#14 – Jose Reyes: The Best Leadoff Mets

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, #14, Jose Reyes:

Who is the Mets best leadoff hitter of all time? Making a few concessions for a pair of Hall of Famers, Jose Reyes has an excellent case.

First things first: I have my own leadoff man formula, which we’ll be using here. It’s simple, just (total bases + walks + hit by pitch + stolen bases) / (outs + caught stealing). Basically, bases gained divided by outs used. If you do it this way, then a walk plus a stolen base counts the same as a double — two bases either way — which is the idea I’m going for. I figure you’d want an ideal leadoff hitter to get himself on base and into scoring position, by whatever means, but without using up too many outs in the process. So bases divided by outs seems to work.

If you look at Mets this way, the team’s best leadoff hitter is first baseman John Olerud, with a score of 1.03; this makes perfect sense. Though Olerud wasn’t fast, stealing just five bases with the Mets, his .425 on base percentage would have been perfect in the leadoff spot. In 1999, Olerud scored 107 runs hitting third, so it’s not a stretch to imagine him scoring 120 runs or more out of the top spot. He was on base SO OFTEN it doesn’t really matter how slow he was — he could have hopped around the bases on one foot and still been a great leadoff hitter.

But John Olerud never hit leadoff for the Mets, or anyone else for that matter, so he’s not what we’re looking for.

If we narrow it down to players that actually hit leadoff for the Mets at some point, we get this list:

  • Rickey Henderson – 0.97
  • Richie Ashburn – 0.89
  • Lance Johnson – 0.86
  • Lenny Dykstra – 0.81
  • Jose Reyes – 0.81
  • Brett Butler – 0.80
  • Angel Pagan – 0.80
  • Lee Mazzilli – 0.78
  • Brian McRae – 0.75
  • Roger Cedeño – 0.74

Which is more like it. The greatest leadoff man of all time comes out on top — Rickey Henderson averaged just under one base per out used for his Mets career. Ashburn, Johnson, and especially Butler (just 90 games in 1995) were flashes in the leadoff pan, but good hitters for their short New York careers. In fact, Dykstra and Reyes are the only players the list to be the Mets’ primary leadoff hitter for more than a season and a half, which may suggest something about the volatility of these types of hitters.

As for Jose Reyes: Looking at leadoff men this way, he doesn’t come out so well. He is the franchise’s most prolific base stealer, but his .335 on base percentage is bested by everyone else on that list — yes, even Roger Cedeño. It’s a testament to Reyes’ speed that he is even fifth on this list.

But then again, Reyes is hurt by a cumulative .303 on base percentage his first three seasons in the league, when he was a more impatient player and effectively learning on the job. Let’s forgive him his youthful indiscretion, and instead look at the ten best leadoff seasons using this method. Now Reyes has a better case:

  • Rickey Henderson, 1999 – 1.03
  • Jose Reyes, 2006 – 0.92
  • Jose Reyes, 2008 – 0.90
  • Lenny Dykstra, 1986 – 0.90
  • Richie Ashburn, 1962 – 0.89
  • Lance Johnson, 1996 – 0.88
  • Lee Mazzilli, 1980 – 0.86
  • Jose Reyes, 2007 – 0.86
  • Brian McRae, 1998 – 0.85
  • Angel Pagan, 2009 – 0.84

Reyes owns two of the three best seasons, three of the eight best, and is the only player to appear more than once. Rickey Henderson’s 1999 season is untouchable — .423 OBP, 37 stolen bases, 30 doubles, and 12 home runs . . . at age 40 — but Reyes’ 2006-2008 marks the best multiple-season run of any leadoff hitter in team history. And in terms of extended stretches of top of the order excellence, Reyes has little competition: Bud Harrelson, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, and Vince Coleman are the only other players with three seasons as the Mets’ primary leadoff man. Harrelson is the fourth worst leadoff hitter in team history. Wilson and Coleman were middling in the top spot, and while Dykstra (0.81) is nearly identical to Reyes (0.81) over full career, Reyes’ peak is far better than Nails.

So with a tip of the hat to Rickey Henderson and Richie Ashburn, Jose Reyes is the best leadoff hitter in team history. He’s also easily the best shortstop — check out the list below — so we can pencil him into the top of the lineup for our team of the all time best Mets.

***

Here’s the list. Best offensive seasons by a Mets shortstop, by batting runs above the average:

Rk Player Rbat
1 Jose Reyes 19
2 Jose Reyes 16
3 Jose Reyes 2
4 Jose Reyes 2
5 Kevin Elster 1
6 Bob Heise 1
7 Jose Reyes 0
8 Jose Reyes 0
9 Kevin Baez -1
10 Craig Shipley -1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/28/2011.
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