Ever since David Wright retired, there has been a feeling that he is the best Mets position player of all time. Looking at Baseball-Reference’s Mets team page, Wright is #1 in At-Bats, WAR, oWAR, Hits, Singles, Doubles, Runs, RBIs, Total Bases, Walks, Extra Base Hits, Runs Created, Sacrifice Flies, Times on Base, Double Plays Grounded Into, Outs Made, Base-Out Runs Added (RE24), Wins Probability Added (WPA), Situational Wins Added (WPA/LI), and Base-Out Wins Added (REW). That’s 20 categories. Wright is in the top-10 in fifteen other offensive categories. The only three categories he isn’t represented in are AB/SO, AB/HR, and Sacrifice Hits (Dwight Gooden and Jerry Koosman both lead with 85). This is quite a collection of achievement, but Wright also has almost 900 more plate appearances than the #2 player on the list, Ed Kranepool. So, is Wright the best or has he been able to maximize his production due to more opportunity?

For this exercise, 3,500 plate appearances were the minimum to give at least a six year sample size. This will take out all short-term success stories (John Olerud’s three years were 2018 PA’s .315/.425/.501/.926 with a 142 OPS+, or Lance Johnson’s two years that were 1023 PA’s .326/.369/.458/.827 with 121 OPS+ and 65 SB) and some other one year wonders. Since production is the key WAR seems to be the best measure, but we will focus on oWAR because defensive statistics can be skewed by judgment. For example, Keith Hernandez is viewed as a barely average first baseman by the dWAR of both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. Hernandez was regarded in his playing days among the best fielding, if not the absolute best fielding first baseman of all time. To boot, Mike Piazza has a higher dWAR on FanGraphs than Hernandez.

So, let’s put up some numbers:

Player Plate Appearances Fangraphs’ oWAR PA/Unit Baseball Reference’s oWAR PA/Unit
David Wright 6872 297.6 23.1 51.9 132.4
Darryl Strawberry 4549 231.2 19.7 35.1 129.6
Jose Reyes 5931 84.5 70.2 31.8 186.5
Carlos Beltran 3640 160.1 22.7 27.9 130.5
Edgardo Alfonzo 4449 99 44.9 25.6 173.8
Mike Piazza 3941 155 25.4 30.8 128
Keith Hernandez 3684 132.9 27.7 20.5 179.7
Howard Johnson 4591 129.3 35.5 30.3 151.5

Upon seeing these numbers, something jumped out at me: Strawberry was better than I realized! In fact, Strawberry was an all-star with the Mets every year except for his rookie year and his offensive numbers through his age 30 season were on par with Reggie Jackson’s production through age 30 according to Baseball-Reference. It’s the remaining eight years of only 1189 not good plate appearances that soil Strawberry’s torrid possible Hall of Fame pace. [As an aside, now we know what Jackson as a Met would have brought to the team if they had drafted him over Steven Chilcott.]

But according to our analysis, Beltran and Piazza are certainly in the conversation of the best position player. In trying to find a happy medium by averaging each player’s placement in the two systems, Beltran averages 2.5 place averaging the two methods; Piazza averages 2.5 place; Wright averages 3.5 place; and Strawberry averages 1.5 place, making Strawberry the winner in the lifetime Mets most productive player.

However, this is too juicy to just let go there. So, let’s give Wright the due of his earlier years so we can compare the same age related production:

Player Plate Appearances   Fangraphs’ oWAR PA/Unit   Baseball Reference’s oWAR PA/Unit
David Wright’s first 8 years 4783   224.7 21.3   37.8 126.5
Darryl Strawberry (8 years) 4549   231.2 19.7   35.1 129.6

Now it appears to be a fairer fight although it can be argued that Wright had a better offensive lineup around him giving him better production. Strawberry still looks better according to FanGraphs but falls short according to Baseball Reference. As position players do need to play defense and we are looking for tie-breakers, Wright had two gold gloves but Strawberry was twice the #1 MLB defensive run saver for right fielders and that must be held highly against any gold glove voting. Still tied.

Let’s see how we can break this tie, using some metrics.

Total Bases: Wright 264 Strawberry 254
TB per 162 games: Wright 309 Strawberry 296
OPS+: Wright 134 Strawberry 145

Power-Speed #:
Wright: four times in top ten in MLB in these years.
Strawberry: seven times in top ten in MLB in these years and twice #1

Win Probability Added:
Wright: Three times in top ten MLB while two times in Situational WAP.
Strawberry: Three times in top ten MLB – #1 once – while four times in Situational WPA.

The numbers are pretty close, but even in this tightened window for Wright based on the OPS+ and a few other telling metrics, the winner for best ever Mets position player in this writer’s opinion still goes to Strawberry.

