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Overlooked and Underrated Mets: Starting pitchers

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You won't mistake any of them for Tom Seaver or Dwight Gooden, but these starting pitchers all had strong years with the Mets.

Rick Reed.
Rick Reed.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Mets are an organization known for its starting pitching and have boasted a number of quality arms. In part nine of our 10-part series, we remember 14 starters who aren't considered franchise greats, but who nonetheless enjoyed (at least brief) runs of success in New York. In case you missed any of the first eight installments, you can find them at the links below:

Catchers

First Basemen

Second Basemen

Third Basemen

Shortstops

Left Fielders

Center Fielders

Right Fielders

As always, please leave your own suggestions in the comment section, and remember to vote in the poll at the bottom of the page!

Al Jackson, 1962-1965

Al Jackson had an interesting tenure with the Mets. By the traditional metrics, Jackson was not a very effective pitcher: from 1962 to 1965, the lefty went 40-73 with a 4.24 ERA (117 ERA-) in 877 innings pitched. But the advanced metrics tell a different story. During that time, Jackson posted a 3.62 FIP (103 FIP-), suggesting that he was probably closer to league average. Jackson’s about-league-average 5.05 K/9 and 2.90 BB/9, his pretty good 0.78 HR/9, and his very high .292 BABIP—the ninth highest, in fact, of all qualified pitchers during that time—suggest that hitters put a lot of balls in play against Jackson that weren’t converted into outs.

There are two ways to interpret this. On the one hand, it’s possible that hitters teed off against the lefty and that his low home run rate was simply the product of the spacious Polo Grounds and Shea Stadium; it’s more likely, however, that the Mets’ abysmal defense let Jackson down by failing to get to balls, which inflated Jackson’s ERA because those fielders weren’t charged with errors. From 1962 to 1965, the Mets’ defense cost an incredible 207 total zone runs (second most in the majors), recorded the third-fewest putouts with 17,268, had a major-league-worst .970 fielding percentage, and committed 760 errors—nearly 100 more than any other team in the game. It’s telling that, after the Mets traded him to the Cardinals, Jackson produced a similar 3.40 FIP (98 FIP-) in 1966, but saw his BABIP plummet to .257 and his ERA and ERA- fall to 2.51 and 70, respectively; this dramatic improvement was likely the result of better luck and much better defensive help.

In any case, Jackson provided value to the Mets as a league-average starter and innings eater for four years, averaging 2.8 fWAR per year. Among those was a 4.6-fWAR season in 1962 in which Jackson posted an impressive 3.57 FIP and 90 FIP- in 231.1 innings pitched (despite, of course, going just 8-20 with a 4.40 ERA and a 107 ERA-).

Bob Shaw, 1966

Like Al Jackson, Bob Shaw was probably a victim of his team’s poor defense. After an early-season trade from the Giants in 1966, Shaw went 11-10 for the Mets with a 3.92 ERA (109 ERA-). Shaw’s peripherals—5.58 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, and 0.64 HR/9—were very similar to Jackson’s, and resulted in an impressive 3.14 FIP (91 FIP-) and 3.2 fWAR in 167.2 innings pitched. Shaw’s higher-than-projected ERA was likely the result of poor defensive help and a .292 BABIP, which was a full 10 points higher than his career average.

Jim McAndrew, 1968-1972

During the late sixties and early seventies, Jim McAndrew provided back-of-the-rotation depth to Mets rotations that featured Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, and later Jon Matlack. In his four best seasons—1968, 1969, 1970, and 1972—McAndrew went 31-36 with a strong 3.03 ERA (86 ERA-), a 3.18 FIP (96 FIP-), and an average of 2.3 fWAR in 139.2 innings pitched per year. McAndrew’s best year was in 1970, when the righty went 10-14 with a 3.56 ERA (89 ERA-), a 3.35 FIP (89 FIP-), a 2.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio that was the sixth best in all of baseball, and 3.6 fWAR in a career-high 184.1 innings pitched. McAndrew also played a key role in the Mets’ 1969 championship run: during the team’s miraculous late-season push, McAndrew pitched to a 2.12 ERA in his final 11 starts. Among those starts were back-to-back shutouts in late August and a two-run, 11-inning performance in the first game of a doubleheader against the Expos on September 10. By completing the sweep later that day, the Mets took the division lead from the Cubs and erased their 9.5-game deficit dating back to August 13.

