#32 – Wayne Garrett: The Underrated Red

Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #32, Wayne Garrett:

That Wayne Garrett is even on this list might surprise some people; that he’s ranked so highly may surprise everyone. Third basemen who hit .239 and have just one season with 150 games played aren’t normally held in any regard, and Garrett certainly wasn’t highly regarded by the Mets — the team managed to make two of its worst ever trades attempting to replace him. The Mets sent away an All Star outfielder, a Hall of Fame pitcher, and three other players in two separate trades for third basemen, both of whom Garrett just ended up outperforming anyway. The franchise seriously damaged itself attempting to replace a player who did not actually need to be replaced. So don’t worry Mets fans – except for a period in the eighties, the Mets have almost always been terribly run.

Garrett broke into the majors in 1969 at the age of 21, platooning with Ed Charles as the Mets made their Miracle World Series run. While the team saw him as the third baseman of the future, the lefthanded hitting Garrett batted an unimpressive .218/.290/.268 in his rookie year, and the Mets decided he needed a righthanded hitting platoon buddy for the time being. So they went out and traded outfield prospect Amos Otis — who had just put up a .918 OPS as a center fielder at Triple-A — for Kansas City third baseman Joe Foy. Otis went on to record nearly 2000 hits and made five all star teams with the Royals; Foy played 99 games with the Mets in 1970, wandered off to the Senators, and was done in major league baseball after 1971.

Meanwhile Garrett, splitting time between second and third in 1970, hit 12 home runs and led the Mets with a .390 on base percentage.

With that performance, Garrett appeared set as the team’s starting third baseman for 1971, but was called for military duty. He missed most of the season and hit .213 with just three extra base hits upon returning to the team at the end of July. So the Mets once again decided Garrett wasn’t the solution at third base, and that offseason, traded Nolan Ryan and three other players to the Angels for Jim Fregosi . . . because if you don’t succeed with one bad trade, you should make a worse one. Persistence! Ryan, of course, went on to a Hall of Fame career; Fregosi, of course, did not, hitting .232 (.646 OPS) with 5 home runs for the Mets before being sold to the Rangers after just a season and a half.

For his part, Garrett kept on keeping on, getting on base and looking like Richie Cunningham the whole time. He hit 13 doubles and again led the team in on base percentage in 1972. He would finally get a chance to play full time the next two seasons – both Fangraphs’ and Baseball Reference’s versions of wins above replacement have him as the most valuable position player on the NL champion 1973 Mets — before being platooned again in 1975 and traded away in 1976.

Garrett’s reputation was hurt by low batting averages and slugging percentages; he hit below .240 in five of his eight years with the Mets, and his slugging percentage was below .400 in all but two. Still, while he lacked in those areas, Garrett did just about everything else well. He could walk, posting better than average on base percentages in six of his eight Mets season; he didn’t hit into many double plays; and he was a good infielder, saving 16 runs defensively as a Met over his career. In particular, Garrett’s ability to draw walks was enough to overcome his other offensive liabilities – according to Fangraphs, he was just about average as an offensive player for his career, being just 1% worse at creating runs than an average player from his time. The low batting averages hurt and may explain why he was not well regarded, but looking back, Garrett had five good seasons with the Mets and was the best position player on the ’73 team. He was a good player.

Of course, the Mets begged to differ, making two awful trades attempting to supplant him. Had they seen things a different way, maybe those Mets wins a few pennants with Amos Otis in center, Nolan Ryan on the mound, and Wayne Garrett at third.

The image of Garrett’s card and some of the information comes from his excellent SABR biography, which you can read here.

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8 Comments

Filed under Mets, Words

8 responses to “#32 – Wayne Garrett: The Underrated Red

  1. The thing about Garrett was that he was notoriously streaky, but he got hot at exactly the right time. In 1971, he had an OPS of .751 over the season, but in September, when the Mets were fighting for the pennant, it was a more robust 1.015. His OBP that month was .411.

    Similarly, in the 1969 postseason, his OPS was 1.214.

    Of course, the team was unhappy that his numbers never reached these levels on a consistent basis. But, while it didn’t work, the Ryan-for-Fregosi trade looked extremely good for the Mets at the time. Even using up-to-date statistics, Ryan projected to be just another washout pitcher with a great fastball and nothing else; his numbers for 1971 were truly wretched (especially the second half of the year) and everything indicated they would get worse. Fregosi, OTOH, was probably the best shortstop in the American League. Everyone at the time agreed that the Mets got the better of the deal. But Ryan learned how to pitch (something he said he’d never had learned if he stayed a Met) and Fregosi got plagued with injuries. It was not a bad trade — it was a trade that didn’t work out.

    Otis-for-Foy, OTOH, was a terrible trade, especially since the year before the Mets had refused to include Otis in a trade for Joe Torre.

    • Patrick Flood

      Reality Chuck, I agree with everything you just said. Ryan for Fregosi, at the time of the trade, didn’t look that bad. A 29 year old shortstop coming off a down year, but also just one year removed from a 7.7 WAR season, for a pitcher who couldn’t throw strikes is probably a deal I would make.

  2. I’m loving those old Topps baseball cards. I collected them from 1970-3. What year(s) are the ones you’ve been showing? They sure look familiar.

    • Patrick Flood

      I have no idea, because I’m showing the ones that happen to be easily found on the internet . . . but they all seem to be from the same sets for some reason.

      My baseball card collection consists of just cards from the late eighties and late nineties/early aughts, so I’m not much help identifying the old sets.

    • That card is a 1973 Topps.

  3. My dad always used to say that Wayne Garrett had warning track power.

  4. I’ll admit Wayne Garret is before my time so I am not totally familiar any sort of value he had that doesn’t show up in the stats. But how could you put him this high when Franco, a borderline Hall of Famer sits so low?

    • Patrick Flood

      You don’t even have to look outside of the stats. Career wins above replacement (baseball reference’s version) with the Mets:

      Garrett – 13.2
      Franco – 12.8

      So there’s that. In addition, Garrett did his work over eight seasons, while Franco had fourteen. Garrett was more valuable season to season, and had a better peak. For example, if you just take each player’s three best seasons:

      Garrett – 9.5 wins
      Franco – 5.4 wins

      Most of John Franco’s seasons are made up of 60 or so innings and a good but not great ERA.

      Basically, the argument is that relievers just aren’t that valuable. They’re like kickers in the NFL — you do want to have a good one, because they do help you win close games, but you need to make sure the games are close first. Kickers and closers are icing on the cake for good teams. A good third baseman helps you win more games than a good closer, which is why Garrett is ahead of Franco.

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