Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sweet 16: Mets Set RBI Record You Didn't Know About

The New York Mets did something this year that they had never accomplished during their first 49 years of existence.  No, it wasn't a fourth place finish in the NL East (they're getting quite used to that spot in the division by now).  Let's peruse the team's final RBI totals for 2011 to see if you can figure out what I'm talking about.

Despite being traded in late July to the San Francisco Giants, Carlos Beltran led the Mets in RBIs with 66.  He was followed by David Wright (61), Jason Bay (57), Angel Pagan (56) and Justin Turner (51).  But let's take a look a few other Mets and their RBI totals.

Lucas Duda had a strong second half to finish with 50 RBIs.  Finishing one RBI behind Duda was Daniel Murphy (49), who missed the last seven weeks of the season with an injury.  After Murphy, we had National League batting champion Jose Reyes (44), Josh Thole (40), Ruben Tejada (36), Nick Evans (25), Ike Davis (25), Scott Hairston (24), Willie Harris (23), Jason Pridie (20) and Ronny Paulino (19).

That gave the Mets a total of 16 players with at least 19 RBIs in this just completed season.  (Dang you, Ronny Paulino for not getting an extra RBI to make this a list of the sweet sixteen players who reached the round number of 20 RBIs in a single season.)

So why is 16 players with 19 RBIs or more worth writing a blog about?  Because it's never happened before in Mets history.

In 2007, the Mets had 13 players with 19 or more RBI, led by Carlos Beltran (112) and David Wright (107) and rounded out by Ruben Gotay (24) and Luis Castillo (20).  The 2005 Mets also had 13 players reach that RBI figure, as did the 2004 team.  To find a Mets team with at least 14 players reaching that not-so-round RBI total (seriously, Ronny Paulino, it was just one stinkin' RBI.  Was that too much to ask for?) you have to go all the way back to 1972.

In the first season after the untimely passing of manager Gil Hodges, the Mets had a roster that included 14 players who drove in a minimum of 19 runs.  That 1972 team, which finished 83-73 in the NL East (six games were wiped out due to a players' strike), were led by Cleon Jones and his 52 RBIs, which represent the lowest RBI total for a team leader in that category in franchise history.  The other 13 players following Jones in the RBI department were Tommie Agee (47), John Milner (38), Rusty Staub (38), Duffy Dyer (36), Ed Kranepool (34), Ken Boswell (33), Jim Fregosi (32), Wayne Garrett (29), Bud Harrelson (24), Jerry Grote (21), Ted Martinez (19), Jim Beauchamp (19) and some guy named Willie Mays (19).

Prior to the 2011 season, no Mets team had ever had at least 15 players with at least 19 RBI.  This year's team wasn't satisfied with having just 15 players reach that figure.  They went out and made it a sweet sixteen.  (Do you see the photo below, Mr. Paulino?  Wouldn't that have looked better with a "20" where the "19" is?)

It's very rare for a team to have that many players accumulate enough at-bats to drive in as many as 19 runs in a season.  After all, most teams carry 11 or 12 pitchers at any one time, leaving 13 or 14 spots on the roster available for the starting eight and the bench players.  Many bench players only drive in 10 or 12 runs because they only pick up 100-200 at-bats per season, mostly through pinch-hitting appearances and spot starts whenever a regular player needs a day off.  That wasn't the case for the 2011 Mets.

Because of injuries that kept a number of regular players out of the lineup for months at a time (see Davis, Ike and Wright, David) and one particular trade (Carlos Beltran), the Mets had a number of their players accumulate more at-bats than expected.  Ten players had 300+ at-bats and three others had over 200.  The more at-bats a player gets, the more likely he is to drive in a few extra runs.  That was certainly the case for the 2011 Mets.

However, the Mets didn't set this team RBI record just because they had so many players getting an inordinate number of at-bats.  Players such as Nick Evans (25 RBI in 176 at-bats) and Scott Hairston (24 RBI in 132 at-bats) were both excellent with men on base, with Evans hitting .308 in those situations and Hairston clubbing nearly half of his extra-base hits with runners on (7 XBH of 16 came with men on base).  Putting Hairston's performance into perspective, Ike Davis (who was on his way to a fabulous sophomore season before his day-to-day injury kept him out for the remainder of the season) had four more plate appearances (149) than Hairston did (145), but only had one more RBI than the utility player.

The 2011 Mets might have had an unusually high number of players getting more at-bats than expected, but those players who would have normally spent the majority of the season on the bench or in the minors came through when given the opportunity.  This record is not a fluke or a statistical aberration.  It is a testament to the team put on the field by Terry Collins.  The Mets' manager might not have had the best players to work with, but he did have players who contributed when called upon to do so.  A team like that deserves to have a record such as this one, don't you think?

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