It’s Moneyball Week at Amazin’ Avenue, Sports Illustrated, the MLB Network, and your local movie theater. Michael Lewis’s celebration of baseball innovation is back in the news eight years after its publication. And with it comes renewed discussion of what the book is about. It is not a screed on building a team using only a spreadsheet, or a declaration the on-base percentage is the only important statistic. Fortunately, those falsehoods have largely been put to rest, and the achievements of creators like Bill James, Branch Rickey, Pete Palmer, and Sandy Alderson are widely recognized. Most now understand that a central theme of Moneyball is if a team uses its resources effectively, it can succeed beyond what its payroll suggests. The search for undervalued, or underappreciated, players is therefore central to the story.
That term "underappreciated" is subjective, and one might think it has little place on a facts-first website such as this. Evidence is usually required before opinion here. But in this case, there is plenty of room for subjectivity. Everyone has their own definition of the word. Last week, Chris looked at some current Mets who might be underappreciated, and I’d like to highlight a few former Mets who might be as well. My perception of public esteem for a player vs. his actual value to the team is the main criteria.
Jon Matlack is the great Mets starting pitcher of the 1970s that the casual fan overlooks. He formed a dominating triumvirate along with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, but doesn't seem to be revered nearly as much as those two. Maybe it's because of his pedestrian 82-81 win-loss record as a Met. Maybe it's because he was never part of a World Series Champion team (although he came darn close in 1973). Regardless, the southpaw Matlack is a top five all-time Mets pitcher who is all over the franchise leaderboard in just about every meaningful statistic. Of his 82 wins, 26 came via shutout. That ties Koosman for second place in Mets history -- and Matlack did it in 147 fewer starts. With some better run support and defense, Matlack's win-loss record would look a bit shinier. Nevertheless, he is deserving of admiration as one of the top pitchers in Mets history.
John Stearns played one game for the Phillies in 1974 and bolted for the Mets are being disgusted with the Philth.* In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the hard-charging Stearns played 809 games for the Mets, almost exclusively at catcher. He enjoyed several seasons of mostly anonymous success, stuck playing in the chasm of suck separating Seaver's teams and the 1986 crew. In his prime run from 1976-1982, he posted an OBP of .346. This was excellent for a catcher, especially one also known for his defensive prowess. Injuries cut short his playing career but he still ranks 11th all-time in Mets position player rWAR with 18.5. Also, "THE MONSTER'S OUT OF THE CAGE!"
Dave Magadan played at a time when on-base percentage was not yet in vogue. And that's too bad, because he was awesome at not making outs. His .391 OBP as a Met is second best all-time for players with at least 2000 plate appearances, behind only the legendary John Olerud and his .425 mark. Transport 1990 Magadan to 2001 and Billy Beane probably would have been salivating to add him to the A's roster. Magadan's lack of power while primarily playing slugging-heavy first base made him somewhat of an oddity at the position. Mark McGwire, Glenn Davis, Cecil Fielder, and Jack Clark were the prototypical first basemen of the era, leaving little room in the spotlight for a guy with a career high of six homers in a season. Magadan has been the Red Sox hitting coach since 2007 and his teams have consistently been at the top of the OBP leaderboard during his tenure.
* - Note: May not be true.