Mets acquire reliever Brad Hand. That gives me hope.

Hand has 126 career saves. (Wikipedia).

I’ve said some unsavory things about pitcher Brad Hand in the past, but now that he’s on my side, I think I like this guy.

The Mets recently claimed the three-time All-Star off waivers from the Blue Jays, with whom he struggled to the tune of a 7.27 ERA in 11 games.

But that hardly tells the tale of his whole season; beginning the year with the Nationals, he started off with a 3.59 mark and 21 saves in 41 games before being traded to Toronto for catcher Riley Adams on July 29.

Granted, 2021 has not been his year. His walk rate is double what it was last season and the highest it’s been since 2012 … when he played just a single game. After averaging 12.2 K/9 IP from 2016 t0 2020, he’s K-ing 8.2 per 9 frames in 2021.

Do recall, however, that this is a man who had a 2.70 ERA and 157 ERA+ over the preceding five seasons. And from 2017 to 2019, he was All-Star each year.

While the Mets have a habit of picking up once-excellent relief pitchers—and players in general—who are years removed from their peak, Hand, just last year, had a 2.05 ERA and averaged nearly 12 Ks per nine frames in that stunted 2020 campaign.

Even his 2021 started off rockin’. Carrying an ERA under 3 through his first 13 appearances, he then hammered out a run from May 22 to July 5 in which his mark was 1.25. Hand’s dive might be an aberration more than a sign of permanent decline.

Or, perhaps, I’m being optimistic, because I’m a Mets fan and I want to see them pull off a miracle and reach the postseason.

With Hand on board, a bundle of injured players due off the injured list and the rest of the bullpen firing on all cylinders right now* the situation is looking up for New York.

*Recent ERAs from the bullpen: Edwin Diaz: 1.13 (since July 23), Miguel Castro: 2.45 (since July 11), Trevor May: 1.29 (since August 18), Jeurys Familia: 1.74 (since August 8), Seth Lugo: 1.04 (since July 19) and Aaron Loup: 0.42 (since July 5).

They’re just one game under .500 and still within striking distance of the second Wild Card with a month left to play.

The team tanked when the pitching did in July, with the club’s ERA rising to 4.43 for the month. It fell to 4.20 in August and is just 3.00 so far in September.

And with Hand around, hopefully, it will begin to drop even lower.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 3, 2021.

Familia has spent his whole career with New York, save for a 30 game stint with Oakland in 2018. (Wikipedia).

Familia territory: Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia saved 43 games with a 1.85 ERA in 2015 and had a league-leading 51 saves in an All-Star 2016. Since then, he’s slipped to a 4.07 ERA, but his recent stretch resembles the Familia of old. He’s struck out 6 batters in his last 3 innings of work, 30 in his last 21 1/3 frames and 61 in 48 2/3 innings on the year as a whole.

Hunter’s no longer stricken: Brewers hurler Hunter Strickland was one of the game’s better relievers in the mid-2010s, but was stricken with a rapid decline in performance from 2018 to 2020. He seems to have gotten over it: Since joining Milwaukee—his third team this year—on June 14, he has a 1.30 ERA in 25 games; over the past month, that mark is 0.73 in 11 games. He’s 3-1 with a 2.52 ERA is 47 appearances overall.

Marchan marchin’ on: 22-year-old Phillies catcher Rafael Marchan has been a pleasant surprise these past few games, carrying a .333/.412/.667 line with a home run and 3 RBI since August 29. He debuted with a bang last year, going 4-for-8 with a dinger and 3 RBI in a cup of coffee with Philadelphia.

Bryan’s cruisin’ along: If the Marlins’ youngsters can coalesce at the same time, Miami might actually have a decent club in the near future. One such factor in it might be 24-year-old rookie outfielder Bryan De La Cruz, who has hit .340 in 100 at-bats with the club this year and .367/.400/.506 over the past month. He arrived with pitcher Austin Pruitt in a July 28 trade with Houston for reliever Yimi Garcia.

Milestone watch: Kevin Pillar recently played his 1,000th career game, while Anthony Rizzo eclipsed 5,000 at-bats, Josh Donaldson reached 5,000 plate appearances, Nelson Cruz scored his 1,000th run, Asdrubal Cabrera knocked his 400th double, Justin Upton collected his 1,000th RBI, Eric Hosmer and Donaldson clobbered their 500th extra base hits, Jose Abreu was clocked by his 100th pitch (and Salvador Perez by his 50th) and fearsome Freddie Freeman drew his 100th intentional walk.

Growing hopeful about the Mets: New York has won four straight games and are now just a game under .500. They’re 5 back in the Wild Card. Pete Alonso has been cranking the past month. Pitcher Carlos Carrasco might be turning a corner and Marcus Stroman is still throwing like an ace. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over …

Don’t do well in the majors: Lee Gronkiewicz, who had a 2.43 ERA and 159 saves in eight seasons on the farm pitched a single game with the Blue Jays in 2007. Bobby Korecky had a 3.10 ERA and 186 saves in 14 minor league seasons, but posted a 7.39 mark in 24 big league games over 4 seasons. Kevin Quackenbush owns a 2.19 ERA and 127 saves in the minors; he has a 4.41 mark and 87 ERA+ in the bigs. Successful minor league relief pitchers often don’t well at the major league level, or get much of a chance.

Weiss wasn’t much of a hitter, finishing with a career OPS+ of 78. (Wikipedia).

Exactly the same: 1990s shortstop and former Rockies manager Walt Weiss owns the highest career strikeout and walk totals of anyone who finished with the exact same amount (658) of each.

Sharing a name with the stars: Jimmy Stewart was one of the most famous actors of the 20th century. Jimmy Stewart—a different one—was a utilityman who spent 10 years in the majors in the 1960s and 1970s, playing for the Cubs, Reds and others. He’s not the first or only ballplayer to share names with a more famous counterpart—Mike Tyson is a notorious boxer; his baseball pairing was an infielder who played mostly for the Cardinals in the 1970s and early ‘80s. And don’t forget 1980s pitcher Bob Gibson (not to be confused with the Hall of Famer) or ‘80s Mariners outfielder Ricky Nelson (not to be confused with the more famous singer).

