Monday, January 10, 2011

All-Time Team: New York Mets (position players)

Here's a fun (and easy) one: the best player by position for my favorite team!  I'll try to do this for every team over the course of this blog, and it seemed like a good idea to start with the team I know best.

  • Note 1: I set a player's positional qualifying as having played 40% of his games at his position.  Even if he played more games at one position than another, what position he qualified was up to me.  (For a more coherent explanation of this, see the entry for second base.)
  • Note 2: I didn't have enough room to put all of the tags in for a combined post, so I'm doing the position players today and the pitchers tomorrow.

C: Mike Piazza, 1998-2005: 24.6 WAR/136 OPS+/220 HR
From 1991-1996 the Mets were just terrible.  There were quite a few reasons for this prolonged struggle, but one of the main reasons was that the Mets weren't able to find a true star hitter since Darryl Strawberry's acrimonious departure in 1990.  Enter Piazza.  Over the next seven and a half seasons Piazza carried the Mets to two deep playoff appearances and hit quite a few memorable home runs (including, most notably, his post-9/11 game winner against the Braves) along the way.  He ranks at the top of many all-time Met leaderboards (home runs, 2nd; hits, 8th; WAR, 7th; OPS, 2nd).  While you may be tempted to think that Gary Carter or Jerry Grote could threaten for this position, it's not even close.  Piazza beats every other Mets catcher on home runs, hits, OPS, OPS+, WAR, and basically any other offensive category you can think of.  While he tailed off a bit at the end of Mets career, his accomplishments over his first five and a half seasons were quite incredible.  He is, without a doubt, the best Mets catcher of all-time.

1B: Keith Hernandez, 1983-1989: 26.5 WAR/129 OPS+/52 FV
Another position where the sentimental fan favorite also happens to be the deserving winner, Hernandez ably manned the Mets first base for six and a half seasons, leading the team to a World Series in 1986.  The best defensive first baseman of all-time was excellent for his first four and a half seasons.  He finished in the top ten of MVP voting three times, won four Gold Gloves, and was elected to three All-Star Games.  If John Olerud had played for the Mets for more than three seasons he might have beaten Hernandez here (to say nothing of the WS titles that would have resulted from having The Best Infield Ever together for more than one season).  As it is, Hernandez' dominance and leadership in the 1980s makes him the solid and clear choice.

2B: Edgardo Alfonzo, 1995-2002: 29.1 WAR/113 OPS+/1136 H
Although he actually played more games as a third baseman for the Mets, I'll allow Alfonzo's body of work as a Met to qualify at second base.  His three full seasons as a second baseman coincide with the Mets' three most exciting seasons of the Bobby Valentine era (1999-2001), and his two best seasons fall in this period (1999 and 2000).  With this qualification in mind, I'll be examining Alfonzo's career Mets stats, not just his stats during his 2B seasons (see the notes section).  After looking at his numbers, it's easy to conclude that Alfonzo isn't just the best Mets second baseman, but one of the best Mets of all-time.  He ranks third all-time for WAR and fourth for hits.  He was an essential cog of every Mets lineup in which he featured, and is criminally underrated by both Mets fans and baseball fans alike.  After his Mets years he went to San Francisco, where he actually fared all right for three years, but was out of the majors by the end of 2006, at the age of 32.  It's a shame that Fonzie was never able to harness his talent and establish himself as one of the great baseball players of his era.  His Mets years will have to stand alone as a testament to his greatness--not a terribly difficult feat, considering how good those seasons were.

3B: David Wright, 2004-Pres.: 31.1 WAR/135 OPS+/.305 AVG
Despite the Mets' supposedly legendary weakness at the hot corner, they've had some pretty solid third basemen.  While I acknowledge the greatness of Howard Johnson, Edgardo Alfonzo (who resides at second base for the purpose of this post), and Robin Ventura's 1999, nobody can touch David Wright's still-young Mets career.  Even though he's been a staple of the Mets' lineup for seven years now, he still feels recent to me.  It's easy to forget that he played alongside Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, and John Franco.  He is the bridge from the Mets of yore to the Mets of today (and tomorrow).  What's most incredible is that he hasn't yet had a bad season.  People like to rag on his 2009 for its lack of power, but he still hit .307 with an OPS+ of 124. A down year for David Wright is well above average for everybody else.  On the Mets all-time leaderboard, he's first for batting average, second for WAR, second for RBI, third for hits, fourth for home runs, and fourth for OPS+.   He's started the All-Star Game four out of the last five years and has finished in the top-ten of MVP voting three times.  It almost goes without saying that he's the best Mets third baseman of all-time.  By the time he's done, he could be one of the best third basemen all-time, regardless of team.

