When comparing New York Mets teams of the past to the present composition of players, it comes with certain caveats.
For example, the game today is different than it was back in 1986 when greater importance was placed on wins by a pitcher, launch angle wasn’t in the lexicon, and home runs weren’t as lauded as they are today.
Nevertheless, all things being equal in this era of analytics, there are a number of key elements that were present on the 1986 Mets team that is clearly lacking in the 2021 roster.
1) 1986 Mets had speed
In 1986 the Mets had a number of players who had very good speed. If we take a look at total stolen bases, Dykstra (31), Strawberry (28), Mookie (25), and Backman (13) highlighted a team total of 118. By comparison, the 2019 Mets (2020 was not used here for comparison purposes) had a total of 56 stolen bases, led by Amed Rosario with 19.
Lindor, then with Cleveland, had 22 that year, so assuming he replaces the output from Rosario, who was recently traded to Cleveland, there is still a glaring shortfall compared to the 1986 club.
2) 1986 Mets had a legitimate center fielder/team defense
As of this writing, the Mets are looking into acquiring a real center-fielder, now that Springer went to the Blue Jays. In 1986, we had Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson patrolling out there, who had a dWAR of 0.5 and 0.3 respectively and a team dWAR of 1.4.
Those numbers are not particularly impressive, but compared to Brandon Nimmo’s 2019 season (-0.5) and a team dWAR of -7.8, one can see the difference. Moreover, Nimmo has limited ability to cover ground quickly, whereas Dykstra and Wilson were much faster afoot. Back-ups to Nimmo project to be Heredia and Malex Smith, which does leave room for upgrading.
3) 1986 Mets had consistent starting pitching and bullpen
In 1986 the Mets had five starters and a bullpen who were both resilient and injury-free throughout the season marked by an excellent team ERA of 3.11. There are still holes in the current 2021 starting day roster and in the pen.
While DeGrom, Stroman, Carrasco, and Peterson profile to take the ball every five days, we still don’t know how dominating the overall rotation could be. It surely will have to perform much better considering a 2019 team ERA of 4.24.
4) 1986 Mets had depth at multiple positions
The 1986 Mets had major league level depth at almost every position – even at catcher where they boasted Hearn, Lyons, and Gibbons behind Gary Carter. Only Tomas Nido has MLB experience behind McCann, and there is still deficient depth in the outfield and infield. We also need at least one more legit starter and reliever going into 2021.
In 1986 the Mets infield consisted of players who could start on any given day with almost no falloff both offensively or defensively. Consider Keith, Backman, Elster, Santana, Hojo, Knight, Magadan, and Teufel. Same in the outfield with Mitchell, Straw, Mookie, Foster, Dykstra, Heep, and Mazzili. The 2021 roster is not there yet.
5) 1986 Mets had frontline multiple All-Stars
While the current Mets can boast two super-star All-Stars (DeGrom, Lindor), in 1986 they had more iconic stars featuring Carter, Hernandez, Gooden, Straw, Orosco, and Fernandez, most appearing in multiple All-Star games in that era.
6) There was no lack of personality/swagger in 1986
There is no doubt that the 1986 team had a bunch of guys who played with that extra glint in their eyes. None were more colorful and entertaining than the characters that they were. Each in their own way brought that look to a game that we have not yet seen in the current roster.
From Hojo’s famous hot foot to McDowell’s shaving cream pies, setting off firecrackers in the bat racks, and bubble gum bubbles, Dykstra’s crazy boundary-less energy (enough said), Backman’s guts, Mitchell’s reported breaking a tooth while eating a doughnut, and manager Davey Johnson’s in-game courage, the ’86 team had an assortment of larger than life players with tantalizing stories to tell their grandchildren.
To be fair, the current team has a nice array of nicknames such as Polar Bear (Alonso), Sugar (Diaz), The Sloth Bear (Dom), Bubbles (JD), Thor (Noah), Squirrel (McNeil), and Mr. Smile (Lindor). Sorry, but no comparison to the 1986 bunch of characters.
It could be said that championships can be won without necessarily having speed on the bases nor a cast of characters with swagger in the clubhouse. Nonetheless, any sort of edge in that regard can certainly contribute to the making of a winning atmosphere.
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While the front office back then was solid, the current group (aside from the Porter fiasco) under Alderson is looking up. Having enumerated a number of things that the 2021 squad lacks compared to the 1986 team, there is one huge difference-maker today – Mr. Steve Cohen. LGM!