Taylor valued asset in Mets' 4th straight win, first sweep in '24

April 17th, 2024

NEW YORK -- Good teams need good glue. For the Mets, is proving sticky enough to be just that type of guy.

Taylor was not the most decisive force in a 9-1 win over the Pirates on Wednesday afternoon, which gave New York a series sweep and four consecutive wins at Citi Field. He couldn’t quite match the box-score impacts of Starling Marte and Harrison Bader, who each hit two-run homers, or Luis Severino, who did not allow an earned run in six innings.

What Taylor did achieve is what he often does, adding enough value over the course of a game to enhance the pieces around him. It was Taylor, who hit a two-out, two-run single just before Bader’s homer in the sixth, easing the pressure off a Mets team looking to cap their sweep before a rainstorm blew in from the west.

It was Taylor who started in right field, affording the 35-year-old Marte a half-day of rest as the DH. It was Taylor, who finished 3-for-4 with a stolen base and a run scored.

Through 18 team games, Taylor is slashing .341/.378/.463 in something approximating an everyday role, playing all three outfield positions and offering value on a near-daily basis.

“I’m definitely happy with the results,” Taylor said.

The 30-year-old Taylor has been this type of player before, albeit never over the course of a full season. From 2021-22 with the Brewers, he hit 29 homers in 213 games, producing a 105 league-adjusted OPS+ that suggested he was a slightly above-average offensive asset.

On defense those years, Taylor produced a combined 10 Outs Above Average at the three outfield positions.

But he took a step back in 2023 which, combined with his being arbitration-eligible for the first time, made him expendable for a Brewers organization looking to retool and shed salary. Taylor’s former president of baseball operations in Milwaukee, David Stearns, took advantage of the situation by acquiring Taylor and Adrian Houser for a pitching prospect, Coleman Crow, who will miss this entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

It was a long-term move for the Brewers and a short-term one for the Mets, who have received early value from both players.

“I see a good hitter at the plate right now,” manager Carlos Mendoza said of Taylor.

Specifically, Mendoza said, Taylor has been short with his swing and ready to hit fastballs -- a recipe for success at any level of baseball. Taylor cited an emphasis on using his lower half more during at-bats, while keeping his bat in the zone as long as possible.

That short stroke allowed Taylor to hit the ball well in all four of his at-bats in the finale against the Pirates. After lining out in the second inning, Taylor singled and stole second off lefty Bailey Falter in the fourth.

Although Pittsburgh turned to right-hander Hunter Stratton for the sixth inning, Mendoza stuck with Taylor rather than pinch-hit lefty DJ Stewart -- a move Mendoza has shown he’s willing to make if he feels good about a specific right-on-right matchup. Just like Harrison Bader on Sunday, Taylor vindicated his manager with a run-scoring hit.

For good measure, Taylor added a third single in the eighth inning to cap his eighth career three-hit game.

“Huge,” was how Mendoza defined Taylor’s impact. “The one thing I like about Taylor is he’s ready to play all the time. You know as a manager he’s going to be ready for any situation.”

In addition to what Taylor has done at the plate, his ability to play all three outfield positions -- and not just play them, but play them well -- has afforded Mendoza daily lineup flexibility. On days when Mendoza does not wish to start Bader, Taylor can either replace him or center, or man left field with Brandon Nimmo sliding over to center.

On days when Mendoza wants to get Marte off his feet, such as Wednesday, Taylor’s strong arm -- he’s been clocked at 95 mph from the outfield -- means he can slide just as easily to right. Taylor even features enough bat for Mendoza to DH him on occasion.

Time will tell if Taylor’s offensive success will hold up over the course of a long season; outside of an above-average whiff rate, he entered Wednesday’s play ranked in the bottom half of MLB in some important underlying metrics such as hard-hit rate and expected slugging percentage.

But over the first three weeks, he’s shown how valuable he can be.

“I just try to be my best self every day,” Taylor said. “I work hard in practice. I have a game plan. I’m consistent with my work. … I definitely have the mindset of getting better every day.”