Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Corey Hart Conundrum

Earlier today, while I was perusing through various Mets blogs, I came across this recent post by Kirk Cahill on Mets Merized Online.  I actually hadn't been thinking much about the Mets potentially signing Corey Hart, but after reading SeƱor Cahill's piece, I now have to consider him as one of the players Sandy Alderson should definitely be looking at this offseason.

Corey Hart has been a top-notch player for the Milwaukee Brewers for many years.  He has also been somewhat of a silent Met killer.  Whereas players such as Chipper Jones and Pat Burrell tormented the Mets with dozens of home runs, Corey Hart found other ways to beat the Mets.  For example, in 2008, Hart almost single-handedly defeated the Mets in a game won by the Brewers at Shea Stadium.  Hart went 4-for-5 in the game, igniting a four-run game-tying rally in the fourth inning.  Two innings later, Hart had a run-scoring single that gave the Brewers their eighth run of the game.  The hit proved to be the game-winner in Milwaukee's 9-7 victory over the Mets.  And for those with short memories, the Brewers finished one game ahead of the Mets for the wild card in 2008.

Two years later, Hart demolished the Mets, driving in a dozen runs against New York in just seven games.  Hart delivered a two-run, walk-off homer off Mets' reliever Ryota Igarashi to break a scoreless tie on May 28, then followed it up with a six-RBI performance the next day, which included a grand slam off Oliver Perez.  Finally, during the season's last week, Hart helped end the Mets' chase for a .500 record.  On September 29, the Mets stood two games under .500 with six games to play.  After spotting the Brewers a 6-0 cushion in the first game of a doubleheader at Citi Field (Hart drove in the first run in the Brewers' six-run third inning), the Mets roared back to take a 7-6 lead.  But with the Mets just four outs away from claiming a dramatic come-from-behind victory and putting themselves a game under the .500 mark, Corey Hart delivered a game-tying RBI single, then scored the go-ahead run two batters later in the Brewers' 8-7 victory.

Unlike Chipper Jones and Pat Burrell, Corey Hart has only hit six home runs against the Mets.  But in 30 starts against New York, Hart has delivered 12 extra-base hits, scored 24 runs and driven in 24.  He's also been a .303 career hitter versus the Mets (Hart has a lifetime .277 batting average) and has delivered in the clutch repeatedly at Miller Park, Shea Stadium and Citi Field.  So signing Hart would obviously turn a Met killer into a Met.  But a Hart signing would do much more than just take away a potential lethal bat against the Mets' staff.

Hart can play two defensive positions - first base and right field.  Although much of his time in the majors has been spent playing right, Hart transitioned into Milwaukee's first baseman in 2012 after Prince Fielder moved on to Detroit.  Hart is not a smooth fielder, as evidenced by his -1.3 defensive WAR in 2012.  But that's still better than Lucas Duda's -2.1 dWAR from last season.  Hart's dWAR would place him smack dab in the middle of Duda's dWAR and Ike Davis' -0.6 dWAR from 2013.

Now you may have noticed that I've been comparing Duda and Davis' numbers from last year to Corey Hart's defensive metrics from 2012.  That's because Hart missed the entire 2013 season recovering from surgeries performed on both of his knees.  And you know what that means.  It means Corey Hart is the classic Sandy Alderson player, meaning he won't be expensive, he could be a "high-reward" player (a la Marlon Byrd) and can be dealt at the trade deadline if the team doesn't compete.  Of course, if they do compete, Hart could be one of the main contributors to the team's success.

In his last three healthy seasons (2010-2012), Hart's average slash line was .279/.343/.514.  Hart also averaged 31 doubles, four triples, 29 homers, 83 RBI and 87 runs scored.  No Mets player - not even David Wright - has posted a .514 slugging percentage over the last three seasons.  The last Met to even come close was Carlos Beltran, who slugged .510 from 2007 to 2009.  And the only players to hit as many as 29 homers over the past five seasons were Wright (29 HR in 2010) and Ike Davis (32 HR in 2012).

The Mets need outfielders.  They could also use a first baseman.  And they also need to give smart contracts to players.  They can have it all in Corey Hart.  Would they be taking a chance signing a player with recent knee problems?  Absolutely.  But if that player's knees hold up, would that chance be worth it?  You betcha!  That's the Corey Hart conundrum.  And it'll be up to Sandy Alderson to see if it's a conundrum worth solving.

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