Don Cardwell, 1969

Like Jim McAndrew, Don Cardwell came up big for the Mets down the stretch in 1969. After August 1, Cardwell went 5-1 with a 1.33 ERA in 54 innings pitched, which included some out of the bullpen. Overall, the journeyman went 8-10 that year with a 3.01 ERA (84 ERA-) and a 4.03 FIP (117 FIP-) in 152.1 innings pitched.

Ray Sadecki, 1971

In his five full seasons with the Mets, Ray Sadecki was a quality swingman who provided rotational depth and a strong left-handed option out of the pen. From 1970 to 1974, Sadecki went 30-24 with a 3.34 ERA (93 ERA-) and a 3.41 FIP (97 FIP-), and averaged 1.3 fWAR in nearly 120 innings pitched per year. Sadecki’s best season was in 1971, when the lefty went 7-7 with a 2.92 ERA (86 ERA-), a 2.66 FIP (81 FIP-), a 2.73 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 3.1 fWAR in 163.1 innings pitched. Sadecki also made four relief appearances for the Mets in the 1973 World Series, allowing just one run and one walk, while striking out six in 4.2 innings of work.

George Stone, 1973

George Stone was similar to the three previous pitchers on this list and emblematic of how a once-awful franchise suddenly won two pennants in five years. In 1973, Stone rounded out an excellent Mets rotation that featured the three-headed monster of Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack. That year, Stone went 12-3 with a 2.80 ERA (79 ERA-), a 3.56 FIP (100 FIP-), and a 2.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranked 10th among all starters with at least 140 innings pitched. Stone also pitched well in the postseason, allowing just one run in 9.2 innings of work, while striking out seven and walking three. Although none of them were dominant—or even great—for long stretches of time, Stone, Sadecki, Cardwell, and McAndrew provided depth to great rotations and were important pieces of winning Mets teams.

Craig Swan, 1978-1979

Craig Swan, on the other hand, was a pretty good pitcher for very bad Mets teams. From 1976 to 1982, the righty was a consistently solid starter, going 54-56 with a 3.33 ERA (93 ERA-) and a 3.48 FIP (98 FIP-), and averaging 1.9 fWAR in 149 innings pitched per year. The two best years of Swan’s career were in 1978 and 1979: in 1978, Swan went 9-6 with a league-best 2.43 ERA (71 ERA-), a 3.00 FIP (88 FIP-), and 3.6 fWAR in 207.1 innings pitched. He followed that up with another strong campaign in 1979, going 14-13 with a 3.29 ERA (90 ERA-), a 3.32 FIP (90 FIP-), and 4.1 fWAR in 251.1 innings pitched. Unfortunately, Swan suffered two injury-plagued seasons in 1980 and 1981 from which he never fully recovered, and retired from the game in 1984.

Bret Saberhagen, 1992-1995

While injuries prevented him from being the perennial Cy Young contender for whom the Mets traded Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies, and Keith Miller, Bret Saberhagen was quite good for the Mets when healthy. In his three-plus seasons with the team, Saberhagen went 29-21 with a 3.16 ERA (81 ERA-), a 3.14 FIP (79 FIP-), 6.66 K/9, 1.32 BB/9, 0.74 HR/9, an outstanding 5.04 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and an average of three fWAR in 131 innings pitched per year. Before the players’ strike ended the 1994 season, Saberhagen was having one of the better years ever by a Mets pitcher, and certainly his best and healthiest in New York. In 24 starts, Saberhagen went 14-4 with a 2.74 ERA (67 ERA-), a 2.76 FIP (66 FIP-), a career-high 7.26 K/9 and a career-low 0.66 BB/9, along with 0.66 HR/9 and 5.1 fWAR. That year, Saberhagen walked just 13 batters in 177.1 innings pitched, and his 11.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio was the best of all-time until Phil Hughes surpassed the mark in 2014.

In 1993, Saberhagen also joined the list of high-profile ’90’s Mets acquisitions who got caught doing stupid stuff off the field (see Vince Coleman, Bobby Bonilla, and Rickey Henderson) when he filled a water gun with bleach and sprayed it at a group of reporters in the Mets’ clubhouse. Nonetheless, Saberhagen’s time in New York should be remembered for the value he provided on the field, for which he probably doesn’t get enough credit.

