The Worst Outfield Ever?

Oh yeah. He's in here somewhere.

Last night, the New York Mets let Lucas Duda, Nick Evans, and Chris Carter patrol the outfield . . . at the same time. The Dude, the Evans, and the Animal, left to right in the expanses of Citi Field in the top of the ninth inning.

Now, these sorts of things will happen in meaningless September games — though really, doesn’t calling something a game inherently imply meaninglessness? — but this was also a close contest the Mets were trying to win. So in the ninth, they had Elmer Dessens, maybe the most contact-reliant pitcher in baseball on the mound, they were down by just one run . . . and the outfield they chose to embrace included Nick Evans playing center field, supported on either side by Duda and Carter. This was a bad idea. The Mets effectively put on a Lady Gaga meat dress and went off to try to cuddle with bears in the woods. Those sorts of plans tend to not work out.

But last night, it did work out. Evans recorded a putout on his only chance as a center fielder, and the Mets defeated the villainously mustachioed John Axford and the Brewers on a Ruben Tejada walk-off double. It was about as much fun as September baseball between two teams well out of the pennant race can be.

Still, the Duda-Evans-Carter doomsday defense had to be the worst outfield I’ve ever seen outside of a split-squad spring training game. It was three left fielders spread out across the entire massive Citi Field outfield.

So it got me wondering about Mets outfields — as in: What’s the worst defensive outfield the Mets have ever used regularly? The best defensive outfield the Mets have ever used?

Here’s what I found using Baseball-Reference:

The Total Zone system says the worst defensive outfield the Mets regularly used was, oddly enough, the 1999 one that accompanied their greatest defensive infield:

LF Rickey Henderson: -15 runs
CF Brian McRae: -22 runs
RF Roger Cedeno: -11 runs

A 40-year-old Henderson, a last-legs McRae, and the always awful Cedeno did most of the damage for a Mets outfield that finished minus-56 runs in 1999. Benny Agbayani and Darryl Hamilton also contributed negatively, but far less so than the above three.

Most of the damage came in the left-center gap. McRae, mercifully dumped by the Mets at the deadline, recorded 43 fewer putouts than expected in his half-season patrolling center. Henderson recorded 19 fewer putouts than expected during his time. Mets left fielders recorded just two assists for the entire season, and their center fielders had a whopping five. I suppose a case could be made that Cedeno wasn’t as bad that season as Total Zone indicates, but it’s hard to argue in favor of Henderson and McRae, one of whom was forty and not particularly interested in playing defense, the other out of baseball after that season. It just sounds like an awful outfield, and the numbers agree.

Thankfully, the 1999 Mets offset their awful defensive outfield with a spectacular defensive infield. John Olerud (+12 runs saved), Edgardo Alfonzo (+7), Rey Ordonez (+33), and Robin Ventura (+27) combined to save 79 runs. Is there any team with a bigger gap between their infield and outfield defense? I would be impressed if there was.

Dishonorable mentions go to 1992‘s alignment, which registered a minus-44 runs with a pair of miscast third basemen in the outfield, Bobby Bonilla in right and Howard Johnson in center — really? — and 1974‘s minus-41 run, 28 error unit of Cleon Jones, Tom Don Hahn, and Rusty Staub.

As for the best defensive outfield . . . well, it’s a weird one. I’m not sure how I feel about this. According to Total Zone, the best defensive outfield in Mets history belongs to the 1996 team:

LF Bernard Gilkey: +23 runs
CF Lance Johnson: +17 runs
RF Alex Ochoa: +12 runs

Anyone ever notice how Lance Johnson is the answer to every Mets trivia question? If you’re ever unsure, just guess Lance Johnson. . .

Paleontology enthusiast Carl Everett saved another 7 runs, for a team total of 60 runs saved by the outfield. Yeah, I don’t know about this one. Total Zone can be flukey from season to season, this Mets pitching staff allowed a high number of fly balls, and the outfield made 37 errors. Something smells funny here, but it is what the numbers say. Who knows, maybe this disproves the whole of sabermetrics. Everyone go back to using batting average.

