When the Marlins signed Jose Reyes in December of 2011, the Mets were forced to turn to a young, inexperienced shortstop in Ruben Tejada. Just 22 at the time, Tejada was given the enormous (and probably impossible) task of replacing Reyes. No one expected him to make up for the production lost, but the club certainly needed decent production out of the position.
In 2011, Tejada got a substantial amount of playing time for the second year in a row, and began to hit at the big league level for the first time. He had hit just .213 in 78 games as a 20 year-old with the Mets the year before, but improved drastically, batting .284 with a very solid .360 on-base percentage, the result of a solid 9.3% walk rate. Mets fans had high expectations for him going into camp in 2012.
I wouldn’t say Tejada completely met the high expectations some had for him, but he definitely improved and had a good season nonetheless. He batted .289 for the season, a few points better than his 2011 average. The overwhelming negative for Tejada, however, was his drop in walks. His walk rate was almost cut in half, dropping to just 5.4%. That had a negative effect on his on-base percentage, dropping from .360 to .333, and that’s with an uptick in batting average. His first half was significantly better than his second, hitting .325 before the All-Star break and just .269 after. Comparing his second half to other shortstops, that’s well above-average although it’s not quite where we’d like Tejada to be.
Despite a few negatives, I’m happy with Tejada’s overall performance last season. He played the field well, and hit well above-average for a shortstop. It’s hard to project Tejada as a future batting champ, but he will definitely hover in the .280 to .290 range for quite a few years. That may not seem extremely valuable when considering his lack of power, but in a league where the total batting average for MLB shortstops is .256, it is. Speaking of the power, I really believe it’s going to start increasing for Tejada, as he is getting older. He will never be a home run guy (he’ll probably never hit more than five in a year) but the ability to get extra-base hits will continue to develop as it did last year. When will separate Tejada from the average seven or eight hitter is his ability to hit gap-to-gap. That will allow him to become a useful player in the second spot.
Before we move to my projection, let’s look at the two others that we’ve been using throughout our series, Bill James and ZiPS. Here’s what they are projecting for Tejada:
James: .277/.338/.347, 2 HR
ZiPS: .272/.328/.341, 2 HR, 2.2 WAR
I actually disagree with both of these projections. Looking at Tejada’s batting average on balls in play, and a few other factors, Tejada actually got a little bit unlucky last year. His BABIP, or projected batting average on balls in play was a staggering .369. The stats from throughout his career and his style of hitting had him projected to have a higher BABIP. However, this year, his BABIP was 30 points lower at .339. Don’t take those numbers too seriously of course, because projecting BABIP is still (and never will be) an exact science, but when the gap is so great like that, it’s certainly something to keep in mind when making a projection.
When watching Tejada play, I see a future above-average shortstop, especially with the bat. His etra-base hit power, which began to develop last year, will improve again this year. If he’s able to take a more balanced approach at the plate, he will draw more walks and thus help the rest of his game. Last season, he was being more aggressive at the plate, swinging at outside pitches more often and driving down his walk rate. That needs to be a top priority (along with the gap-to-gap power) going into camp this year. If he takes the approach he took two years ago, which I believe Dan Warthen will push him to do, Tejada will have an excellent season.