Finally, the New York Mets won a game in easy fashion. For that matter, they finally won two games in a row for just the second time this month.
This wasn’t the thumbs down like we once saw with the Mets fan and Todd Frazier when Frazier was with the New York Yankees. No, according to Báez, it was retaliatory booing of fans.
Javier Baez on the thumbs down sign Mets players have been flashing to the crowd after big hits: "To let [the fans] know when we don't get success we're going to get booed, so they are going to get booed when we have success."
— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) August 29, 2021
We can debate whether Báez was here long enough to react that way. The clear answer is no. Sure, he’s sticking up for his good friend Lindor, who fans stupidly booed, but Báez isn’t the guy here.
He’s also not the guy to adjudge fans not being behind this team. He seriously has zero clue as to what it means to be a Mets fan. It’s an idiotic statement. It’s all the more idiotic given the ovations he received when he first joined the Mets.
Assuredly, those are gone.
Another important note, this is a Mets team who opened the month with a 3.5 game division lead. It hasn’t even been a full month, and they turned that into a 7.5 game deficit.
That shifts to what makes this all too embarrassing and hilarious. Apparently, the Mets players had been trying to do this for a week.
The fact the players have tried to do this for a week and we’re all just noticing now is the funniest thing ever.
Hey fans, we were trying to boo you back but we were so terrible no one could possibly notice.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHA https://t.co/guRZozzqN3
— Mets Daddy (@MetsDaddy2013) August 29, 2021
That’s just how bad the Mets have been. They’ve been trying to make this a new thing for a week. The only problem is no one noticed because they have been so bad the past week, and really this month, they couldn’t even pull it off.
It’s just a bad joke.
They’ve been trying to get back at the fans for the better part of a week, and they were so bad, no one knew this was a thing. Pulling off this retaliation might as well have been the Mets hitting with the bases loaded.
And therein lies the problem. The players are now obsessed over trying to teach the fans a lesson. Great. Good for them. It’s not going to help them win games or hit.
So, great, teach Mets fans a lesson. They’re still going to boo a team four games under .500 who completely nosedived against teams they were supposed to compete with in the postseason.
Even better, the booing is going to get worse much like the Mets performance has been in the second half. So, in the end, the players actions are going to be as counter productive as their at-bats with RISP have been.
Really, all you can and should do, is laugh at them because this is just sad.
If we hearken back to the 2018 season, the New York Mets were languishing, and Todd Frazier landed on the IL for the first time in his career. Jose Reyes was just flat out terrible, Wilmer Flores was at first, and David Wright, well, he wasn’t an option. Down in Double-A Binghamton, Jeff McNeil was flat out raking. He just kept hitting and hitting and hitting.
The answer seemed obvious to everyone. Everyone, that is, except Sandy Alderson and the New York Mets. When pressed on calling up McNeil to play third base, the answer was McNeil was a second baseman only. Of course, the irony there was McNeil was the Binghamton Rumble Ponies Opening Day third baseman.
Back then, it was difficult to ascertain how much of personnel decisions were driven by Jeff Wilpon, whomever Wilpon decided to listen on any given day, or Alderson. Whatever the case, McNeil would eventually get the call-up, prove himself, and he would go on to have an All-Star season in 2019.
Since 2019, things have gone quite uneven for McNeil as it has for the rest of us. In the end, what we do know with McNeil is he is an exceptionally gifted contact hitter, and he is a fiery player who you could trust defensively at four different positions.
According to Baseball Savant, McNeil has a career 3 OAA at second, 3 OAA at third, and -1 OAA in left field. DRS has a much better picture with McNeil having a 5 DRS at second, 6 DRS at third, and a 3 DRS in left field. All told, McNeil is not a Gold Glove, but he is a very solid defender at multiple positions.
