As you read this, please think of the hit ballad “The Best I Ever Had” whether the version by Drake, Gary Allan or Grey Sky Morning, while mulling over who they consider the best Mets outfield of all time. Using the baseballreference.com database for Mets outfielders and running pivot table in excel, and sorting all players by bWAR, which is the WAR calculation provided by baseballreference.com, provided some outfields that were clearly better than others.
Most Mets fans of a certain age, when quizzed about which was the best outfield the Mets have ever had, will automatically think of the 1969 Mets. That outfield had Cleon Jones, who hit .340 in left field while accumulating a .904 OPS, and Tommie Agee who smacked 26 homers in center. Right fielder Ron Swoboda, despite his great catches in the World Series, hit only .235 during the regular season.
Using traditional statistics the three combined for 47 home runs and 203 RBIs. By bWAR, Cleon Jones had 7.0, Agee had 5.2, and Swoboda added .5 for a total of 12.7 bWAR accumulated by the regular outfield in 1969. Using bWAR, the 1969 Mets outfield was the third best the team has fielded.
The 1988 Mets outfield had Darryl Strawberry in right field, hitting 39 bombs and driving in 101 while batting .269, stealing 29 bases (just missing becoming a 30/30 man) and accumulating a 5.4 bWAR. Kevin McReynolds was in left field, and in that season he batted .288 with 27 homers, 99 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases, good for 4.5 bWAR. Lenny Dykstra patrolled center, hitting .270 with 8 home runs, 33 RBIs and 30 stolen bases, good for a total bWAR of 3.5.
Together, the 1988 Mets outfield accumulated a 13.4 bWAR with 74 home runs, 233 RBIs and 80 stolen bases and a combined batting average of .276. Despite their lofty numbers, as measured by bWAR, which combined both offense and defensive value into one number, the 1988 Mets outfield was only the second best outfield the team has ever fielded.
The best outfield, as measured by bWAR, was the 1996 Mets outfield. The otherwise forgettable team had Bernard Gilkey in left field, who in a career season, batted .317 with 30 home runs, 117 RBIs, 44 doubles (a Mets record), and 17 stolen bases. In 1996, Gilkey had a .955 OPS, 55% better than the league average. His superior defense, which included recording a Mets record 18 outfield assists and a range factor well above league average, saved 23 runs defensively. Gilkey had an 8.0 bWAR, which happens to be the highest single season bWAR ever accumulated by a Mets outfielder.
Lance Johnson patrolled center in 1996, and in that year he had a 7.2 bWAR accumulated from a .333 batting average, 9 home runs, 69 RBIs and 50 stolen bases. Johnson led the league in hits with 227, setting a Mets club record. He also knocked 21 triples, also a club record, and scored 117 runs, a Mets record at the time. Defensively, Johnson had 9 outfield assists and a better than average range, resulting in 17 runs saved defensively. The third main outfielder on the team that season was Alex Ochoa.
In 1996 Ochoa added 2.4 bWAR with a .294 batting average with 4 home runs and 33 RBIs with an OPS of .761, good for an OPS+ of 104. Ochoa saved 12 runs defensively, thanks primarily to a strong arm that recorded 8 outfield assists. Combined, the three Mets outfielders had 17.6 bWAR thanks to their combined .320 batting average, the highest average ever recorded by a Mets outfield, and despite not winning any gold glove awards that season, their defense was superior, as measured by over 50 runs saved defensively and a record number of assists.
While the 1969 Mets won the World Series, and the 1988 Mets won the National League East before succumbing to the Dodgers in the playoffs, the 1996 Mets finished a distant 4th in the National League East with a 71 – 91 record. Proof that, regardless of which version you were thinking of, the best I ever had – may not be satisfying.
With Yoenis Cespedes in left field, Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares in center, and Michael Conforto in right, the 2017 Mets have the potential to rival the above teams. If Conforto hits close to his potential, Cespedes keeps doing what he’s been doing, and the Granderson/Lagares platoon works its magic, it could happen. And hopefully, like the 1969 Mets, they will be World Champions!