All the recent speculation on if or when the Mets will trade Jose Reyes — a subject which I already tackled — has brought a few indisputable facts to the surface: 1. Even in 2010 when Jose Reyes suffered his worst relatively healthy year since 2005 (when he was 21 years old), he was still among the best SS’s in baseball. 2. From 2006-2008 when Jose Reyes was at his peak, he was ridiculously good.
Conveniently, a couple other Mets were also ridiculously good during that same period — Carlos Beltran and David Wright — which inevitably calls to mind the decidedly false conventional wisdom that the fact that the Mets had three of baseball’s elite players during those years and still only earned one, ultimately unsuccessful, playoff berth is evidence of some flaw with those players. Now, if you watched the Mets during that time, you probably know that the conventional wisdom is total nonesense. Sure, Jose Reyes played terribly September of 2007. And yes, Carlos Beltran struck out in Game 7. And no, David Wright is not Albert Puljos. But those three players were so awesome during those seasons that if you had replaced them with almost any other players in baseball, the Mets would never have been in a position to suffer the heartbreaking endings to those seasons (which may have better for my sanity, by the way).
And objectively, the stats back that up: By WAR, Wright, Beltran, Reyes were the 3rd, 5th, and 10th most valuable players in baseball during that period. And if those guys were so good, and thing didn’t turn out well for the team, just how bad were the rest of the Mets? Off the top of my head, I’d say that excluding the three stars (and relievers), in 2006 the Mets two other all-star caliber players (Carlos Delgado and Tom Glavine), three slightly above-average players (Jose Valentine, Paul Lo Duca and El Duque), a really good bench players (Endy Chavez) and a couple good guys who didn’t play much due to injury and horrendous trades (Pedro, Xavier Nady). Which makes sense since they won 97 games that year. In 2007, they had three solid starting pitchers (Glavine, Oliver Perez, John Maine), one solid starter (Delgado) and one hitter who was awesome for half a season (Moises Alou). And in ‘08, they had one awesome starting pitcher (Johan Santana), one good starting pitcher (Mike Pelfrey), one average starting pitcher (Perez) one all-star caliber position player (Delgado) and two guys who were awesome for very short stretches (Ryan Church and Daniel Murphy).
But the story told by the numbers is actually far worse. In ‘06 the non-Reyes-Wright-Beltran leaders in WAR for the Mets were Lo Duca, Delgado and Valentine (3.2 WAR each), Endy! (3) and Glavine with 2.6. Nobody else exceeded 2.1 (Pedro) and no other positional player earned more than 1 win over replacement (a WAR of two is roughly an average player). In ‘07, only three Mets cracked that league-average player barrier, Maine (2.7), Perez (2.2) and Alou (2.7). And in 2008, Delgado (3), Johan (4.8) and Pelfrey (3) all did. So during that three year period where the Mets were contenders, the teams got 12 individual seasons that were average or better from players not named Reyes, Wright and Beltran. And only one of those seasons, Johan’s 2008, could be considered exceptional (above 4.5 WAR statistically for argument’s sake). So that’s 10 exceptional individual seasons total, and 11 seasons that fall somewhere between average and exceptional, and you’ll notice that none really approach exceptional.
That’s a really, really bad supporting cast. Like Lebron’s teammates in Cleveland bad. As a comparison, take the Phillies run from ‘08-‘10, during which they won 282 games (compared to 275 Mets win from ‘06-‘08). Over that span the Phillies three best players were Chase Utley (20.9 WAR), Jayson Werth (15) and Cole Hamels (11.9). During the Mets best recent three year stretch of winning, Wright (20), Beltran (19.6) and Reyes (17.3) were actually far better than the Phillies three best during their recent three year, and unfortunately still ongoing, peak. But the Phillies got a whopping 17 above average seasons from other players during that stretch (of which the average WAR was significantly higher than the above Mets equivalent). Three of those seasons were exceptional — including Halladay’s really exceptional 2010, and Cliff Lee’s awesome half-season in 2009.
So the answer to the question is that the Mets supporting cast was truly horrible during those years. Now, currently it should be much better — Angel Pagan borders on an elite player, and Jason Bay, Ike Davis, Josh Thole, R.A. Dickey, Mike Pelfrey, and Jon Niese should all exceed a 2 WAR, some by significant margins (I’m looking at you Bay, Ike and Pelf), as could Johan Santana if he’s back by June. Of course, this time around, the Mets would be lucky to get seasons that work out to a cumulative 13 WAR from Reyes-Wright-Beltran, a far cry from the 19 they averaged in ‘06-‘08. But such is the life of a poorly managed team.