As noted, McNeil could hit. Entering this season, McNeil had a 139 wRC+. Since his debut, he has been the 13th best hitter in the majors, and he trailed only Brandon Nimmo among Mets players. All told, McNeil has established himself as a very good, versatile, and valuable Major League player. Despite that, we are seemingly back at square one with McNeil.
With the acquisition of Francisco Lindor, and his preference to hit near the top of the lineup, McNeil was dropped from the top two spots, where he thrived, to sixth and seventh in the lineup. Perhaps it was the drop in the lineup, the new baseball, the delay to the season, the typical influence Chili Davis has on his teams, the pandemic, or just the normal ebbs and flows of the season, but McNeil has struggled.
The thing is, he didn’t quite struggle right away. In fact, to start the season, McNeil was tattooing the ball. Unfortunately, he was not getting any luck. Balls he normally hit for singles and doubles weren’t falling in anymore. The Mets reaction to that was to sit him after the Mets first two games of the season.
That has become an emerging pattern for McNeil. So far, the Mets have played 17 games, and McNeil has only started in 14 of them. The only projected starter who has started in fewer games is J.D. Davis, but that was only because Davis landed on the IL after getting hit by a pitch early in the season.
Davis is somewhat illustrative of the problem here. Davis has again been a nightmare defensively. He’s already a -2 DRS and a -1 OAA at third. He made errors directly impacting his team and leading Taijuan Walker and David Peterson to have shorter starts. The end result was just one game off, where he still appeared as a pinch hitter, and he was put right back in the lineup.
For some reason, Davis is able to work through his problems despite them not being fixable. For McNeil, this is very clearly a blip, but he keeps getting relegated to the bench. Instead of getting to see more pitches and get into a rhythms, the Mets are doing to the opposite. In fact, they’re just setting him up to continue to struggle.
Perhaps, this is just Alderson resting back on previous biases towards players from his first stint with the Mets. Taking a broader look, Dominic Smith has had some similar struggles getting into the lineup. In fact, the Mets have begun using him as a platoon bat. That’s despite him being one of the Mets best hitters against left-handed pitching.
To some extent, McNeil is also being used as a platoon player. For example, he was also not in the lineup against Patrick Corbin. More likely, McNeil is just being punished for struggling. For some reason, he is not going to be permitted to struggle and figure things out at the plate while others can go out there being butchers in the field costing the Mets games.
Make no mistake, how the Mets are handling McNeil is a very big problem. They are taking one of their best players, and they are crossing him up further. They are not putting him in a position to succeed in terms of where he hits in the lineup and in terms of getting to play enough to get into a rhythm and figure things out. Whatever the reason for the McNeil benchings, they have to stop, and they have to stop now.
When you look to build a roster, your bench should be reflective of what you are missing from your everyday players. For the New York Mets as constructed, they are missing a good defender at third, and they have a heavy left-handed hitting lineup. Ideally, a bench player for the Mets should be a strong defender at third, and it should be someone who can hit left-handed pitchers.
Like it or not, that describes Todd Frazier.
Since originally signing with the Mets, Frazier has been a 2 OAA for the Mets at third base and a 3 DRS overall. While this isn’t the plus defender he once was, Frazier remains a strong defender at the position, which puts him light years ahead of their incumbent third baseman J.D. Davis.
As a hitter, Frazier has not been the same player since he posted a 117 OPS+ in 2015. Over parts of the last three seasons with the Mets, Frazier had a below average 98 OPS+ with a 97 OPS+ overall. Looking behind those numbers on Baseball Savant, Frazier is a player with declining exit velocities and barrels.
All told, we see with Frazier he is a soon to be 35 year old baseball player. Before he signed with the Mets, he was a relative iron man. Since 2018, he has been nicked up here and there. With that also comes a player with years of experience who has been a leader in the clubhouse. In fact, when the Mets re-acquired him at the trade deadline last year, the Mets players were happy he was returning:
Pete Alonso on Todd Frazier: “He just brings good vibes no matter where he goes.”
— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) August 31, 2020
However, he does provide more value than just a good glove and a good guy in the clubhouse. While he has faltered against right-handed pitching, he continues to thrive against left-handed pitching. Since 2018, Frazier has a 95 wRC+ against right-handed pitching and a 105 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. That would make him a strong platoon option and late defensive replacement.
In his career, he he has been strong coming off the bench hitting .286/.389/.494 in 77 career games entering the game as substitute. With the Mets, we have also seen him have the penchant for a clutch late inning homer:
Looking at what Frazier has provided the Mets and his positive presence in the clubhouse, he is someone who merits consideration. Seeing what he could provide the team in 2021, he does deserve a closer look from this front office.
That said, he is still 35 and still in decline. Because of that, he really doesn’t merit anything beyond a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. If he performs well then, he should get a role on the Opening Day roster. If not, he can certainly go down to Syracuse as depth. That is, if he is willing to do so.
Overall, whether fans like it or not, Frazier could make a positive contribution to the Mets in 2021. However, that would only be in a very limited role, one which he has been unaccustomed for much of his career. All told, if he’s willing to accept a minor league deal to return and to stay closer to home like he wants, it is something that could be mutually beneficial to both sides.
With the slow crawl of the free agent market, there were still a number of quality depth players available in free agency. Instead, the New York Mets opted to sign Jonathan Villar.
Villar, 29, has been an everyday player for most of his career. The last time he served in a utility role was with the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers. In that season, Villar hit .241/.293/.372. That 2017 season also happens to be the worst year of his career. By and large looking at that and his career as a whole, there really isn’t evidence Villar is well equipped to be a utility player.
That said, this is still a Mets team without a third baseman, and they don’t have a clear path at the moment to get one. Given the situation, it doesn’t hurt to add a player like Villar who has shown he can handle playing everyday, and he has shown the ability to play at different positions. However, that is only part of the equation.
When you look at Villar’s career, especially of late, you’d be hard pressed to find a reason why this is a good signing.
Since 2017, Villar is hitting .258/.320/.397 with a 91 wRC+. His being below average offensively is all the more alarming when you consider much of that was buttressed by a 2019 season where he hit .274/.339/.453 with a 109 wRC+. That 2019 season was mostly driven by a juiced ball and a .341 BABIP.
Looking at Baseball Savant, there is little hope for Villar to prove to be a good hitter. He has always had low hard hit rates, barrels, and launch angles. Yes, the noted exception was 2019 which had a juiced ball. If we are to believe baseball, they are going to go in the complete opposite direction and deaden that ball thereby removing all hope for Villar to repeat that season.
Suffice it to say, Villar is not a good hitter. Conversely, Villar has proven to be a very good pinch hitter with a .315/.327/.500 batting line in 55 appearances. While promising, that is a very small sample size.
Now, utility players need not be perfect. After all, if they were, they would be everyday players and not utility players. There is nothing wrong with having a utility player who doesn’t hit all that well but is a good fielder. Unfortunately, Villar is not a good fielder.
Since 2017, Villar is a -2 DRS at second base, -5 DRS at short, and a -3 DRS in the outfield. He hasn’t played third since 2016, and he has been a -7 DRS there in 429.0 innings. Really, there isn’t any place in the infield you feel comfortable sticking him and providing you good defense. All told, Villar is a classic case of just because you’ve played a number of positions, it doesn’t really mean you should play any of them. And if you can’t play positions well, you’re not really versatile.
Really, if you look at Villar the only thing he can provide is really good base running. He is a very good base runner who can steal bases even if he has declining speed. While he’s exceptional at that, it is not something which helps the Mets all that much. Most of the Mets everyday lineup has speed and are not going to be removed normally for a pinch runner. Really, teams don’t utilize pinch runners all that much until rosters expand late in the season, which they don’t really expand all that much anymore.
