Archive for the ‘Top 10 Offense’ Category

The Top Ten Offensive Seasons in Mets History – Left Fielders 6-10

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

For the catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, and the shortstops, click on the links.

After a prolonged holiday break, we are back to the list with left fielders.  Left field has usually been a place where teams will stick their poorest defensive players, so this will be a position with stronger hitting credentials than the shortstops we profiled a few weeks ago.  Unfortunately, the Mets have also tended to start part-time players in left field a lot, so there are few truly eye-popping seasons here, but some darned good half-seasons, so let’s take a look at the list.

Honorable Mention: Steve Henderson (1977, 1979), Kevin McReynolds (1989), Cliff Floyd (2003), Fernando Tatis (2008)

Steve Henderson was a good, not great, journeyman outfielder who gave the Mets two good years, albeit in part-time work. Kevin McReynolds is not a man held in high regard by Mets fans, particularly after the man he was traded for, Kevin Mitchell, won an MVP in 1989, but it is important to remember that he was a consistent power threat that was a good bet to hit 50 or more extra base hits a year while he was on the team. Cliff Floyd would have made the list if he had played more than 108 games, but as is the story of his Mets career, he didn’t stay on the field enough.  Fernando Tatis will likely be the most unlikely player to make any of these lists, and again would have made the list with a full season, but he was an unexpected bright spot for the 2008 Mets.

#10: Moises Alou, 2007

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
51 112 19 1 13 49 27 .341 .392 .524 .916 3

But this right here probably ranks as the best part-time season by a Mets player in history.  Mets fans ultimately won’t remember Moises Alou fondly, I suspect.  If he had made it onto the field even a little bit more in 2008, the story might be different.  Then again, we may not have seen Fernando Tatis’ excellent season, either – or at the very least, there would have been a logjam when Ryan Church came back.  Anyway, in a little more than half a season, Alou hit over 30 extra base hits, hit for a high average (which propped up his OBP) and gave the Mets their longest hitting streak in team history to close the season and, along with David Wright and Carlos Beltran, helped keep the Mets from being finished off before the last day of the season and gave them hope.  You can’t blame the collapse on Alou, because he was at his absolute best during that period.

#9: Tommy Davis, 1967

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
72 174 32 0 16 73 31 .302 .342 .440 .782 9

I don’t know much about Tommy Davis.  He only spent one season with the Mets, after which he was traded to the White Sox for Tommie Agee.  Can’t really complain about that one, as we’ll be seeing Tommie Agee on lists to come.  But I do know that 48 extra base hits during the dead ball era is really good, particularly playing half his games at Shea.  He didn’t walk much, wasn’t much of a base-stealer, but he gave the Mets solid power, leading the 61-win Mets in both home runs and doubles.  Since he played on a terrible Mets team over 40 years ago, and only played one season at that, he is a prime candidate to get forgotten by most Mets fans, which is why I’m happy to shine a bit of a light on a player who kept that year’s Mets team from being significantly worse.

#8: Rickey Henderson, 1999

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
89 138 30 0 12 42 82 .315 .423 .466 .889 37

With apologies to Jose Reyes, this stands as the best season by a Mets leadoff hitter in history.  Eighty-two walks!  A .423 on base percentage!  If Jose Reyes did that today, people wouldn’t give him crap over his celebrations because he’d be the MVP of the league.  But Rickey wasn’t particularly loved for his time in New York (which seems to be a recurring theme here).  Maybe it has to do with his playing cards with Bobby Bonilla as the Mets were playing the Braves in a do or die NLCS game against the Atlanta Braves?  But Rickey’s year was pretty great, although he was another player who didn’t stay on the field enough (then again, he was 42).  You’ll hear more great stories about Rickey next week, after he is inducted into the Hall of Fame, but Mets fans should remember him for the season where he played cards with Bobby Bonilla in the clubhouse, and simultaneously was the best leadoff hitter the Mets would ever know.

#7: John Milner, 1976

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
56 120 25 4 15 78 65 .271 .362 .447 .809 0

Milner always seemed like a sad case to me.  He was a pretty solid hitter who had good patience and decent power for the time.  Surely, he was a better hitter than Ed Kranepool.  Yet the Mets never really gave him a shot.  Whenever Kranepool would go down, or one of their corner outfielders would go down, Milner would step in, hit double digit homers and doubles, walk once every 8-10 plate appearances, and then go right back to the bench.  Alas, Milner came up in the 70’s, where things like walking were not as appreciated, and the things Milner didn’t do (like hit .300 or avoid strikeouts) were held against him.  If Milner had come up today, he’d be seen as a good starter; instead, he was seen as a good fill-in, but nothing more.  Still, this season represents his peak as a Met, and it was a good one; 44 extra base hits in 511 plate appearances is nothing to sneeze at.

