In 1996, Todd Hundley’s newfound power slugged him to his first-and-only 5.0 WAR season.
Todd Hundley spent parts of nine seasons with the Mets in the 90s, making his debut in 1990 and serving as the team’s primary backstop from 1992 until the Mets traded for Mike Piazza in 1998.
At the beginning of his career, Hundley didn’t offer much at the plate, hitting .219/.271/.355 with 35 home runs over 1,193 at-bats and a 70 OPS+ from 1990-94. Things picked up a bit for him in 1995, bumping his average up over 40 points and his OPS up 120 points. The home run numbers weren’t there yet, hitting just 15 that season in 90 games, actually down one from the season before when he played 91 games.
From 1990-95, through 491 career games, Hundley hit 50 home runs on an average of just over 28 at-bats per home run. Over those parts of six seasons, he accumulated a career WAR of 1.8.
Then, 1996 happened. In the first non-strike shortened year since 1993, Hundley hit, wait for it, FOURTY-ONE home runs. 41. Four. One. That was good for an average just over 13 at-bats per homer.
Now, I’m no expert on how someone might have drastically increased their home run total in the 1990s (this LA Times article from 2007 might know though), but we can only assume that Hundley started working out and eating a well-balanced diet.
Regardless of how he did it, Hundley put up a 5.0 WAR flat, joining Gary Carter, John Stearns and later Mike Piazza as the only catchers to do it for the Mets. He never quite reached those heights again, but he did hit 30 long balls the next year in 1997, made his second-consecutive and final All-Star Game and put up a 3.7 WAR.
Then, that was essentially it for him in New York. The Mets traded for Piazza in 1998 and Hundley left to fill Piazza’s void in Los Angeles in 1999. But for two seasons, Hundley hit like one of the best catchers in the game, and one of those seasons he reached a peak that few have in New York Mets history.