Mets Now & Then: Justin Turner and Wayne Garrett

In his first full season with the Mets, Justin Turner has become a fan favorite. He’s a gritty ballplayer willing to do whatever it takes for his team to win. Turner has played second base and third base for the Mets here in 2011 and even a part of a game at shortstop. If you’ve been a Mets fan for awhile, you might recognize some similarities between Turner and a guy who played on the club’s first two World Series teams in Wayne Garrett.

In addition to being guys who were fan favorites, both Garrett and Turner came to the Mets from other organizations. New York claimed Turner off waivers from the Orioles, while Garrett was a Rule 5 selection from the Braves. Each player saw considerable action at both second and third base. Both players had skill sets that would have been appreciated more in a different era. And to top it all off both Garrett and Turner are redheads.

It’s far from a perfect match. Turner bats righty while Garrett hit from the left side of the plate. Turner is a second baseman who also plays third while Garrett was a third baseman who also played second. Turner hits for a better average while Garrett had much better patience at the plate and more pop in his bat, too.

But if you look at OPS+, which normalizes for park and league, Turner’s 2011 season would fit in nicely on Garrett’s Baseball-Reference page. After 102 games, Turner has an OPS+ of 92. From 1970 to 1978, Garrett produced an OPS+ between 90 and 118 in eight out of nine seasons, missing out only on 1971, when he played just 56 games due to his military obligations.

Starting in 1974, Garrett put up the following OPS+ numbers: 91, 116, 93, 104, 90.

Garrett was someone who could have been a competent starter but the Mets spent considerable time and resources trying to upgrade the position and the results were disastrous. They gave up Amos Otis to get Joe Foy. That didn’t work out so they gave up Ron Herbel to get Bob Aspromonte. That didn’t work out so they gave up Nolan Ryan to get Jim Fregosi. If only they would have been content to get essentially league average production from their trouble spot of third base, they could have kept a Hall of Famer and a five-time All-Star who amassed 2,020 hits in the majors.

It was mentioned earlier that Garrett had more power than Turner but the Mets were never satisfied with his HR output, one of the reasons they were constantly trying to upgrade the position. Garrett’s high in HR was the 16 he hit in 1973. Garrett was the type of player who would get a hold of the ball and seemingly crush it, only to have it die on the warning track for a long out.

If Garrett played 25 years later, when weight training was a normal part of a baseball player’s routine, he could have potentially been more of a HR hitter. Even if he didn’t, his skills in drawing walks and reaching base certainly would be more appreciated in the 21st Century more so than when he was playing. And on the flip side, Turner’s ability to hit for a high average would have been viewed more favorably back in the 1970s.

If Turner can end up playing 1,092 games in the majors like Garrett did, it will be quite an accomplishment for a guy picked up off the waiver wire. In an ideal world, Turner would be a backup for the Mets and never again approach the playing time he’s received here in 2011. But he’s a major league quality player and a good guy to have on the team.

And more than a little like Garrett.

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