Sunday, September 2, 2012

Former Mets Are Playing Key Roles On Other Teams

It's a topic of discussion that pops up every year for fans of every team.  A player who used to be on their beloved team has moved elsewhere and is succeeding for his new employer, causing those fans to say "why couldn't he have done that for us?"  As Mets fans, we are no strangers to this discussion.

Over the past 50 years, we've all been guilty of asking aloud why Jeff Kent couldn't produce for us the way he produced in San Francisco.  Some of us have even been overheard saying "did Gregg Jefferies really hit .342 with 16 HR and 46 SB for the 1993 Cardinals?"  (Okay, that was me inquiring about the former Mets clubhouse cancer from the late '80s and early '90s, but you get what I'm saying about former players succeeding elsewhere.)

It happens all the time.  Players who either didn't get a fair shot, were traded prematurely, or were run out of town end up carving a successful career for themselves once they leave New York.  This season is no exception.  Let's look at a few former Mets who have turned in some fantastic seasons for their new teams in 2012.

Angel Pagan

When the four-year veteran was traded to San Francisco this past offseason for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez, many Mets fans were pleased to be rid of Pagan take a hike.  After a successful second half in 2009 and an unexpected great season in 2010 (.290, 11 HR, 69 RBI, 80 runs, 37 SB), Pagan became a liability in 2011.  He missed nearly 40 games due to injuries and when he did play, he reverted to the fundamentally unsound player that would give Keith Hernandez fits in the broadcast booth ("Fundies!")

When the Mets traded the player known as "Crazy Horse" to the Giants, they thought they were getting an adequate fill-in replacement in Andres Torres and a dependable reliever in Ramon Ramirez.  Neither player has performed to expectations.  But Pagan has been a key contributor for the NL West-leading Giants.

Through September 2, Pagan has been one of the Giants' spark plugs at the top of the order.  The centerfielder is batting .291 and is among the league leaders in triples (10; tied for second in NL) and offensive WAR (3.8; 9th in NL).  Pagan is also near the top ten in various other categories.  His 145 hits leave him only one hit outside the top ten.  He also has scored 76 runs (three runs away from the top ten), collected 30 doubles (two shy of the top ten) and stolen 23 bases (three away from the top ten).  Pagan is on pace to set career-highs in hits, runs scored, doubles, triples and walks.

Defensively, Pagan has improved, leading the league in range factor, which is defined as (putouts + assists) / games played.  His 2.67 range factor is higher than other speedy centerfielders such as Michael Bourn (2.59) and MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen (2.46).  Pagan has also cut his errors in half, from ten in his final season as a Met in 2011 to five this year.

Carlos Gomez

When the Mets acquired Johan Santana from Minnesota in 2008, they sent four young players to the Twins in return.  In addition to Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey and Philip Humber (who has had a Santana-esque fall from grace since his perfect game in April), the Mets sent speedy Carlos Gomez to complete the deal.  Gomez had a decent first season in Minnesota (.259, 7 HR, 59 RBI, 33 steals), but was undisciplined at the plate, striking out 142 times.  After a poor second season for the Twins, he was shipped off to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy.  As a part-time player for Brewers in 2010 and 2011, Gomez was unspectacular.  But in 2012, his third season with the Brew Crew, he has finally blossomed.

In only 319 at-bats, a total he has not surpassed since his first season in Minnesota, Gomez has set or is about to set career-highs in almost every major offensive category.  The former Met prospect is batting .257 and has an on-base percentage of .303, the first time it's been over .300 in his major league career.  Prior to 2012, Gomez had averaged 13 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 29 RBI and 19 stolen bases over his first five seasons in the majors.  This year, he's become a darling of fantasy baseball enthusiasts.

Gomez has hit a career-high 15 HR in 2012, which has contributed to his .473 slugging percentage and .776 OPS, numbers that would represent career highs if he can maintain them over the season's final month.  But Gomez is also on track to set career-highs in stolen bases (his 30 steals in 2012 are three short of his single-season high), while approaching his personal best in doubles, triples, RBI and runs scored.  He's done all this while becoming far more disciplined at the plate.  Although he's only walked 17 times this year, his strikeouts have dropped dramatically.  After the aforementioned 142 whiffs in 2008, Gomez has cut those numbers nearly in half, fanning a total of 74 times in 2012.

