New York Mets: 2006 Mets

Top 5s: Mets lineups

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
9:00
AM ET
Trying to pick the best lineups in Mets history is a task governed by limited selection.

The Mets have only had two periods in their history in which they ranked at or better than league average in runs scored, on-base percentage and home runs in the same season (1985-1990, with the exception of 1989, and 2006-2008).

That's what happens when you play home games in Shea Stadium, and hitter-unfriendly Citi Field for most of the team’s existence.

So it’s hard to justify picking a team from outside of those seasons. We made one exception in coming up with our choices.

Best Lineups in Mets history
1. 1986: In terms of raw numbers, the 1986 team pales against other Mets squads, but in terms of offensive success relative to other NL teams that year, the 1986 squad comes out best.

The '86 Mets were well-suited to face both left and right-handed pitching, simply changing up their No. 1 and No. 2 hitters (Len Dykstra and Wally Backman for Mookie Wilson and Tim Teufel) and plugging in super-sub Kevin Mitchell as needed. Their No. 3 hitter -- Keith Hernandez -- was the game’s best hit-and-run man and had the best eye.

Power hitters Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry combined for 51 homers. Ray Knight (98 RBI and a penchant for big hits) may have been the best No. 6/7 hitter the team has ever had.

2. 1999: By raw numbers, this is the best Mets offensive group. It scored a club record 853 runs, and .797 OPS (also a franchise record). It excelled relative to the league at getting on base, with a .363 on-base percentage in a year in which the NL average was .342.

The Mets were strong at the top whether they opted for Rickey Henderson or Roger Cedeno. When the Mets went with a 1-5 of Henderson, Edgardo Alfonzo, John Olerud, Mike Piazza and Robin Ventura, it gave them five straight hitters whose OPS+ (OPS compared to league average, with an adjustment for home ballpark) was 125 or higher. It’s the only time in their history that the Mets have had five hitters with an OPS that high.

3. 2006: This (and the 2007 lineup) might be the best combination of power and speed that the Mets have ever had. The 2006 lineup set a club record for homers with 200, powered by the 41 from Carlos Beltran, 38 from Carlos Delgado and 26 from David Wright. It also stole 146 bases in 181 attempts, with Jose Reyes nabbing 64, Wright 20 and Beltran 18.

4. 1988: The numbers from this team -- a .256/.325/.396 batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage slashline -- are hardly overwhelming until you realize that they hit 30 more home runs than any other team in the NL, had four players with 20 or more steals and scored 33 more runs than any team in the league.

This was a down year for some of the team’s big stars. Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez began to show their age.

But Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds had what were considered big years at the time (a combined 66 home runs and 50 stolen bases). Dave Magadan proved to be a capable fill-in for Hernandez (.393 on-base percentage)

And Gregg Jefferies (.321 batting average, six home runs in 109 at-bats) had the best September call-up stint of any player the Mets have ever had.

5. 1990: It took me almost an hour to fill in this spot, because I wanted to do it in a smart way. I could have picked the 1987 team, but I’ve previously noted my disdain for that juiced-ball season. I could have picked the 2000 team (and won’t quibble if you do), but it feels disingenuous to pick a team that had the sixth-highest OPS and seventh-most runs scored in the NL that season.

I’m settling for the 1990 Mets in this slot, a team of transition that would mark the last of the seven-year run of contention in which every game for the Mets was a meaningful one. Darryl Strawberry had quite the last hurrah (.277 batting average, 37 home runs). Dave Magadan (.328 batting average, .874 OPS) may not have been what Mets fans wanted, but he was better than they knew at the time. Even Kevin McReynolds in a down season (.269 batting average, 24 homers) was better than most.

One of the primary lessons from this exercise is this: The Mets don’t have a lot of impressive from which to pick.

Top 5s: Mets infields/outfields

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
9:00
AM ET
Getty Images/AP PhotoThe 1999 Mets had an Amazin' defensive infield.
Continuing our series on the best units in Mets history, today's focus is on the Mets' best infields and outfields.

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.

Top 5s: Mets' best rotations/bullpens

January, 22, 2013
1/22/13
9:00
AM ET
Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesThis quartet made up the Mets' best-ever starting rotation.
Buster Olney has begun a weeklong series on ESPN Insider in which he is ranking top 10s of all-time. He’s assessing starting rotations, bullpens, infields, outfields, lineups and teams.

With that in mind, I thought I’d offer up my top five for the Mets in each. We’ll do both starting rotations and bullpens today, since Buster has already done those two.

Top 5 Mets starting rotations
1. 1986: It’s a three-team race for the top spot, and we’ll give the narrowest of nods to the 1986 team. The depth of this rotation has never been matched in club history.

