Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Decade of Devastation (Or Not)

Is that you causing that stink, Tom Glavine?

Ten years ago today, Tom Glavine made his Mets debut.  On a bitterly cold final day of March in 2003, the former member of the pitching firm of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz was on the mound at Shea Stadium not as an opponent, but as a proud wearer of the orange and blue.

His opponents were the Chicago Cubs, a team against which he used to perform fairly well.  Notice my use of the words "used to".  Prior to 2003, Glavine was 13-10 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.17 WHIP versus the North Siders.  But beginning with his Opening Day start on March 31, 2003, Glavine was a completely different pitcher against the Cubs.

Prior to 2003, the Mets had not lost a season-opening game played at Shea Stadium since 1990, when they dropped a 12-3 decision to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  By the end of the day, Mets fans were wishing the 2003 opener was as close as the game that opened the 1990 campaign.

Glavine allowed eight hits and four walks in only 3⅔ innings of "work".  The lefty had already won 242 games in his career, but on this Opening Day, he allowed more batters to reach base than he sent back to the dugout.  The Mets would go on to lose the game, 15-2, and would go on to lose 94 more games during the 2003 season, though none was as lopsided as the opener.

Twenty years after Tom Terrific (Seaver) helped the Mets win their 1983 Opening Day game at Shea, Tom Non-Terrfic (Glavine) flushed the Mets' opener down the toilet.  Four years and 161 games later, Glavine would allow fewer base runners against the Florida Marlins in the Mets' playoff-crushing season-ending loss.  So perhaps the fact that he allowed "only" eight base runners against Florida in his final start for the Mets led to his "I'm not devastated" post-game comment.  After all, that was four fewer than the dozen Cubs' batters who reached base against him in his Mets debut.

Beginning with his Mets debut ten years ago today, Tom Glavine finished his career by going 2-5 with a 7.23 ERA and 1.80 WHIP versus the Cubs.  The Mets did eventually improve after their 95-loss season in Glavine's first year with the team.  But they never won a pennant with him on the team, something Glavine's Braves did five times in the 1990s.

Mets fans have had to endure a decade of devastation.  But the future is just around the corner.  And this time, Tom Glavine will be nowhere near the Mets on the date of their home opener.  The Mets might win tomorrow's Opening Day game or they might lose it.  But almost certainly, they'll be more competitive than they were in the season-opening game ten years ago.  They can't possibly be any worse.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Milestones And The Mets Who Can Reach Them

As is common before the beginning of each season, many bloggers and reporters write about those Mets players who are approaching statistical milestones in their careers.  At Studious Metsimus, we enjoy our stats - sometimes a little too much - just like everyone else.  Therefore, we'd also like to contribute our list of players and personnel who are approaching career milestones.

But of course, this is Studious Metsimus, so why should you expect the typical milestones you can find anywhere else?  And why stop at just Mets players reaching milestones, when the entire Mets team is approaching a few milestones as well?

So sit back and enjoy.  And when one of the players (or the entire team) reaches a milestone, feel free to tweet about it before anyone else and watch as your dozens, hundreds or thousands of followers retweet you left and right or ask you if you got this from Studious Metsimus.  Claim ignorance if it's the latter.  That's what yours truly would do.

Individual Milestones Within Reach

David Wright won't wear a "C", but he does wear an "M" for Milestones.

David Wright:
  • Needs 74 hits for 1,500 (or half of the magic 3,000 plateau)
  • Needs 16 homers for 220 (would tie Mike Piazza for 2nd most in Mets history)
  • An All-Star Game selection would be his 7th (would tie Darryl Strawberry and Piazza for 2nd most in club annals)
  • Needs 1 sacrifice fly to knock Ed Kranepool off another perch (Wright and Kranepool are currently tied for the team lead with 58 sacrifice flies - tip of the Mets cap to Mark Simon for pointing this out, even if Kranepool himself would probably want this to stay on the down low)

Daniel Murphy:
  • Needs 33 hits for 500 (nowhere near the magic 3,000 plateau)
  • Needs 31 games for 500 (would become 41st Met to reach that mark)

Ike Davis:
  • Needs 33 doubles for 100 (clearly he's still early in his career)
  • Needs 42 homers for 100 (would also break the team's single-season HR record)

Ruben Tejada:
  • Needs 1 homer for 3 (tying Rick Aguilera, Juan Samuel and Kelvin Chapman - and breaking a tie with Mike Nickeas)

Lucas Duda:
  • Needs 8 runs for 100 (a total reached 19 times by a Met in a single season; this is Duda's fourth season in New York)
  • Needs 1 strikeout for 200 (and a congratulatory boo from the Citi Field crowd)
  • Needs 1 furniture mover to avoid another embarrassing off-season injury (duh!)

Terry Collins:
  • Needs 24 wins to tie Casey Stengel for 9th most wins in team history
  • Needs 53 wins to tie Jerry Manuel for 8th most wins in team history
  • Needs 78 wins to tie Dallas Green for 7th most wins in team history
  • Needs 109 wins and a World Series title to shut Greg Pomes up
  • Needs 3 inches between his number and his his belt to stop dressing like Steve Urkel

Terry Collins prepares for "Family Matters Night" at Citi Field.

Bobby Parnell:
  • Needs 44 saves to enter the Mets' all-time top ten in saves (and break Armando Benitez's single-season team record)
  • Needs 5 saves to pass Anthony Young for most saves by a homegrown Met since 1990

Jonathon Niese:
  • Needs 202 strikeouts to enter the Mets' all-time top ten in Ks
  • Needs 23 strikeouts to match Nolan Ryan's totals as a Met (sigh...)
  • Needs 16 starts and 12 wins to have more than Johan Santana had as a Met (double sigh...)

Johan Santana:
  • Needs 1 start to make more starts than anyone expects him to make this year (triple sigh...)

"Oh, crap.  I'm missing another full season."

Team Milestones Within Reach

70,000 hits:
  • Through 51 seasons, the Mets have collected 69,041 hits.  With 959 more hits, the Mets will reach the 70,000 mark.  The only years the Mets failed to reach 959 hits were in 1981 and 1994, both strike-shortened seasons.  As long as the Mets don't bring back Jason Bay, this milestone should be reached in late August or early September.  Plan your trip to Citi Field accordingly.

5,000 stolen bases:
  • The Mets should have reached this milestone last year, but stole only 79 bases in 2012 - their lowest full-season total since 2003.  How much of a station-to-station team were the Mets in 2012?  They stole one more base than Jose Reyes stole by himself in 2007.  The Mets' non-pilfering tendencies caused the team to finish the 2012 season with 4,998 steals, leaving the team two thefts short of the magic 5,000 plateau.  They could reach that figure on Opening Day or it could take them an entire month.

50,000 strikeouts:
  • If only this was 50,000 strikeouts by Mets pitchers.  But since the Mets traded all-time strikeout king Nolan Ryan before he became the Ryan Express, this 50,000 figure refers to the number of times Mets hitters have whiffed.  When the team strikes out for the 549th time this year (which should happen sometime in late June), they can thank several of their human windmills for helping this nightmare come true.  Without the likes of Dave Kingman, Jeromy Burnitz, Mo Vaughn and other futile flailers, this milestone would not have been possible by 2013.

The more Mo Vaughn struck out, the faster he could partake of the post-game spread.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Magic 8-Ball Predicts The 2013 Mets Season

Well, hello again, everyone!  In a few days, we'll be able to take the "off" out of "offseason", as the curtain will rise on yet another Major League Baseball season.  Over the past few months, the National League East has undergone some changes.

