No. 35: Kent Mercker

kent mercker.jpgLefthanded Pitcher
Seasons With Braves: 1989-1995; 2003
Stats With Braves: 31-25, 3.41 ERA, 20 Sv

The Braves took Kent in the first round, the fifth pick overall, in the 1986 June draft out of an Ohio high school. (I’d like to point out that nobody else the Braves took that year ever did anything worthwhile except for some guys they couldn’t sign — Steve Finley, Tim Salmon, and Ben McDonald.) He pitched well in 1986 but sparingly in 1987, I would guess due to injury. He broke out in 1988, going 11-4 with a 2.75 ERA in Durham. He was pretty good in Richmond in 1989 and earned a cup of coffee. He split 1990 between Richmond and the majors, mostly the latter. He was almost exclusively a starter in the minors, but in Atlanta most of his work was in the bullpen. Kent picked up seven saves that year and put up a 3.17 ERA.

In 1991 he was a key member of the bullpen with a 2.58 ERA, and picked up six saves, plus he started four games. In one of those starts, he went six hitless innings; Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena finished off the no-hitter. Injuries limited his availability and effectiveness in the postseason. In 1992, he didn’t pitch as well (or at all as a starter) but had six more saves, and pitched three innings of one-hit ball in the NLCS. He got injured in the post-Bream celebration and was unavailable for the World Series.

In 1993 he posted a 2.86 ERA and made six starts. Finally, he was offered full-time duty as the fifth starter entering the 1994 season. He succeeded spectacularly, going 9-4 with a 3.45 ERA (better than any starter but Maddux) before the lights went out. In April, he threw a complete-game no-hitter, and for the season he struck out almost a man an inning. I would argue that he was the fourth-best player on the team that year after Maddux, McGriff, and Justice. My recollection is that for about a month before the Strike Glavine was fading, Smoltz was hurting, and Avery was useless, and the rotation was basically Maddux and Mercker and pray for rain.

I don’t know what happened during the Strike, but he has never been the same pitcher. He started 26 games in 1995 but was basically an average pitcher or just a little above. His strikeout rate collapsed; he struck out fewer men despite throwing about 30 more innings. After the 1995 season the Braves sent him to the Orioles for Joe Borowski, but that was basically just a salary dump. He’d still pitched better than Avery, and when you consider that Avery washed out of the majors in 1999 (with a brief cup of coffee in 2003) and Mercker is still pitching, you can argue that not trading Avery (who was more expensive and probably had more perceived value at the time) instead was a mistake.

On the other hand, Kent was awful in 1996, with a 7.76 ERA as an Oriole. He was traded late in the year to the Indians for Eddie Murray (I’m guessing to let Eddie retire in a Baltimore uniform, but he went and played in 1997 anyway). Mercker signed with the Reds as a free agent after the season and had his last good year as a starter, 8-11 but with a 3.92 ERA. After that, he slowly washed out of the rotation and then out of the league, and missed the entire 2001 season. In 2002 he was a LOOGY with the Rockies, but didn’t pitch well.

But in 2003 he went to the hometown Reds and pitched well from their bullpen. Down the stretch, he was traded back to the Braves for fading prospect Matt Belisle. He was outstanding, putting up a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings and even picking up a save, his first in eleven years. A lot of people wanted the Braves to re-sign him, but he went to the Cubs for a year, then back to the Reds. He’s pitched okay, if not as well as in 2003.

Kent Mercker Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

39 thoughts on “No. 35: Kent Mercker”

  1. Wow. Mercker. He never crossed my mind for this list.

    My biggest memory about him is that his no-hitter came on the very day that Kurt Cobain was found dead. April, 1994.

    Was watching the Mets at a sports bar in Amsterdam tonight, but they shut the TV down. Pity. I still hope they lose.

    Cheers from Heinekenland.

  2. The first player on the list, that I would have to question. I always thought Mercker was no better than a spot starter. Bears a striking resemblance to a young Lee Majors.

  3. Nothing is better than seeing the Mets fans disappointed. Nothing is better than seeing the Braves’ former top prospect eliminating the Mets. Nothing is better than seeing the Mets lose…except seeing the Braves win…

    …awesome curveball from Adam!!!

  4. 1. Mercker’s ERA for his Braves tenure is about a half a run better than average.

