New York Mets Second Basemen: Positional Study

This is my second article in an occasional series in which I will look at the way that a single franchise has filled a single position over the course of time: stars and stopgaps, free agents and trades, hot prospects and positional conversions. Last time, I examined Atlanta Braves centerfielders. This week, I will look at another up-the-middle position for another National League team, as I take a look at the way that the New York Mets have filled their keystone, second base.

The difference between the two teams is stark. The Braves filled center field with brilliant draftees like Dale Murphy and Andruw Jones and a succession of mostly successful trades, but the Mets’ second base has been a 30-year revolving door. Here’s how it looks:

That isn’t every player who played an inning at 2B for the Mets; it’s just the players who played significant innings in at least one season. I generally defined that as at least 10 games in a year in which no one played 100 games at 2B, or at least 20 games in a year in which one player played 100 games at 2B.

The Mets shifted players around constantly, and often used second base as a temporary holding station for utility infielders. Teufel played second and first; Jefferies and Alfonzo played second and third; Backman, Vizcaino, Matsui, Ruben Tejada, and Jose Reyes played second and short; Justin Turner played every infield position; stone-gloved Daniel Murphy was shifted from left field to second base; and Pecota, Miller, McEwing, Woodward, Wigginton, Valentin, Easley, and Cairo played everywhere.

Generally speaking, it is fair to say that the Mets did not treat second base as a keystone to build around. Rather, they viewed it as a solution to positional surplus elsewhere. For example:

1996: They played Jeff Kent as their regular second baseman for three and a half years, 1992-1995, and in 1994-95 their regular shortstop was Jose Vizcaino. But in 1996 they brought up the slick-fielding no-hit shortstop Rey Ordonez, so they shifted Kent to third so that they could move Vizcaino to second.

1999: Edgardo Alfonzo had been the regular third baseman for two years. However, in 1999, the Mets traded for third baseman Robin Ventura, so they shifted Alfonzo to second base to replace the departed, unproductive Carlos Baerga.

2002: Alfonzo had been the regular second baseman for three years, and had been an All-Star in 2000, but the Mets traded for Roberto Alomar, so they shifted Alfonzo to third base, to replace the departed Ventura. (The Braves did something very similar when they traded for Dan Uggla and displaced their All-Star second baseman, Martin Prado, shifting him to left field.)

2004: The Mets signed shortstop Kazuo Matsui, seen as one of the top position players in Japan, but they already had a superstar shortstop prospect, Jose Reyes, who had debuted the previous year. So they switched Reyes to second base to allow Matsui to continue to play shortstop, as he had in Japan.

2005: In 2004, Reyes and Matsui had both suffered injuries. Matsui only played 114 games in 2004, and Reyes played only 53. In the final three games of the season, Reyes played shortstop and Matsui played second base. That was how it would be in 2005, as Reyes and Matsui switched positions. In mid-2006, the Mets traded away the disappointing Matsui.

From a similar perspective, the Mets viewed second base as a bat-first position. There were a lot of players that they wanted to get into the lineup, and they often accomplished this goal by moving someone to second base, even if the player didn’t have much of a glove. That was certainly true for Daniel Murphy, a player who came up as a first baseman but whom the Mets converted to play second base after Rule 5 draftee Brad Emaus simply failed to hit. Neither Wally Backman nor Tim Teufel had much of a glove; neither did Jeff Kent; and Gregg Jefferies was simply awful. By the time they came over to the Mets, Luis Castillo and Roberto Alomar had lost much of their range.

Over the period, the Mets farm system was reasonably productive, turning out Backman, Jefferies, Alfonzo, Wigginton, Reyes, Tejada, and Murphy. Jefferies didn’t really fulfill his promise until he got to St. Louis, and Wigginton wasn’t much of a player until Houston, but the farm system did a pretty good job of producing warm bodies, with Reyes and Alfonzo becoming All-Stars with the Mets. The Mets just couldn’t make up their mind to keep a player at a single position.

Part of the problem for the Mets is that several high-profile deals simply didn’t work out as planned, particularly the Kaz Matsui free agent deal and the Carlos Baerga and Roberto Alomar trades.

Baerga and Alomar both came over from the Indians, and both instantly flopped in Shea Stadium as they turned out to be past their prime far earlier than anyone would have expected, as Baerga came when he was 27, and Alomar when he was 34. The Baerga deal nullified one of the Mets’ bolder trades of the period, in which they flipped David Cone for Jeff Kent. Cone would win the Cy Young two years later, and Kent was good, but had not yet transformed into the MVP candidate he later became in San Francisco. In 1996, the Mets gave up on Kent and traded him to Cleveland — but Baerga had peaked at age 23 and was near-replacement level in New York.

