What it is about the New York Mets and outfielders, anyway?
In 1999, they could throw these guys at you:
LF CF RF
Rickey Henderson Roger Cedeno Benny Agbayani
.423/.466 .396/.408 .363/.525
I don't know how often all three of them started in the same game. Not often, I guess. In the postseason, Darryl Hamilton started most of the games in center field. But he was great for the Mets -- .410 OBP, .488 slugging -- after coming from Colorado in a trade at the July 31 deadline. The Mets had five guys who played a lot of outfield in 1999, and only one of them (Brian McRae) didn't fare well. The Mets scored 853 runs that season, tops in the East, and won 97 games to earn the wild-card playoff spot.
Since then, the Mets' outfield has been a disaster.
Actually, that's not exactly right. It's gone from good (1999) to fair (2000) to disaster (2001 and 2002). I figured the stats for the Mets' top four outfielders in each season since 1999:
OBP Slug OPS
1999 .383 .445 818
2000 .344 .439 783
2001 .319 .385 704
2002 .319 .381 699
You'd rather not have a single outfielder with a sub-700 OPS ... and this year the Mets have an entire outfield that's below 700!
Granted, all of the Mets' outfielders aren't that bad; they do have two outfielders comfortably above the 700 mark.
Here's the kicker, though: yesterday the Mets traded one of those two. Jay Payton, awful as he's been, is one of the good ones. With him gone, the Mets' outfield now looks like this:
LF CF RF
Roger Cedeno Timo Perez Jeromy Burnitz
.305/.346 .327/.450 .313/.333
And in reserve? Joe McEwing (.224/.305), whose .753 DUP (Dirty Uniform Percentage) is the only statistic to recommend him for anything more than a regular job in Norfolk.
Is there hope? Sure, there's hope. Perez is playing at approximately his true level of ability, while Cedeno and Burnitz are not. Cedeno's not a great player, but he entered this season with a .355 career on-base percentage, and there's no obvious reason why he'd be so far off that mark this year.
As for Burnitz, his season just doesn't make any sense at all. The Mets' top four outfielders have combined for 28 home runs this season; last season with Milwaukee, Burnitz hit 34 all by himself. He came into 2002 with a .362 career OBP, .499 career slugging average. Absent injury, there's very little historical precedent for a 33-year-old star coming off six straight solid seasons to drop off the earth like Burnitz has.
Perhaps Steve Phillips' faith is misplaced, but since he didn't trade for another outfielder, he must think that Cedeno and Burnitz are going to turn things around, and play like they're being paid.
I don't know that he's wrong. But I do know that with the trade deadline approaching, I'd have been a lot more interested in a productive outfielder than a fifth starter.
But of course, it's a fifth starter that Phillips got. Repeat after me, everybody ...
Pitching and defense,
Pitching and defense ...