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Exit Sandman, 9/10/08
post Sep 10 2008, 10:26 PM
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Exit Sandman
September 10th, 2008
Dylan Nagy

On Monday, September 8th, the New York Mets announced that relief pitcher Billy Wagner requires reconstructive surgery of his left elbow. Wagner, along with a slew of pitchers over the past decade, was recommended a procedure that has become a cancer towards the career of pitching –Tommy John surgery.

Wagner’s season and, likely, Mets career were cast into the category of “finished” with a sticky note that read ‘career?’

Wagner faced the New York media on Tuesday, September 9th, filled with teary eyes and emotionally drenched comments. The once unstoppable force sat alone on stage as a vulnerable, injured man. The media was Wagner’s outlet on this day –a tissue for Wagner’s pain, a speaker for his sobering voice. Ironically, it was this same outlet that had painted Wagner as a villain, a loudmouth and even a cancer.

Back page headlines focused on Wagner’s failures, coupling pictures of the veteran lefty with witty terms; sensationalism at its finest, aimed to sell and convince the masses of a belief –this belief being that Wagner was alone to blame for the Mets loss on that particular day.

Acquired as a star, veteran pitcher capable of being trusted with late inning duties, particularly the 9th inning, Wagner quickly wore out his welcome with the fan base. Fans labeled Wagner as a choke-artist, a pitcher incapable of winning big games and even viewed him as a hypocrite willing to pass the baton of blame whenever an opportunity arose.

The identity of Wagner was quickly and conveniently construed with that of former Met closer Armando Benitez, a choke artist and, at the same time, a dominating, award-winning All Star closer. Wagner, brought in as an elite closer, left fans of the Mets questioning what was, at the time, the largest contract ever assigned to a relief pitcher. Compared to the likes of the hall-of-fame bound Mariano Rivera and the emerging stars Jonathon Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez, Wagner was cast out of the group by Mets fans and local media alike.

Perhaps Billy Wagner is capable of teaching Mets fans an eerie and unfortunate lesson –a lesson that Armando Benitez was barely vocal enough to tell himself, yet alone millions of demanding Mets fans. Maybe there is no such thing as a lights out reliever: maybe nearly perfect is perfect –maybe acceptable is desirable.

In Wagner’s tenure as a Met he successfully converted 86 percent of his save opportunities, striking out 226 batters along the way. His total work load consisted of 187 and two-thirds innings with an average strikeout rate of nearly 11 batters per full game (10.84 K/9) and less than 3 walks issued per full game (2.54 BB/9).

Numbers and statistics are very telling factors within the sport of baseball and allow the incredible convergence of abstract with real –a concept capable of comparing the past with the present, but without a true understanding of the presented data, it is unclear just how productive or disruptive a player truly was. Thus, Wagner must be compared to the ‘stud’ closers of the period in which he closed games with the New York Mets. Previously mentioned, these three All Stars are Mariano Rivera, Jonathon Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez. Below, the three are compared with statistics compiled through the entirety of the 2006 and 2007 seasons as well as the 2008 season through September 9th.


Wagner compares favorably in nearly every statistic when compared to Rodriguez, who is on the verge of breaking the single season saves record. The Mets’ closer also compares to Yankee hall-of-famer to be Rivera throughout the chart; however, Rivera’s incredibly low walk rate does provide a distinction. The only pitcher that truly stands out of the group is Boston’s 27-year-old Jonathon Papelbon, who by these numbers appears to be the most dominating closer currently pitching.

The Mets acquired Wagner to provide the team a dominant reliever capable of securely completing a victory. When acquired, the Mets were in the process of a massive rebuilding project designed to reorganize the team into a championship caliber baseball franchise. Wagner was one of the finishing touches, taken from the divisional rival Philadelphia Phillies.

Wagner both dominated the league, averaging less than 3 earned runs per full game (2.40 ERA), and the Mets’ division, National League East, during this period. He dominated the East in 2006, averaging less than 2 earned runs per full game (1.85 ERA) and posting an incredible strikeout-to-walk ratio of 46-to-7. His dominance included no earned runs against his former team, the Phillies, and 15 strikeouts in only 9 and a third innings against the Atlanta Braves, who had secured the National League East divisional title for 14 consecutive seasons at that point.

