What’s the single best offensive season for a Met?

If you ask most Mets fans, they will tell you that Dwight Gooden probably has had the best single-season pitching performance by a Met back in 1985 (13.2 WAR!). Nobody comes close to that. It’s the best performance in the post Babe Ruth era, with only Steve Carlton posting a 12.5 in 1972 coming close. The Mets are known for their pitching, between Seaver/Doc/Dickey, they have won 5 Cy Young awards since 1969. What the Mets are not really known for is their hitting. We’ve seen some Mets position players come excruciatingly close to winning an MVP. There have been 10 times a Mets player has placed in the top 5 in MVP voting, with Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez coming closest, finishing 2nd.

So how does one determine exactly who has had the best offensive season? Being that there are no MVP awards to point to (and if there were there would be no point to this entire article), let play with some advanced numbers here. For starters, I only qualified players if they reached a minimum of 500 plate appearances (502 is the minimum to qualify for any batting title). This means some seasons were disqualified, apologies to 1985 Darryl Strawberry, 2013 David Wright (10 short!) and 1998 Mike Piazza. I also used another cutoff, just so I didn’t have to go through 50+ seasons. I set the next cutoff at 140 wRC+. For those of you who don’t know, wRC stands for Weighted Runs Created, an improved version of Runs Created. Without hopefully sounding too confusing, here is a quick breakdown of all the stats I’m going to be referencing, and how you can understand them:
RC (Runs Created) – a stat created by Bill James to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by the number of runs a player contributes to their team.
wRC (Weighted Runs Created) – takes the formula used by Bill James, and tweaks it by adding wOBA
wOBA – based on the concept that not all hits are created equally. On Base is just a straight measurement of how often a player gets on base, but doesn’t really quantify how they got on base. wOBA does.
wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created +) – takes wRC and makes it both park and league adjusted in order to compare players. League average is 100. Every 1 percentage point above 100 means that player created 1% more runs than league average.
oWAR – Offensive War as calculated by Baseball Reference.
Are you still with me? Good. Here are all the players who qualified:

Season Name G PA R HR RBI SB AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA wRC+ oWAR MVP
1998 John Olerud 160 665 91 22 93 2 0.354 0.447 0.551 0.998 0.430 167 6.2 12
1989 Howard Johnson 153 655 104 36 101 41 0.287 0.369 0.559 0.928 0.406 166 7.9 5
1988 Darryl Strawberry 153 640 101 39 101 29 0.269 0.366 0.545 0.911 0.390 159 6.1 2
1987 Darryl Strawberry 154 640 108 39 104 36 0.284 0.398 0.583 0.981 0.412 159 7.2 6
1969 Cleon Jones 137 558 92 12 75 16 0.340 0.422 0.482 0.904 0.405 154 5.5 7
2000 Mike Piazza 136 545 90 38 113 4 0.324 0.398 0.614 1.012 0.423 153 5.4 3
1996 Bernard Gilkey 153 656 108 30 117 17 0.317 0.393 0.562 0.955 0.405 152 5.9 14
2007 David Wright 160 711 113 30 107 34 0.325 0.416 0.546 0.963 0.413 151 7.1 4
2000 Edgardo Alfonzo 150 650 109 25 94 3 0.324 0.425 0.542 0.967 0.418 150 6.4 15
2006 Carlos Beltran 140 617 127 41 116 18 0.275 0.388 0.594 0.982 0.408 148 6.9 4
1990 Dave Magadan 144 541 74 6 72 2 0.328 0.417 0.457 0.874 0.390 147 3.3 22
1984 Keith Hernandez 154 657 83 15 94 2 0.311 0.409 0.449 0.859 0.382 146 4.4 2
1986 Keith Hernandez 149 652 94 13 83 2 0.310 0.413 0.446 0.859 0.383 146 5.1 4
1988 Kevin McReynolds 147 600 82 27 99 21 0.288 0.336 0.496 0.832 0.367 144 5.4 3
1971 Cleon Jones 136 568 63 14 69 6 0.319 0.382 0.473 0.856 0.383 144 4.4 UR
2008 David Wright 160 736 115 33 124 15 0.302 0.390 0.534 0.924 0.396 143 6.4 8
2001 Mike Piazza 141 573 81 36 94 0 0.300 0.384 0.573 0.957 0.395 143 5.6 13
1997 Todd Hundley 132 508 78 30 86 2 0.273 0.394 0.549 0.943 0.396 143 4.9 UR
2011 Jose Reyes 126 586 101 7 44 39 0.337 0.384 0.493 0.877 0.376 142 6 11
2005 David Wright 160 657 99 27 102 17 0.306 0.388 0.523 0.912 0.393 142 5.9 19
1990 Darryl Strawberry 152 621 92 37 108 15 0.277 0.361 0.518 0.879 0.382 141 4.1 3
2012 David Wright 156 670 91 21 93 15 0.306 0.391 0.492 0.883 0.376 141 4.1 6
1991 Howard Johnson 156 658 108 38 117 30 0.259 0.342 0.535 0.877 0.376 140 4.9 5
1968 Cleon Jones 147 552 63 14 55 23 0.297 0.341 0.452 0.793 0.359 140 4.4 UR

