Mets' Top 5 bench players: DiComo's take

May 19th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite.

Here is Anthony DiComo’s ranking of the Top 5 bench players in Mets history. Next week: right-handed starting pitchers.

• Mets All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF

1) Rusty Staub, 1972-75, '81-85
Key fact: Ranks 19th in MLB history with 99 career pinch-hits

This ranking refers more to Staub’s second tour with the Mets in the 1980s than his first go-round a decade earlier, when he was their starting right fielder. From '81-85, “Le Grand Orange” led MLB with 74 pinch-hits, batting .274 with six home runs and 70 RBIs in 270 such at-bats. Teammates such as Danny Heep and Clint Hurdle have credited Staub for helping them learn how to be effective bench players. They could not have asked for a better mentor; due in large part to his pinch-hitting prowess, Staub managed to remain a productive big leaguer until his retirement at age 41.

2) Danny Heep, 1983-86
Key fact: Posted a .382 on-base percentage in 37 pinch-hit plate appearances in '86

Often overlooked amidst the Mets’ mid-80s stars, Heep gave the Mets valuable production -- mostly off the bench -- over four seasons. The Mets paid a heavy price to acquire him, sending pitcher Mike Scott to the Astros (though it’s entirely possible Scott never would have developed into a Cy Young Award winner had he stayed in Flushing). And while Heep’s production may not have justified the deal, he was potent enough to start twice at designated hitter and once in left field during the 1986 World Series. Heep, who posted a .712 OPS when coming off the bench during his Mets tenure, hit a two-run single in the club’s 7-1 blowout of the Red Sox in Game 3.

3) Joe McEwing, 2000-04
Key fact: Played seven defensive positions in his Mets career

Consider this a sentimental pick. McEwing may not have the career numbers of others on this list, but he was a key member of the 2000 National League champions and one of the most popular bench bats in franchise history. He was versatile; in his first two seasons alone, McEwing played every position other than pitcher and catcher. “Super Joe” hit .283 with a .791 OPS in '01 to carve out a bit more of a regular role that summer, but he mostly came off the bench over five seasons. Many of McEwing’s other contributions were intangible, including his mentorship of David Wright.

4) Endy Chávez, 2006-08
Key fact: From 2006-08, ranked sixth on the Mets in batting average and fifth in stolen bases

Admittedly, Chávez would not rank so high if not for his wall-scaling catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NL Championship Series. Yet Chávez was valuable in plenty of other ways as a reserve outfielder, batting .288 with 23 steals and 98 runs scored over 853 plate appearances (plus hits in five of his six NLCS starts while subbing in for injured teammate Cliff Floyd). In his best season in '06, Chávez hit .298/.346/.451 against right-handed pitchers. He was not, however, a true platoon player, spending more time on the bench than in the lineup from '07-08.

5) Matt Franco, 1996-2000
Key fact: Drew more pinch-hit walks than anyone in Mets history

A patient lefty sub for the Mets from 1997-2000, Franco remains one of the most effective bench bats the team has employed. His 58 pinch-hits in a Mets uniform rank second behind only Ed Kranepool (who spent much of his career as a starter) and Staub. Two Franco pinch-hits in particular stand above the rest. One was his leadoff homer to beat Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning of a game against the Expos in '97. The other was his two-run walk-off single to beat Mariano Rivera and the Yankees in '99.

Honorable mentions

Because this list could easily span dozens of players, it excludes those who were better-known as starters, such as Kranepool, Lee Mazzilli and Mets cult hero Benny Agbayani. It also attempts to avoid regular platoon players like Art Shamsky, Tim Teufel and Wilmer Flores.

Some other names are worth mentioning. Marlon Anderson collected 24 pinch-hits in 2007 and ’08 alone, ranking fourth in the Majors over that two-year stretch. His teammate, Julio Franco, added 23 over two seasons despite being 47 years old (!) when he joined the team. … Most of Lenny Harris’ MLB-record 212 pinch-hits came with other clubs, or he would have ranked higher. … Two backup catchers, Rod Hodges and Todd Pratt, accomplished plenty in different eras. … Chris Jones and Scott Hairston were two of the most productive pinch-hitters the Mets have had, but neither stayed in Flushing for long. Desi Relaford also only stuck around for one season, but his .302 average endeared him to fans.

Mike Baxter is best-known for a game he started, making one of the greatest catches in Mets history to preserve Johan Santana’s no-hitter. His contributions as a bench bat -- Baxter slashed .350/.461/.517 as a pinch-hitter over three seasons -- are less appreciated. … The Mets’ 2015 run to the NL pennant probably wouldn’t have happened without the duo of Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, who provided some much-needed punch off the bench. … Could Dominic Smith be next on this list? He posted a 1.031 OPS as a pinch-hitter last season, and should continue to play a reserve role for the foreseeable future.