#6: Cliff Floyd, 2005

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
85 150 22 2 34 98 63 .273 .358 .505 .863 17

Cliff Floyd, when he was healthy, was a dangerous hitter.  This 2005 proves it; I mean, he even stole 17 bases!  You forget that Floyd was not a one-dimensional slugger.  This was the one year that Floyd managed to stay on the field enough to play a full season, and he delivered in spades, with 34 homers, 22 doubles, a .505 slugging percentage, the aforementioned steals, and 63 walks.  This was Floyd’s last truly good season, as injuries would keep him off the field in 2006 (fortunately, the Mets didn’t miss him too much) and he became a part-time player the past two seasons.  It’s a shame that he was a guy who could never stay healthy; the 2006 Mets might have vanquished the Cardinals if Floyd had more than three at-bats (when he could barely move, no less).

Next: Left Fielders 1-5

The Top Ten Offensive Seasons in Mets History – Shortstops 1-5

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

For the catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, and shortstops 6-10, click on the links.

The list of shortstops doesn’t start to pick up until #3.  Seriously…until a certain exuberant Dominican came of age in the majors, the Mets’ shortstops unequiviocably could not hit.  But we have two more shortstops to get out of the way before we get to him, so without further ado…

#5: Bud Harrelson, 1976

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
34 84 12 4 1 26 63 .234 .351 .298 .649 9

This season stood as the gold standard for Mets shortstops for almost thirty years.  Take a look at that beauty.  The only thing Buddy did this year was walk; those 63 walks were good to pump that OBP up to .351.  Of course, 17 extra base hits are nothing to write home about, which is the only reason this season won’t be ranked higher.  He also played a good defensive shortstop, so I don’t mean to hate…but when from 1962 to 2004, this season ranks as the #1 best season ever by a shortstop in franchise history…well, that doesn’t speak to well for the franchise’s shortstops.

#4: Kaz Matsui, 2004

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
65 125 32 2 7 44 40 .272 .331 .396 .727 14

Here is your #1 proof that the New York Mets have failed to employ even passable hitting shortstops for the franchise’s entire history between 1962 and 2004; Kaz Matsui had the best offensive season in Mets history in 2004.  Matsui was positively HATED his entire time in New York, yet compared to other Mets he was positively terrific, thanks mostly to those 32 doubles and going 14 of 17 on stolen base attempts.  Of course, Matsui also wasn’t nearly as good as these other guys defensively, making his bad hitting stick out…but you can’t win ‘em all.

I always thought Matsui got kind of a bad rap in New York.  Was he a great player?  No, he was not.  Was he overpaid?  Of course he was.  But when he managed to stay healthy in Colorado, he played a decent defensive second base, he had the ability to hit a lot of doubles, and he could steal bases at a high percentage.  He’s far from a perfect player, but I think after a season and a half of Luis Castillo, Mets fans may be ready to welcome KazMat back to New York with open arms.

#3: Jose Reyes, 2007

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
119 191 36 12 12 57 77 .280 .354 .421 .775 78

Jose Reyes is, by far, the best hitting shortstop in Mets history.  In 2007, when it was all said and done anybody could talk about was what was wrong with Reyes.  The guy just had the second-best season by a Mets shortstop in team history, and the story was what was wrong with him?  If there was something wrong with Reyes in 2007, then there must have been something seriously wrong with Mets shortstops for the first 35 years of the team’s existence, because none of those seasons could hold a candle to Reyes in 2007, other than Reyes in 2006.

Take a look…60 extra base hits, 78 stolen bases in 100 attempts, continued improvement in drawing walks (making him more valuable as a leadoff hitter)…just an excellent season all along.  The problem was, Reyes went frigid in September, or else this season would look even better.  The first five months of 2007 showed the kind of potential Reyes has if he can ever do that over a full season.  It’s scary to think, but we haven’t even seen the best of Jose Reyes yet.