Bobby Jones, 1994-1995

During his eight-year tenure with the Mets, Bobby Jones was a reliably league-average starter, going 74-56 with a 4.13 ERA (100 ERA-) and a 4.37 FIP (104 FIP-), and averaging 1.5 fWAR in 152 innings pitched per year. Jones’s first two full seasons were arguably his best: in 1994, the righty went 12-7 with a 3.15 ERA (77 ERA-) and a 4.07 FIP (98 FIP-), but was limited by the players’ strike to just 160 innings pitched and finished with 1.9 fWAR. He followed that up with another solid campaign in 1995, going 10-10 with a 4.19 ERA (103 ERA-), a 4.05 FIP (99 FIP-), and 2.5 fWAR, this time in a full season of 195.2 innings pitched. Of course, Jones is best known for throwing probably the greatest game in Mets postseason history when, in 2000, he limited the Giants to just one hit and two walks while striking out five in a complete game shutout to clinch the Division Series.

Mark Clark, 1996

In 1996, journeyman Mark Clark enjoyed a career year with the Mets. That year, Clark went 14-11 with a 3.43 ERA (84 ERA-), a 3.78 FIP (90 FIP-), and 3.5 fWAR in 212.1 innings pitched.

Rick Reed, 1997-2001

Rick Reed was an important part of some very good late-nineties and early-two-thousands Mets teams. In his four-plus years with the Mets, Reed went 59-36 with a 3.66 ERA (87 ERA-), a 4.08 FIP (95 FIP-), 5.98 strikeouts to just 1.60 walks per nine innings, and an average of 2.5 fWAR in 177.2 innings pitched per year, while making two All-Star teams. Reed’s 1997 debut season in New York was his best, as the righty went 13-9 with an outstanding 2.89 ERA (72 ERA-), a 3.73 FIP (91 FIP-), and 3.4 fWAR in 208.1 innings pitched. Reed was also an effective postseason pitcher for the Mets: in four of his five postseason starts in 1999 and 2000, Reed allowed just two runs in at least six innings of work.

Glendon Rusch, 2000-2001

Glendon Rusch was a fascinating pitcher in that his fielding-independent metrics consistently outperformed his ERA. In 2000, Rusch went 11-11 with a solid if unspectacular 4.01 ERA (91 ERA-); but, somewhat incredibly, his 3.50 FIP (77 FIP-) was the sixth best in all of baseball, on the strength of 7.41 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, and 0.85 HR/9 in 190.2 innings pitched, resulting in 4.3 fWAR. Rusch had another good year in 2001, although you wouldn’t guess that from his 8-12 record and 4.63 ERA (111 ERA-); that year, the lefty had a similar 7.84 K/9, 2.16 BB/9, and 1.16 HR/9 in 179 innings pitched, which translated to a 3.81 FIP (90 FIP-) and 2.9 fWAR.

Rusch’s ERA-FIP disparity continued well after he left the Mets and reached its most startling point in 2003, when the lefty went 1-12 for the Brewers with a putrid 6.42 ERA (150 ERA-), but a quite good 3.87 FIP (89 FIP-). Rusch was clearly the victim of a high BABIP, which was .326 for his career, .347 in 2001, and a stunning .381 in 2003. It’s hard to say for sure how to interpret this, but either Rusch was hit very hard while also striking batters out, avoiding walks, and controlling the home run ball, or he was one of the unluckiest pitchers of modern times.

Kevin Appier, 2001

In 2001, Kevin Appier had a season that was really emblematic of his great and underappreciated career. That year—his only in New York—Appier was a quietly good 3.1-fWAR player, going 11-10 with a 3.57 ERA (85 ERA-) and a 3.92 FIP (93 FIP-), on the strength of 7.49 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, and 0.96 HR/9 in 206.2 innings pitched. If anyone deserves to be on a list of underrated players, it’s Appier, who had a tremendous eight-year run in the nineties while playing for the lowly Royals. From 1990 to 1997, the righty pitched to an exceptional 3.22 ERA (72 ERA-) and 3.29 FIP (74 FIP-), and averaged 5.3 fWAR per year—including a 7.1-fWAR season in 1993 and a 6.4-fWAR season in 1996—while inexplicably making just one All-Star team and receiving Cy Young votes just one time. He finally did get a World Series ring as a member of the 2002 Angels, to whom the Mets traded Appier for Mo Vaughn.

Jae Weong Seo, 2003, 2005

During his brief time in the major leagues, Jae Weong Seo had two very solid seasons with the Mets. In 2003, his rookie year, Seo went 9-12 with a 3.82 ERA (92 ERA-) and a 3.93 FIP (93 FIP-), good for 2.9 fWAR in 188.1 innings pitched. After struggling in 2004, Seo spent most of 2005 in the minors, but thrived in his fourteen big league starts, going 8-2 with a 2.59 ERA (63 ERA-), a 3.57 FIP (86 FIP-), and 1.7 fWAR in 90.1 innings pitched, most of which came after a late-season call-up.