The Mets have been known for pitchers throughout their history. The competition for the fourth and fifth pitchers and the closer was fierce. Fortunately, neither Al Jackson nor Skip Lockwood made the cut. Read on to see who did.
Earlier I did a list of the Mets all-time position players. Here is the team’s all-time pitching list. When picking this team, I only considered their contributions while a member of the Mets. I tried to weight matters evenly between peak and career value but that is always a tricky goal.
SP #1 – Tom Seaver
As a 22-year-old rookie in 1967, Seaver won 16 games for a team that lost 101 and nabbed Rookie of the Year honors. Two years later he won the first of three Cy Young Awards and led the Mets to a World Series championship. He won 20 games or more four times for the club (4.5 if you count the year he got traded and ended up with 21 wins) and 19 another time. A nine-time All-Star and the best pitcher in National League history, Seaver was truly Tom Terrific.
SP #2 – Doc Gooden
As a 19-year-old rookie in 1984, Gooden won 17 games and the Rookie of the Year Award. He was a symbol of the team’s resurgence as the team finished above .500 for the first time since 1976. Games where he pitched became must-see TV and it only got better the following season, when he won the pitchers’ Triple Crown by leading the league with 24 wins, 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts. But that was the beginning of the end. He was good-to-great the next six years, but nowhere near the dominating force he was his first two seasons. Injuries, drugs and what could have been were the themes for the rest of his career. His .649 winning percentage is the team’s all-time best.
SP #3 – Jerry Koosman
One year after Seaver burst onto the scene with 16 wins, Koosman won 19 games and finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting to some guy named Johnny Bench. The following year, Kooz went 17-9 and won two games in the World Series. An arm injury suffered early in 1970 curtailed his production the next two-to-three years but he bounced back with four strong seasons, capped by a 21-win campaign in 1976. Two years later they traded him for Jesse Orosco. Koosman is one of the most unappreciated pitchers of his era and if nothing else, we should remember him for his work in the post-season. He went 4-0 for the Mets with a 3.38 ERA. He was outstanding in five of his six starts, with only a poor outing in the 1969 NLCS inflating his overall ERA.
SP #4 – Al Leiter
It surprises me, too. My overall impression of Leiter is sullied by his final few years when it seemed like his influence in the organization was completely out of proportion with his effectiveness, with rumors that he helped facilitate the departure of Scott Kazmir for not being deferential enough to the veterans on the team. But Leiter was durable for seven years and his 170 ERA+ in 1998 dwarfs anything that the pitchers behind him ever did. Leiter led or tied for the team lead in wins in five of his seven seasons, including the back-to-back playoff teams of 1999 and 2000.
SP #5 – Jon Matlack
This is a toss-up between Matlack and Sid Fernandez. I ultimately picked Matlack because he packed more value into his seasons than Fernandez. In 1972, Matlack won 15 games as a 22-year old and won the Rookie of the Year Award. In his first five full seasons with the club, he won 75 games. Matlack pitched great during the playoffs in 1973. He hurled a two-hit shutout with nine strikeouts versus the Big Red Machine in the NLCS and then had a 2.16 ERA in three World Series games, although he came up short in Game 7. He had a 149 ERA+ in 1974 and a 144 in 1972. Fernandez’ full-season high for the Mets was 127. David Cone had a 146 in his big year of 1998 and his next highest was 120 in the year he was traded.
Closer – Armando Benitez
I imagine everyone reading this falling out of their chairs right now. Benitez had a well-earned reputation for failing in big games, none bigger than Game 1 of the 2000 World Series. But those other games count, too. From 2000-2002, Benitez had a 90.7 save percentage, which was the best in baseball. He holds the top two seasons in saves in team history and is second to John Franco on the team’s all-time save list. Franco pitched forever and had way more shaky moments than Benitez. Billy Wagner was very effective but his career in Shea was even shorter than Benitez’. The Mets had some big-name closers – Jesse Orosco, Roger McDowell, Jeff Reardon, Randy Myers and Tug McGraw – but none of them could match the production that Benitez had.
In a few years, I hope to update this list and put Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez in. If everything goes right, I should be able to do that after the 2011 season.