Strawberry recently said that he should have never left the Mets, and he is right. He could have been the first to receive the attention and affection Wright received.

12 comments on “Who’s the greatest Mets hitter: Darryl Strawberry or David Wright?

  • José

    Yes, I’ve noticed that Mex is not highly rated by these modern defensive metrics. Could you explain these metrics and the reason for this anomaly?
    Mex had a kamikaze quality that dared other teams to hit the ball to him, especially the way he charged towards batters squared to bunt.
    Overall, his defensive approach set the tone for a new attitude which, IMO, contributed greatly to the winning ways arriving soon after he did

    • Brian Joura

      I disagree that he’s not rated highly.

      You have to remember a couple of things. First, a great 1B just can’t make the same type of defensive impact as a great SS or CF. So you need to compare him to his positional peers. Second, Hernandez played in the pre-UZR/DRS era so you can’t judge him by those. The best you can do is Rally’s TZ. And among 1B from 1950 to 2001, Hernandez has far and away the most TZ of anyone. He also has four of the top 25 seasons of all first basemen in this time frame.

      If we look at guys who played before and after UZR/DRS we have some guys who were considered good defensive 1B. Todd Helton had a +7 TZ in 2001 and in 2002 he put up an 11.7 UZR and in 2004 he put up a 12 DRS. Hernandez had 8 straight years with a TZ greater than 7. You’ll find similar numbers as Helton with John Olerud.

      FWIW, Mattingly’s best in TZ was a +9. The year before that he had a 0 in 160 games and the year afterwards he had a +2 in 143 games. Seems like he would be a better choice for a guy who the advanced stats don’t like as much as his reputation.

      • JImO

        Hernandez changed the dynamics of the infield. He, almost singlehandedly, eliminated the sac bunt. Coupled with dynamic pitching, opposing teams had to play for a big inning.

  • John Fox

    Did Wright really have a better offensive lineup around him than Strawberry? Carter, Hernandez, Dykstra, HoJo, some pretty good hitters there.

    • David Klein

      Agree Wright was surrounded by a couple of other stars and a bunch of scrubs and remember Delgado stunk in 2007 and the first half of ‘08 and Wright had little around him ‘09-14.

  • Rob

    Agree Jose. I saw him play most of his mets games and he created a tone and took charge making incredible plays. On youtube a lot of great highlights. That’s why i don’t take defensive stats/metric seriously. Piazza was decent catcher. He just couldn’t get ball to second.

  • Chris F

    The obvious answer is Wilmer Flores!

    • TexasGusCC

      Chris, stop picking on my buddy! If they were smart and kept Flores, they wouldn’t need Cano! Wouldn’t you rather have Flores and Kelenic than Cano? Not to mention the money in their pockets…

      You see what happens when you get what you wish for? LOLLL

  • John From Albany

    Gus,

    If they were smart and kept Flores, they might not have traded for J.D. Davis (bad) but also might not have signed Lowrie. Would you rather had had Flores/Cabrera or J.D. Davis/Cano/Lowrie?

    As far as Keith, Bill James posted an interesting piece on Twitter that showed his War higher than Jim Rice. Jim Rice is in the Hall, Keith is not.

    • TexasGusCC

      John, good thought, but Davis is a third baseman, so I think yes. And, I suspect they would have signed Lowrie. They signed him for nothing once, why not twice? But, we’re just spitting into the wind on this stuff.

      Hernandez isn’t in the HOF because if the cocaine stuff. He was a good player, but Rice played in a phone booth and had no defense abilities. While I respect Rice’s accomplishments, there’s no way he’s a better player than Hernandez.

  • JImO

    Hernandez was arguably the best trade the Mets ever made.

  • NYM6986

    I find it difficult to compare players of different eras with more recently made up metrics that include which shoelace they tied first or how far they could spit the covering of sunflower seeds. What is often lost is leadership, team dynamics and were they part of a WS winning team. The dreaded Yankees were not necessarily filled with all stars (Okay they were) in the 40’s and 50’s but they came together to win. Hernandez was the glue to the Mets in the 80’s and I too would argue one of their best trades ever. And he hated the thought of coming to the Mets from the perennial contending Cardinals. Gil Hodges remains out of the HOF because his numbers were just below the old time standards too get in but he was a great leader, a strong fielder and played 1B with the best of them. By today’s standards he would get more consideration. David Wright would have been a great player on a better team with hitters around him. Strawberry (and Gooden for that matter) were on a tract for the HOF when their demons caught up with them. If they were born 25 years later they would have readily received more help and maybe have salvaged their careers. Straw has done a great job of turning his life around in recent years and now helps many others with addiction. I heard him speak last year.
    Thanks for the thought provoking article. So sad that we are not talking about live action. At least our Mets remain undefeated so far.

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