clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Overlooked and Underrated Mets: Relief pitchers

The Mets have always been defined by their starting pitching; but those starters had the support of countless unsung relievers like the ones on this list.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

In the final installment of our ten-part series, we highlight 15 Mets relievers (and two entire bullpens) that were better than you might remember them to be. Since relievers are fickle and their performance tends to fluctuate from year to year, we tried to focus on those who sustained their high-level performance over a significant sample of innings pitched.

We hope you enjoyed this series and the opportunity to reflect on some players who might not get the recognition they deserve. If you missed any of the earlier installments, you can find them at the links below:

Catchers

First Basemen

Second Basemen

Third Basemen

Shortstops

Left Fielders

Center Fielders

Right Fielders

Starting Pitchers

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

Ron Taylor, 1967-1971

Ron Taylor was essentially the late-sixties equivalent of the Mets’ closer. While he never recorded more than 13 saves in a season, Taylor was a quality reliever whose appearances came mostly at the end of games, and sometimes for multiple innings at a time. Taylor had two excellent years for the Mets in 1967 and 1968, when he pitched to a 2.53 ERA (81 ERA-) and a 2.47 FIP (83 FIP-), with 0.9 fWAR in 74.2 innings per year, on average. Taylor’s numbers were even more impressive considering that, back then, starters generally had better ERAs and FIPs than did relievers; so, while an 81 ERA- and an 83 FIP- might sound good, but not great, for a reliever in today’s game, they were outstanding marks for a reliever in that era.

In total, Taylor compiled a strong 3.04 ERA (88 ERA-) and 3.06 FIP (93 FIP-) in 361 innings pitched during his five years in New York. The righty also came up big for the Mets in the 1969 postseason, when he made four appearances and threw 5.2 shutout innings, striking out seven, and allowing just three hits and a walk for the World Champs.

Danny Frisella, 1970-1971

After a breakout 1970 season in which he posted a 3.02 ERA (76 ERA-) and a 3.34 FIP (89 FIP-) in 65.2 innings pitched, Danny Frisella replaced Ron Taylor as the go-to right-hander in the Mets’ bullpen. In 1971, Frisella had a career year, pitching to a tremendous 1.99 ERA (58 ERA-) and 2.35 FIP (72 FIP-), with 9.23 K/9, 2.98 BB/9, 0.60 HR/9, and 1.5 fWAR in 90.2 innings. That year, Frisella and Tug McGraw—who was even better, with a 1.70 ERA (50 ERA-), a 2.14 FIP (66 FIP-), and 2.2 WAR in 111 innings pitched—formed a deadly lefty-righty duo out of the Mets’ pen.

Bob Apodaca, 1974-1977

Bob Apodaca was a sinkerball pitcher who effectively pitched to contact. The righty did not strike batters out at prolific rates (4.91 K/9), nor did he have pinpoint control (3.26 BB/9); but his low .252 career BABIP and his success at keeping the ball in the park (0.55 HR/9) suggest that Apodaca had the rare ability to induce weakly hit ground balls. As a result, he consistently outperformed his fielding-independent metrics, evidenced by a league-average 3.45 career FIP (99 FIP-) that paled in comparison to his excellent 2.84 ERA (80 ERA-). The fact that he accomplished this over a significant sample size of 361.1 innings pitched suggests—along with his other peripherals—that Apodaca’s ERA-FIP disparity was the result of a good sinker, rather than of good luck. Unfortunately, a series of arm injuries forced him to retire after just four full big league seasons, all with the Mets.

The Bob Apodaca story did, however, come to a happy ending, as he would eventually become a well-regarded pitching coach for the Colorado Rockies. During his ten years with the team, Apodaca taught pitchers like Aaron Cook and Jason Marquis how to keep the ball out of Colorado’s thin air by helping them master their own sinkers.

Skip Lockwood, 1975-1979

If anyone deserves to be on a list of overlooked and underappreciated Mets, it’s Skip Lockwood. Lockwood had the misfortune of playing for mid-to-late-seventies Mets teams that averaged 72 wins a year; he also pitched at a time when the high-profile closer role didn’t exist in its current form, and therefore never saved more than 20 games in a season. Nevertheless, Lockwood was a bona fide relief ace and one of the greatest relievers in Mets history. During his five years with the team, Lockwood pitched to an outstanding 2.80 ERA (79 ERA-) and 2.76 FIP (79 FIP-), with 8.72 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 0.64 HR/9, and an average of 1.2 fWAR in 76 innings per year. In 1976 and 1977, Lockwood had back-to-back seasons of two-plus WAR, and two other years in which he posted identical 1.49 ERAs. Lockwood was, simply put, one of the best pitchers in franchise history on an inning-for-inning basis: among pitchers who threw at least 300 innings for the Mets, Lockwood ranks second all-time in raw FIP and adjusted FIP to Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden, respectively.

