Saturday, April 23, 2016

Curtis Granderson Has Ended the Game of Musical Chairs in Right Field

Curtis Granderson warms up in right field before a game.  Not many other Mets have been able to say the same since 2014.  (Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

It's been more than a quarter century since Darryl Strawberry patrolled right field for the last time as a member of the New York Mets.  Since then, the Mets have used 17 different Opening Day right fielders.  Sixteen of them made their Opening Day starts in the 23 seasons between 1991 (when Hubie Brooks replaced Strawberry in right) and 2013 (when Marlon Byrd became the word at the outfield position).  No Met started more than three Opening Day games in right field in those 23 seasons and none started more than two consecutive season openers.

Since Strawberry's departure following the 1990 campaign, a total of 126 men have played at least one game in right field for the Mets.  The long list of players includes Chip Ambres, who played a total of two innings in right field for the Mets in 2007 and drove in the game-winning run in that game - his only RBI as a member of the team - to Bobby Bonilla, who just wanted to be a Bronx tour guide to a certain Daily News reporter and author when he wasn't playing right field 229 times during two stints with the Mets.

Of the 126 players who succeeded Strawberry in right, only 17 of them played at least 100 games at the position.  And in the 23 seasons following the Straw Man's departure, no Met played as many as 300 games in right field, as Jeromy Burnitz's total of 290 games in right led all players from 1991 to 2013.  But after a quarter century, the Mets may finally have found their first everyday right fielder since Darryl packed his bags to go home to Los Angeles.

Curtis Granderson signed a four-year contract with the Mets prior to the 2014 campaign.  It wasn't the first time the team had signed a right fielder to a lengthy contract, as the aforementioned Bonilla signed a five-year deal with the Mets following the 1991 season, only to see him shift over to each corner infield position and eventually run himself out of town with a year and a half left on his contract.

As in Bonilla's case, Granderson had a subpar first season in New York.  Bonilla's final year in Pittsburgh in 1991 saw him produce a .302 batting average, a league-leading 44 doubles and his third 100-RBI campaign in four seasons.  As the Mets' new right fielder in 1992, Bonilla batted just .249 with 70 RBI and fewer extra-base hits (23 doubles, 19 homers) than he had doubles in 1991.  Granderson, who produced back-to-back 40-HR campaigns with the Yankees in his final two healthy seasons with the team in 2011 and 2012, did not drive in many runs for the Mets as a middle-of-the-order hitter in 2014 and was eventually moved to the leadoff spot because of his ability to draw walks.  His first season as a Met was mostly underwhelming, as he batted .227 with 20 homers, 66 RBI and 73 runs scored in 155 games, with 142 of those games seeing Granderson playing right field.

Granderson's sophomore season in Flushing was a smashing success, as he posted a .259/.364/.457 slash line.  His .821 OPS was over one hundred points higher than the .714 OPS he produced in 2014.  He also scored 98 runs and walked 91 times, the most by any Mets right fielder since Strawberry, who scored 101 runs in 1988 and walked 97 times in 1987.  In doing so, Granderson became just the seventh player in Mets history - regardless of position - to have 90+ runs and 90+ walks in the same season.  The other six players are among the best in team history - Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Beltran and David Wright.

Who would have thought Granderson would ever be on a list with these guys?

Including last night's game - one in which Granderson had a very Strawberry-like performance with two homers and five runs batted in - Granderson has started 286 games in right field since joining the Mets in 2014.  He has also played in 20 other games in right that he did not start, giving him 306 games played in right field - the most by any player on the Mets since Strawberry departed via free agency more than a quarter century ago.

As of this writing, only Strawberry (1,062 games), Rusty Staub (535 games), Ron Swoboda (434 games) and Joel Youngblood (309 games) have appeared in more games in right field for the Mets.  By early next week, Granderson should pass Youngblood into fourth place and should Granderson stay healthy, he'll pass Swoboda by the end of the season.

For the better part of a quarter century, the Mets struggled to find anyone resembling a permanent replacement for Darryl Strawberry in right field.  In the 21-plus seasons before Strawberry's debut in May 1983, the Mets had trotted out 77 different right fielders.  In the 23 seasons following the Straw Man's departure, New York chewed up and spit out 125 right fielders.  The 126th right fielder is finally making the position his own.

Until David Wright joined the team in 2004, the running gag was to keep track of the number of third basemen in team history.  (For the record, Wright was the 129th Met to man the hot corner.)  As of today, the Mets have used 158 players at third base.  Meanwhile, a total of 221 players have found themselves playing right field for the Mets at least once in their careers.  Curtis Granderson is doing all he can to make sure that number stays in the 220s until his contract expires after the 2017 campaign.

It's good to know that the Mets finally have a productive player in right field after so many years of searching for one.  A 25-year game of musical chairs was far too long.

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