Three pitchers (Bob Ojeda, Ron Darling and Dwight Gooden) finished in the top five in the National League and top eight in the majors in ERA, and a fourth (Sid Fernandez) was an NL All-Star.

The combined numbers of the starters: 78-33 with a 3.16 ERA.

2. 1969: The Tom Seaver-Jerry Koosman combo from that season was a combined 42-16 with a 2.24 ERA, making them the best 1-2 punch in team history. The 3-4-5 lacks the sizzle of the 1986 team, but one of the primary reasons the Mets excelled late in the season was a six-start run by Don Cardwell (0.80 ERA) and a 2.19 ERA in September/October from rookie Gary Gentry. Also of note: the 1969 starters had the lowest opponents batting average in Mets history at .221.

3. 1988: The 1988 team ranks a hair below the 1986 squad in my book, though it did have the best baserunners per nine innings rate as a group (10.32) and allowed the fewest home runs per nine innings (0.52). This was as durable a staff as the team ever had -- with Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Sid Fernandez and David Cone combining for 156 of their 160 starts. Cone’s 20-3, 2.22 ERA season ranks arguably among the top five pitching seasons in Mets history.

4. 1985: Notice a trend here? I didn’t want to overload by picking three teams within a four-year span, but this team belongs on the list. It had the third-best staff ERA and second-best winning percentage of any starting rotation in Mets history. It also featured the best pitching season the franchise has ever had (Dwight Gooden’s 24-4, 1.53 ERA, with 276 strikeouts).

5. 1973: The Seaver-Koosman-Jon Matlack trio was the one group of Mets that stayed healthy in what was a very unusual run to the NL East title. This wasn’t the best year for any of those three, but each was at a prime stage in his career. This group also gets bonus points for its postseason run. In the NLCS and first six games of the World Series, Mets starters allowed 13 earned runs in 70 innings.

Best bullpens in Mets history
1. 1988: The effectiveness of the back end of this bullpen is hard to match. Mets relievers that season had the best save percentage (85 percent) in club history, and the team’s 19 percent rate of allowing inherited runners to score was the best for the 39 years for which we have data.

Randy Myers was a “game-over” closer and Roger McDowell was as solid as he was in the Mets' championship-winning season two years prior. If we’re debating 1988 vs. 1986, the difference is a small one. I’d take Terry Leach as the middle/long man over the always-unnerving Doug Sisk.

2. 2006: The lasting memory of this Mets bullpen is Aaron Heilman giving up the game-winning home run to Yadier Molina in Game 7 of the NLCS, but our choice is based on the overall body of work. Mets relievers had a 3.25 ERA and .239 opponents’ batting average in a season in which the NL averages were 4.17 and .258. This is a group that was a solid six-deep, with Billy Wagner (40 saves), and Duaner Sanchez (pre-taxicab injury), Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano and Darren Oliver all filling their roles more than capably. One pitch should not ruin six months of work.

3. 1999: Similar to 2006, there’s an unhappy ending here (two blown saves in Game 6 of the NLCS) that wipe out an impressive run of success. For all that Mets fans dislike Armando Benitez, you have to be impressed with his 128 strikeouts and 40 hits allowed in 78 innings. John Franco, injured for two months, was his usual adventurous self the rest of the season. The Mets also had what was probably their most reliable righty-lefty setup combo in Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook, as well as long-man Pat Mahomes.

4. 1969: The collective ERA for this group (3.49) doesn’t do it justice. The Mets' bullpen was integral to the team’s success. Once the team got rolling, so did its top relievers, Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw.

A cool stat on McGraw's value: He made a dozen relief outings that season of three innings or more. In them, he pitched 46 1/3 innings and allowed four runs. The Mets won 10 of those 12 games, seven by two runs or fewer.

5. 1971: I could have taken the easy way out and gone 1986 here, but wanted to go a different way. The numbers steer me the way of the 1971 pen, two years removed from a championship. McGraw basically replicated his 1969 relief efforts (1.63 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, eight saves in 50 relief efforts) and was joined in tandem by the underrated Danny Frisella (1.99 ERA, 12 saves in 50 games). The 1971 Mets bullpen also had the best runners per nine innings rate in club history.

What's your take? Share your thoughts in the comments.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Bartolo Colon
WINS ERA SO IP
9 4.03 100 134
OTHER LEADERS
BAD. Murphy .289
HRL. Duda 17
RBIL. Duda 53
RD. Murphy 58
OPSL. Duda .855
ERAJ. Niese 3.13
SOZ. Wheeler 121