#2: Jose Reyes, 2008

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
113 204 37 19 16 68 66 .297 .358 .475 .833 56

This past season was a nice bounceback for Reyes, and another glimpse of what he is capable of accomplishing.  His first 200 hit season, another high percentage steals season (though Manuel attempted stolen bases less than Willie), and nice power numbers (72 extra base hits).  Another subpar September kept these numbers from being even better, which seems to point to me not so much that Reyes folds down the stretch, but perhaps that he would benefit from a few more days off; he is rarely out of the Mets’ lineup.  It would behoove the Mets to find a decent utility man who can perhaps nudge Castillo out at second and spell Reyes at short once a month before going to spring training.

#1: Jose Reyes, 2006

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
122 194 30 17 19 81 53 .300 .354 .487 .841 64

Now, one might see Reyes’ 2006 season ranking ahead of his 2007 and 2008 seasons, and think he has somehow regressed.  It’s not exactly true; these seasons are very close in value.  In fact, Reyes had more extra base hits in 2008, albeit in more games, though he had  more stolen bases in 2006.  Realistically, you could probably switch these two seasons around and not have a quarrel.  I just think his 2006 was a little bit better.

There should be three things you take away from this list.  One, the Mets have employed some really lousy hitting shortstops for most of their existence.  Two, Jose Reyes has already established himself as the best hitting shortstop in franchise history.  And three, he has done so before turning even 26 years old.  This season might currently rank as the best season by a Mets shortstop in team history, but it won’t be first for long.  Jose Reyes will surpass this season sometime in the next 3 years.  He may surpass it three times in that time span.  Please cherish what we have from Jose Reyes, because for all his faults and all of his immaturity, he is a supremely talented ballplayer, and the best is yet to come.
Next: The Left Fielders

The Top Ten Offensive Seasons in Mets History – Shortstops 6-10

Monday, December 15th, 2008

For the catchers, first basemen, second basemen, and third basemen, click on the links.

The Mets do not have a history of great hitting shortstops.

This is an understatement.  Quite frankly, until the last few years, most Mets shortstops have been absolutely dreadful hitters.  Think of the World Series teams; their shortstops were Buddy Harrelson (1969, 1973), Rafael Santana (1986), and Rey Ordonez/Mike Bordick (2000).  For years, the Mets eschewed offense at shortstop for great defense, and sometimes it worked.  Most of the time, as evidenced by the Mets’ lack of success, it didn’t.

So who’s the best of this sorry lot?  Let’s take a look.

Honorable Mention: Jose Reyes (2003)

Reyes’ 2003 season would have made the list at #4 on the list had he played 12 more games in 2003.  Since he didn’t play half of the Mets’ games at shortstop in 2003, he can’t make the top ten.  But this was the first legitimately good season by a Mets shortstop in team history.  More on him later.

#10: Kevin Elster, 1989

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
52 106 25 2 10 55 34 .231 .283 .360 .643 4

Kevin Elster was generally not a good hitter.  He didn’t draw walks.  He didn’t hit for power.  He didn’t hit for average.  This season really isn’t good at all by any objective measure.  I have nothing good to say about Kevin Elster in 1989, no fond remembrances, nothing notable at all, other than the ten homers he hit here were only the second time in team history where a Mets shortstop hit ten or more home runs.  Actually amend that statement – it was only the second time in team history where a Mets shortstop hit ten home runs, because neither hit more than ten.  It would remain the second time in team history where a Mets shortstop hit ten home runs for another 17 years.

So why did he make the list?  Because the other Mets seasons that didn’t make the list were really, REALLY bad.

#9: Bud Harrelson, 1973

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
35 92 12 3 0 20 48 .258 .348 .309 .657 5

The only thing notable about Bud Harrelson in 1973 was that he got to play in the World Series despite being a dreadful hitter.  At least Harrelson was good at drawing walks and getting on base; if he ever had made enough contact to hit .300, he could have almost been a good hitter.  He never did that.  But hey…he did get into this nifty fight with Pete Rose in the 1973 NLCS.  So he has that going for him.

#8: Eddie Bressoud, 1966

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
48 91 15 5 10 49 47 .225 .304 .360 .664 2

You know what makes Eddie Bressoud’s 1966 season notable?  He hit ten home runs this season, the first time in Mets history a shortstop hit ten home runs.  Elster would become the second man 23 years later.  Jose Reyes would become the third man 17 years after that (and he actually hit MORE than ten homers!).   He also drew a decent number of walks.  Other than that, I can’t think of a single thing to say about Eddie Bressoud and his 1966 season.

