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Switching LF’ers
by Rob Neyer Nobody’s complained much about the Mets chapter, which is a bit surprising because . . . well, because Mets fans tend to have grown up in or near New York, and people who grew up in or near New York tend to complain when they think they know something you don’t. Basically, there’s been only one complaint that I’ve seen more than once, and it goes something like this . . . “How in hell could you rate Sleepy Kevin McReynolds ahead of Cleon Jones?” And you know what? It’s a fair question. As I mentioned in the book or should have mentioned in the book, I generally went with quality over quantity. That is, given a choice between a player with three good seasons and a player with six adequate seasons, I’ll take the guy with the good seasons. This is a different situation, though, as both Jones and McReynolds have roughly the same number of good seasons, considering that McReynolds played fewer seasons in New York than Jones did. Here’s the Win Shares for all of McReynolds’s six seasons in New York, next to Jones’s six best seasons, and with each player’s seasons listed in descending order of Win Shares (got all that?).
           Cleon  Kevin    Edge
Season 1     30     31     Even
Season 2     24     21    Cleon
Season 3     20     21     Even
Season 4     15     19    Kevin
Season 5     15     17    Kevin
Season 6     14      5    Cleon
    Totals  118    114
Most Mets fans would give Jones a big edge when considering his best season (1969) against McReynolds’s best (1988). After all, Jones batted .340 and the Mets won the World Series. But McReynolds enjoyed a solid year with the stick, too. And while Jones was great in the 1969 National League Championship Series, he didn’t do much at all in the World Series. Meanwhile, McReynolds played well in the 1988 NLCS (which the Mets lost). I suppose I can see the argument for Jones having a better year, but it’s so close that I don’t feel comfortable giving the nod to Jones just because I’m supposed to. But looking at their six best seasons with the Mets, Jones does just a bit better. And for comparison’s sake, six seasons is all we can look at, because that’s how many seasons McReynolds played in New York. Here are Cleon Jones’s Win Shares with the Mets:
1963   0
1965   1
1966  15
1967   7
1968  20
1969  30
1970  14
1971  24
1972   7
1973   9
1974  14 
1975   0
In his first two trials, Jones didn’t do anything, but did well in ’66 after earning an everyday job. Here’s what it comes down to . . . Excluding his first two seasons, in which he hardly played, Cleon Jones averaged 14 Win Shares per season for the Mets, and McReynolds averaged nearly 22 Win Shares per season for the Mets. Should I hold Jones’s poor seasons against him, merely because he happened to stick with the team for significantly more seasons than McReynolds did? Well, I did. But if I were writing the book today, I’d probably move Jones ahead of McReynolds, because of those two 14‘s. When initially comparing these two, I looked at Jones’s bad years but ignored McReynolds’s bad year (after two seasons off in Kansas City, he returned in 1994). And that wasn’t fair. Cleon Jones is the greatest left fielder in New York Mets history.