William "Billy" Edward Wagner (born July 25, 1971 in Tannersville, Virginia) is an American professional baseball player. A left-handed closer, he pitches for the Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball. Previously, Wagner pitched for the Houston Astros (1995-2003) and the Philadelphia Phillies (2004-2005, the New York Mets (2005-2009), and the Boston Red Sox (2009).
As a youth, Wagner was a natural right-handed pitcher, but after breaking his throwing arm twice, he taught himself how to use his left arm by throwing nothing but fastballs against a barn wall. He graduated from Tazewell High School, where he was named the 1990 Baseball Player of the Year. He then attended Ferrum College in Virginia and went 16-4 there, while setting single season NCAA records for strikeouts per nine innings (19.1 in 1992) and fewest hits per nine innings allowed (1.88 in 1992), and holds the Division III mark for career strikeouts (227 in 182.1 innings pitched). Wagner was inducted into the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame in Salem, Virginia, in February 2003.
Wagner was selected in the first round of the June 1993 Major League Baseball draft by the Houston Astros, and was used exclusively as a starting pitcher in the minor leagues. He made his major league debut on September 13, 1995, retiring the only batter he faced in a 10-5 defeat against the Mets. It was his only appearance during that season.
Wagner began 1996 in the minors as a starter, and finished it by becoming a major league reliever. He posted a 6-2 record with a 3.28 ERA in twelve starts for Triple-A Tucson. His contract was purchased by the Astros on June 2, and Wagner was immediately converted to a reliever. He finished the year with nine saves in 13 opportunities, allowed only 28 hits and struck out 67 hitters in 51.2 innings (11.7 SO/9). Opponents hit only .165 against him.
In 1997, Wagner played his first full season in the majors. He converted 23 of 29 save opportunities while striking out 106 hitters in only 66.1 innings, which established a major league record for SO/9 at 14.4, breaking the old mark of 14.1 set by former Reds reliever Rob Dibble in 1992 (110 SO in 70.1 innings). He struck out the side 13 times, and his 106 strikeouts also set a club record for relievers.
In 1998, Wagner posted a 4-3 record with a 2.70 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 60 innings, and saved 30 games, which was the third best single season in club history. He converted 19 consecutive save opportunities between his first blown save against the Dodgers (April 12) and his second facing the Cardinals (July 11). On July 15, while trying to hold on to an 8-7 lead against Arizona, he was struck on the left side of his head behind the ear by a line drive off the bat of Kelly Stinnett. Wagner was alert and conscious on the ground as his vital signs remained good. He was removed from the field on a stretcher after suffering a concussion and spent the night at a Phoenix hospital. The next day, he returned to Houston and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Wagner worked on balance and coordination exercises before being cleared by doctors to go on a rehabilitation assignment in the minors. After working three games, he was recalled on August 6, and remained healthy for the rest of the season.
Wagner had an outstanding 1999 season. He captured the Relief Man of the Year Award in the National League. He saved 39 games and struck out 124 in only 74 innings (15 SO/9), establishing a new major league record for strikeouts in at least 50 innings, including the side 15 times. Wagner posted a 4-1 record with an ERA of 1.57, and actually had more saves than hits allowed (in 74.2 innings, he allowed 35 hits).
The 2000 season started off in typical fashion for Wagner, who saved three of the Astros' first four wins while retiring 16 of the first 20 batters he faced. But after recording a save on May 4 against the Cubs, he suffered back-to-back blown saves on May 12-13 versus the Reds. While he was still hitting 100-MPH on the radar gun, he wasn't throwing his 85-90 MPH slider as much as he used to. Wagner would continue to struggle before going on the disabled list with a torn flexor tendon in his pitching arm and would miss the final three and a half months of the season. He finished with 2-4 record, a 6.18 ERA, and six saves in 15 opportunities, striking out 28 and walking 18 in 27.2 innings. He would rebound in 2001. Coming off elbow surgery, he posted a record of 2-5 with 39 saves in 41 chances, and an ERA of 2.73. He was one of the leading candidates for TSN Comeback Player of the Year in the National League. In 62.2 innings, he struck out 79 hitters.
In 2002, Wagner went 4-2 with a 2.52 ERA, 88 strikeouts, and 35 saves in 75 innings. Then, he enjoyed his best season in 2003, when he reached career-highs in saves (44), innings pitched (86.0) and games (78), and got 105 strikeouts while leading the league in games finished. In that year, he also cemented his status as the hardest-throwing man in baseball by leading the major leagues with 159 pitches at 100 mph or above. Second on the list was starter Bartolo Colón with 12.
