MLB: Spring Training-St. Louis Cardinals at New York Mets

Our Favorite Non-Stars

I think that perhaps the best way to introduce you to the staff here at BP – Mets is to let our staff members tell you a little bit about their favorite Mets. But it’s too easy to talk about Doc Gooden and David Wright and Tom Seaver. No, it’s much more interesting to talk about our favorite Mets who were never stars: the guys who spent years (or months) in Flushing grinding away, doing the things that endear them to some, but not all.

Below you’ll find our staff’s picks for some of their favorite former (and current!) Mets non-stars, and why.

Ed Kranepool – 4.8 career WARP

Kranepool is perhaps the Metsiest Met in team history, and one of my personal favorites. One of only three Mets who spent his entire career with the team (alongside Ron Hodges and David Wright) Kranepool made his major league debut in 1962 as a 17-year-old from the Bronx fresh out of James Monroe High School. Kranepool played 18 seasons with the Mets as a first baseman, then pinch hitter, before retiring in 1979. With an unspectacular career WARP of 4.8 and batting average of .261, Kranepool nevertheless managed to lead the organization in hits, total bases, sacrifice flies, and total plate appearances for several decades before being overtaken by Wright; he still holds the record for most games played. Kranepool earned himself a spot in the Mets Hall of Fame just by sticking around, the posterchild for the loyalty and heart any true fan needs to weather those inevitable Mets-related heartbreaks. Plus, he’s a leftie, and we southpaws have to stick together. — Sara Novic

Turk Wendell – 4.5 career WARP

Would Steven John Wendell–the only major leaguer in Quinnipiac College Bobcat history, the one-time Mets single-season record holder for pitcher appearances, and the setup man who posted a solid 3.34 ERA over five seasons in Flushing–have imprinted on the hearts and minds of turn-of-the-century Mets fans if he wasn’t the Turk?

Turk’s quirks are legend. His name immediately brings to mind three widely-televised superstitions. Wendell chewed black licorice on the field, brushed his teeth in the dugout, and wore a necklace made from the bones and teeth of animals he’d hunted and killed. But few fans realize that Turk chewed licorice because he never chewed tobacco. As a devout Christian (he drew three crosses on the mound before every inning – then licked the dirt off his finger), Wendell didn’t drink, either. With another colorfully-nicknamed New York reliever making recent news for misguided anti-bat-flip sentiment, it’s notable that for all Turk’s eccentricities, he was unafraid to speak his mind while he played. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Wendell was willing to comment on the record when Barry Bonds’s trainer was indicted.

As today’s relievers throw harder than ever, they’re seemingly also more fungible–in both repertoire and personality. Let’s all remove our “useless” socks in tribute to one of the originals. — Scott D. Simon

Ty Wigginton – 7.0 career WARP

The post-Subway Series malaise was not an enjoyable stretch, but there were some scattered bright spots in the Art Howe Memorial Tire Fire: Jose Reyes, David Wright … and Wigginton? While he didn’t have nearly the talent of the former two, there was something entertaining about him. Maybe it was the sight of a stocky dude trying his very best to man the hot corner. Maybe it was the surprise of his occasional pop—he took Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Josh Beckett deep in the same year. Maybe it was his odd resemblance to the boss from Doki Doki Panic / Super Mario Bros. 2.

The 2002 Baseball Prospectus Annual released before his debut said “The expiration date on his prospect status is approaching.” It never really looked like he belonged, but he still forged an 11-year career. One particularly impressive Wigginton fact: he hit more homers than fine hitters like Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lieberthal, and the late Tony Phillips. Not too shabby. — Andrew Mearns

Wilmer Flores – 2.8 career WARP

Writing against nationalism, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche foretold of a “super-national and nomadic species of man” who wasn’t bound to ally himself with a place of birth. In baseball, it’s a fun exercise to explore players who have embodied that nomadic spirit, but those men don’t exhibit the power of a hearty, positive example of this nationalism of sorts: team pride. When Flores cried on the field in late July last year amid rumors of his being traded from the Mets, he signaled that the power of sports and the familial nature of teams need not exist only between fans. Now, he’s playing quite well amongst a crowded infield during Spring Training, learning first base from Keith Hernandez and posting a .431 on-base percentage. But statistics don’t tell the full story: nobody wants to play in Flushing more than Flores. Who could ask for anything more? — Brian Duricy

Daryl Boston – 7.5 career WARP

Boston, who as the #7 overall pick of the Chicago White Sox never lived up to expectations for the Sox, Mets, Rockies or Yankees, was an easy pick as my favorite Mets non-star. One Friday night, in late August 1992 my Mom and I, age 10, headed to a Mets game, without my dad and sister for some reason. Anyway, because it was just the two of us, and the Mets were “The Worst Team that Money Could Buy,” we scalped a great pair of seats first base side, field level.

With one out in the bottom of the eighth inning on August 28, and the Mets down a run, Boston came off the bench as a pinch-hitter to to blast a game-tying home run off Scott Bankhead of the Cincinnati Reds. (I would have told you, before looking it up, that Boston hit a walkoff in game one of the doubleheader against a team wearing red. He didn’t. It turns out that Kevin Bass’ sacrifice fly brought home Chico Walker with the winning run later in the eighth.)

Between games of the doubleheader, Boston, in a good mood, came out of the dugout. With his game one homer fresh, he earned star-level treatment by all the kids in the section. My Daryl Boston signed Mets hat became my most prized possession. It was a snapback with green fabric on the underside of the brim. I wore that De-Bo hat for years, until it was discolored and nearly falling apart, a reminder of one of my favorite nights at the ballpark of my life. — Toby Hyde

Eric Young Jr. – 2.8 career WARP

On June 18, 2013, the Mets acquired the fastest man in baseball. (Possibly.) That’s damning with faint praise, as the Rockies designated Young for assignment two weeks prior. He was speedy … but also not very good. Before coming to the Mets, Young Jr. hit .242/.290/.352, with a True Average of .225 in 57 games for the Rockies. To boot, he had only stolen eight bags. Despite joining the club in June, Young Jr. logged the third most innings in the outfield for the 2013 Mets. That’s just damning.

Young Jr. witnessed a marginal reversal of fortune with more playing time in New York—he improved to .251/.318/.329 as a member of the Mets in 2013. That improved his TAv to .239, and he stole 38 bases, giving him 46 for the season. Young Jr. stayed on for 2014, and despite being around for the full year, he logged less playing time. Now a 31-year-old sojourner, he made a forgettable late season cameo with the Mets in 2015. And did I mention he was once the fastest man in baseball? — Eric Garcia-McKinley

Gregg Jefferies – 17.7 career WARP

I was only five when the Mets won the World Series in 1986, so I don’t remember much about the great teams of the mid- to late-80s. One of my earliest memories is of Gary Carter, who became my favorite player when my father brought me an autographed photo after meeting him one day. The Kid was a star but Gregg Jefferies stands out as the other significant player in my burgeoning Mets fandom for an entirely different reason. Jefferies was named Baseball America Minor League Player of the year for both the 1986 and 1987 seasons–I did not know or care about that at the time–but my fascination with him was based solely in the similarity of our names. Young Craig Jeffrey Glaser didn’t care about Gregg Jefferies leading the league with 40 doubles in 1990, but he did feel a kinship with the young infielder in whom he heard a little bit of himself. Jefferies eventually moved on but his time with the Mets was formative to my love of the sport and the team. — Craig Glaser

Endy Chavez – 6.7 career WARP

Chavez did cool things on the baseball field. “Endy Things” were largely the aesthetically pleasing events an old sportswriter might fawn over: taking an extra base by hustling here, a perfect bunt there, a big catch flying in from outside the picture, or a clutch hit you’d remember for awhile. Endy would create excitement, and he’d do it with a big smile.

The most famous Endy Thing is “The Catch,” his way-over-the-wall snowcone robbery of a would-be Scott Rolen home run in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, in front of a billboard poetically touting “The Strength To Be There.” Another Endy Thing happened seconds later; Chavez rebounded off the wall in perfect position to hit the cutoff man, then doubled off Jim Edmonds to end the inning. There was an extra out to be had, so Endy was there.