When you look at Villar, this is player who doesn’t hit and can’t field. He doesn’t solve the Mets third base need, and his presence promises to take away reps from Luis Guillorme who is a superior player. There were also far more superior options available and better fits for this Mets roster like Jedd Gyorko and Todd Frazier.
Really, the Mets could have and should have done better than Villar. In the end, we can only hope the Mets knew something we don’t about him because based on all that we see this isn’t a move which really helps improve the Mets roster.
As the season wound to a close, there was much talk about how the Mets were too talented for this season to have unfolded the way it did. Certainly, some players struggled, but in the end, the Mets missing even an expanded postseason should not have shocked anyone.
Things changed dramatically for the Mets the day Noah Syndergaard had to shut it down due to Tommy John surgery. It was at that point the Mets went from possible postseason contender to a team who was likely going to miss the postseason.
Syndergaard presented, along with Jacob deGrom, two top of the rotation, swing and miss pitchers. The Mets desperately needed this as this was a team with far too many pitchers who pitched to contact in front of a terrible defensive team.
In 2019, the Mets were last in the National League with an 86 DRS. Despite planning on going into 2020 with Marcus Stroman and Rick Porcello, two pitchers who pitch to a high rate of contact, the Mets affirmatively opted not to improve their defense. In actuality, they probably made t worse.
Remember, the plan was to always have two first basemen in the field with Pete Alonso and J.D. Davis. Based on what we saw of Robinson Cano in 2019, you could’ve argued, the Mets were really putting three first basemen in the field. That’s beyond ill advised.
An important thing to remember here was not only were the Mets playing three first basemen, they were playing three poor ones at that, at least in terms of their respective positions.
By OAA, Alonso was the worst defensive first baseman in the NL last year. Davis was the 26th ranked LF with the second worst success rate. Cano was also ranked 26th.
The good news is Cano rebounded by OAA but not DRS. Past him, well, it was a complete disaster.
Davis didn’t last long in LF because he was even worse, which you could not imagine to be possible. He then moved to third where he was again an unmitigated disaster. That was a precipitous drop from the good, albeit declining defense, provided from Todd Frazier last year.
Alonso too regressed leading him to lose his everyday job at first. Instead, he split time with Dominic Smith at the position. When Dom wasn’t at first, he was in left. That meant the Mets had FOUR first basemen in the field.
You can’t win games that way.
What makes this even worse is the Mets didn’t really surround these players with plus defenders to offset the terrible defense.
Brandon Nimmo isn’t a center fielder. That was again proven by his -4 OAA and -5 DRS. Wilson Ramos was just about the worst catcher there was in baseball behind the plate. His framing numbers were poor, his ability to block the ball worse, and his ability to tag out runners nonexistent.
Essentially, that made the pitchers mound look more like a tiny island with a bunch of people around him just letting him drown.
Really, when you look at the Mets, the only position they had good defense was short with Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario providing very good defense there. Other than that this was a terrible defensive ballclub with the fourth worst DRS in all of baseball.
The sad thing is it didn’t have to be this way. There were very good defenders on this roster who earned playing time. Case in point was Luis Guillorme. He had a very good defensive season with a 1 OAA and DRS, and he posted a 144 wRC+ at the plate. Playing him up the middle with Gimenez or Rosario could’ve had a profound impact on this suspect pitching staff.
On that note, Porcello struggled with terrible defense behind him. Stroman opting out certainly hurt, but he also might’ve struggled in front of a flat out terrible defensive team.
Truth be told, the only way this team could’ve competed was by having a starting staff of swing and miss pitchers who induced soft contact. Unfortunately, Syndergaard was injured, and the Mets didn’t want Zack Wheeler. Once the latter two were gone so were the Mets chances.
In the end, Brodie Van Wagenen and Jeff Wilpon treated the Mets like they were a fantasy team. With the Mets having an MLB best team 122 wRC+, they probably won their fantasy league.
