Over the last 50 years, the Mets have had several memorable moments, great players, and more than a few excellent statistical seasons. As part of a thought experiment and a desire to dig back in Met history, I thought I'd attempt to determine who had the best seasons as both a pitcher and hitter for the Mets each season over the past fifty years. Now, I'm no expert, but I consider myself a fairly educated fan, and I'd like to use a method a little more robust than just homers or clutch moments or RBIs to try and figure this thing out. I wound up taking the path of least resistance, using the value measurement of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) to determine who had the best season in a given year, among the Mets' players. Since WAR takes into account (nearly) all aspects of the game, it is a fine way to determine holistic contributions on the baseball field.
For those of you who aren't familiar with WAR, this statistic is a detailed measure of how many wins a ballplayer is worth when compared to the average waiver wire or AAA pickup at the given position. There are two commonly-used forms of WAR, one created by Baseball-Reference (bWAR), and another developed by FanGraphs (fWAR). These are the two sources from which I collected the statistical data in question. Since bWAR and fWAR don't always match up, I chose to use an even average of the two scores in order to determine an average WAR (aWAR) of the two systems. While this is hardly the most statistically-advanced formula, it is a quick and dirty way for me to determine who had the best season.
Okay, so with all of that preamble out of the way, I'd like to offer what I found to be the Top 3 Seasons by a Met position player, followed in the future with another post about the Top 3 Seasons by a Met pitcher. Following the Top 3 Seasons, I'll offer a few observations about oddities and interesting tidbits that I've recorded that came about as a result of this exercise.
Top 3 Met Seasons (Position Players) by aWAR
- #3 - Carlos Beltran, 2006 (7.95 aWAR)
- #2 - John Olerud, 1998 (8.25 aWAR)
- #1 - David Wright, 2007 (8.35 aWAR)
Honestly, my first thought when I ran these numbers was how happy I was that Bernard Gilkey's bizarre 1996 didn't crack the Top 3. After that, I was just stunned that more of the Met 80's and 90's player-seasons weren't competitive with Wright and Beltran's recent efforts. Looking back through the history of Met position players, rarely is there a season where one of the Mets posts a WAR beyond 7. Even more telling, in the first 20 years of Met history, only Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee, and John Stearns managed to post a WAR above 5 by either valuation method. That's hardly a promising start, even for an expansion franchise.
Beltran's 2006 was a monster season by any measure, as he notably racked up 41 homers, had a sick .320 ISO, and was a positive fielder and baserunner by most advanced metrics. For all the criticism levied at Carlos's performance compared to his contract, this was an MVP-type season for sure, and we'll talk a little more about his continued production later on.
John Olerud has long been under-appreciated (except by walk-loving statheads like myself), but by any standard, his 1998 was amazing. John got on base at an unreal clip (.447 OBP!), played stellar defense at first, and even hit for a little power, blasting 22 dingers, which was only one less than Mike Piazza. Though he wasn't with the team for a long time, Olerud produced extremely well when he played in Queens.
But these seasons, as well as Straw's 1990, HoJo's amazing 1989, Cary Carter's 1985, Gilkey's notorious 1996, and even Cleon Jones's magical 1969 - all of these seasons are inferior (statistically, at least) to David Wright's 2007. Wright hit for power and average, recording a wOBA of .420. He ran the bases magnificently, notching another Met 30/30 season and adding value as a runner. David even fielded the hot corner as well as could be expected, with an Ultimate Zone Rating of 6.3 (that's good!) and an overall positive contribution with the leather.
So there it is. According to this particular methodology, David Wright has had the best season by a position player in the long history of the franchise. But what other items stood out as a result of this research?
Item #1: The Worst of the "Best" Seasons by a Met Position Player
Surprisingly, this did NOT occur during the legendary inaugural 1962 season. Frank Thomas led the team with a woeful aWAR of 2.00 in 1962, which was almost, but not quite the worst showing in Met history. Instead, Duffy Dyer in 1972, actually posted the worst aWAR among the "best" Met players during any year, with a disappointing 1.90. To be fair, it was a close race in 1972, as Wayne Garrett had an aWAR of 1.85 and Willie Mays sported an aWAR of 1.80. That's right, at the very end of his career, when it looked like he had absolutely nothing in the tank, Willie Mays still managed to be the third-best position player on the Mets in 1972. Very surprising.
Item #2: Which Met Was The Best The Most Times?
This was another surprising finding, as no Met led the team in aWAR for more than three years over the course of their career. In fact, five different Mets led the team in aWAR three times, and they're not necessarily the names that you'd guess.
- Cleon Jones (1968, 1969, 1971)
- Keith Hernandez (1983, 1984, 1986)
- Darryl Strawberry (1987, 1988, 1990)
- Edgardo Alfonzo (1997, 2000, 2002)
- Carlos Beltran (2006, 2008, 2009)
Again, I bring up Beltran as being a bit of a suprise. Aside from his injury-shortened 2010 campaign, Beltran has been in the Top 3 in aWAR each of his seasons in a Met uniform, and led the team in aWAR on three out of six occasions. Most telling is the fact that depending on how his trade situation and Jose Reyes's injury turns out in 2011, it is very possible that Carlos will once again lead the team in aWAR, making him the all-time leader in the number of seasons in which he lead the franchise in this statistic.
Note of Horrible Disappointment: Yes, Jose Reyes was on pace to set a new team record in aWAR this season, having already accumulated a very strong 4.65 aWAR in 2011. It is unlikely that he will exceed Wright or Olerud's marks, but he could very well make it into the 6.5-7.5 aWAR range if he comes back strong and soon from his injury.
And while we all have fond memories of Fonzie, did you really expect him to have been the best player on the team on three separate occasions? Alfonzo posted a truly stellar 6.70 aWAR in 2000's run to the World Series, and this was a year in which only he and Mike Piazza posted All-Star caliber numbers on the positional side of the ball.
Item #3: Piazza, Bonilla, and Other Surprises
By my accounting, one of the most celebrated Mets in recent history, Mike Piazza, only led the team in aWAR during one season in New York: 2001. He posted a 4.6 aWAR during that season, and though he would post a higher aWAR in other years (1998 and 2000, for starters), he'd never again lead the team in that category. With only one year leading the team, that means he led the team for one less year than...
...Bobby Bonilla. Bobby Bo was the best position player on the Mets for two consecutive years: 1993 and 1994. And though many Met fans remember those seasons with a kind of cold detachment or outright loathing between the 100 loss '93 or the strike-shortened '94, they still happened, and Bobby Bo still led the team in aWAR, compiling 6.70 aWAR between the two seasons. Other surprising season leaders include Bud Harrelson (1974, 2.15 aWAR), Len Randle (1977, 4.3 aWAR), Mike Cameron (2004, 2.85 aWAR), and, yes, Angel Pagan (2010, 5.25 aWAR).
And finally, the longest time period between two Mets-leading seasons by a position player (not counting Fonzie's time between his '97 and '02 seasons with the '00 season between them) goes to the criminally underrated backstop, John Stearns. In 1978 Stearns banged out a very impressive 5.70 aWAR season to lead the team, and then in 1982 he led the team again with a respectable 3.45 aWAR with the Amazin's. Not too bad at all.
Next time, I'll take a look at the pitcher aWAR over the lifespan of the team, which offers up fewer surprises, given the strong pitching legacy of the franchise. See you then.