Pete Falcone, 1981

After Pete Falcone struggled as a starter during his first six seasons with the Giants, Cardinals, and Mets, Mets manager Joe Torre moved Falcone to the bullpen in late 1980. The lefty thrived in his new role and remained a reliever for most of the 1981 season, pitching to a career-best 2.55 ERA (74 ERA-) and 2.97 FIP (88 FIP-) with 1.2 fWAR, while allowing just three home runs in 95.1 innings of work. Falcone regressed in 1982 as the Mets transitioned him back to the rotation, which was likely a mistake in retrospect: Falcone’s career splits as a starter (4.27 ERA, 116 ERA-, 4.38 FIP, 119 FIP-) versus as a reliever (2.80 ERA, 77 ERA-, 3.77 FIP, 104 FIP-) suggest that he was probably better suited for the pen.

Terry Leach, 1981-1982, 1985-1988

It’s a shame that Terry Leach was crowded out of those talented eighties Mets rosters as often as he was, because the righty always seemed to thrive when given the opportunity. Leach had a promising first stint with the team, when he pitched to a 3.46 ERA (98 ERA-) and a 3.29 FIP (95 FIP-) in 80.2 innings after mid-to-late-season call-ups in 1981 and 1982. After spending all of 1983 in the minors, Leach bounced around to the Cubs’ and Braves’ minor league affiliates, before returning to the Triple-A Mets, where he remained until a mid-season call-up in 1985. Despite pitching well down the stretch in 1985—2.91 ERA (83 ERA-), 3.12 FIP (87 FIP-) in 55.2 innings—Leach spent virtually all of the 1986 championship season back in the minors.

It wasn’t until 1987 that Leach found a permanent home on the major league roster, after Dwight Gooden’s rehab stint and Bobby Ojeda’s season-ending surgery created an opening for the sidearmer. From 1987 to 1988, Leach pitched well for the Mets, going 18-3 with a 2.94 ERA (81 ERA-) and a 3.70 FIP (101 FIP-) in 223.1 innings pitched, which included 12 starts in 1987. Leach was a sinkerballer who effectively pitched to contact, evidenced by his low 4.72 K/9, 2.46 BB/9, 0.64 HR/9, and .272 BABIP in his first six seasons with the Mets. Leach had a strong 1988 postseason in which he threw five scoreless innings against the Dodgers, but got off to a slow start in 1989 and was traded to the Royals. True to form, the righty bounced back with two outstanding years for the Twins—with whom he won a World Series ring in 1991—and one-plus more with the White Sox, finishing with a career 3.15 ERA (83 ERA-) and 3.45 FIP (92 FIP-) in 700 innings of work.

Carlos Diaz, 1983

After a mid-season trade from the Braves in 1982, Carlos Diaz had a great year for the Mets in 1983. That year, the lefty was a 1.1-fWAR player with a 2.05 ERA (57 ERA-) and a 2.67 FIP (72 FIP-), and allowed just one home run in 83.1 innings of work. On the strength of that season, the Mets traded Diaz and utility man Bob Bailor to the Dodgers for a package that included Sid Fernandez. Diaz would play in three more big league seasons, while Fernandez would become one of the most productive starting pitchers in Mets history.

Doug Sisk, 1983-1984, 1986-1987

Like Bob Apodaca, Doug Sisk was an effective sinkerball pitcher who consistently outperformed his fielding-independent metrics. From 1983 to 1984, Sisk was an elite run-preventer out of the Mets’ pen, pitching to a 2.18 ERA (61 ERA-) in 182 innings, on the strength of a low .243 BABIP and a miniscule 0.10 HR/9—despite a very poor 0.58 K/BB ratio that resulted in a 4.17 FIP (116 FIP-). In 1985, the righty had a rough season that would largely define the rest of his tenure in New York. That year, Sisk pitched with loose bone chips in his right elbow and consequently lost some bite on his sinker; while Sisk’s strikeout rate (3.21 K/9) remained low and his walk rate (4.93 BB/9) high, hitters made better contact against him, resulting in dramatic spikes in BABIP and ERA to .307 and 5.30 (151 ERA-), respectively.

