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The Best Seasons I Know: Splitting Things Up (Pitchers)

Part 2 of a series – if you want to read about the best hitting splits by a Met, click here.

If you’re reading this, you probably know that I like the esoterica of Mets history, that I get just as much enjoyment out of trying to find the best sacrifice flies as I do looking at the club’s 100 greatest home runs.

I was thinking about this the other day - what if we looked at best seasons by players in Mets history in a different way? What if we split them up into pieces and looked at the best Met for each split? It’s kind of a “Yes and …” improve-based approach to the “best season” question.

Thankfully, Baseball-Reference allows us to do that.

So if you wanted to know things like who was the best Mets pitcher in extra innings or in 2-strike situations, you came to the right place. I promise you’ll learn something new here.

I should note that these are my picks from eyeballing the numbers. I used sOPS+ as a guide, meaning how a pitcher’s OPS compared to the league OPS in that particular split, but did not strictly use that.

What’s the best home season by a Mets pitcher?

In 1988, David Cone went 10-1 with a 1.29 ERA and 7 complete games, holding opponents to a .180 opponents’ batting average and .474 OPS. Cone averaged eight innings in his 13 starts at Shea, including a pair of 10-inning no-decisions. In his first 51 2/3 innings pitched in the ballpark that year, he allowed only 4 runs.

Surprise contender:
This one’s not a surprise if you lived through it, but for those following the team for less than 40 years, Craig Swan’s 1978 (5-2, 1.68 ERA) represents very well compared to some of the top spots.

What’s the best road season by a Mets pitcher?

I can’t do this without putting Dwight Gooden’s 1985 (11-2, 1.56) or Tom Seaver’s 1971 (11-5, 1.63) somewhere. These are arguably the two best pitching seasons in Mets history, so it makes sense that dominance on the road was a key part of it.

Surprise contender: Bobby Jones was 8-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 10 road starts prior to the 1994 strike. Most impressively, he allowed only two home runs in 71 innings.

What’s the best season by a Mets pitcher with runners in scoring position?

So you could theoretically put Dwight Gooden in 1985 on any of these lists. Batters hit .143/.204/.183 against him with runners in scoring position. Jacob deGrom’s 2018 (.142/.195/.209) and Tom Seaver’s 1973 (.145/.198/.202) are the only ones who can challenge that.

Surprise contender: Daisuke Matsuzaka must have lulled hitters to sleep in 2014 with his deliberate style because he allowed more walks with runners in scoring position than hits. Opponents hit .146 with RISP against him in 2014, which is among the best marks in Mets history.

What’s the best season by a Mets pitcher in high-leverage situations?

Again, Gooden circa 1985 could be here, but just to make it a little more interesting, Noah Syndergaard’s 2018 finds its way onto the board. One of the reasons that Syndergaard kept his ERA down was that opponents hit .167 (18-for-108) in the most important at-bats against him that year.

Surprise contender: Rememeber David Weathers from 2002? You probably don’t, but maybe you should. When the pressure was on Weathers stormed through the opposition, holding them to a .175 batting average and .471 OPS in high-leverage spots.

What’s the best calendar month by a Mets pitcher?

Best April – In 1972, Tom Seaver was 3-0 with an 0.38 ERA, allowing 1 run in 24 innings, with 21 strikeouts and 1 walk. It was basically a carryover from Seaver’s outstanding 1971 campaign.

Best May – Let’s get Jacob deGrom 2018 out of the way here. In 26 innings, DeGrom struck out 37 and pitched to an 0.69 ERA. He got 4 no-decisions (and 1 win) in 5 starts). Shout-outs to David Cone in 1988 (5-0, 0.72) and Bobby Jones in 1997 (5-0, 1.15).

Best June R.A. Dickey’s June 2012 could be the most dominant month in Mets history. Dickey was 5-0 with an 0.93 ERA in 6 starts. He pitched 48 1/3 innings, allowed 21 hits(!), and struck out 55(!)

This month was so absurd that I think we’re going to look back on it in 50 years and still be wowed. Dickey pitched back-to-back interleague 1-hitters after a run of three straight scoreless starts. A knuckleball never danced quite like this (apologies to Phil Niekro, Hoyt Wilhelm and others).

Jerry Koosman’s 1969 is a runner-up here. He somehow lost twice (albeit with 4 wins, pitching to an 0.72 ERA in 50 innings.

Best July – So 1972 came up a lot in these searches, a season in which offense was depressed a bit. Jon Matlack’s 0.86 ERA in 42 innings that year still stands tallest though.

Best August – Oh, Matt Harvey circa 2015, you remind us of what could have been and what was. This was you at your best after your Tommy John surgery comeback -  2-0 with an 0.33 ERA in 27 innings with 24 strikeouts and 2 walks. It was this kind of month that let Terry Collins talk you into staying in for the 9th inning a couple months later.

