Mets fans might be surprised to find Asdrubal Cabrera as the first cleanup hitter in new skipper Mickey Callaway’s analytic-driven first lineup as he prepares his club for his first Opening Day as a manager. Not that Cabby isn’t at all capable of delivering in the clutch or literally cleaning up the bases with runners on board, following a .280 season with 14 home runs and 59 runs batted in. But traditional thinking would normally have slotted Yoenis Cespedes in such a role.
Nope. Not this year. Callaway has Ces hitting second behind centerfielder Bradon Nimmo, with Jay Bruce third, and Todd Frazier behind Cabby.
The new lineup methodology was one aspect of their new-style baseball philosophy revealed during the club’s first New York workout at Citi Field as they get ready for the opener on Thursday.
It’s the new analytics driving these decisions, as managers throughout baseball are subscribing to the theory that you should give your best hitters the most at-bats, the most opportunities to produce runs.
Callaway is a new-thinking manager and promises to use every bit of data to manage. The other new “kid” in town, Aaron Boone, has already self-described his managerial style as he prepares his Yankees for his first season at the helm to be “conservative,” an almost Earl Weaver-style of sitting back and waiting for the three-run home run, of which they likely will enjoy frequently.
The skipper at Citi Field promises to be “selectively aggressive.”
“Everybody wants to be an aggressive manager, an aggressive player,” Callaway noted, “(but) you have to do it smartly. You can’t just be running and gunning all the time. We’re going to take advantage of the information and be selectively aggressive.”
The 42-year-old rookie manager also vows his club to be prepared with good baseball instincts.
“When you see the Mets play you’re going to see a team that plays the game the right way. It’s not always about speed and things like that. It’s about playing the right way. We can take great leads and that extra step and go from first to third. We can control the running game and give our catchers a chance to throw runners out. We can move runners over in a big at-bat.
“If we play the game the right way, with respect, you’re going to see a very good ballclub. I’m excited about that.”
Mets fans are certainly hopeful this will be the case and not just wishful thinking.
In a quick session with the press alongside Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, Cespedes, was asked about the new lineup, and in English, responded with his own endorsement, “I was talking with the manager, they got some numbers where they say the best hitter is second, so I say if that’s what I have to do for the team, I’m ready for that.”
As for the “second” cleanup hitter in the first lineup, that would now be Noah Syndergaard batting eighth. The thinking is once the lineup takes that first turn, you now have Amed Rosario “setting the table” for the big hitters.
Callaway explained a portion of his reasoning.
“I think it makes sense, not as much for the pitcher, but for who’s hitting at the top of the lineup and who’s hitting ninth. It’s not going to be something that happens every day, but I think it takes a little pressure off Rosario, who had a great spring, and was very patient at the plate, compared to what he had done in the past. I want to put him in a position to succeed, and sometimes hitting in front of the pitcher can be hard, cause guys will pitch around you and stuff like that.”
Callaway admitted to being a little anxious for his first official game, but equally excited, and then it’s just a game.
“It will be special to take the lineup card out, but really it’s just another game, and we’ll approach it that way.
“I’m anxious to get out there, and see what our ballclub can do. I’m really proud of what they did in spring training, the way they went about their business. We have a good mix of young players, a good mix of older players. The older players have led the charge on how to do things.
His first spring in charge was a learning experience and a very positive one all-around.
“We had a really nice spring training. I think everybody did the things they were supposed to do, I feel like everyone’s prepared and more importantly, they feel prepared, we’re in a really good spot all around.”
It’s a new day, a new season, a new manager, and a new way of thinking to get to October.