Alomar’s decline was even more precipitous. At the time he came over to the Mets, he had played in 12 straight All-Star games and had been a top-four MVP candidate in two of the previous three seasons. But he too turned into a replacement-level player as soon as he came to New York. The Alomar trade arguably cost the Mets less: the Mets gave up six players in the Alomar deal, but the best player they gave up was Matt Lawton, whose post-Mets career was nowhere near as good as that of Jeff Kent.

Here are two ways of stating the bottom line:

  • A past-his-prime Luis Castillo, who manned the keystone in New York for three and a half seasons, gave the Mets some of the most consistency at the position that they have had in the last 30 years. (Edgardo Alfonzo and Jeff Kent also played three plus years at second, but the Mets shifted them both to third before letting go of them. Willie Randolph, Roberto Alomar, and Luis Castillo were the only pure second basemen on the list, starting 2Bs who never played another position in a Mets uniform.)
  • Over the past 30 years, 11 All-Stars have logged significant innings for the Mets at second base: Willie Randolph, Gregg Jefferies, Tom Herr, Jeff Kent, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Baerga, Roberto Alomar, Damion Easley, Ty Wigginton, Luis Castillo, and Jose Reyes. Only one of those players, Edgardo Alfonzo, was actually named to the All-Star team while playing second base for the New York Mets. All of the rest played the best years of their career before arriving or after leaving, with the exception of Reyes, who became an All-Star after the Mets moved him from second base to shortstop.

I am not criticizing the Mets for shifting players around. It is completely fair to say that second base is not the most important position on the diamond. For most teams, it makes sense to build around center field, shortstop, or the starting rotation, unless you happen to employ a transcendent player like Chase Utley or Robinson Cano. It may be perfectly appropriate to move a versatile player like Edgardo Alfonzo from second to third and back, based on his talents and roster need.

The problem is not that the Mets were willing to treat second base as a relative afterthought. The problem is that they compounded it with poor talent evaluation. Not only were they willing to acquire a 27-year old Carlos Baerga who would never have another good season, they were willing to trade away a 28-year old Jeff Kent who would have another good decade. Not only were they willing to switch the position of Jose Reyes, who later became one of the best shortstops of his generation, but they did it in order to accommodate Kaz Matsui, a player both offensively and defensively inferior to Reyes. And so on.

In the past 30 years, the Mets have not had a single player as their primary second baseman for four straight years. That is not enough to damn them. But it is representative of the team’s strategic incoherence, which has often been remarked on: regardless of who happens to be the general manager, player acquisitions often seem to be motivated more by the urgings of the back page of the tabloids than by long-term planning. Strategic incoherence is what damns them, not instability at second base. And that is what needs to change.



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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


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Jamie
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Jamie
3 years 1 month ago

Murphy has been better than “stone gloved” at second base in his time there. He was a disaster in LF though.

Matt
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Matt
3 years 1 month ago

In my completely unprofessional scouting opinion, it’s night and day between his fielding at second now and his fielding there in years past. He made a few great plays last night. And after watching him flail at first when they stuck him there after Ike went down, I have a lot more appreciation for his talents at second.

Anakin Corleone
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Anakin Corleone
3 years 1 month ago

Daniel Murphy was a 3B in the minor leagues, but blocked by David Wright at the MLB level so he had to move somewhere. After LF was a disaster, he’s learned to be a pretty decent 2B.

BOB
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BOB
3 years 1 month ago

Wilmer Flores is next :)

Tkirks21
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Tkirks21
3 years 1 month ago

Man, I went from excited to really disappointed in this article real quick. I understand that he was only there for two full years, but how do you call Cano and Utley transcendently good 2B, and then poo poo Edgardo Alfonzo by calling him a versatile player. Alfonzo was worth 5.9 Wins in 99 and 6.4 Wins in 00. Good for 7th and 6th among NL position players in the crazy juice head era. There has to be places where you could look this stuff up.

FeslenR
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FeslenR
3 years 1 month ago

agreed Alfonzo was an amazingly good second baseman. I liked the article in general though.