Hurlers can hit ‘em, too: Facing the Cubs on May 13, 1942, Braves pitcher Jim Tobin became the only pitcher in modern baseball history to hit three home runs in a single game. With a .230 career average, he was a great hitting pitcher and was often asked to pinch hit.

It was against the Mets: Former Rays pitcher Esteban Yan was the first American League pitcher since the introduction of the designated hitter rule in 1973 to homer in his first career at-bat. Facing the Mets’ Bobby Jones on June 4, 2000, he clobbered an inconsequential solo shot in a game Tampa Bay won 15-5. He also collected a hit in his only other career at-bat.

Unknown member of 60 dinger club: Wladimir Balentien was a fairly well-touted prospect in the 2000s, having set the Arizona League season record for home runs with 16 in 2003. He never found his stroke in the major leagues, but sure did when he went to Japan: In 2013, he hammered 60 big flies for the Yakult Swallows, setting a Nippon Professional Baseball record. He’s still playing over there to this day and has 494 career home runs between all levels.

Hate to say this about him, but: Roger Maris was the ultimate two-year wonder. Before his arrival with the Yankees in 1960, he slashed just .249/.329/.434 with 58 home runs and 203 RBI in 388 games. Then he set the baseball world ablaze by winning two straight MVP awards in 1960 and 1961 and, of course, breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record with 61 the latter year. But after that, he was decent, but nothing to write home about: He averaged just 111 games per year over the rest of his career, slashing .259/.343/.446. He earned over 40% of the vote on the Hall of Fame ballot, but two great years does not a Hall of Fame career make … no matter how legendary one of the campaigns might have been.

Maris and Mantle combined for 115 home runs in 1961. The Kansas City Athletics had 90 as a team that year. (Wikipedia).

We’ll try our luck: Most home runs in a season without drawing an intentional walk? Roger Maris in his record-setting 61 home run, 1961 campaign. He batted in front of Mickey Mantle; pitchers preferred to try their hand with the superstar, not the legend. The career record for dingers without an IBB, among players for whom we have complete data, is 107, presently held by Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman.

Records haven’t updated: With the Society for American Baseball Research keeping an eye on things, you’d think they’d catch and verify whenever a former big leaguer passes away. However, such is not the case—it’s fairly well-known that former Braves catcher Hal King died some time ago (even they recognize that) but there has been no official confirmation or article to validate the claim, so they cannot mark him down as “deceased.” And so, he remains alive, per official records at least.

Worst trades in Mets history, #7: Jose Bautista and Ty Wigginton for Kris Benson and Jeff Keppinger

Bautista did end up playing for New York—in his final season, 2019. (Wikipedia).

In retrospect, this was a godawful trade for New York. They surrendered two future All-Stars for a couple inconsequential ballplayers … but at the time, it didn’t seem like a bad deal.

The Mets needed to get rid of third baseman Ty Wigginton somehow, as David Wright was waiting in the wings and ready to take over at that position. They also needed a boost in their rotation, so acquiring a player like Kris Benson, the underperformer that he was, seemed like a good idea.

If only they had known what they were giving up. Wigginton spent about two full seasons in New York, slashing .302/.354/.526 in 46 games in a promising 2002 debut. He slipped to .255 in 156 games the next year, but still hit 36 doubles and 11 home runs, earning some Rookie of the Year support.

After beginning 2004 with 12 home runs, 42 RBI and a .285/.334/.487 line in 86 games, he was shipped with a little-known prospect named Jose Bautista and minor league pitcher Matt Peterson to the Pirates on July 30.

Peterson, once a top prospect, spent ten years in the minors but never reached the big leagues. No loss there.

But Wigginton and Bautista. Boy oh boy.

Wigginton played for seven teams after leaving New York. (Wikipedia).

Wigginton went on to hit 140 home runs the rest of his career, averaging 15 per year from 2005 to 2013 for a handful of teams. He eclipsed 20 dingers four times, with a high of 24 in 2006, and made the All-Star team in 2010.

His departure was and wasn’t a loss, depending on how you look at it. It paved the way for David Wright, a future Mets Hall of Famer who made seven All-Star teams and hit .296 with 242 home runs in 14 years with the club. Glass half full.

But, considering his solid performance with the Mets and afterwards, what Wigginton netted the club was paltry and meaningless. Glass half empty.

And that wasn’t even the worst part of the deal.

Granted, there is no way the Mets could have known what they had in Bautista at the time. No one could have. He was an itinerant before reaching the majors and a lackluster player in the majors for the first part of his career.

Signed by the Pirates in 2000, he was taken by the Orioles in the 2003 Rule 5 Draft and made his big league debut with them on April 4, 2004. On June 3, he was selected off waivers by Tampa Bay, then was purchased by Kansas City on June 28. On July 30, the Royals shipped him to the Mets for Australian utilityman Justin Huber.

To that point, his rookie line was unimpressive—with the Devil Rays, he hit just .167—but he did jump from A-ball to the majors, so growing pains were to be expected. And though his minor league numbers weren’t stellar, he did slash .301/.402/.470 with the Single-A Hickory Crawdads in 2002. That mirrors the sort of line he’d post with the Blue Jays a few years later …

But to his big league clubs, it was a throwaway season and he was a throwaway player.

And so he was to New York. His time as a Met was brief—a few hours—because later that day, they shipped him off to Pittsburgh with Wigginton and Peterson.

For six years, he seemed like no loss. From 2004 to 2009, he hit a measly .238, averaging just 10 home runs and 35 RBI per year. But then again, there is a reason why the Pirates and, later, the Blue Jays kept giving him try after try after try.

*You think the Mets made a bad deal: The Pirates shipped Bautista to Toronto for a player to be named later on August 21, 2008. It ended up being catcher Robinzon Diaz, who ended up spending all of 44 games in the majors, 43 of them with Pittsburgh.

