If one was forced to pick a single, all-encompassing characteristic of the New York Mets as a franchise, it would have to be the team’s incredible knack of enlisting truly mediocre players. “A Look Back at Mediocre Mets” will be an on-going series exploring these types of players that fans loved, hated, but were regardless forced to watch. Today’s mediocre Met is outfielder Joe Orsulak.
The early-to-mid 1990’s was a forgettable and depressing time period in New York Mets history. After a truly dominating late-1980’s, the team went from winning 91 games in 1990 to a mere 77 games in 1991. It would take the Mets seven years (88 wins in 1997) to see their record above the .500 mark. And in many ways, Joe Orsulak epitomized those terribly mediocre early-1990’s Mets teams.
Orsulak was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 6th round of the 1980 draft. After a few respectable seasons in the Minors, the left-handed hitter became a mainstay during the 1985 season. The then 23 year-old outfielder posted a promising .300/.342/.365 line with 0 HR, 21 RBI, 54 Runs, and 24 SB in 436 PA’s, placing him 6th in the Rookie of the Year ballot. Despite the accolade, it was hard to ignore his extreme lack of pop (.065 ISO), and how it would most certainly have an affect on his future career.
Unlike his successful rookie campaign, Orsulak followed it up with a real stinker. The New Jersey-native swatted a dismal .249/.299/.342 line with 2 HR, 19 RBI, 60 Runs, and 24 SB in 437 PA’s. Orsulak was so bad, in fact, that the Pirates stuck the outfielder in Triple-A for the entire 1987 season, without recalling him. The writing on the wall couldn’t be any clearer for Orsulak and the Pirates. In 1988, the Pirates shipped the former ROY-nominee to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Rico Rossy and Terry Crowley Jr.
Luckily for Orsulak, the 26 year-old finally found a little pop in Baltimore. As the Orioles starting right-fielder, Orsulak posted a .288/.331/.422 line 8 HR, 27 RBI, 48 Runs, 9 SB in 416 PA’s. The outfielder’s .422 SLG was and would be the highest rate of his career, and the 8 dingers was four times the amount in hit in 1986. His second season in Baltimore was a solid one too, hitting a .285/.351/.421 line with 7 HR, 55 RBI, 59 Runs, and 5 Stolen Bases. Orsulak might have lost the great speed he exhibited in his Pirates-days, but in return, the hitter enjoyed more pop, and an increased knowledge of the strikezone (from 5.5% BB% in 1988 to 9.2% BB% in 1989).
Joe Orsulak would jack a career-high 11 homeruns in 1990, but it was ironically the beginning of the end. Power-surge aside, the outfielder saw his respectable .421 SLG drop to .397. But it only worsened. He posted a pedestrian .278/.321/.358 line in 1991, followed by a .289/.342/.381 line in 1992. Granted, if Orsulak was a middle-infielder instead of a corner outfielder, his offensive output would be satisfactory. But what team would want to fill an outfield slot with power-less, slow, and impatient hitter? Answer: The New York Mets.
The Baltimore Orioles had seen enough of Orsulak, so they granted him free agency–enabling him to sign with the Mets before the 1993 season. In his debut in orange and blue, the southpaw outfielder did his usual thing, swatting a completely replaceable .284/.331/.399 line with 8 HR, 35 RBI, 59 Runs, and 5 SB in 441 PA’s. But in his second season with New York, he regressed all the way down to .260/.299/.353 line in 318 PA’s, paving the way for prospect (and future slugger) Jeromy Burnitz. In the final year in his contract, the 33 year-old Orsulak only saw the apple rise once in 317 PA’s–his worst power-showing since his rookie season in 1985.
From 1993 to 1995, Joe Orsulak owned a combined .276/.319/.377 line with 17 HR, 114 RBI, 139 Runs, and 10 SB in 1076 PA’s. That’s an average of 6 HR, 38 RBI, 46 Runs, 3 SB, and 359 PA’s per season. Not that it was solely Orsulak’s fault, but the Mets had a .363, .487, and .479 winning percentage during his three seasons. The outfielder would become a free agent in the off-season, and sign a two-year deal with the Marlins–only to be traded with Dustin Hermanson the following season for Cliff Floyd.
Joe Orsulak retired after the 1997 season at age 35. During his 14 seasons in the Major Leagues, the outfielder owned a .273/.324/.374 line with 57 HR, 405 RBI, 559 Runs, and 93 SB in 4714 PA’s. His best five seasons came with the Orioles from 1988 to 1992 (.281/.337/.394 line). Even though the Mets of the early-1990’s had far more issues than just giving too much playing time to Orsulak, the guy still ranks as one of the most mediocre Mets ever to play in Flushing.