    2. His 1991 rates as one of the best years that a Braves reliever has had (though he did have four starts).

    3. He never had a below-average year in a Braves uniform, and had three good years.

    I wasn’t planning on Mercker being on this list when I composed it. But I put a lot of weight on above-average seasons. From 1966-2006, only five Braves pitchers have (in more than 400 IP) an ERA versus the league better than Mercker’s. Neagle didn’t pitch quite enough to make the list and the other three are way ahead of Mercker. He was a really good reliever for a while, and a good starter for a while, and together that was enough to put him on the list. Maybe he’s a little high, I don’t know.

  5. I guess it’s a special occasion, so this is what NY METS tried to post last night:

    Ha Ha [EXPLETIVE DELETED]…Were about to win the NL just like i said we would. And we also got past the first round which you can’t seem to do………when we do win the world series I’ll be thinking of you guys

    Cheers
    Dan

  6. Watching the Mets get emliminated was fun. It got a little tense in the 9th but Wainwright made Beltran look pretty bad.

    I too saw Jorge Sosa, and thought that (in a painful sort of way) it was a huge irony he would be going to the World Series this year, while the Braves sit at home. That’s just wrong…

  7. I am a huge Merker fan , MAC huge thumbs up for putting Kento on the list of greats . I remember when he used him as our closer in 89 or 90 and listening to the grainy feed from Pittsburgh ( I live approx 4hrs from steeltown), and he got creemed. I realized he is a STARTER not the stopper. It would have been a rare late 80’s win snuffed my Kento.
    Great trivia question, three Atl braves no hitters in 40 years, two are by the same guy done in the 90’s and the other by knucksie. How many hard core’s know its Kent
    I look at him and Tommy Greene as two guys we gave up two quick, and hung onto far to long guys like Pete Smith and yeah to a degree Avery. Off topic another starter blocked in the deep 90’s that I thought might be something Brad Woodall,

  8. Whew! Living in NYC just got a hell of a lot easier.

    That’s right Met fans, it’s not that easy to get to the WS just because you win the NL East, is it? Face it, you had medicore pitching which barely carried you to game 7. Then your BRILLIANT bullpen gave up a two-run homer at the worst time. It happens, but I won’t let you forget it. Ever. Good pitching beats good hitting. Ask the Yankees about that.

    GO TIGERS!

  9. I said that Pete Smith was one of my favorites, but Kent Mercker easily ranks above Smith. I was worried that he wouldn’t make the list; I’m pleasantly surprised to see him here.

    I’d like to add a couple of things:
    First, Mercker suffered an arm injury midseason this year and his career is almost certainly over now. A fine career.
    Second, the reason Mercker missed the entire 2001 season was a brain hemmorhage that he suffered while on the mound with the Angels in 2000. He was fortunate to be alive, much less still pitching, and even less again to be pitching at a high level like he came back and did. It’s a real testament to his career.

  10. “You can’t hit the ball with the bat on your shoulder, Carlos.”

    Hey, you edited that mistake. It helps to be the owner, huh?

    Did anyone else see Jorge Sosa jumping up and down and getting drunk?

  11. I’m of two minds on the Mets going home. I mean, I’m quite happy to see the Mets’ season over, but on an individual level, I’d’ve been happy for Tommy and Julio had they won.

    I guess I’m pulling for the Tigers, now.

  12. Mercker is why you don’t let you boys grow up to be cowboys. Instead make them throw lefty. He is a local boy. Lives here in the Columbus suburb of Dublin. I always thought that we should have hung on to him. He has had a very nice career.

    I haven’t been watching baseball since the end of the regular season but it is soooooooo sweeeet that the Mets are done. billy-jay I can’t bring myself to root for more American League dominance. Go Cards.

  13. It was fun to see the Mets fans shut up, but sort of painful to see Wainwright throwing those curves. Of course, we really don’t need him, since we have Tyler Yates.

  14. Forget Tommy, Julio, Michael Tucker, whoever….if you’re a Met, I’m glad you lost and glad you’re done. I’m also a big Kent Mercker fan and glad to see him on the list. Surprised the heck outta me too though.

  15. It was so great the way the Cards let the mets get the bases loaded with two outs and their hottest hitting lefty against the rightly reliever. If the Cards had just won a blowout it wouldn’t have hurt nearly so much. Seeing those idiots on TV praying for their deity to come down in favor of their team was just priceless.

    Instead, it was like the ending of a great South Park episode. Mets fans, in the words of Eric Cartman: “oh let me taste your tears… oh the tears of unfathomable sorrow… mm yummy”

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