Should Mark Vientos be the Mets’ DH? Examining the pros and cons


PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Mark Vientos’ first conversation with his new manager was short and informal. But it reaffirmed Vientos’ approach to a different kind of spring with the Mets.

“Don’t forget what brought you here,” Carlos Mendoza told Vientos during a workout on the Clover Park back fields. “Maximize it, and work on the things you need to work on.”

What is it that has brought Vientos here, in his own words?

“Well, I’m a power hitter. I can hit the ball good,” he said with a smile on Tuesday. “That’s what was going through my head: ‘OK, let me just keep hitting home runs.’”

Vientos agreed that the combination of a new front office and a new manager creates a fresh start for him. There’s also a much clearer path to regular playing time in 2024, with the Mets opting to keep open the DH spot in their lineup. President of baseball operations David Stearns has emphasized the need to evaluate younger players in major-league games this season while also saying prices on free-agent DHs could fall enough to entice a move.

So let’s talk through the pros and cons of letting Vientos get the run of playing time at DH.

USATSI 20278707 scaled


Mark Vientos has shown a knack for making hard contact even against top-tier velocity. (Rhona Wise/USA Today

PRO: The Mets need to use 2024 to figure out what they have in Vientos along with several other younger players.

This has been Stearns’ reasoning throughout the winter. At some point, the Mets have to hand consistent big-league playing time to players who have performed at the minor-league level. And there’s no question about Vientos’ minor-league performance. His career Triple-A OPS over more than 700 plate appearances is .927. (His career Double-A OPS over more than 300 plate appearances is .927.)

“When you add a more established player, it’s going to by nature take playing time away from younger players, and we have to walk that balance,” Stearns said Monday. “That’s what we’re trying to do.

Finding out whether Vientos can crack it at the major-league level should be a priority for the Mets. It’s one of the key benefits of taking the step back they did in free agency.

CON: It’s risky to rely on that many young players at the same time.

Last spring I reported a story on the challenges of integrating young players into a win-now roster in a big market.

“Be careful how many you’re trying to (incorporate) at once,” Pirates GM Ben Cherington advised, recalling his time with the Red Sox. Boston’s title defense in 2014 suffered when the team gave everyday roles to three young players. “The range of outcomes with younger players is just wider.”

If Vientos were the only young player the Mets were trying to learn about, that would make this an easier move. But New York is also aiming to start Brett Baty every day at third base. If both falter, the lineup gets shallow quickly.

PRO: Vientos provides something the Mets otherwise lack: power against high velocity.

The sport has undoubtedly moved in the direction of harder throwers. The percentage of pitches thrown 97 mph and above has jumped from 3.5 percent in 2017  to 5.7 percent last season. (The first year Statcast measured pitch velocity was in 2017. Pitch F/X goes back to 2008 when only 1.6 percent of pitches were 97 and up.)

Vientos is as good at hitting that velo as anyone else in the Mets lineup. Since arriving in the major leagues, Vientos has slugged .769 against pitches thrown 97 or harder. Here’s how his numbers stack up against returning Mets, bearing in mind the sample is much smaller for Vientos:

Mets v. High Velocity, 2022-23

Player

  

PA

  

AVG

  

OBP

  

SLG

  

wOBA

  

xwOBA

  

17

0.231

0.412

0.769

0.474

0.523

94

0.287

0.372

0.362

0.328

0.305

76

0.188

0.250

0.449

0.295

0.310

72

0.149

0.194

0.254

0.200

0.265

65

0.345

0.391

0.397

0.348

0.300

49

0.170

0.204

0.277

0.213

0.236

35

0.188

0.229

0.313

0.235

0.255

30

0.138

0.233

0.296

0.239

0.339

25

0.190

0.292

0.190

0.235

0.269

10

0.286

0.400

0.714

0.428

0.432

21202

0.227

0.310

0.348

0.294

0.295

wOBA is weighted on-base average. It scales like an on-base percentage. xwOBA is expected weighted on-base average based on the quality of your contact.

(It should be noted that Vientos does swing and miss at heat more than anyone else on the Mets.)

CON: Even in more extended looks at playing time last season, Vientos didn’t excel.

It’s an easy enough rationale to fall back on: Vientos needs a real shot to show what he can do. The uneven playing time he received late in 2022 and most of 2023 didn’t provide him that opportunity legitimately.

On the other hand, whenever he was given more regular at-bats, Vientos didn’t show out. For the season in 2023, his numbers were actually worse in games when he had played the previous day. His OPS during his two longest stretches of consistent playing time were .493 (15 starts in 17 games in early August) and .703 (19 starts in the last 20 games of the season). The major-league average OPS last season was .734; DHs posted an average OPS of .756.

PRO: Projection systems are split on how much of an upgrade Martinez or another DH would represent.

Let’s look at four different projection systems and how they think Vientos’ 2024 production will compare with that of J.D. Martinez and Brandon Belt — the two DH options remaining on The Athletic’s free-agent big board.

First, their OPS for this season:

2024 OPS Projections

Player

  

ZiPS DC

  

Steamer

  

THE BAT

  

PECOTA

  

0.743

0.762

0.684

0.697

0.736

0.765

0.781

0.749

0.752

0.748

0.766

0.769

Now, their WAR:

2024 WAR Projections

Player

  

ZiPS DC

  

Steamer

  

THE BAT

  

PECOTA

  

0.8

0.8

0.0

0.5

0.2

0.5

1.0

1.6

0.7

0.5

0.7

1.3

Both ZiPS and Steamer are bullish on Vientos, viewing him as every bit as good if not better than both Martinez and Belt. THE BAT and PECOTA are more pessimistic on Vientos, not believing he’ll crack a .700 OPS, and thus see Martinez and Belt as worth maybe an extra win for the Mets. One win isn’t exactly a reason to go out and spend eight figures on a one-year deal, not counting the extra luxury tax.

CON: The Mets are in a position where even the smallest upgrade can be meaningful.

Two of those projection systems, ZiPS and PECOTA, view the Mets in that gray area where any improvement can make a significant difference in making the postseason or not. ZiPS projects the Mets to go 83-79, with a 43.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. PECOTA has them at 84-78, with a 48.7 percent chance of making the playoffs.

One extra win doesn’t look like a lot, but it would be enough to push those playoff odds above 50 percent. And just ask the 84-win Diamondbacks, who made the postseason by a single game last year, or the 83-win Cubs, who didn’t, whether that extra win was worth it.

Conclusion

It’s here that I must confess, this is largely a theoretical exercise. Stearns has been steadfast in saying the Mets have to give their younger players a shot. While he has conceded prices may fall enough for him to look externally, the market doesn’t suggest the cost for Martinez or Belt is going to come down all that much.

At the start of the winter, I projected a one-year $14 million deal for Justin Turner; that’s what he signed with the Blue Jays in January. I projected a three-year, $45 million deal for Jorge Soler; he got three years and $42 million Monday night from the Giants. I projected Martinez for a one-year, $14 million contract and Belt for one year and $12 million.

Any decision the Mets make on Vientos this spring doesn’t have to be forged in stone. If Vientos does struggle significantly, the club can turn to DJ Stewart or reshuffle their everyday lineup some other way. Designated hitters are generally easier to acquire at the trade deadline, despite the recent track record in that area for the Mets.

Vientos was noticeably upbeat on Tuesday. He’s been in Port St. Lucie for more than a week, eager to get going on the most important season of his career so far.

“I’m excited, man. (It’s) baseball season,” he said. “I can’t wait until the games start.”

(Photo of Mark Vientos: Reggie Hildred/USA Today)





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