Snarfle
Member
Member
3 years 1 month ago

Great article. I was a little crushed when the Mets said “meh” to keeping Alfonzo. I later developed an Alfonzo curse theory. It’s more interesting than bad upper management that strikes at all the wrong times with all the wrong players (Victor Zambrano, wtf).

chief00
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chief00
3 years 1 month ago

Yes, Alfonzo was a good player. Have you looked up how many times Utley’s been 3.0 WAR or better?

Benzedrine
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Benzedrine
3 years 1 month ago

I became a legitimate baseball fan watching the Mets around 2003. The fixture of Joe McEwing batting second every day…

El Sid
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El Sid
3 years 1 month ago

I prefer 2B as an after thought.

The Mets won their world series with superior starting pitching. After that, you hope to develop a couple of position players at any position be it Strawberry in the outfield or Wright at 3B or Reyes at SS. Then, you plug some holes with role players. Ideally, defense up-the-middle.

Nobody won a world series by focusing on making 2B an important position.

Pitching, pitching, pitching.

Scraps
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Scraps
3 years 1 month ago

Nobody won a world series by focusing on making 2B an important position? Maybe I’m misreading you, but: Joe Morgan? Robinson Cano? Chase Utley? Roberto Alomar? Lou Whitaker?

Snarfle
Member
Member
3 years 1 month ago

Sure, pitching, but also hitting. I think the whole “pitching wins championships” thing is a result of two factors: 1) if you won the world series, you probably got some great pitching along the way. 2) It’s easier to remember and make a narrative out of great pitching. One guy going 7.2 innings, giving up 2 runs is more of a story than a lineup getting 8 hits, 3 walks and 5 runs. Both give you a pretty good chance to win you the game.

Scraps
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Scraps
3 years 1 month ago

Nobody won a world series by focusing on making 2B an important position? Maybe I’m misreading you, but: Joe Morgan? Robinson Cano? Chase Utley? Roberto Alomar? Lou Whitaker?

Matt
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Matt
3 years 1 month ago

No love for Dustin Pedroia?

dannyrainge
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dannyrainge
3 years 1 month ago

As an avid listener of WFAN since I was 12 (1994 for the record), this article was tremendously entertaining. I hope that someone somewhere gets this article to Ed Coleman.

BurleighGrimes
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BurleighGrimes
3 years 1 month ago

Though it has nothing to do with the larger point of this article, the defensive metrics largely like Daniel Murphy as an infielder. He was a travesty in the outfield, and awkward in his transition to 2b, but he is a decent if unspectacular glove at 3b, 2b, and 1b.

dannyrainge
Member
dannyrainge
3 years 1 month ago

I don’t think it’s much of a reach to say nobody in the Majors has improved at fielding an infield position more than Murph has improved. His touch, footwork, reaction & conviction have all progressed to the point that he is a serviceable defensive player now. When he first made the switch from LF to the infield (keep in mind he can play 1b pretty ably) he was an awkward disaster…like watching Mo Vaughn trying to sprint through tires or something.

dave g.
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3 years 1 month ago

Can’t gloss over the fact that while Castillo was ok for about 1 season,he was absolutely brutal in ’08, and his awful performance for the season (and the Mets’ negligence in finding a replacement) was a big factor in them missing the postseason by 1 game.

NATS Fan
Guest
NATS Fan
3 years 1 month ago

since the only foul ball I ever got at a live MLB game was of the bat of Jose Vizcaino, I like it if he ever gets mentioned anywhere in the baseball world!!! Thanks!!!

That ball cost me a perfectly tasty set of cheese nachos and a coke to the scrum. As I caught the ball and the ballhawk from a few rows away got my cheese and coke all over him.

mario mendoza
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mario mendoza
3 years 1 month ago

Ah, Kaz Matsui. I almost forgot about you.

Dirck
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Dirck
3 years 1 month ago

An amazing number of players with good and even excellent major league track records have come to the Mets and become almost total busts . A couple of them were mentioned here ,Carlos Baerga,Luis Castillo ,and Roberto Alomar but there have been many more . Jim Fregosi,Jason Bay,George Foster,Bobby Bonilla , and Mo Vaughan leap immediately to mind but I’m sure there were many more .Can this all be the result of gross incompetence at the GM level or is there some ungodly confluence of bad scouting,bad GM’s,bad luck,and bad karma creating a sort of baseball Bermuda Triangle in Flushing ?

Brian
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3 years 1 month ago

As a nice meandering view of the Mets’ second base position over the years, this article gets a thumbs up! YAY.