The Washington Nationals got stronger in the bullpen, adding Rafael Soriano, and the Atlanta Braves acquired every Upton not named Kate.  The Philadelphia Phillies got another year closer to the retirement home and the Miami Marlins decided to turn to Groupon to sell tickets to see Giancarlo and the Blowfish.

And the Mets?  They waved goodbye to Jason Bay, Andres Torres and the player who makes a guest appearance on the Wikipedia page of my wife's ass.  (Or is it the other way around?)  To replace those dearly departed outfielders, the Mets have auditioned everyone except Gary Matthews, Jr. and his old man.  The team has also added several future Hall of Fame pitchers, or at least they are in the Laffey, Marcum and Lyon households.

So will those additions and subtractions encourage a divisive fanbase to multiply in the Citi Field seats?  For the answer to that question and many more, we turn to our fav'rit spherical prognosticator.  Ladies and gentle-Mets, give it up for the Magic 8-Ball!

Thanks for stopping by.  So how do you feel about the team this year?  Can they compete for one of the five playoff spots in the National League?

Really?  That’s as optimistic an answer as I’ve ever gotten from you.  To what do you attribute this hope for the Mets in 2013?

I don’t understand.  Why the Astros?

And how does that affect the Mets?  They won’t be matched up against the Astros at all this year.

So you’re just optimistic because each team in the National League now has a 5 in 15 chance to make the playoffs instead of 5 in 16?

You sound like a GEICO commercial when you say that.

Okay, let’s move on.  With R.A. Dickey now knuckling for Canadian dollars, which pitcher in the starting rotation do you expect to have a breakthrough season?

My thoughts exactly!

You just can’t agree with me on anything, can you?

Whoa, there’s no need for that kind of language here.  This is a family-friendly site.  And the beginning of a new baseball season should bring out the best in everyone, including you.  Why are you always so hostile?

Shaking?  I don’t get what you’re trying to say.

Oh, you're the one that gets shaken.  Now I get it.

Sure.  Just two more questions and then you can do what Magic 8-Balls do when they’re not being shaken up.  Speaking of which, what exactly do you do when you’re not being asked questions?

Fine.  Anyway, how do you see the Mets’ outfield this season?

You know what I mean!

You think that highly of Cowgill?

I seriously have to get myself a new Magic 8-Ball next season.

Oh, so you don’t have eyes, but you’ve got ears tucked away somewhere.

Uh … well … you see … actually, I have no point.  Last question then.  What do you think the Mets’ final record will be and where will they finish in the National League East?

Wow!  You think they’ll be that good?

I knew your prediction was too good to be true.

And on that note, I'd like to wish all of you a very happy baseball season.  As the great Bob Barker would say, "please help control the snarky sphere population - don't forget to have your Magic 8-Ball spayed or neutered."  (I know I'm taking mine to get neutered right now!)

Have fun this season, and as always ... LET'S GO METS!!

Hey, kids!  The Magic 8-Ball has made predictions before.  To see what it said prior to each of the previous three seasons, please click on the links below:

2012 Magic 8-Ball Predictions
2011 Magic 8-Ball Predictions
2010 Magic 8-Ball Predictions

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Mets That Got Away: Ty Wigginton

Suppose you're an everyday player in the big leagues.  You're young.  You play hard.  You play multiple positions on the field.  Basically, you do whatever it takes to help your team win.  Then you get traded away because the team feels that a younger player would be even better for them than you are.  I think it's safe to assume that you'd be pretty miffed about that.  You'd also want to show your former team just how much you could have contributed to their success by doing well against them every time you faced them.

Stories like that occur every so often in the big leagues.  It happened to one particular player on the Mets in 2004.

This player was never viewed as a top prospect when the Mets drafted him in 1998, but he worked his way through the Mets' minor league system and forced his way into the starting lineup.  He played at five different defensive positions when he was first called up and showed the same determination to succeed on the field that he exhibited throughout his four-year rise through the minors.

But the Mets had a top prospect who was also climbing the ladder to the major leagues.  And once he got there, no one was going to stand in his way - not even a scrappy, versatile player who had proven that he belonged in the major leagues.  The writing was on the wall for Ty Wigginton, and he has repeatedly done his best to make the Mets pay for their decision to trade him.

Even as a 20-year-old, Ty Wigginton looked like he was going to run you over at the plate.

Ty Allen Wigginton was selected by the Mets in the 17th round of the 1998 June amateur draft.  Wigginton wasn't particularly impressive in his first professional season, batting .239 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 70 games with the Pittsfield Mets.  But after getting the bugs out of his system, Wigginton blossomed.

With St. Lucie in 1999, Wigginton batted .292, leading the team in home runs (21) and RBIs (73).  Wigginton continued to excel in 2000, leading the Binghamton Mets to a division title.  The infielder finished first on his team in hits (129), doubles (27), home runs (20) and RBIs (77), while maintaining a solid .285 batting average.

Injuries provided a minor setback to Wigginton's advancement in 2001, as he managed only seven homers and 25 RBIs in 89 games.  But at Norfolk in 2002, Wigginton flew out of the gate, batting .374 through mid-May as a member of the Tides.  It was only a matter of time before the Mets would need his services at the big league level, and when infielder John Valentin was placed on the disabled list with a torn rotator cuff, the call for Wigginton finally came.

Although Wigginton only stayed in the majors for the two weeks Valentin was out, he got a chance to experience big league action for the first time.  Used mostly as a pinch-hitter and in double switches, Wigginton only got into six games during his initial time with the parent club, scoring one run and collecting one hit in four at-bats.  By the end of May, Wigginton was back in Norfolk, where he remained for the next two months.  Once he got back to the majors in early August, he never looked back.

As the summer progressed, it was becoming clear that the Mets were going nowhere in 2002.  Subpar performances by offseason acquisitions Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz and Roger Cedeño doomed the Mets by the beginning of August.  Injuries to second baseman Roberto Alomar (another failed addition to the team) and third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo created a gaping hole for the Mets in the infield.  To patch that hole, the Mets recalled Ty Wigginton from Norfolk and inserted their versatile neophyte into the starting lineup on August 4 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Wigginton's first major league start would become one of the best by a rookie in team history.

Wigginton went 4-for-5 in his first Shea Stadium start, providing a game-tying three-run homer in the third inning to erase a 5-2 deficit.  Wigginton also singled twice and hit a double in the 12-7 loss to Arizona.  It was the fourth loss in the Mets' franchise-record 15-game home losing streak.  The Mets failed to win a home game in August 2002, but they also failed to find a reason to take Wigginton out of the starting lineup.

After his auspicious debut as an everyday player, Wigginton continued to tear the cover off the ball.  He batted .500 (11-for-22) with four multi-hit games and five RBIs in his first five starts, then proceeded to have a tremendous month of September.  It was truly a September to remember for Wigginton, as the utility player batted .358 with six doubles, four homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs scored in only 53 at-bats.  Wigginton accomplished this while playing five different positions, spending time at first base, second base, third base, left field and right field.

By season's end, Wigginton had left his mark on the team.  Although he had just 116 at-bats for the Mets in 2002 (thereby retaining his rookie status for 2003), Wigginton finished the year with a .302 batting average and .526 slugging percentage.  Forty percent of his hits went for extra bases, as Wigginton pounded eight doubles and six homers out of of his 35 total hits.  Wigginton also drove in 18 runs and crossed the plate 18 times, with some of those runs coming at the expense of the opposing catcher.

