Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Top 5s: Mets infields/outfields
By Mark Simon
Getty Images/AP PhotoContinuing our series on the best units in Mets history, today's focus is on the Mets' best infields and outfields.
The 1999 Mets had an Amazin' defensive infield.
The five best infields in Mets history
1. 1999: This is the easy one, as it’s the one that Sports Illustrated touted as the best infield ever. The Mets had three infielders who won Gold Gloves at various points in their careers (John Olerud, Rey Ordonez, and Robin Ventura) and a fourth who should have (Edgardo Alfonzo).
They could hit too. Olerud and Alfonzo were ultra-clutch (each hit .300 or better in “high-leverage situations”) and Ventura (.301 BA, 32 HR, 120 RBIs) was almost as potent as Mike Piazza.
For those who like advanced stats, consider this tidbit. Only two NL teams since 1900 have had three infielders finish a season with five Wins Above Replacement (five WAR is considered All-Star caliber): The 1927 New York Giants (with Hall of Famers Bill Terry, Rogers Hornsby, and Travis Jackson) and the 1999 Mets (Olerud, Alfonzo, Ventura).
2. 2006: Mets fans currently pine for the days of this group, which featured Jose Reyes (.300 BA, 17 triples, 64 stolen bases) and David Wright (.311 batting average, .912 OPS, 26 home runs) jointly reaching superstardom on the left side of the infield, and veterans Carlos Delgado and rejuvenated second baseman Jose Valentin on the right side.
This was the most powerful infield in Mets history, the only one in which four members hit at least 18 home runs.
3. 1986: We’re plugging the champs in here, though the numbers indicate both the teams I’ll put below them were a little bit better. The Mets got the usual greatness from Keith Hernandez on both sides of the diamond, had a nifty second base platoon with Wally Backman and Tim Teufel, a steady (albeit offensively-challenged) shortop job from Rafael Santana, and big hit after big hit from Ray Knight (.357 with runners in scoring position). Mix in utility man Kevin Mitchell in his only full season with the team, and Howard Johnson off the bench and you had the perfect fit for a World Series winner.
4. 1987: This is a weird season, one in which the ball was juiced and offensive numbers were inflated. The composition is similar to the 1986 team, but the results are different (Johnson had his first monster offensive season, and Teufel was tremendous in his platoon role).
5. 1973: Fellow Mets historian Greg Prince talked me into putting this infield ahead of 2008, labeling the 1973 unit a "sum of its parts group." First baseman John Milner was the best hitter of the four, playing alongside the terrific double-play combo of Felix Millan and Bud Harrelson, and third baseman Wayne Garrett. The latter three all lifted their games considerably in September when the Mets made their late miracle push to the NL East title.
The five best outfields in Mets history
1. 1988: The Mets had two MVP-caliber players in this outfield in Darryl Strawberry, who placed second to Kirk Gibson in the NL MVP voting, and Kevin McReynolds, who finished third. That duo combined for 66 home runs and 200 runs batted in.
Throw in the platoon tandem of Len Dykstra and Mookie Wilson (16 home runs and 45 steals) and you have an understanding why the team led the majors in runs scored, home runs, and OPS.
2. 1969: Center fielder Tommie Agee hit 26 home runs, made a host of memorable World Series catches and finished sixth in the MVP voting. Left fielder Cleon Jones placed one spot behind Agee for his best season, one in which he hit .340 and had the fifth-highest WAR among position players. Ron Swoboda didn’t have the numbers of those two, but offset that by hitting .400 in the World Series, with the great catch in Game 4 and clinching hit in Game 5. Art Shamsky (.300 BA) was a super-sub who allowed Gil Hodges to manage with platoons.
3. 1987: We feel a little better about putting the 1987 Mets outfield on our list than we do about the infield, because all four of the primary participants replicated their numbers in 1988. They get the nod ahead of the 1986 team because of the presence of McReynolds, whose acquisition from the San Diego Padres gave the team a right-handed power hitter to pair with Strawberry.
4. 1996: We’re going to sneak this one in, because though this was a mediocre team, it had two of the most Amazin’ seasons any team has ever seen.
We’re talking about those of Bernard Gilkey and Lance Johnson. Johnson hit .333 in the leadoff spot with 21 triples and 50 steals (the first player to hit both those plateaus in a season since Ty Cobb!).
Gilkey had a .317/.393/.562 slashline with 30 home runs, 44 doubles and 17 steals.
This was a unique occurrence in baseball, one of only three times since 1900 that a team had a pair of outfielders with seven-WAR seasons. The other two were the 1961 Tigers (Rocky Colavito and Al Kaline), and the 1961 Reds (Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson).
5. 1999: The name of the game in baseball is to reach base without making outs, and the 1999 team did that at a better rate (.375 OBP) than any other Mets squad (shout-out to the 1979 combo of Lee Mazzilli, Steve Henderson, and Joel Youngblood whose .367 rates second).
The Mets had two of their best basestealing threats -- Rickey Henderson and Roger Cedeno -- combine for 103 steals. This team also had a vast supply of outfield reserves with Benny Agbayani, Darryl Hamilton, and late-season add Shawon Dunston filling in gaps when needed.
Agree/disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments.