”To be voted the most valuable player on the worst team in the history of major league baseball is a dubious honor, to be sure. But I was awarded a 24-foot boat equipped with a galley and sleeping facilities for six. After the season ended, I docked the boat in Ocean City, New Jersey, and it sank.”
—Richie Ashburn, MVP, 1962 New York Mets
The best player from the club that endured the Worst Collapse Ever was David Wright. We have no boat for him, but he was a life preserver.
Declaring Wright the Mets’ leading man is not a judgment call. It required no analysis, just observation. I observed just about every Mets game in 2007. And I kept score.
Over at Crane Pool Forum, there is an enjoyable exercise called Schaefer POTG voting. POTG stands for Player of the Game. Schaefer was the one beer to have when you were having more than one in the 1970s, particularly if you were a Mets fan after Rheingold withdrew its sponsorship. Schaefer took over as brewer of record for a few key years in the mid- and late ’70s. One of the beer’s calling cards before it, too, went out of business as an independent entity (leaving Mets suds primarily the province of Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Missouri), was Schaefer Player of the Game voting. After every radio broadcast, Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy would vote on the star of the day or night. Their system was six points for the best player, three for the second-best, one for the third-best…if you were having more than one.
I had forgotten all about this little gem of Metsiana until 2005 when I joined the CPF, a lively and literate bunch who revitalized Schaefer voting in the waning days of Piazza and early days of Pedro. On Opening Night 2007, I decided to cast my ballot and soon was hooked on process. I decided that instead of making a subjective decision about which Mets would be best in the coming year, I would just vote after every game and then go back later (combing the CPF archives last week) and tabulate my scores.
The rules are similar to the radio booth regulations of yore. No one player can get more than six points in any one game. The total for any one game can not exceed ten. Otherwise, you are welcome to ticket-split to your heart’s content. Some of my fellow voters saw fit to break down scores to a tenth of a point, but that was too exotic for me. I issued nothing less than a half-point and employed no fraction smaller than a half-point. Sometimes all I issued was a half-point, usually out of spite after a blowout loss (there was no awarding zero points allowed or otherwise there would have been a lot of them thrown about, particularly in June). Sometimes a surfeit of nice performances led to a fistful of 1.5′s so everybody could get a little credit. As with Schaefer beer itself, it probably led to some watered-down individual totals. Only three times did I see fit to hand out the almighty sixer:
• When Carlos Beltran made that catch on Tal’s Hill and then drove in the winning run in the seventeenth inning.
• When Paul Lo Duca homered twice and collected seven RBI in Cincinnati.
• When John Maine flirted seriously with a no-hitter just when we needed something like it most.
I did not keep a running total of my points awarded. I didn’t trust myself. If I knew one of my favorites was lagging (not that I had all that many favorites in 2007), I could picture going out of my way to slip him a marker. I could also see myself withholding reward from those whom I was convinced habitually received too much credit.
Like David Wright, whom I don’t love nearly as much as most Mets fans only because most Mets fan love him to excess and I only love him to scale. One David Wright equals one David Wright in my eyes. One David Wright hits like the dickens and hustles like heck and causes no problems. But his erratic throwing and the comparisons to certain other local infielders (which he himself doesn’t make but he never refutes to my satisfaction by admonishing, “Jeter can kiss my hot corner ass”) and the extra credit he is given, consciously or otherwise, for being born in the United States and speaking English as a first language (again, not his doing and nothing wrong with him doing it; hell, I do it) all find their way under my persnickety skin.
I wish he could hit the first baseman’s glove more regularly. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing about him. I chanted “M-V-P!” along with the masses, even though I didn’t really believe it, but I do believe that Jimmy Rollins and Matt Holliday and Prince Fielder all have warts on their game that I never see when hearing only that they did great things to help their teams win. Those who don’t watch David Wright every day and only hear about him the way I experienced those other MVP candidates would have to wonder what, if anything, is wrong with him. Given a couple of weeks’ distance from the scrutiny I apply to all Mets, I tend to wonder why I, too, don’t love him to excess. Now and again during these playoffs, I catch myself thinking how awesome it would be for David Wright to be enjoying whatever spotlight TBS’s basic cable coverage provides. I don’t catch myself thinking that about any other 2007 Met.
My Schaefer voting was done in real time, without giving myself a chance to think about anything but what just happened. If somebody got a big hit, he got points. If somebody made a nice play, he got points. If somebody helped us win, he got points. If somebody delivered even in a losing cause, he got points.