Then, in 2010, he arrived. Exploding onto the scene with a league-leading 54 home runs and 351 total bases, he finished fourth in MVP voting and was just one of three players to earn a first place vote. In 2011, he again paced the loop in dingers with 43, as well as slugging percentage (.608) and OPS+ (182).

For each of those six years, he was an All-Star, averaging 38 home runs, 97 RBI, 95 runs and a 156 OPS+ per campaign. He won three Silver Sluggers; he finished with four top-ten MVP finishes.

In 2016, he slipped to .234 with 22 home runs in 116 games, then in 2017, he fell to .203 with 23 dingers.

After the Blue Jays gave him his walking papers following the season, he signed with Atlanta, but was released in May.

And who should come calling but the Mets. A few years late there, huh guys?

Not surprisingly, his time in the Big Apple, when it finally arrived, was not a good one. He hit just .204 with 9 home runs in 83 games, but because he could still draw a walk, his on-base percentage was a respectable .351. In late August, they shipped him to Philadelphia for a player to be named later or cash; he wrapped up his career with them.

What did the Mets get in return for those three ballplayers?

As with everywhere he went, Benson wasn’t bad with New York, he just underwhelmed—especially disappointing, since was a huge prospect in the late 1990s. (Wikipedia).

Benson gave them a middling season-and-a-half, going 14-12 with a 4.23 ERA in 39 games. In his one full year with the club, 2005, he was 10-8 with a 4.13 ERA in 28 starts; his ERA+ was 100, meaning he was the archetype of average. Not what you’d expect from a former number one overall draft pick.

He was a ho-hum, almost-decent hurler for a ho-hum, almost-decent team. The Mets went 83-79 that year.

On January 22, 2006, he was sent to the Orioles for reliever Jorge Julio and starter John Maine. For once a trade went the Mets way. Julio was a dud, but Maine played a big role in New York’s ’06 playoff run and won 15 games for them in 2007.

Keppinger was a non-factor in New York, hitting .284 in 33 games in 2004. He was shipped to the Royals on July 19, 2006 for infielder Ruben Gotay. Gotay had a solid single season with the Mets in 2007, but I also rank that a stinker of a deal.

July 30, 2004 won’t live on in Mets infamy like the Midnight Massacre of June 15, 1977, when they shipped stars Tom Seaver and Dave Kingman away in quick succession.

But another disastrous deal went down that day, as well. In addition to discarding Bautista and Wigginton for what amounted to rentals, they traded top pitching prospect Scott Kazmir to the Devil Rays for mediocre hurler Victor Zambrano.

They’re still waiting to get Kazmir back.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 2, 2021.

Scherzer 3,000 K watch: Facing Atlanta last night, the Dodgers’ Max Scherzer recorded another 9 strikeouts, bringing his season total to 197 and his career total to 2,981. Of course, now that he’s just 19 away from a historic milestone, there’s a hiccup—he was removed from the game due to hamstring tightness.

Can Cabrera do it? With 2 hits, including a home run, against Oakland last night, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera is now just 37 away from 3,000. He has to stay hot all month, but 37 more knocks this season isn’t unimaginable.

Lester won 18 games as recently as 2018. (Wikipedia).

200 wins? Easy, lest Lester lose: Cardinals hurler Jon Lester now stands just two wins away from 200, which should be easy to achieve with nearly a whole month left in the season. Should be. He began the year just 7 victories short, but has won only 5 of his 22 starts.

Jose is crushing it: Give any batter a short enough time frame and he can do great things. Such is the case with Rangers catcher Jose Trevino, a career .243 hitter in the majors and a .259 hitter in the minors. Over the past week, he’s gone 7-for-19—that’s a .368 batting average—with 4 doubles and a .579 slugging mark.

No brakes for this Jake: Astros rookie outfielder Jake Meyers has been unstoppable since his debut on August 1. In 25 games, he’s hit .313 with 3 home runs and 5 doubles, after slashing .343/.408/.598 at Triple-A. The downside: In 80 at-bats, he’s walked just twice.

Resurgent Treinen: Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen had a rough and tumble start to 2021, posting a 3.41 ERA through June 23. Since then, he’s been among the best in the league: In 30 1/3 innings over 29 games, he’s allowed 2 runs on 11 hits and 9 walks for a 0.59 ERA. He didn’t surrender a single earned run from June 25 to August 19.

Chafin’s killing it, too: After beginning 2021 with a 5.00 ERA through April 24, Athletics reliever Andrew Chafin has posted a tiny 1.15 mark in 49 appearances since. Batters have slashed .147/.202/.212 against him in that span. From May 8 to July 21, he didn’t allow a single earned run and since July 28, he’s surrendered just 2.

#1 pick update: Henry Davis, taken by the Pirates as this year’s #1 overall draft pick, began his professional career with a .308/.387/.808 line with 3 home runs and 7 RBI in 8 games. He’s now on the 7-day injured list, but that start is promising.

Control issues have hampered Appel—he averaged 6 walks per 9 frames this year. (Wikipedia).

#1 pick update #2: Mark Appel, who the Astros selected at #1 in 2013 then traded to Philadelphia in 2015, left baseball for a few years but decided to mount a comeback this season. Back with the Phillies, he began the year at Double-A and had a 5.84 ERA in 24 2/3 innings, but was promoted to Triple-A anyway. Though he started off pretty well, he’s slipped bigly and now owns a 6.05 mark at that level. Hey, Tim Tebow got try after try, so Appel might, too. But right now, it’s not looking good for the 30-year-old hurler.

#1 pick update #3: The Astros took Brady Aiken #1 overall in 2014, but he did not sign and re-entered the draft the next year. He was then taken by Cleveland with the 17th pick. Though still in their system, he hasn’t played at all this year and has thrown just 2/3 of an inning since 2017.

2014 draft was rough: The #2 pick in the 2014 draft, Tyler Kolek, taken by Miami, flunked out of the minors after 2019. He never played above A-ball.

