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16 May, 2012

The 10 Greatest Mets

   On Thursday of this week, SNY will air a special program revealing the 50 greatest Mets of all-time based on a vote of a panel full of Mets historical experts. Lists like these are very personal, so I won't take great umbrage with their list, nor do I care if you have issues with mine. I always try to be very objective and am making my list based on accomplishments, ability, performance as a Met and stature. I gave weight to championships and time spent with the team. I have a hard time anointing team great status to someone who had a short tenure with the team.
   Given that, let's get one thing over with before my top 10. Gary Carter isn't in it. Gary Carter might be a Mets icon, but he isn't an all-time great Met. He was hugely important to them winning a World Series, but his body of work as a Met doesn't reflect greatness. I get the fact we all loved The Kid, but a five year average of .249, 18 HR and 70 RBI doesn't merit Top 10 on my list.
    With that in mind, I humbly present my Top 10.

#10 JERRY KOOSMAN  (1967-1978)
   Koosman might be one of the more under-appreciated Mets not only in the franchise's history but in his era as well. That's not to say older Mets fans don't love Koos, they do, but I'm not sure people recognize how talented he was. Check out Koosman's NL ranks during his years as a Met, 1968-1978
(he only appeared in 9 games in '67).

(I'm using minimum 2300 ip, in part to reward Koosman for his great durability. He made at least 29 starts in 9 of his 11 full seasons.)

Wins (140): 15th behind Perry, Jenkins, Seaver, Hunter, Palmer, Carlton, Sutton, Niekro, Wood, Tiant, Lolich, Ryan, Holtzman and Kaat. Nine of those guys are in the Hall of Fame.

ERA (3.09): 7th behind Seaver, Palmer, Blyleven, Perry, Sutton and Carlton. All Hall of Famers.

Hits allowed: 5th fewest, but pitched the most innings of anyone in the top 5. He finished in the Top 10 in Hits/9 IP five times as a Met. His 8.1 hits/9 as a Met is very respectable.

   We have often heard some of Koosman's teammates say that if they needed a game to win, Koosman would be the guy they would want on the mound. It's almost heresy to say that given that Tom Seaver was on team, but it speaks to the respect Koosman earned from his team. In the post season Koosman made six starts and went 4-0 with a 3.37 era. He was especially good in the World Series, going 3-0 with a 2.39 era, allowing just 16 hits in 26 1/3 innings, including a complete game in the game 5 clincher against the Orioles.

   Koosman went 140-137 as a Met pitching for teams that were a combined 29 games under .500.  He also pitched in Seaver's shadow, which may explain how his accomplishments and ability seem to get a little lost through the years. 

#9 CARLOS BELTRAN (2005-2011)
   Speaking of under-appreciated. Yes, I know, he didn't swing the bat in game 6. I'm with Carlos on this one, get over it folks. Beltran is arguably the most talented player they have ever had (Strawberry and Reyes are in the discussion). He's 3rd behind Strawberry and Wright in career WAR for the Mets. He's 6th in on base and slugging and 5th in OPS. He has the single-season Mets record for runs scored and HRs. He's 6th on the team all-time HR and RBI list. 
   In his time as a Met, Beltran was among the elite at his position. I've noted in other Beltran posts, "From 2006-2008 he averaged 112 runs, 113 rbi, 33 HR, .278 avg. and WARs of 8.0, 5.3 and 6.8. Even in '09 when he only played half the season, he produced 50 runs, 48 rbi and 100 hits in 81 games. He's been a very productive player who has measured against his contract and not his peers. Beltran was first in RBI for CF over from '06-08, second in runs only to Sizemore, first in HR's and firstt in Slg%." 
   To go along with the bat, Beltran also played Gold Glove defense, winning the award three times. He finished top 3 in CF range factor in each of his first four years on the team.
   Beltran won't ever get his number retired by the Mets. He likely won't get a warm welcome when he returns to New York this year, or be fondly remembered by Mets fans in the years to come, but one non-swing doesn't erase seven very productive years.

#8 EDGARDO ALFONSO  (1995-2002)
   Alfonso had eight very productive seasons with the Mets. He was a skilled offensive player with a great glove, providing Gold Glove caliber defense at both 2nd and 3rd base. In his time as a Met he averaged a .292 BA, 15 HR, 67 rbi, 76 runs and 26 doubles a year. In 1999 he lead the the league in fielding percentage among second basemen, committing just 5 errors in 712 chances.
   He had the memorable 6-6 game in the Astrodome. He had the oft-forgotten game-tying hit against the Braves in the 10-run inning game, right before Piazza's homer in 2000.  When the Mets returned to the playoffs in 1999, Fonzie set the tone by hitting a bomb off Randy Johnson in the top of the first. He was a linchpin to a NL championship team. His only real failing as a Met was his .143 average against the Yankees in the World Series.
    For his career, Alfonso hit .418 with a runner on 3rd and less than two out and was a career .309 hitter with runners in scoring position.
   The best compliment I can give him is this, Fonzie was the guy I wanted coming up when the Mets needed a hit and the guy I wanted the ball hit to when the Mets needed an out.

