With more than 50 seasons, four pennants and two World Series wins, the New York Mets have one of the more storied histories among the expansion teams in Major League Baseball. With that kind of legacy, let's look to make an entry in the Retired Number Series.
What numbers might the Mets retire over the next decade or so?
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position and playing time.
So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.
There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use.
Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.
To date, the Mets have retired three numbers, with most of them (somewhat oddly) coming toward the start of their history. The first came in their fourth season, 1965, in honor of manager Casey Stengel. Stengel was in his final year with the team and his final year as a manager.
In his 25 seasons, his teams went 1,905-1,842 and won 10 pennants and seven World Series (all with the Yankees). His Mets teams went 175-404 in the team’s inaugural years.* Stengel was the only Met to wear No. 37.
*Also of note, Stengel was the only person to serve as a player or manager on all four New York baseball teams.
The team’s second honoree was Gil Hodges, who was both a player and the fourth manager of the franchise. No. 14 was honored in 1973, a year after his death. As a player, he only spent his final two seasons with the team, playing in only 65 games and amassing an 0.6 bWAR and 0.7 fWAR. As a manger, though, he oversaw the Miracle Mets that won the first World Series in team history. In his four seasons at the helm, the team went 339-309.
The only number (essentially) retired for a player is No. 41, on behalf of Tom Seaver. That last retired number came in 1988, and two years after his final appearance in the majors. He pitched with the Mets from 1967 to 1977 (with a one-year return in 1983), and accumulated a 73 bWAR. In total, he pitched from 1967 to 1986 and was worth 101 bWAR.
When comparing the standards team can have when retiring numbers, there are three categories that we can measure. We can look at the version of WAR (bWAR or fWAR), where the value was accumulated (with the team or in full), or the average WAR versus the median.
The Mets’ rankings are all wildly skewed by their lack of numbers. For this, I counted both Hodges and Seaver’s values. Both average and median career bWAR totals give them above-average standards (at the top of the second quartile of teams, in fact). They drop to the third quartile when just considering team value, largely due to Hodges’ short time with the team as a player.
Since I didn’t count pitching fWAR, the team is hit even harder in those categories, dropping to the bottom three in all four methods (including last in both “fWAR with team” categories).
Counting Hodges as solely a manger totally removes them from the fWAR rankings, but bumps all of their bWAR ranking to the top quartiles (including first in “average career bWAR” and “average bWAR with the team”). And, going with Seaver’s fWAR totals, they would rank solidly in the top quartile in all four fWAR rankings.
And now, the big question: who might be next for the Mets?
The starting place would probably be with the three numbers they’ve taken out of circulation but not officially retired. No. 31 hasn’t been issued since Mike Piazza left after the 2005 season. I would imagine the number is as good as retired and is only waiting upon Piazza’s eventual Hall of Fame induction.
While his election seems inevitable, it may not necessarily be quick. Piazza joins the ballot this year, and with more than a dozen candidates meriting serious consideration, his vote totals may not reach as high as they normally would.
Either way, I don’t see Piazza being kept out forever, and each year his election is unnecessarily delayed may just push the Mets to not wait. From 1998 to 2005, Piazza amassed 22.8 of his 56.1 bWAR and 30 of his 67 career fWAR, all (obviously) impressive marks for a catcher.
Since 2003, the team has withheld No. 8 for Gary Carter (2003 being the year of his induction). Another Hall of Fame-level catcher, Carter played with the team for a shorter period of time (1985 to 1989), but he was a large part of the team’s 1986 World Series victory, and he apparently loved playing with the team, supposedly preferring to go into the Hall as a Met at the time of his induction.
The team also honored him several ways following his untimely death.
My biggest reservation would be that, if the team is apparently leaning toward retiring his number (as they seem to be doing), why the hesitation? They may ultimately decide not to retire No. 8. Carter’s Met years represent 10.3 of his 66.4 career bWAR and 13 of his 73 career fWAR.
The last number is a little bit different. No. 24 has been more or less kept out of retirement since Willie Mays retired following the 1973 season (the two times it was in use were a mistake and an exception for Rickey Henderson).
I feel like there are more reasons for the Mets to not retire his number, though. Mays the Met has almost become a symbol of a player who has held on for too long past their prime. For reference, Mays had 2.6 fWAR and 1.5 bWAR in two seasons as a Met, out of his career totals of 163.2 fWAR and 150.8 bWAR.
After that, just going down the position player WAR list, we start with the franchise leader, David Wright.