Wigginton was never shy about bowling over the catcher, doing so on numerous occasions with the Mets.  He got plenty of those opportunities in 2003, as the Mets gave him the starting third baseman's job after fan-favorite Edgardo Alfonzo signed a free agent contract with the San Francisco Giants.  Now guaranteed an everyday job from Day 1 of the new campaign, Wigginton went on to post one of the most unheralded rookie seasons in franchise history.

The Mets' new third baseman played in all but five of the team's 161 games in 2003 (one game was rained out and was not made up), setting numerous rookie records.  No Met rookie had ever played in as many games as Wigginton did in 2003.

In addition to his 156 games, Wigginton also set new club marks for rookies in at-bats (573), hits (146), extra-base hits (53) and doubles (36).  Wiggy scored 73 runs, which was one short of Cleon Jones' rookie record of 74, set in 1966.  His 71 RBIs fell three short of Darryl Strawberry's total of 74, which he accomplished during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1983.  (Wigginton himself finished eighth in the 2003 National League Rookie of the Year vote, tied with teammate and fellow infielder Jose Reyes.)

But Wigginton wasn't just etching his name atop the Mets' all-time rookie leaders.  He was also becoming a top offensive threat over his non-rookie teammates, leading the 2003 Mets in every cumulative offensive category except home runs and stolen bases.  And he didn't do poorly in either of those categories, as Wigginton was only player on the '03 squad to reach double digits in home runs (11) and stolen bases (12). 

Prior to the 2004 season, the Mets signed Kazuo Matsui to a three-year deal, moving Jose Reyes to second base to accommodate the Japanese shortstop.  Wigginton remained at the hot corner for the Mets, but also started 22 games at second base, filling in at the position while Jose Reyes was on the disabled list.  But things were starting to get crowded for the Mets in the infield once Reyes returned.

Wigginton played all over the infield for the Mets in 2004, starting games at first base, second base and third base.  But veteran corner infielder Todd Zeile was being given an opportunity to start more games at third.  Manager Art Howe was also giving Zeile occasional starts at first base whenever Mike Piazza needed a day off or was catching.  Reyes was back in the starting lineup at second base and was not getting many days off.  And then, there was this kid named David Wright.

Wright was the Mets' top minor league prospect prior to the 2004 season.  The 21-year-old had dominated minor league pitching and was about to be called up to the major leagues.  There was only one problem.  Wright played third base.  So did Ty Wigginton.  Something had to give.  Something finally did.

Nine days after Wright made his major league debut for the Mets, Wigginton was sent packing.  General manager Jim Duquette, in a misguided effort to be a buyer at the July 31 trade deadline despite the team losing ground in the wild card race, jettisoned Wigginton, Jose Bautista and a minor leaguer to Pittsburgh for infielder Jeff Keppinger and former No. 1 overall draft pick Kris Benson.

Keppinger played in only 33 games with the Mets before being traded in 2006.  Since leaving New York, Keppinger has become one of the best contact hitters in baseball, batting .288 and striking out just 166 times in 2,343 at-bats.  Benson won 14 games as a Met and rarely showed the ability that made him the most coveted player in the 1996 June amateur draft.  (His wife, however, was coveted by more than just amateur baseball scouts.)

Meanwhile, Jose Bautista spent a few seasons bouncing around from team to team before finally finding a home in Toronto, where he became a three-time All-Star and two-time American League home run champion.

Ty Wigginton did his own share of bouncing around after leaving the Mets, but unlike Bautista, who waited many years before achieving success, Wigginton made positive contributions to his teams almost immediately.

Wigginton played in 115 games with the Pirates between 2004 and 2005, spending a few months in the minors in 2005.  Once he returned from his temporary minor league exile, Wigginton caught fire.  In 14 late-season starts, Wigginton batted .383 with seven extra-base hits and 13 RBIs.  Two months after his scalding finish, Wigginton was released by the Pirates.

The next stop for Wigginton was in Tampa, playing for the perennial cellar-dwelling Devil Rays.  Wigginton played everywhere for manager Joe Maddon, starting 37 games at first base, 37 games at second base and 32 games at third base.  Despite not having a steady position on the field, Wigginton was as steady as they came at the plate.  Wiggy got off to a tremendous start in 2006, batting .302 with eight homers and 20 RBIs in his first 16 games.  After another wonderful month in July (.317, 5 HR, 11 RBI, .650 slugging percentage in 60 at-bats), Wigginton missed the entire month of August with an injury but returned to hit .300 with six homers and 22 RBIs in the season's final month.

Wigginton had his finest season in the majors in 2006, setting career highs with 24 homers and 79 RBIs.  He continued to thrive in Tampa, collecting 21 doubles, 16 homers and 49 RBIs through the first four months of the 2007 season.  The Devil Rays then traded Wigginton to the Houston Astros on July 28, dealing him for his former Met teammate, Dan Wheeler.  Wigginton continued his strong season in Houston, batting .284 with 18 extra-base hits in 50 games.

In 2008, Wigginton began his first full season in Houston and quickly became a fan-favorite.  He also was finally playing for a winning team.  After six consecutive years playing for sub-.500 teams in New York, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, Wigginton got his first taste of a pennant race in Houston, although it didn't look like the Astros were going to be playing meaningful games in September for most of the season.

As July turned to August, Houston's record stood at 50-57, leaving them 11½ games behind the wild card-leading Milwaukee Brewers.  But over the final two months of the season, Houston posted the best record in baseball, winning 36 of their last 54 games.  The main reason for their resurgence was the record-breaking performance of Ty Wigginton.

Wigginton tied Jeff Bagwell's team record by blasting 12 home runs in August.  The Astros' third baseman also hit .379 during the month and drove in 26 runs.  By September 11, Houston had moved to within three games of Milwaukee for the wild card lead.  But Ty Wigginton had injured himself running out a ground ball five days earlier and did not play again until September 17.  By the time he returned to the lineup, Houston was in the middle of a costly five-game losing streak that effectively put an end to their playoff dreams.  That wasn't the only thing that ended in the fall of 2008.

In a move that was quite unpopular with Astros fans, Wigginton was not tendered a contract for the 2009 season.  General manager Ed Wade cited financial reasons for the split, but Wigginton was still taken aback by Houston's decision not to offer him a contract.

“I was thinking all along there was no way I would be non-tendered, to be honest with you.  It’s one of those things.  The last three years I’ve been as consistent as anybody out there, and I’ve hit 70 home runs or something like that in the last three years.  I’ve been consistent average-wise, and my on-base percentage keeps getting higher.”

Wigginton was right.  His numbers across the board were getting better and he was one of the most consistent players in the majors.  The Baltimore Orioles were looking for a player like Wigginton, hoping his consistently good play would help the O's end their streak of 11 consecutive losing seasons.  Baltimore signed Wigginton to a two-year, $6 million deal in 2009, using him at third base (a position already held by another former Met, Melvin Mora), first base and designated hitter.  But for the first time since 2005, Wigginton did not have a good season.

After averaging 27 doubles and 23 homers per season with Tampa Bay and Houston, Wigginton managed only 19 doubles and 11 homers with Baltimore in 2009.  Wigginton also scored 44 runs and collected 41 RBIs despite playing in 122 games.  Had the 32-year-old Wigginton not signed a two-year deal prior to the season, he might have had a tough time finding a new team in 2010.  But given a second chance in year two of the deal, Wigginton proved that his 2009 season was a fluke.