Growing hopeful about the Mets: I was getting really nervous about the Mets as they started to tumble, but perhaps my worries were premature. If I did my math correctly, their magic number to overtake first-place Atlanta is 36. They each have 32 games left—if the Mets win 20 and the Braves lose 16, New York could, feasibly, win the division … assuming Philadelphia doesn’t surge. They recently recalled Khalil Lee from Triple-A; I think he can help New York, as he worked an excellent .450 OBP down there.

 At least I tried: Catcher Russ Nixon attempted 7 stolen bases in his 906-game career, which spanned 1957 to 1968. He was never successful. That is the longest career a non-pitcher managed without stealing a base.

I think I’ll stay put: Former Braves catcher Johnny Estrada, who played from 2001 to 2008, didn’t even attempt a stolen base in 612 games. That is also a record.

Wolters led the National Association in RBI in 1871. (Wikipedia).

But my ERA was perfect! Oh, 1870s baseball, you provide us with so many wonders. Rynie Wolters pitched a single game in 1873 and went the whole nine innings, as hurlers were wont to do then. He surrendered 23 runs on 13 hits, a walk and what must have been a boatload of hit by pitches (we don’t know how many, they weren’t recorded then) … but didn’t surrender a single earned run. That was his last season, so he could say he finished his career on a high note, posting a 0.00 ERA in his final year. *Though, honestly, one wonders if his line is accurate or if it was entered into the record books incorrectly and has never been fixed).

Swaziland represent: The small landlocked African nation of eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland, has produced a professional baseball player. Steve Martin, born in the capital of Mbabne, played in the Astros system in 2011. He had a 6.00 ERA in 16 rookie ball games.

Giving props to The Baseball Cube: Most folks’ go-to source for baseball data is Baseball-Reference.com. But I have to give it to The Baseball Cube, as well. They offer a LOT that Baseball Reference doesn’t, like information on scouts, detailed Baseball America rankings and more in-depth college coverage, like records for coaches. It really is a great resource that I don’t think earns enough praise. (I didn’t get paid to say this).

Kazuo Matsui brought me headaches.

Infielder Kazuo Matsui was a star in Japan, finishing with over 2,000 hits and a .291 batting average. He was signed by the Mets at a time when Japanese ballplayers were novel and new and making waves—it was the era of Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui (no relation) and Kaz Sasaki. New York tried their hand at a few, inking the likes of Masato Yoshii, Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Satoru Komiyama. But those were half steps; the Mets hadn’t yet dipped into the pool of Japanese superstars. Until Matsui.

He ended up hitting .256 in 239 games with New York.

I found this little blurb hiding in one of my folders. I wrote it when I was 15 or so.

***

Kaz Matsui: Was he a waste, or is it just me?

Kaz Matsui finished with nearly 2,900 professional hits and more than 1,500 runs scored. (Wikipedia).

Mets fans, you may like this article. Any others … well … you may not really care.  

Now, as many of you know (or not), I’m a big Mets fan. They are the team I follow the most. I watch their games. I read up on their statistics. And when I see a Met not living up to our expectations, it hurts. It really does.

And, Kaz Matsui is really not living up to our expectations. He was supposed to be an Ichiro-esque player, and he has—it’s a struggle for me to say this—not.

Now, I know it takes some people a few years to become acclimated to the Major League Baseball style, but you don’t have those few years when you’re a 27-year-old rookie! You should be in, or at least entering, your prime by now. And now, Kaz is hitting .230 on the season.

And it’s not just the fact that his average is low, either. Matsui has not shown the power or speed abilities that he showed over in Japan. What happened to 36 home run Kaz Matsui? Where did 62 stolen base Kaz go? My bet is they went with his health, which has not been very good these past two years.

I know he’s been hurt, but that really can’t be an excuse, because when he’s healthy, he not showing anything either.

Well, I’ve ranted long enough. Kaz just isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing. That’s all right.

 Jeff Keppinger will be ready to take over his spot any year now.

***

Coincidentally, Keppinger never had much of an impact with the Mets, spending only 33 games with the club in 2004.

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, August 29, 2021

Max Scherzer began his transformation from a decent hurler to a Hall of Famer with Detroit. (Wikipedia).

Scherzer 3,000 K watch: With 10 strikeouts on the 26th, Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer put himself just 28 away from 3,000 for his career. He also needs just 12 for 200 on the year; when he reaches that milestone, he will have done it eight times in his career. Upon eclipsing 3,000 Ks, he will all but seal his chances for Cooperstown. But even if he suffers a catastrophic, career-ending injury in his next start …

Scherzer’s a sure lock: With his statistics (187 W, 2,972 K, 3.17 ERA, 65.4 WAR, 10.7 K/9) being what they are, one can comfortably say Max Scherzer is a future Hall of Famer right now, at this point in his career. Maybe not a first ballot guy, maybe he’d have to wait until the veteran’s committee put him in, but he ranks among the best of this generation, and in this era of high-strikeout pitchers, Scherzer has been among the best the longest.

Can Cabrera collect ‘em all? As the world turned its attention to Miguel Cabrera’s chase for 500 home runs, his quest for 3,000 hits took a backseat. But right now, he’s only 40 away with two games left to play in August. He had 37 hits in a month as recently as September/October 2016 and 41 hits in May 2014. He’ll have to perform as well as he did in his prime, but Cabrera could, feasibly, reach the fabled hits milestone this year.

Ibanez rocks: Royals rookie second baseman Andy Ibanez just recently concluded an eleven-game hitting streak in which he hit .488 with 6 doubles and 2 home runs. Over the past week, he’s hit .458 and raised his season average to .260, up from .200 on August 14. He recently got a boo-boo, however, and is currently day-to-day.

Mercadoubt: Oscar Mercado, a 26-year-old outfielder for Cleveland, made waves as a rookie in 2019 when he hit 19 home runs with 54 RBI and 15 stolen bases, to earn some Rookie of the Year support. Since then, he’s hit just .194 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI in 82 games, casting doubt on whether he’ll ever live up to his first-year promise.

Abreu had a 20.25 ERA in 2 games with New York in 2020. (Wikipedia).