By my own calculations, nobody got more points among Mets in 2007 than David Wright. Nobody did more for the Mets in 2007 than David Wright. Whatever my mild hangups about the kid, I cannot deny that David Wright was my very own Schaefer Player of the Year in 2007. (He was also Crane Pool Forum’s as a whole by a healthy margin.)
David’s last three years:
2007: 30-107-.325 (plus 34 SB and .962 OPS)
Gosh, maybe Mets fans root for him so much because he’s so good.
For those of you who weren’t scoring at home, David totaled 120.5 points, finishing 2.5 ahead of Carlos Beltran’s 118. That sounds close, but it was more like close in that closer-than-it-appears sense. Beltran came on like gangbusters in September (an excellent time to come on like gangbusters) but never led the race. Maybe if the regular season had lasted another week, Beltran might have overtaken Wright, but if the regular season had lasted another week, the Braves would have overtaken the Mets, with the Nats and Marlins charging hard, so never mind.
What made David’s showing all the more impressive was his consistency. He had, if you can remember that far back, a pretty grim April (when the Mets got by swimmingly without getting the most from him). Then he put up five terrific months while playing almost every day. Wright not only posted the most points of any Met, he merited points in more games than any other Met. He played 160 and rated a vote from me in 89, the best impact percentage (.556) of any Met regular…though Met regular isn’t the most dependable phrase one can use when discussing this team.
With almost every position player of substance logging time on the DL this past season, only Wright and Jose Reyes topped 144 games in action. On the surface, their Schaefer stats were similar. Reyes finished third to Beltran with 108.5 points and rated a vote from me in 87 of 160 games played, but the real story, as you no doubt noticed, was how Reyes faded.
Jose led the POTG derby into the last week of August when Wright passed him. In retrospect, it’s understandable that a slugger would collect more points than a speedster. I was prone to giving Jose a half-point here, a half-point there if he stole a base that led to a run on an otherwise nondescript night, but it was hard to accumulate points on his behalf without extra-base hits. Yet there was more to Jose’s decline than style, as we all saw. He just stopped producing. Nothing with his legs, nothing with his bat, not all that much with his glove. It was a far cry from April and May when Jose built up a big Schaefer lead and the Mets were at their best. I suppose you could make a case that since their twin peaks were linked, Reyes is kind of permanent MVP for the Mets…but I don’t think you win that designation by proving your value in absentia.
The nature of the Schaefer beast favors everyday players over starting pitchers, none of whom took the ball more than 34 times in 2007. The flip side is a starter who files anything close to a “quality start” is going to rate at least three points per start, probably more, thus a moundsman can make up ground in a hurry. It figures, then, that after Carlos Delgado in fourth place (way behind Reyes), the three most relatively reliable Mets starters lined up close together for fifth, sixth and seventh places.
After taking turns leading the pitching pack, John Maine finished atop the hurling heap with 65 points. He should have blown the field away given his All-Star-caliber first half, but he disappeared for a large chunk of the summer. The same could be said for Oliver Perez (63.5 points). Both men saved their seasons with big starts against the Marlins in the last two weeks of September…two of the only three starts down the stretch that exceeded six innings pitched after September 15, by the way…and ugh.
Tom Glavine finished seventh, three points behind Perez. He was good there for a while, though all I can remember now is seven runs in a third of an inning.
The rest of the Top Ten: Paul Lo Duca just behind Glavine, Moises Alou just behind Lo Duca (remember Moises missed two-and-a-half months) and Orlando Hernandez who rode some mighty spry performances into tenth place. El Duque was so sporadically spectacular that it almost made up for his near-complete no-show in September.
Worth mentioning just beyond the Top Ten:
• Shawn Green finished one point behind El Duque, in eleventh place. Green missed a couple of weeks in late May and early June and was later benched in favor of Lastings Milledge but he played 130 games yet was outshone by corner outfield counterpart Alou in the Schaefer voting. Moises: 43 fewer games. Shawn: 3 fewer points. It’s yet another damning indictment of a player I couldn’t help but like and can’t help but admit was disastrously ineffectual.
• Jorge Sosa, one tends to forget, was a pretty darn good fifth starter for a couple of months. He was my twelfth-place finisher, combining competent starting and decent relieving, the only Met who filled both roles well for any discernible stretch.
• Lastings Milledge came in 13th, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize he didn’t begin to play in earnest until after the All-Star break and participated spottily in September.
• Damion Easley, all but forgotten except for a little retroactive pity by the final month, was a damn effective role player in the first half and finished 14th for the year. That’s more than a couple of pinch-hits talking. That’s some pretty fine second base, first base and outfield play, too.