In 2010, Wigginton became an All-Star for the first time, leading the Orioles with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs by the Fourth of July.  Wigginton played in 154 games in his second year with Baltimore - his highest total since his first full season with the Mets in 2003.  By season's end, Wigginton was back to being his old consistent self, finishing the year with 29 doubles, 22 homers and 76 RBIs.  One other consistency returned to Wiggy's career - he became a free agent and signed with another team.

Colorado became Wigginton's sixth team in 2011, as the 33-year-old Wigginton once again replaced Melvin Mora as the team's versatile infielder.  Although Wigginton only had 401 at-bats with the Rockies, he still managed 21 doubles, 15 homers and 47 RBIs.

But once again, Wigginton was piling up his numbers with a non-contending team.  He thought that would finally change when he signed a one-year deal to play for the five-time NL East champion Phillies in 2012.  It did not, as the Phillies finished with the year with an 81-81 record.  But Wigginton did get to show the Mets what they had been missing over the years, batting .412 with four doubles, three homers and an incredible 15 RBIs in only 34 at-bats versus New York.

Video courtesy of

Ty Wigginton has played 11 years in the major leagues, but has only been involved in one pennant race.  But the final chapter in Wigginton's book has not yet been written, as the veteran utility man signed a two-year, $5 million contract to play for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013 and 2014.   The Redbirds have had winning seasons in 12 of the last 13 years and have made the playoffs nine times in that stretch, winnings three pennants and two World Series titles.

After years of playing games in September to earn a job the following season, Wigginton might finally be playing for a postseason berth instead.  A player who has fought so hard to achieve everything he has accomplished since receiving that first call-up to the major leagues in 2002 deserves that chance.

Ty Wigginton was never supposed to make it to the big leagues, let alone succeed in the majors for over a decade.  Most 17th round picks don't.  But the gritty, hard-nosed player did make it to the big show, doing it through sheer determination and a strong will to win (even if his teams had trouble doing so).  Although Wigginton only played parts of three seasons in New York, he still played more games with the Mets (288) than he has with any other team.  Yet despite that, Wigginton has still hit 176 doubles and 140 homers (and counting) after the Mets let him get away.

Two years before Jim Duquette traded Wigginton to Pittsburgh, he had this to say about the infielder:

''When we got him, he wasn't where he needed to be, defensively, at the professional level.  But through his work ethic alone, he's turned himself into a solid second baseman.  He hasn't been exposed as much at third, but we're going to look at him.''

Duquette thought the Mets had a solid second baseman in Wigginton, but manager Art Howe played him at third in 2003.  Wigginton remained at third base in 2004 because Jose Reyes was the team's second baseman.  For the record, Wigginton has played a total of 168 games at second base in his career, making 14 errors at the position.  But the Mets never thought to play him there.  Meanwhile, the team used Kaz Matsui at the position from 2004 to 2006 and Luis Castillo from 2007 to 2010.  That's seven seasons of boos at the second base position.  And seven seasons of wondering what might have been had the Mets just given the position to Wigginton.

Ty Wigginton has made a career out of being a consistent performer.  But the Mets delivered a knockout blow to his career in New York when they sent him to Pittsburgh in 2004.  Wigginton has been doing his best to knock out Mets pitchers and their battery mates since then, batting .313 with 14 extra-base hits and 27 RBIs in only 96 career at-bats against the team that originally drafted him in 1998.  Of course, former Mets catcher Josh Thole wouldn't know a thing about that.  He's still recovering from his close encounter of the Wigginton kind.


Note:  The Mets That Got Away is a thirteen-part weekly series that spotlights those Mets players who established themselves as major leaguers in New York, only to become stars after leaving town.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 7, 2013: Nolan Ryan
January 14, 2013: Melvin Mora  
January 21, 2013: Kevin Mitchell 
January 28, 2013: Amos Otis
February 4, 2013: Jeff Reardon
February 11, 2013: Lenny Dykstra
February 18, 2013: Jeff Kent
February 25, 2013: Randy Myers
March 4, 2013: Ken Singleton 
March 11, 2013: Mike Scott
March 18, 2013: Jeromy Burnitz

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ruben Tejada Is More Valuable Than You Might Think

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

In 1991, Hubie Brooks replaced Darryl Strawberry in right field when the Straw Man packed his bags to go home to the West Coast.  Fifteen years later, Paul Lo Duca was called upon to suit up behind the plate after Mike Piazza played his last game as a Met.  Neither player produced the type of offense that was typical for the players they replaced.

Strawberry was a perennial 30-30 candidate who would cause fans to reverse course from the Shea Stadium concession stands to their seats whenever he came up to the plate.  Brooks produced 16 homers and 50 RBIs in 1991 for the Mets, numbers that Strawberry would have compiled by the All-Star Break.

Mike Piazza was arguably the most complete hitter in Mets history and the most prodigious power hitter after Strawberry.  Even after his skills had deteriorated, he could still be counted on to approach 20 homers per season.  Paul Lo Duca didn't hit a total of 20 homers in his two years as a Met.

But Brooks, who was once a fan-favorite on a Mets team that was expected to lose, lost a lot of fans in 1991 when the team was supposed to win.  Meanwhile, Lo Duca became a beloved Met even though his offensive production didn't approach what Piazza contributed in his best years.

Lo Duca's value to the Mets was great because he had the intangibles needed to help the team win, even if those qualities didn't show up in the boxscores.  Lo Duca did the little things to help the team win, whether it be on the defensive end with a steadfast blocking of the plate, or the offensive side with a well-placed hit-and-run single.  Cumulative statistics measured the worth of players like Strawberry and Piazza.  Mental statistics determined how valuable Lo Duca was to the Mets, for it was in the mind that Lo Duca's worth would be determined, not in the casual perusal of a daily boxscore.

Strawberry's departure in the '90s and Piazza's departure in the '00s represented a changing of the guard for the Mets, just like the departure of Jose Reyes has done for the team in the '10s.  Ruben Tejada has now become this decade's version of Hubie Brooks and Paul Lo Duca, being called upon to occupy the position once held by a team icon.  But will Tejada be the modern version of Hubie Brooks or will he become a key contributor to the team's success a la Paul Lo Duca?

If Tejada continues to play like he did in 2012, the latter might be the correct choice.

Take a look at Tejada's cumulative statistics.  A year after Reyes won a batting title, scored 101 runs, lashed 54 extra-base hits and stole 39 bases, Tejada produced a .289 batting average, 53 runs, 27 extra-base hits (of which only one went for more than two bases) and four stolen bases.  Like Brooks and Lo Duca before him, Tejada couldn't replace the offensive production of his departed predecessor.  But Tejada didn't have to.  He contributed to the team's offense in many other ways.

Sometimes it's the little things that pushes a player to the top.

According to, Ruben Tejada saw 1,882 pitches in 2012, an average of 3.75 pitches per plate appearance.  Compare that to Jose Reyes, who witnessed 3.61 P/PA in his last year as a Met in 2011.  Also, Tejada swung and missed at 10% of the pitches he saw, which was far less than the league average of 16%.  As a result, Tejada made contact (either by putting the ball in play or by fouling off the pitch) in 85% of his swings.  The league average was 79%.

Tejada made the pitcher work when he came to the plate, taking good swings to put the ball in play or to foul off a pitcher's pitch.  Given his good contract rate, manager Terry Collins could afford to hit-and-run with Tejada knowing that the chances of a "strike him out - throw him out" double play was less likely with the shortstop handling the bat.  Also, by working the count, Tejada could see the opposing pitcher's complete arsenal, which would help him in his next at-bat against the pitcher.