Just one bad game: Yankees reliever Albert Abreu had a 1.88 ERA and .091 OBA through his first 14 1/3 innings of the season, then on July 29, he surrendered 3 dingers and 6 earned runs without getting an out, raising his 2021 mark all the way to 5.65. Since then, he has a 2.51 ERA, again in 14 1/3 innings—but still carries a 4.08 ERA overall.

The same ol’ Nolin: Prior to 2021, Nationals hurler Sean Nolin hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2015; he missed all of 2016 and 2017 and then bounced around the minors, indy ball, even the Mexican Pacific Winter League and Japan. In his first three stints from 2013 to 2015, he had a 6.89 ERA in 31 1/3 innings. The time away didn’t help: Since returning to the majors, he’s posted a 6.57 mark in 3 starts. His last outing was decent, however, as he allowed just 2 earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Mets on August 28.

Mets could do it: The Mets defeated the Nationals handily this afternoon, 9-4, and have now won two-in-a-row, they’re longest winning streak since … who knows how long, my memory isn’t that good (it was actually August 10-12). Baseball Reference says they still have a 0.4% chance of making the postseason. They’re facing some weak teams over the final stretch of the season, so what if …

It’s been a while: The last time a rookie pitcher had 5 or more shutouts was in 1983, when Orioles hurler Mike Boddicker had exactly that many and led the league. The last time a rookie even had three shutouts in a campaign was 1995, when Hideo Nomo did it for the Dodgers; he also led the league. And when did a rookie last lead the league in shutouts at all? 2019. The Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara had two.

Complete games are a rarity, too: Boddicker and the Rangers’ Mike Smithson were the last rookie hurlers with 10-plus complete games in a season, achieving the feat in 1983. In an indictment on today’s game, the last rookie pitcher to complete even five games in a season was the Dodgers’ Ismael Valdez in 1995; even worse, J.A. Happ was the last rookie to manage 3 CGs, doing so in 2009.

Rarer than no-hitters? Since 2019, only eight pitchers have thrown more than one shutout in a season. There’s been that many no-hitters this year alone.

Got ‘em all in one year: Shortstop/outfielder Eric Yelding spent five years in the major leagues in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, playing for Astros and Cubs. He stole 89 bases in his career—in 1990 with Houston, he swiped 64 of them.

Willy kept going: Speaking of speedsters with short careers, Willy Taveras—who stole 68 bags for the Rockies in 2008—was playing independent ball for the Sugar Land Skeeters as recently at 2019. Who knew. He last played in the majors in 2010.

A home for the washed-up: That 2019 Skeeters team featured myriad players who you thought were long since retired. James Loney, who last played in the majors in 2016, spent time with them, as did Mitch Talbot (2011), Denis Phipps (2012), Daniel Schlereth (2012), Josh Prince (2013), Felipe Paulino (2014), Cesar Cabral (2015), Dallas Beeler (2015), Matt West (2015), Ryan Jackson (2015), Rico Noel (2015) and Cody Stanley (2015), among others.

With the minor league August Browns in 1886, Suck hit .091 in 88 at-bats. (Wikipedia).

How many did he have to hit? Moe Hill spent 15 years in professional baseball, including nine seasons in the Twins system. From 1971 to 1978, he played for the Single A Wisconsin Rapids Twins—which, in itself, was an impressive feat, since by his last season with them, he was 31 and almost a full decade older than the average man in the Midwest League. Even more amazingly: He won four home run titles in a row, from 1974 to 1977. Despite hitting 267 career home runs, he peaked at Double A and never earned a big league call.

He lived up to the name: Tony Suck, a utilityman in 1883 and 1884, hit .151/.205/.161 in 205 career at-bats, for an OPS+ of 24. He was born Charles Anthony Zuck—shoulda kept the original name.

 No camping under that one: Remember when Braves pitcher Rick Camp, then a .060 hitter, hit an 18th-inning, game-tying home run … at 3 in the morning?  

Worst trades in Mets history, #6: Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano

Imagine Scott Kazmir in the Mets rotation in 2006, instead of Steve Trachsel or Pedro Martinez. They could’ve won the World Series that year! (Wikipedia).

Mets fans the world over rue this most terrible of trades, in which New York sent 20-year-old top prospect starting pitcher Scott Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for perpetually mediocre hurler Victor Zambrano.

To this day, those in Mets-dom don’t understand the team’s convoluted thinking when they made that fateful transaction. Kazmir was a kid with a world of promise and upside that they were just giving away for a pitcher who had a 4.47 career ERA prior to the deal.

Sure, Zambrano had experienced some success in the minor leagues while pitching in Tampa Bay’s system. Before everyone was a strikeout pitcher, he was K-ing people with ease—he averaged more than a strikeout per inning in each of his first four professional seasons, and even in his first try in the majors, he did the same. With the Devil Rays in 2001, he struck out 58 batters in 51 innings in relief.

Key word there: Relief.

To that point, he had been nothing but a reliever, starting no more than 4 games in a professional season. Things took a turn for the worst when he shifted to the rotation.

Hits weren’t an issue, nor were home runs, but wildness killed him. In 114 innings in 2002, he surrendered 68 walks, threw 10 wild pitches and hit 5 batsmen. And the next year, he tossed 188 1/3 innings and led the league with 106 walks, 15 wild pitches and 20 HBP.

Between 2002 and 2003, his K/BB ratio was just 1.18.

Tampa Bay gave him one more shot in 2004, but by the trading deadline, had had enough. On July 30, they shipped him to New York with 29-year-old rookie hurler Bartolome Fortunato (himself wracked with control issues) for Kazmir and righty Jose Diaz (who was no major loss).

Zambrano had pitched 128 innings and walked a league-leading 96 batters at the time of the deal. No, he didn’t just lead the American League in bases on balls at the time of the trade, he paced the loop for the entire season, despite spending the second half of it in the NL. He also had 15 hit batters and a refreshingly low (lol) 5 wild pitches before his departure.

