#35 – Wally Backman: Mets Second Baseman

Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #35, Wally Backman:

The top ten Mets’ second basemen, by Baseball-Reference’s wins above replacement:

Rk Player WAR/pos
1 Wally Backman 9.6
2 Jeff Kent 8.1
3 Ron Hunt 7.8
4 Tim Teufel 7.3
5 Gregg Jefferies 6.5
6 Felix Millan 6.2
7 Ken Boswell 3.9
8 Jose Valentin 3.5
9 Luis Castillo 2.0
10 Damion Easley 1.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/30/2011.

Keep in mind that because Edgardo Alfonzo played more games at third than second, he isn’t counted here . . . though if you took just the seasons when he played second base, he would top this list easily at 13.9 wins above replacement. We’ll talk more about Alfonzo when it’s his turn.

In their history, the Mets have been strongest at center field and catcher, and weakest at the two middle infield positions. There are six center fielders and five catchers on this list of 50 Mets, but just two shortstops and one-and-a-half second basemen — the number of good middle infielders the Mets have had is fewer than the number of emotions Mark Wahlberg can show as an actor. Which is to say, less than four. (Saw “The Fighter” a few weeks ago. Christian Bale is excellent, but I’m still yelling “nawt you, nawt you, and nawt you” whenever possible.)

In particular, the list of Flushing second basemen is a Homeric catalog of disappointments: Jeff Kent, Luis Castillo, Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and Doug Flynn, to name a few. Almost none of them could hit — excluding Fonzi from these lists, just four Mets second basemen have an OPS+ better than the major league average of 100: Gregg Jeffries (111), Tim Teufel (110), Jeff Kent (107), and Ron Hunt (107). Even fewer could field: Jose Valentin is the only non-Fonzo second baseman to save more than 5 total zone runs defensively, while Alomar, Backman, Hunt, Castillo and Jeffries are all rated at 20 or more runs below average for their Mets careers. It is near impressive, how bad the Mets’ second basemen have been over a fifty year period. Though perhaps not as impressive as how bad the shortstops have been, but that’s something for another day.

Wally Backman ends up as the lone representative of pure second basemen on this list. He could hit a little bit, walk sometimes, steal some bases, but lacked pop and doesn’t rate well defensively. He was also a part-time player for most of his Mets career — actually, if you’re curious, this is what the stat lines would look like for a two headed, second base playing, Wally Backman-Tim Teufel monster. Tally Backfel:

  • 1986: .290/.352/.371, 36 doubles, 3 home runs, 96 runs
  • 1987: .275/.346/.408, 32 doubles, 14 home runs, 95 runs
  • 1988: .271/.349/.348, 29 doubles, 4 home runs, 76 runs

Anyway, Backman’s otherwise underwhelming case is helped mightily by batting well in high leverage situations and some big playoff hits, which combined add almost three wins to his career total in my weird score system. His reputation as a clutch hitter is supported by hard evidence, and that bumps him up in the rankings.

I have no intention of writing any more about Backman, as I assume I’ll have to do a lot of that again whenever the Mets look for their next manager.


Filed under Mets, Words

5 responses to “#35 – Wally Backman: Mets Second Baseman

  1. “Jose Valentin is the only non-Fonzo second baseman to save more than 5 total zone runs defensively…”

    Felix Millan had a good defensive reputation. Was that overblown, or does Total Zone not go back that far?

    As long as I’m on the subject, I might as well bring up Bud Harrelson. One of the stat mavens at the Out of the Park Baseball forum last year came to what he felt was the mathematically supported conclusion that Harrelson was the second best defensive shortstop of his era, trailing only Mark Belanger (though two other players were very close). Does Total Zone support that?

    • Patrick Flood

      Milan had a better than average fielding percentage as a Met, but Total Zone has him down for -18 runs in blue and orange. If we assume that a good fielding percentage was enough for a good rep in the mid 70s, then I think this makes sense.

      Harrelson does have good marks by Total Zone, but I’ll have to look more into it when his number comes up.

      • Thank you for looking that up, Patrick, but —

        There are only two shortstops on your list and HARRELSON’S NUMBER IS GOING TO COME UP!?!

        We are now entering the Twilight Zone.…

  2. Patty — the wahlberg shot was unwarrented. You are a complete hack compared to a talented actor such as he is.

    Backman was part of a wonderful trade for the Phillies. I remember being at a phils vs. Mets game (in philly) as a child and the folks sitting next to me had a young daughter that got beaned by a foul ball. They said (stadium folks) they’d get the ball signed by a couple of Phils. The folks said they were actually mets fans. So the stadium people got the ball signed by Blackman and Dykstra. Winners all around, except the daughter with the lump on her head.

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