Elbow surgery will cost Noah Syndergaard whatever becomes of this season and quite possibly much of the next, but if he never throws another pitch for the Mets, you can probably already make a rock-solid argument for Thor as the greatest Met ever to wear No. 34.
The big righty needs just four victories to claim the most wins by a Met 34: That title still belongs to Mike Pelfrey and his 50-54 career won-loss record in New York. Fans can dismiss Pelfrey as underperforming their expectations, but when he departed in 2012–ominously enough as a result of early-season Tommy John surgery–Pelfrey had long since vanquished the career marks of most all of his predecessors in the 34 jersey. That’s the way this number has pretty much gone: Set-up men, lightly regarded reserve hitters and as you’ll see below, a few disappointing starters.
Syndergaard in the meantime has racked up a career 47-30 record over five seasons (a team-best .610 winning percentage for guys with more than 10 decisions), and a massive lead in strikeouts with 775 in 716 innings over Pelf’s paltry 506 K’s in 869.1 innings. Both Pelfrey and Syndergaard cut imposing figures on the mound and came armed with good fastballs, but their careers look vastly different.
Best of luck to Syndergaard, who for some reason is getting elective surgery in New York this week. To help him recover, here’s my list of the Top 10 All-Time Met 34s as ranked by my proprietary mix of science and Met-ness:
- Syndergaard (2015-present). For what it’s worth, Thor is also 2nd all-time among home runs by guys who wore 34 (6).
- Bob Apodaca (1973-1977): An undersized, undrafted righty, Apodaca rode a mean sinkerball and his wits to set-up success for some awful Met clubs. 26 saves and a 2.84 ERA, a post-career stint as a wise Mets’ pitching coach and one of the greatest quotes of all time: After a white-knuckle, opening-day save in his first-ever appearance, Apodaca remarked to the New York Times that shaking Jerry Grote’s hand afterward was the greatest feeling he ever had “except maybe sex.”
- Mike Pelfrey (2006-2012) A top draft pick who ultimately shared more in common with the guys at 8 and 9 on this list than the ones above him. I like to re-imagine Pelfrey’s career were he a short reliever. Somehow managed to give up a home run to the first batter ever to appear in an official game at CitiField.
- Chico Walker (1992-93) A bargain for the “Worst Team Money Could Buy” Mets, Walker was a versatile role player who mostly on the strength of his 1992 year, grabbed all-time club records for games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, and RBI by guys who wore 34 that still stand today.
- Danny Frisella (1968-1972) Righhanded set-up reliever with a terrific forkball had an absolutely dominating season out of the pen in 1971 (8-5, 12 saves, 1.99) and was fairly reliable at other times. Tragically died in dune-buggy accident in 1977 while his career was still going.
- Cal Koonce (1967-1970) Yet another heavily-used right-handed set-up reliever, Koonce gets bonus points for his presence if not performance for the 1969 world champs. Was much better in ’68.
- Junior Ortiz (1983-84) Have you noticed that reserve catchers who can’t actually hit are invariably described as having a rep for handling pitchers? That’s our Junior, who stopped in on his way to a 13-year career. Wore No. 0 with the Pirates and Twins. Distinctive beard.
- Kris Benson (2004-05) Acquired in controversy, discarded in disgrace, and hardly worth all the fuss he caused in between, Benson was an average starting pitcher who fooled everyone into thinking he was a superstar.
- Pedro Astacio (2002-03) One of those veteran acquirees who starts off really strong before reminding everyone why he’s a journeyman. Astacio was actually one of the better pitchers in the league in 2002 through August, when he completely lost it.
- Blas Minor (1995-96) Occasionally effective right handed setup man, somewhat carelessly traded to Seattle for a minor leaguer after a rough start in ’96.