#7 JOSE REYES  (2003-2011)
   I'll be very curious to see where the Wright/Reyes/Beltran group end up on the SNY list. For some fans, they are the face of heartbreak, collapse and failure. To me, they are an exceptionally talented trio that helped gave the Mets an identity. He has the franchise record for runs scored, stolen bases and triples. He's in the top 5 in hits, doubles, total bases, runs created and times on base. He brought an electricity to the team that they hadn't had since Mookie's prime, but he had more pop than Mookie.
   His time with the Mets was marred by injury, only playing 130+ games five times, but at least some of that was exacerbated by the Mets medical team's inability to treat him properly. Let's also not forget the brilliant Mets brass tried to make him a second baseman so Kaz Matsui could play shortstop. It's amazing Reyes accomplished half the things he did based on how the Mets handled him over the years.
   I've been a fan of this team since 1973, when as a six year old I went to countless games and cried when they lost the World Series to the A's. In all that time, Reyes has been as uniquely as talented a player to wear a Mets uniform I've ever seen. He also won their only batting title (I didn't love how he did it, but like the Beltran called strike 3, one moment for Reyes shouldn't erase an outstanding season.)
   When I sit my grandkids on my knee to tell them about my favorite Mets, Jose will be one the first that I tell them about.

#6 DAVID WRIGHT  (2004-present)
   Now it's starting to get tricky. After Wright's impressive 69 game debut in '04, when he hit .293 with 14 homers and 40 rbi, I told friends that Wright would go down as the greatest position player in franchise history. My logic was not based on the thought that Wright would be a Hall of Fame player, but more on how easy it is to climb the franchise leader ladder. It was obvious that Wright was going to be the face of the franchise moving forward and a 10-year career as a Met was likely. So let's do the math: based on the Mets franchise leaders as of 2004, if Wright had 10 years of 142 hits, 26 HR, 74 rbi, 70 runs and 22 doubles he would be first in all of those categories. Not exactly Cooperstown numbers, so it wasn't a stretch to make that claim. As of this writing, Wright is second in Mets career batting average, 2nd in runs (soon to be first), 3rd in hits (soon to be first), first in total bases, rbi and doubles, 4th in homers (55 behind Strawberry), 3rd in walks (soon to be first) and 5th in stolen bases.
   He's a five-time All-Star and a look his stats year-by-year is a reminder of just how consistent a player he has been for most of his career. Assuming he stays in New York, he'll move higher up this list, hopefully with a World Series ring on his resume to boot.

#5 KEITH HERNANDEZ  (1983-1989)
   His impact on the franchise cannot be understated. It's well documented how when Mex came to the team, the culture of the club started to change. He brought a hard-nosed professionalism to the team, a young team that needed a veteran to show them how to play and kick them in the ass when they needed it.
   He is the best defensive player the Mets have ever had. I don't understand why he didn't get more Hall of Fame consideration. If Ozzie Smith and Bill Mazeroski can go in for being the best defensive guys at their positions, why shouldn't Hernandez? He gets penalized for not being a first baseman who hit 30 homers and drove in 120 every year. To me, that's shortsighted. Regardless, his defensive play was every bit as "must-see" as Strawberry at bats or Gooden starts.  He won six Gold Gloves as Met, leading the league in assists at his position three times and finishing second another time.
   Offensively, he was the steady, professional bat that anchored the lineup. He had the 9th best OBP% in the league during his Mets years. His .297 average as a Met is 11th best during that time range. He trailed Boggs, Gwynn, Mattingly, Puckett, Guerrero, Raines, Yount, Molitor, Brett and Franco. That's six Hall of Famers and four other really good hitters.
  His post-season stats don't jump off the page, but his hits were always timely (double in the 9th off Knepper in game 6, 2-run single in the 6th in game 7 of the WS come to mind).
   Everything about Hernandez screamed professional and New York loved him for it.

#4 DARRYL STRAWBERRY (1983-1990)
   Darryl and Doc always seem to go hand-in-hand, so it's hard to separate them, but I'm going to do it. Straw was the first Mets prospect that I ever really remember hearing a lot about before he made the bigs. There was talk that he was going to be the next Ted Williams. Everything about him was impressive, his power, his speed, his throwing arm. He was tall and athletic and the prototypical five-tool player. I was at the game he got his first major league hit, Mother's Day 1983, a single to left.
   He might be the Mets all-time leader in "do you remember?" moments. The clock homer in St. Louis, the roof homer in Montreal, the Moon shot HR in Game 7 of the World Series and any other "pick a homer" at Shea. You couldn't miss his at bats. If Twitter had existed back then, #Straw would've trended almost every night of the season.
   Statistically, he is an elite Met. He is 2nd in career slugging percentage, 4th in OBP%, 3rd in runs, 3rd in total bases, 1st in HRs, 1st in walks, 2nd in RBI and 4th in stolen bases and OPS.
   It's well known that Darryl didn't reach his potential, at least in the minds of those who were supposed to know what that was, but as a Met he won Rookie of the Year, was an All-Star every year and finished in the top six in the MVP voting three times. Oh, and there was that World Series win.
    During his time as a Met, Strawberry lead the majors in homers, was 8th in RBI and was first in slugging. When you stop talking about what he could have been and look at what he actually was, you realize he was one hell of a player for the Mets.

