Between Armando Benitez’s shaky ninth innings and the excitement of Billy Wagner closing games for the New York Mets, we had Braden Looper recording the final three outs more than anyone else. The Mets signed him to a two-year deal after Looper had spent several seasons with the Florida Marlins.
Looper had just come off a season with the Marlins where he began the year as the club’s closer. Some struggles down the stretch moved him out of the ninth in favor of Ugueth Urbina.
This didn’t stop the Mets from giving him the closer role the following year when the two sides agreed to a deal in January of 2004.
The Braden Looper signing gave the Mets mixed results
An average reliever for most of his pre-Mets career, Looper became a much more reliable bullpen arm in year one with New York. He managed to save a career-high 29 games throughout his 71 games and 83.1 innings of work. An atypical closer without dominating strikeout numbers, he finished his first season in orange and blue with a 2-5 record, 2.70 ERA, and only 6.5 strikeouts per nine.
Even considering how strikeouts weren’t so common a decade and a half ago, this was rather low for the last line of defense in your bullpen.
The 2004 Mets were unspectacular despite getting more from Looper than I think many thought they could. While still imperfect in the closer’s role, his overall totals are pretty good from that first season.
The same cannot be said about year two with the team. Looper got plenty of save opportunities for the 2005 Mets but would go 4-7 with a 3.94 ERA this time around. In 59.1 innings of work, he managed to strike out just 4.1 batters per nine. More importantly, Looper lived up to his reputation as a guy who could implode at any moment.
Looper finished the 2005 season with eight blown saves including one on Opening Day against the Cincinnati Reds. Looper gave up two home runs without recording a single out in that appearance.
Fortunately, he did settle down and continued to get regular saves for the Mets throughout the season. However, in three tries in September, Looper was unsuccessful.
Looper proved he wasn’t the type of closer a championship-caliber team needs. He was untrustworthy and far more capable of blowing an easy save than he was to absolutely dominate from the mound. The Mets decided not to pick up the option on the third year.
With much greater hopes for the following season, they weren’t about to play games any longer. Wagner was brought to the Big Apple. The difference was clear early on.
The Mets learned their lesson. You don’t take a chance on the final three outs.