Normally on a night when the Mets have lost I'm in a terrible mood. I get upset with the management, upset with the owners, upset with the players, and upset with... well, everybody. For some reason, tonight's different. Yes, it's true, the Mets have now lost 3 straight games with their 3 best pitchers, two of whom got smacked silly by a lineup which is one of the worst in baseball. So how can I be happy after these last 2 games. Well, it's for two reasons. First, Terry Collins had Kirk Nieuwenhuis in the leadoff slot--where he belongs for one night (and if he'd done the same tonight the game might have ended differently, and the second reason is how well Kirk Nieuwenhuis played.
For those reading my work for the first time I should let you know I've been saying for a very long time now (well, going on 3 years) that Nieuwenhuis is a far better prospect than he's given credit for, and he should be considered not just the Mets CF of the future, but the Mets CF of the present. I don't know how many sabrematricans read this (or, for that matter, how many people even know what a sabrematrician is :) ), but as a Centerfielder, Nieuwenhuis projects to be amongst the best in the majors, let alone the NL. Why am I so emphatically high on him? Well, as they said in both the book and the movie "Moneyball," OBP is the single most important statistic for a hitter, and K-New (my name for him © <grin>, but feel free to use it if you like it. Honestly, I had to come up with a name because “Nieuwenhuis” is just too long and difficult to spell 10 to 15 times in a blog) gets on base--even when he's not getting hits, and he gets plenty of those (and for those of you saying OPS is the most important statistic, you're right, in a way, except technically speaking OPS is a combination of two statistics, and therefore not really a "single statistic." In fact, we members of SABR prefer to use OBPx2+SLG to give us a more accurate gauge on how many “wins” a guy will produce).
The average OPS for a CFer in 2011 was .777, and Nieuwenhuis' OPS has been significantly higher than that over the last 3 years at .843, .802, and .948 respectively. More importantly, in all three years he saw playing time at AA or higher, so we're not talking rookie ball numbers. Despite putting up these numbers, he's been overlooked--a lot!! For some reason when baseball scouts look at prospects they put looks into the equation. Because Kirk Nieuwenhuis doesn't "look like a baseball player," because his "body's too big," because he's not outstanding at any one thing, scouts have never rated K-New where he deserved to be rated.
Maybe I'm a little strange (okay, there are no maybes about it, I am strange), but I wouldn't care if the guy were a dwarf leper with 1 arm and literally did forward rolls around the basepath, as long as he's getting on base, scoring runs, and driving them in, as well as fielding his position well. Baseball isn't a beauty contest (take a look at some pictures of Babe Ruth--Ruth was overweight, slow, and a liability in the OF--he caught what came within his area, but he was no Willie Mays fielding wise). That's not to say there isn't beauty in baseball. Anyone who's ever seen a crisp 4-6-3 double play can talk about the aesthetic beauty inherent in the game. If you got points in baseball for looking good, however, Rey Ordonez might have been the best shortstop in Mets history instead of one of the worst.
K-New may not look like a centerfielder, but then neither did Jim Edmonds and he won 8 Gold Gloves. Nieuwenhuis' numbers in the majors so far are .371/.450/.600 (as of 20APR12) with an OPS of a whopping 1.050. To give you an idea how good that is, consider Jim Edmonds had a lifetime OPS of .903. A 1.050 OPS for a player on a winning team with enough Runs and RBIs are MVP type numbers. In Piazza's “golden season” of 1997 he had an OPS of 1.070. Now, do I expect it to stay that high? No. And no, I don't expect it to be higher—certainly not this year and perhaps never over a full season in his career. Still, even if he calms down and hits a more historically realistic .280, with an OPS of ~.820, the Mets would be absolute fools not to give him the job at CF and use Torres as the 4th OFer.
Before Ike Davis came up, nobody (and I'm right up there with the biggest Mets fans out there and I'd never heard of him before 2010) genuinely expected him to be a Gold Glove caliber, well earned #4 hitting 1Bman who people now believe has the potential to be as good a hitter as perhaps Carlos Delgado in his pre-Met days. Before Lucas Duda was given significant playing time no "reliable scout" considered him to be a guy who could easily hit 40 HRs, hit .280-.300, AND get on base at a .370 clip, while playing a very passable RF. K-New, IMO, is the next to follow in the footsteps of Met's farmhands to step into becoming one of the more feared hitters in the lineup.
There is no question in my mind Andres Torres, once off the DL needs to either be traded or relegated to the bench. K-New has arrived and, in my opinon, has "Wally Pipp"ed Andres Torres, much like Ike Davis did to Mike Jacobs in 2010. If Collins doesn't continue using K-New as the leadoff hitter, I'll be disappointed. If Collins and Alderson in their “infinite wisdom” send K-New down instead of keeping him as the starting CF, I'll be downright angry.