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February 13, 2008
  
The Best Pitchers to Wear a Mets Uniform

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.


7 Responses to “The Best Pitchers to Wear a Mets Uniform”

  1. Comment posted by bgygi on February 13, 2008 at 3:40 pm (#610429)

    I realize you are scraping the dirt beneath the bottom of the barrel for topics, but this is an emptier statistical exercise than most. What does it mean that Kevin Appier ranks above Dwight Gooden? Just that Kevin Appier didn’t suck as badly in his bad years as Gooden did (I still have trouble believing he was that much better to make up for Gooden’s stellar years). The fact that the Mets had Gooden in his amazing years (and a couple of the bad) and Appier in his pretty good years does not enter into this, so for Mets fans it has little or no relevance. The best pitcher WHILE in a Mets uniform (best season, best career) - now that would be useful.

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  3. Comment posted by Alex Nelson on February 13, 2008 at 4:28 pm (#610499)

    The fact that the Mets had Gooden in his amazing years (and a couple of the bad) and Appier in his pretty good years does not enter into this, so for Mets fans it has little or no relevance. The best pitcher WHILE in a Mets uniform (best season, best career) - now that would be useful.

    If you look a little harder, you’ll find the article you want to read. It’s here, and I’m pretty sure Marc wrote it (click on his name). As for the relevance of this article, it’s relevant because the Mets just picked up someone who’s one of the 25 best pitchers the Mets have ever had.

    As for Appier, he’s a hideously underrated pitcher. He only went 169-137, but he pitched for some terrible Royals teams. Dwight Gooden’s ERA was 11% better than league average after adjusting for home ballpark. Appier’s was 21% better. That’s not terribly close.

    And while Appier’s peak wasn’t as good as Gooden’s (you can number those pitchers on one hand) his peak was pretty good. In 1992 and 1993 he went 33-16 with a 2.52 ERA while performing in a hitter’s park. In fact, between 1990 and 1996 he never once posted an ERA+ below 121, while being a near certainty to reach 200 innings (the exceptions being the strike-shortened 1994 season and his rookie campaign). If not for the injuries that plagued him later on, he might have a hell of a HOF argument.

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  5. Comment posted by pj on February 13, 2008 at 7:15 pm (#610582)

    i don’t think this article is a desperate cry for the start of spring training. i will question the use of a metric that ranks rick aguilera’s career stats higher than what johan santana has done thus far.

    aguilera was a back of the rotation starter for the mets and a pretty good journeyman closer for a few years.

    santana already has 2 cy young awards, more career wins than aggie, and 4 225+K seasons.

    methinks the metric overvalues longevity. frankie “sweet music” viola, another mets/twins connection, is too highly ranked.

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  7. Comment posted by Marc Normandin on February 14, 2008 at 12:32 pm (#611156)

    i will question the use of a metric that ranks rick aguilera’s career stats higher than what johan santana has done thus far

    I think of it this way regarding Aguilera, and really, with most of the guys in front of Santana: by the time his career is said and done, he’ll be light years ahead of most of them, barring a significant injury.

    The statistic doesn’t overvalue longevity so much as it is taking into account the fact that Santana doesn’t have any longevity to speak of yet. He has accomplished a lot during his time in the league, but he also hasn’t put that many years together total. It’s meant to balance peak and longevity, and right now, Santana is all peak. Given a few more years, he’ll probably move up the list rapidly. Consider it neat that he’s already ranked where he is given he has only thrown 1300+ innings so far.

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  9. Comment posted by pj on February 14, 2008 at 3:34 pm (#611399)

    Marc, I agree that Santana has to continue to put up solid numbers, but by this metric he could be the winning starter at the 2008 AllStar game, pitch a no-hitter in late August to clinch the NL East pennant, and win the Cy Young unanimously and still be ranked behind Mike Marshall.

    He’s all peak, but I believe his peak is greater than aggies whole career. The statistical metric should somehow account for this and I don’t think JAWS does a good job of estimating what the integration under the curve that represents their “greatness” over a career.

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  11. Comment posted by Marc Normandin on February 14, 2008 at 5:33 pm (#611565)

    Marc, I agree that Santana has to continue to put up solid numbers, but by this metric he could be the winning starter at the 2008 AllStar game, pitch a no-hitter in late August to clinch the NL East pennant, and win the Cy Young unanimously and still be ranked behind Mike Marshall.

    That’s not true at all. I’ll break this down. Santana has 5 seasons where he started a significant number of games out of 8 seasons in which he’s appeared in a game in the majors. That means that Santana has not even finished his peak yet, as there is a 5.1 WARP3 season and a 1.4 WARP3 season in the current “top 7″. Let’s say Santana has a 10.0 WARP3 season this year–he had 9.4 last year and 10.9 the season before that. That 10.0 would replace the 1.4 as one of this top 7, giving him a Peak Score of 65.0 WARP3 and a career total of 65.9 for a JAWS of 65.4, good for #16 on the list. That’s a huge rank jump from one season; if he posts another season with a WARP3 of let’s say, 9.0 in 2009, that would give him a Peak Score of 67.9 and a JAWS of 71.9, good for #10 on the list.

    He’s all peak, but I believe his peak is greater than aggies whole career. The statistical metric should somehow account for this and I don’t think JAWS does a good job of estimating what the integration under the curve that represents their “greatness” over a career.

    If his peak was indeed better than Aguilera’s whole career, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Peak and Career are both derived from WARP3 and neither is weighted more than the other in JAWS. As shown above, with two more full seasons as a starter rather than his limited time and stint as a reliever under his belt, he will pass Aguilera and plenty of others as he shoots into the top 10. Considering he’ll still only be 31 at that point, he could realistically replace the next lowest total on the top 7, a 6.9 from 2003, pushing his Peak and Career scores further.

    The only difference between Santana and Aguilera on the list right now is that Aguilera has better back-end seasons for his top 7, while Santana’s are weak. He has the upper hand on the great seasons, but until he pitches another season or two, there aren’t enough of them to cancel that out entirely. They are only 0.6 apart though, so you can see how slim Aguilera’s hold is on that. Hell, if he had started 5-6 more games for the Twins earlier he might already be ahead of him.

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  13. Comment posted by pj on February 14, 2008 at 9:32 pm (#611613)

    If his peak was indeed better than Aguilera’s whole career, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Peak and Career are both derived from WARP3 and neither is weighted more than the other in JAWS.

    i guess where we disagree is with how peak and career should be weighted.

    The statistical metric should somehow account for this and I don’t think JAWS does a good job of estimating what the integration under the curve that represents their “greatness” over a career.

    the curve i speak of is based on a hypothetical metric, not JAWS. perhaps something that can project a career JAWS for a 29 year old pitcher.

    fwiw, i think pedro is the best pitcher to wear a mets uniform (pedro is among the top 5 to wear a uniform. period.) and JAWS has him 5th. he won’t hang around into his 40s to put up the numbers of glavine, spahn, and seaver (i am a big tom terrific fan he threw nearly 240 innings in his age 40 season).

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