After undergoing successful elbow surgery in late 1985, Sisk compensated for his diminished sinker by learning to pitch in the strike zone. Sisk’s .300 BABIP in 1986-1987 never approached its 1983-1984 levels, but his K/9 and BB/9 improved from 3.21 to 4.12, and from 5.59 to 3.21, respectively, with a still-outstanding 0.30 HR/9 in 148.2 innings pitched. As a result, Sisk’s FIP improved to 3.58 (96 FIP-), while his ERA regressed to a good but not great 3.27 (88 ERA-). Unfortunately, Sisk developed a reputation for being wild and unreliable, and was the frequent target of verbal abuse by Mets fans, despite being a very solid pitcher for most of his Mets career.

Jeff Innis, 1987-1992

Sidearm sinkerballer Jeff Innis was a very similar pitcher to Terry Leach. So similar, in fact, that Innis—despite pitching well with the Mets—had a hard time staying on the big league roster in the late eighties because the team feared that their similar styles would lessen each pitcher’s relative value. From 1987 to 1990, Innis pitched to a strong 2.77 ERA (78 ERA-) and a 3.56 (98 FIP-), but averaged only 27.2 innings per year. Innis finally got his opportunity with the big club when the Mets traded Leach to the Royals, and Innis didn't disappoint. From 1991 to 1992, Innis was a reliable innings eater, posting a 2.76 ERA (78 ERA-) and a 3.40 FIP (95 FIP-) in 172.2 innings pitched. While Innis’s career came to a surprisingly abrupt end after a down year 1993, it was certainly good while it lasted. During Innis’s seven years in the majors, he did what the other sinkerballers on this list did successfully: namely, he pitched to weak contact, keeping the ball on the ground and in the park, and finished with a 3.05 ERA (83 ERA-), a 3.71 FIP (100 ERA-), 4.80 K/9, 3.03 BB/9, 0.55 HR/9, and a .272 BABIP in 360 innings pitched.

Alejandro Pena, 1990-1991

Alejandro Pena had two strong seasons with the Mets, sandwiched between successful stints with perennial playoff teams in Los Angeles and Atlanta. From 1990 to 1991, Pena pitched to an exceptional 2.98 ERA (82 ERA-) and 2.78 FIP (76 FIP-), with 8.09 K/9, 2.65 BB/9, and 0.58 HR/9, and averaged 0.9 fWAR in 69.2 innings per year for the Mets before a late-season trade to Atlanta in 1991.

Doug Henry, 1995

After four years in the Brewers’ bullpen, Doug Henry was traded to the Mets and had a strong debut season in New York. In 1995, Henry pitched to a 2.96 ERA (73 ERA-) and a 3.77 FIP (92 FIP-), on the strength of 8.33 K/9, 3.36 BB/9, and 0.94 HR/9 in 67 innings. Henry regressed in 1996, but subsequently found a home in the bullpens of several playoff teams in San Francisco and Houston.

Greg McMichael, 1997

From 1993 to 1996, Greg McMichael established himself as an integral part of some tremendous Atlanta bullpens. After being traded to the Mets, McMichael had his last great year in 1997, when the righty pitched to a 2.98 ERA (74 ERA-) and a 3.44 FIP (84 FIP-), with 8.32 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 0.82 HR/9, and 1.3 fWAR in 87.2 innings.

The 2002 Mets’ Bullpen

The Mets’ bullpen in 2002 was a surprising strength of the 75-win team. That year, Mets relievers ranked fifth in all of baseball with a 3.23 ERA (82 ERA-) and sixth with a 3.75 FIP (92 FIP-). While closer Armando Benitez led the charge with 33 saves, a 2.27 ERA (57 ERA-), and a 3.41 FIP (84 FIP-) in 67.1 innings pitched, the Mets also got strong contributions from less likely sources, like David Weathers (2.91 ERA, 73 ERA-, 3.91 FIP, 96 FIP-, 77.1 innings pitched), Scott Strickland (3.59 ERA, 91 ERA-, 3.88 FIP, 96 FIP-, 67.2 innings pitched), Mark Guthrie (2.44 ERA, 61 ERA-, 3.19 FIP, 78 FIP-, 48 innings pitched), Grant Roberts (2.20 ERA, 55 ERA-, 3.58 FIP, 88 FIP-, 45 innings pitched), Steve Reed (2.08 ERA, 52 ERA-, 2.58 FIP, 63 FIP-, 26 innings pitched), and Jaime Cerda (2.45 ERA, 62 ERA-, 3.08 FIP, 75 FIP-, 25.2 innings pitched).