He pitched just one full season in New York, 2005, and for his part, managed to get his control under … uh … control, kind of. In 166 1/3 innings, he surrendered just 77 walks, but still clobbered 15 batters, which was second in the National League behind Jeff Weaver. And his 8 wild pitches were eighth in the league. To add insult to injury, he committed three errors, which were fourth-most among pitchers.

Hey, look guys, it’s Victor Zambrano! Boooo! Hiss!! (Wikipedia).

Dammit Zambrano, couldn’t you do anything right?

In 2006, he tortured Mets fans with only 5 mediocre starts before a bum elbow that eventually needed Tommy John surgery took him out of commission for the rest of the year. And Mets fans breathed a sigh of relief.

He was non-tendered following the campaign and granted free agency, but somehow fooled the Blue Jays into signing him for 2007. He had a 10.97 ERA with them before being let go. The Pirates signed him, but thought better of it and sold him to Baltimore, who threw him at the wall to help make their 4th-place, 69-93 season even worse, and it worked. He posted a 9.49 ERA in 12 1/3 innings there to finish out 2007, giving him a 10.17 mark for the year. In 23 innings, he allowed 22 walks to just 16 strikeouts.

Colorado signed him for 2008, but he was released without appearing in a game; the Yankees picked him up, but they, too, granted him free agency before he donned a big league uniform, because he performed too poorly in the minors (2-7, 7.17 ERA between 4 teams) for their liking.

And that is how all this comes full circle: Way back in 1993, Zambrano signed as an infielder by none other than the Yanks. He didn’t even play beyond rookie ball before they cut him loose—the first time—because his performance was so lackluster. So he converted to pitching.

And because New York tossed him aside, the ball started rolling, the gears were set into motion and here we are now, nearly 30 years later, writing an article about a terrible Mets trade involving Zambrano the failed infielder-turned-pitcher.

Isn’t that called, like, the butterfly effect or something?

For his part, Bartolome Fortunato, the other piece the Mets received, spent parts of two seasons with New York and had a 27.00 ERA in his last one.

As for Kazmir—did I say he was a top prospect? Now, that doesn’t do him justice. He was among the very, very best prospects three years in a row. Going into 2003, Baseball America ranked him number 11 in all the land, ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Zack Greinke. In 2004, he fell a spot to number 12, but was still ahead of Greinke, Cole Hamels and Adam Wainwright. And in 2005, he was rated at number 7—among the top ten percent of the very best prospects in the minor leagues—and he was still only 21 years old.

So, of course, it would make sense to trade him for such mediocrity that had flunked out of the minor leagues once already.

And though Kazmir never became a superstar—he didn’t even earn a Cy Young vote—he did rattle off a streak of four solid seasons from 2005 to 2008 in which he averaged 11 wins, 172 innings and 186 strikeouts per year, while posting a 3.51 ERA and 127 ERA+. In those few seasons, he made a couple All-Star Games and led the league in strikeouts in 2007, with 239.

He stumbled from 2009 to 2011 and didn’t play in the majors at all in 2012. Upon his return in 2013, however, he managed a run of three campaigns in which he averaged 11 wins, 177 innings and a 3.54 ERA per year; in 2015, he went 15-9 and earned his third All-Star selection.

The injury bug bit after 2016 and he pitched only briefly in the minors the next year, and not at all in 2018 or 2019.

But the desire to play was still there. After briefly appearing for the Eastern Reyes del Tigre of the independent Constellation Energy League in 2020, Kazmir mounted a major league comeback attempt and signed with San Francisco in February 2021. On May 22, he returned to a big league mound, tossing four innings, and surrendering just one run, against the Dodgers.

While Zambrano flamed out just a few years after joining New York, Kazmir went on to win 108 games and become the strikeout pitcher Zambrano was meant to be.

Kazmir has lost 97 games in his career. The Mets lost a whole lot more.

Article from the archives: Lastings Milledge—From Mets top prospect to wash-up in Japan.

Lastings Milledge was a top prospect in the New York Mets system who spent 433 underwhelming games in the major leagues. In an attempt to resuscitate his career, he signed to play in Japan following the 2011 season. This article is from that time.

***

Milledge batted .257 in two years with New York. (Wikipedia).

How many times have New York Mets fans heard this one before? “He’s a can’t-miss top prospect.”

Or this: “He’s a true five-tool player.”

Or how about, “Expect to see him in the starting lineup for a long time.”

Such anti-prophetic words are often spewed by sources in the know or blogosphere pundits throughout the whole of Mets nation. And such words so very often end up being completely untrue.

Such is the case of Lastings Darnell Milledge, who but a half-decade ago went from being the Mets star outfielder of the future to an arrogant kid with a ‘tude who strikes out too much, walks too little and who cannot quite handle that breaking pitch.

Oh, how highly touted he was! Baseball America ranked him the 86th-best prospect in all of baseball before the 2004 season, when the 19-year-old young man had just seven professional games under his belt.

Then, after hitting home runs like Piazza and stealing bases like Cedeno and hitting for average like Olerud that year, his stock soared higher and he was ranked the 11th-greatest blue chip in all the land for 2005—a mighty honor for one who was not yet legally able to drink!

And it just kept getting better for the baseball wunderkind, who had legs like a gazelle and arms like Paul Bunyan and eyes like a hawk. He hit for average, and oh, how he hit! He walloped home runs, and oh, how they flew! He stole base after base after base, and oh! Not even the greatest of diamond thieves could manage the thefts he managed on an almost daily basis!

Lastings Milledge was a true five-tool player, a consummate superstar in the making. After an incredible, even superhuman 2005, Baseball America named the future Willie Mays the ninth—yes, the ninth—best prospect anywhere in the nation, from sea to shining sea.

He had accomplished all his amazing feats year after year playing at levels beyond his age. It’s not often a youngster of such incredible skill graces the presence of Double-A, and it is even rarer for a 21-year-old kid—yes, a kid—to start a season at Triple-A, the highest level of professional baseball below the major leagues.

