From 1983 to 1990, Darryl Strawberry was a staple for the Mets in right field. In fact, for seven consecutive years (1984-90), no other rightfielder appeared on the Opening Day lineup card but the Straw Man. But my, how things have changed over the past 22 seasons.
If Lucas Duda is given the start on Opening Day in right field - and from all indications, it appears as if this will be the case - he will become the 15th different Opening Day rightfielder for the Mets since Darryl's Dodger defection following the 1990 season. In fact, since Strawberry's last Opening Day assignment for the Mets, no rightfielder has gotten more than two consecutive Opening Day starts.
Let's look at the list of players whose names were listed next to position No. 9 on the Opening Day lineup cards for the Mets over the past 22 seasons. (For argument's sake, I'm including Lucas Duda as the 2012 Opening Day rightfielder.)
- 1991: Hubie Brooks
- 1992: Bobby Bonilla
- 1993: Bobby Bonilla
- 1994: Jeromy Burnitz
- 1995: Carl Everett
- 1996: Butch Huskey
- 1997: Carl Everett
- 1998: Butch Huskey
- 1999: Bobby Bonilla
- 2000: Derek Bell
- 2001: Darryl Hamilton
- 2002: Jeromy Burnitz
- 2003: Jeromy Burnitz
- 2004: Karim Garcia
- 2005: Eric Valent
- 2006: Xavier Nady
- 2007: Shawn Green
- 2008: Ryan Church
- 2009: Ryan Church
- 2010: Jeff Francoeur
- 2011: Carlos Beltran
- 2012: Lucas Duda
Lucas Duda has to do plenty of this to get more Opening Day starts in right field for the Mets.
Only two rightfielders have gotten as many as three Opening Day starts since the departure of Strawberry (Bonilla, Burnitz) and both of them needed to be re-acquired by the Mets to earn that distinction. The only other players to get the Opening Day nod in right field on more than one occasion over the past 22 seasons are Carl Everett (1995, 1997), Butch Huskey (1996, 1998) and Ryan Church (2008, 2009).
If 15 different Opening Day rightfielders in 22 seasons seems like a lot to you, that's nothing compared to the list of rightfielders who were the most common starters at the position over the past two-plus decades for the Mets. Let's peruse that list as well, along with the players who played the second-most games at the position in those campaigns.
- 1991: Hubie Brooks (97 starts), Howard Johnson (30 starts)
- 1992: Bobby Bonilla (121 starts), Dave Gallagher (16 starts)
- 1993: Bobby Bonilla (83 starts), Jeromy Burnitz (54 starts)
- 1994: Joe Orsulak (48 starts), Jeromy Burnitz (41 starts)
- 1995: Carl Everett (67 starts), Ryan Thompson (31 starts)
- 1996: Alex Ochoa (72 starts), Butch Huskey (40 starts)
- 1997: Butch Huskey (68 starts), Alex Ochoa (51 starts)
- 1998: Butch Huskey (94 starts), Lenny Harris (27 starts)
- 1999: Roger Cedeño (89 starts), Benny Agbayani (39 starts)
- 2000: Derek Bell (136 starts), Darryl Hamilton (7 starts)
- 2001: Matt Lawton (46 starts), Timo Perez (44 starts)
- 2002: Jeromy Burnitz (131 starts), Joe McEwing (15 starts)
- 2003: Roger Cedeño (100 starts), Jeromy Burnitz (36 starts)
- 2004: Richard Hidalgo (81 starts), Karim Garcia (44 starts)
- 2005: Victor Diaz (74 starts), Mike Cameron (67 starts)
- 2006: Xavier Nady (70 starts), Endy Chavez (32 starts)
- 2007: Shawn Green (107 starts), Lastings Milledge (25 starts)
- 2008: Ryan Church (81 starts), Endy Chavez (41 starts)
- 2009: Jeff Francoeur (74 starts), Ryan Church (52 starts)
- 2010: Jeff Francoeur (109 starts), Angel Pagan (29 starts)
- 2011: Carlos Beltran (91 starts), Lucas Duda (38 starts)
Over the past 21 seasons, a whopping 17 different players have owned the team lead in games started at the right field position in an individual season. Let's delve into this information a bit more.
Only Bobby Bonilla (1992, 1993), Butch Huskey (1997, 1998), Roger Cedeño (1999, 2003) and Jeff Francoeur (2009, 2010) have led the team in right field starts in more than one season. No player has been the team leader in this category more than twice since Darryl Strawberry's departure.
Since 1990, only Bobby Bonilla (1992), Derek Bell (2000), Jeromy Burnitz (2002), Shawn Green (2007) and Jeff Francoeur (2010) have started in over 100 games in any one season in right field. For three of those five players (Bell, Green, Francoeur), those seasons were their only full seasons as Mets.
And once the 21st century began, the merry-go-round in right really took off, as ten different players in the ten seasons from 2000 to 2009 led the team in right field starts. Jeff Francoeur (2009, 2010) was the first player since Butch Huskey (1997, 1998) to lead the team in right field starts in consecutive seasons.
In 1992, Dave Gallagher was second on the team in right field starts with 16. Eight years later, Darryl Hamilton started seven games in right field in place of Derek Bell, the man who started the most games in right field in any one season since 1990. Finally in 2002, Joe McEwing was second on the Mets with 15 right field starts. Over the past decade, there has been at least one backup rightfielder in each season to make at least 25 starts at the position.
There was a time when third base was considered to be the musical chairs position on the Mets. Since Darryl Strawberry left as a free agent following the 1990 campaign, right field has taken over for the hot corner as the position where the vacancy sign is always flashing.
In 2012, Lucas Duda will attempt to make the position his own after getting a 38-game trial run in 2011. As of now, there is no one waiting in the wings should Duda fail to produce on the field. Could this finally be the end of the right field rotation that has plagued the Mets since 1990? Or will a player who's not even on the team right now end up replacing Duda in right before season's end? (The latter scenario has not been uncommon for the Mets, as Matt Lawton (2001), Richard Hidalgo (2004) and Jeff Francoeur (2009) all began the seasons in which they led the Mets in right field starts on other teams.)
After a strong finish to the 2011 season, more production will be expected from Lucas Duda coming into 2012. But the one thing the Mets should be expecting from Duda is stability in right field. It's been a long time since the position was filled for more than two seasons. Hopefully, Duda will produce in a way that will finally allow the Mets to put up the "no vacancy" sign that has been collecting dust for over two decades.