How much could the Mets use Carlos Gomez now?  His 15 HR would lead all Mets outfielders (Scott Hairston also has 15 HR, but two of them came as a pinch-hitter.  All 15 of Gomez's home runs have come as an outfielder.) and his 30 SB would be more than double that of the team's current leader, David Wright, who has 12 steals.  Gomez's 60 runs scored would also be second on the team to Wright, who has scored 79 times, although Gomez has 215 fewer plate appearances than the Mets third baseman.  Fantasy baseball players love that Gomez is one of only two players in the majors with 15 HR and 30 SB (AL MVP candidate Mike Trout is the other), but the Brewers probably love him even more.

Chris Capuano

After not making more than 25 starts in any season since 2006, Capuano made 31 starts for the Mets in 2011.  The southpaw led the team in strikeouts with 168 and tied fellow lefty Jonathon Niese for the second-most wins on the team with 11, just two victories behind rookie Dillon Gee.  But when the Dodgers offered Capuano a two-year, $10 million deal during the offseason, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson balked at bringing the lefty back for a second go-round.

Although the team has fared well in the starting rotation with R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, and most recently, Matt Harvey, injuries that have shut down Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee and Johan Santana have made this Mets fan wonder if Alderson did wrong in not bringing back Capuano.

Capuano has continued his renaissance in Los Angeles, winning 11 games for the Dodgers.  His 3.63 ERA is nearly a run lower than the 4.55 ERA he compiled with the Mets in 2011, while his 1.186 WHIP is far below his career WHIP of 1.332.  Prior to this season, opponents were hitting .266 against Capuano.  In 2012, that number is down to .247.  Capuano has also done a fine job limiting the extra-base hits against him, as the .394 slugging percentage against him in 2012 is far lower than the .448 slugging percentage he had allowed prior to 2012.

Although Capuano has struggled recently (six earned runs allowed in two of his last three starts), that has been the exception rather than the rule, as the lefty has allowed three earned runs or less in 20 of his other 26 starts.  It's too bad the Dodgers have scored three runs or less in 15 of his 28 starts, or else his record would be far better than 11-10.

Oliver Perez

I'll wager an autographed Brad Emaus baseball card that you weren't expecting to see Oliver Perez on this list.  But the former Mets pitcher/pariah has been absolutely amazing after redefining himself as a lefty specialist coming out of the bullpen for the Mariners in Seattle, which is about as far as he could get away from the media spotlight cast upon him in New York.

After being released by the Mets in March 2011, the Nationals scooped him up and kept him in the minors for the entire season.  Once the Nats finally came to the realization that they had signed Oliver Perez, they chose to let him walk as a free agent.  In January 2012, Perez latched on to the Seattle Mariners in the hopes of getting one final shot at the major leagues.  After the unexpected success he has had for the Mariners so far this season, it appears as if Ollie will be in the majors to stay.

Since his call-up to the Mariners in June, Perez has been uncannily good.  In 24 games, Ollie has allowed only four earned runs for a sparkling 1.71 ERA.  He has also exhibited fine control of his pitches, walking only seven batters in 21 innings.  But it's what Perez has done over the last two months that has really opened some eyes around the league.

Since allowing a run to become the losing pitcher in a game played on July 8, Perez has put up nothing but zeroes.  In 16 relief appearances since the July 8 defeat, Perez has allowed no runs in 11.1 IP.  He has also been very stingy against opposing hitters, limiting them to singles and an occasional walk, as evidenced by the meager .295 slugging percentage and respectable .327 on-base percentage against him over the past eight weeks.  It's no surprise that Perez's resurgence since mid-July has coincided with the Mariners' hot streak, as Seattle has gone 29-19 since July 8.  Only the Oakland A's have a better record in the American League (33-14) than the Seattle Mariners since that date.  And Oliver Perez is part of that recent success.  Go figure.

These guys were teammates of all four players listed above, then joined them as former Mets.

The 2012 entered the season with Carlos Beltran having been traded away during the previous season and Jose Reyes taking his business to Miami.  Beltran is having a tremendous year in the first post-Pujols campaign in St. Louis, while Reyes isn't going to win a batting title, but he's still having a Reyes-type season.  But those players did well for extended periods of time as members of the Mets.

The four players detailed above were barely Mets (Carlos Gomez, Chris Capuano), had supposedly already played their best ball (Angel Pagan), or were winners of the Bobby Bonilla MVP Award (Most Vilified Player, which Oliver Perez won repeatedly).

There will always be players like Angel Pagan, Carlos Gomez, Chris Capuano and Oliver Perez to suit up for the Mets.  And those players will continue to be former Mets who will have wonderful seasons elsewhere.  So the next time you see a player and say "I wish we still had him", you're not alone.  The Mets have had a number of those players who have been responsible for those quotes from fans.

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