The Top 50 Mets of All Time: #49 Bernard Gilkey

Bernard Gilkey only appeared in 380 games over two-plus seasons with the Mets, but he just squeaks onto this list almost entirely on the strength of his 1996 season, which was likely one of the few best ever enjoyed by any Mets' hitter.

Gilkey came to the Mets via a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals on January 22, 1996. In exchange the Mets sent the Cards baseball luminaries Erik Hiljus, Eric Ludwick and Yudith Orozio. Hiljus, a right-handed starting pitcher, was released by the Cardinals the following year and washed out of baseball by 2002 after appearing in just 34 games over four seasons with the Tigers and A's. Ludwick, another righty, made one start and five relief appearances for St. Louis in 1996 and five more in 1997 before being flipped at the trade deadline to the A's in the Mark McGwire deal. Orozio never cracked a big league squad.

Gilkey became expendable in St. Louis because GM Walt Jocketty had just signed free agent left fielder Ron Gant to a five-year, $25 million deal and re-signed right fielder Ray Lankford to a three-year, $12.5 million deal. After flirting with the idea of playing Gilkey at first base, Jocketty pulled the trigger on the deal to send him to New York in exchange for the three prospects. For his part, Gilkey was mildly perturbed by the turn of events.

"I took a pay cut for those guys last year. They said they were going to do some things. They said they appreciated me. I guess I was just a scapegoat and they thought they could do that to me ... They could easily have cut anyone else's salary (last spring), but they cut mine. That's what you get sometimes in this game ... I feel no remorse. I'll be around. I'll show up. I want to thank the Mets for getting me over to New York. "
Year  Age   PA     XBH  BB  AVG/OBP/SLG   EQA  WARP3   VORP
--------------------------------------------------------
1996   28  656   77  73  317/393/562  .324   11.3   56.2
1997   29  606   50  70  249/338/417  .266    5.5    9.0
1998   30  305   19  43  233/320/315  .240    2.0   -6.1
In the history of the franchise, Gilkey's 1996 season ranks near the top in a slew of offensive categories: 7th in SLG, 8th in OPS, 6th in runs, 10th in hits, 2nd in total bases, 1st in doubles, 3rd in RBI, 8th in OPS+, 2nd in runs created, 3rd in extra-base hits, and 10th in times on base. His WARP3 of 11.3 is the third-highest all time and his VORP of 56.2 is 14th all time. By almost any measure Gilkey's performance was resplendent, and that it happened to occur during the same season as two other splendiferous campaigns (Lance Johnson's team records for hits and triples; Todd Hundley's team record for homeruns) perhaps overshadowed it a bit.

Gilkey did little to secure his place in Mets' lore by failing to produce anything similar to his 1996 season in either of his two subsequent years with the Mets. His batting average took a huge nosedive in 1997 which resulted in precipitous dropoffs in all of his rate stats. His walk rate remained consistently good, but he suffered greatly from a regression to the mean coupled with a snap back to BABIP reality. In 1996 his BABIP was an inflated .363, 21% above the league average of .302 that year. In 1997 his BABIP fell to .285 (21% decline), 6% lower than the league average of .304.

Things got even worse for Gilkey in 1998 as his batting average dropped even further and his power was whisked away by the baseball demons. He still drew his walks, but a left fielder with a shabby batting average and zero extra-base hit prowess is of little use to a professional baseball team, and the Mets sent him packing to Arizona at the trade deadline in 1998 along with Nelson Figueroa in exchange for Willie Blair, Jorge Fabregas and cash. Quite a haul, indeed.

Gilkey is surely remembered by more people for being dubbed "Innocent Until Proven" Gilkey by ESPN's namesmith extraordinaire Chris Berman than for having one of the great Mets' seasons, and he didn't help secure any lasting memories by fading from whatever mild spotlight was shone on him with nary a whimper. Still, amid tremendous offensive seasons by the likes of Mike Piazza, John Olerud and Howard Johnson, Gilkey's 1996 tour of duty holds its own in the annals of Mets' history.

Sources

Bernard Gilkey at Baseball-Reference.com
Bernard Gilkey at Baseball Prospectus

Websites linking to this article

MetsBlog.com
Baseball Musings

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