Chavez gained a reputation as a clutch player–a reputation that does not bear out in his situational hitting splits. If you look at his player card, it looks like he was just a glove-and-speed fourth outfielder. Then you remember that he once pulled off a two-out walk-off bunt and smile at the memory. — Jarrett Seidler

Cliff Floyd – 27.0 career WARP

Oft-injured (like so many Mets left fielders), Floyd still managed to leave an impression as he helped bridge the gap between the Piazza Mets and the Wright Mets. His performance with them waxed and waned, but he was in vintage form in 2005 when his career-high 34 home runs were a bright spot (along with the aforementioned Wright’s breakout year and Pedro being Pedro) in an otherwise sleepy season. His years and shoddy Achilles tendon caught up with him in 2006, and while he missed a lot of the wild run up to the playoffs, he killed it in the division series. Though the on-field effect of clubhouse leadership can be exaggerated, his impact on that front was undeniable, playing a huge role in Wright’s and Reyes’s transition to the majors. Just another quiet contribution from Uncle Cliffy. — Maggie Wiggin

Lucas Duda – 8.1 career WARP

I’ve spent a lot of time pontificating on this topic this past offseason so I might as well make these my first words on this website: Duda is good. I am an unabashed Lucas Duda fan and not just because of the home runs, the walks, and the generally average defense at first base. It’s a lot more than that. Lucas Duda is a quiet, humble guy who often comes across as awkward and I find that to be incredibly endearing. In a way, he reminds me of myself and how I assume I would come across if I had a camera, microphones, and dozens of reporters standing in front of me asking mundane questions about my day. Not only is he good but he seems like a regular guy and that resonates with me.

It also doesn’t hurt that he mashes long dingers, 57 of them combined over the past two seasons! I like dingers, dingers are great. But I do not like Dinger the Rockies mascot, he’s the worst. Strange how that works out. — Steve Schreiber

Bobby Jones – 15.5 career WARP

I’ve always gravitated towards the players who touch incredible, but toil as workaday regulars. I don’t know if that’s because I see a bit of myself in the mediocre, but it’s led me to some very strange choices as far as favorite ballplayers go. On the advent of becoming a teenager, I was Jones’s biggest booster. He didn’t do one thing particularly well: he wasn’t a guy who got a lot of whiffs (5.3 career strikeouts per nine) or ground balls (47 percent career grounder rate), nor was he a masterful control artist. He just kind of showed up, got outs, and went on his merry way. I loved that. He made an All-Star team in 1997 on the strength of a 10-2 start, and I loved that too.

But it was never going to last. Despite being a foundation of the team’s rotation for half a decade, by 2000 Jones was an afterthought–the fifth starter on a good team but fading quickly into inadequacy. During one game in the 2000 NLDS? He was golden. He quieted the San Francisco Giants, twirling a complete game one-hitter, shutting down the greatest hitter in baseball history(?), defying all odds. He’d leave as a free agent after the Subway Series, as perhaps as the team had grown too big and good to carry a starter of his diminishing profile. But for a tall kid who couldn’t do anything perfectly on the ballfield and dreamed of just one great moment on the diamond, he was the perfect hero. — Bryan Grosnick

Jose Valverde – 11.2 career WARP

I don’t have any favorite Mets or rooting interest but I always did enjoy covering the coterie of lottery tickets the club brought in. They were either former All-Stars washed up on shore past their expiration date or the platoon players that couldn’t even fill that half-cocked role. For every Marlon Byrd, there was a Daisuke Matsuzaka or Chris Young. But none was more fun to cover than Jose Valverde. He was clearly in who gives a bleep mode by the time he got to Queens. Blown save? He just explained it away like no big deal. Diminished velocity? Man, I’m trying to actually pitch that way, he’d says. There’s a reason the Mets needed to trade for actual major leaguers before they started winning last year. But the Papa Grande era sure was interesting, at least. — Mike Vorkunov

Brian Bannister – 5.8 career WARP

Most of the love for Bannister comes from the SABR set. He was one of the first to study advanced metrics and integrate them into his game on the field. He was an articulate analyst from the moment he arrived in the majors–SNY dropped him in pre-and-post while he was recuperating from a hamstring strain after just five starts in the majors. He once said in an interview that zone-contact percentage was the most important stat for a pitcher. Heck, you’d probably be surprised to learn that he didn’t have a cameo as himself in “MoneyBart.”