In 2007, Wagner struggled against his own division, averaging almost 4 earned runs per full game (3.64 ERA). The Mets closer struggled following a well deserved All Star Game appearance, watching his earned run average rise over 2 full runs (from 1.64 before the All Star Game to 3.90 after); however, Wagner’s struggles did not continue in 2008. Wagner dominated opposition to begin the season, including a streak starting the season that elapsed over 9 innings without a single hit. Through 45 games in 2008, Wagner held opposition to a pathetic batting line, including a .185 batting average and a .289 slugging percentage, as well as a .228 on-base percentage and a .517 on-base plus slugging percentage. His in-division dominance continued, averaging less than a run and a half per full game (1.42 ERA) and a 24-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Wagner provided the Mets with a consistent and effective stopper in their bullpen, a utility that no other team in the National League East was capable of discovering (the Phillies used three full-time closers in this period, the Braves employed 3 full-time closers, the Florida Marlins had 2 and the Washington Nationals also used 2).

Unfortunately, Billy Wagner has been painted as an underachiever and a closer incapable of being trusted in “big-games.” His 2008 season was ended prematurely due to his hapless injury and his career, especially as a Met, is in serious jeopardy.

His dominance, misunderstood by the New York media and Mets’ fan base, is teetering between a thing of the past and potential future promises. He has been ridiculed and celebrated in defeat and now that his reign as Mets’ closer is more than likely complete, fans and media alike have a valuable chance to reflect.

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post Sep 20 2008, 07:16 AM
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Great article.

I do, however, think he overstates how fans feel about Wagner. I, for one, have never considered Wags a choke artist. And I definitely do not equate him with Armando.....

Benitez did some terrible damage in sone huge games.......HUGE GAMES......... (IMG:style_emoticons/default/angry.gif)

"Punk is whatever we made it to be"
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post Oct 6 2008, 08:55 PM
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unfortunately his met career can be summed up in two words ... so taguchi


- "Mr. Jeff Wilpon has decided that he’s going to learn how to run a baseball team and take over at the end of the year… Run for the hills, boys. I think probably all those baseball people will bail… Jeff sits there by himself like he’s King Tut waiting for his camel.” - Nelson Doubleday
- "In today's regulatory environment, it's virtually impossible to violate rules." - Bernard Madoff, 10/20/07
The Washington Post decided not to cover Ralph Nader's presidential campaign because he had no chance of winning. Nader's response: "Then why are you covering the Nationals?"
- Asked by the Post about the younger Wilpon's job performance, Fred Wilpon said: "Excellent. Everybody knows ...that."
- "The word 'autonomy' is sometimes misused." - Jeff Wilpon
- "Let’s give Jeff Wilpon the benefit of the doubt here for a moment. Let’s say he is not short-tempered. Tone deaf. A credit seeker. An accountability deflector. A micro-manager. A second-guesser. A less-than-deep thinker. And bad at self-awareness. Fine, he’s none of these things. But here is the problem: This is his perception in the industry." - Joel Sherman
- “Jeff is the problem with the organization, and he is never going to realize that. He cannot help himself. He has to be involved. He will never hire anyone who will not let him have major input. He will not hire anyone who does not run every personnel decision through him.” - Anonymous NL Executive
- "The only person with a worse reputation than Jeff Wilpon in the game is David Samson." - Anonymous AL executive
- "[Mets GM Omar Minaya] isn’t the General Manager. Jeff Wilpon is. Omar’s the one out there to take the heat.” - Peter Gammons
- [Jeff Wilpon's] role in management, according to one official who worked for him, "is to act as president and CEO of second-guessing."
- "I always want Mets fans on my juries," said one noted defense attorney friend, a rabid Yankees fan. "They love losers, even three-time losers like some of my clients. And if Mets fans believe anything the Mets front office says, I can convince them to acquit anybody." - Denis Hamill
- I got a call the other day. They noted I had been a long term season ticket holder and asked if I was interested. I immediately exclaimed "I'm so sorry for the Wilpon Family". He asked what I meant. I told the guy if he looked in my file, he'd see a note to call me after both Fred and Jeff dropped dead, and not a day before. - Meanballer
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post Sep 23 2009, 04:39 PM
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How's he been doing in Boston? Will he be on their postseason roster?


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