Mets Short-Term All-Stars

Recently at BTF we were discussing all-star teams for franchises made up of guys who made their marks elsewhere but who had a cup of coffee with the team in question. I made a list of hitters for the Mets and thought it was interesting enough to do pitchers, too, and write it up here.

Our limits are 100 or fewer games for position players and 20 or fewer games for pitchers. Here are the players, along with their overall bWAR, and some stats while with the Mets.

C – Yogi Berra, 61.9 WAR, 4 Games, 28 OPS+
After managing for the Yankees in 1964, Berra came over to the Mets in 1965, where he was a player-coach. Berra notched a 138 OPSS+ in 64 games for the Yankees in 1963. He did not play the following year and came back for 9 ABs in 1965 and recorded two hits as a 40-year old.

1B – Gil Hodges, 44.6 WAR, 65 Games, 106 OPS+
He still had something left when he came back to New York in 1962. Hodges had a .390/.446/.712 line in 65 PA versus LHP. Unfortunately, he saw slightly more time versus RHP, who limited him to a .498 OPS. Hodges played 11 games for the Mets the following year, before he was traded to the Senators, who installed him as their manager

2B – Willie Randolph, 60.5 WAR, 90 Games, 93 OPS+
If that WAR seems high to you, the FanGraphs version checks in at 67.9, including 11 seasons of 4.0 or greater. Randolph is not the first guy who jumps to mind among players who got shafted in Hall of Fame voting, but he drew just five votes in his only season on the ballot.

3B – Jay Bell, 34.8 WAR, 72 Games, 39 OPS+
In 2002 as a 36-year old, Bell posted a .163/.250/.306 line in 32 games for the Diamondbacks. The Mets signed him for the 2003 season. Bell went on to show that 2002 was not a fluke, as he posted a .509 OPS in 142 PA, including a .190 SLG. He had one extra-base hit for the Mets, a double. On the bright side, he did draw 22 BB.

SS – Tony Fernandez, 39.6 WAR, 48 Games, 68 OPS+
From 1988-1992, Fernandez had been the model of consistency as he posted OPS+ numbers between 95-102 each year. Just 31-years old, he stopped hitting when he joined the Mets after being acquired for three players. The Mets turned around and dealt him mid-season to the Blue Jays, where he promptly turned around and posted an .803 OPS and a 115 OPS+ the rest of the season. Fernandez played until he was 39 and never posted an OPS+ as low as he did in his half-season with the Mets.

LF – Gary Sheffield 63.3 WAR, 100 Games, 119 OPS+
The last of the eight teams that Sheffield played for in his career, the Mets got more than they could have hoped for when they signed the 40-year-old slugger. Released by the Tigers despite having a massive contract, the Mets picked him up to provide a big bat on the bench against LHP. With all the injuries that occurred in 2009, Sheffield ended up playing more than anyone (besides Sheff himself) expected. Of course, he had an .863 OPS in the first half of the season and a .694 mark after the break.

CF – Amos Otis, 40.4 WAR, 67 Games, 31 OPS+
Otis played 19 games as a 20-year old in 1967 and 48 more in 1969 during his Mets career. The Mets tried him briefly at 3B before sending him to the Royals for a third baseman who had issues. The Mets did have Tommie Agee, a 26-year old CF who just finished sixth in the MVP balloting in 1969, while no third baseman on the roster hit for any kind of average or power. If only they kept Otis and traded Agee for a different 3B, things might have been different in the 1970s for the Mets.

RF – Tony Phillips, 48.2 WAR, 52 Games, 82 OPS+
While Phillips was a better player in his 30s than he was in his 20s, the Mets didn’t get him until he was 39 when his best days were behind him. Still, he wasn’t Bell or Fernandez awful and he had a fine .351 OBP in his tenure with the Mets. He spent the majority of his time in New York as a LF but did play in 19 games in the other corner.

SP – Warren Spahn, 93.4 WAR, 20 Games, 81 ERA+
In 1963 Spahn went 23-7. The following year he was 6-13 and was unceremoniously sold to a Mets team coming off a 109-loss season. The Mets envisioned him as a player-coach, much like Berra in the same season. But Spahn played much more than he coached and manager Stengel wanted him to move to the bullpen to give the younger players a bigger role. Spahn balked and the Mets put him on waivers. Spahn hooked on with the Giants and was a swing man for the remainder of the season, his last in the majors.

SP – Dean Chance, 31.9 WAR, 3 Games, 35 ERA+
From 1962-1968, Chance was seventh in the majors with 110 Wins. Four of the six pitchers ahead of him on the list are Hall of Famers, another won 283 games (Kaat) and the other (Maloney) was on a Hall of Fame pace before he ruptured an Achilles tendon, which ultimately led to shoulder problems and the end of his career by age 31.

Chance threw 575.2 IP combined between 1967-68, the latter year coming as a 27-year old. He pitched just 88.1 innings in 1969 and won just 18 games the rest of his career, which was finished by the age of 30. Yet another data point in pitchers not being able to survive the high inning totals that some people are nostalgic for today.

