Sam's post about the knee-slapper that is the potential Mets' Opening Day lineup inspired me to determine the worst Opening Day starting nine in Mets history. This idea seemed a bit too negative, however, especially after reading Matt Cerrone's inspirational and decidedly more optimistic post, "Opinion: Just Win, Baby". Utilizing some powerhouse Microsoft Excel technique, I compiled all Mets Opening Day lineups since 1962, and used several factors to determine the best and worst (as far as batting is concerned). The factors are, in descending order of importance:
- OPS+ of the position players that season (click here for an explanation of OPS+).
- Position adjustment -- do the top offensive performers play premium positions?
- Playing time -- bonus points given for fine hitting plus lots of plate appearances.
- Roster turnover -- how many Opening Day starters ended up accruing the most playing time at that position over the course of the season?
- Pitcher hitting performance
- Wild Card -- is there something unique about the lineup?
It is a humble analysis, filled with subjectivity. Career performance isn't really factored, so, for instance, Bobby Bonilla's 48 OPS+ in 1999 really kills that lineup's chances, despite him otherwise having a fine career. Click here for a Google Doc listing all the lineups. The columns are self explanatory, except for the one marked "most games". Players listed in that column ended up with the most playing time at the corresponding position, per Baseball-Reference. Consistent with Matt C.'s theme of optimism, I'll start with the three best Opening Day lineups. Count 'em down:
The third place team is a memorable one, featuring monster career years from three players, league average years from four others, and then Rey Ordonez. Rey's comically awful performance at the plate is forgiven -- on Opening Day 1996, he threw out Cardinal player Royce Clayton at the plate from his knees while on the outfield grass. The run proved important, as the Mets came back to win 7-6 after being down 6-2 in the 4th inning. The Rey Ordonez era had begun and the image of that play would never be forgotten.
Talk about an absolutely loaded offensive team. In addition to the players listed above, Lee Mazzilli, Dave Magadan and Lenny Dykstra turned in outstanding efforts. Heck, even Rafael Santana had a career best performance. The pitching staff doomed this team to 2nd place, however, after being so dominant in 1986. The Cardinals took the division, despite being the only team in the league with under 100 home runs.
The 1986 team is passed over, but ask on another day and it might be in the top three. Gary Carter had his best season as a Met and Darryl Strawberry continued his path to superstardom. Even whiny malcontent George Foster held his own. This lineup also stands out because of Dwight Gooden. In addition to turning in one of the most dominant seasons on the mound ever in 1985, he held his own at the plate and even cracked a home run. Bonus points are given here for being just one of two teams to have its Opening Day lineup also be the lineup which accrued the most playing time at the players' respective positions throughout the season.
Honorable Mention: 1986, 2006, 1971,1988, 1995
And now for the Debbie Downer portion of the post -- the three worst lineups, starting with the 3rd worst:
Noteworthy for being the only lineup without a league average or better hitter, the 1983 Mets were utterly dreadful. They did manage to win on Opening Day, as Tom Seaver out-dueled Steve Carlton to win 2-0. There wasn't much to cheer about after that. This team gave 350+ plate appearances to a guy who slugged .244, and 440+ to another player who slugged .298. Help was on the way, in the form of some talented prospects, as well as Keith Hernandez.
1960's Mets teams unsurprisingly lead this list. The 1962 team didn't quite make it, thanks to Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, as well as Gil Hodges and OG Frank Thomas. The 1965 Mets won 50 games (let's be fair -- their Pythag record pegs them at 51), and the offense was led by Johnny Lewis with a 105 OPS+. Future contributors Cleon Jones and Bud Harrelson made cameos. Yogi Berra briefly played for this team as well, before retiring in May 1965 at age 40.
Obviously it's up for debate, but this is the worst Opening Day lineup in Mets history. Duke Snider's more than respectable season isn't enough to overcome the Choo Choo Coleman/Al Moran/Ed Kranepool horror show. In Kranepool's defense, he was just eighteen years-old at the time. Jimmy Piersall would hit his 100th career home run for the Mets in 1963 and proceed to run the bases backwards to generate some buzz. I suppose it did, since I'm writing about it 47 years later. Poor Jimmy was released a month after his stunt.
Honorable Mention: 1967, 1962, 2004, 1966