Thursday, August 3, 2017

Michael Conforto Could Join an Exclusive OBP Club

Make way for Michael Conforto, the OBP Machine!  (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

In Wednesday's 10-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies, Michael Conforto reached base twice in five plate appearances, holding his on-base percentage at an impressive .401.  Despite Conforto's inability to crack the starting lineup early on (he started just four of the team's first 15 games), his 359 plate appearances currently qualify him for all full-season leaderboards, and as such, allow him to rank seventh in the National League in OBP.

Should Conforto maintain his .400-plus on-base percentage and reach the minimum 502 plate appearances to qualify for the batting title (or OBP title), he would join a very exclusive club of Mets players to accomplish that feat.  In fact, during the team's first 55 seasons, only seven players have reached base in at least 40% of their plate appearances when they had a sufficient number of trips to the plate.

1Cleon Jones1969.42255848392164254127564713.340.482.904
2Keith Hernandez1984.40965755083171310159497109.311.449.859
3Keith Hernandez1986.41365255194171341138394403.310.446.859
4Dave Magadan1990.41754145174148286672742410.328.457.874
5John Olerud1997.4006305249015434122102851308.294.489.889
6John Olerud1998.44766555791197364229396417.354.551.998
7Rickey Henderson1999.42352643889138300124282213.315.466.889
8John Olerud1999.42772358110717339019961251106.298.463.890
9Edgardo Alfonzo2000.425650544109176402259495506.324.542.967
10David Wright2007.4167116041131964213010794607.325.546.963
11Michael Conforto2017.4013593026189191215647802.295.573.974
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/3/2017.

Cleon Jones became the first Met to do so in 1969, reaching base at a .422 clip and propelling the team to a World Series title.  It wasn't until the Mets' 23rd season that Jones had company in this formerly one-man club, as Keith Hernandez produced a .409 on-base percentage in 1984; the Mets' first 90-win season since Jones and his teammates won it all 15 years prior.

Hernandez repeated his .400-plus OBP feat two years later, when he helped the Mets take home their second World Series trophy.  Keith's fill-in at first base in the 1986 division clincher became the third Met to play a full season with an on-base percentage greater than .400, as Dave Magadan flirted with a batting title in 1990 before settling for third place in that race, but still managed to produce a lofty .417 OBP in 541 plate appearances.

After Magadan's one-year wonder campaign, the Mets played musical chairs at first base.  From 1991 to 1996, the Mets had a plethora of players who became their everyday first baseman, including Magadan himself in '91, future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray in '92 and '93, David Segui in '94, Rico Brogna in '95 and Butch Huskey in '96.  It wasn't until they made one of the most one-sided trades in club history that they found a starter for more than two seasons, and he became the team's all-time OBP king.

John Olerud was a Met for only three seasons, but he reached base at least 40% of the time in all three campaigns.  In 1997, he became the first Met with a .400 OBP over a full season in seven years.  He then followed it up with a .447 OBP in 1998, which remains a single-season franchise record, and a .427 OBP in 1999, when he helped the team advance to within two victories of a World Series berth.  His 1999 teammate, Rickey Henderson, didn't want Olerud to party alone in the .400 club, so he crossed the velvet rope and put up a .423 on-base percentage of his own.

A year after Olerud and Henderson became the team's first pair of .400 OBP players, they were both gone, as Olerud signed a free-agent contract to return home to Seattle and Henderson played his way out of New York, earning his release from the team in May.  But a new man took over the reins as the team's resident .400 on-base guy in 2000, as Edgardo Alfonzo posted a career-high .425 OBP in helping the team win its fourth National League pennant.

In the 16 seasons since Fonzie went over .400 in the OBP column, only one Met has joined him in the .400 club.  That would be David Wright, who in 2007 became the most recent player to achieve an on-base percentage of .400 or greater, as he reached base at a .416 clip for the 88-win Mets.

For the past ten seasons, Cleon Jones, Keith Hernandez, Dave Magadan, John Olerud, Rickey Henderson, Edgardo Alfonzo and David Wright have been the only seven players to post a .400 OBP over a season of at least 502 plate appearances.  Now Michael Conforto and his .401 on-base percentage are threatening to make this an eight-man club.  But one other thing stands out among the members of the .400 club that Conforto could have a tough time duplicating.

When Jones became the first Met to post a .400 OBP over a full season in 1969, he did so for a 100-win team.  Hernandez had his .400 seasons in 1984 and 1986 when the Mets won 90 and 108 games, respectively.  Magadan's 1990 campaign ended with 91 Mets victories, while Olerud's three .400 OBP seasons occurred during 88, 88 and 97-win campaigns.  (Rickey's season gave us 97 wins as well.)  When Fonzie did it, the Mets won 94 regular season games.  And Wright's high OBP helped the Mets win 88 games.

See a pattern forming there?  Every player who produced a .400 OBP over a full season played for a Mets team that finished with a winning record.  In fact, the worst record by a Mets team that had such a player was 88-74.  That's a far cry from the current Mets team, which is currently seven games under .500 at 49-56.

This year has been an anomaly for the Mets; a year in which the pitching has been the team's greatest disappointment when it was supposed to be an asset.  If Michael Conforto finishes the season with an on-base percentage above .400, it will be anomaly for another reason.  Barring a late-season push in the standings, it would mark the first time a Mets team employed a player with a .400-plus OBP and failed to produce a winning record.  Even with a surge in August and September, the team would be hard pressed to reach 88 victories; the minimum number of wins produced a Mets club that had a .400 OBP player.

Michael Conforto has been a steady presence in the field and at the plate.  He's also been a steady presence on the basepaths, reaching base more than 40% of the time in 2017.  However, his team hasn't been able to take advantage of his keen ability to not make outs.  The potential to join an exclusive seven-man club that includes several all-time Mets greats is a fine accomplishment.  It would be far better if Conforto could match Jones, Hernandez, Magadan, Olerud, Henderson, Alfonzo and Wright by joining that club while playing for a competitive Mets team.

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