SS: Jose Reyes, 2003-Pres.: 23.3 WAR/101 OPS+/331 SB
Did you know that Reyes is the only Mets shortstop with over 100 games and an OPS+ above 100?  He's also only one of two shortstops with a WAR above 10.  The lack of real competition puts Reyes over the top (almost by default), but even with some good competition he'd still probably be an easy pick.  Like with Wright, I can't believe that Reyes has been around for so long (even longer than David, though Reyes wasn't a great player until after Wright had already established himself).  Still, there's a nagging feeling that he's never quite played up to his potential.  He's only had five seasons with more than 100 games, and has only hit .300 or above twice (once in his rookie season, in which he only played in 69 games).  His speed, however, is undeniable--he way in first place on the Mets all-time stolen bases list--and his quality presence is key to the Mets' success.  2011 might be his last season in a Mets uniform, but he'll be the Mets' best shortstop of all-time for a long while.

LF: Kevin McReynolds, 1987-1991: 17.0 WAR/120 OPS+/122 HR
This one surprised me.  I originally gave it to Cleon Jones, but after comparing their two careers I had to switch to McReynolds.  He had the unfortunate luck of not being Kevin Mitchell (for whom he was traded in an oft-maligned deal), but McReynolds could hit, even if he never put much emotion into it.  For five straight years he gave the Mets solid, almost identical seasons in which played in over 140 games, hit his fair share of home runs, and put up good OPS+.  McReynolds was not an all-time great, and he certainly benefits from weak competition, but let's examine how he stacks up to his closest competitor (Jones, a fan favorite).  McReynolds beats Jones in OPS+ (120 to 111), home runs (122 to 93), OPS (.790 to .746), and WPA (12 to 8).  Jones wins out in durability categories, such as hits and WAR, but the fact that McReynolds only loses WAR by .6, despite playing in 400 fewer games than Jones, is important.  McReynolds was a most unheralded player, but I am comfortable giving him the left field slot on my all-time team.

CF: Carlos Beltran, 2005-Pres.: 28.4 WAR/126 OPS+/42 FV
It frustrates me to no end when (supposed) fans rip Beltran.  What more could he have done since arriving here in 2005?  From 2006-2008 he put up one of the best stretches in Mets history, and was one of the best players in baseball (averaging a 6.7 WAR, 34 home runs, and 113 RBI per year, with a 134 OPS+ and three gold gloves).  His other years, while less amazing, have still been above average.  It is really a shame that Beltran doesn't get his due.  Is it because he didn't swing at Adam Wainwright's devastating curveball?  Because he's getting paid a lot of money?  Because the Mets haven't performed up to their potential?  Because he's Hispanic?  It's probably a combination of those four.  Still, while the Mets have had a number of worthy center fielders (Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, and Lee Mazzilli) none ever dominated their game as much as Beltran did, nor exhibited all five tools at such a high level.  Hopefully some day Beltran will receive his deserved praise as one of the best Mets of all-time.  In the meanwhile, however, he'll have to deal with ignorant fans booing him for no reason.

RF: Darryl Strawberry, 1983-1990: 37.7 WAR/145 OPS+/252 HR
And here we go.   Straw should have coasted into the Hall of Fame proudly wearing the interlocking NY on his cap.  He didn't, of course, but that shouldn't stop us from recognizing him as the best right fielder (to say nothing of position player) in Mets history.  And it isn't even close.  He has more than four times the WAR of the second place right fielder in that category (Joel Youngblood) and more home runs than the second through fourth place right fielders in that category combined.  Straw's Mets career OPS+ of 145 is ten points higher than David Wright, who is next on that leaderboard.  Besides WAR and OPS+, Strawberry is also the Mets' all-time leader in home runs, RBI, and WPA.  His all-too public rift with the Mets, combined with his drug troubles, has given Strawberry something of a "what coulda been" aura among Mets fans.  He deserves to be remembered not for his foibles, however, but rather for the offensive monster that he was.  He's in the Mets Hall of Fame, and that's good enough for me.


  1. 13 rbis per year isnt very many for what beltran is getting paid...

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Ho JO best 3rd baseman