However, on the field, where things like defense and base running matter, they built a flawed and arguably bad baseball team. Certainly, this was not a team truly built to compete, and in the end the Mets didn’t.
That’s why Van Wagenen will be gone and why Steve Cohen has zero interest in keeping Jeff Wilpon around in any decision making capacity when the sale is officially ratified by MLB.
Overall, the 2020 New York Mets didn’t underachieve. No, this team did EXACTLY what they were built to do. That was have deGrom be great, the offense hit, and get horrendous defense and suspect starting pitching.
The Mets made that option despite Guillorme having a 0.7 WAR, 143 wRC+, and having a 2 OAA. He’s been a good hitter and an even better fielder. He’s also been a good pinch hitter on his career with a .364 OBP.
It should be noted J.D. Davis continues to be the worst fielder in baseball. Since August 1, he’s hitting .262/.374/.404. Overall, he’s at a 0.0 WAR.
Put another way, Guillorme was optioned despite there being worse players with options remaining staying on the roster. That means the Mets didn’t put their best roster out there at a time when they’re supposedly trying to make the postseason.
With a rusty and possibly not quite fully healthy yet Steven Matz starting and imploding, the Mets were in a 6-0 hole through three. Seeing the Mets overcame bug deficits against the Phillies, there was some hope the Mets could come back.
Kilome took care of that hope allowing six runs over 1.1 innings putting the Mets in a 12-0 hole. Seeing Kilome pitch, you need to remember the Mets optioned their best bench player quite possibly losing him for the rest of the season for this performance.
Adding insult to injury, Travis d’Arnaud was 3-for-4 with a run, homer, two RBI, and two walks. The player Van Wagenen didn’t think was good enough for his team is batting cleanup for one of the best teams in baseball, and he’s killing the Mets.
All told, this was an embarrassing and demoralizing 15-2 loss. Make no mistake, this was a direct reflection of just how inept Van Wagenen has been as the Mets GM.
Game Notes: Todd Frazier pitched a scoreless inning.
The New York Mets had an opportunity to make some headway in the postseason race with a four game series against the Phillies. They had their chance, but instead, they could only muster a split.
1. Jacob deGrom AGAIN established he’s the best pitcher in baseball by striking out 12 Phillies over seven.
2. deGrom and Zack Wheeler would’ve been the best 1-2 punch in baseball, but unfortunately, Brodie Van Wagenen is a terrible GM.
3. If the Mets had the starting pitching, they’d easily be the top team in the division. It’s weird saying that knowing where the Mets have been, and downright hilarious considering Van Wagenen’s preseason declarations.
4. As we continue to see, Seth Lugo can start. That wasn’t really the issue. The issue always was who takes over his role. The answer so far is nobody.
7. Obtaining Todd Frazier made sense because he gave the Mets the third baseman they didn’t have, and apparently, he was a great presence for this Mets team.
8. The Mets didn’t obtain Frazier for his bat, but maybe they should’ve because Pete Alonso started hitting again using Frazier’s bats.
9. Speaking of hitting again, it’s nice to see Jeff McNeil raking again.
10. Game-in, game-out, Michael Conforto proves the Mets need to extend him.
11. Somehow, someway, Dominic Smith has emerged as the Mets best hitter so far this year, and he’s leading the league in doubles. He wasn’t given an opportunity. He forced it.
12. Luis Guillorme is batting .395, and he plays good to great defense at three different positions. His not being able to crack this starting lineup is another example of why Van Wagenen has to go.
13. J.D. Davis has proven he can’t play in the field. Without the juiced ball, his GB rate is climbing back up to career norms, and his BABIP is dropping. In total, he’s regressing to the mean. Insisting on playing him everyday is holding this team back.
14. The rally yesterday was great, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot when you see the Mets lose in extras.
15. Right now, the only Mets reliever you might be able to trust is Brad Brach, who has been having a very good year. You’d like to see him more, but that may not be possible when his dealing with the after effects of COVID19.