#7: Kevin Elster, 1991

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
33 84 16 2 6 36 40 .241 .318 .351 .669 2

Kevin Elster makes the list twice!  Just think of all the greats that didn’t make the list if not one, but TWO Kevin Elster seasons made the cut.  And this is before Kevin Elster suddenly and inexplicably developed power in his early to mid 30’s, to boot.  Do you see why I waited a week to post the shortstops list now?  I’d almost rather talk about Mets rumors that surely will never come to pass than talk about this awful list of shortstops.  Seriously, two Kevin Elster seasons!  How did that happen?

#6: Jose Vizcaino, 1995

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
66 146 21 5 3 56 35 .287 .332 .365 .697 8

You want to know how utterly unnotable Jose Vizcaino’s stay with the Mets was?  As you can tell, I have tried to include images with each of these columns, ways to remember the greats that have played with the Mets.  When I tried a Google Image Search for “Jose Vizcaino, Mets,” this was the only image that came up with Jose Vizcaino in Mets gear.  This was it!  Vizcaino hit a fluky .287, which helped cover for his lousy walk rate somewhat, and added an impressive 21 doubles.  Other than that, awful season.  #6 in Mets history.

Up Next: The Top Five, including some actual good seasons!

The Top Ten Offensive Seasons in Mets History – Third Basemen 1-5

Friday, December 5th, 2008

For the catchers, first basemen, second basemen, and third basemen 6-10, click on the links.

From here on out, it’s the David Wright/Howard Johnson show, so without further ado…

#5: Howard Johnson, 1991

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
108 146 34 4 38 117 78 .259 .342 .535 .877 30

Howard Johnson, like Bret Saberhagen, had a weird even year/odd year thing going.  Every other year, he would have a great season, followed by a down season.  It continued in 1991, following a disappointing 1990 season, HoJo bounced back with a huge 38 homer/34 double/30 steal season.  Call it the 30/30/30 club, the second time he pulled off such a feat.  Throw in a career-high 117 RBIs, and you’re left with a damned fine season on a team that went nowhere.

This season was the end of HoJo’s prime; he would spend another two more disappointing seasons in New York, not bouncing back in the odd year 1993 from a poor even year in 1992.  He never played every day again and was out of the big leagues for good by age 35.  In that way, he’s pretty similar to Edgardo Alfonzo, another Mets star who peaked early and was out of the majors only a few seasons removed from one of his best seasons.  It is a shame that HoJo’s last great season wasn’t spent on a team that did anything, but blame management for tearing down the 80’s Mets dynasty brick by brick.

#4: David Wright, 2005

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
99 176 42 1 27 102 72 .306 .388 .523 .911 17

David Wright’s first full season in the big leagues…and it’s the 4th best offensive season at third base in Mets history.  I’d say that’s pretty good.  In fact, in 2005 this season would have ranked second in Mets history.  You could start to see the traits that would make David Wright great develop in this first season.  High number of walks, 40+ doubles, 27 homers, 100+ RBIs…there is a lot to love here.

Still, I want to use this season to (once again) point out Willie Randolph’s shortcomings as manager.  Here is David Wright, having a phenomenal year; in 2005, he was unquestionably the best hitter on the team.  Yet, for almost half the season, Willie had Wright batting 6th and 7th, behind a decomposing Mike Piazza, a light hitting Doug Mientkiewicz, and the atrocious Miguel Cairo.  Wright batted third four times all season, all in games that Carlos Beltran sat out after crashing face-first into Mike Cameron, which brought Gerald “Ice” Williams into the lineup to play center field.  Best hitter on the team, buried in the batting order.  Willie Randolph, ladies and gentlemen.

#3: David Wright, 2008

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
115 189 42 2 33 124 94 .302 .390 .534 .924 15

No longer a rookie, David Wright put together another phenomonal year in 2008.  He went over 40 doubles for the fourth straight season, batted .300 or better for the fourth straight season, and 100 RBIs for the fourth straight season.  He was over 30 homers for the second straight season and over 90 walks for the second straight season.  Basically, 2008 was another continuation of everything he had done since being brought up from the minor leagues, and that’s awesome hitting.

That is why, when you hear talk radio or newspaper writers talk about how there’s a David Wright on every team, laugh in their faces.  David Wright is good for a consistent 25+ homers a season, 40+ doubles, 100+ RBIs, .300 or better batting average, .380 or better OBP, he will steal bases at a high percentage, and will draw 70 or more walks.  That is the minimum of what he will do each and every season, and often he will surpass that.  There are not 29 other players like David Wright playing major league baseball; there probably aren’t more than 5.

