The 5 best seasons by Mets on the mound

December 14th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Impressively, it took the Mets only 58 seasons for their pitchers to win seven National League Cy Young Awards; many organizations with decades of additional history have fewer. But do those performances all rank among the finest in Mets history? In reality, probably not.

Below is a look at the five greatest individual pitching seasons the franchise has seen:

1. , 1985
Key stats: 24-4, 1.53 ERA, 276 2/3 IP, 268 strikeouts, 229 ERA+

Unquestionably, Tom Seaver is the greatest Mets pitcher of all time. But the greatest season by a Mets pitcher? That belongs to Gooden, who followed up his otherworldly rookie campaign with an even better year in 1985. En route to his only NL Cy Young Award, Gooden not only set the Mets’ franchise pitcher bWAR record (12.2), but he also finished with the highest total of any Major League pitcher since Walter Johnson. Gooden led the league in innings, wins, strikeouts, complete games and league-adjusted ERA+, becoming the first (and still only) unanimous Cy Young winner in Mets history. It was unquestionably the best season of an absurd three-year run that saw Gooden win 58 games with a 2.28 ERA.

2. , 1971
Key stats: 20-10, 1.76 ERA, 286 1/3 IP, 289 strikeouts, 194 ERA+

Choosing the best Seaver season is like picking the finest work of art at the Louvre. Was it his Mona Lisa in 1969, when he won his first NL Cy Young Award, threw nine consecutive complete-game victories and led the Mets to their first World Series title? Was it his Vénus de Milo in '73, when he won another Cy Young, posted his highest bWAR total and led the Mets to a second pennant? Nope and nope. For this exercise, it was '71, when Seaver somehow fell short of yet another Cy despite an ERA more than a full run better than winner Fergie Jenkins. Statistically, Seaver’s '71 campaign was the most prolific of his 20-year career, featuring his lowest ERA, his highest strikeout total and strikeout rate, and his best league-adjusted ERA+. That Seaver fell short of the postseason wasn’t his fault. That he didn’t win the Cy Young was an error in judgment. The Mets’ late Hall of Famer was never better than in ’71.

3. , 2018
Key stats: 10-9, 1.70 ERA, 217 IP, 269 strikeouts, 218 ERA+

For those who weren’t old enough to enjoy Seaver or Gooden in their primes, enter deGrom. The first of his two Cy Young seasons was comparable to anything his predecessors accomplished, thanks in large part to the way deGrom ended it: 5-2 with a 1.40 ERA and 96 strikeouts over his final 10 starts. Pitcher usage is different now than it was decades ago, but in terms of adjusted ERA+, deGrom’s performance ranks second only to Gooden’s 1985 campaign. It was enough for him not only to finish fifth in NL MVP voting, but also to spark discussion over whether he might someday find his way to Cooperstown. If deGrom does, it will be in large part due to what he accomplished in 2018 as the clear best player on an otherwise ordinary team.

4. Tom Seaver, 1973
Key stats: 19-10, 2.08 ERA, 290 IP, 251 strikeouts, 175 ERA+

In 1973, Seaver led the NL in ERA, strikeouts, complete games, ERA+ and more, and it (probably) wasn’t the best performance of his career. A peek at the back of Seaver’s baseball card almost numbs the senses, considering how good he was for how long. Seaver did lose two of his four postseason starts in ’73, despite allowing merely four runs over 15 1/3 innings in the pair of losses while posting a 1.99 ERA overall that October. In a sense, Seaver also paved the way for deGrom’s 10-win Cy Young season of 2018, becoming the first pitcher in Major League history to take home that hardware despite falling short of 20 victories. In any event, this exercise is about picking nits, and it’s difficult to argue for Seaver’s ’73 campaign over any of the seasons listed above. That’s not even remotely a criticism. Seaver’s summer of ‘73 was still one of the finest seasons the league has seen in well more than a century of existence.

5. , 1983
Key stats: 13-7, 1.47 ERA, 62 appearances, 110 IP, 17 saves, 248 ERA+

It would be easy to put another Seaver, Gooden or deGrom performance here, or even default to a different starting pitcher. But what Orosco accomplished in 1983 deserves some recognition. Not a closer in the modern sense, Orosco routinely pitched in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, often for six to nine outs at a clip. On July 31, he registered two wins on the same day, pitching five combined innings in a doubleheader against the Pirates. Orosco finished with the highest adjusted ERA+ of any Mets pitcher with at least 40 innings in a season, blowing away the career bests of even Seaver, Gooden and deGrom. For his efforts, Orosco finished third in NL Cy Young Award balloting, becoming the only reliever that year to receive a first-place vote.

Honorable mention
Shoutout to the Mets’ other Cy Young seasons: Seaver in 1969, R.A. Dickey in 2012 and deGrom in '19. Any of those three could have made this list.

Among non-Cy Young winners, Jon Matlack may top them all with a 1974 campaign that saw him fire a Major League-leading seven shutouts and post a 2.41 ERA despite a losing record overall.

People tend to remember the Mets tenures of Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana for their injury-plagued ends, but their 2005 and '08 seasons, respectively, were among the best the franchise has seen.

Had a torn UCL not interfered with his 2013 season, Matt Harvey might have been able to crack the Mets’ Top 5. The 178 1/3 innings he did deliver were that good.