And yet, that is exactly what Milledge did in 2006. This phenom was, after all, one of the best players in the minor leagues—Baseball America said so. He was, after all, compared to major leaguers like Adam Dunn and the Mets’ own David Wright, when both players were veritable superstars themselves.

His impending superstardom, however, would not be so easily reached.

Milledge’s best season was with Washington in 2008. He had 14 home runs and 24 steals. (Wikipedia).

He began the season at Triple-A and, to the complete shock of those following him, had hiccups along the way. It’s OK, we all thought—even the mighty Ruth wavered now and then—he is after all (gulp) human.

Lastings Milledge—merely human? Perish the thought! This lad was the Mets saving grace, it was he who would lead them to World Series victory after World Series victory, toppling the Yankees and Red Sox and whoever the American League would so foolishly throw in their way.

And yet his batting average was merely normal, his power just pedestrian and, perhaps a new eye prescription was needed, but it seemed as if, by the looks of things, he had lost a step, or a half a step, or just an eighth of a step on the basepaths.

But lo, it couldn’t be!

He was the ninth best player in the minor leagues! The trek to glory and fame and unrelenting stardom would not be interrupted by this, this mere aberration of a minor league performance!

And so, on May 30, 2006, the boy they called Lastings arrived at the major league stage.

And he tanked.

Oh, how glorious his first six games had been—the boy-man among man-boys hit .316, including a home run that tied a match against those most hated of foes, the San Francisco Giants.

After his heroic feat, the lad merely answered the call that had beckoned so many budding stars in the past. He had made his mark on the major leagues, and the ballpark denizens loudly, joyfully acknowledged their new favorite player, this new face of a most wonderful of chapters in Mets history.

He merely wished to acknowledge those who acknowledged him, he only desired to extend his hand to the mortals whom he held captive, entranced. It was a truly humanitarian gesture, those high-fives he delivered to the men, women and children in the front row, this god among men interacting with those of such a lower caste than he.

But while the fans wanted his hand, the Giants manager—and some of the press—wanted his head. How could such a thing be? But it was so.

Apparently, the youngster in his eagerness to please those for whom he played, had broken one or two or many unwritten baseball rules. He had exhibited a purported arrogance, a supposed hubris, and the Giants manager did not take kindly to it. At all.

Perhaps it was the fallout from his incident against the Giants that spelled his doom, or perhaps he was called up too soon, but Lastings Milledge never quite performed as well as he did for the Mets in those first six games.

No, from then on, the initiate from Florida hit a meager .231 with an on-base percentage of only .305 and a slugging percentage of .359. The hero, the quick and powerful and everything wonderful hero, had fallen, but not completely.

2007 was a whole new year. The mighty Milledge had taken some knocks during his first sojourn in the majors, and his minor league record was standard, but he was still Lastings Milledge—the kid who just last season was the ninth best prospect in all of baseball.

Ever considered a comeback? Milledge is still only 36. (Wikipedia).

Such an incredible talent does not just fade away. It may dim, ever so slightly, but it should return to normal.

Milledge had an offseason to work out the kinks from the previous year. He ironed out the wrinkles, he became acclimated with major league culture, he was ready to take on the big show once and for all. He had to have been—he was Lastings Milledge, after all, right?

Wrong. His statistics were merely pedestrian once again, and even the loving throngs who supported this rising star grew impatient with he who was to deliver so much as he delivered so little.

He flew and slugged his way through the minors, and nothing could get in his way. The restless masses wanted immediate results from this young fellow at the major league level, but he couldn’t deliver. Everything, now, was getting in his way. He was only 22, but his ship, it seemed, had sailed.

Milledge was a brightly-lit bulb, burning too hot for his own good. His tungsten core ripped and tore and so his bulb was no more. He ebbed and dimmed and flickered out, and made the New York faithful shout:

“Lastings Milledge, go away. We want not you here to stay.”

And so, the superstar in the making-turned-pedestrian ballplayer-turned-disappointment was traded away, never again to wear a New York Mets uniform.

He bounced around the major and minor leagues in the seasons to follow, playing most recently for the Chicago White Sox in 2011.

And oh, how the mighty have fallen. The giants have crumbled. The colossuses have tumbled.

Lastings Milledge, he who was to be a cog in the New York Mets outfield for years and years—a name fathers’ children years from now would recognize and revere and remember so fondly—was cast aside by all of Major League Baseball following the 2011 season.

No reasonable offer to play was presented to him. No one on this side of the Pacific Ocean wanted his services.

And so, the former ninth-best prospect in all of baseball, the former speedster who could hit for power and average is now in Japan, just another major league castoff, looking to reclaim what once was and trying anew to become what could have been.

***

In 2012, his first season in Japan, Milledge batted .300; by the time he left in 2015, his mark had fallen each year to a low of .220. He concluded his 15-year professional career in 2017 with the independent Lancaster Barnstormers, still just 32 years old.

Worst trades in Mets history, #5: Matt Lindstrom and Henry Owens for Adam Bostick and Jason Vargas

Lindstrom had 37 saves between 2009 and 2010. (Wikipedia).

Relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom never spent a day in a Mets uniform, so it is fitting that he was involved in a deal for someone who, likewise, never spent a day in a Mets uniform.

On November 20, 2006, the flame-throwing right-hander was sent with pitcher Henry Owens to the Florida Marlins for pitchers Adams Bostick and Jason Vargas.

Red flags surrounded Bostick everywhere. Save for a brief stint with the GCL Marlins in 2001, he had never averaged less than four walks per nine innings in a season. He didn’t surrender many home runs, but he gave up his share of hits—and his ERAs reflected it. He had a 4.91 mark in 2003 and a 4.26 mark in 2001.

Okay, that’s not terrible. Plus, he struck out a lot of batters, K-ing 163 in 114 innings in 2004, alone. To say he didn’t have potential would be an insult to his work—he did, on paper, have skills that could get him to the major leagues.

Except … all his success was in the low-minors. His one trial at Triple A in the Marlins system, in 2006, was underwhelming. He had a 4.67 ERA in 9 starts.

