There was a term that was floating around in the nascent days of the Mets’ first place run early in 2021: ‘Bench Mob.’ This term was coined in Spring Training, but really began to pop up in June, when players like Luis Guillorme, Jose Peraza, and Tomas Nido were getting regular at-bats for the Mets, while the team’s expectant stars like Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil were being plagued by injuries. At some point, the terms became somewhat of a misnomer, as the bench players began playing more regularly, and were no longer relegated to riding the pine.
To properly discuss the bench, it seems like the best way is to approach them by tiers. There are the short-term crew of names you’ve likely already forgotten: Mason Williams, Jake Hager, Travis Blankenhorn, Wilfredo Tovar. These players represented the usual churn of taxi-squad quad-A talent, and performed as you’d expect this caliber of ballplayer to play. And lest you forget, Cameron Maybin made 33 plate appearances for the Mets in 2021. This cluster will be a peak ‘remembering some guys’ territory in a few years.
Then there are the middle ground folks. These fellas didn’t get 200 plate appearances, but all caught fire, at least temporarily, and made the Mets’ beleaguered front office look smart for a few minutes at a clip, before reality set it. Whether it was Billy McKinney in his Queens stopover between playoff teams, or Jose Peraza turning into clutch magic, this middle tier of bench player provided a lot of fun for the club. Who could forget the short-lived Brandon Drury-mania or the walk-off voodoo of Patrick Mazeika? I mean, shit, we even sold Mazeika t-shirts!
But for the most part, the Bench Mob consisted of the folks the Mets started the year off with, after one of their more productive depth-acquisition years in recent memory. Alongside returning subs Guillorme and Nido, were two new additions that wound up playing far more than anyone expected. You know who we’re talking about: the -illar Bros.
Kevin Pillar turned in an OPS+ of just 88, but became a mascot of sorts for the team with his, dare we say, grission after being nailed in the face by a fastball. But as a sub off the bench, Pillar was defensively solid and had a little pop in his bat. The OPS+ seems like more of a by-product of him being overused than a knock on his bench-ability.
With J.D. Davis spending most of the year on the IL, Jonathan Villar wound up being more than just a bench player, and therefore may not theoretically count for this exercise. But it seem like Villar is the perfect avatar for the Bench Mob. Playing all over the infield, Villar made the most of his opportunities, socking 18 home runs and putting up 1.8 bWAR in the process.
Villar may even wind up getting a full-time gig after his performance this year, which seems like a potential over-correction, but would allow him another year before fully committing to the bench role again.
Teams rarely win or lose pennants due to their substitute players, but if the Mets had not collapsed like a snowman on a hot day, the tenacity and success of the Bench Mob would’ve been one of the narratives to explain the team’s first-place finish. Instead, the team collapsed under its own weight and wound up needing far more than Albert Almora Jr to pull out a winning season.
However, if there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that maybe the Mets should continue to go after slightly above bargain basement players for their bench going forward. It almost paid dividends.