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, #30, Lee Mazzilli:
Everything written about Lee Mazzilli during his first few years in the majors mentions two things: his good looks, and his inability to throw a baseball.
Mazzilli’s speed allows him to cover centerfield effectively, but runners are not afraid to try for an extra base on him; he does not throw well. Until he turned pro in 1974, he played ambidextrously. . . M. Donald Grant, who ran the Mets when Mazzilli was drafted, claims that the club first heard of him from a cashier at Grant’s brokerage firm. “She told me her brother-in-law ran a team in Brooklyn that had a great prospect who could throw just as well with his left or right arm,” Grant says. “Which was true. But he didn’t throw well enough with either to be a major-leaguer.”
– Sports Illustrated, July 1979
Mazzilli does not rate well by modern fielding statistics, though they suggest the opposite of what Sports Illustrated suggested. Mazzilli’s arm, while not great, was not as much of a detriment to his fielding abilities as his range.
Despite the reputation of his arm, Mazzilli was about average holding and killing runners as a center fielder. Well, not actually killing them. Throwing-them-out killing them. During his career, opposing baserunners had 851 opportunities to take an extra base with Mazzilli in center; the runner held up 381 of those times, or 44.8%. The major league average for runners holding up over that same period was actually a tick lower, 44.5%. Additionally, Mazzilli threw out 17 of those runners attempting to advance, which is a 2.0% kill rate; the major league average for center fielders at the time was higher, 2.3%. So Mazzilli was a little bit better at holding up runners, but also a little bit worse at throwing them out — you can argue that he saved his pitchers two bases, but cost them three outs. That’s not that much of a difference over 5,411.1 innings in center field.
On the other hand, his range rates as suspect. Total Zone estimates Mazzilli’s range in center cost the Mets 32 runs over the first six seasons of his career. Compare that to his arm, which cost the Mets just 3 runs.
Steve Albert, a Met announcer, is Mazzilli’s buddy when the team is on the road. “The first thing Lee looks for is a pinball machine,” Albert says. “The best one we’ve found is in Houston.” Mazzilli’s current passion is a computerized battlefield called Space Invaders. “He’s mastered it,” says the announcer. “He can play it all night.”
That’s an exaggeration, of course. “Three A.M., after a night game,” says Charlie Samuels, assistant to the Mets equipment manager, Mazzilli usually doesn’t play any later than that . . . “We are addicted to it,” says Samuels, 23, who lives in Mazzilli’s home.
– New York Magazine, August 18, 1980
Well then. That would be an interesting scene.