17. The Tom Seaver patch is nice, but it’s perfunctory. It seems Mets fans want more with renaming Citi Field in his honor as a popular one. Personally, I’d like to see the dirt patch be permanent, and/or a 41 permanently on the pitching rubber at Citi Field.
18. It’s funny to think the Toronto Blue Jays are currently the best team in New York. One of the reasons why is Anthony Kay who has a 176 ERA+. The Mets sure could’ve used him this year.
19. We’re counting down the days until the Wilpons are gone. Hopefully, Van Wagenen, who turned a great core and minor league depth into a team four games under .500 f outside looking in on an expanded postseason, follows them out the door.
20. Despite everything, the Mets are just two games out of a postseason spot (five in the loss column). They’re better than the Marlins, Giants, Rockies, and Brewers (or should be). There’s still a chance.
For all his bravado, Brodie Van Wagenen has not only stripped the farm system down, but he did it while impinging the Major League roster’s ability to compete for a World Series. To put it in perspective, let’s just look at what the Mets roster would look like right now if Van Wagenen only kept the Mets players in the organization had he not taken the job, or, if he did nothing.
Some caveats here. This assumes free agents were re-signed. Without the Robinson Cano deal, that would’ve been possible. Also, it assumes the same players who are injured for the season would remain injured. Finally, this will eliminate those players not on active 28 man rosters. With that in mind, here’s what the 2020 Mets would’ve looked like.
2B Jeff McNeil
3B Todd Frazier
SS Amed Rosario
CF Juan Lagares
DH Pete Alonso
INF Wilmer Flores
1B/OF Jay Bruce
INF Luis Guillorme
RHP Jacob deGrom
RHP Zack Wheeler
LHP Steven Matz
LHP Anthony Kay
LHP David Peterson
RHP Seth Lugo
RHP Rafael Montero
RHP Justin Dunn
RHP Robert Gsellman
RHP Drew Smith
LHP Blake Taylor
RHP Bobby Wahl
LHP Daniel Zamora
RHP Paul Sewald
RHP Franklyn Kilome
Looking at the team overall, the starting pitching is vastly superior as is the team defense. The bullpen may not be as deep, but they certainly have the arms.
Overall, this non-Van Wagenen impacted roster would’ve certainly been better than the 9-14 team his Mets roster is. This just goes to show you how bad of a GM Van Wagenen is.
He’s made the Mets worse in 2020, and he’s made the Mets future less promising. You could not have done a worse job than Van Wagenen has done.
When it comes to the Mets, there have been several bad to disastrous free agent signings. In fact, up until recently, there was a real debate over which signing was the worst.
Players like Bobby Bonilla and Kazuo Matsui never quite fulfilled his promise. Roger Cedeno was nowhere near the player he was in 1999 when he returned to Queens. Jason Bay didn’t hit for power before the concussions happened.
As bad as those were, there was Vince Coleman, who was an unmitigated disaster. Aside from his numbers falling off a cliff, he threw firecrackers at fans, injured Dwight Gooden with a golf club, and he was accused of sexual assault (charges never filed).
Looking at it, Coleman was probably the worst of the group. When you consider the long standing animosity Mets fans had towards him prior to the signing and his off the field problems, he may still have claim to that title.
However, when it comes to on the field performance, Jed Lowrie is definitively the worst ever Mets signing. We just need to look at video from the Mets summer camp yesterday to confirm that.
Jed Lowrie is participating in base running drills with his brace on. His speed is definitely not game-ready. pic.twitter.com/PyVmUqT9J4
— Deesha (@DeeshaThosar) July 5, 2020
Rewinding back to Spring Training last year, Lowrie was initially described as having left knee soreness. Time and again, the Mets downplayed the injury, and to date, they have yet to really reveal what the injury actually is.
