Dan Warthen was named the pitching coach of the Mets last season on June 17 after the team handed out its now-infamous 3 AM pinkslips to manager Willie Randolph, pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto in Anaheim during the West Coast version of the Midnight Massacre. Prior to his promotion to the major league club, Warthen served the same function for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the then-Triple A affiliate of the New York Mets.
I did a little more research on our Danny Boy. He has racked up some major frequent flyer miles since beginning his professional baseball career, not just during his playing days, but during his coaching career as well. His first job as a major league pitching coach was in 1992 for the Seattle Mariners after serving as their bullpen coach the previous year and as a minor league pitching coach for the M’s before that. Seattle was just the first stop on the Dan Warthen Tour Across America.
He moved on to San Diego in 1996 where he served as the Padres’ pitching coach for two seasons. From 1999-2002, he was hired to do the same job in Detroit. After a few stops in the minors, including St. Lucie and Norfolk, Warthen made it back to the majors in 2008 for the Mets.
So why has Warthen become Peripatetic Pete over the past decade and a half? I went old school for this research and searched through my old stash of baseball cards. (Thank you to my mother for never throwing them out!) After washing my hands from the super-adhesive qualities of the thirty-year-old gum that was still in the box, I located an old Dan Warthen card from his days with the now-defunct Montreal Expos.
I found some more recent cards that were not in such good condition, but those had more complete stats of Warthen’s playing career. His numbers as a pitcher were shocking, to say the least. Consider these nuggets from a few of his seasons:
- 1976: With Montreal, he went 2-10 with a 5.30 ERA. He walked 66 batters in 90 innings.
- 1977: Splitting the season between Montreal and Philadelphia, he was 2-4 with a 7.85 ERA. He walked an eye-opening 43 batters in 39 innings.
- 1978: Now with Houston, he went 0-1 with a 4.09 ERA. After 11 innings, the Astros had enough and sent him packing.
He never pitched again in the majors, finishing his career with a 12-21 won-loss record, along with 198 walks in 308 innings. That averages out to 5.8 walks per nine innings. Compare that to Oliver Perez’s career 5.0 BB/9 IP ratio. That means Dan Warthen was more likely to walk you than Oliver Perez!
So tell me, how does a man who clearly had no idea how to negotiate his way around home plate as a player get so many jobs as a pitching coach in the major leagues? A little more research yielded more damning information.
In 1992, when he was the pitching coach for the Mariners, Randy Johnson walked 144 batters in 210.1 innings. With Warthen out of the picture in 1993, Johnson pitched 255.1 innings and only walked 99 batters. He went 19-8 and finished second in the American League Cy Young Award balloting.
In 1997 with the Padres, San Diego finished 12th out of 14 teams in the National League in walks per nine innings. The next year without Warthen, the Padres finished fourth in the now-expanded 16-team National League in the same category. They also advanced to the World Series that year.
He fared slightly better with the Detroit Tigers from 1999-2002, but went largely unnoticed because the team averaged 94 losses per season during his four-year stint in Motown. In his last two seasons there, the Tigers finished tenth and fifth in walks per nine innings, respectively.
Now he’s finishing up his first full season as the pitching coach for the Mets. The more things change, the more they stay the same. After Wednesday’s game with the Rockies, Mets pitchers have walked 521 batters. That’s one more base on balls than the team with the second-most walks, the Washington Nationals, despite the fact that the Nats have played two more games than the Mets. No team in the American League has issued more than 483 walks.
So I ask you all, is Dan Warthen worth it? Apparently, his pitchers seem to think that “walks are part of the game”. (Right, Ollie?) Warthen’s contract expires after the season ends. If the Mets want to continue giving away free passes like the producers of “Gigli” tried to do, then be my guest and re-sign Dan Warthen. But if they want to put together a strong pitching staff that goes after hitters and instill those values into their up-and-coming pitchers, then Warthen is probably not the man for the job.
The Mets have many decisions to make about their future when the 2009 season comes to its conclusion. The employment status of Dan Warthen better be on that list.