#2: David Wright, 2007

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
113 196 42 1 30 107 94 .325 .416 .546 .962 34

Here is where I suspect a lot of folks will be surprised.  I argued vehemently that David Wright should have been the MVP in 2007.  I still believe that.  And I do believe that this season was truly excellent season.  It was Wright’s first 30/30/30 season, another high RBI season…I hate ranking this season second.  I truly do.  But being that I’ve already written so much about David Wright’s 2007 season, I think it’s time I talked a little about…

#1: Howard Johnson, 1989

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
104 164 41 3 36 101 77 .287 .369 .559 .928 41

Howard Johnson set a Mets record in 1989; most extra base hits in a season.  How can a season where a man hits 80 extra base hits not rank #1?  Throw in 41 steals, and you have a hell of a season.  Howard Johnson was really underrated, mostly because he played on teams that had Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, and other big hitters, and by the time HoJo became a regular, the Mets had already peaked and were settled into a series of second place finishes.

Still, you can’t blame those seasons on HoJo, he did what he could to keep the Mets in contention.  He was second in the NL in homers, third in doubles, and fourth in stolen bases.  Yet he finished fifth in the MVP race, behind former teammate Kevin Mitchell.  I will happily concede that Mitch had a much better season than HoJo.  I will not say the same about Ryne Sandberg and Pedro Guerrero.  But what HoJo did that year, hit so many extra base hits in a league that favored pitching, is perhaps unique in Mets history.  His 1989 season was special, and yet it feels like it is rarely talked about.

Next: Shortstops

The Top Ten Offensive Seasons in Mets History – Third Basemen 6-10

Monday, December 1st, 2008

For the catchers, first basemen, and second basemen, click on the links.

The Mets have been fortunate to have had some great years offensively at third base.  Gifted hitters such as Howard Johnson, David Wright, and Robin Ventura, among others, have manned the hot corner extremely well over the past 46 years, a trend that should continue well into the next decade.  While the Mets third base list was once a national punchline, the top ten hitting seasons at third base for the Mets match up well with any other team’s third basemen.  Take a look at some of these seasons.

Honorable Mention:  Ed Charles (1968), Howard Johnson (1988), Edgardo Alfonzo (1997)

Ed Charles was acquired from the Kansas City Athletics in 1967, had a pretty good season in 1968 in limited action, and lost his job in 1969 and was out of baseball.  I am kind of surprised he never went to the Yankees, since they didn’t have a third baseman worth anything during much of the 60’s and Charles was stuck in the A’s minor league system during a time where the Yankees repeatedly raided their minor league stars.  More on HoJo and Alfonzo below.

#10: Edgardo Alfonzo, 2002

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
78 151 26 0 16 56 62 .308 .391 .459 .850 6

Alfonzo is the first Met to make these lists at two different positions.  While he was high atop the second base list, he just makes the third base list despite a good season.  He moved to third base because of the Mets’ acquisition of Roberto Alomar the season before, plus Alfonzo had spent time in 2001 hurt, so it was thought that moving to third base may be beneficial for him defensively.  The Alomar trade turned out to be a bust, of course, and Alfonzo was gone after the 2002 season, supposedly in part because Fonzie wanted to play second (though he would only play six more games there the rest of his career).

This was the last good season Alfonzo would have.  In fact, five seasons later, Alfonzo was out of baseball.  It is peculiar, because he was only 28 in 2002.  At the final game at Shea, I was struck by how young Alfonzo looked when he was introduced, and how it seemed like he should still be playing ball.  I don’t know what happened; it’s been speculated that he isn’t really 34, and that perhaps he had used performance enhancers during his prime.  I don’t know if either are true, but I do miss Fonzie, he was a great player for some memorable teams.

#9: Bobby Bonilla, 1994

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
60 117 24 1 20 67 55 .290 .374 .504 .878 1

I had forgotten that Bobby Bonilla had even played third base for the Mets.  Alas, he played all 107 games he played in the strike-shortened 1994 season at third base and was doing quite well before the strike.  He hit for power, average, and drew walks at a high rate.  From a hitting standpoint, Mets fans really couldn’t ask for much more from Bobby Bo in 1994, he had a terrific season.

