Coffee is for closers: A look at Mets Save leaders

With the retirement of arguably the greatest closer in baseball history, it might be fun to go through 50 years of Met history and determine candidates for the greatest closer in team history.  Now, determining some of the early years is difficult, especially since the role didn’t really start to take the official form that it has today until the very late 1960s, but with the Games Finished stat in Baseball-Reference.com’s team pages, it is one way of pinpointing exactly whom to consider for that season.  Also B-R has a notation of a “closer” role as the team leader in Games Finished as well as Saves, as well as other factors including Games Played and Innings if it seems that there was a usual “closer” that season (well that would be a good guess as to how Bob Miller in 1974 and Anthony Young in 1992 are credited with that designation on the B-R pges).

The first two big time closers, in the sense of the word closer, are the two from the 1969-1973 era, Ron Taylor and Tug McGraw.  Taylor was B-R’s Met closer for the majority of his Met career, 1967-1970, and he did establish the Met record for saves in 1969 (first year the statistic became an official MLB stat) with 13.  And while his 28 career saves currently puts him 14th all-time on the Mets’ saves list (which incidentally since his last Met game was in 1971, would say a lot about Met bullpen issues through the years and the evolving role of a closer in general) he still is a fondly thought of stalwart of the 1969 Met pitching staff.

Tug McGrawDue to various factors (injuries, ineffectiveness, usually coming in as a middle relief guy, etc.), Tug McGraw gets B-R’s closer designation for just 1972 and 1973.  But his 85 career saves is still good for 5th in franchise history, and with 228 McGraw ranks 4th on the Games Finished list.  Also McGraw was a workhorse of the staffs he was on, as well as an inspirational leader, especially with his Ya Gotta Believe rallying cry in 1973.  His induction into the Mets Hall of Fame and high rankings on various All-Time Met lists, including 26th on the 50th Anniversary list, do very well to justify someone putting him in the conversation of greatest closer in team history.

Following the beloved McGraw would be a tall order, and it would be over a decade before another Met reliever would top his 27 saves in 1972 (and even his second best 25 in 1973).  And during the stretch between the trade of McGraw to the Phillies in 1975 and the emergence of Jesse Orosco in 1983, the closer label usually went to Skip Lockwood (1976-1979) and Neil Allen (1980-1982).  Oddly enough the two of them rank 9th (65) and 10th (69) respectively on the all-time Met saves list.  Lockwood’s success as a Met relief ace during the dark times of the late 1970s would garner him inclusion in balloting for both the Mets 40th Anniversary team, and 50th Anniversary team as a righty reliever.  Likewise Allen from the left hand side of the rubber.  While forever a part of Met lore for being traded for Keith Hernandez (as well as serving up Gary Carter’s first Met homerun), Allen was a dependable go-to guy at the end of games during the early 1980s.

With the dawn of the franchise’s rebirth in the mid-1980s, Jesse Orosco, Roger McDowell and Randy Myers emerge as the next big set of closers in Met history.  Orosco would be a two time All-Star and establish new team high in saves in a single season with 30 in 1984, McDowell with team with Orosco for a classic innings eating duo from 1985 through 1987, including being considered the closer of the 1986 champions according to Baseball-Reference.  And after Orosco’s final season, Myers gave the Mets an explosive ace out of the pen to be a solid tandem with McDowell for the 1988 National League East champions.  Myers’ 56 saves as a Met puts him 11th all-time, McDowell’s 84 places him 6th, and Orosco’s 107 ranks him 3rd all-time.  All three were candidates on both the 40th and 50th Anniversary teams with McDowell picking up the win both times as the All-Time Mets Right Handed Reliever, and both Orosco (25th) and McDowell (39th) made the 50 Greatest Mets list.

With McDowell’s trade to Philadelphia mid-way through the 1989 season, it looked like Myers would be the Met closer for years to come, but he would be traded that offseason for the guy who would be the Met closer for years to come!  John Franco’s 8 times as “closer” according to B-R’s designations would be the most of any Met, and Franco’s time as a Met lends credence to him being among the top Met relievers of all-time.  This would include being only the second reliever in the Mets Hall of Fame, inclusion on both the 40th and 50th Team ballots, and ranking 14th on the 50 Greatest Mets list.  Statistically Franco is all over the Met career top ten lists including ERA (6th with 3.10), Adjusted ERA (3rd with 132), Adjusted Pitching Wins (8th with 7.4), Games Pitched (1st with 695), Games Finished (1st with 484), and of course the all-time Met leader with 276 saves.  As well as 5 30 save seasons and 7 20 save seasons, both being the most of any Met.  He may have been a more pedestrian closer, and not as lights out as others, but Franco does belong in that conversation of all-time Met closers.

The next Met closer would be Franco’s replacement, the much maligned Armando Benitez from 1999-2003.  Met fans may bristle based on his postseason and big spot regular season performances, but Benitez does hold the Mets single season saves record with 43 in 2001, and holds the second place number with 41 in 2000.  Including his final partial season in Flushing, Benitez never had a season with less than 21 saves and his Met total of 160 is good to be second behind Franco all-time.  Of course other factors lead him to be a reviled Met, but his Met performance did lead him to be included on both the 40th and 50th Anniversary team ballots for a right handed reliever.

Like Benitez and Franco, the Mets would continue the trend of picking up closers whom had success with other teams over the rest of the 2000s and early 2010s.  Braden Looper was brought in from Miami and had two straight 20 save seasons for a Met total of 57, which places him 10th all-time.  Then Billy Wagner was brought in, just in time for the National League East winning 2006 season, and would record the third 40 save season a Met has had with an even 40.  Arm issues would lead to a decline in Wagner’s numbers and so he was traded in August of 2009, incidentally though Wagner’s 101 saves as a Met is good for 4th on the all-time list.  Due to Wagner’s injury troubles that would cause him to miss most of 2009, the Mets picked up Francisco Rodriguez, whom was coming off setting the MLB single season saves record the year before with 62.  He’d notch 35 saves in his first season as a Met; and finish his three year tour of duty with 83 which is good for 7th on the Met all-time rankings.

So, that is pretty much the list of Mets you’d probably be able to have a decent conversation about for greatest closer in team history and the second tier of that grouping.  Currently Bobby Parnell is putting up a decent case to enter the conversation, if he’s still with the club knowing how transient a closer’s life can be.  But he currently has 36 career saves, which has him 12th all-time and 21 saves away from entering the top ten.

So while the Mets may not have had too many all-time great closers (or as the case might be, either too late (Mike Marshall) or too early (Jeff Reardon), the list of Met closers probably could stack up against most other franchises’ top of the line bullpen corps.  And it’s a whole other conversation once non-closers get thrown into the mix!

4 comments for “Coffee is for closers: A look at Mets Save leaders

  1. Doug Parker
    September 28, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I’d rank as follows:
    (1) Franco
    (2) Wagner
    (3) Benitez
    (4) Orosco
    (5) McGraw
    (6) Field

  2. JimO
    September 28, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    No way Benitez gets placed above Orosco and McGraw.

  3. norme
    September 29, 2013 at 12:52 am

    Steve, am I reading you correctly in placing Neil Allen as a lefty? I’m sure he was right-handed.

  4. Metsense
    September 29, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    The save is a useless stat perpetuated by the MLB Player Union as a salary incentive. That said, the best reliever based on the save criteria should be the one that accomplishes the feat. McGraw was the best at this in his Mets career with 86 saves, 6 blown saves for a 93.48%. I’ll take that anyday, and hey, you gotta believe.
    He was the first Met to beat Sandy Koufax as a starter, 5-2.

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