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Mets should turn to Neil Walker with team’s struggles in the leadoff spot

Neil Walker (l) could serve as the Mets’ leadoff hitter with usual suspects Jose Reyes (c) and Curtis Granderson struggling early this season.
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While the middle of the Mets’ batting order has performed well early in the season, the top of the lineup — specifically the lead-off spot — has struggled to set the table for New York’s big bats.

The Mets have hovered around .500 so far, and their lack of a legitimate lead-off hitter is partly to blame for their unspectacular start. Many expected Jose Reyes to slide into the lineup’s No. 1 slot, but to say he’s gotten off to a poor start is generous. His early woes have stretched into the third week of the season, and while he remains a threat on the base paths, he needs to reach base in order to use his speed.

Reyes has put up a slash line of .087/.176/.109 in 13 games played in 2017. In simpler terms, he’s getting on base at a rate of just 17.6 percent, while the league average hovers around 30 percent. That’s not going to cut it.

Reyes has a career .337 on-base percentage (OBP), so his struggles have come as a surprise to manager Terry Collins, prompting the skipper to say he has “the FBI looking for the real Jose Reyes right now,” just last week.

New York has also tried Curtis Granderson in the lead-off spot, but he hasn’t been much better. Known for having a good eye at the plate, the veteran outfielder has also struggled early this season, posting a .174 average and .235 on-base percentage through 12 games. Granderson has only walked four times, which is a troubling trend for a player whose value depends on his ability to work the count and get on base.

The Mets, like any other club, value speed at the top of the lineup. Both Reyes and Granderson can provide that. But with their contributions at the top of the lineup almost non-existent, it may be worthwhile for New York to take a different approach.

The Mets can bat Neil Walker in the leadoff spot. Known more for his power than his speed (116 career home runs vs. 29 career stolen bases), Walker has done a nice job getting on base since coming to the Mets in an offseason trade before the 2016 campaign. In his first year with New York, Walker posted a .347 OBP and sits at .333 so far this season. It’s not a great number, but it’s much better than Reyes’ .176 mark and Granderson’s .235 OBP.

Walker is not an ideal lead-off hitter, but the Mets have limited options. Their team leader in OBP is currently starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard (.429), which shows just how slow New York’s offense has been.

Among the regular starting position players, catcher Travis d’Arnaud leads the team with .417 OBP, followed by fourth outfielder Michael Conforto (.409) and Jay Bruce (.364). Bruce and d’Arnaud are better suited to hit in the middle of the lineup due to their power and ability to drive in runs. Same goes for Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda.

That leaves Walker as the go-to lead-off man. Whether or not Collins is willing to give Walker a shot is another story, but it’s clear the veteran second baseman is a better option at this juncture.

Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewelb@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4539.

Posted 12:00 am, April 20, 2017
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