I have to say, I do think Bobby Bo got a bit of a bad rap from Mets fans.  Sure, he wasn’t the most likable player in the world, but his first go-around saw some good years.  The problem was, he didn’t hit for a high average, and didn’t have a high number of RBIs.  I’m not sure it’s fair, though; the Mets had some low-OBP hitters hitting ahead of him for much of his stay in New York.  Bonilla was never the type who could carry an offense, but he could contribute to a good one.  Unfortunately, most of the Mets teams Bonilla played on were bad hitting teams.

#8: Robin Ventura, 1999

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
88 177 38 0 32 120 74 .301 .379 .529 .908 1

I am sure Joeadig is going to give me flack for not ranking Ventura higher.  Ventura was his favorite player from those teams.  But hey, it’s not for any lack of love on my part towards Ventura; he was great in 1999, and as recently as four years ago, this would have ranked fourth on this list. Alas, it’s not Ventura’s fault David Wright happened.

Ventura is a weird case; this was the first year of a four year contract he had signed after the 1998 season, another piece added to the puzzle to put the ‘99 Mets over the top.  He was great in ‘99, as was most of that team (you’ll notice that so far, every one of these lists has had a 1999 season, a streak that will end with shortstops).  But after this season, Ventura became just an average hitter.

Three seasons later, Ventura was gone, traded to the Yankees for David Justice (who was then flipped to the A’s for Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates) which in retrospect, was a set-up for the Roberto Alomar trade that was finalized four days later.  It seems like a meager haul for a player who finished 6th in the MVP voting just two seasons prior, but nobody ever accused Steve Phillips of making good trades.  Still, few Mets fans will forget the year where Robin Ventura was, well, Robin to Mike Piazza’s Batman.

#7: Howard Johnson, 1987

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
93 147 22 1 36 99 83 .265 .364 .504 .868 32

This was Howard Johnson’s breakout season, following the departure of Ray Knight after the 1986 season.  At the time, it was thought to be a mistake, but Ray Knight was done and HoJo settled into a five year period where he was the one of the offensive leaders for the Mets.  It would be a frustrating time for Mets fans; the Mets finished second four straight seasons from 1987 to 1990, before the bottom fell out in the 1991 season under Bud Harrelson.

Still, you can’t blame HoJo, and here’s one reason why.  I’ve always felt HoJo was under-appreciated; he was always good for anywhere between 60-70 extra base hits when healthy.  He would get criticized for low batting averages, but if you look at the difference between his great years and his off years, we’re looking at about 25 points of batting average; what we’re talking about is about a single every two weeks.  Great hitter, an extra base machine in his prime.  This list will do him justice.

#6: David Wright, 2006

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS SB
96 181 40 5 26 116 66 .311 .381 .531 .912 20

Okay, here’s a spoiler: David Wright and Howard Johnson are the only two names you will see on the rest of this list.  Objectively speaking, Wright and Johnson are far and away the best third basemen in Mets history, and now Johnson is Wright’s hitting coach.  That’s a weird irony, no?

Strangely, the worst of Wright’s full seasons came in the only year he made the playoffs.  But “worst” isn’t really fair, because it’s only in comparison to some other really great seasons.  Just think; 40 doubles and 26 homers represent Wright’s low totals since his first full-time season in 2006.  Seventy-one extra base hits represents Wright’s low totals.  And this is with a high number of walks and a high batting average, too.  But hey…listen to enough talk radio, and you’ll hear that every team has a David Wright.  Sure they do.

Up Next: More Wright and HoJo…er, the top 5.

The Top Ten Offensive Seasons in Mets History – Catchers

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

With the offseason now upon us, there are going to be days, weeks, and perhaps even months between now and February where there is simply nothing going on in the Mets blogosphere.  So what’s the solution to these troubled days, where there is seemingly nothing to write about?  Why, gimmick columns, of course!

The first series of gimmick columns you will be able to read right here at the newly-rechristened BlueAndOrange.net is the top ten offensive seasons in Mets history, position-by-position.  Why only offensive?  Defense is harder to quantify; it is only within the past few seasons that baseball numbers folks have been able to begin to develop reliable measures of a player’s defense.

Because we’re going back to the inception of the New York Mets, it’s hard for me to determine if, for example, Jerry Grote’s defense was good enough to justify his below-average bat behind the plate.  The metrics simply do not exist.  We can look at offense, because while the way we look at offense has changed since 1962, the numbers recorded are still pretty good.

I’m looking at some basic numbers; batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, some counting numbers.  I did use OPS+ as a method of comparing similar seasons, because OPS+ can be a useful tool in breaking “ties,” so to speak; if two players have identical numbers in different seasons, but one has a higher OPS+, that player likely faced a harder hitting environment.  A minimum of half the games played in that season at catcher were required to make the list.

