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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Amed Rosario hasn’t yet established plus or minus defensive rep

Mets manager Mickey Callaway points out that the defensive metrics don’t always match up with the eyeball test.

Mets shortstop Amed Rosario makes a catch to

Mets shortstop Amed Rosario makes a catch to end the ninth inning against the Marlins at Citi Field on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

In the last week, Amed Rosario has given the Mets some hope that he can be an offensive force in the No. 9 hole. The 22-year-old shortstop hit two homers Sunday versus Arizona and another Friday in Milwaukee.

The jury is still out on whether Rosario can be a dynamic offensive player. He has speed and some pop, but his ability (or inability) to control the strike zone ultimately will tell the tale on his bat.

What about his defense? Rosario appears to have all the tools to be a top defensive shortstop: range, hands, a strong arm. But 92 games into his major-league career, advanced stats have Rosario as an average or below-average shortstop.

Is Rosario an average-at-best shortstop? Or, in the age of Statcast, when every single thing in baseball is calculated to the smallest degree, are advanced defensive metrics still as unreliable as they have always seemed to be?

We asked Mets manager Mickey Callaway about that this past week: Is Rosario better than the publicly available advanced defensive metrics make him seem?

“That’s a great question,” Callaway said with a smile. It was a stat nerd question; Callaway apparently appreciates a good stat nerd question.

Without mentioning Ro sario’s name, Callaway defended his shortstop and torched defensive metrics by launching into an analysis of San Diego Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer, a four-time Gold Glove winner when he was with the Royals.

“Eric Hosmer’s one of the worst infielders in the league when you look at the numbers,” Callaway said. “I would venture to say that everybody in baseball would totally disagree with that and probably say he’s the best first baseman out there. So there’s always things with those numbers that probably don’t coincide all the time with what you see with your eye, and that’s why you always have to have a mix of the two things.

“You can’t just always go on what the numbers say. You can’t just always go on what traditional baseball thinking is. I think that’s a case where you probably have to see more with your eyes than lean on the numbers, especially when it comes to the defensive metrics and stuff.”

If this pregame news conference before a routine Mets game had been a courtroom drama, Callaway would have whipped out a piece of paper showing Hosmer’s defensive stats. But that’s not what this was, so we looked them up.

Callaway was right. Hosmer, who won Gold Gloves from 2013-15 and again in 2017, had a negative defensive WAR (dWAR) in each of those seasons. He went from minus-0.4 in 2013 to minus-0.3 to minus-0.9 to minus-1.6 in his final season in Kansas City.

Other defensive metrics tell a similar story. According to total zone fielding runs above average (rTOT), Hosmer became a below-average first baseman in 2015 and actually cost his team nine runs last season.

Defensive runs saved? Hosmer stopped saving the Royals runs in 2016, when he was six runs worse than an average first baseman and did not win the Gold Glove (it went to Mitch Moreland). Hosmer won the Gold Glove in 2017 but had a DRS of minus-7.

As for Rosario, he played in 46 games last season and 46 this year. In 2017, he had a dWAR of 0.3, meaning he was above average. But this year he’s minus-0.3. You don’t have to be a math major to know that means this: In his career, he is exactly average.

For comparison’s sake, the top shortstop in baseball in dWAR this season is Houston’s Carlos Correa at 12.0. The worst is Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar at -10.

The good news for Mets fans: Callaway has a plan to make Rosario a better fielder. It involves a lot of work with bench coach Gary DiSarcina, a former shortstop who never won a Gold Glove but who compiled a dWAR of 12.8 during a 12-year career, all with the Angels.

“There’s a lot of things that Gary DiSarcina has helped him with since the beginning of spring training,” Callaway said. “His in-between pitch routine, the way he sets up, where his feet land as the pitch is coming. He’s made some significant improvement on that that’s going to allow him to cover balls in the hole better. Things like that. So he’s been making a lot of strides in that area. I think it’s shown up during the season. He’s making all the routine plays, he’s making some spectacular plays.”

Overall, one metric has the Mets as the second-worst defensive team in the National League, with a fielding runs above average of minus-14. Only the Reds are worse at minus-19.

The Mets need Rosario to develop into a plus defender because he’s kind of their only hope for one of those in the infield. Asdrubal Cabrera has a dWAR of minus-0.9 at second, Adrian Gonzalez is minus-0.2 at first and the injured Todd Frazier is minus-0.2 at third. (No one needs to see a number to know Wilmer Flores is a below-average defender at every position.)

The only other regular Met who has a positive dWAR is Michael Conforto, who is at 0.4. Juan Lagares was at 0.6 before he was lost for the season with a toe injury.

So the Mets need Rosario to keep at it.

“He’s right where he needs to be in his defense and he’s continuing to work at it every day,” Callaway said. “He’s out there with enthusiasm taking ground balls and working really hard on that aspect of his game.”

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