The Mets have multiple players who do vastly different things at the hot corner, but none of them are perfect.
Seven of the eight spots in the Mets’ everyday lineup are locked in. While the organization acquired some solid depth pieces in the offseason, the starting group remained secure — except for third base. The position houses the biggest conundrum for the Mets coaching staff and growing analytics department: whether to play J.D. Davis or Luis Guillorme. It is the biggest question the Mets face today among their position players, and it is a legitimately difficult decision due to the vast differences in the players involved.
J.D. Davis is the presumed starter at the hot corner, considering he has played roughly 60 games there in a Mets uniform so far, and they did not really bring in a big name to knock him off the spot. A brutal-looking hit by pitch on his hand saw him miss time early on, but he came back with a bang, hitting a torrid .371/.463/.600 (196 wRC+) in 41 plate appearances on this young season. Unless Davis turned into a right-handed Ted Williams over the offseason, this is unsustainable offense; however, he has had above-average offensive seasons prior to this year. In 2019, his breakout campaign, he hit .307/.369/.527 (136 wRC+), and he followed it up with a solid but unspectacular .247/.371/.389 (116 wRC+) in the short 2020 season. He has hit at the major league level before, and if you just consider that, he seems like the obvious guy for the job. However, he has a humongous, glaring weakness: his defense.
Davis has -21 DRS and a -4.4 UZR at third base in his career. Right now, he’s at -1 OAA (outs above average) in 2021. The numbers are quite startlingly bad, and the tape backs this up. He often has trouble reacting to balls hit off to the side, and despite having a cannon of a throwing arm, he does not seem to trust it. He will double, and sometimes triple, clutch on his throws, leading to either poor throws or making routine plays difficult.
While Davis is hitting, sure, you can eat the poor defense. You could always substitute him out late in games you are ahead, but if he even hits to his 2020 level, it might not be worth it. So, what could the Mets do?
One answer could be Luis Guillorme, who is pretty much the antithesis of J.D. Davis. An extremely good defensive shortstop throughout his minor league career, Guillorme’s biggest concern came with his offense. He hit .289 in seven minor league seasons, with a solid .368 on-base percentage. All of this sounds wonderful, but his .350 career slugging showed the limitations to his offensive game, especially in the modern era. He might just not have enough pop to hit at an everyday level in the major leagues.
Guillorme has a career .266/.356/.340 (98 wRC+) in 235 major league plate appearances, but there is something to note there. In 2018 and 2019, he had a .224/.302/.296 (69 wRC+) line, but in 2020 and so far in 2021, he has a .333/.440/.413 line (144 wRC+). His true talent is probably somewhere in the middle of those two stretches, but it is still encouraging to see legitimate and prolonged success offensively at this level. Throughout the offensive ups and downs for Guillorme, he has been a good defender all over the infield on top of this. So, what do you do?
Davis does not necessarily have splits in his career—127 wRC+ against lefties and 114 wRC+ against righties—but Guillorme does. Even over the last two years, Guillorme has pretty stark differences. In 2020, he had a strong 161 wRC+ against righties, but only a 43 wRC+ against lefties. This year, he’s just 0-for-1 against left handed pitching and has a 156 wRC+ against righties.
The nice and easy answer—and probably what I would do if I were in Luis Rojas’s shoes—is to shelter Davis and platoon them. Start Davis against basically every lefty, and get him out of the lineup when its a late-game situation. Guillorme can hit righties and play defense when the Mets are leading late.
You can also play the matchups. A pitcher like Marcus Stroman, a pitcher with a career 58.7% ground ball rate, needs the extra solid gloves in the infield, and Guillorme provides that and then some. David Peterson is similar, as he is currently rocking a 56.9% ground ball rate in 2021. Guillorme needs to play when these two guys are on the hill, regardless of the handedness of the pitcher; the defense is just too valuable.
Outside of forcing them to do the Dragon Ball Z fusion dance and making an elite third baseman, they simply need to play both players. Combined, the duo will pitch in enough in both parts of the game to be a positive player on aggregate. It is hardly exciting or revolutionary to just say “play the both of them and it’ll be fine” but the most obvious answer is likely the correct one. Davis and Guillorme both bring different and valuable things, and both deserve to play a lot.
The 2021 New York Mets are largely a team of constants—day in and day out, you know who is taking the field on any given day, with off days and injuries being the exceptions. But third base is the sole outlier for this team, and the one that needs the most creative answer to solve.