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Get to know an Immaculate Grid guy: Elmer Dessens

A veteran of nine teams, this ‘09-10 Met is a great player to remember when IGing.

San Diego Padres v New York Mets Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

If you’re anything like those of us who write here at Amazin’ Avenue, you’ve probably been playing Immaculate Grid, a Wordle-inspired game that was purchased by Baseball-Reference and tests your baseball trivia knowledge. And with the 2023 Mets having made themselves (probably?) irrelevant to the race for a playoff spot, we thought it would be fun to check in on some Mets who would be particularly useful for the squares that are frequently seen in the game.

Now, if you’d prefer to go in completely fresh, you’re not obligated to read any more of this piece. The headline won’t give much away in this series, aside from the fact that a player didn’t spend his entire career with the Mets. David Wright and Ed Kranepool might still be good answers in the game, but with the majority of the squares asking for players who played for two different teams, they might not be correct answers all that frequently.

Bullpen guys are the key to successful Immaculate Grid: there are a lot of them, they move around a fair amount, and they tend to be forgotten, so they help rack up a lower percentage, meaning a better immaculate score. And today’s entry fits all three categories like a glove: Elmer Dessens.

Dessens, a pitcher who relied heavily on soft contact, played parts of 14 seasons in the Major Leagues for nine teams, with his final two seasons anchored in Queens. Dessens signed with the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1993 and, after three years in their minor league system, made his MLB debut on June 24, 1996. Dessens did not meet with immediate success for the Pirates, giving up six earned runs in one and two-thirds innings of work in his debut. His second game didn’t fare too much better, giving up five earned runs in four and two-thirds innings.

But Dessens settled down after he was moved to the bullpen after one more shaky start. He still had a couple of shaky outings, but he more or less became a perfectly cromulent relief arm for the Pirates in ‘96 stretch. After tossing just three and a third innings in 1997, Dessens appeared in 43 games for the Buccos in 1998, starting, closing, and everything in between to an ERA of 5.67. This would prove to be his last season with Pittsburgh.

After a stint with the Yomiyuri Giants of the NPB, Dessens popped back up with the Reds in 2000. The Reds would use Dessens as primarily a starter, and he made 80 starts over three seasons for Cincinnati, with 2002 being his best year in the majors up to that point (and, spoiler alert, the best he’d ever have as a starter).

In 2002 Dessens made 30 starts for the Reds, tossing 178 innings with a 3.03 ERA and a 141 ERA+. Never a particularly overpowering pitcher, Dessens struck out just 93 in ‘03, down from his career high of 128 a season earlier.

After being traded to the Diamondbacks in the ‘02-’03 offseason, Dessens had one more season of regular starting pitching in him, when he made 30 starts for Arizona, but the results weren’t as good as they had been with the Reds. Dessens put up his first post-Japan ERA of over 5, and found himself moved to the Dodgers mid-way through the 2004 season.

From there, he becomes Immaculate Grid royalty. Over the next four seasons, Dessens pitched for four new teams (the Royals, the Brewers, the Rockies, the Braves), while returning to both the Dodgers and the Pirates (released during spring training), as well as pitching for the Diablos Rojos del Mexico for most of the 2008 season, before popping up with Atlanta for the last few weeks of the season.

In 2009, Dessens signed with the Mets, for whom he made 28 appearances without factoring into a single decision. That has to be a record of some sort, no? Over 32.2 innings, Dessens put up a second-best 3.31 ERA and a 125 ERA+. Dessens notched just three appearances in which multiple runs scored against him and, while the 14 strikeouts to ten walks is not exactly an inspiring performance, it was enough to bring him back again in 2010.

Somehow, 2010 was even better for Dessens and the Mets, as he appeared in 53 games and rang up a career low 2.30 ERA and a career high 171 ERA+. Again, Dessens was doing this with an even strikeout to walk ratio (14 and 14), which doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. However, our esteemed alum Matt Varvaro wrote about Dessens in his ‘Overlooked and Underrated Mets’ series in 2015, and he gives some good context for Dessens’ resurgence as a Met:

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.

Dessens would sign with the Giants in 2011, but the deal fell through just five days later, with no reason given by either side. And so, Dessens’ career came to a close. A 4.44 ERA and a 101 ERA+ are practically the definition of cromulent, but Dessens, used in Immaculate Grid, should embiggen your success in our favorite 9am ET activity.