In Total Zone’s, er, defense, Gilkey did lead the National League in outfield assists despite being a left fielder, and both Gilkey and Johnson led the league in putouts at their respective positions. So it could also be a fluke, in that both happened to have their best defensive seasons in the same year. I don’t know what to think. You can make up your own mind.

Honorable mentions go to the 1989 outfield of Kevin McReynolds in left, Darryl Strawberry in right, and one of Juan Samuel, Mookie Wilson, or Lenny Dykstra in center that saved 45 runs, the Carlos Beltran-Endy Chavez clinic of 2008 that saved 36 runs, and the 1969 outfield of Cleon Jones, Tommy Agee, and Ron Swoboda that saved 26 runs during the regular season and many more during the World Series. I’ll also mention the 2007 outfield alignment of Carlos Gomez in left, Carlos Beltran in center, and Endy Chavez in right, which may have been the antithesis of Duda-Evans-Carter, though that alignment was only for a handful of games.

So there you go: The 1999 Henderson-McRae-Cedeno outfield was rated by Total Zone as the worst Mets outfield ever, and the Gilkey-Johnson-Ochoa outfield of 1996 was rated the best. Not what I would have guessed . . . but hey, I also never would have guessed I’d see Nick Evans play center field.

* * *

The best defensive seasons in Mets history by outfield position:

LF Bernard Gilkey: +23 runs in 1999
CF Angel Pagan: +20 runs in 2010
RF Darryl Strawberry: +18 runs in 1990

The worst:

LF Lee Mazzilli: -15 runs in 1981
CF Howard Johnson: -25 runs in 1992
RF Rusty Staub: -18 runs in 1974

Image from Flickr. CC 3.0


Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

7 responses to “The Worst Outfield Ever?

  1. Interesting how the Mets’ outfield defense, within the span of three short years, went from an all-time franchise best in 1996 to the all-time franchise worst in 1999. That’s quite a remarkable slide.

    One nit to pick: I think the 1974 centerfielder’s name was Don Hahn, not Tom Hahn.

  2. Were does Beltran Pre 2010 and during 2010 stack up? Or Beltran Pre 2010 and Pagan in Center 2010 compare?

    Obviously Beltan has lost a step this season, but he was looking much better lately. Going under the assumption that Beltan can recover and return to something close to the fielder he was int he past…is Pagan in Center and Beltran in Right the really the best option for nest year? Do the numbers agree with our eyes?

    Also, does Total Zone take in account on guys going first to third or guys advancing on fly outs? I was one who loved Francour’s Defense and thought he saved us a ton of runs because runners rarely challenged his arm. Are there metrics that measure that sort of thing?

    • Patrick Flood

      Beltran has always had good numbers by Total Zone, including this season, oddly enough. He’s saved 77 runs for his career, 6 this season in center… but that’s kind of iffy. The numbers say he’s lost a step, but Beltran losing a step takes him from great to just average. There are other systems that place him at just average. Pagan is rated as much better in center the past two seasons. The numbers support Pagan CF Beltran RF, but that’s only because Pagan is great and Beltran has diminished to okay.

      As for Total Zone and baserunners advancing, yes, it does keep track of that, at least for seasons after 1950-something. For Frenchy specifically, I actually wrote about that:

  3. It’s amazing that Rusty was so bad as far back as 1974. Anyone remember that extra inning game in ’85 where Rusty played the outfield, I think for the last time? Davey Johnson switched him from right to left depending on the handedness of the batter. Huffing and puffing, Rusty did actually catch a ball out there–and got the biggest cheer of the night.

  4. Bernard Gilkey was absolutely amazing that year, throwing guys out, hitting HR… carried the team on his back all year. Not that they exactly made it to the heights….

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