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Crazy Like a Met

By Jason Levy

In the opening days of spring training, New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel pontificated on some new stratagems for the 2009 season. The one that caught the attention of Mets fans everywhere was the plan to put beguiled second baseman Luis Castillo into the leadoff spot, knocking sparkplug shortstop Jose Reyes out of his usual position in the batting order.
Now that Aaron Heilman has been traded (and traded again), there are fewer Mets who draw the scorn of his own fans than Castillo. Nearly every time he came to the batters box in 2008 he was met with a chorus of boos by the Mets fans. It was well deserved too, he has been a major disappointment since he was acquired during the 2007 season. He has either been injured or ineffective. And now Manuel wants to put him in a position in the lineup to get the most at bats of anyone on the Mets.
Sounds crazy right? Maybe it’s crazy enough to work. Putting Castillo ahead of Reyes, and the other dangerous hitters in the Mets lineup (David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado) could mean that Castillo will see better pitches to hit at more frequency. If you are an opposing manager, do you want another runner on base in front of those four? As a leadoff hitter, Castillo has a .294 career average, .365 on-base percentage, 1,039 hits, 400 walks, 258 stolen bases, and 527 runs scored over 3,980 plate appearances. Reyes, over the course of 3,193 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter (the 787 difference in plate appearances is a little over a season’s worth, Reyes in 2008 had 763 plate appearances over 159 games) has a .286 average, .338 on-base percentage, 840 hits, 253 walks, 279 stolen bases, and 486 runs scored. While some of those numbers reflect Castillo’s younger days with the Florida Marlins, he has proven himself to be a fairly good leadoff hitter who can demonstrate patience at the plate, giving his teammates a couple of extra pitches to look at and drawing walks to set up his teammates.
Manuel must also be thinking of the damage Reyes can do as a number two hitter. With only 190 plate appearances in the two slot, 151 of which came in his rookie season, it’s hard to tell how Reyes will perform. But with a runner on base for Reyes, he could increase his hit and RBI numbers, at the consequence of seeing his stolen base numbers diminished. And more runners on base for Wright, Beltran, and Delgado could only help their numbers. Reyes would still be a spark and an important cog in the lineup at number two (just ask any New York Yankees fan how Derek Jeter has been the fulcrum of the Yankees lineup at the second spot) and if this goes according to Manuel’s plan, he would still could a plethora of plate appearances with improved output from Castillo.
With the disappointments of the last few seasons, Manuel should have some wiggle room to experiment with the lineup. A healthy Ryan Church or Daniel Murphy could be affective at the top of the lineup. Wright or Beltran could conceivably be a two-hitter. But Mets fans need to face the reality that Castillo is here to stay. No one else wants him at the contract he has in this economy. We have seen how little he produces when he has a pitcher in the on-deck circle. But with Reyes as his backup, we could potentially see a revival of that pesky Marlins hitter who found ways to reach base and give opposing managers fits. As a Mets fans, we better get behind him, because he is our guy.

And now to join the search for A-Rod’s cousin…

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