Mets’ Top 5 left fielders: DiComo's take

April 28th, 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 at this position.

Here is Anthony DiComo’s ranking of the top 5 left fielders in Mets history. Next week: Center fielders.

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

1. Cleon Jones, 1963-75
Key fact: Caught final out of 1969 World Series

One of the engines of the 1969 Miracle Mets, Jones hit .340 in 137 games that season, starting in left field for 119 of them. As late in the season as Sept. 3, Jones was ahead of Pete Rose in the National League batting race, but a late-season injury played a role in his .250 average over his final 11 games. Rose passed him for good on Sept. 25, with a week left in the season.

“I’m going to say this and I don’t often say it -- I would’ve won the batting title that year had I not cracked three ribs,” Jones told SNY last summer. “It slowed me down quite and bit, and I had been hitting the ball as well as I could’ve. I had never quite been in that zone before.”

No matter. While Rose went home for the winter, Jones played in his first postseason, blowing open NL Championship Series Game 2 with a two-run homer in the seventh. Eleven days later, Jones hit a leadoff double in the eighth inning of World Series Game 5, scoring the go-ahead run in the Mets’ title-clinching 5-3 victory. When the final out settled into his glove half a frame later, Jones had to leap the left-field fence to avoid a mob of New York fans streaming onto the field.

His contributions in 1969 are the most memorable part of a legacy that saw Jones hit .281 with 93 homers and 91 steals over 12 years as a Met.

2. Kevin McReynolds, 1987-91, '94
Key fact: Finished third in NL MVP voting (Darryl Strawberry was second) in 1988

The headliner of an eight-player trade that sent Kevin Mitchell to San Diego after the 1986 season, McReynolds immediately became a force behind Strawberry in the middle of the Mets’ lineup, batting .282 with 56 homers and 194 RBIs the next two years. McReynolds’ .822 OPS ranked 16th in the National League over that stretch, and he remained a productive hitter until New York traded him to the Royals after the 1991 season in a deal for Bret Saberhagen -- a five-player swap that then-general manager Al Harazin said he “agonized over … for literally hours and hours.”

In retrospect, McReynolds was already in decline; he hit 24 home runs over two years in Kansas City before returning to the Mets for a final half-season in 1994. His 122 homers with New York rank ninth in franchise history, while his 153 doubles clock in 13th.

3. , 2015-present
Key fact: Hit 17 homers in 31-game stretch from Aug. 12-Sept. 14, 2015

What Céspedes did upon coming to the Mets in a 2015 Trade Deadline deal was perhaps the single-most important factor that drove the team to the World Series. Céspedes’ homer binge breathed life into an offense that was mostly dormant from April through June, but that became the NL’s best after the All-Star break. All told, Céspedes hit .287 with a .942 OPS in 57 games for New York that summer, which was enough for the team to re-sign him after the season. He submitted an All-Star campaign in '16, opted out of his contract, re-signed again, and only then did the Mets’ marriage with Céspedes begin to show cracks. Although he remained productive when healthy, Céspedes suffered through a barrage of injuries that forced him to the sidelines on a long-term basis in July 2017. He still hasn’t returned.

“He’s one of those guys people pay to see him play,” ex-Mets manager Terry Collins said in 2016. “They see him come up to bat, and they know he can do something dangerous each and every time up. He’s a special guy.”

4. , 1975-77, '81-83
Key fact: First in Mets history with home run every 15.08 at-bats (Céspedes is second)

The original all-or-nothing slugger, Kingman hit 82 homers with 354 strikeouts during his first stint with the Mets from 1975-77, ranking third in the Majors in big flies behind Mike Schmidt and George Foster and second to Schmidt in strikeouts in that span. Standing 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, Kingman was famous for prodigious blasts that had no trouble clearing Shea Stadium’s pitcher-friendly fences.

“Dave’s style is to swing hard in case he hits it,” former teammate Ed Kranepool told Sports Illustrated in 1976. “When he’s connecting, the only way to [defend] him is to sit in the upper deck. I’ve never seen anybody hit the ball farther.”

In 1976, Kingman hit 32 home runs over his first 91 games, and he was on pace to hit what would have been a franchise-record 55 before a torn left thumb ligament forced him to the sidelines for six weeks. Kingman never stopped hitting homers even into his mid-30s; he ranks fifth in Mets history with 154 of them, despite spending only six of his 16 big league seasons in Flushing.

5. Bernard Gilkey, 1996-98
Key fact: Finished second in the NL in bWAR behind Barry Bonds in 1996

Ranked by bWAR, Gilkey’s 1996 season was the third-finest individual performance in Mets history, trailing only David Wright’s 2007 and Carlos Beltrán’s '06. Traded from the Cardinals to New York before the season, Gilkey hit .317 with 30 homers, 44 doubles and a .955 OPS -- all career highs. He also added 17 stolen bases and was a defensive asset in left field, but somehow finished 14th in NL MVP voting.

It was a career year, and Gilkey never came close to replicating it. He played another season and a half with the Mets, posting pedestrian numbers before moving on to the D-backs. Still, Gilkey makes this list on the strength of his 1996 season.

Honorable mentions
Several left fielders were excluded from this exercise, including Michael Conforto, the Mets’ current right fielder. Same for Jeff McNeil, who was eligible at third base.

Just missing the Top 5 was , whose sweet swing resulted in four productive years from 2003-06. Floyd was well known as a clubhouse leader.

finished second in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 1977, but he only stuck around for four seasons.

The Mets’ original left fielder was Frank Thomas, whose 34 homers in 1962 provided one of the franchise’s few bright spots during its inaugural season.

spent most of his mid-30s with the Mets (1982-86), but he wasn’t as effective as during his MVP heyday in Cincinnati.