So I’m not just going to write about walk-offs
In doing some Edgardo Alfonzo birthday reading, I discovered that I’d made a promise about 13 years ago that I’d one day rank the most clutch Mets of all-time.
Clutch means different things to different people. To some, it doesn’t mean anything at all because they believe that clutch hitting doesn’t actually exist.
That’s fine. I’m going to keep this simple. When I’m talking clutch here, I’m referring to players who got big hits in big spots. That’s it. And I accept that means this list will largely be comprised of players who were great overall.
Both Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs have a system to identify which situations in a game most make the difference between winning and losing. I’m using Baseball-Reference’s info and I’m looking at performance in those moments, known as high-leverage situations.
Here are a few things that stood out to me.
I’ll note which Mets player had the highest career batting average in high-leverage situations (minimum 150 AB) at the conclusion of this article, because I laughed and said ‘of course.’
It was good to see Keith Hernandez (.324) and Alfonzo (.321) as No. 2 and No. 3 because that makes perfect sense.
If you grew up in the 1980s (as I did), you know Hernandez got all the big hits –- like the opposite-field single that scored Mookie Wilson in the September showdown for first place with the Cardinals in 1985, or the bases-loaded two-run single that cut the Red Sox lead to 3-2 in Game 7 of the World Series.
Alfonzo was consistently clutch in 1999 and 2000. Just ask the 1999 Reds, against whom his first-inning home run set the tone in a victorious Game 163, the Diamondbacks against whom he hit a game-winning grand slam the next day, or the 2000 Giants and Cardinals, against whom he had nine RBI in nine games, most memorably a game-tying hit in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the NLDS against Robb Nen.
No.4 and No. 5 are more along the lines of the hidden gems I was looking for. José Vizcaíno hit .319 in high-leverage situations for the Mets, albeit with minimal power. That he was so successful is oft forgotten because a)he wasn’t great for them in non-clutch spots, b)the Mets didn’t do too well those seasons and c)his most clutch moment came against them, when he singled in the winning run against Turk Wendell to give the Yankees a win in the 12th inning of Game 1 of the 2000 World Series.
No. 5 was a highly-popular Met, Lee Mazzilli, who hit .315 in high-leverage situations in his two stints with the team. Mazzilli was ferociously clutch In 1980, his slashline in 130 high-leverage at-bats was .362/.442/.608. It’s a shame that team cratered so badly in the final third of the season, because Mazzilli’s season would have been well remembered if that group had fared better.
Looking at batting average doesn’t tell the complete story. We like our clutch hitters to hit for power too. By slugging percentage, the No. 1 Met in high-leverage situations is Yoenis Céspedes (.597). Look back to 2015 and moments like the game-winning home run against Drew Storen of the Nationals and you’ll know why the numbers are how they are. No. 2 John Olerud is 40 points behind at .557, which isn’t shabby at all. Carlos Beltrán (.536) is No. 3, Mike Piazza (.522) is No. 5, Kevin McReynolds (.509) is No. 6. Carlos Delgado is No. 7 (.507).
I purposely skipped No. 4 because I thought it fun to single out Fernando Tatis, who was a great clutch Met from 2008 to 2010. Tatis had a .523 slugging percentage and .920 OPS in high-leverage situations. He was great in 2008, a season not fondly remembered because of how it ended. Thus, you probably don’t recall his walk-off two-run double to beat the Marlins in May, or his game-winning 12th-inning home run to beat the Phillies in July.
Let’s close this out by answering the question –- which Mets player had the highest batting average in high-leverage situations? That would be Justin Turner (.329). Turner’s clutch excellence was not enough to keep him a Met. But as Turner went to the opposite coast, his clutchness did not dissipate with the Dodgers. It’s been on full display the last five seasons.
If I was ranking the most clutch Mets since I started watching in 1982 …
1. Keith Hernandez
2. Edgardo Alfonzo
3. Mike Piazza
4. Yoenis Céspedes
5. John Olerud
6. Darryl Strawberry
7. Kevin McReynolds
8. Carlos Delgado
9. David Wright
T10. Matt Franco
T10. Wilmer Flores