know, you’re reading the headline and thinking, “has Joe lost his mind?”. But hear me out.

Why did Willie Harris make the team? Is it because he has a career .679 OPS? Is it because he hit .183 for the Nationals last year? Is it because he proved to be a better infielder than Chin-Ling Hu? Is it because he was a better outfielder than Scott Hairston?

The answer to all of those questions is no, of course. Though, he does have good versatility, his fielding coverage is redundant to Hairston. Yes, he’s made some dramatic catches over the years — particularly against the Mets — but in all seriousness, his glove is not made of gold (though it’s good) and not necessarily any better than Hairston’s. And though he’s spent considerable time at second base in his MLB career, he’s not considered “slick” at the position, so there’s little chance he’ll see many innings there in the late innings for defensive purposes. He is a “good guy in the clubhouse”, a smart ballplayer, and brings both a great attitude and enthusiasm / energy to the field — but again, that’s not necessarily the reason he won a spot on the 25-man roster spot.

The main reason Willie Harris is on the Opening Day roster is because he hit, hit, and hit some more — and with power — during the spring. He hit 5 doubles and 3 homeruns in the spring — one extra-base hit every 7 at-bats — in posting a .518 slugging percentage. Perhaps as a result of that power display, pitchers were more careful with him as he led the team with a dozen walks.

Harris’ offensive outburst was only outdone by fellow veteran utilityman Scott Hairston, who posted a Barry Bonds-like 1.078 OPS. But Hairston will begin Friday night’s game on the bench, since Harris is 4-for-15 with 7 walks and a homerun in his career against Marlins starter Josh Johnson.

Now, after digesting all this information, pretend you know nothing about Willie Harris other than what he’s done the last four weeks and his numbers against Johnson — based on just those two factors, where would you bat Harris in the lineup on Friday?

Of course, Harris won’t bat cleanup — he’ll likely be 8th, as Anthony DiComo has suggested. But if you were to put this game in a vacuum, and consider that the main reason Harris made the club was because of his bat, and further consider that most hitters are streaky, and you want to put the hottest hitters in the best position to produce runs, you would have a fair argument supporting Harris in the #4 spot in the lineup.

On another note, and extracting ourselves from the vacuum, Willie Harris was available to the Mets this winter because he was the worst hitter on the worst team in the NL East. Does that make it a good thing or a bad thing that he’s the Mets’ Opening Day starter in left field — traditionally, the position where teams put their most offensively talented and most defensively challenged, player?

So I suppose it’s all about perspective.

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.
  1. NormE March 31, 2011 at 9:02 am
    Joe, if your looking for perspective, how about comparing 2010′s opening day roster with this year’s roster? There’s been quite a bit of housecleaning and, in the field, position- by-position the Mets look better off (except left field). The bullpen, on paper looks sounder. Starting pitching is a big
    question mark.
    • Joe Janish March 31, 2011 at 10:53 am
      Great point, NormE. You’ve just inspired a post!