They didn’t reveal it when he had multiple rehab assignments shut down. They didn’t reveal it when he was 0-for-7 as a pinch hitter in September. They didn’t reveal it when he came to Spring Training this year not really ready to play. Even months later, they’re still not revealing it. Worse yet, they’re downplaying it.
New manager Luis Rojas was put in the position today that Mickey Callaway failed far too often. He had to offer an out-and-out lie and make it sound believable. According to what Rojas said, Lowrie is a “full go.”
Later in the day, we saw the video running and realized there’s no way that’s true. Lowrie is not a full go, and to a certain extent the Mets talking about Lowrie ramping up to try to play without a brace is a strawman. All told, brace or no brace, this is simply a player who can’t get on the field.
The more you see the aborted rehab attempts, the lack of explanations for the injury, the mixed messages, and Lowrie’s inability to do anything but swing the bat, the more you’re reminded of David Wright. Before his send off, Wright would make similar attempts to get back, but ultimately his body wouldn’t let him. It seems the same with Lowrie.
Maybe Lowrie is different , but that’s anyone’s guess. Really, that’s all we have. That’s partially because the Mets revealed no news, and it’s because Lowrie didn’t either.
Asked what is exactly wrong with his leg, Lowrie said he doesn't want to create a distraction.
— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) July 5, 2020
Maybe telling everyone why his knee, left side, or whatever else the Mets want to call it would be more of a distraction than it is already. Maybe it won’t. Whatever the case, when you strip it all down, the Mets gave a two year $20 million deal to a guy who just can’t play.
The Mets didn’t need Lowrie when they signed him. They already had Robinson Cano, Todd Frazier, and Jeff McNeil. What they needed was arms in the bullpen, but they already allocated their budget towards an infielder who would wind up doing no more than a few pinch hitting attempts (without a hit). You could say the Mets not having those extra arms in the pen is what cost them the postseason last year.
Ultimately, Lowrie is getting $20 million from the Mets, and he can’t get on the field. The money allocated towards him could’ve addressed other deficiencies on the roster and helped pushed the Mets into the postseason. Brodie Van Wagenen signed his former client, who was too injured to even start one game, and with that Van Wagenen quite possibly made the single worst free agent signing in Mets history.
The Mets have won two World Series with Donn Clendenon and Ray Knight being the MVPs of those series. Aside from being Mets, one thing that links them is they both wore the number 22. However, while each have their own special place in Mets history, the best Mets player to ever wear the number was Al Leiter.
After being the starting pitcher in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, Leiter was shipped out as Wayne Huizenga ordered a firesale of the team. Leiter, who grew up a Mets fan in New Jersey, would get to live out his childhood dream of pitching for the Mets. On that note, before there was Todd Frazier, Leiter was the Mets player from Toms River, NJ.
The Leiter trade was a significant step for the franchise. Not only did it come at a steep cost which included AJ Burnett, but it was an indication the Mets were looking to take the next step forward after a surprising 88 win season in 1997. Leiter went from a star studded rotation in Florida to the Mets ace.
In that 1998 season, he was 17-6 with a 2.47 ERA, 1.150 WHIP, and an 8.1 K/9. Using the stat ERA+, Leiter’s 1998 season was the best by any Mets pitcher not named Dwight Gooden, Jacob deGrom, or Tom Seaver. Put another way, it was the best season by any Mets left-handed pitcher, a group which includes Tom Glavine, Jerry Koosman, and Johan Santana.
While Mike Piazza got much of the publicity for that season, and deservedly so, by WAR, Leiter was the second best player on that Mets team. It should be noted he was the pitcher who was on the mound when Piazza first came to the Mets. The two of them became friends, and Leiter was one of the reasons Piazza stayed.
Leiter would not be able to replicate his 1998 success in a Mets uniform, but he would go on to put together a great Mets career. While it may not have been his best season, Leiter would come up big time and again.
