David Wright set the Mets’ all-time career RBI record last night, passing Darryl Strawberry, but he was already high on the list of the greatest Mets position players of all time. In fact, by Wins Above Replacement, Wright already is the G.M.O.A.T. — Greatest Met Of All Time. (Other than Tom Seaver, of course. No shame in that. Tom Terrific is probably one of the two or three best pitchers since World War II.)
He didn’t have a lot of competition, because the Mets have had more otherworldly pitchers than hitters. Mets have won four Cy Young awards — three by Tom Terrific and one by Doc Gooden — but no Met has ever won an MVP with the team. Only one Met position player has ever won rookie of the year, Strawberry. That’s not to say they haven’t had stars. Since the team was created in 1962, sixteen Met position players have been selected to multiple All-Star Games. By comparison, the Yankees have had 27, but the Braves have had just fourteen. The Mets have had great players, they just haven’t had a lot of superstars with staying power.
There are eight players in the fifty-year history of the Mets who could reasonably be described as having had a “great” career with the team. This excludes likeable role players like Mookie Wilson and Steady Eddie Kranepool, as well as superstars who just passed through, like Gary Carter and Eddie Murray. Those eight players, and their stats during their time with the Mets, are:
First: Edgardo Alfonzo is still underrated. Also, obviously, the last three columns aren’t exactly apples and oranges when comparing modern players to retired folks for whom we don’t have the same baserunning or fielding stats. But that table gives you pretty much the span of Wright’s competition, from Strawberry to HoJo, and those numbers help make the case that Wright may already be the best everyday player in Mets history — which is another way of saying that he’s the best National Leaguer in New York since Willie Mays. It’s partly because he’s a great player, and partly because the Mets haven’t had many other players who have excelled for as long as he has.
He is a great player, as Chris Cwik wrote a few days ago that if Wright follows his injury-limited 2011 with a solid year in 2012, he can expect a $100 million extension in the offseason. If he struggles, he should still be able to expect around $80. In late March, Buster Olney explained that he expected the Mets to extend Wright, because he’s the face of the franchise and is crucial to the Mets’ ability to appeal to fans.
Wright is obviously the best player on this team. Is he the best everyday player they’ve ever had? Well, not everyone agrees with fWAR. ESPN’s Sportsnation puts him behind Strawberry and Piazza on the Mets’ all-time list, and Newsday, somehow, puts him behind Piazza, Keith Hernandez, Strawberry, and Gary Carter.
We can dismiss Gary Carter. The Kid had just 13.2 WAR in five years with the team: he was terrific in 1985 and quite good for the World Champions in 1986, but his best years were in Montreal, and if not for the championship he never would have made any list of greatest Mets.
Why did they pick Hernandez, Strawberry, and Piazza, and not Reyes or Beltran? Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran were probably just as good as the other three. For one thing, retired writers often overrate old players with regard to more recent players; for another Hernandez, Strawberry, Piazza, and Carter all made the World Series, while Beltran nor Reyes never did. And most of Beltran and Reyes’s best years with the Mets were several years before their injury-plagued campaigns.
In any case, Piazza, Hernandez, and Strawberry are good comparisons. Piazza is a Hall of Famer, Hernandez is a near-Hall of Famer, and Strawberry would have been a Hall of Famer if his career hadn’t fallen apart when he was in his late 20s. If Wright has another decade as good as his past decade, then he’ll be a Hall of Famer, too.
Actually, his first eight seasons in the big leagues, through age 28, have also been of comparable worth to the comparable time span for Scott Rolen — 39.4 WAR for Wright, 41.5 WAR for Rolen — who already deserves to be enshrined. (The difference between the two is partly due to Rolen’s far superior glove, one reason that he has aged so gracefully. Nonetheless, their overall numbers through age 28 are similar.)
Why does WAR like Wright more than Strawberry and Hernandez? It’s largely due to positional adjustment. Strawberry and Wright were similarly effective hitters, and what lacked as a hitter he largely made up for as a fielder. Strawberry was simply devastating back in the slap-and-run ’80s — during his eight years in New York, 1983 to 1990, he actually had the most home runs in the NL. His wOBA is nearly identical to Wright’s, and when you factor in park and era context, Strawberry actually had a markedly higher wRC+ than Wright over his Mets career, 143 to 136. Neither was much of a fielder, though Strawberry was likely a bit better. Hernandez obviously was a good fielder, and he had a higher OBP than either one, but that wasn’t enough to overcome his lack of power compared to the other two.
But most importantly, Strawberry was a corner outfielder and Hernandez was a first baseman, both positions of relative offensive abundance. Wright is a third baseman, and third basemen who hit like that are a whole lot harder to find than corner outfielders who hit home runs or first basemen who can pick it. While the tallies may have been close going into 2012, as long as Wright remains healthy this year, he will end the year at or near the top of most of the Mets’ all-time leaderboards.
With 33 more hits, he’ll pass Jose Reyes for second in hits behind the beloved Kranepool, who has 1418; assuming that Wright remains a Met after this year he should be the all-time leader some time in 2013. He’s second in runs scored, 28 behind Reyes, and fourth in walks, just 35 behind the first-place Strawberry. Among players with at least 500 games with the team, he’s already the Mets’ all-time leader in doubles, RBI, total bases, and batting average.
As the Mets decide whether to extend Wright, their considerations will extend beyond the field. The team has had a tough time the past couple of years, and he’s the face of the franchise. But I think he’s also the best player they’ve ever had.
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.