Need proof?  In 2012, Tejada batted .218 against a pitcher the first time he faced him in a game.  That number went up to .363 in his second at-bat versus the same pitcher.  Compare that to the other high-average hitters on the 2012 team, David Wright (.311 in his first AB, .252 in his second) and Daniel Murphy (.309 in his first AB, .315 in his second).  Tejada went up to the plate to learn what the other pitcher could do, in essence sacrificing his first at-bat so that his later at-bats could be more productive.  (Tejada improved to .370 in his third at-bat against a starting pitcher.)  It was a sacrifice that didn't involve a bunt and didn't show up in the boxscore, but did help the team as the game progressed.

In addition to his offensive contributions, Tejada was also one of the team's steadiest defensive players in 2012.  A quick look at the cumulative defensive statistics will show that Tejada committed the second-most errors on the team.  His 12 miscues were three less than the 15 committed by double-play partner Daniel Murphy.  But that doesn't take into account Tejada's range or throwing ability.  For that, we look at dWAR (defensive wins above replacement).

As a team, the Mets' cumulative dWAR was -3.4, a number that is, to say the least, not very good.  Eleven position players who played at least 30 games in the field finished the year with a negative dWAR, including Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Jason Bay and Ike Davis.  Only four position players who played in at least 30 games had a dWAR above zero.  One of those four players was Ruben Tejada, whose 0.6 dWAR was third-best on the team.  Simply stated, Tejada's presence on the field gave the team have a better chance to win.

In addition to Tejada's 0.6 dWAR, he also had a 1.8 oWAR (offensive wins above replacement), the fourth-highest mark on the team behind David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Scott Hairston.  Wright and Tejada were the only players on the team to have an oWAR and dWAR above zero.  Tejada's 1.9 WAR (wins above replacement) was second-best on the team to Wright.

Ruben Tejada might have finished the year with a relatively low number of extra-base hits and committed the second-most errors on the team.  But his intangibles were among the best of all the players on the roster.  He did the little things to help the team win, both on the field and at the plate.  In essence, he did what Paul Lo Duca was doing for the Mets in his two years with the team.  Just like Lo Duca was a key contributor to the Mets without the fanfare afforded to Mike Piazza, Tejada is doing the same for the current Mets model.

A player's value cannot always be recorded quantitatively.  Sometimes it's those at-bats or defensive plays that go unrecorded in the boxscore that help determine whether a player is an asset or a detriment to his team.  Ruben Tejada is and will be one of the Mets' biggest assets in 2013 and beyond.  The numbers don't have to say it for his team to know it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Blame Beltran For Me Wanting Johan Santana To Take His Time

The Mets have announced that Johan Santana will not break camp with the Mets when the team heads north next weekend.  Santana has still not been able to pitch off a mound and only today will begin long-tossing, albeit from a distance of just 90 feet.

As much as I would like to see Santana tantalize hitters at Citi Field with his signature change-up, I wouldn’t mind if he took a little extra time before joining the team in New York.  Why would I ever want the Mets’ ace to take it slow when the Mets could use his services in Flushing?  The answer to that can be summed up in two words.

Blame Beltran.

Even now, Carlos Beltran might still be able to give a hand to the recovering Johan Santana.

In 2011, Carlos Beltran was entering the final year of his seven-year, $119 million contract.  The outfielder had not played a full season in the major leagues since 2008 because of an assortment of injuries.  When the 2011 campaign opened, the Mets didn’t expect much from Beltran.  They were just hoping he could stay healthy so that he would have some value at the trade deadline.  Beltran went on to post outstanding offensive numbers, collecting 32 doubles, 15 homers and 66 RBIs by late July.  His power and run production were far and away the best of any player on the team, as he remained the team leader in home runs and RBIs at season's end even though he played the final two months of the year as a member of the San Francisco Giants.

Despite missing large chunks of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Beltran was able to put together several good months in 2011.  Those months of solid production made Beltran a valuable trade chip and netted the team über-pitching prospect Zack Wheeler at the trade deadline.

Fast forward two years later.  Now it’s Johan Santana’s turn to be in the final year of his lucrative multi-year contract.  Like Beltran, Santana is coming off a number of injury-plagued seasons.  And like Beltran, the Mets are hoping Santana can provide some flashes of his former brilliance so he can become a valuable trade commodity come late July.

After missing the entire 2011 campaign, Santana was excellent for the first two months of the 2012 season.  The southpaw pitched the team’s first no-hitter and was among the league leaders in ERA and strikeouts through early June.  But everything began to unravel for Santana prior to the All-Star Break and he was shut down for the season in mid-August.

If Santana were ready to pitch for the Mets on Opening Day, he could break down once again before the trade deadline.  Then he would have no value at the trade deadline.  But by slowing him down and not pushing him back into the starting rotation too soon, it might keep him healthy, and most importantly, productive through the All-Star Break.

No one thought the Mets would be able to trade Beltran because of his injury history and his high salary.  But Beltran was able to stay healthy and productive through the first half of 2011, and San Francisco was desperate to defend their 2010 World Series championship.  Desperate times called for desperate measures.  And desperate times forced the Giants to call Sandy Alderson, giving in to the general manager's demands for the outfielder.

Don't look back, Carlos.  Sandy Alderson might be there.

With the addition of a second wild card in each league, more teams will think of themselves as contenders as the trade deadline approaches.  Those teams will be looking for anything to push them over the top.  Some teams will be looking for hitters, while other teams will be inquiring about bullpen help.  But all the Mets need is one team to have a hole in their starting rotation – a hole that can be plugged by a healthy and productive left-handed veteran.

Zack Wheeler was pitching in A-ball when the Mets acquired him in the Carlos Beltran deal.  Two years later, he is within a few months of earning his first call-up to the major leagues.  If all goes well, perhaps he’ll receive that call in late July.  Perhaps Wheeler will be called upon to replace Johan Santana in the rotation because the Mets found a suitor willing to part ways with a prospect for his services.  And perhaps it’ll all happen because Santana was able to give the Mets a few productive months in 2013.

The Mets have capable starting pitchers in their starting rotation.  They do not need to rush Johan Santana back before he’s 100% ready to go.  In 2011, Carlos Beltran gave the Mets a productive four months.  Because of it, the Mets might get a productive decade from Zack Wheeler.  All the Mets need from Santana is a few productive months and they might get another Zack Wheeler type from a team that believes it has a shot to play in October this year.

Former Mets general manager Jim Duquette once traded away his team’s top pitching prospect for the never-an-ace Victor Zambrano.  Even a less-than-100% Johan Santana is better than Zambrano ever was.  Imagine the prospects the Mets can fleece if Santana is anywhere near 100% in June and July.

Carlos Beltran has been unfairly blamed for everything that has gone wrong for the Mets since Game 7 in 2006.  But if Johan Santana can follow his example and become healthy and productive at the right time, perhaps other teams might blame Beltran for something.  Better them than us.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Can Jon Niese Succeed Where Mike Pelfrey Didn't?

Jonathon Niese has worked hard to get to where he is now.
(Photo by Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

On Thursday, the Mets announced that Jonathon Niese will be taking the ball on Opening Day, making his first season-opening start for the only team he's known in the major leagues.  Niese will get the start because Johan Santana has not been able to throw off a mound since early March and might begin the season on the disabled list.

Niese had a breakthrough season for the Mets in 2012, going 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 155 strikeouts - all career-bests.  But getting the Opening Day nod means facing lots of aces during the season's first month and perhaps beyond.  If a pitcher isn't up to the task of facing the best moundsmen in the league on a regular basis, then a breakthrough season can quickly be negated by a disappointing year.  Just ask Mike Pelfrey.