Best September/October – So the most dominant month discussion probably comes down to R.A. Dickey’s June 2012 and the masterpiece that was Dwight Gooden at the peak of his power in 1985. Gooden went 4-0 with an 0.34 ERA in September and October with the Mets and Cardinals battling for the NL East title (the Cardinals were the opponent in two of these games). Gooden went 5 straight starts in that stretch without allowing an earned run. In true deGromian fashion, he got two no-decisions.

Surprise contenders: I’ve put these in list form. Some weird names here!

Duaner Sanchez (2006)
0.00 ERA, 16 IP, 13 K
Rick Aguilera (1989)
0.00 ERA, 19 1/3 IP,29 K
Mark Clark (1996)
4-1, 2.34, 33 K, 5 BB
Pat Zachry (1980)
4-0, 1.41 ERA, 4 CG, 6 G
Grover Powell (1963)
0.40 ERA, 22 1/3 IP,10 H
Alejandro Pena (1990)
0.53 ERA, 20 K, 1 BB

What’s the best season by a Mets pitcher vs lefties?

The Mets have had lots of left-handed pitchers who were great against same-side batsmen. Al Leiter was the best of those in 2000. Lefties that year went 14-for-119 against him, good for a .118 batting average, with a .189 on-base percentage and .424 OPS. Leiter had five starts in which he didn’t face a lefty. My response to that is: Why didn’t he have more???

Surprise contender: There are seasons in which Mets lefties held lefties to a much lower batting average than the .197 for Jerry Blevins in 2017. However, Blevins deserves a special salute. Blevins faced 132 lefties that season and allowed only 1(!) extra-base hit. A captip to you, Mr. Blevins.

What’s the best season by a Mets pitcher vs righties?

The same seasons keep coming up here, so I’m going to mix it up and pick a reliever. The Mets had a closer in the 1970s named Skip Lockwood that Howie Rose likes to bring up every so often. One of Lockwood’s claims to fame is that he got a masters degree from MIT. In 1976, Lockwood outsmarted a lot or right-handed batters. They hit .112 against him (21-for-187) with 67 strikeouts.

Lockwood got a dual degree in home dominance that season. Hitters at Shea Stadium managed a .149 average and 2 extra-base hits in 175 at-bats. Lockwood should have been better than he was that year, though he did finis with 10 wins and 19 saves.

Armando Benitez’s 1999 makes a good case for inclusion here. Righties hit .127 and struck out 80 times in 158 at-bats.

Surprise contender: Another reliever to make waves was Ken Sanders in 1975. Sanders faced 100 righties and allowed 13 hits and 3 walks. He kept their numbers down despite only striking out 8. In fact, he totaled 8 strikeouts in 43 innings that year. How the heck did he post a 2.30 ERA.

What’s the best season by a Mets pitcher in 2-strike situations?

A caveat here in that Baseball-Reference pitch data only goes back 25 to 30 years, so though I think the answer here would be Dwight Gooden 1984 and 1985, I can’t validate that with data.

So the answer here is Jacob deGrom 2018 in a runaway (opponents hit .112 against him), but that’s boring because that season’s gotten many mentions here.

It got me to thinking about which pitchers were the most fun to do the 2-strike clap for. Gooden is definitely one. Pedro Martinez in 2005 would be another. Martinez struck out 208 that season and opponents hit .123 with a .345 OPS against him in 2-strike situations.

Surprise contender: In 1995, Doug Henry was a former closer for the Brewers who was in his first season with the Mets. He posted a 2.96 ERA in 67 innings and is mostly forgettable given that he was awful the following season.

But that year he outperformed expectations (a 3.77 FIP) likely because he was almost unhittable with two strikes. Opponents batted .111 and slugged .170 against Henry in two-strike counts. They were 2-for-48 with 30 strikeouts when he got ahead 0-2.

What’s the best season by a Mets pitcher in the first inning?
Someone should bring R.A Dickey out of retirement to be an opener. Look at what he did in the first inning in 2012 – He pitched to a 1.09 ERA with five runs allowed in 33 starts, a .121 batting average against with 35 strikeouts and 2 walks

Surprise contender: Or if you want to lull an opponent into a nap at the start of the game, use Steve Trachsel in 2001 as your opener. Trachsel was gangbusters in the first inning that year, pitching to an 0.96 ERA in 28 starts. Opponents hit .146 against him. Problem was that his ERA the rest of games was 5.13.

What’s the best season by a Mets pitcher in extra innings?
There was a time when relief pitchers used to go to great lengths in extra- inning games, alas that time is growing distant. But we can still harken back to 1972 when Tug McGraw made 10 extra-inning appearances spanning 29 innings(!) and allowed only 3 runs (2 earned). McGraw owned the 9th inning that year too (0.97 ERA) setting the stage for his great year in 1973.

Surprise contender: I rewarded McGraw for longevity, but I have to give props to co-closer Danny Frisella, who made nine extra-innings appearances spanning 14 innings in 1971. Though he yielded three runs, they were all unearned, giving him a 0.00 extra-innings ERA.


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