Even before Luis Castillo, the Mets have not had a tradition of second basemen who could hit. The offensive statistics you are about to see for the second baseman are not quite at the same level as those held by Mets first basemen and catchers, and for good reason; teams have traditionally sacrificed hitting in favor of defense up the middle. In fact, many of the good Mets hitting seasons have come by platoon players and mid-year acquisitions.
That said, a few seasons do stand out as particularly good, and we will highlight some of those seasons here. While the lower reaches of this list may seem pedestrian compared to other positions, there are still some excellent seasons to be found here, and the following players should be respected as great players.
Honorable Mention: Wally Backman (1982), Ron Hunt (1963)
Both of these players will have future seasons on the list, so I see no reason to waste space here other than these seasons were mostly unnotable.
Dishonorable Mention: Doug Flynn (1978-1981)
I have to point out how horrible a hitter Doug Flynn was in his four seasons as the Mets starting second baseman. Flynn put up OPS’s of .566, .582, .600, and .539 in his four seasons as starter. The team had to try to justify Flynn’s existence, since he was part of the Tom Seaver bounty, but he put up the worst, second-worst, fourth-worst, and eighth-worst second base seasons in Mets history, a position where the Mets have had some dreadful hitters. I mean…imagine a hitter worse than Luis Castillo starting four straight seasons. I shudder to think.
#10: Wally Backman, 1988
Wally Backman was a great platoon player who was stretched as an everyday player; his career splits show a 128 point gap in batting average, 105 point gap in on-base percentage, and a 160 point gap in slugging. While Backman was technically a switch-hitter, he simply could not hit left-handed pitching.
By this point in his career, Davey Johnson had realized this; Tim Teufel was acquired in 1986 to hit lefties while Backman hit righties. While this seemed like a good idea in practice, it didn’t really work; Teufel was bad in 1986 and 1988, but great in 1987, while Backman was good in 1986 and 1988, but awful in 1987. This would be Backman’s last season in New York, as he was traded to Minnesota the following season. He continued to platoon around the majors until he retired after being released by Seattle in 1993.
#9: Wally Backman, 1986
This was the first season where Davey turned Backman into a platoon player, and it made a difference. Restricted to only 62 plate appearances against lefties, Backman hit his slugging high water mark and also saw improvements in batting average and on-base percentage. He had fewer steals in fewer attempts, but otherwise there are no complaints. Even with Teufel’s below-average season, the Mets got more out of their second basemen than they had received since the days of Ron Hunt in the 60’s.
#8: Jeff Kent, 1995
No Mets fan wants to see Kent on this list, but between a lack of truly good hitting Mets second basemen and numbers that scream “just good enough,” Kent makes the list. The impressive number here is the 20 homers – this was only the second time a Mets second baseman had hit 20 homers in a season (he had done this 2 years earlier, though this season was 18 games shorter). Kent showed power potential, though I don’t think any Mets fan could predict what would happen in San Francisco, and he was never a good defensive player.
That said, the Mets front office clearly gave up on him early. Kent had started to come into his own as a 20 home run hitter, while Baerga’s numbers were on the decline. Neither guy was particularly patient at the plate, but Baerga was a guy who had to hit .300 to have a good on-base percentage. The Mets did get a year younger with Baerga, and he had the better career to that point, but Baerga was finished as an everyday player, whereas Kent would become a Hall of Famer in San Francisco. I guess sometimes you just never know, but when I see Kent’s numbers, I see him as a guy who was slowly getting better, whereas Baerga was getting worse; I wonder what Steve Phillips saw in 1996.
#7: Jose Valentin, 2006
Pink Panther Mustache makes the list! It is partly a testament to how bad Mets second basemen have been, but people forget how good Valentin was after he replaced Kaz Matsui at second base; it was a year where he became very valuable because he was able to hit above .240-.250 range. With a passable OBP and some real slugging contributions (18 homers in 432 plate appearances), Valentin gave the NL East champions good, unexpected production.
This production is something the Mets have missed since Valentin injured himself during the 2007 season. The Mets were forced to roll with a platoon of Damion Easley and Ruben Gotay, and that worked well until Easley himself was injured. The Mets didn’t trust the inexperienced Gotay as the everyday second baseman, forcing them to trade for Luis Castillo. The Mets haven’t had a good second baseman since. If you are looking for reasons why the Mets have been unable to win the NL East since 2006, below average contributions at second base have to be on the list.
#6: Tim Teufel, 1987
Tim Teufel had a complete anomaly of a season in 1987. Before and after this season, Teufel would be an average to slightly below average hitter. His OPS would hover around the .700’s, he’d hit some home runs, draw some walks, but never hit for a high enough average to be a true regular. He was a good 20th-25th guy on the roster, but that was it.
But not in 1987 – in 1987, Teuf hit the stitches off the ball. He set career highs in home runs, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and (obviously) OPS. And on top of all of this, he created the biggest dance craze in New York in 1987, the Teufel Shuffle! What a year!
He really should have been playing every day, as Backman had a dreadful year and Teufel hit both lefties and righties, but Davey kept the platoon all season. If given a full season, Teufel would probably have ranked #1 on this list, but I am keeping him at #6 because he played just barely half a season at second base. It’s a shame. After this season, injuries and Gregg Jefferies would rob him of playing time, but Teuf can always look back at 1987 with pride as this was a truly remarkable season. If only he could have gotten another 200 plate appearances…
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