Friday, February 13, 2009

The All-Time NY Mets: 1960s Shortstop

Ah, back to the beginning again. We'll begin our inspection of the New York Mets' all-time shortstops with a look at the players identified as the Mets' starters for each year of the '60s, take a brief perusal of each man's days with New York, and conclude by naming the Shortstop of the '60s. I think you'll be surprised.

The starters were Elio Chacon (1962), Al Moran (1963), Roy McMillan (1964-65), Eddie Bressoud (1966), and Bud Harrelson (1967-69). Let me interject here that, until the arrival of Jose Reyes, the Mets have never had a shortstop that could hit a lick. For this week's exercise, we will lean heavily on the linear weights statistic now known as Batting Runs, which measures a player's offensive contributions and can return either a positive or a negative number. You have to be a pretty poor hitter to post a negative number; in no season of the '60s did a Mets starting shortstop tally a figure higher than -6.1!

Remember that, for the purposes of this exercise, I have not factored in defensive contributions, which I am too dimwitted and/or lazy to calculate. What we're naming here is effectively the least offensive offensive shortstop of the '60s. (A subtle play on words; I hope you understand.)

And we begin.

The Mets' first-ever Opening Day shortstop was eventual Third Baseman of the Decade Felix Mantilla, but the man who became the primary starter at the position was little Elio Chacon. He inaugurated the Mets' history at short with a robust total of two home runs and a .236 batting average, which was a harbinger of seasons to come. But he also drew bases on balls at a somewhat astonishing rate: 76 walks in only 118 games. Elio also led the '62 club with a dozen stolen bases. After that season, he never appeared in the big leagues again.

For 1963, the man who spent the most time at short was Al Moran, who had come over from the Red Sox in the Felix Mantilla trade. In 119 games, he slugged a total of one home run, complementing that display of power with his .193 batting average. He led the team in an offensive category, too--seven times caught stealing--but in his defense, he was successful three times. After 22 more at-bats in 1964, he also never appeared in the big leagues again.

For the next two years, the middle of the infield was anchored by former All-Star Roy McMillan, a man who had received Most Valuable Player votes in five different seasons and would later go on to be a coach and manager with the Mets. He smacked one home run in each season that he played with New York, with a cumulative batting average of .226. One thing you could say about the man--he knew how to lay down a bunt; in both 1964 and 1965, he led the Mets in sacrifices. After his '66 season, he never appeared in the big leagues again.

For 1966, the Mets decided to try their luck with a hitting shortstop, importing Eddie Bressoud from the Red Sox. Eddie had recently had two seasons where he stroked at least 40 doubles, and a third where he had reached 20 home runs--Herculean totals for a shortstop of the '60s. Bressoud was near the end of the line, though. He did hit ten home runs for the '66 Mets; in contrast, the starters for the rest of the decade totaled six home runs in seven years! He also led the squad with five triples and 47 walks. But his on-base percentage, despite that team-leading walk total, was only .304, a number that would make notoriously impatient Jose Reyes blush with shame. After 67 ineffectual at-bats with the Cardinals in '67, he never appeared in the big leagues again. Still, those ten home runs must make him a leading candidate for the decade honors.

In 1967, the Mets finally turned the shortstop position over to spindly Bud Harrelson, who had been waiting in the wings for several years. Buddy, like Roy McMillan, later went on to serve the Mets as a coach and a manager. He was the starting shortstop for three years in the '60s--more than anyone else--plus he was a key player on the 1969 World Champions. Surely he must be the shortstop of the decade. But wait--in those three seasons, Buddy hit only one home run, and batted a cumulative .242. Not fair, you say--Harrelson's game was about speed. Well, from 1967-69, he did total 17 stolen bases ... and was caught 21 times. And I've already mentioned that this exercise does not include defense; otherwise Buddy may well have been the Mets' shortstop of the '60s.

The following table shows each year's starting shortstop followed by their OPS+ and their Batting Runs figure. Remember, an OPS+ of 100 indicates an average offensive player.

1962: Chacon: ...81 .-6.1
1963: Moran: ....47 -22.3
1964: McMillan: .42 -29.1
1965: McMillan: .64 -24.6
1966: Bressoud: .87 .-6.5
1967: Harrelson: 81 -12.4
1968: Harrelson: 59 -20.7
1969: Harrelson: 82 .-8.6

The calculations used by the NY Mets Hall of Records combine a variety of factors: traditional counting stats, longevity, and value relative to the rest of the team, balanced by the linear weights calculation of Batting Runs. Unfortunately, when a hugely negative component (like Batting Runs for the Mets' shortstops of the '60s) is factored in, longevity can actually prove to be a detriment!

So ... Al Moran--no longer part of the discussion. Roy McMillan and Bud Harrelson--though worthy defenders and multi-year contributors, ruled out by means of their anemic stickery. Ed Bressoud--almost, but not quite. Narrowly nosing him out for the honor in question, I present to you the Mets' All-Time Shortstop of the 1960s: Mr. Elio Chacon.

I'm not saying that Elio was the answer to the Mets' prayers here ... but replacing him in 1963 with Al Moran was not exactly what the doctor had ordered.

Next week, the shortstops of the 1970s, where perhaps Bud Harrelson will make a better showing.

1 comment: