The usually old-fashioned and ultra-conservative Jerry Manuel has thrown out a somewhat radical and rather sensible idea.
Jose Reyes batting third, while at first glance possibly seeming unwise, is, after thorough examination, a potentially fantastic move.
Jose’s OBP, while not great, is also not bad. He is a wonderfully dynamic player who definitely does, as the cliche states, make things happen. He is lightning-fast, has extra-base power, scores loads of runs, and seems to always be leading the way when the team wins.
However, batting him third might lead the team to even more wins.
Luis Castillo, despite the never-ending whining from some quarters, does have strengths as a baseball player. Those strengths are getting on base, seeing a great number of pitches, and running. Yes, running. He still can leg out infield hits and bunt singes, and he did in fact steal 37 out of 45 bases the last two years, 20/26 last year. Batting him first would, without any question, absolutely maximize his remaining skills. He gets on base better than anyone on the team other than Wright, he is nowhere near as slow as the Nabobs insist, and his tendency to take many pitches is precisely what one wants in a leadoff hitter, especially in the first inning of a game, when his teammates will want to see what a pitcher is throwing, in addition to maybe making that pitcher work to get past the very first batter of a game.
Jose Reyes has just about every skill a player can have. Sure, the old maxim stats that you want your best hitter batting third. Jose did, however, hit .300 in 2006 and .297 in 2008. This also coincided with his OBP increasing from his earlier years. In short, he has been improving in just about all ways. Jose is not a natural at taking pitches, and while some state that he should not be swinging for the fences, an argument can be made that trying to force Jose to be a patient hitter and to draw walks and see many pitches is what is really boxing him in. Maybe Jose should be swinging more quickly and more freely, as he would be perfectly welcome to do hitting third.
If Jose hit third, his extra-base power would almost certainly drive in 100+ with Slappy and hopefully a soon-to-be-healthy Beltran hitting ahead of him. Beltran has often appeared just right for the 2 hole, especially with the way his hitting seemed to evolve in 2009. David Wright hitting fourth behind Reyes would see a steady diet of sluggable fastballs with Jose on base, with or without Slappy or Beltran on ahead of him. This is three fast-to-extremely-fast men at the top of the order, and Wright would have more RBI chances than ever before, and again, with possibly more fastballs offered up than in the past with Jose batting right before him. Pitch around Wright, and Bay comes up 5th. This lineup should excite any rational Met fan.
With all of that on-base power preceding Frenchy, it will be harder to pitch around him and get him to swing at poor pitches.
This lineup would maximize everyone’s skills. It would also put one of the game’s most dynamic players in a batting slot other teams would not be prepared for, and possibly explosively change the Mets’ entire offensive dynamic, which leads to the element of all of this which might be the most genius of all.
The 2007 and 2008 teams have been thought to have been missing something; even with the spectacular core, they fell short. Batting Jose third would dramatically change the team’s look, feel, and overall dynamic, and without changing any of the core players. This is why it must be done.
This is not to suggest Castillo as a permanent leadoff hitter, but using him in this role in 2010 would, again, maximize the remaining skills that this declining but talented veteran player still has. Pagan, should he be able to handle playing every day without getting hurt or losing games with his inexplicably horrid fundamental play, can hold the second spot until Beltran returns. There would be minimal chances to pitch around anyone in the top six, and, as they say, speed does not slump.
Jose Reyes hitting third is very possibly the best imaginable way to seriously change whatever this offense may have been lacking in recent years. It allows the best pure on-base man to lead off. It allows the multi-talented Beltran to hit in what is probably his best natural position. It places Jose in a spot where he can swing away, and where his hitting ability can be maximized, without continuing to try to make him into a .380-400 OBP player, which he likely will never be. He will still steal bases, but can somewhat conserve his problem legs, and get the most out of all of the doubles and triples he hits-a double or triple hitting 3rd the first time through the order not only puts one of the game’s fastest men in scoring position, but it also almost always clears the bases ahead of him. It allows our best hitter to hit in a spot where he can drive in countless runs, and it also gives the newcomer Bay a most attractive scenario in which to hit 5th, where he will not only have a great many RBI chances, but will also have the opportunity to possibly have a fantastic OBP and give the hopefully revived Francoeur his own chance to drive in 100 while seeing more good pitches.
This space has been relentlessly critical of Jerry Manuel. Maybe Jerry sees that this year could be the last chance he gets to manage a seriously talented, big-market team should he not preside over success.
If this pressure is leading him to consider batting Jose third, serious consideration should be given to re-evaluating Jerry’s leadership abilities as well as his capability to change.
This move should be welcomed, and could in fact be revolutionary for the Mets’ 2010 offense and for this group of players in particular.