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, #6, Edgardo Alfonzo:
Okay, so I have Edgardo Alfonzo ahead of Mike Piazza, and #6 may seem pretty aggressive — before anyone else calls me crazy, let me explain. Piazza was unquestionably the better known player, and probably the better loved player. He was the superstar, an elite offensive talent, the face of the franchise, and the guy on Celebrity Jeopardy. As for Alfonzo, he did few things on an elite level (but almost everything well), bounced around the infield, and was apparently born without a discernible personality. The New York Times would run a variation of this article every summer about how Fonzi could walk around Queens without being noticed. Go ahead: Try to name a single fact about Edgardo Alfonzo that isn’t on his Baseball-Reference page.
So for the purposes of this exercise, it might be helpful if you momentarily forgot about the pair’s divergent personalities.
With that out of the way, let’s start with wins above replacement. First Baseball-Reference:
- Darryl Strawberry – 37.7
- David Wright – 31.1
- Edgardo Alfonzo – 29.1
- Carlos Beltran – 28.4
- Keith Hernandez – 26.5
- Howard Johnson – 24.7
- Mike Piazza – 24.6
Alfonzo has the third most WAR by a Mets position player. Fangraphs:
- David Wright – 36.6
- Darryl Strawberry – 36.6
- Mike Piazza – 30.9
- Edgardo Alfonzo – 30.7
- Keith Hernandez – 27.0
Alfonzo has a sizable lead over Piazza by Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, and the two are virtually identical by Fangraphs’ version. That alone makes a decent case that Alfonzo helped the Mets win more games than Piazza did.
But maybe you don’t like wins above replacement. Maybe you wrote this book. That’s fair enough – but I think the same point, that Alfonzo was more valuable, can be made by comparing both players’ 1999 and 2000 seasons, the years those Mets made the postseason. And I think it can be done without getting too sabermetric-y.
Let’s start in 1999. That season, Mike Piazza hit .303 with 40 home runs and 124 RBI; Alfonzo hit .304 with 27 home runs and 108 RBI. Initial advantage Piazza . . . but come on, you know I’m totally setting up a strawman here. Alfonzo sweeps just about every other statistical category. He leads in:
- runs scored, 123 to 100
- doubles, 41 to 25
- walks, 85 to 55
- hits, 191 to 162
- extra base hits, 69 to 65
- on base percentage, .385 to .361
- double plays grounded into, 14 to Piazza’s league leading 27
Also, while Piazza finished with more RBI, that was more a function of the number of RBI chances: both players drove in the same overall percentage of baserunners, 18%. Piazza simply had 40 more runners on base, mostly because the guys hitting in front of him — namely Alfonzo and John Olerud — were always on base.
We can also consider clutch, if you’d like. With runners in scoring position, Alfonzo hit .306/.366/.510; Piazza hit .293/.356/.461. In “late and close” situations, Alfonzo hit .291/.380/.465; Piazza hit .217/.337/.478. In the postseason, Alfonzo hit .233/.298/.558; Piazza hit .182/.200/.273. Those all tip towards Fonzi.
In 1999, when the Mets went to the NLCS, Piazza can claim more home runs and a higher slugging percentage, but just about everything else goes to Alfonzo. If it’s not advantage Alfonzo, it’s certainly close.
Now we can look at 2000, which is almost the same story. Piazza hit .324 with 38 home runs and 113 RBI; Alfonzo hit .324 with 25 home runs and 94 RBI. Piazza holds the advantage in home runs and RBI, again, but Alfonzo still leads Piazza in everything else:
- runs, 109 to 90
- hits, 176 to 156
- walks, 95 to 58
- doubles, 40 to 26
- extra base hits, 67 to 64
- on base percentage, .425 to .398
- and grounded into fewer double plays, 12 to 15
Clutch stats are more of a split this time: Alfonzo hit .341/.478/.541 with runners in scoring position; Piazza hit .286/.417/.536. “Late and close” situations is a bit of a wash, as they were both totally bonkers: Alfonzo hit .357/.500/.557 and Piazza hit .360/.415/.667. The postseason goes to Piazza, as he hit .302/.403/.642 against Alfonzo’s respectable .281/.369/.421.
But again, as in 1999, while Piazza holds the home run crown, every other meaningful offensive category is either a draw, or goes to Alfonzo. Fonzi was at least equally valuable, if not more so.
So there is a strong argument that Edgardo Alfonzo was just as important to the 1999 and 2000 Mets as Mike Piazza, if not more so — and that argument completely ignores Alfonzo’s far superior defensive contributions.
Perhaps too often, the turn of the century Mets are remembered simply as Mike and the Piazzas. This isn’t to take anything away from Piazza – he was exactly as awesome as remembered. But there was more to those teams than just the big guy. John Olerud and Robin Ventura had great seasons in 1999. Al Leiter and Rick Reed, and then Mike Hampton in 2000, held down the rotation. And then Edgardo Alfonzo, who was at least equally awesome and probably more so, though he gets far less of the credit.
And that is my argument for placing the chronically underrated Edgardo Alfonzo as the 6th best Mets player of all time, four spots ahead of Mike Piazza. If you’re still utterly unconvinced, you may now proceed to tell me why I’m nuts.