Darryl Strawberry Might’ve Been Better Than David Wright
When talking about New York Mets history, Tom Seaver is the best player in team history. After that, it is accepted and largely unchallenged fact David Wright is the best position player in team history. This is far from just sentiment. After all, Wright is second all-time in Mets history with a 49.2 WAR.
Wright’s name is all over the record books too. He is the Mets all-time leader in offensive WAR, at-bats, plate appearances, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, RBI, walks, singles, sacrifice flies, and WPA. For those categories he is not atop, and there aren’t many, he is in the top five or 10.
Wright’s standing in Mets history and the record books is a function of both how long he played with the Mets and how great a player he was. It should be noted he was not just a compiler. As an example, his 8.3 WAR in 2007 still stands as the best season a Mets player ever had. When digging deeper, he is the only Mets player with three of his seasons to appear in that top 10.
Even with that, you could argue Wright was not the best position player in team history.
When Wright was first called up to the Mets he was chasing Darryl Strawberry. As Wright was winding down his career and trying to set every record in Mets history, he would fall 10 homers behind Strawberry for the team all-time home run record. You could also argue he failed to catch Strawberry as the team’s best position player.
In his Mets career, Strawberry hit .263/.359/.520 with 187 doubles, 30 triples, 252 homers, and 733 RBI. Over those nine years, he amassed a 36.6 WAR which is fifth best in Mets team history and the second best among position players.
What is interesting is he’s not commonly accepted as the second best position player in team history. There have also been credible arguments made for players like Carlos Beltran, Keith Hernandez, and Mike Piazza. When you delve into the numbers, Strawberry stands above the rest and may even be above Wright. To that, here is a side-by-side comparison of their career Mets stats (Mets all-time rank in parenthesis):
|David Wright||Darryl Strawberry|
|49.2 (1)||WAR||36.6 (2)|
|.296 (3)||BA||.263 (22)|
|.376 (4)||OBP||.359 (10)|
|.491 (7)||SLG||.520 (2)|
|.867 (4)||OPS||.878 (3)|
|949 (1)||R||662 (3)|
|1777 (1)||H||1025 (9)|
|390 (1)||2B||187 (9)|
|26 (7)||3B||30 (6)|
|242 (2)||HR||252 (1)|
|970 (1)||RBI||733 (2)|
|762 (1)||BB||580 (2)|
|1292 (1)||K||960 (2)|
|196 (4)||SB||191 (5)|
|133 (4)||OPS+||145 (1)|
|133 (4)||wRC+||143 (2)|
|30.2 (1)||WPA||25.2 (2)|
Looking at this, we again see Wright being the top player overall with most of the team records. However, when you dig into the numbers deeper, especially the advanced ones, an argument for Strawberry begins to emerge.
As we see with OPS+, Strawberry was the best hitter in team history. When you go into wRC+, John Olerud is ahead of him, but when you make the qualifier 2500 PA, Strawberry is again on top. Overall, in terms of Mets history, the top hitter is a three way race between Olerud, Piazza, and Strawberry. Ultimately, Strawberry comes out on top with Wright a step below that group.
However, this wasn’t about who was the best hitter. It was about who was the best player. Keep in mind, Wright has a 13.4 lead over Strawberry on that front. It should also be noted Wright spent an additional six more seasons in a Mets uniform than Strawberry.
When we look at it from a WAR/year perspective, Wright averaged a 3.5 WAR per season. That actually trails Strawberry who had a 4.6 WAR/year average. That’s more than a full win better than Wright.
Of course, with Wright’s career was cut short by spinal stenosis, and on that front some of his final years were far from complete seasons. For example, his 14th year was just three plate appearances. It makes little to no sense to make that as part of the equation here.
Still, when you drop the 14th year, Wright averages a 3.8 WAR, which is still lower than Strawberry. When you eliminate the 2015 and 2016 partial seasons, Wright has a 48.6 WAR over 11 seasons. That’s a 4.4 WAR per season, which is STILL lower than Strawberry.
Even with Wright having three of the top 10 seasons in Mets history, he still averaged a lower WAR than Strawberry. Part of the reason for that it, for of Wright’s first 11 seasons were below a 3.0 WAR, and Strawberry had just two such seasons. Also, Strawberry never had a WAR below 2.7 whereas Wright had three such seasons.
In addition to the average WAR argument, there are some other factors which should be considered. Strawberry was the first Mets position player to win Rookie of the Year. Strawberry was an All-Star in seven of his eight seasons as opposed to Wright who did it in seven of 14 (or 11). Of course, it should be noted All-Star selections are far from perfect.
What may ultimately tip the scales in Strawberry’s favor is the postseason.
In Strawberry’s postseason career with the Mets, he hit .250/.326/.461 with four doubles, four homers, and 12 RBI in 20 postseason games. Those four home runs were very noteworthy as well. In Game 4 of the NLCS, he hit a game tying three run homer off Bob Knepper. In Game 5 of that series, his homer off Nolan Ryan was not only just one of two Mets hits that day, but it also allowed the Mets to send the game into extras. His third postseason homer was a monster shot in Game 7 of the World Series.
In Wright’s postseason career, he was a .198/.311/.319 with five doubles, two homers, and 13 RBI in 24 games. Wright did have his big moments like the game winning hit in Game 1 of the 2015 NLDS and the first ever World Series homer hit in Citi Field. That said, Wright’s postseasons have mostly been disappointing.
When looking at the careers of both players, Strawberry was the best hitter in team history, and he had much bigger moments in the postseason. That is one of the reasons why he has a World Series ring with the Mets. Overall, he had a higher average WAR than Wright or any other Mets position player ever did.
On, Wright had the longer career amassing more records than Strawberry, and he was the better defender winning two Gold Gloves. He also had a much better Mets peak than Strawberry. Also, unlike Strawberry, he carried the burden and honor of being the Captain.
Ultimately, whichever Mets player you consider to be the best in team history is going to depend on a number of factors. It is about whether you prefer a higher peak or more consistent production. It is a matter of how much value you put on compiled stats against advanced stats. It is also a factor of how much you want to incorporate postseason success and leadership.
After taking this all into account, it is still very possible Wright is the best player in team history. However, it is far from a settled matter. Strawberry was better on a year-to-year basis, and he helped the Mets win a World Series. Regardless of which player you choose, it’s a much closer and tougher decision than previously believed.