Just three years ago, Pelfrey was pitching in his fifth year with the Mets.  After years of showing abbreviated flashes of greatness, Pelfrey took off in 2010.  The right-hander won ten of his first 12 decisions, finishing the year with a 15-9 record and a 3.66 ERA.  With Johan Santana out for the opener in 2011, new manager Terry Collins gave Pelfrey the ball in Game No. 1, hoping he could build upon his success from the previous year.  To say Pelfrey struggled in the role as the team's new "ace" would be a tremendous understatement.

One year after winning a career-high 15 games as the team's No. 4 starter, Pelfrey regressed in 2011, going 7-13 with a 4.74 ERA.  Pelfrey struggled during the entire first half, allowing four runs or more in nine of his first 17 starts.  In many of his starts, Pelfrey faced some of the best pitchers in baseball.  He squared off against Josh Johnson (twice), Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander, Matt Cain and Roy Halladay, to name a few.  He failed to defeat any of them.

In 2012, Jonathon Niese was the team's No. 3 starter after Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey.  As a result, he got to face the likes of Vance Worley (twice), Mike Minor, Jake Westbrook, Jacob Turner and Mike Fiers.  Niese defeated all of them.

This year, Niese won't have as many fortunate matchups pitching out of the No. 1 slot in the rotation.  He'll be going up against All-Stars and Cy Young candidates just as Mike Pelfrey did in 2011.  If Niese has truly grown as a pitcher, he will succeed where Pelfrey failed.  But if he can't rise to the occasion, his career stands to take a downward turn for the first time since his initial call-up to the big leagues in 2008.

Mike Pelfrey never fully realized his potential in New York.  But even though he is now in Minnesota, he can still help the Mets.  Pelfrey's 2011 season can serve as a lesson to Jonathon Niese - a lesson on how not to pitch when thrust into a new situation.

Jonathon Niese is signed through the 2016 season.  It's up to him to prove to the Mets that they made the right decision.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Mets That Got Away: Jeromy Burnitz

The Mets have made their fair share of questionable trades over the years.  On occasion, some of those traded players found their way back to New York.  Players like Rusty Staub, Dave Kingman, Tom Seaver and David Cone went on to accomplish great things in between their first and second stints with the Mets.

Staub was an RBI machine in Detroit.  Kingman nearly had a 50-homer season with the Cubs.  Seaver pitched a no-hitter in Cincinnati.  Cone did the same in the Bronx, although his game was perfect and he also added World Series rings for each finger on his pitching hand.

All four returned to New York hoping to recapture their past glory.   But Staub spent most of his time as a pinch-hitter (albeit a great one) before retiring in 1985.  Kingman made Mario Mendoza look like a batting champion before he was released.  Seaver had his worst season as a Met, then was left unprotected in the free agent compensation draft.  And Cone made only four starts before calling it a career.

Staub, Kingman, Seaver and Cone aren't the only former Mets who were traded away before eventually returning to the team.  In fact, one former Met has the dubious distinction of being jettisoned by the team twice, only to see his performance on the field improve exponentially both times he was dealt.

Jeromy Burnitz, in a baseball card photo taken before he was a two-time former Met.

Jeromy Neal Burnitz was the Mets' first round pick in the 1990 June amateur draft.  Burnitz was selected 17th overall, three picks ahead of 270-game winner Mike Mussina.  After splitting time between Pittsfield and St. Lucie in 1990, Burnitz had a stellar season at AA-Williamsport in 1991.  Burnitz's first full minor league campaign resulted in the Eastern League's first 30-30 season, as the outfielder hit 31 home runs and stole 31 bases for the Bills.  The Mets took notice of their young star's performance, honoring him with a Doubleday Award.

Burnitz was promoted to AAA-Tidewater in 1992, but saw a sharp decrease in his power numbers.  The outfielder managed to hit only eight home runs in 121 games for the Tides, just one year after slamming nearly four times that amount at the Double-A level.  In 1993, Burnitz found himself once again at Tidewater, hitting .227 with eight home runs in 65 games.  But the Mets were having a rough time settling on a regular centerfielder, as Ryan Thompson, Joe Orsulak, Dave Gallagher and Darrin Jackson had all started at least ten games at the position before spring turned to summer.  As a result, Burnitz was called up to the Mets on June 21.  Eight days later, he let the world know he had arrived.

On June 29, the Mets won an extra-inning slugfest against the Florida Marlins, coming from behind to win, 10-9.  Burnitz went 3-for-5 in the game with two doubles and a home run.  He tied the game in the third inning with his first big league home run.  Four innings later, Burnitz laced an RBI double to give the Mets a temporary two-run lead.  Finally, in the 12th, Burnitz led off the inning with a long double and scored the eventual winning run on a sacrifice fly.

After smoking the Marlins in late June, Burnitz continued to scorch the rest of the National League in the month of July.  In his first ten games in July, Burnitz hit .355 with three homers and 10 RBIs.  But as great as he was in July, Burnitz saved his best game for August.

In a game against the Montreal Expos on August 5, Burnitz became the first Mets rookie (and sixth Met overall) to drive in seven runs in a game.  Burnitz rapped an RBI single in the first and a grand slam in the fifth to give the Mets a seemingly insurmountable 9-1 lead.  By the end of the sixth, the lead had evaporated, as three Mets pitchers combined to allow eight runs.  The game remained tied until the 13th inning, when Joe Orsulak drove in the go-ahead run with a single and Burnitz added two insurance runs - his sixth and seventh RBIs of the game - with a double down the right field line.  The Mets went on to win the game, 12-9.  Burnitz's record-setting performance was accomplished off two of the best pitchers of the era, as his seven RBIs came against Dennis Martinez (245 career wins) and John Wetteland (330 lifetime saves).

Burnitz finished the season strongly, with a .260/.383/.506 slash line in September, collecting nine extra-base hits, scoring 15 runs and driving in ten.  Burnitz only had 263 at-bats for the Mets in 1993, but they were quite productive, as he picked up ten doubles, six triples and 13 homers.  He also scored 49 runs and had 38 RBIs, making it easy to overlook his .243 batting average.  For all the promise Burnitz showed in 1993, he failed miserably one year later.  And his disciplinarian manager was not amused.

Jeromy Burnitz was a hothead.  So was his manager, Dallas Green.  Something had to give, especially after Burnitz lost his temper during a poor spring training at-bat.  When Burnitz was hitting .192 after the season's first month, something finally did give.  Burnitz was sent back to the minors, less than a year after bursting onto the major league scene.

With Norfolk, Burnitz continued to hit with power (15 doubles, five triples, 14 homers) but maintained a low batting average (.239).  After over two months at Norfolk, Burnitz was finally recalled on July 22.  Three weeks later, Major League Baseball was shut down by a players' strike, but not before Burnitz got to play in 18 games.  He continued to be an enigma at the plate, hitting a more respectable .292, but did so without hitting a home run and striking out 19 times in 65 at-bats.

By November, Burnitz had finally found a way out of Dallas Green's doghouse, as the former first round pick was traded to the Cleveland Indians for pitchers Paul Byrd, Jerry DiPoto and Dave Mlicki.  Byrd and DiPoto were both ex-Mets by 1997, while Mlicki hung around until 1998 (one year after famously shutting out the Yankees in the first-ever regular season game between the two New York teams).  Meanwhile, Burnitz was just getting started.

