I’m not really sure why, but right handed pitcher Rick Reed has always been one of my favorite Mets. He wasn’t the star of the team, nor was he the ace of the staff. He didn’t throw the hardest or have the charisma of a Jose Reyes. Maybe I loved Reed because he was always in control.
Reed was drafted in the 26th round of the 1986 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He pitched with the Pirates for parts of four seasons before being released, and then had short stints with Kansas City, Texas and Cincinnati. Reed gained some notoriety in 1995 when he served as a replacement player during the strike, pitching with the Reds’ Triple A affiliate in order to continue paying his mother’s medical bills. He was recalled later in the season when the strike was over, much to the chagrin of his teammates. He was released after the season and signed with the Mets later that fall. To this point in his career, Reed had not pitched well, accumulating a 9-15 record to go along with a 4.63 ERA in 266.1 big league innings. One thing that stood out though was his low walk total; he only issued 58 free passes, 12 of which were intentional, during his career up to this point. When Reed arrived in Queens, it all came together.
Like I said, Reed wasn’t the ace of the staff, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t successful. After spending all of 1996 at Triple A Norfolk, Reed spent the next four and a half years in a Mets uniform. During that time, Reed went 59-36 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.115 WHIP. He only struck out six batters per nine innings, but also only walked 1.6 per nine, making for an outstanding 3.73 K/BB. In ’97 and ’98, he finished second in the National League in walks per nine innings, finishing behind Greg Maddux and Brian Anderson, respectively (in 2000 he finished third in this category, behind Maddux and Anderson). Not surprisingly, he finished with a WAR of 4.1 each of those two seasons, the highest such mark of his career. It should also be noted that in 1998, Reed finished the season with a K/BB of 5.28 (he walked 29 batters in 212.1 innings), second only to the late Jose Lima.
Reed only pitched 149.1 innings in 1999 due to injuries, but he was vital to the Mets making the playoffs. Needing a win to stay in the NL Wild Card race, Reed twirled a three hit shutout against the team that drafted him, the Pirates, in which he struck out twelve batters and (surprise) walked none (it seems Met starters have a penchant for pitching particularly well in game 161 when the season is on the line, just ask John Maine and Johan Santana). In the pivotal Game 3 of the NLDS that year against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Reed turned in six innings, yielding just two runs on four hits as the Mets went onto a 9-2 victory. He pitched in another must win game in the 1999 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves. Starting Game 4 and trailing in the series 3-0, Reed battled with John Smoltz, and left the game after seven innings, three hits, two runs and no walks with the score tied at two apiece (the Mets would take the lead in the bottom of the eight when John Olerud singled in the go ahead run off nemesis John Rocker). The Mets would go on to lose the series in heartbreaking fashion, but Reed helped keep the team alive.
The right hander turned in another solid season in 2000 (11-5, 4.11 ERA, 3.56 K/BB) and was a part of the last Mets team to reach the World Series. He pitched well against the San Francisco Giants in Game 3 of the NLDS (6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K), a game, the Amazins would win in the 13th inning on a homer by Benny Agbayani. Reed pitched poorly against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLCS (3.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER), but the Mets went onto win the series anyway and moved onto the World Series. Reed owns the distinction of starting the only game the Mets won in that series, pitching six innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits and one walk while striking out eight, leaving the game tied at 2-2 (the Mets got two in the eight, beating Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, but of course lost the series).
A free agent, Reed signed a new contract with New York and made 20 starts (134.2 IP, going 8-6 with a 3.48 ERA, 1.010 WHIP and a 5.82 K/BB) before being dealt the day before the trading deadline to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Matt Lawton. Reed stuck with the Twins through the 2003 season (he went 25-25 with Minnesota with a 4.47 ERA, 1.300 WHIP and 3.41 K/BB) and hasn’t pitched in the majors since. Lawton, meanwhile, hit just .246/.352/.366 with three home runs in 212 plate appearances with the Mets before being traded to the Cleveland Indians as part of the Roberto Alomar trade.
Of course I was heartbroken, along with angry, that the Mets would discard my favorite player and then not even keep the guy who they received in the trade, but that’s baseball I suppose. Now, older and wiser, I look back at Reed’s tenure with the Mets and think about the state of the 2011 team. The fact is, the Mets don’t have an ace in the starting rotation with Johan Santana out at least half the season–but then again, it all goes back to “control.”
From 1997-2000, Reed threw strikes 66% of the time, and threw a first pitch strike 63% of the time. As a result, he averaged only 3.55 pitches per plate appearance during that time, and was able to pitch deeper into ball games, throwing about 6.1 innings per start while only throwing about 92 pitches per start. In that way, Reed was able to keep himself, and the bullpen, fresh on a regular basis.
The Mets happen to play in a spacious environment, so issuing free passes as opposed to going right after hitters and making them put in the ball in play (most of the time, there are always exceptions) seems silly. While achieving the degree of control that Reed exhibited would be difficult to say the least, Met starters, particularly Chris Young and Chris Capuano, could benefit from this approach. At the very least, Reed is an example of a guy who the Mets essentially picked off the scrap heap and turned in solid performances for a few years. In short, it gives me hope, something a Met fan should never be without.