After the May firings of Bobby Valentine‘s coaching staff, Leiter won six of his next seven starts to help get the Mets from one game under .500 at the beginning of June to 11 games over just one month later. That helped turn the 1999 season from a forgettable one to one of the most special ones in team history.
When the Mets were staring down a late season collapse for the second straight year, Leiter helped right the ship by beating the Braves to allow the team to tie the Reds atop the Wild Card standings to force a play-in game. Leiter would get the ball, and he would turn in what was arguably the greatest regular season pitching performance in team history:
In a game the Mets absolutely had to have, Leiter put his best performance in a Mets uniform pitching a two hit shut-out on the road against the Reds to send the Mets to the NLDS. One interesting note is that while this is classified as a one-game playoff, it is considered a regular season game.
One of the reasons this is interesting is because despite some truly great performances in the postseason, Leiter never won a postseason game with the Mets. Mostly, it was due to some bad luck like when he lost Game 3 of the NLCS when the greatest infield of all-time allowed an unearned run in the Mets 1-0 loss. To be fair, his teammates picked him up in Game 6.
In 2000, for the first time in his Mets career, he was not the designated ace. That didn’t matter all that much as Leiter had a great season making the All Star team while going 16-8 with a 3.20 ERA. Things would not be as difficult for the Mets this year as they easily made the postseason.
In typical Leiter hard luck fashion, his gem in Game 2 of the NLDS went by the wayside when Armando Benitez blew the save. Still, Leiter’s performance was important as it helped right the ship after an opening game loss, and it helped propel the Mets to the NLCS. In the NLCS, Turk Wendell vultured a win.
In that World Series, Benitez yet again blew the save in Game 1 costing Leiter a win. That series did not go the Mets way, and they were forced to win a Game 5 to send the series back to Yankee Stadium. In that Game 5, Leiter gave everything he had to try to will the Mets to victory. Being a terrible hitter, he would even try to bunt his way on to drive home a run. Sadly, he was out of gas after 142 pitches, and his defense just couldn’t get to that one ground ball.
The Mets never reached those heights again during Leiter’s tenure. However, he had one more big moment left in the tank.
Many forget this now, but after the 9/11 attacks, it was Leiter, the local kid from Toms River, NJ, who was handed the baseball when the Mets returned to action in Pittsburgh. He received a no decision after limiting the Pirates to one run over seven innings.
One really important note here is Leiter is the last Mets player to ever wear a First Responder’s cap. On the one year anniversary, Leiter cycled through the caps for each of the first responder agencies pitching a complete game shutout against the Braves.
In Leiter’s final few years with the Mets, they never got back to the postseason, but Leiter still remained a very good pitcher for the team. Notably, he never had a losing record for the Mets, and he won 10+ in his seven years with the Mets with a 3.42 ERA. He would also accomplish some truly astonishing feats.
In 2000, he won the Roberto Clemente Award. In 2002, he became the first Major League pitcher to defeat all 30 teams. In one he probably wants to have back, he was the last ever pitcher to lose a game to the Montreal Expos. Overall, he became of the best pitchers in Mets history.
In fact, he could make the claim as the best ever left-handed pitcher. On that note, among Mets pitchers who have thrown at least 1,000 innings, only Jacob deGrom and Seaver have a better ERA+. Overall, Leiter is in the Mets top 1o in wins, GS, IP, strikeouts, WAR, and ERA+. He should be in the Mets Hall of Fame, but for now, he is going to have to settle for being the best Mets player to ever wear the number 22.
3. Curtis Granderson
4. Lenny Dykstra
5. David Wright
6. Wally Backman
7. Jose Reyes
8. Gary Carter
9. Todd Hundley
10. Rey Ordonez
11. Wayne Garrett
12. John Stearns
13. Edgardo Alfonzo
14. Gil Hodges
15. Carlos Beltran
16. Dwight Gooden
17. Keith Hernandez
18. Darryl Strawberry
19. Bob Ojeda
20. Howard Johnson
21. Cleon Jones