Burnitz only had seven at-bats with the Indians in 1995, as he spent the majority of the year in the minors.  In 1996, Burnitz had trouble getting into the everyday lineup, collecting 128 at-bats for Cleveland.  Of course, anyone would have had trouble cracking a lineup that featured outfielders Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Many Ramirez.  Even the designated hitter position was occupied, as Cleveland was using Eddie Murray as their non-fielding batter.

With no definite position in Burnitz's immediate future, the Indians traded him to Milwaukee for six-time .300 hitter Kevin Seitzer.  Seitzer played in 86 games with Cleveland before retiring after the 1997 campaign.  Burnitz, on the other hand, went on to become one of the most feared power hitters in baseball.

After finishing out the 1996 season in Milwaukee, Burnitz had a true breakout year in 1997.  In his first season as an everyday player, Burnitz set career highs across the board, batting .281 with 37 doubles, eight triples, 27 homers, 85 RBIs, 85 runs scored and 20 stolen bases.  Burnitz became the second player in Brewers history to achieve to 20 HR/20 SB season, joining future Hall of Famer Robin Yount, who hit 23 homers and stole 20 bases for Milwaukee in 1980.  As great as Burnitz's season was in 1997, he improved upon it in 1998.

Burnitz was a one-man wrecking crew in his second full season in Milwaukee.  On a team in which no other player hit more than 16 homers or surpassed 68 RBIs, Burnitz had himself a 38 HR, 125 RBI campaign.  At the time, the 38 home runs represented the fourth-highest single-season total in Brewers' history and the 125 RBIs were one short of Cecil Cooper's team record of 126 RBIs, which he set in 1983.  Burnitz also became the eighth Brewer to amass 300 total bases in a single season, joining Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie, Paul Molitor, George Scott, Tommy Harper and Gorman Thomas.  As great as his season was, perhaps nothing satisfied Burnitz more than when he homered off Dave Mlicki - one of the players for whom he was traded - in his first career at-bat against the Mets.

Dave Mlicki might have been able to shut out the Yankees, but he couldn't shut down Jeromy Burnitz.

In 1999, Burnitz finally got some much-needed help in the lineup, as three of his teammates (Dave Nilsson, Geoff Jenkins, Marquis Grissom) reached the 20-HR mark.  Burnitz finished the year with a .270 batting average, 33 doubles, 33 homers, 103 RBIs and 91 walks.  The better plate discipline - which he never had as a Met, much to Dallas Green's dismay - helped Burnitz achieve a .400 on-base percentage for the first time in his career.

It was more of the same for Burnitz over the next two seasons, as his 2000 campaign (29 doubles, 31 homers, 98 RBIs, 91 runs scored, 99 walks) and 2001 season (32 doubles, 34 homers, 100 RBIs, 104 runs scored, 80 walks) were virtual mirror images of each other.

But after hitting .271 over his first three full seasons in Milwaukee, Burnitz experienced a steep decline in his batting average, combining to hit .242 in 2000 and 2001.  The 2001 campaign would be Burnitz's last season in Milwaukee, as the Mets desperately needed to upgrade their offense and thought Burnitz would be part of the solution.  If only they had bothered to notice the downward trend in his batting average.

Following the 2001 season, a year in which the Mets failed to defend their National League crown and needed a strong September to finish the year above .500, general manager Steve Phillips decided the team needed to go shopping.  But with the Mets already trying to pare their lofty payroll, Phillips decided he would have to fix the team's deficiencies via the trade route rather than by signing free agents.

First, Phillips tried to pry John Smoltz away from the Braves to no avail.  When that didn't pan out, Phillips focused squarely on upgrading the team's offense.  By the time the calendar flipped to 2002, Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn and Roger Cedeño had been acquired by the Mets.  The Mets then set their focus on acquiring one more big bat, doing so when they traded for Jeromy Burnitz.  However, the cost for reacquiring the lefty slugger was steep, as the Mets lost Lenny Harris, Glendon Rusch, Benny Agbayani and Todd Zeile in the three-team deal.

The Mets were surprisingly competitive over the first four months of the 2002 season.  Heading into August, the team was in second place in the NL East with a 55-51 record, leaving them a reachable 4½ games behind the wild card-leading Dodgers.  The Mets were winning despite not having typical seasons by Alomar, Vaughn and Cedeño.  But the one new addition who really underachieved to the point of having an awful season was Jeromy Burnitz.

Second verse, same as the first.

After reaching the 30-HR mark in each of his previous four seasons, Burnitz failed to hit 20 home runs for the Mets.  His batting average, which had already begun to drop during his last two seasons in Milwaukee, plummeted in 2002.  Burnitz struggled to stay above .200 all year and was drawing fewer walks than he did as a Brewer.  During the Mets' season-changing 12-game losing streak in August, Burnitz managed only three hits and struck out in 40% of his at-bats.  The Mets fell to last place for the first time since 1993, with Burnitz finishing the year with a .215 batting average, 15 doubles, 19 homers and 54 RBIs.

The Mets began the 2003 season as poorly as they finished in 2002.  By May 13, New York was already ten games behind Atlanta and seven games behind Montreal for the wild card.  One month later, Steve Phillips was relieved of his duties, replaced by Jim Duquette.  By the end of June, it was clear that the Mets were not going to compete for a playoff spot, as the team was buried in the NL East cellar.  As a result, Duquette decided to restock the team's farm system by trading off its high-priced players.  One of the casualties was Jeromy Burnitz.

After an immensely disappointing season in 2002, Burnitz had actually earned some trade value during the first half of the 2003 campaign.  Burnitz missed a month of action due to a broken hand caused by an errant Billy Wagner fastball, but once he returned on May 23, he started to tear the cover off the ball.

In his first nine games after returning from the disabled list, Burnitz hit .412 with four homers and 13 RBIs.  By June 1, Burnitz had his batting average up to a season-high .324.  Burnitz had another hot streak shortly before the All-Star Break, driving in at least one run in seven consecutive games from July 2 to July 9.  One week later, Burnitz was gone, as Duquette jettisoned the outfielder to Los Angeles for three prospects, including Victor Diaz.

Burnitz's first-half totals with the Mets were excellent (.274, 18 doubles, 18 HR, 45 RBIs in only 65 games).  With the Dodgers, Burnitz regressed, batting .204 with only four doubles, 13 HR and 32 RBIs in 61 games.  Needless to say, the Dodgers let Burnitz leave as a free agent at the end of the 2003 season.

Now in his mid-thirties, Burnitz was hoping another team would give him a shot to prove that he could still play at a high level.  He did get that shot, and it came with a team that was used to playing at a high level.

Would this be called a "Mile-High Five"?

The Colorado Rockies took a chance on Burnitz, signing him to a one-year deal to play in the Mile High City in 2004.  Burnitz rewarded them immediately, batting .302 with 16 homers and 46 RBIs in his first 53 games.  Burnitz saved his best month for July, when he had an incredible .360/.424/.809 slash line.  During the month, Burnitz collected eight doubles, one triple, 10 homers and 27 RBIs despite starting only 22 games.  His renaissance season saw Burnitz finish the year with a career-high .283 batting average.  He also hit 30 doubles and 37 home runs, while driving in 110 runs and scoring 94 times.

Despite his phenomenal season, Colorado declined to pick up Burnitz's option for the 2005 campaign, allowing the slugger to become a free agent.  Burnitz almost signed with Colorado's division rival in Arizona, agreeing in principle to a two-year deal with the Diamondbacks.  But that deal was pulled from the table after Arizona completed a three-team trade with the Dodgers and Yankees that made Shawn Green their new rightfielder.  The deal also sent Randy Johnson to the Yankees, while the Yankees shipped Javier Vazquez to the Dodgers.

