Everyone is making plans for Carlos Delgado to finish his career with the Mets in 2009.  But here I lay out the case for why we should not dismiss what he did down the stretch in 2008.

Yesterday in making a case for signing Adam Dunn, my friend and colleague Lee Andrew Henderson mentioned that a side benefit of signing Dunn is that he could move to first base in 2010 and take over for Carlos Delgado.  This is good – the team should always be making plans for the immediate and the future.  But should the Mets be in the market for a new first baseman after 2009?

By now everyone knows the Delgado story.  He appeared to be done after a brutal start to his 2008 season, when it literally looked like he was playing with a fork sticking out of his back.  In late May, Willie Randolph gave Delgado, who was hitting .215 at the time, a day off.  From that point to the rest of the season, he posted a .295/.378/.576 line over 482 plate appearances.

Every hitter in baseball enjoys a hot streak or two during the season, from Jack Hannahan, who had the lowest average of all qualifiers for the batting title yet who hit .305 in 82 at-bats in July, to Albert Pujols.  But what Delgado did in 2008 covered two-thirds of the year!  Why is everyone so eager to send him out of town once his contract is up?

Last year, NL first basemen posted a .277/.359/.479 line.  Delgado was basically average in the first two categories and was noticeably above average in slugging.  And this is including his brutal start to the year.  Now, I don’t think the Mets should be happy with average to slightly-above average production from a power position like first base, but didn’t Delgado’s production over his final 482 PA at least earn him the chance to compete for a new contract?

Shouldn’t we at least begin 2009 with an open mind in regards to Delgado’s future?

I understand the fans’ exasperation with Delgado.  The Mets pursued him as a free agent following the 2004 season but his agent steered him to Florida, where he put up one of the top seasons of his illustrious career.  Then the Mets got him in 2006 and his batting average and on-base percentage immediately dropped.

But this is also a player who has delivered two seasons in three years with the club in which he’s drawn MVP votes.  It just seems like his down year in 2007 and slow start last year has falsely colored everyone’s opinion of Delgado.  Seemingly, they’ve forgotten about his 2006 campaign (38 HR, 114 RBI) and they feel his 2008 season is one he’s unlikely to match going forward.

But what if we conveniently “forget” his 2007 season?  Now, I’m fully aware that it’s not really a good idea to ignore what a player did just two seasons ago.  However, I want you to humor me just this one time.  Let’s stack Delgado’s 2006 and 2008 seasons on top of one another and see what they suggest.

2006: .265-38-114 with a .361 OBP and a .548 SLG

2008: .271-38-115 with a .353 OBP and a .518 SLG

I’m just a bit confused what it is about these two stat lines that shout out, “Replace Me!”

In 2007 Delgado was recovering from wrist surgery in the off-season and becoming a father for the first time.  Then his 2007 season ended with a broken hand.  It’s very common for power to be slow to return after hand and wrist injuries.  His bat speed looked non-existent in the beginning of 2008.  But by the end of the year you couldn’t get a fastball past him.

A good sign for Delgado is that he posted a 24.5 percent line drive rate last year.  Line drives are the balls most likely to turn into base hits and this was the fourth time in the seven years for which we have the data that Delgado topped the 20 percent mark.  He failed to do it in his previous two years with the Mets.

Another good sign is that Delgado has performed like he has with the team despite not having particularly good luck.  His BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play, which does not count strikeouts or home runs) have been .276, .290 and .284 in his three years with the Mets.  Usually a player will be around .300 in the category and any mark significantly above or below that can often be considered luck.  In his year with Florida, Delgado had a .338 BABIP.

Finally, we do not know how the Mets’ new park is going to play.  We do know that Shea was not a good place for Delgado to hit the past three seasons.  Here are his home/road splits since joining the Mets:

H: .237 (190-801) with 48 HR [21 in 2008]
R: .282 (242-859) with 52 HR

Since most players perform better at home than on the road, Delgado’s home numbers stick out like a sore thumb.  Just imagine what he might do if his home park didn’t didn’t cause him a 45-point drop in average.

So, let’s not drive Delgado out of town before seeing what he can do in 2009.  I have no problems with Lee Andrew’s suggestion to sign Dunn.  But I think we should do that with an eye towards moving Daniel Murphy to second base, not Delgado to another club.

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