With another lifeless defeat last night, the New York Mets extended their losing streak to 5. Prior to the game, Dilson Herrera fractured his finger, further depleting the Mets infield. Terry Collins chose to start Ruben Tejada at second base and keep the struggling Wilmer Flores at shortstop. Tejada has been playing more frequently getting spot starts at 3B and 2B and impressing with the glove at both positions. Tejada also has 5 starts at shortstop in 2014, with opponents averaging 2.6 runs per game in that small sample.
But having lost 4 straight coming into Friday, one must question why the inferior defender of the two continues to play the more demanding position. Apparently building Wilmer Flores’ confidence is more important than putting the best defensive configuration on the infield. With his throwing error Friday, Wilmer Flores has 9 errors in 30 games played, which puts him on pace for 45 errors for the season. It’s tough to imagine making the postseason by relying on your pitching staff with such a glaring defensive weakness at an important position.
It is clear why Wilmer Flores is in the lineup: he has 5 home runs for a team that is struggling to score runs in the absence of Wright and d’Arnaud. Until David Wright returns, it would make the most sense to play Flores at third base, and return Tejada to short and Murphy to second. Flores played respectably in 25 games at the hot corner last season. Keeping Murphy at third and moving Flores to second is also a viable option. In the short term, with the Nationals nipping at their heels, the Mets must restore order by moving Flores (.960 career fielding percentage at SS) out of the shortstop position in favor of Ruben Tejada (.974 career fielding percentage at SS). Naming Tejada the starting shortstop will stop the bleeding and allow the Mets pitchers to continue to attack the strike zone and trust their defense. Look no further than Jon Niese, who has been victimized by 4 Flores throwing errors in his 3 losses. The Mets as a team are 2-6 when Wilmer Flores makes at least one error. It has been puzzling that Tejada doesn’t start whenever the left handed Niese is on the mound and any time sinker-throwing closer Jeurys Familia is protecting a lead with the game on the line. Again, there’s a difference between confidence building and smart managing. There’s also the possibility that taking the pressure off Flores to be a shortstop would allow him to relax and focus on his offense. Despite the 5 home runs, Wilmer is batting .240 with a .288 OBP. He would be best suited to be a backup infielder to spell Murphy and Wright at second and third. All signs point to Daniel Murphy leaving for free agency in 2016, so Flores could still be part of the plan for the long term future. He’s just not a major league shortstop, defensively speaking.
When David Wright returns to the lineup, Ruben Tejada should remain the shortstop. While Ruben certainly doesn’t match Flores in the power department, his .327 career OBP is superior to Wilmer’s .278. Tejada profiles well as a National League 8-hitter due to his selectivity at the plate. Tejada’s .342 OBP in 2014 was higher than Jose Reyes, Starlin Castro, Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter, and Ian Desmond. His lack of speed doesn’t make him an ideal leadoff hitter, but he even has experience there if Terry was inclined to move Curtis Granderson towards the middle of the order. While Tejada will likely never be a star player offensively, he is hardly an automatic out. Mets fans for get that the veteran Tejada is only 25 years old. Ruben had the unfortunate job of replacing a fan favorite in Jose Reyes. Ruben will never be the exciting offensive player that Reyes was for many years in Flushing. That said, his career OPS is .643 compared to Wilmer Flores’ .649. Can that tiny difference justify subjecting the pitching staff to a shortstop who will make close to 50 errors? Trading for a shortstop such as Jean Segura or Xander Bogaerts would certainly be a wise move. But with the 25 men currently on the New York Mets roster, there is no question that the starting shortstop should be the veteran Tejada over the defensively challenged Flores.