Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Plaque Is Wack: Armando Benitez & The Hall of Fame

The Baseball Writers' Association of America announced its Hall of Fame ballot for 2014 earlier today, with 36 players named.  Among the most prominent returnees are Mike Piazza, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Jack Morris.  There are also 19 first-timers on the ballot, including Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and former Mets Jeff Kent and Tom Glavine.

Both Kent and Glavine have excellent chances of making it into the Hall, as Kent is the all-time leader in home runs for second basemen and Glavine surpassed the magic 300-win plateau.  But as divisive as Kent and Glavine were to Mets fans, there is another former Met on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time whose picture can probably be found next to the word "divisive" in the dictionary.  That player is Armando Benitez.

Please do not throw darts at your computer screen.

Armando Benitez pitched for seven major league teams during his 15-year career, including five years with the Mets from 1999 to 2003.  Benitez had 289 lifetime saves, which is currently the 26th highest total in baseball history.  The right-hander also recorded three 40-save campaigns, including a league-leading 47 saves in 2004 as a member of the Florida Marlins.  In addition, Benitez struck out 946 batters in 779 innings, averaging 10.929 strikeouts per nine innings.  That's the third-highest K/9 IP ratio for all pitchers with at least 700 innings pitched, behind only Billy Wagner (11.920 K/9 IP) and Francisco Rodriguez (10.931 K/9 IP).

As a Met, Benitez saved 160 games (second on the team to John Franco's 276 saves).  He also posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.133 WHIP in 347 innings.  Of all Mets with at least 300 innings pitched, only Tom Seaver posted a lower ERA (2.57) and only Seaver (1.076 WHIP), Bret Saberhagen (1.079), Sid Fernandez (1.113) and Skip Lockwood (1.114) had a lower WHIP than Benitez.

Perhaps the most amazing number posted by Benitez was his batting average against.  As a Met, opposing hitters hit only .182 against him (225-for-1236), and for his entire 15-year career, that number was still just .195, a figure that would cause Mario Mendoza to shake his head.

Those look like the Hall of Fame numbers of a dominant reliever.  But Benitez has as much chance of making it to Cooperstown as Ike Davis has of winning a batting title.  In fact, Benitez will probably fall well short of the 5% needed to remain on the ballot for a second year.  Why is that?  It's all about the timing of this rare hits against him.

  • Who gave up the game-tying home run to Derek Jeter in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS (the Jeffrey Maier homer)?  That was Armando Benitez.
  • Who failed to protect a two-run lead by serving up a three-run homer to Marquis Grissom in Game 2 of the 1997 ALCS?  Señor Armando Benitez.
  • Who allowed the Diamondbacks to tie Game 4 of the 1999 NLDS, only to be spared by Todd Pratt's walk-off home run in extra innings?  Armando the Destroyer.
  • Who made Mets fans rain expletives when he allowed a game-tying three-run homer to J.T. Snow in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS?  It was Armando F. Benitez.
  • Who prevented the Mets from taking Game 1 of the 2000 World Series by allowing the Yankees to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth?  That damn dirty Armando.

You want me to serve up another gopher ball in a big spot?  Sure, why not?

And that was just the postseason.  We don't really need to mention the regular season, like the blown save to the Phillies during the near-fatal seven-game losing streak at the end of September 1999.  Or the eight runs he allowed in two September appearances against the Braves during the final two weeks of the 2001 season that thwarted the Mets' unexpected late-season run.  Or even the game-tying home run he allowed to light-hitting Craig Counsell that set up the Mets' season-changing 12-game losing streak in August 2002. 

Armando Benitez allowed 39 home runs as a Met.  That means 17.3% of the 225 hits he gave up in a Mets uniform left the park - a number that overshadows the sub-.200 batting average against him.  And Mets fans got a good look at those home runs, as 31 of the 39 homers were hit at Shea Stadium.

On January 8, 2014, the Hall of Fame will get a new member or two.  Whether it be Mike Piazza, Jeff Kent or Tom Glavine, there is a good chance a former Met will be given that ultimate baseball honor.  Another former Met will be considered for enshrinement, but the only way he'll get in is if Brian Jordan hijacks the voting system or if the baseball writers decide to show their sick sense of humor.

Armando Benitez had a great Mets career.  When he wasn't pitching in a big spot, that is.  That being said, he should probably start saving his money for Cooperstown.  After all, the admission fee for visitors is getting higher year after year.

No comments: