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November 18, 2008
  
Escaping the Hot Stove

The offseason “hot stove” has my head spinning. Rumors are reported seemingly every five minutes from insiders like Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal, and Ken Davidoff. The Internet has aided the spread of these rumors, as these insiders can convey information from their sources to the masses almost instantly. While there is value in following these developments, I’m bothered when I see reports like this, from MLBTradeRumors:

November 5
9:42am: According to Dave van Dyck of the Chicago Tribune, the White Sox are aggressively shopping Javier Vazquez.
8:43pm: Ken Davidoff says the White Sox are not anxious to unload Vazquez.

Did the White Sox really do a complete 180 on Vazquez in less than 12 hours? How can a baseball fan lend any worth to these types of contradictory reports? To take a breather from the non-stop hot stove reports, I set out on a fun mission: to determine the top ten individual seasons by Mets hitters. This task requires examination of statistics and Mets history, two of my favorite baseball topics. The following are the main criteria I used, in order from most to least important:

1) OPS+: This is the player’s OPS measured against the league-average OPS for the given season, adjusted for park factors. An average OPS+ is always 100, and a player with an OPS+ of 120 performed 20% better than league average. While it is useful for comparing players across different seasons, it is not a perfect stat, as the on-base component of OPS is much more important than slugging. I took this into account.

2) WPA: This is win probability added. It measures a player’s win contribution on each play, whether it be strikeout, single, or home run. It can be positive or negative and weighs a player’s performance based on situational context. This is to say that a walk-off home run will add much more to a player’s WPA than a home run hit when already ahead by eight runs.

3) Player position: If the player is a catcher, shortstop, second base, or centerfielder (premium positions) I gave him slightly more credit.

4)Stolen bases and SB%: I am a proponent of stealing bases, provided the success rate is at a high level. For instance, Lee Mazzili’s 20 stolen bases in 1978 were not that valuable considering his 61% success rate. However, Carlos Beltran’s 23 stolen bases in 2007 were impressive because of his terrific 92% success rate. Note that I didn’t list stolen bases or SB% below, to avoid statistical overload.

5) Number of games played: Mike Piazza put up great numbers in 1998, but he played just 109 games for the Mets that season. Likewise, Darry Strawberry’s 1985 season was incredible, but he only played in 111 games.

I also considered stats like home runs, RBI, and extra-base hits, but these are not very useful for comparing players across different seasons.

Here is the list:

10.

Player             Year  Pos   OPS+   WPA   HR   OBA   SLG   OPS
Edgardo Alfonzo    2000   2B    147  4.11   25  .425  .542  .967

Alfonzo just barely beats out Keith Hernandez in 1984, Mike Piazza in 2001, and Todd Hundley in 1997. His OBP was the second highest single-season mark in Mets history, and he did it playing a premium position. Alfonzo was one of my favorite Mets, and 2000 was his career peak.

9.

Player             Year  Pos   OPS+   WPA   HR   OBA   SLG   OPS
Cleon Jones        1969   LF    151   N/A   12  .422  .482  .904

Jones is the only pre-1980 Met to make the list. Best known for catching the final out of the 1969 World Series, Jones teamed with childhood friend Tommie Agee to anchor the outfield and lineup. The 1969 Mets are remembered for their amazing young pitching staff, and rightfully so. However, Jones was the best hitter that year by a wide margin.

8.

Player             Year  Pos   OPS+   WPA   HR   OBA   SLG   OPS
David Wright       2007   3B    150  4.15   30  .416  .546  .962

Barring injury or trade, Wright is on a path to become the best hitter in Mets history. His numbers have been amazingly consistent through his first four full major league seasons, but 2007 was his best. He posted career highs in batting average, OBA, slugging, and OPS+. His 34 stolen bases were quite valuable, as he stole at an 87% success rate. Wright should have become the first Met to win the NL MVP Award in 2007.

7.

