There has been a lot of rumblings in the past few days about the Mets shopping their closer, Francisco Rodriguez, despite being in contention. K-Rod has had an up and down tenure with the Mets, which has included periods of both dominance and shakiness as well as notable off the field problems. Still, Frankie has had a pretty good run, racking up 82 saves to go with a 3.07 ERA, 1.287 WHIP, 10.0 K/9 and 2.45 K/BB over his two and a half year tenure in Queens. So where does Rodriguez stack up among other closers in Mets history?
It’s a little difficult to compare closers across different time periods due to how the closer’s role has changed. As recent as the 1980s, relievers would routinely pitch multiple innings and come away with a save. Now, with bullpen roles being so specialized, the vast majority of closers throw one inning only. Still, below is the list of my top five closers in Mets history.
5. Roger McDowell (1985-89): The “second spitter” was never really a full time closer, splitting the duties with another guy on this list, but he was quite effective. During his tenure with the Amazins, McDowell pitched to a 3.13 ERA and 1.234 WHIP, while saving 84 games. He was also outstanding in the 1986 NLCS against the Houston Astros, tossing seven scoreless innings while only allowing one hit. His five shutout innings of relief in Game Six of that series were crucial in order for the Mets to win the game and advance to the World Series.
4. Jesse Orosco (1979-87): The other half of the closing tag-team with McDowell, Orosco was more of a strikeout pitcher than his right-handed counterpart. As a Met, the southpaw earned a 2.73 ERA and 1.209 WHIP to go along with a 7.6 K/9 and 107 saves, good for third on the all time Mets list. Like McDowell, Orosco excelled during the playoffs, particularly in the World Series. Against the Red Sox, Orosco pitched five and two-third scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out six. The image of Orosco striking out the final batter of Game 7 and throwing his glove up in the air in celebration is one that will live on in the memories of Mets fans forever.
3. Armando Benitez (1999-03): Blasphemy! Why is Benitez on this list? Because for a period of time, he actually was one of the most dominant closers in baseball. His overall stats with the Amazins break down as such: 2.70 ERA, 1.113 WHIP, 11.8 K/9, 2.71 K/BB and 160 saves (second most in team history) in 185 chances, and 86.5% success rate. From the time he joined the Mets in 1999 through 2000, however, he was even better (at least during the regular season). During that stretch, Benitez owned a 2.22 ERA, 1.026 WHIP and 13.7 K/BB. However, no matter what the numbers say, Benitez will be known for blowing games in big spots. In Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS vs. Atlanta, Benitez blew a save in the tenth inning after the Mets had clawed all the way back from five runs down to take the lead (and as we all know, the Mets lost the game and were eliminated). In Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS against the Giants, Benitez served up a three run, game-tying homer (thank goodness that Edgardo Alfonzo hit a two run blast, putting the Mets up by three, in the top of the ninth) to pinch hitter J.T. Snow (the Mets won that game 5-4 in ten innings). And of course, in Game 1 of the 2000 World Series vs. the Yankees, he blew the save in a game the Yanks won in twelve. The man was also owned by Pat Burrell. But despite his stumbles in big games, Benitez still takes the three spot on this list.
2. John Franco (1990-01, 03-04): Franco came to the Mets prior to the 1990 season in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds. He proceeded to rack up 276 saves with the Amazins, tops in the team’s history. He also owned a 3.10 ERA, 1.365 WHIP and 7.6 K/9. He also pitched well in the postseason, and allowed no runs during his three World Series appearances in 2000. He may not have been the dominant pitcher that Benitez was in terms of strikeouts and power, but Franco was crafty and knew how to get the job done. His 424 career saves ranks fourth on the all-time list, and are the most compiled by a lefty.
1. Billy Wagner (2006-09): Why is Wagner number one and not Franco? Because of his dominance and efficiency during his tenure with the Mets. Signed as a free agent by Omar Minaya, Wagner’s 2006 season was arguably the most dominant of any closer in Mets history. He saved 40 games that year in 45 chances, pitching to a 2.24 ERA, 1.106 WHIP, 11.7 K/9 and 4.48 K/BB. He also successfully finished the first four games of the Mets playoff run that season before falling apart in the top of the 9th in Game 2 of the NLCS, allowing three runs in a tie game (he did successfully finish Game 6 though to preserve the win). Overall as a Met, Wagner had a 2.37 ERA, 1.054 WHIP, 10.9 K/9 and 4.26 K/BB, while saving 101 games in 118 opportunities, an 86% success rate. The loss of Wagner during the 2008 season was a key reason the Mets failed to make the playoffs that year. However, due to his dominance while a Met, Wagner ranks as my top closer in team history/