My appreciation for Banny comes from the scouting side, though. One of the first games I watched with a real eye towards evaluation was a start in New Britain in 2005. Like his rotation-mate for Binghamton, Yusmeiro Petit, he was putting up eye-catching Eastern League numbers without any 6s on the scouting report. There’s one or two of these guys in most Double-A rotations: 88-92, four-pitch mix, solid command. Projecting them for any big league success is a risky game. But something about Bannister stood out that night. Maybe I am projecting backwards off a decade of watching games now (I had equally strong feelings that night about Anderson Hernandez, so…), but there was an alchemy in the performance–Double-A lead that looked like major league gold. He didn’t consistently reach the mid-rotation heights I thought possible at the time–whether it was the injuries, or just the fine margins he would always play with–but it was my first instructive lesson in not scouting the stat line. Even if the stat line is pointing you in the right direction. — Jeffrey Paternostro

Mike Baxter – 0.8 career WARP

A Queens native and lifelong Mets fan, Baxter was a success story the moment he debuted for the Mets in 2011. Years removed from contending and years away from returning to October, Met fans were desperate for any positive story around the team, and Baxter gave them one. His first two seasons with the club were surprisingly productive; Baxter posted a 117 wRC+ in a platoon role and even tied the major league record for walks in a nine-inning game (five). However, his routine contributions will forever be overshadowed by this:

Baxter’s catch prevented Yadier Molina from breaking fans’ hearts yet again and kept Johan Santana’s no-hitter intact. He was never the same after that injury though, struggling in 2013 and eventually getting released. Nevertheless, he permanently enshrined himself in his hometown team’s history. — Lukas Vlahos

Erik Goeddel – 1.0 career WARP

There’s a good chance Goeddel won’t make the big league roster to start 2016, but I will always breathe a sigh of relief when he comes jogging out of the bullpen. It goes back to 2010: Goeddel was the reliever most likely to come in with runners on base for his college team. The Mets 2015 season reminds me a lot of UCLA’s 2010 season, and that was the first time I watched college baseball in person. UCLA had such a breakout year that they had to buy more seats … but they ultimately lost the College World Series to a team that kept having lucky late-inning hits and web gems. Kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The Mets drafted Erik Goeddel, UCLA’s good luck charm of a middle reliever, in the 24th round. He was never a sure thing to make it to the bigs–how many 24th round picks do?  But during the Mets’ breakout season last year, there was Goeddel succeeding in middle relief. And UCLA has maintained its upper echelon status since 2010! When I look at Goeddel, I think about the Mets’ potential to stay World Series contenders. — Noah Grand

Rick Reed – 19.1 career WARP

For a moment, I allowed my brain to run wild with the possibility: Not only would Reed throw the first no-hitter in Mets history, but it would be a perfect game. I hate to spoil this for you guys, but it didn’t happen. With seven outs separating Reed from franchise immortality, Wade Boggs doubled and brought me back to reality. But the significance of this event wasn’t lost on me, even as a teenager. The thing is, Reed wasn’t supposed to be there. A former replacement player, Reed had a journeyman’s career before joining the Mets’ rotation as a 32-year-old in 1997. Some players (like Boggs) may have held a grudge for his decision to cross the picket line, but Reed quickly became a favorite of mine for his efficiency on the mound. The arch-rival Braves had the brand-name pitchers during their dominant run in the NL East, but that made Reed all the more fun to root for by contrast. — D.J. Short