Player             Year  Pos   OPS+   WPA   HR   OBA   SLG   OPS
Carlos Beltran     2006   CF    150  5.22   41  .388  .594  .982

Beltran tied the single-season club record for home runs in 2006, and did it while playing a premium position. Though his power numbers have dipped the last two years, he can still be counted on to hit around 30 home runs and put up a SLG of .500. Despite his season-ending strikeout against Adam Wainwright in the NLCS, he put up a strong .277/.422/.555 line in the playoffs. His postseason performance was not considered for this list.

6.

Player             Year  Pos   OPS+   WPA   HR   OBA   SLG   OPS
Bernard Gilkey     1996   LF    155  5.22   30  .393  .562  .955

Credited as “baseball player” for his breakout film role in “Men in Black,” Gilkey’s 1996 season was truly brilliant. On top of his stellar OPS+ and WPA, Gilkey hit .406 with runners in scoring position. The 1996 Mets could hit, featuring career years from Gilkey, Hundley, and Lance Johnson. However, they had no pitching, evidenced by the fact that they had just one starting pitcher (Mark Clark) post an ERA better than league average.

5.

Player             Year  Pos   OPS+   WPA   HR   OBA   SLG   OPS
Darryl Strawberry  1988   RF    165  5.28   39  .366  .545  .911

Strawberry put up the third-highest single season OPS+ in Mets history in 1988. He loses points because of his OBP and poor 67% stolen base success rate. He is the only Met to show up twice on the list, and had three other seasons which I considered. The Mets’ all-time home run record belongs to Strawberry with 252, but Wright should threaten the record sometime around late 2012.

4.

Player             Year  Pos   OPS+   WPA   HR   OBA   SLG   OPS
John Olerud        1998   1B    163  6.40   22  .447  .551  .998

Sweet-swinging John Olerud is still my favorite Met, because of his excellent play on the field and quiet demeanor off it. When I met him at the Mets Clubhouse about 10 years ago, his hitting advice was simple: “keep your back elbow up and your eye on the ball.” Olerud’s spot on this list is not a result of any bias. He posted the highest single-season batting average (.354), OBP, and WPA in Mets history.

3.

Player             Year  Pos   OPS+   WPA   HR   OBA   SLG   OPS
Mike Piazza        2000   C    155   5.53   38  .398  .614 1.012

Piazza posted the single-season Mets record for SLG and OPS in 2000 and gets the nod over Olerud for playing a premium position. He also hit three grand slams in 2000, and had the decisive three-run homer on June 30th to complete the unforgettable eighth inning comeback, down 8-1 against the Braves. Piazza just missed appearing on this list multiple times.

2.

Player             Year  Pos   OPS+   WPA   HR   OBA   SLG   OPS
Howard Johnson     1989   3B    169  4.70   36  .369  .559  .928

Johnson put up a Mets-record OPS+ in 1989, and stole 41 bases at an outstanding 84% success rate. He loses some credit because his OPS was very slugging-heavy. Nevertheless, Hojo was a great package of power and speed, hitting 157 homers and stealing 160 bases in the five-season stretch from 1987 to 1991.

1.

Player             Year  Pos   OPS+   WPA   HR   OBA   SLG   OPS
Darryl Strawberry  1987   RF    162  5.56   39  .398  .583  .981

The #1 spot was a tossup between Johnson and Strawberry. I chose Strawberry because his OBP was superior, and he posted a better WPA. Most Met fans lament what might have been for Strawberry, but I’d rather appreciate his eight elite years in Flushing.

Honorable Mentions:

Gary Carter: 1985
Joe Christopher: 1964
Keith Hernandez: 1984, 1986
Todd Hundley: 1996, 1997
Howard Johnson: 1991
Cleon Jones: 1968, 1971
Dave Magadan: 1990
Kevin McReynolds: 1988
Mike Piazza: 1999, 2002
Rusty Staub: 1975
Darryl Strawberry: 1985, 1986, 1990
Frank Thomas: 1962


9 Responses to “Escaping the Hot Stove”

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  1. Comment posted by Mike Newman on November 18, 2008 at 10:41 am (#895360)

    Very interesting list. It’s amazing how the numbers stack up when one looks at OPS+. Things have changed an awful lot since Cleon Jones.

    I always laugh when people who don’t understand the era in which Babe Ruth played argue he wasn’t the greatest player in history and argue somebody like Barry Bonds is. To think Ruth was hitting 50-60 home runs when the other top sluggers of his time were in the double digits.

    1927 Home Run Leaders

    Ruth-NYY 60
    Gehrig-NYY 47
    Lazzeri-NYY 18
    Williams-SLB 17
    Simmons-PHA 15

    That’s like David Wright batting .472 125 HR 296 RBI

    Using OPS+, one could also make an awfully good argument for Gehrig being the 2nd best hitter ever as well.

  2. Comment posted by riveraro on November 18, 2008 at 1:51 pm (#895563)

    An awfully good argument could be made that Gehrig was perhaps the best hitter of all time….if not the best definitely no worse than 1A.

    During the ten seasons (1925-1934) in which Gehrig and Ruth were both Yankees and played a majority of games, Gehrig had more home runs than Ruth only once, in 1934, when he hit 49 compared to Ruth’s 22 (Ruth played 125 games that year). They tied at 46 in 1931. Ruth had 424 home runs compared to Gehrig’s 347. Gehrig had more RBIs in seven years (1925, 1927, 1930-1934) and they tied in 1928. Ruth had 1,316 RBIs compared to Gehrig’s 1,436, although the latter had more hits in eight years (1925, 1927-28, 1930-34) and a higher slugging percentage in two years (1933-34). Gehrig also had a higher batting average in seven years (1925, 1927-28, 1930, 1932-34). For that span, Gehrig had a .343 batting average, compared to .338 for Ruth.[21]

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  4. Comment posted by Mike Newman on November 18, 2008 at 3:59 pm (#895693)

    You are right. In that 1927 season, Gehrig had 30 more TB.

  5. Comment posted by Danny on November 18, 2008 at 5:22 pm (#895856)

    I applaud Ruth for being incredible against a small segment of White Americans that played baseball part-time.

    Gehrig, too.

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  7. Comment posted by Dep on November 18, 2008 at 5:37 pm (#895869)

    in 1927, Josh Gibson hit over 11,000 home runs.

    just saying…..

  8. Comment posted by MetsTailgate on November 18, 2008 at 6:33 pm (#895955)

    And James Earl Jones was a better hitter than Ruth until he got blinded by a pitch to the face - oh wait no that didn’t happen, that was in The Sandlot…

  9. Comment posted by JamesSC on November 18, 2008 at 11:46 pm (#896019)

    I always laugh when people who don’t understand the era in which Babe Ruth played argue he wasn’t the greatest player in history and argue somebody like Barry Bonds is. To think Ruth was hitting 50-60 home runs when the other top sluggers of his time were in the double digits.

    See, I always laugh when someone attempts to literally compare hitting 60 hrs in 1927 to hitting 125 homeruns today. The fact that the overall talent in 1927 is not even remotely comparable to today’s talent goes both ways if you want to really get into the arguement. Ruth’s sheer domination of the leagues those years is both the arguement for him being the greatest player of all times and for me the prime arguement against him.

  10. Comment posted by MetsTailgate on November 19, 2008 at 11:49 am (#896143)

    JamesSC,

    I’m not sure what your argument here is. The reason we are able to make a list of the top 10 Mets offensive seasons ever is because stats like OPS+ allow for such a comparison - they are based on a player’s performance compared to the league average.

    The point of the comment you referenced is that Ruth was so much more dominant compared to everyone else than any baseball player ever. Bonds was dominant, but not to the extent of Ruth when comparing his performance to the rest of the league.

    In the list above, Piazza at #3 had better raw stats than the #1 and #2 selections, but he wasn’t as good compared to the rest of the league as they were.

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  12. Comment posted by Mike Newman on November 19, 2008 at 11:03 pm (#896440)

    Not sure why or how this became a racial thing, but to Danny and JamesSC, remember the league was only 16 teams then and the best pitchers threw 300+ IP or more. There were no Pedro Feliciano’s back then.

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