Games People Don’t Play

Jose Reyes had a great year for the Mets.  He led the National League in batting, tied for the overall lead in triples and played his usual average (but flashy!) defense.  He also tied for the team lead in games played, with Lenny Harris of all people . . . with 126!

Read that again . . . no Met appeared in more than 126 games*.  That’s roughly 5.5 weeks of games. Now, we all know the stories of the Mets’ litany of injuries over the past three seasons, but even in 2009 and 2010, at least one person managed to take the field in 150+ games.  You have to go back 35 years, to 1976, to find a Mets squad with as few as two guys with 126 or more games played (excluding strike seasons of course).

[*To be fair, Carlos Beltran had played in 98 of the Mets’ first 103 games before he was dealt to the Giants on July 26.  So he probably would have eclipsed 126 had he stayed with New York.]

So just how decimated/disassembled does a team have to be for its games played leader to come in at 126?  Well, its actually historic in a non-strike/non-war season . . . the lowest ever.  Here are the next lowest team leaders in a season:

154-game season: 130 games played (3 times)**

Jack Graney – 1914 Cleveland Naps: After finishing 3rd in the AL in 1913, the Naps fell to 51-102 in 1914, using 47 different players (but making only two in-season moves).

Bobby Young – 1954 Baltimore Orioles: The 1953 St. Louis Browns went 54-100, using 38 players total.  In 1954 the Browns moved to Baltimore, where they proceeded to go 54-100, using 38 players total.  (In 1955, the O’s went 57-97, using 54 different players.)

Dick Williams – 1959 Kansas City Athletics: The A’s were notorious for being a “farm system” for the New York Yankees.  During calendar 1959, the A’s dealt to the Bombers such talents as Roger Maris, Hector Lopez and Ralph Terry.  The A’s finished no better than third from the bottom of the division from 1953 to 1967.

162-game season: 132 games played (2 times)

Bob Watson and Greg Gross – 1975 Houston Astros: The ’74 Astros finished 81-81.  The ’76 Astros finished 80-82.  The squad in between those mediocrities finished 64-97, and were at one point 47-80.

Ron Fairly – 1977 Toronto Blue Jays: The inaugural Blue Jays squad, which you would think meant they would be trying out a lot of different people.  Yet, they only went through 36 players all year.

I then wondered which squads had the highest and lowest average games played by their top eight position players (nine for DH squads).  We’re playing in a time of 11-12-13-man pitching staffs, which has eliminated practically all platoons in lineups.  Therefore, absent some absurd number of in-season injuries or a flurry of mid-season trades, most teams should average close to 140-150 games played from their top eight (or nine for DH lineups).  But what does the data show?

154-game season (either league):

Highest: 1953 St. Louis Cardinals (149.9 game average, 97.3% of 154-game season): 46-33 and 2.5 games out of first on July 11, then lost six straight and faded to 83-71 and 3rd place.

Lowest: 1906 St. Louis Cardinals (97.3 game average, 63.1% of 154-game season): 2B Pug Bennett played all 153 games.  No one else played more than 97 games.

162-game season (NL 1961-2011, AL 1961-1971 [pre-DH]):

Highest: 1989 St. Louis Cardinals (155.1 game average, 95.2% of 163-game season [1 tie included]): SS Jose Oquendo played all 163 games, while 1B Pedro Guerrero and 3B Terry Pendleton played 162.

Lowest: 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates (108.9 game average, 67.2% of 162-game season): The Pirates made 30 separate moves (not including the disabled list) during the season.  They employed 95 different defensive lineups during 2009.

162-game season (AL 1973-2011 [DH era]):

Highest: 1975 Oakland A’s (149 game average, 92% of 162-game season): The final year of an amazing five-season run including the ’72-’74 World Series wins.  Reggie Jackson would be traded to the Orioles at the start of the ’76 season, and further dismantling soon followed.

Lowest: 2010 Cleveland Indians (105.3 game average, 65% of 162-game season): The Tribe were decimated by injuries, as Travis Hafner appeared in only 118 games, Asdrubal Cabrera suited up 97 and Grady Sizemore made it into 33 contests.

** – After this was originally posted, an alert reader pointed out that in the strike year of 1972, the Mets played 156 games and Ed Kranepool led them with 122 games played.  This would have bested the 154-game season mark, so we’ll give Kranepool an Honorable Mention.

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