When Johan Santana was dealt to the Mets, I tried to think of a way to work it into an article in a different manner than had already been published here at Mets Geek. I decided to go with the historical route, by looking at some of the best pitchers the Mets have ever had on their roster.
Instead of an article on the “Best Mets’ Pitchers” in history, I went for something a little different, “Best Pitchers to Wear a Mets’ Uniform”. Essentially, there are pitchers on this list who pitched a season or even half of one while playing for New York, and this approach made sense given Santana has not thrown a pitch for the team yet.
I chose to use JAWS (JAffe WARP Score) as the statistic to create a list from. JAWS is based off of Wins Above Replacement Level in its third form, which is adjusted for difficulty and schedule length along with everything else you can think of. It takes a player’s career WARP3 and adds it to a player’s peak, which is made up of their seven best seasons. Add them together and divide by two in order to balance career production against peak years, and you have JAWS. Here’s a look at numbers 25 through 11 on the list, as I’ll cover the top 10 itself in the article:
Rank Name JAWS
25. Jon Matlack 54.2
24. Johan Santana 55.0
23. Al Leiter 55.0
22. Rick Aguilera 55.6
21. John Candelaria 55.8
20. Roberto Hernandez 56.7
19. Billy Wagner 58.0
18. Mike Marshall 58.9
17. John Franco 61.1
16. Frank Viola 64.4
15. Bob Friend 66.0
14. Dwight Gooden 66.5
13. Mickey Lolich 66.6
12. Kevin Appier 67.2
11. Jerry Koosman 70.3
#10: Orel Hershiser – 71.6 JAWS
The Bulldog was only on the Mets roster during the 1999 season, but he was a useful part on that playoff team. His statistics were not anything special, but he went 13-12 with an ERA+ of 97, right around the league average. That’s not too shabby for a 40-year old who threw almost 180 innings in his second to last season.
He only threw 5.1 innings in the playoffs themselves, all in relief with no record. He would leave the Mets during the offseason to head back to Los Angeles to finish his career.
#9: Kenny Rogers – 72.7 JAWS
The memories may not be as fond for Kenny Rogers, Hershiser’s teammate on the 1999 squad. Rogers started three games in the playoffs and ended up with an 0-3 record. Rogers walked seven hitters and struck out just two—I’ll spare the gory details—and ended up out of town after the season. He has since resurrected his reputation by stringing together 23 consecutive shutout innings in the postseason, and recently he surpassed the 200-win mark for his career.
#8: Bret Saberhagen – 74.1 JAWS
Saberhagen pitched for the Mets from 1992 into parts of 1995 with mixed results. His first season, his ERA+ was just 99, and he only managed 97.2 innings pitched. In 1993 he improved some and bumped his ERA+ up to 123, but still put together a low innings total at 139.1. Despite the strike in 1994, Saberhagen threw 177.3 innings, went 14-4 with an ERA+ of 152, the third-best figure of his career, and punched out 143 hitters.
Saberhagen’s best quality as a pitcher was his ability to keep men off base by avoiding free passes. For his career, he walked only 1.7 hitters per nine innings pitched. Between that and some solid work in my neck of the woods to end his career, Saberhagen was one of my favorites growing up.
#7: David Cone – 74.6 JAWS
Cone, Saberhagen and Rogers are not only next to each other on this Mets’ list, but they are also all consecutively ranked on my spreadsheet I made for pitchers from 1962 onward. Cone was the best of the three, and came to the Mets early on in his career via trade. The Royals would get Cone back for the 93-94 seasons, but not until after he won a World Series with Toronto and threw 1200 innings for the Mets. Cone won 80 games with the Mets while posting some average and well above-average campaigns, with ERA+ numbers of 102, 146, 92, 116, 111, 128 and 120 for New York.
When Cone returned to New York, it was as a Yankee, becoming part of the club that won four championships. He did end his career with the Mets though, throwing 18 innings in 2003 after taking the 2002 season off.