Since he broke into the league in 2004, he’s put up 38.3 bWAR and 45 fWAR. He claimed the team bWAR title this season, but he’s had the fWAR title since 2010. And with the rest of 2012 plus his 2013 option (which will certainly be picked up), his hold on the titles will only strengthen, especially since, at 29, he should have several good years ahead of him.
Even if he doesn’t stay with the Mets past 2013, he stands a good chance at being honored. If the Mets extend him, I think he becomes a lock.
The man he passed was former outfielder Darryl Strawberry. From 1983 to 1990, Strawberry managed 34.4 bWAR and 37 fWAR. Both are solid, even though they’re behind Wright.
His nine years after leaving the Mets left a lot to be desired. He finished his career with only 39.2 bWAR and 43.2 fWAR, both marks already below Wright’s career numbers. I doubt he’ll be recognized immediately.
Playing half of his career elsewhere, combined with his legal problems, will probably delay any chance that his number will be retired.
Recent departures Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes are also toward the top of the list. Reyes has an advantage in that he was a homegrown star, but Beltran has the better career as a whole.
From 2005 to 2011, Beltran had 30.2 bWAR (third among position players) and 31 fWAR (fourth). The tie-breaker in his case might be if he makes the Hall of Fame, which may be more likely than you’d think.
Starting with the team two seasons earlier, Reyes had 27.0 bWAR (fifth in team history) and 33 fWAR (third). He was good, but I think leaving severely hurt his case. His career is a step below Wright or Beltran’s, so he would need more time to close the gap and have an equally compelling case.
Right there with Beltran and Reyes is Edgardo Alfonzo, believe it or not. His eight years (1995 to 2002) in New York rank right between Reyes' and Beltran’s tenures, and his years came with 28.0 bWAR and 31 fWAR.
A big knock on his case is that his career was rather brief; his last year with the Mets was his last year as an above-average player, and he was out of baseball four years later. Also given how underrated he was (the baseball writers didn’t even put him on the Hall of Fame ballot, even though players like Tony Womack and Terry Mulholland made it), I just don’t seen his number getting retired.
Keith Hernandez is probably the last player worth mentioning from the list of top position players, as both lists drop off after him to solid but unspectacular players like Howard Johnson and Bud Harrelson. Hernandez is in the mold of Piazza, Carter and Beltran as a Hall- or borderline Hall-of-Fame member who spent an extended time with the Mets later in their careers.
From 1983 to 1989, he was worth 25.0 bWAR and 27 fWAR. He’s more memorable than most players, and he’s good enough that he may eventually get a Hall push from the Veterans Committee. However, I would need to see movement in that direction (like taking his number out of circulation) to rate his chances higher than “generally unlikely.”
On the pitcher list, Dwight Gooden is second behind Tom Seaver. Eleven of his 16 seasons came as a Met, which represents 39.3 of his 45.1 bWAR (and, in case you were wondering, 52.9 of his 58.1 career fWAR). Like Strawberry, his relatively disappointing later career (and the accompanying legal problems) took some of the luster off his early peaks.
He’ll need some sort of help from outside circumstances to lead up to a retired number.
Jerry Koosman is like the Edgardo Alfonzo of the pitcher list. He was solid-to-above-average (although for a much longer time), but he’s been relatively forgotten. His 37.0 bWAR puts him third among pitchers in team history (and his 44.8 fWAR is pretty impressive, too), but I don’t foresee a retired number for him with the number of players ahead of him and his relative obscurity.
The pitching list drops off significantly to fourth place (Al Leiter at 26.4), so now is probably time to move on to the current roster.
Johan Santana has had the best career of the rest so far, with 48.6 bWAR and 47.4 fWAR. His Mets term (2008 to 2012) has only provided 14.6 bWAR and 12 fWAR. If he can get healthy and run off a few more strong years in a row, he might work his way higher on the list.
That would also move him into the Hall discussion, which would boost his chances at a retired number with the Mets even further. So right now, it's entirely dependent on his future health.
Ruben Tejada and Matt Harvey may some day rank among David Wright as faces of the franchise. At 22 and 23, respectively, they’ve been impressive in their limited times and have enough potential to go far. We’ll just need to wait and see.
R.A. Dickey is having a break-out season, but he is also 37, and he’s only been a Met for three seasons. He’s a nice story, but it’s difficult to assign any certainty to his candidacy.
I originally forgot to bring up Franco, as closers frequently don't match up in WAR. However, it is worth noting that he served as the third (and currently, most recent) captain of the Mets, after Hernandez and Carter. He also has a huge save total, which will help keep him in memory. It's worth noting that he originally wore number 31, but gave it up for number 45 when Mike Piazza arrived.
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the New York Mets are, in order:
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