#3 DOC GOODEN (1984-1994)
   I put Doc ahead of Darryl because his high water mark was higher than Straw's. Gooden was the Mets first superstar since Seaver. They had other great players, but no one came close to generating the buzz Gooden did. Not Darryl. Not Hernandez. Not Carter. As a 19-year old pitcher, players all around the game marveled at Gooden's deadly fastball/curveball combination. His rookie year became a series of great accomplishments. The youngest player to appear in an all-star game. He lead the league in strikeouts, shattering the rookie record of 245 with his 276. In his last three starts of the year, he struck out forty one batters while walking just one. To top it off, he set the record for K's/9 with 11.39. I spent the summers of '84 and '85 scheduling my life around Gooden starts. If Doc was on the hill, I wasn't leaving the house.
   His '85 season was more absurd. 24-4. 1.53 era. .0965 WHIP. He only allowed 198 hits in 276 innings for a ridiculous 6.4/9 ratio. Two years into his career and Doc was 41-13 with a 2.00 era and 544 strikeouts. I almost forgot, he also won Rookie of the Year in '84 and the Cy Young in '85. He was 20 years old. Watching him pitch was breath-taking, stupefying and mesmerizing (apologies to Clyde Frazier). I saw Tom Seaver pitch, but as a young kid up to a pre-teen, I wasn't really old enough to appreciate his skills. As a 17-20 year old watching Gooden in his prime, I had truly never seen anything like it. I wasn't alone.
   His Mets ranks earn him his lofty status. His 157 wins ranks second. His .649 win percentage is first by a wide margin. He's third in innings pitched, complete games and games started. He's second in strikeouts and fourth in shutouts.
   During his time as a Met, Gooden had the best win percentage in baseball. He also had the fourth best ERA in the league, 3.10, behind Clemens, Hershiser and Maddux.  He also ranked third in K's/9 behind Ryan and Clemens and fifth in wins and strikeouts.
   Over his five years in the league, when the Mets championship core was together, Gooden went 91-35 (best win percentage in the league), with a 2.62 era (best in the league) a K/9 of 8.19 (third best behind Ryan and Clemens) and 19 shutouts (best in the league). By comparison, over his first five seasons, Seaver was 95-54,  2.34 era, 8.3 K/9 and 18 shutouts.
   As a Mets fan, Gooden was my generations once in a generation player. He had the electric fastball, the Lord Charles curve, the K Corner, a World Championship, hitters on a string and the fans in the palm of his hand. Long live Doctor K.

#2 MIKE PIAZZA (1998-2005)
   I think what I'll remember most about Mike Piazza is all the things he did that I remember where I was when it happened. The trade for him (news room at WESH in Orlando). The HR to cap the 10-run rally against Atlanta (news room at ESPN). The HR off Ramiro Mendoza that hit the tent behind the left field fence at Shea in the Matt Franco walk-off game (in my car on Route 8).  The post-9/11 game HR (news room at ESPN). I even remember him hitting a 9th inning, game-tying, 2-out, 3-run homer off Billy Wagner in the Astrodome in September of '98. For that one I was in my condo, on the phone with my dad who was in California and couldn't see the game. I was doing play-by-play on the phone when Piazza hit a bomb to right-center and I lost my mind.
   The trade for Piazza is the best the team ever made. They gave up Ed Yarnell, Preston Wilson and Geoff Getz. That's beyond highway robbery. In his first four full seasons as a Met, Piazza averaged 36 homers, 107 RBI and a .302 average.
   In a way it's appropriate that Piazza played for the Dodgers before coming to the Mets (via Florida). It's like New York finally got something back from the Dodgers for skipping town all those years ago.

#1 TOM SEAVER (1967-1977, 1983)
   11-11, 3.20 ERA, 236 IP, 199 hits allowed, 201 strikeouts and a 1.16 whip. That was Seaver's worst year as a Met (not including his return year in '83). How many pitchers today would sign up for that season right now?
   In the years from '67-'77, Seaver had the best ERA in baseball, 2.48. He lead baseball with 48 shutouts. He was second in wins, two behind Fergie Jenkins. And again, these weren't great teams he was pitching for most of the time. In 1971 he somehow lost ten games in a year he had a 1.76 ERA.
How did that happen? Here are the scores of the games he lost: 3-1, 5-4, 3-2, 2-0, 6-4, 5-3 (he pitched in relief in this game and took the loss) 2-1 3-2, 1-0, 3-0. Notice a bit of a trend? He also had three starts he pitched at least 9 innings and got a no decision.
   There's a reason he's called The Franchise. It's an embarrassment that there is no Tom Seaver statue outside Citi Field, but Seaver's legacy and accomplishments with the team will stand longer than any statue ever would.

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