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, #39, Jesse Orosco:
Jesse Orosco made his major league debut in 1979, making the Mets out of spring training under manager Joe Torre. 25 years and 8 teams later, Orosco was traded to, and made 15 appearances for, the 2003 Yankees, once again pitching for none other than Joe Torre. This makes him the only player to be managed by Torre both as a Met and a Yankee.
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There are just four relief pitchers on this long, dragged out list of top 50 Mets, and three of them – Armando Benitez, John Franco, and Jesse Orosco – are very similar in career value to the Mets. Their Mets career win scores, the formula for which can be found here, comes out as this:
- Franco – 12.5
- Benitez – 12.4
- Orosco – 10.8
In a list that runs from about 130.0 down to 9.5, that’s pretty close.
Okay, a big secret about this list is this: It’s not really a list. It’s a pyramid-shaped structure — as in, if a pyramid were built really quickly by drunk Egyptians. There’s a single player at the top who is way, way in front of anyone else, but then numbers #2 and #3 are interchangeable, #4 through #10 are all fairly similar in value, #11-14 are a group, and so on. Franco, Benitez, and Orosco are part of a 14 player group that makes up the beginning of the list. No single one of them is much more valuable than any of the others, and their rankings are mostly arbitrary. I could make up a reason why Orosco is more valuable than John Franco, or why Franco should go ahead of Benitez, but there isn’t one. They’re all at the base of the pyramid, and I just put them this way.
But let’s make up reasons anyway. On a pure inning per inning basis, Benitez was the best pitcher:
- Benitez – 159 ERA+
- Orosco – 133 ERA+
- Franco – 132 ERA+
But Benitez also pitched far fewer innings than the other two:
- Franco – 702.2
- Orosco – 595.2
- Benitez – 347.0
Relievers, though, can be used in very different ways. Benitez and Franco were mostly used like modern closers, exclusively pitching in save situations (except for Franco when they were both on the team together), while Orosco was generally a platoon closer, pitching more innings than the other two but sometimes working in less tense situations. Looking at the importance of their innings, we see that Benitez and Franco were used in higher leverage situations:
- Franco – 1.95
- Benitez – 1.93
- Orosco – 1.66
Those numbers are leverage indexes, a stat invented by saberwizard Tom Tango. The 1.95 just means that the innings John Franco pitched were 95% more important than the innings a normal pitcher throws. The 1.66 means that the innings Orosco threw were 66% more important than average innings. If you multiply each reliever’s innings pitched by the importance of those innings, you get this new list:
- Franco – 1370.0 effective innings
- Orosco – 988.2 effective innings
- Benitez – 699.2 effective innings
Now John Franco is way, way out in front in innings pitched. Considering that Franco’s ERA+ (132) is basically the same as Orosco’s (133), it seems like he should be far more valuable than Orosco.More innings at a similar effectiveness should mean more value for Franco. So now Brooklyn’s best appears to be the best of the three.
But here’s the thing: while Franco’s innings are stretched out over fourteen years, most of Orosco’s are in six seasons. So although Orosco was with the Mets for a shorter time, he had a bigger impact on his teams. That matters. If you have a pitcher that’s going to win you twenty games a year for five years, that’s more valuable than a guy that wins ten games a year for ten years. You can win the World Series with the first guy; the second guy is Bobby J. Jones — solid, but maybe not a player to push you into contention.
So if you take each pitcher’s peak wins above replacement, their WAR from their top three years, you get this list:
- Orosco – 8.3 WAR
- Benitez – 8.2 WAR
- Franco – 5.4 WAR
In their best years, Orosco and Benitez had a bigger impact than Franco. You can also look at it this way:
- Orosco’s best season was 1983, when he saved 17 games and pitched 110 innings with a 1.47 ERA (248 ERA+); he finished third in the Cy Young voting.
- Benitez’ best season was 1999, when he saved 22 games and pitched 78 innings with a 1.85 ERA (241 ERA+).
- Franco’s best season was 1997, when he saved 36 games and pitched 60 innings with a 2.55 ERA (161 ERA+).
At his best, Franco threw fewer innings than the other two, and with a higher ERA. Franco was a good closer for a very long time, but he was never the dominant pitcher Orosco and Benitez were at their best. Franco managed to rack up a ton of saves, which might make him seem a bit better than he really was, but Orosco had a bigger effect on his team than Franco. Orosco also did it for a longer time than Benitez, and did it without Benitez’ big game struggles. This is why I have Jesse Orosco, ahead of Franco and Benitez, as the second best reliever in Mets’ history.