I’m certainly looking forward to seeing Lucas Duda hit this year. But to say that the Mets have an outfield that’s competitive within their own division- well, it is going to require a lot of things to go right. They’ll need Duda to adequately field. They’ll need Andres Torres to rebound from both his performance and health drops in 2011. And Jason Bay is going to need to return from his two-year hiatus, and defeat the Faux Jason Bay who has played for the Mets in combat. (Hopefully, it will be swordplay- Faux Bay is likely to swing and miss.)
The division has plenty of outfield talent, however: let’s take a look at it all, shall we?
1. Philadelphia Phillies: It’s nice to think of the Phillies as a totally broken-down offense, with run output as fragile as Chase Utley’s knees. And there’s some truth to it, from an infield perspective. Unfortunately for opponents, the Phillies still have a productive outfield. If Lucas Duda’s 136 OPS+ made you a believer last year, it isn’t clear why John Mayberry Jr.’s 137 would leave you skeptical. Shane Victorino continued his irritatingly strong play, with a .279/.355/.491 line in center field. And Hunter Pence, entering his age-29 season, was a monster for the Phillies after coming over mid-year, with an OPS+ of 158 in Philly, 138 on the season. The sun is setting on the Phillies, but not quite yet, and possibly last on the team’s outfield.
2. Florida Marlins: It is the infield that gets the press here as well, though for more positive reasons, with Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez manning the left side. But in Giancarlo Stanton, the ridiculously strong slugger formerly known as Mike, the Marlins have the most legitimate 40-homer threat in the division. In center field, Emilio Bonafacio is a good bet to regress from his .753 OPS last year- batting average on balls in play alert!- but still should provide a .700 OPS and speed. And Logan Morrison has settled in left field as an .800 OPS guy with poor defense, like Jason Bay, except for the, you know, .800 OPS thing.
3. Washington Nationals: At first glance, this may appear high. After all, it looks like the Opening Day trifecta will be Mark DeRosa in left, Roger Bernadina in center, and Jayson Werth in right. But this is quite temporary. Mike Morse, who was a revelation last year, is only a week or two away from returning. Rick Ankiel will be back shortly in center field. And before too long, he’ll be supplanted by the best prospect in baseball, center fielder Bryce Harper. By July, this rating could look silly- and not because it is too high.
4. Atlanta Braves: This is really a toss-up with the Mets. In left field, a platoon between Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz will probably provide better offense than Jason Bay, and comparable defense, though an argument can be made either way. But once Chipper Jones returns to third base, Martin Prado takes over in left, and easily bests Bay. Michael Bourn was just above league average as a hitter in 2011, and just below over the past three years. His defense, according to the metrics, slipped last season, but he’d been elite the two years before that. Essentially, the coin toss goes to Bourn over Andres Torres, since the former is four years younger. And in right field, Jason Heyward simply has way too much upside not to expect him to best Lucas Duda in right field, especially since he is already a plus defender out there.
5. New York Mets: Too much is required of too many outfielders to rank them any higher. Then again, that’s why they play the games.