Batting eighth for the Mets on Opening Day and, it seems, most days after that: the starting pitcher.
Mickey Callaway unveiled his starting lineup Wednesday for his first game as manager, Thursday against the Cardinals, and it featured a couple of sabermetrics-based quirks that are poised to become the Mets’ new norm: Yoenis Cespedes batting second and the pitcher (Noah Syndergaard) batting eighth.
Cespedes said Callaway sold him on his new lineup home with a simple argument: That’s where more and more teams are batting their best hitter. That includes recent NL MVPs Kris Bryant with the Cubs and Giancarlo Stanton with the Marlins.
“They got some numbers where they say the best hitter they put second,” Cespedes said in English, a departure from his routine of using a translator. “So Mickey told me that. I say, if that is what I have to do for the team [and] that’s going to be the best for the team, I’ll do it. I’m ready for that.”
Callaway slotted Cespedes in the two-hole often during spring training, knowing it was a strong possibility for the regular season. Cespedes batted second in about 5 percent of his major-league games (39 of 788).
But, as No. 3 hitter Jay Bruce noted, the dynamic shifts the second time through the lineup as it is constructed Thursday.
Callaway has Amed Rosario batting ninth, which turns the speedy shortstop into a de facto leadoff guy.
“So after the first time around, Cespedes is hitting third and I’m hitting fourth really,” Bruce said. “The more good hitters bat in a game . . . the more runs you’re going to score.”
Said Callaway: “With Ces hitting second, Bruce hitting third, we wanted another guy that can get on base in front of them.”
That’s Rosario, who had a .271 OBP in the majors last season but a .353 OBP during spring training.
“He had a great spring. He was very patient compared to what he had done in the past,” Callaway said. “He worked so hard at it. I want to put him in a position where he can continue that approach.”
That’s the other reason Callaway wants to bat the pitcher eighth: Hitting ninth is better for Rosario’s continued development than hitting eighth in front of the pitcher would be. While that won’t be the order every day, Callaway noted, the thinking has more to do with Rosario than it does Syndergaard or any other starting pitcher.
“It takes a little pressure off Rosario,” Callaway said. “Hitting in front of the pitcher can be a hard thing sometimes because guys will pitch around you, bury breaking balls, things like that. Those are just a couple of the reasons why. But we feel it makes a lot of sense.”
These lineup characteristics from Callaway, who believes in modern metrics without being held hostage by them, are a departure from his predecessor. Last year, Terry Collins batted the pitcher eighth only twice, in early-season Syndergaard starts. The year before, once. Cespedes hit second in two games the past two years.
“We’re going to take advantage of the information and we’re going to be selectively aggressive,” Callaway said.
The finer details of daily lineup machinations won’t matter much unless the Mets’ hitters produce the way their track records suggest they will. And it’s possible much of this could change when Michael Conforto returns, probably sometime in April, from his shoulder injury.
“Ces really just needs to get the guy over from second. I’m just kidding. Totally kidding,” Bruce said. “It doesn’t matter where I hit. We have a team that’s capable of scoring a lot of runs.”
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
Dexter Fowler RF
Tommy Pham CF
Matt Carpenter 1B
Marcell Ozuna LF
Yadier Molina C
Paul DeJong SS
Jedd Gyorko 3B
Kolten Wong 2B
Carlos Martinez P
Brandon Nimmo CF
Yoenis Cespedes LF
Jay Bruce RF
Asdrubal Cabrera 2B
Todd Frazier 3B
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Kevin Plawecki C
Noah Syndergaard P
Amed Rosario SS
FIRST-PITCH WEATHER FORECAST
Cloudy, 51 degrees, 5-percent chance of precipitation