But Triple A is right where the Mets placed him in 2007 and—in typical Mets fashion—he struggled mightily. In 21 games, 20 of which he started, Bostick posted a 5.66 ERA. In 97 innings, he allowed 20 home runs—so much for keeping those to a minimum—and maintained his undesirable walk rate.

Sent to the Arizona Fall League after the season to straighten himself out, he posted a 2.74 ERA in 6 starts, then a 2.77 mark in 3 starts in the Dominican Winter League.

Triple A proved to be too much again, however, as he had a 6.04 ERA in 44 2/3 innings in 2008. Shifted to the bullpen for 2009, he performed well, lowering his ERA to 3.05 and averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings between two clubs.

But it was for naught. The Mets let him walk following the season. He latched on with an independent league team, had a 10.80 ERA in 2010, and his career was over.

Vargas won 86 games away from New York. (Wikipedia).

The deal initiated Vargas’ first tour with New York. Like Bostick, he struggled at Triple A in 2007, with a 4.97 ERA in 24 starts, but still managed a brief stint with the big club. In 10 1/3 innings over two starts, he allowed 14 earned runs on 17 hits and a couple walks for a 12.19 ERA.

But like Bostick, the warning signs were there. In Triple A the year before, he had a 7.43 ERA in 13 appearances. Granted, he came to New York with a higher pedigree—he was a 2nd round pick in 2004 and had ERAs of 2.09 and 2.50 his first two pro campaigns, respectively—but at the time of the trade, he had never done much at the major league level. In 116 2/3 innings with Florida between 2005 and 2006, he had a 5.25 ERA.

On December 11, 2008, the Mets sent him to the Mariners in another clunker of a deal that netted New York relievers J.J. Putz and Sean Green, as well as outfielder Jeremy Reed—failures all.

After bouncing around the American league from 2009 to 2017 as a decent innings-eater, he returned to the Big Apple in 2018 and picked up right where he left off. In his first year back, he was 7-9 with a 5.66 ERA.

Lindstrom, who never pitched above Double A in the Mets system, became a serviceable relief pitcher for nearly a decade. Debuting in the majors in 2007 and armed with a triple-digit fastball, he averaged 68 games per year and posted an ERA of 3.11—and an ERA+ of 140—over his first two seasons. In 2010, with Colorado, he had 23 saves and from 2011 to 2013, he had a 2.95 ERA and 147 ERA+ in 185 games between four clubs. All told, he spent eight years in the big leagues, making 469 appearances.

Owens wasn’t long for the major leagues and is lucky he got there at all—by age 26, he still hadn’t pitched above A ball. He debuted with New York, making a single appearance in 2006.

He shined in his lone year with the Marlins, 2007, allowing no runs in his first seven games and posting a 0.79 ERA in his last 12; in 22 appearances total, he had a 1.96 ERA. A bum shoulder required surgery partway through the year and Owens never played in the majors again.

Between them, Lindstrom and Owens made 491 relief appearances after leaving the Mets, posting a combined ERA of 3.56.

New York received two starts and a 12.19 ERA in return.

Worst trades in Mets history, #4: Heath Bell and Royce Ring for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson

Heath Bell received Cy Young Award votes in 2010, his fourth year with San Diego. (Wikipedia).

During his five years in San Diego, Heath Bell was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball—and for the final three seasons, he ranked among the best closers.

Averaging 71 appearances per year, he posted a 2.53 ERA, while striking out more than a batter per inning, on average. From 2009 to 2011, he averaged 44 saves per year and was an All-Star each season. Over his final six campaigns, he compiled 166 saves in 354 appearances.

Reliever Royce Ring, for his part, had a decent 2007, which included a 2 hit, 0.00 ERA showing in 11 games for the Braves. In 26 appearances overall—he began the year in San Diego before being traded—his mark was 2.70. Though he lasted just two more seasons, posting a 9.12 ERA in 47 games, he showed flashes of brilliance throughout. During one 27 game stretch in 2008, he had a 1.32 ERA and walked just one batter.

The Mets look like fools, then, for trading them to the Padres on November 15, 2006 for outfielder Ben Johnson and relief pitcher Jon Adkins.

Johnson arrived with a decent power-speed pedigree, hitting 20-plus home runs twice in the minor leagues, and stealing 15 or more bases twice, as well.

Ben Johnson spent just 9 games with the Mets. (Wikipedia).

A fourth round draft pick in 1999, he was never ranked among the game’s best prospects, but he did have his moments in San Diego. In August and September 2006, he rattled of an 18 game stretch in which he slashed .353/.436/.618.

And Adkins, too, was a useful tool for a couple years. In ’06, he was one of the Padres’ primary relievers, appearing in 55 games. A couple seasons before, in 2004, he made 50 appearances for the White Sox.

But that was the past.

In total, they combined for 10 games played in New York, with Johnson hitting .185 in 27 at-bats and Adkins pitching a single inning—but hey, at least his ERA was 0.00.*

*Trivia break: A career Mets ERA of 0.00 has been accomplished 17 other times, first by Bob Johnson in 1969 and most recently by Todd Frazier in 2020. Dan Schatzeder had the longest Mets career with a 0.00 ERA (6 games); CJ Nitkowski ties him if you go by innings pitched (5 2/3).

New York cast them away following the 2007 campaign.

Granted, Bell underwhelmed in his three years with the Mets. In 81 games, he had a 4.92 ERA and allowed nearly 11 hits per nine innings on average. Heck, he was a former 69th-round pick and a 26-year-old rookie. Who could have predicted his future success?

Well, those who tracked him through the minors could have. Excluding his clunker seasons of 2001 and 2003, his minor league ERAs from 1998 to 2006 were, respectively: 2.54, 2.60, 2.55, 2.58, 3.12, 1.69 and 1.29. He averaged no less than 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings those years, and as many as 14.4.

And Ring was a former first round pick. He made the Futures Game in 2003. He had a 2.13 ERA for the Mets in 2006. 

In surrendering Bell and Ring, the Mets gave up a former top prospect and a future All Star.

They received almost nothing in return.

They traded gold for garbage.