If there was either a flaw in the Schaefer system or a great revelation buried within it, it is to be found in the ranking of Billy Wagner as the fifteenth-best Met of 2007. How could that be? Billy was an All-Star! Billy piled up saves! Billy didn’t remind anybody of the treacherous three (Franco, Benitez, Looper) hardly at all!
Thing is, the closer didn’t really pitch in enough game-changing situations to merit a lot of points. The Mets made a habit of winning games that weren’t too terribly close in the early going. When Wagner was called on, the situations weren’t quite do or die. He got some three-run leads and he didn’t give them away. Perhaps he’s suffering in this metric for “doing his job,” but at the end of the day, getting three outs never seemed as significant as the starter getting 18 of them or the third baseman knocking in a few runs. I don’t mean to underplay his contribution — I’d rather have had him than his immediate closing predecessors — but I found again and again in a win that others’ contributions loomed larger than the man paid to finish things up. I don’t know if Damion Easley was more valuable than Billy Wagner, but I know he wound up with two more points…and that Easley didn’t play from the middle of August on.
Relief pitchers in general fared poorly under my Schaefer judging. Though they were bullpen staples from April through September, I had Aaron Heilman behind Endy Chavez, who missed almost three months; Pedro Feliciano behind Marlon Anderson, who showed up in July; and Scott Schoeneweis behind Jose Valentin who barely made it past the All-Star break. Then again Heilman, Feliciano and especially Schoeneweis all had well-documented difficulties and the other guys tended to succeed when called upon. That’s Schaefer for ya.
One name that deserves a very honorable mention is Pedro Martinez. He pitched in only five games, but he pitched well enough in those five games to deserve 18 points. His average of 3.6 Schaefer points per appearance was the best on the team and he was the only Met to be awarded points for every one of his appearances — plural. I gave Jon Adkins a single point for his single inning in his single appearance, but that’s not even cup-of-coffee stuff. That’s Coffee-mate. With only five opportunities to shine, Pedro ranked ahead of Valentin, Schoeneweis, Guillermo Mota and…once you’re down to Mota, does it really matter?
For those of you who like numbers, here are the rankings from Wright on down to the Met quartet who did nothing and got nothing:
David Wright 120.5 points (160 games played; 89 games in which he was voted points)
Carlos Beltran 118 (144; 78)
Jose Reyes 108.5 (160; 87)
Carlos Delgado 73 (139; 54)
John Maine 65 (32; 22)
Oliver Perez 63.5 (29; 22)
Tom Glavine 60.5 (34; 24)
Paul Lo Duca 59.5 (119; 47)
Moises Alou 58.5 (87; 38)
Orlando Hernandez 56.5 (27; 18)
Shawn Green 55.5 (130; 47)
Jorge Sosa 41 (42; 25)
Lastings Milledge 34.5 (59; 27)
Damion Easley 34 (76; 27)
Billy Wagner 32 (66; 36)
Endy Chavez 30 (71; 22)
Aaron Heilman 28 (81; 35)
Luis Castillo 26 (50; 26)
Ramon Castro 25 (52; 20)
Marlon Anderson 21 (43; 13)
Pedro Feliciano 20 (78; 25)
Ruben Gotay 19.5 (98; 21)
Carlos Gomez 18.5 (58; 16)
Pedro Martinez 18 (5; 5)
Jose Valentin 17.5 (51; 15)
Scott Schoeneweis 14 (70; 19)
Guillermo Mota 13 (52; 15)
Joe Smith 12 (54; 13)
David Newhan 11 (56; 8)
Mike Pelfrey 10.5 (15; 7)
Julio Franco 10 (40; 8)
Aaron Sele 10 (34; 9)
Brian Lawrence 7 (6; 4)
Ricky Ledee 5.5 (17; 3)
Jeff Conine 5 (21; 6)
Mike DiFelice 2.5 (16; 5)
Chip Ambres 2 (3; 1)
Ambiorix Burgos 2 (17; 2)
Sandy Alomar, Jr. 1.5 (8; 3)
Jon Adkins 1 (1; 1)
Willie Collazo 1 (6; 1)
Philip Humber 1 (3; 2)
Jason Vargas 1 (2; 1)
Ben Johnson 0.5 (9; 1)
Carlos Muñiz 0.5 (2; 1)
Players who received no points: Anderson Hernandez (4 games), Chan Ho Park (1 game), Lino Urdaneta (2 games), Dave Williams (2 games).
My deep gratitude to Yancy Street Gang of Crane Pool Forum for organizing Schaefer POTG voting all year long, to say nothing of running the most indispensable Mets site in the world. Props, too, to all of CPF’s raters and debaters for making Schaefer voting the one vote to cast when you’re casting one-hundred and sixty-two.