But for this?? “But it is representative of the team’s strategic incoherence, which has often been remarked on..” it gets a thumbs down. Where did that come from? BAD.

Firstly, you pointed out yourself that Baerga and Alomar fell off cliffs out of nowhere, so you can’t ding the Mets for their evaluations there. You yourself called it “precipitous”, which is accurate.

Next, you ding the Mets for moving Reyes for Matsui. Was that really a horrible idea? The CONSENSUS on Matsui was that he was going to be at least good, and Reyes was capable of playing second. It didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have done it, but strategic incoherence? No way.

Finally, and this is really the point, I don’t understand how you can say that an organization, as a whole, possesses any kind of trait. Comparing the Mets front office and ownership group of 2012 to that of 2002 and 1992 and 1962 is a fool’s errand.

The Mets are not “a thing” with an organizational memory or a personality. The Mets today are not the same thing or person or mind as the Phillips Mets, or the Minaya Mets, or the Cashen Mets.

Perhaps you could make the argument(and I would) that since the Wilpon ownership group took over that they’ve exerted enough influence on the various general managers to muck things up, but there is no constant thread that can be followed throughout history to back up a claim of strategic incoherence. Second base has been bad, but calling an entire organization “strategically incoherent” is itself incoherent.

Matt
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Matt
3 years 1 month ago

I believe that even before the Wilpons, the Mets have consistently been more interested in winning over the tabloids and “putting fans in the seats” than they have been in building a good team. And I think a major contributing factor to so many free agents failing as a Met is the lack of a positive organizational culture. Free-spending teams like the Yankees and Red Sox have a very strong culture that allows players to step in without feeling like it is their personal responsibility to change the fortunes of franchise. And the Mets, as an organization for the last 25 years has not been able to solve this issue, choosing to instead throw money at the problem in a death spiral that only ended when they no longer had the money to throw. That in and of itself is a strategic failure. This is a team that needs a signifiant change in organizational culture, akin to when Vince Naimoli was the owner of the Devil Rays. And the only way to accomplish this is to make a change at the very top.

Jason B
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Jason B
3 years 1 month ago

“I don’t understand how you can say that an organization, as a whole, possesses any kind of trait. Comparing the Mets front office and ownership group of 2012 to that of 2002 and 1992 and 1962 is a fool’s errand.

The Mets are not “a thing” with an organizational memory or a personality. The Mets today are not the same thing or person or mind as the Phillips Mets, or the Minaya Mets, or the Cashman Mets.”

I think that’s a fantastic point. It’s like talking about how a team like the Boston Celtics are 13-4 in game 7’s (just making up figures as an example) and using that as some sort of good omen for their prospects against, say, the 2013 Knicks. I don’t think the performance of the 1965 team has a lot of bearing on how this year’s team will do.

Or inserting player X into a lineup because he went 3-for-5 off of pitcher Y in a game seven years ago.

chief00
Guest
chief00
3 years 1 month ago

I don’t know. Would it help if the article defined the different eras of leadership (“The Mets today,” as distinct from “the Phillips Mets, or the Minaya Mets, or the Cashen Mets”), then said that these “uniquely identifiable sub-groups” under the umbrella organization, “Mets”, have failed to produce a long-term, quality option at 2B, each in their own way? It seems unnecessary to separate the groups when there’s no obvious reason to do so.

There may indeed be an organizational strategy–of which we as fans are unaware–that contributes consciously or unconsciously to decisions made about 2B. Sort of a ‘well, we haven’t had much success at 2B in the past, so let’s not worry about it’ kind of thing. A tradition or mindset could easily transcend boundaries created by different leadership.

Dave
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Dave
3 years 1 month ago

Comparing Alfonzo with Utley and Cano:

Utley was/is clearly a better player by WAR – from ’05-09, he averaged over 7.5 WAR. If you look at his best 6 years, he totals 42.8 WAR.

Cano and Alfonzo are much closer at their peaks.

Alfonzo only had 5 good years (out of 6), from ’97-’02 he totaled 27.3 WAR.

Cano’s best 6 years (so far) are ’06-’12, when he totaled 28.4 WAR.

Cano’s 7.8 last year, Alfonzo has no answer for, but Fonzie had 4 years of 6 with 4.9 WAR or better, very similar to Cano’s 4 years of 6 with 4.8 or better. Overall, Cano has been better for longer. But at his peak, Fonzie was a comparable player.

Brian
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

As a huge Fonzie enthusiast, this is cool to read.

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