Daisuke Matsuzaka – 6.9 career WARP

Growing up a Boston Red Sox fan, I never got to appreciate the Mets at as deep of a level as some of my colleagues. That being said, I did want to add my own little flavor to this punch bowl, and that desire takes form in Matsuzaka. Of course no one would really summarize Matsuzaka as a star during his time on the Mets–across 122 innings from 2013-14, his 0.9 WARP would be spread out amongst 16 starts and 25 relief appearances. Although those innings weren’t incredibly notable, in 2014 he did compete for a starting spot in the rotation and notched one save early in the season. Injuries played a role in the latter half of that season, which would be followed by Dice-K returning to Japan, where he was every bit a star. His time with the Mets wasn’t the best, but it did represent the latter parts of a career that came with so much promise–never forget about that gyroball. — Shawn Brody

Rey Ordoñez – -0.1 career WARP

What I remember most is that he seemed to levitate off the Shea Stadium outfield grass and spin around on his knees in one fluid motion to get the runner at home. I didn’t remember Bernard Gilkey’s limp relay throw in from left. I didn’t remember that it was Jerry Dipoto who gave up the double to Ray Lankford that set this series of life-altering events in motion. I didn’t remember that it was Royce Clayton who, in his doomed pursuit of scoring from first, was victimized at home plate by instinctual defensive wizardry. But what I realized then (and remembered every day since) was that Rey Ordoñez was something to cherish when grasping a fielder’s glove at shortstop. With a bat in the box? Not so much. But, baby, that glove could keep you warm, even way out in the right field loge–at least it did on Opening Day 1996, when me and my father and 42,058 fans saw what Ordoñez could do for the first time.

His time in Queens was over before we knew it, but that glove on that day (and quite a few more days to come) taught me at a young age that should life come down to the fact that maybe you can only be good at one thing, be really damn good at that thing. — Erik Malinowski

Dae-Sung Koo – 0.2 career WARP

Mr. Koo played the perfect long con. Koo dug in against the most dominant left-handed pitcher of all time just days after his first major league plate appearance … and he stood no less than four feet from home plate with the bat never leaving his shoulder. In that moment, Koo looked disinterested, but the smile on his face as he entered the dugout suggested otherwise. Days later, during the Subway Series, he would have Randy Johnson right where he wanted him. Koo took the first two pitches from the Big Unit in the same manner as before: stiff, bored, motionless. Then, when Johnson grooved a 1-1 fastball, Koo unleashed the first and only swing of his professional career. Johnson, who only allowed eight extra base hits to left-handed hitters in 2005, turned to see the ball one-hop the wall. While Koo stunned the fan base, he wasn’t done. Jose Reyes, crouched, showed bunt with Koo standing on second. The sacrifice was mediocre, but as Jorge Posada delivered the ball to Tino Martinez, Koo caught the Yankee first baseman napping and darted home, sliding head first to beat the tag. Glorious. — J.D. Sussman

Todd Hundley – 12.7 career WARP

In a pre-Mitchell Report world, through the eyes of a wide-eyed teenager, surprising feats of power could be reveled in with an honesty that doesn’t exist anymore. So when he stepped to the plate against Greg McMichael of the not-quite-yet-hated Braves on September 14, 1996, he tied the game up with a record-setting homer—the 41st of his season. The power surge was incredible, especially for a player who hadn’t made it out of the teens in his career. Yet despite breaking the all-time record for home runs by a catcher, he required Tommy John surgery after the 1997 season, which led to the Mets acquiring franchise pillar Mike Piazza. And despite his .906 OPS in this record-breaking season, he was barely an above-average player due to what we now know was almost historically terrible framing (-27.7 framing runs that year alone). Even his record has since been broken by the opposing catcher on that record-breaking day, Javy Lopez.

And after giving New Yorkers a thrill for the better part of two seasons with his power prowess, like we hope of all recycled goods, he kept providing value after his initial purpose was completed. After all, he netted Charles Johnson from the Dodgers, who was simultaneously turned into Armando Benitez from the Orioles, and Roger Cedeno, who was a really fun and useful player for the ’99 team before being spun (with Octavio Dotel) for Mike Hampton the following off-season. — Bret Sayre

Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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