#6: Frank Tanana – 76.1 JAWS
Another pitcher who snuck onto the list with just a little bit of time as a Met, Tanana pitched 183 innings in his final season for the National League squad, and the other 19.2 for the Yankees. The 39-year old did not find much success, posting a 7-15 record with an ERA+ of just 90. Tanana had certainly seen better days, and there are those who think he has a Hall of Fame case. Given his career, he would not be going in as a Met were he to ever enter the halls of Cooperstown, despite his lofty ranking on this list. [insert smiley face emoticon here]
#5: Pedro Martinez – 93.4 JAWS
With Pedro, we enter into the realm of “greatest pitchers ever who pitched for the Mets”. The team has a long history of talented pitchers, and the addition of Pedro following the 2004 season added to that legacy. Though his best days were behind him before he even left Boston, Pedro Martinez is still capable of being a force on the mound, and his numbers already shout “all-time great”.
I could gush about Pedro all day—he’s my favorite player after all—but I’m more excited to see if he still has anything left in the tank for the 2008 season at the moment. It’s that time of year, after all.
#4: Nolan Ryan – 93.8 JAWS
If Pedro stays healthy, he should take the #4 spot from Ryan this year, and maybe move to the #3 spot by the time he is finished. Ryan made his debut as a Met, and pitched for the club from 1966 through 1971 before moving on to the California Angels. He would later face his original team in the 1986 playoffs as a member of the Houston Astros, starting two games with 17 strikeouts in 14 innings, while getting stuck with a loss, despite the characteristically wild pitcher only walking a solitary batter.
Ryan was never more than a league average pitcher while he was with the Mets, as his best season came at age 23 with an ERA+ of 117. He obviously went on to bigger and better things following his departure, finishing with 324 wins and a plaque in Cooperstown after retiring at the age of 46.
#3: Tom Glavine – 100.6 JAWS
Though his best years were with his current team, the Atlanta Braves, Tom Glavine put together a string of quality years with the Mets. He was always around the league average, and sometimes a bit above, posting ERA+ figures of 93, 119, 116, 114, and 96. We’ll avoid talking about how his last season as a Met should have had an ERA+ a bit higher than that, since there are no 2008 games to soothe that pain as of yet.
Glavine is back with the Braves, so those Mets fans who require vengeance for his awful last start in a Mets’ uni may get plenty of it from their new divisional foe. Glavine may still have something left in the tank, but leaving the confines of Shea Stadium should affect his performance negatively.
#2: Warren Spahn – 113.1 JAWS
Another Hall of Famer, Spahn only pitched one part of a season for the Mets, his last in the majors. Spahn threw 126 innings for the Mets in 1965 (along with another 71.2 for the Giants), but he pitched rather poorly; his 4.36 ERA looks decent today, but by the standards of the mid-60s, he was 20% below the league average ERA.
Spahn is in the argument for “greatest lefthander ever”, and as of now ranks above Glavine, a fellow southpaw. Glavine most likely won’t be able to overtake him unless he spends a few more seasons in the league—at age 42, that most likely will not happen—but, hey, Nolan Ryan pitched until he was 46, and I’m sure Clemens will come out of retirement again while he collects Social Security.
#1: Tom Seaver – 114.0 JAWS
This should have been an easy one to guess, unless you were unsure of just where he and Spahn lined up. Seaver is not only #1 on the Mets list, but is also #3 amongst all pitchers from 1962 onward. He threw 2814.2 innings for the Mets from 1967 through parts of 1977, and posted some excellent numbers during that time: 189 wins against 110 losses, 2406 strikeouts (7.7 per nine), walked just 2.4 batters per nine in the same time frame while posting ERA+ figures ranging from 115 at the low end to 193 at the highest point.
Seaver put together a very good second half of his career with the Reds following a trade in 1977, and he came back in 1983 at age 38 for one more go with the Mets. His 103 ERA+ and 231 innings may not have been a throwback to his old days with New York, but it was the return of a player who was adored in his day. Seaver was a member of the Boston Red Sox during the 1986 season, his last in the majors. He could have ended up facing his first team in the World Series, but it never came to that, as he was suffering from a knee injury. Maybe things would have been different if he made an appearance—the Sox could have used some more pitching help, and Seaver had a decent season—but maybe it’s best for Mets’ fans that he never stepped against them with a series on the line either.