Although he was disappointed that he had just lost the security of a multi-year contract, Burnitz continued to look for a new team and finally found one when the Chicago Cubs signed him to a one-year, $4.5 million deal with a $7 million option for a second year.  But Burnitz was going into a pressure situation with the North Siders, as he was being asked to replace Cubs' icon Sammy Sosa in right field.

Burnitz had a solid season for the Cubs, batting .258 with 31 doubles, 24 homers, 87 RBIs and 84 runs scored while playing in a team-high 160 games.  But those numbers paled in comparison to Sosa, who averaged 48 HR and 123 RBIs from 1995 to 2004.  As a result, the Cubs decided to buy out Burnitz for $500,000 rather than pick up his option for 2006, leaving Burnitz to become a free agent for the third straight year.

Once again, Burnitz had a two-year deal on the table, this time with the Baltimore Orioles.  But because of language in the contract that would allow Baltimore to take their time making the deal official, Burnitz decided to sign a one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates with a second year option that would pay him the same amount of money as Baltimore's two-year deal.  Ironically, the Orioles' executive who tried to negotiate the deal with Burnitz was Jim Duquette, who only two years earlier had traded Burnitz to the Dodgers while he was the Mets' general manager.

It's quite possible that one of the underlying reasons why Burnitz chose to pass on the deal with Baltimore was because of his relationship with the former Mets GM.  Burnitz showed no love for his time with the Mets when he mentioned New York fans in a statement he made to reporters after failing to run out a ground ball in Pittsburgh. 

"I apologize for that.  It seems like I'd hit 20 balls in a row like that, rollovers to first.  The fact is, I went and looked at it, and I had no chance.  He would have thrown me out.  But the effort that they expect - and they jumped on me for it - I apologize if I don't play hard enough. I have a reputation for playing hard.  I heard the boos.  And I've heard 'em before.  If I poke my head out of the dugout in New York, there would be 40,000 of them.  Loud, too."

If Burnitz didn't have love for New York, then he certainly couldn't have loved his time in Pittsburgh.  After getting off to a slow start (.234, 8 HR, 26 RBI, .289 OBP in the team's first 50 games) and saying that manager Jim Tracy was forced to keep him in the everyday lineup because he was "Joe High-Paid Free Agent", Tracy decided to put Burnitz in a platoon with some of the Pirates' younger players.

As a result, Burnitz played in just 111 games, his lowest full-season total since becoming an everyday player with the Brewers in 1997.  Burnitz finished the year with only 28 extra-base hits after averaging 29 doubles and 30 homers over the previous nine seasons.  He also hit .230 and had a career-worst .289 on-base percentage, a number that was even lower than his OBP during his forgetful 2002 campaign with the Mets.

At season's end, Pittsburgh declined to pick up Burnitz's option for the 2007 season.  This time, Burnitz was unable to find another suitor, causing him to retire from baseball at the age of 37.

Jeromy Burnitz was a five-tool player in the minor leagues who occasionally forgot to sharpen his fifth tool (batting average), while neglecting to use one of his other tools (speed).  He was a 30-30 player as a Mets' farmhand, but surpassed seven stolen bases in the majors only twice in 14 seasons.  The Mets never got the Burnitz they saw in the minor leagues and gave up on him two years into his major league career.  Nearly a decade later, they gave him a second chance and once again, they decided to send him packing.  Both times, Burnitz proved to the Mets that he was better off without them.

In 5½ years with Milwaukee, Burnitz became one of the Brewers' top power threats in franchise history.  From 1997 to 2001, Burnitz averaged 32 doubles, 33 homers and 102 RBIs per season.  His 125 RBIs in 1998 are more than any Met has ever achieved in 50-plus seasons (Mike Piazza and David Wright share the single-season franchise record with 124 RBIs).  In 1997 and 1998, Burnitz received National League MVP votes and he was selected to represent the Brewers in the All-Star Game in 1999.

On a team that has had great hitters over the years (Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun come to mind), Burnitz was able to crack Milwaukee's all-time top ten list in various offensive categories.  He ranks among the team leaders in home runs (165; 9th in Brewers' history), walks (423; 8th), on-base percentage (.362; 7th), slugging percentage (.508; 4th) and OPS (.870; 4th).  Burnitz's 525 RBIs as a Brewer had him in the top ten until recently, when both Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun passed him.  Burnitz was also the first Brewer in team history to hit 30 or more home runs in four consecutive seasons, accomplishing the feat from 1998 to 2001.  All this from a player who never hit 20 home runs in a season for the Mets in parts of four years with the team.

Although Jeromy Burnitz accomplished many things as an individual (six 30-HR seasons, four 100-RBI campaigns), he always seemed to achieve them on teams that did not go on to great things.  The Brewers finished with a losing record in each of his nearly six seasons in Milwaukee.  All four Mets teams he played for (1993, 1994, 2002, 2003) finished below .500, as did the 2004 Rockies, 2005 Cubs and 2006 Pirates.

Burnitz never got to taste the postseason as a major league player and rarely got to experience a pennant race.  Still, he finished his career with 315 home runs, nearly 300 doubles and just under 1,000 RBIs.  It's not a career that he should be ashamed of.

The Mets gave up on Burnitz twice during his career.  The first time, it was because the manager didn't like him and he was underachieving.  The second time, it was because he had finally started to achieve but was now too expensive to keep around on a rebuilding team.  Both times, Burnitz blossomed after the Mets let him go.  And both times, the Mets became competitive within a few years of his departure.  But despite the team's successes soon after Burnitz's dual departures, the Mets have been missing one thing - a regular rightfielder.

Darryl Strawberry left the Mets as a free agent following the 1990 season.  Burnitz made his debut three years later, and spent parts of four seasons in New York during his two tours of duty with the team.  In those four seasons, Burnitz started 262 games in right field.  Believe it or not, that's more games than any Met has started in right field since the Straw Man's departure.  The only other Mets to start more than 200 games in right field since 1990 are Bobby Bonilla (226 starts) and Butch Huskey (202 starts).  Strawberry started 1,064 games in right field during his eight years as a Met.  That's just 48 more starts than Jeromy Burnitz had as a rightfielder for the other teams he played for during his career.

Perhaps the Mets shouldn't have let go of Burnitz's booming bat.  Perhaps he would have accomplished great things in New York.  And perhaps the Mets wouldn't have gone into a seemingly endless cycle of searching for a regular rightfielder.  But one thing is for certain.  Both Burnitz and the Mets accomplished great things when they weren't married to each other.  The double divorce, though not exactly amicable, was the best thing that could have happened to all the parties involved. 

Now if only the Mets could stop playing musical chairs with the right field position...

Judging by these quotes, Jeromy Burnitz wasn't exactly cut out to handle the New York media.  

Note:  The Mets That Got Away is a thirteen-part weekly series that spotlights those Mets players who established themselves as major leaguers in New York, only to become stars after leaving town.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 7, 2013: Nolan Ryan
January 14, 2013: Melvin Mora  
January 21, 2013: Kevin Mitchell 
January 28, 2013: Amos Otis
February 4, 2013: Jeff Reardon
February 11, 2013: Lenny Dykstra
February 18, 2013: Jeff Kent
February 25, 2013: Randy Myers
March 4, 2013: Ken Singleton 
March 11, 2013: Mike Scott