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Marlon Byrd: The Mets' free-agent-to-be has been a very pleasant surprise

The 35-year-old has been one of the best-hitting outfielders in baseball this season.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the 2013 season, the Mets’ outfield was supposed to be pretty terrible. It hasn’t been that bad, however, thanks in large part to Marlon Byrd.

After a dreadful season last year in which he hit very poorly in 153 plate appearances and was suspended 50 games for a violation of Major League Baseball’s drug policy, Byrd was signed by the Mets on February 1, just a couple of weeks before spring training was set to begin. At the time, Byrd wasn’t even guaranteed a spot on the Mets’ Opening Day roster.

But Byrd did break camp with the team, and thanks to a dearth of other outfield talent on the roster, he quickly became the Mets’ everyday right fielder. He’s been the team’s second-best hitter ever since.

Byrd is hitting .286/.335/.516, a slash line that translates to a .364 wOBA and 136 wRC+. By both of the weighted hitting metrics, Byrd trails only David Wright in terms of offensive production this year. While it’d be easy to write that off because of the Mets’ general poor hitting, Byrd’s wRC+ ties him with Justin Upton for 6th among the 56 qualified outfielders in all of baseball. And his 19 home runs rank 14th among that same group, one dinger shy of Carlos Beltran.

Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

No one saw the bounce-back year coming. Of the projection system offered on Fangraphs, the most optimistic was Steamer, which predicted Byrd would post a .298 wOBA and 88 wRC+. It wasn’t just Byrd’s terrible 2012 that indicated he might be finished, either. In 2011, Byrd put together just a .317 wOBA and 95 wRC+, both of which were a bad sign for a player his age. Now 35 years old, Byrd is putting up the best numbers of his career.

Defensive metrics have liked Byrd’s defense in right field—he’s credited with 7 defensive runs saved (DRS)—and he’s even provided some value on the basepaths. Looking ahead, though, it’s no sure thing that the Mets will try to bring back the soon-to-be free agent outfielder.

Byrd only signed a minor league deal with the Mets in February and is earning $700,000 since he’s played in the big leagues all season. He’ll turn 36 next Friday, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll garner a multi-year deal since his recent string of success is so brief. But he probably won’t sign for $700,000 again, either, and the Mets—who clearly need outfield help in 2014 and beyond no matter what—just might be tempted to keep Byrd around for another year.