Where does Jacob deGrom rank in Mets history?
By Benjamin Hoffman
When a club drafts a pitcher who goes on to be nicknamed “The Franchise,” leads it to a shocking World Series title and is elected to the Hall of Fame on his first try with 98.8% of the vote, there is not much debate as to who is the best starter in team history.
For the New York Mets, it is Tom Seaver and then everyone else.
But after Jacob deGrom, another homegrown Mets ace, shocked the baseball world by signing a five-year, $185 million contract with the Texas Rangers on Friday, it is worth asking: Did he do enough to be called the Mets’ second-greatest pitcher?
The accolades for deGrom were numerous. He was the National League’s rookie of the year in 2014, won the league’s Cy Young Award in 2018 and 2019, was an All-Star four times, led the league in strikeouts twice and, in 2021, was challenging for the most dominant season of the integrated era (1947 to present), with a 1.08 ERA in 15 starts, when arm injuries forced him to be shut down.
But is that enough to say he was better than Dwight Gooden? Or more important to the team than Jerry Koosman?
The question, of course, is entirely subjective. But breaking down where Mets starters fall in various categories is a fun way to consider value for a team that has seen top pitchers at the start of their careers (Nolan Ryan, David Cone, Zack Wheeler) and at the end (Pedro Martínez, Tom Glavine, Johan Santana) but has had very few stick around long enough to have the lasting image of them be in the Mets’ blue and orange uniforms.
Best single season
Seaver’s performance in 1969 would make a fine pick for the best single season in club history. He went 25-7, had a 2.21 ERA, was an All-Star, won the Cy Young Award, finished second in voting for the NL’s MVP and led the team to a World Series title.
Statistically, however, you could make an argument that it wasn’t Seaver’s best year, let alone the best one by a Mets starter.
Seaver’s 7.2 wins above replacement in 1969 are tied with deGrom’s 2019 WAR for the seventh-best in team history, according to Baseball Reference’s formula. Seaver was more dominant, when factoring in league, ballpark and teammates, in 1975 (7.8), 1971 (10.2) and 1973 (10.6), his best year.
DeGrom’s best season by WAR came in 2018, when he had 9.5 (and a 1.70 ERA), and the team’s Top 10 list also includes Jon Matlack in 1974 (9.1), Santana in 2008 (7.1) and Martínez in 2005 (7.0).
But all of those terrific performances trail Gooden’s outrageous 1985 season. Only 20 at the time, Gooden went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA. He led the league in innings and strikeouts, was unanimously named the NL’s Cy Young winner and had an eye-popping 12.2 WAR, which is the highest mark of the integrated era and is the fourth best by a pitcher since 1901, trailing only Walter Johnson (twice) and Cy Young.
DeGrom’s most dominant performance came on April 23, 2021, when he threw a two-hit shutout with 15 strikeouts against the Washington Nationals, a team that went on to win the World Series that season. Using the statistic game score, which rewards innings and strikeouts while taking points away for hits, runs, home runs and walks, he recorded a career-best mark of 98, which is the fourth highest in Mets history.
The team’s third-best game score went to Cone, who received a 99 for a three-hit shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies on Oct. 6, 1991, in which he struck out 19 batters.
Second-best went to Seaver, who had a 106 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 1, 1974, for a performance in which he allowed one run, three hits and two walks in 12 innings but received a no-decision when the Mets lost in 14 innings.
The top mark, shockingly, belongs to Rob Gardner, a somewhat forgettable left-hander who was making the fifth appearance of his career on Oct. 2, 1965, when he threw 15 shutout innings against the Phillies. In the wild performance, Gardner allowed five hits and two walks while striking out seven. Thanks largely to the high number of innings, Gardner got a game score of 112 — tied for the fifth-best mark of the integrated era — but it wasn’t enough to get a win: The game, in which Philadelphia’s Chris Short also threw 15 scoreless innings, was called a 0-0 tie after 18 innings because of a Saturday night curfew in the second game of a doubleheader.
When Gardner was interviewed about the game by Hannah Keyser for Yahoo in 2020, he was notably humble.
“I have to point this out, the guy that pitched against me pitched equally if not better than I did,” Gardner said. “He just didn’t live long enough to be interviewed about it.”
(Santana threw the franchise’s only solo no-hitter, on June 1, 2012, but with eight strikeouts and five walks, he had a game score of 90, which is tied for the 49th-best start in franchise history.)
Seaver, to no one’s surprise, has the most WAR in franchise history, with 76. He also leads the team in wins, innings, strikeouts, shutouts and numerous other categories. Only three other pitchers got even half as many WAR for the Mets as Seaver.
In fourth place on the team’s career list is Koosman, who had 39.4 WAR over 12 seasons, going 140-137 with a 3.09 ERA and 1,799 strikeouts. He was a key member of the 1969 title team, and his No. 36 jersey was retired by the Mets in 2021.
In third place is deGrom, who had 41.1 over nine seasons. A lack of run support gave him a record of 82-57, but his 2.52 ERA is the third-best career mark of the expansion era. He started one game for the team in the World Series, in his second season, and never got a chance to make up for a mediocre outing in a Game 2 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
In second place, narrowly holding off a challenge from deGrom, is Gooden.
A first-round pick by the team in 1982, he pitched 11 seasons for the Mets, going 157-85 with a 3.10 ERA and 1,875 strikeouts. He never quite lived up to the promise of his first three seasons, but he won a World Series, a rookie of the year award and a Cy Young Award, and his 41.6 WAR will continue to trail only Seaver now that deGrom has left the team.
Gooden should be safe in that spot for a while. The franchise’s WAR leader among pitchers currently under contract is Max Scherzer, who had 5.2 in his first year with the team.