I chose 140 wRC+ as the minimum because that represents a player who was 40% better than league average, which is a fantastic season. Anything in bold represents just the highest on this list; it may not be the best in Mets history, however. It would be easy to look at John Olerud and see that not only does he have the highest wRC+, but he also has the highest wOBA, OBP and AVG. Is that really the greatest offensive season in Mets history? He didn’t knock in or score 100 runs; he didn’t hit 30 homers, how much value could he have created? And he did that batting either 3rd or 4th in the order. This is where oWAR comes into play. How many wins did he add with his offensive value? If you look at oWAR, Olerud’s season comes in at #7.
Picking the greatest offensive Mets season is so arbitrary, everyone has their own way of measuring greatness. For my method, I have assigned an overall ranking based on a 1-24 scale 1 being the highest in this category, 24 being the lowest. The categories I have chosen: HR, OPS, wOBA, wRC+, oWAR and MVP. It seems kind of arbitrary to consider MVP, as that isn’t based on any real number. I included it because it’s a reflection of how baseball writers saw the season as it happened, and voted as to who they thought was the MVP that season. I didn’t choose RBI because many times a hitter doesn’t necessarily control who is on base in front of them. I didn’t choose AVG or OBP because those numbers are better reflected in OPS and wOBA.

Lowest is best. Here’s how the players scored:

Rank Season Name OVR
1 1987 Darryl Strawberry 21
2 2006 Carlos Beltran 27
3 2000 Mike Piazza 29
4 1989 Howard Johnson 31
5 2007 David Wright 34
6 1998 John Olerud 36
7 1988 Darryl Strawberry 43
8 2000 Edgardo Alfonzo 49
9 1996 Bernard Gilkey 55
10 2008 David Wright 61
11 2001 Mike Piazza 67
12 1969 Cleon Jones 69
13 1997 Todd Hundley 79
14 2005 David Wright 81
15 1990 Darryl Strawberry 85
16 1986 Keith Hernandez 88
17 1991 Howard Johnson 90
18 1984 Keith Hernandez 91
19 1988 Kevin McReynolds 92
20 2011 Jose Reyes 98
21 2012 David Wright 102
22 1990 Dave Magadan 107
23 1971 Cleon Jones 107
24 1968 Cleon Jones 128

There you have it. According to my just created, completely arbitrary rankings, 1987 Darryl Strawberry had the best offensive season in Mets history. It isn’t really close either. He scored 6 points fewer than anyone else on this list. This comes completely as a surprise to me, as once I had pulled the raw data, I was guessing 2006 Beltran, 1988 Strawberry or even 1989 Howard Johnson as a dark horse. So this begs the question: Why did 1988 Strawberry finish 2nd and 1987 Strawberry finish 6th in MVP voting? Was Strawberry robbed of an MVP? That’s another story for another column.

One final note: What was Bernard Gilkey doing in 1996!?

10 comments for “What’s the single best offensive season for a Met?

  1. Steevy
    July 20, 2014 at 8:37 am

    1987 was undoubtedly Strawberry’s finest season.Why he finished sixth?They didn’t win the division,which in those days meant no playoffs of course.I remember everyone gushing over Jack” The Ripper” Clark,Tony Gwynn hit .370,Andre Dawson had his big comeback year with the Cubs.Those are off the top of my head.

    • marc melton
      July 20, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Dawson won the MVP playing for the last place Cubs. Ozzie, playing for the division winning cardinals, finished 2nd.

  2. Steevy
    July 20, 2014 at 10:45 am

    I knew Dawson won the award and thought it was ridiculous at the time and today .It was a ” feel good” story,him taking a relatively small contract to play on grass for the Cubbies.I had forgotten Ozzie,but now I remember it was by far his best offensive season and of course,his defense was legendary.

    • marc melton
      July 20, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      Dawson won because Ozzie and Jack Clark split the Cards vote. Jack Clark probably did deserve it, but Strawberry did at least deserve to finish 2nd.

  3. James Newman
    July 20, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Really interesting article, I always figured Piazza’s 2000 season was the best offensive performance. Catching all those games and being the main driving force is what made me appreciate Piazza.

    • marc melton
      July 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      Piazza came so close in 2000. What he really got hurt in my totally arbitrary rankings was his wRC+ and his oWAR. Unfortunately, being a catcher during the steroid era meant that he was being judged on a much better average than a lot of his peers. He did post the highest OPS on any player on this list, but his 6th place rank in wRC+ and 15th(!!) in oWAR really hurt his chances.

      • James Newman
        July 20, 2014 at 10:55 pm

        Interesting, I always figured higher offensive numbers led to a higher oWAR. Can never figure out the WAR system, as different sites have different formulas for it. I wish there was just one WAR system that players were based on.

        • marc melton
          July 20, 2014 at 11:50 pm

          The main different between baseball reference (bWAR) and fangraphs(fWAR) is how they compute defensive value.

  4. Patrick Albanesius
    July 20, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Fantastic article, and well researched. Kudos to you, sir!

  5. Sean Flattery
    July 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Olerud was the one of the the toughest outs in the NL in his brief stint with the Mets. If you were to ask me to pick one Met player, from any season, for one at bat to win the game…It would be Olerud. Also consider he walked 125 and 102 times in ’99 and ’00 batting in front of Piazza. A good reflection of how much respect and fear NL pitchers had for Olerud’s plate prowess. (Seemed like all of his outs were line drives too.)

    Gilkey’s season goes forgotten sometimes, but what a great first year with a team, not to mention how terrific he played in left field.

    Strawberry might be my all-time fave player. So to pick the “best” offensive season… I’m sorta torn. It’s definitely between ’87 Strawberry & ’98 Olerud.

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