Who is the worst New York Mets defensive player of all-time? The answer is probably someone we don’t even remember. He probably never got a chance to actually set franchise records or muff enough baseballs to become so infamous.
It’s harder than I thought to find statistics showing the history of defensive statistics. Many are newer. Even the ones that seem to cover everything available under the sun are flawed, too.
In an effort to find who the worst historical defenders in Mets history are, I thought I would go through each decade and look at three statistics. Errors, defensive WAR and the mouthful of total zone total fielding runs above average (Rtot) are the three numbers I decided to include. While they won't account for the butcher that had a few sips of coffee with the team and looked like he was afraid of the baseball, it does cover some variety of ground.
Noted below under each season are the leaders in these three statistics.
We begin this journey with the 1960s—where the Mets all began.
Worst defenders on the 1962 Mets
Rod Kanehl 32 errors
Frank Thomas - 1.1 WAR
Charlie Neal -15 Rtot
Worst defenders of the 1963 Mets
Al Moran 27 errors
Jim Hickman -1.8 WAR
Jim Hickman -16 Rtot
Worst defenders of the 1964 Mets
Charley Smith 31 errors
Joe Christopher - 2.0 WAR
Joe Christopher -13 Rtot
Worst defenders of the 1965 Mets
Roy McMillan 27 errors
Joe Christopher -1.2 WAR
Chuck Hiller -6 Rtot
Worst defenders of the 1966 Mets
Eddie Bressoud 23 errors
Al Luplow -1.3 WAR
Al Luplow/Cleon Jones - 8 Rtot
Worst defenders of the 1967 Mets
Bud Harrelson 32 errors
Ron Swoboda/Tommy Davis -1.5 WAR
Bob Johnson -9 Rtot
Worst defenders of the 1968 Mets
Bud Harrelson 15 errors
Cleon Jones - 1.3 WAR
Al Weis -6 Rtot
Worst defenders of the 1969 Mets
Bud Harrelson 19 errors
Art Shamsky -0.9 WAR
Art Shamsky -5 Rtot
Our errors leaders are Rod Kanehl in 1962 and Bud Harrelson in 1967. I didn’t expect to see Harrelson's name here but knowing he did play shortstop and even the best of them routinely made a lot of errors, it’s not the biggest surprise. Harrelson also happened to play a lot so compared to many of his teammates, it’s a little surprising yet not enough to question reality.
I find Kanehl’s 1962 season a lot more curious. He played every position except pitcher and catcher. He made 22 errors at second base, 8 at third base, 1 as a center fielder, and 1 as a first baseman. Harrelson’s 1967 campaign was actually good defensively other than the errors. But like I said, someone could win a Gold Glove and make a lot of mistakes. People were just more forgiving back then.
Our worst defensive WAR of the decade belonged to Joe Christopher in 1964. Worth -2.0, Christopher remained a regular in the Mets lineup because of his bat. He actually had a fine year for the Mets at the plate, slashing .300/.360/.466 with 16 home runs and 76 RBI. He saw more action than he would in any season. Unfortunately, this didn’t help his growth with the glove.
From the final category, we have Jim Hickman with a -16 Rtot in 1963. I wanted to include this statistic because I felt it might be able to help represent a wider view and include guys who may not have played quite as much.
In only his second major league season, Hickman was a butcher in the field, playing multiple positions for the Mets. He had a -6 Rtot at third base and a combined -10 Rtot at the three outfield positions.
As we exit the 1960s and approach the 1970s, we leave with the thought that Kanehl, Christopher, or Hickman is the worst defender the Mets have had. Although defense improved in the following decade all over the league, maybe there are still some bad years ahead to grit our teeth at.