Part eight of our 10-part series features nine overlooked or underrated Mets right fielders, whose great years with the team occurred as long ago as 1964 and as recently as 2013. You can find any of the first seven installments of the series by following the links below:
If you think we missed anyone, leave your suggestions in the comment section, and please remember to vote in the poll at the bottom of the page!
Joe Christopher, 1964
Joe Christopher’s 1964 season is particularly easy to overlook, given that it was his only productive year in the big leagues and it occurred on a team that lost 109 games. Nonetheless, Christopher hit an impressive .300/.360/.466 that year, with 16 home runs, 76 RBI, and 78 runs scored, good for a 132 wRC+ at a time of depressed league-wide offensive production.
Art Shamsky, 1968-1970
Art Shamsky was a valuable platoon player for the Mets from 1968 to 1970, when he hit .277/.347/.440 with a 120 wRC+, primarily against right-handed pitching. Shamsky’s best year at the plate was in 1969, when he served as Ron Swoboda’s right field platoon mate plate and hit an outstanding .300/.375/.488 with a 141 wRC+ in 349 plate appearances for the World Champs.
Ken Singleton, 1971
Ken Singleton’s brief stint with the Mets was the start of an extremely underrated career. Although he would enjoy most of his success with the Expos and Orioles, Singleton showcased his signature plate discipline in his early years as a Met. In 1971, the New York native and future Yankee broadcaster hit .245/.374/.393, which translated to a surprisingly good 121 wRC+, given the weak offensive environment that saw league-average on-base and slugging percentages of just .317 and .365, respectively. After the 1971 season, Singleton was traded to the Expos in a package for Rusty Staub and went on to have a quietly great offensive career, finishing with a .282/.388/.436 batting line and a 134 wRC+, 246 home runs, 1,065 RBI, and 2,020 hits.
Joel Youngblood, 1978-1981
Along with John Stearns, Steve Henderson, and Lee Mazzilli—all of whom appear elsewhere in this series—Joel Youngblood was a consistently solid player on the otherwise-woeful Mets teams of the late seventies and early eighties. From 1978 to 1981, Youngblood hit .278/.340/.426 with a 114 wRC+ and an average of 2.4 fWAR per year. Youngblood's best season was in 1979, when he produced 4.1 fWAR and hit .275/.346/.436 with a 116 wRC+, 16 home runs, 60 RBI, 90 runs scored, and 18 stolen bases, to along with 14 total zone runs saved, 311 putouts, and just five errors committed in 1,229.2 innings on the field. Unfortunately, a combination of injuries and the players’ strike limited what could have been a tremendous year for the right fielder in 1981, when Youngblood hit .350/.398/.531 with a 164 wRC+ in just 43 games.
Bobby Bonilla, 1992-1995
Bobby Bonilla’s tenure with the Mets was marred by bad press (prompted by incidents like this and this) and is best known for the infamous deferred buyout that ended his second stint with the team in early 2000. What’s often overlooked is how productive Bonilla was in his first stint as a Met, which lasted from 1992 to 1995. Sure, he didn't live up to the then-biggest contract in all of team sports or to his past success with the Pirates; but make no mistake about it, Bonilla could still hit, and his drop in production never approached, for example, George Foster's or Jason Bay's. In his first three years in New York, Bonilla hit a robust .267/.357/.487 with a 126 wRC+ and an average of 24 home runs, 75 RBI, and 2.7 fWAR per year. Before being traded to the Orioles midway through the 1995 season, Bonilla was absolutely raking to the tune of a .325/.385/.599 batting line and a 154 wRC+, 18 home runs, 53 RBI, 49 runs scored, and 2.4 fWAR in just 80 games. Of course, Bonilla’s return to New York in 1999 was a complete disaster in every sense of the word, as he was totally unproductive on the field (.160/.277/.303, 50 wRC+ in 60 games), earned even more bad press, and left the team with one of the most egregious contractual obligations in the history of the game.
Jeromy Burnitz, 2003
Mets fans remember Jeromy Burnitz’s ill-fated 2002 campaign, in which the right fielder hit a paltry .215/.311/.365 with an 83 wRC+, 19 home runs, 54 RBI, and 0.7 fWAR. What many probably forget is that, unlike the other big-name acquisitions (namely Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn, and Roger Cedeno) on that debacle of a team, Burnitz actually had a strong bounce-back year in 2003. Before a mid-season trade to the Dodgers, Burnitz was arguably the Mets’ best hitter, clubbing .274/.344/.581 with a 134 wRC+, 18 home runs, 45 RBI, and 1.4 fWAR in 65 games.
Endy Chavez, 2006
Mets fans will never forget Endy Chavez’s name, thanks to his starring role in one of the signature moments in franchise history. But Chavez’s value to the ’06 Mets extended far beyond that one play. During the regular season, Chavez was an extremely productive fourth outfielder, hitting .306/.348/.431 with a 101 wRC+, four home runs, 42 RBI, 48 runs scored, 22 doubles, five triples, and 12 stolen bases in 390 plate appearances, along with an outstanding 16.3 UZR and 2.9 fWAR.
Lucas Duda, 2011-2013
While Lucas Duda can no longer be considered "overlooked" or "underrated" after his breakout year in 2014, his success hardly came out of nowhere: from 2011 to 2013, the Dude hit .250/.348/.425 with a 118 wRC+, mostly while playing out of position. Duda’s production during that time probably flew under the radar because the traditional counting numbers didn't do him justice; Duda, for example, never hit more than 15 home runs or had more than 57 RBI in a season, and only once hit above .239. As a result, many would be surprised to know that Duda’s .223/.352/.415 batting line in 2013 made him a full twenty percent better than a league-average hitter, as his 120 wRC+ indicates; or that, in 2011, Duda was, at-bat-for-at-bat, just as good relative to the league as he was in 2014, evidenced by his identical 136 wRC+ marks (.292/.370/.482 in 2011 versus .253/.349/.481 in 2014). Even in 2012, Duda’s worst full big league season, his .239/.329/.389 batting line and 103 wRC+ actually made him a slightly above-league-average hitter.
It’s true that corner outfielders and first basemen are held to higher offensive standards than are other position players; it’s true that Duda’s production never occurred over the course of 500 or more plate appearances; and it’s true that Duda’s struggles in the field prevented him from being much more than a league-average player overall. But that shouldn’t allow us to forget that Lucas Duda was still a very, very good offensive player in the years prior to his breakout 2014 campaign.
Marlon Byrd, 2013
Marlon Byrd’s inclusion on this list is for preemptive reasons more than anything else. Mets fans today remember Byrd's 117-game tenure in New York, when he hit an impressive and unexpected .285/.330/.518 with a 137 wRC+, 21 home runs, 71 RBI, and 3.5 fWAR in 2013. Hopefully, if and when Dilson Herrera and Vic Black become established contributors to winning Mets teams, we remember the man whose brief stint in New York brought those players here.