The experiment of moving Todd Hundley to left field didn’t work out well for the 1998 New York Mets. Following an elbow injury and the addition of Mike Piazza, the only way for Hundley to get any chance at regular playing time was to move to a position he probably hadn’t played in more than a decade.
It showed in the way he handled the position. Hundley started 34 games for the Mets as a left fielder. A sign of how poorly it went, he only ever completed four of those games.
The result included 5 errors in 49 total chances for a fielding percentage of just .898. He finished the season with a -0.6 WAR which also included his two games behind the plate.
Didn’t you think Todd Hundley played a lot more left field for the Mets?
I hardly knew a thing about baseball back in 1998 when Hundley was roaming around the outfield grass at Shea Stadium. It was only two years after I started following the game. Mostly captivated by the home run chase in the National League Central, I would have guessed the failed Hundley experiment went beyond just 34 games.
This was a necessary evil for the Mets at the time to try and make the most of the roster they had. It’s something we’re seeing with the 2021 team as they try to do something similar with Dominic Smith.
Fortunately, Smith is a few years younger than Hundley was in 1998 and didn’t take the same beating he did from behind the plate.
No small feat, Hundley started 142 games behind the plate for the Mets in 1996 and caught a total of 1,265.1 innings. I can’t imagine what this workload could do to a person.
The interesting thing about Hundley’s career fielding numbers is that he was actually a positive WAR on defense in many of his years as a catcher. This doesn’t tell the full tale of his exploits behind the plate. He was regularly behind the league average of throwing out runners and never had the reputation as a great game-caller.
Watching Hundley patrol the outfield grass for flyballs is one of my earlier Mets memories—aside from a horrific bludgeoning I recall at the bats of the Colorado Rockies.
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Somehow, despite being busy with the normal problems of a pre-teen such as homework and the first few pimples, I do remember the days of Hundley in left field. Much to my adult surprise, it wasn’t as long as I would have thought. Certainly, though, it was as painful.