This system does short change Gary Carter in particular, so I do want to stress that this is NOT a list of the top ten best catching seasons in Mets history.  Simply looking at offense, here is what the top ten seasons in Mets history looks like at catcher.

Honorable Mention:  John Stearns, 1982; Gary Carter, 1986

#10:  John Stearns, 1978

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
65 126 24 1 15 73 70 .264 .364 .413 .777

Did you know that before John Stearns joined the team in 1977, the most home runs hit by a Mets catcher in one season was 8, by Duffy Dyer in 1972?  For the first ten seasons in team history, the highest home run total hit by a Mets catcher was 7, and for the first fifteen seasons, that total was 8.  Stearns hit 12 in 1977, and followed up with 15 in 1978.  With Stearns only 26, it looked like he was ready to usher in a new era of Mets catchers who could handle the bat.

Sadly, this would be Stearns’ best season; he had other good seasons, but it looks like he had injury issues (just a guess based on games played after ‘78, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong in the comments).  Stearns gets lost in the cracks by the catchers that followed, which is why I’m glad he made it onto the list at #10; for the first 23 seasons in Mets history, this stood as the benchmark for catchers, and he deserves some recognition for that.

#9: Todd Hundley, 1995

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
39 77 11 0 15 51 42 .280 .382 .484 .866

The first of three straight great seasons out of Hundley.  Before 1994, Hundley was not much of a hitter.  In 902 career at-bats, Hundley hit 19 home runs in the majors.  He hit 16 in 291 at-bats before the strike ended the season.  He still wasn’t much of a hitter, only hitting .237 with a .303 on-base percentage, but suddenly developed power he clearly lacked before.

While he hit one fewer homer in ‘95, his other hitting abilities caught up to this new power.   The result was a much more complete season, hitting .280 with more walks and fewer strikeouts.  In his age 26 season, he showed breakout potential for a team that needed an offensive star, and unlike Stearns, his career did not peak at 26 (it peaked at 28).  Hundley’s 1995 season ushered in an era of great hitting Mets catchers; for the next eight seasons, Mets catchers would post an OPS greater than .900 every year.

#8:  Mike Piazza, 2002

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
69 134 23 2 33 98 57 .280 .359 .544 .903

Another guy who will be making multiple appearances on this list, Mike Piazza will go down as the greatest offensive catcher in Mets history.  This season was probably the last year Piazza was truly an elite hitter for a full season; the next two seasons would be marred by injury and the move to first base, and his 2005 season was nothing particularly special, at least by his standards.

It is almost sad looking at Piazza’s 2002; it was his last season with more than 30 homers, his last season with more than 90 RBIs, his next to last season slugging over .500 (he slugged .501 for San Diego in 2006), last season with more than 400 at-bats as a catcher.  He even won his last Silver Slugger in 2002.  Piazza would remain good after this season, but 2002 was his last year as an elite offensive player.

#7: Mike Piazza, 1999

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
100 162 25 0 40 124 51 .303 .361 .575 .936

Piazza only disappointed in 1999 compared to his otherworldy 1998 and 2000.  His 40 home runs are the second-most by any Met in a single season. His 124 RBIs are a Mets single season record (tied this year by David Wright), although RBIs are a horrible stat.  Piazza helped carry the 1999 Mets into the postseason for the first time since 1988, where they lost a heartbreaker to the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.  It feels like I am even shortchanging this season ranking it 7th, but that is a testament to the seasons that followed rather than an insult to this great season.

#6: Gary Carter, 1985

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
83 156 17 1 32 100 69 .281 .365 .488 .853

On one hand, Gary Carter is definitely getting short-changed on this list; if we included defense, his 1986 season would have found its way onto the list, and this season would be a top three season rather than a top ten season.  It also feels like Gary Carter should be on here more, but the truth is, after 1985, his hitting declined sharply; he was merely good in 1986, and was not a good hitter after that point.

Still, this was a great year.  Remember Stearns’ catcher record 15 home runs in 1978?  Carter wrecked it, setting a Mets’ catcher record that stood for 11 years.  While his numbers don’t look as good as those put up by Hundley and Piazza ten years later, I am giving him extra credit due to environment.  It was harder for a catcher to hit up 32 homers in 1985 than it was for a catcher to hit 40 homers in 1996, so this feels like the right place to put Carter.  His offensive ranking may be low, but Gary Carter was still one of the best players to put on a Mets uniform, and should be recognized as such.

