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How Bad Is the New York Mets' Outfield?

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How Bad Is the New York Mets' Outfield?
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Marlon Byrd, as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

COMMENTARY | Everyone knows "bad" when he or she sees it.

The 2003 Ben Affleck-Jennifer Lopez film "Gigli" scored a 7% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Canadian rock band Nickelback, despite having sold 50 million records worldwide, is often the subject of ridicule among music aficionados.

And even the durian, a notoriously stinky fruit native to and beloved by Southeast Asia, is abhorrent to just about everyone else.

Yet some things, joking or opinions aside, are actually bad.

The 2013 New York Mets outfield is, unfortunately, a prime example. It is indisputable how untalented, and frankly, unacceptably dismal the Mets' outfield will be this coming season.

Injuries to David Wright and Daniel Murphy aside (and its corresponding defensive shift), the outfield favorites (from left, to center, to right) are: Lucas Duda, Jordany Valdespin, and Marlon Byrd.

Duda showed a lot of promise in 2011 when he posted a 137 OPS+ with 10 HR, and a 9.5% BB% over 347 PAs. Even though the left-handed hitter looked unnatural in the field (combined -1.8 dWAR between the outfield and first base)--especially in the outfield (-41.8 UZR/150)--the Mets hoped Duda would be able to slug his way to success.

In 2012, without any competition, the Mets handed the 26-year-old the starting right field gig. But Duda not only struggled in the field (-2.2 dWAR) but also did little with the stick to compensate. In 459 PAs, the former Trojan posted a disappointing 98 OPS+ with 15 HR, and a 11.1% BB%. Despite the improved walk rate, Duda's plate peripherals were actually inferior to 2011, as he made less contact (from 81.3% Contact% in 2011 to 76.2% in 2012), and even swung at more pitches outside the strike zone (29.8% O-Swing% in 2011 to 25.3% in 2012).

So far in spring training, Duda has displayed little to instill confidence in the coaching staff, front office, and fans. In 38 PAs to date, the outfielder has posted a meager .229/.289/.457 line. Not that spring training statistics should be taken with anything but a grain of salt, but, still, one would think that after a sub-par 2012 season--and recklessly fracturing his wrist while moving furniture in the offseason--Duda would approach spring games like he has something to lose. On a side note, the defensively challenged Duda will be shifting to left field, a position he has not played exclusively in two years.

With Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Collin Cowgill lacking the health and pizzazz, respectively, that the Mets are looking for in a center fielder, Jordany Valdespin has become the favorite to take over the reigns up the middle. In a part-time role in 2012, Valdespin showed some promise, posting a 93 OPS+ with 8 HR, and 10 SB (in 13 opportunities) over 206 PAs. Yet there were other parts of his game that were less dynamic.

Valdespin's low .241 BA was perhaps a product of an unfortunate .273 BABIP, but the hitter's poor contact rate (77.8% Contact%) and free-swinging approach (34.2% O-Swing%) were likely the real culprits. In addition, the energetic player also didn't fair well on the defensive side of things, according to both dWAR (-1.1 dWAR combined) and UZR/150 (-15.1 UZR/150 in the outfield). These stark weaknesses will ultimately be the hurdles Valdespin must overcome in order to evolve into anything more than a bench player.

Rounding out the Mets' projected outfield will arguably be a new low, even for the New York Mets organization. Marlon Byrd, who the Mets signed to a minor-league contract in February, was nowhere close to the top of the depth chart when spring began. In fact, it appeared as though a depressing, yet still more welcome platoon of Queens-native Mike Baxter and left-handed-pitching-masher Andrew Brown or bruiser Collin Cowgill would share the right field duties. But then, Byrd took flight.

Surprising perhaps even himself, the 35-year-old outfielder has been one of the more productive hitters in Mets camp this spring, posting an eye-popping .355/.364/.484 line. Even though Terry Collins and Byrd might point to the hitter's small sample size as proof of a "comeback," Byrd's substandard 2011 and retire-worthy 2012 seasons speak otherwise.

The late-bloomer suddenly became a serviceable hitter at age 29, posting a combined 110 OPS+ with 52 HR, and 11.5 WAR from 2007 to 2010. But at age 33, Byrd began to drop off. In 2011, the outfielder's 96 OPS+ hit its lowest rate since 2006 (when he was a spare bench hand), which led to internal grumblings at Wrigley Field. The real red flag came in 2012 when the 34-year-old Byrd completely lost his ability to hit, as illustrated by his combined 33 OPS+ over 153 PAs between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. But then, in June, Byrd got slapped with a 50-game suspension for using banned performance-enhancing substances. The revelation explained Byrd's swift deterioration but also put into question his rise from mediocrity.

A dishonorable retirement seemed to be Byrd's only option--and a just one at that. Yet, the penny-pinching Mets threw the cheater a lifeline. The move was curious as Byrd's "prime" years, which were likely inflated by illegal substances, didn't exactly mirror Barry Bonds'. At very best in 2013, Byrd could produce like his 2011 self, but, realistically, he's no better than his 2012 self--and could very well be worse.

If anything, the New York Mets' signing of Marlon Byrd underscores a major development issue within the organization's farm system. Despite overhauling the farm with a slew of pitchers, aside from recent first-round pick Brandon Nimmo, who is years away and hardly a sure thing, the rest of the Mets' "future" outfield crop looks grim. According to minor league expert John Sickels, the Mets only have two other outfielders worthy of their top 20 prospects list: Matt den Dekker and Cory Vaughn.

Even though den Dekker put on a defensive show during spring training, the 25-year-old struggled mightily in Triple-A in 2012, posting a worrisome .220/.256/.373 line. The left-handed hitter also struck out an alarming 154 times over 585 total PAs. Vaughn, son of Greg, is arguably the higher-ceiling hitter of the two, as he posted a .814 OPS with 23 HR at Advanced-A. That said, the right-handed hitter will turn 24 in May, has yet to play above A-ball, and similar to den Dekker, has a tendency to strike out (114 K's over 535 PAs).

With little to no talent to promote from within, the Mets' outfield will only improve if the front office makes an outside-the-organization move. But with the focus being on the "future," the present will be historically difficult to watch.

Ben Berkon is a freelance sports, humor, and tech writer/blogger from New York City. Berkon's work has been featured on The Huffington Post, The Onion, Contently, Medium, and Rising Apple, and he also manages The Beanball and Blah Blah Berkon, his personal stat-heavy baseball and humor blogs, respectively. He's [unfortunately] been a Mets follower his entire life.

Follow him at @BenBerkon.

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