The 2004 Mets’ Bullpen

In 2004, the Mets’ bullpen turned in another strong year, finishing eighth in all of baseball with a 3.14 ERA (90 ERA-). While their relievers’ 3.84 FIP (110 FIP-) suggests that some may have benefited from good luck, the 71-win Mets got some legitimately good performances out of the pen. Braden Looper, for example, had the best year of his career, finishing with 29 saves, a 2.70 ERA (64 ERA-), a 3.07 FIP (71 FIP-), and 1.6 fWAR in 83.1 innings pitched. Looper’s great season complemented those of his fellow relievers, including Mike Stanton (3.16 ERA, 75 ERA-, 3.92 FIP, 91 FIP-, 77 innings pitched), Ricky Bottalico (3.38 ERA, 80 ERA-, 3.50 FIP, 81 FIP-, 69.1 innings pitched), Orber Moreno (3.38 ERA, 80 ERA-, 2.59 FIP, 59 FIP-, 34.2 innings pitched), Heath Bell (3.33 ERA, 79 ERA-, 4.24 FIP, 99 FIP-, 24.1 innings pitched), and Mike DeJean (1.69 ERA, 40 ERA-, 1.78 FIP, 40 FIP-, 21.1 innings pitched).

Aaron Heilman, 2005-2007

It’s unfortunate that Aaron Heilman’s Mets career has largely been defined by one pitch, because Heilman had a great three-year run in New York. From 2005 to 2007, the righty pitched to an exceptional 3.27 ERA (77 ERA-) and 3.34 FIP (77 FIP-), with 7.75 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, and .061 HR/9; he was also an effective innings eater, averaging 1.4 fWAR in 93.2 innings pitched per year during those three years. Despite allowing that soul-crushing home run to Yadier Molina, Heilman didn’t pitch poorly in the ’06 postseason, surrendering three runs in 7.1 innings of work, while striking out six and walking just one. Like Doug Sisk, Heilman developed a reputation for being untrustworthy in "the big moment," which—along with his genuinely poor year in 2008—left a bad taste in Mets fans’ mouths, making it easy to overlook his important contributions to some good Mets teams.

Roberto Hernandez, 2005-2006

After poor years with the Braves and Phillies in 2003 and 2004, Robert Hernandez appeared to be finished as a productive major leaguer. Then, in 2005, the 40-year-old signed with the Mets and enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence, pitching to an excellent 2.58 ERA (63 ERA-) and 3.49 FIP (84 FIP-), with 7.88 K/9, 3.62 BB/9, and 0.65 HR/9 in 69.2 innings. When Duaner Sanchez went down with his taxicab-related injury in mid-2006, the Mets reacquired Hernandez from the Pirates. Once again, the righty didn't disappoint, posting a 3.48 ERA (80 ERA-) and a 4.11 FIP (93 FIP-) in 20.2 innings pitched down the stretch as the Mets made their division championship run.

Elmer Dessens, 2009-2010

Elmer Dessens gets an honorable mention for posting an impressive 2.71 ERA (68 ERA-) in the 79.2 innings he pitched for the Mets from 2009 to 2010. It’s true that Dessens was probably the beneficiary of good luck: for example, his 4.97 FIP (125 FIP-) and 83.9 LOB% were well above his career norms, while his .220 BABIP was well below. Moreover, during those two years, Dessens’s ground ball rate (40.6%) fell dramatically from his career mark, as his fly ball rate (45.3%) rose and his home run to fly ball rate (7.8%) plummeted. In short, Dessens gave up a lot of fly balls that didn’t leave the park—thanks, in part, to the spacious confines of Citi Field—and, when runners did reach base against him, Dessens was particularly good at pitching out of jams. Whether this was the result of good luck or the honed skills of a crafty veteran, Dessens was clearly an effective run preventer in his two years as a Met.