#5: Todd Hundley, 1997

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
78 114 21 2 30 86 83 .273 .394 .549 .943

By this point, Hundley had established himself as one of the best hitters at any position in all of baseball.  Yet, within a few years, Hundley would suffer an elbow injury that hastened the end of his Mets tenure, and his career was never the same.  Of course, Hundley’s name popped up on the Mitchell Report as a player who received steroids from Kirk Radomski.  Now, I’m not going to cast aspirations on Hundley, but here was a guy with 50 career home runs through 1995 who suddenly hits 41 and 30 out of nowhere?  I’ll just say it looks fishy.

That said, Hundley had a fine year in 1997.  He posted his career-best on-base percentage, thanks to greater respect by opposing pitchers (he drew walks at a level he would not again repeat).  His lower extra base hit totals are deceptive; he had over 100 fewer plate appearances than he had in 1996.  It’s arguable that this was actually his finest season, but…

#4: Todd Hundley, 1996

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
85 140 32 1 41 112 79 .259 .356 .550 .906

I’m going to give his 1996 recognition as his best.  Why?  First, he stayed on the field more; playing more games means he ultimately gave the Mets more.  Then, there’s the team-record 41 home runs he hit, a team record he still holds today (though he now shares it with Carlos Beltran).  Strangely, the Mets records for hits, singles, doubles, triples, and home runs in a season were all set in 1996 on a team that went 71-91.  Hundley’s 74 extra base hits rank 7th in Mets history and are the most by a Mets catcher ever, which seems amazing considering the catcher who followed.

So why isn’t this season #1, or even top three?  Well, take a look at these seasons:

#3: Mike Piazza, 2001

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
81 151 29 0 36 94 67 .300 .384 .573 .957

Spoiler Alert:  Mike Piazza has the top three seasons on this list.  I am sorry to ruin the suspense here, although I suspect most of you would have guessed that Piazza topped the list.  Looking at his 2001, you can see what set him apart is similar to what makes David Wright great; his ability to hit over .300 consistently, with power and patience at the plate, drawing walks and finding his pitch to hit.

By that standard, 2001 was vintage Piazza; .300/.384/.573, fairly close to his career averages of .308/.377/545.  Another 36 homers, 94 RBIs…this just feels like a typical Mike Piazza season, right around what your expectations for a good Mike Piazza season should be.  Just think…if this is what a regular Mike Piazza season feels like, imagine what a really good Mike Piazza season looks like…

#2: Mike Piazza, 1998

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
67 137 33 0 23 76 47 .348 .417 .607 1.024

Wow.  The counting numbers don’t jump out at you, but look at those rate stats.  Remember, Piazza spent the first six weeks of 1998 with the Dodgers, followed by a week with the Florida Marlins that I’m sure he will remember fondly.  He played OK over those seven weeks, but once he came to New York, Piazza completely dominated.

What he did for that Mets team was more than just tear it up; he made them relavent again.  The previous seven seasons saw the Mets trot out one bad team after another, with the morale-crushing strike thrown in just for kicks.  The 1997 Mets drew just a shade over 1.75 million fans; the 1998 Mets drew just under 2.3 million.  Piazza made the Mets matter in New York again.  If Piazza had played the full season in New York, this season probably ranks #1.  But since he didn’t…

#1: Mike Piazza, 2000

R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
90 156 26 0 38 113 58 .324 .398 .614 1.012

It’s a simple formula: full season + 1.012 OPS + 38 homers = best offensive season by a catcher in Mets history, in a position that looks safe for quite a while.  He posted Mets highs in slugging percentage, just missed in on-base percentage, threw in 64 extra base hits just for good measure…Mets fans couldn’t ask for more (well, maybe more thrown out basestealers…).

The Mets have been blessed by some truly extraordinary hitting out of their catchers, particularly from 1995 to 2002.  Granted, almost every team saw offensive explosions during those years, but what the Mets had was truly special.  You could argue that Todd Hundley might be the second best hitting catcher in Mets history (somewhere, Gary Carter is FUMING right now), but unquestionably, #1 is Mike Piazza.  It almost feels like the Mets are settling for second-best with the likes of Paul Lo Duca and Brian Schneider behind the plate after so many great years of Piazza, but it’s only because nobody could realistically compare to Piazza.  The man was a hitting machine, as this list proves.