Wagner was traded to Philadelphia before the 2004 season, only to have his season shortened by a strain in his throwing shoulder. He had the best ERA of his career in 2005 and also led the league in games finished again. Wagner became a free agent after the 2005 season and signed a four-year, $43 million contract with the New York Mets on November 28, 2005.
In a May 7, 2006 interview, Wagner stated that he was confronted by all of his former Phillies teammates in September 2005 after Wagner criticized their performance in the media by repeatedly saying that the Phillies had "no chance" of making the playoffs, with Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell reportedly calling Wagner a "rat." The confrontation reportedly was one of several factors that drove Wagner from Philadelphia in the 2005-2006 offseason.
New York MetsEdit
Wagner finished 2006 with 40 saves and a 2.24 ERA and recorded his milestone 300th career save on July 4, 2006, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. His performance contributed to the Mets' first division title in 18 years. Wagner did not have a great post-season; he recorded 3 saves, but lost one game and allowed 6 runs over 5.2 innings for a 10.38 ERA.
Wagner had a good first half in 2007. He converted 17 of 18 save opportunities with a 1.94 ERA. July was his best month, as he recorded 8 saves in 8 chances, did not allow a run, and won the DHL Delivery Man of the Month Award for July. During this month he produced an ERA of 0, giving up 2 hits, and pitched enough innings for a complete game shutout. His first half performance earned him a spot on the All-Star team. His second half was not as successful. Overall, he converted 13 of 17 save opportunities and had a 3.90 ERA. His performance declined during the last two months of the season. On August 30, Wagner blew a pivotal save in the fourth game of a four game series between the Phillies and Mets, resulting in a critical four-game sweep by the Phillies that proved to be the difference, as they finished one game ahead of the Mets on the final day of the season. He had a 6.23 ERA in August and was plagued with back spasms during September.
On May 15, 2008, Wagner ran off a profanity laced tirade after the Mets lost a 1-0 game to the Washington Nationals. Some speculated that it was directed toward teammates Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado about them not being available for interviews in the locker room following games. In the 2008 All-Star Game, Wagner gave up a game-tying double to Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, and the National League fell to the American League in 15 innings.
In September 2008, the Mets announced that Wagner tore the medial collateral ligament in his left elbow and his flexor pronator, would require Tommy John surgery, and he would be out for a year. Wagner, who has a guaranteed contract, will be paid $10.5 million in 2009. For 2010, the Mets have a $8 million option with a $1 million buyout option. In a news conference following the injury announcement, Wagner vowed to return playing. Although having previously stated that he will not pitch beyond the 2009 season, Wagner said he does not want to end his career in this fashion, and would like to win a World Series and reach around-420 saves. However, Wagner stated that he has "played his last game as a Met". Wagner explained that it would not make sense for the Mets to pick up the 2010 $8 million option. Wagner pitched one scoreless inning for the Mets in his return on August 20, 2009 and then another scoreless inning for the Mets on August 24, 2009.
Boston Red SoxEdit
Wagner was claimed off waivers by the Boston Red Sox on August 21. After talk that he would exercise his no-trade clause to stay with the Mets, Wagner agreed to be traded on August 25, after receiving assurances that the Red Sox would not pick up his contract option for 2010, allowing him to become a free agent and find a job as a closer. The Mets received minor leaguers Chris Carter and Eddie Lora. Wagner made his first appearance for the Red Sox on August 30, 2009 and recorded a scoreless inning with 3 strikeouts and 1 hit allowed in a 7-0 win vs. Toronto.
- ↑ Sports American League (Baseball) Baseball AL West Division Major League Baseball - SI Vault
- ↑ "Mets' Wagner to Have Elbow Surgery, Is Out for 2009", Bloomberg, 2008-09-08. Retrieved on 2008-09-08.
- ↑ Blum, Ronald. "Mets' Billy Wagner will be out through 2009 season", The Associated Press, 2008-09-09. Retrieved on 2008-09-10.
- ↑ Noble, Marty. "Wagner vows to pitch again in Majors", MLB.com, 2008-09-09. Retrieved on 2008-09-10.
- ↑ Puma, MIke. "Wagner: I've played my last game with the Mets", Fox Sports via the New York Post, 2008-09-12. Retrieved on 2008-09-15.
- Career statistics and player information from MLB, or ESPN, or Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
- Baseball Library (biography and accomplishments)
- The Baseball Analysts (pitch speed data)
- Daddy Wags: A Billy Wagner Internet Resource
- Billy Wagner news conference after elbow injury
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