SP – Kevin Tapani, 26.7 WAR, 3 Games, 94 ERA+
Aguilera was the established major leaguer and West was the hot-shot prospect but it turned out to be Tapani as arguably the best pitcher surrendered by the Mets in the trade for Frank Viola. Originally signed by the A’s, Tapani came to the Mets in a three-team deal in which they sent Orosco to the Dodgers. Viola went on to win 20 games for the Mets in 1990 with a 141 ERA+. The following season Tapani went 16-9 with a 143 ERA+.

SP – Scott Erickson, 22.1 WAR, 2 Games, 57 ERA+
He made two starts for the 2004 Mets, hurling a Quality Start in his first game and getting shelled in his second outing. He was then traded for a PTBNL. Erickson won 15 or more games four times in his career, including a 20-Win season in 1991 with the Twins.

SP – Hideo Nomo, 20.6 WAR, 17 Games, 87 ERA+
A sensation his first two years in the majors after coming over from Japan, Nomo had a solid season his third year in this country and was dealt to the Mets in the middle of his fourth season. He pitched slightly better for the Mets that year than the Dodgers but was released in Spring Training the following season. Nomo went on to pitch 1,192 innings and win 74 games after the Mets let him go.

RP – Mike Marshall, 16.9 WAR, 20 Games, 134 ERA+
During the strike season of 1981, there was a brief time when the Mets were on the fringes of contention for the second half NL East crown. They brought the 38-year-old Marshall out of retirement in August and without pitching any games in the minors, he stepped in and performed admirably, with a 2.61 ERA and a 3-2 record in 31 IP.

RP – Joe Sambito, 8.1 WAR, 8 Games, 29 ERA+
While other relievers had a higher overall WAR, Sambito gets the nod here for being a LHP. He had a handful of good seasons for the Astros in the late70s-early-80s, even finishing fifth in the Cy Young Award race in 1980. He suffered an elbow injury in 1982, missed all of the following season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and became a free agent when he refused an assignment to the minors. Sambito signed with the Mets in 1985 and did poorly, ending up in the minors anyway. He later hooked on with the Red Sox and appeared in the 1986 World Series against the Mets.

Mets should embrace platooning in 2011

After avoiding platoons for most of the past few seasons, the Mets could be moving back to this strategy in 2011, with potential platoon situations at both catcher and second base. With the LaRussification of bullpen usage, platoons have fallen out of favor throughout the majors in recent years, as spots that would go to platoon bats when teams carried 10 pitchers now go instead to sixth and seventh relievers.

Most people expect the Mets to go with a platoon at catcher, where Josh Thole has a lifetime .309/.382/.401 mark versus RHP in the majors and newly-acquired Ronny Paulino has a .338/.390/.491 career mark against southpaws. If these two can match these totals in 2011, the Mets could have one of the most productive catching tandems in baseball.

But what has gotten less attention is the possibility for a similar situation at second base. Daniel Murphy’s career numbers against righties – .282/.340/.436 – could team quite nicely with either Luis Castillo (.292/.361/.417) or Brad Emaus (currently sporting a .448 split in the Dominican Winter League) getting the at-bats versus lefties for an effective offensive duo.

The Mets have a long history of platooning. Casey Stengel, the team’s first manager, is generally credited with bringing platooning back to the majors in the late 1940s, after the practice had essentially been abandoned. Platooning has roots back to the early 1900s. Historian Bill James credits the 1906 Tigers as having the first platoon, with three people sharing the catching position.

When Stengel managed the Mets, he ran several platoons, including one at first base. Gil Hodges had great success as a part-timer in 1962, as he batted .390/.446/.712 in 65 PA versus southpaws. So, it is little surprise that Hodges used platoons extensively when he became Mets manager.

In the World Championship year of 1969, Hodges tinkered extensively with his lineups. By the end of the season, he was platooning at three infield positions. First base had Donn Clendenon and Ed Kranepool alternating; second base had Al Weiss and Ken Boswell splitting at-bats and third base saw either Ed Charles or Wayne Garrett in the lineup depending upon the pitcher.

The common perception is that Art Shamsky and Ron Swoboda platooned during the season but a look at the game logs does not support this. Shamsky missed all of April with a back injury and did not make his first start until May 13th. He was generally in the lineup for the rest of the season, although he saw time in both left field and right field and even saw a handful of games at first base. Swoboda was essentially the regular RF in September.

Shamsky and Swoboda did platoon in the World Series, with Shamsky’s only start coming in Game Three against RHP Jim Palmer. Shamsky’s .863 OPS during the season was the second-highest mark on the club, yet he had fewer ABs in World Series than Jerry Koosman.

The 1986 Mets also platooned, with Wally Backman and Tim Teufel sharing time at second base. By the end of the season, Kevin Mitchell was a semi-regular versus LHP and Mookie Wilson also saw considerable time versus southpaws.

Fans of the 2011 club should embrace the Thole-Paulino platoon. We should also be open to a time share at second base. While platooning has not been a staple of recent editions of the team, the Mets have had great success with the strategy throughout their history.