Throughout their nearly half-century of existence, the Mets have always prided themselves on their pitching. From stalwarts like Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman to ’80s greats Dwight Gooden and David Cone, the Mets have always had a quality starter or two in their rotation. Even the current Mets have an ace up their sleeve every time Johan Santana takes the mound.
However, since 1988, the Mets have only won one NL East championship (2006), and that division title was due more to their great hitters (Reyes, Wright, Beltran, Delgado) than their pitching (Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel led the staff with 15 wins apiece). If “pitching wins championships”, then the Mets have been without good pitching for the better part of two decades. In fact, it’s actually worse than it seems.
In 1990, Frank Viola became the last Met to win 20 games when he finished the season with a 20-12 record. That same season, he was almost joined by Dwight Gooden, as Doc fell one win short of the 20-win plateau when he lost his final start of the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since 1990, no Met has approached 20 victories, with Al Leiter coming the closest when he won 17 games in 1998.
Twenty years have elapsed since the Mets had a pitcher win at least 18 games in a single season. When Viola and Gooden achieved their lofty win totals in 1990, the Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays weren’t even major league franchises yet, with the Marlins and Rockies making their debuts in 1993, while the Diamondbacks and Rays played their first games five years later. Yet all four of those expansion teams have had at least one 18-game winner since their inaugural seasons. Let’s look at each major league team, in alphabetical order by league, to see how many of them can boast an 18-game winner since 1990 (players listed are the last ones to reach the 18-victory plateau for their respective teams).
- Baltimore Orioles: Mike Mussina (18 wins in 1999)
- Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester (19 wins in 2010)
- Chicago White Sox: Jon Garland (18 wins in 2006)
- Cleveland Indians: Cliff Lee (22 wins in 2008)
- Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander (18 wins in 2010)
- Kansas City Royals: Kevin Appier (18 wins in 1993)
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: John Lackey (19 wins in 2007)
- Minnesota Twins: Johan Santana (19 wins in 2006)
- New York Yankees: CC Sabathia (21 wins in 2010)
- Oakland Athletics: Trevor Cahill (18 wins in 2010)
- Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez (19 wins in 2009)
- Tampa Bay Rays: David Price (19 wins in 2010)
- Texas Rangers: Kenny Rogers (18 wins in 2004)
- Toronto Blue Jays: Roy Halladay (20 wins in 2008)
- Arizona Diamondbacks: Brandon Webb (22 wins in 2008)
- Atlanta Braves: Russ Ortiz (21 wins in 2003)
- Chicago Cubs: Carlos Zambrano (18 wins in 2007)
- Cincinnati Reds: Pete Schourek (18 wins in 1995)
- Colorado Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez (19 wins in 2010)
- Florida Marlins: Dontrelle Willis (22 wins in 2005)
- Houston Astros: Roy Oswalt (20 wins in 2005)
- Los Angeles Dodgers: Chan Ho Park (18 wins in 2000)
- Milwaukee Brewers: Chris Capuano (18 wins in 2005)
- Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Halladay (21 wins in 2010)
- Pittsburgh Pirates: John Smiley (20 wins in 1991)
- San Diego Padres: Jake Peavy (19 wins in 2007)
- San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum (18 wins in 2008)
- St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright (20 wins in 2010)
Do you see any teams missing? Perhaps you noticed the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals missing from the list. It’s true that they have not had an 18-game winner in the past two decades. But in the strike-shortened 1994 season, Ken Hill of the Montreal Expos was leading the National League with 16 victories when the baseball season came to an abrupt end in mid-August. Surely, had the season been allowed to be played out until its completion, Hill would have earned the two victories needed to reach the 18-win plateau.
So what other team has been left out of the above list? You guessed it. Your friendly neighborhood New York Mets. Since 1990, no Met pitcher has reached the 18-win mark in a single season and only Al Leiter has won as many as 17 games, doing so in 1998. (Pedro Martinez is the only 17-game winner for the Expos/Nationals franchise over the past two decades, winning that many games in 1997, when he won the National League Cy Young Award.)
In 2008, Johan Santana could have won as many as 23 games for the Mets, but the bullpen blew seven of his leads and he was forced to settle for a 16-win season. Johan’s bad luck has been felt by many starters recently, as the Mets have had shaky bullpens in each of the past four seasons.
One thing is for sure. Whether it be because of a less than stellar bullpen or because the Mets have not had many aces in their rotation over the past two decades, they have not been able to put a big winner on the mound since the days of Frank Viola and Dwight Gooden.
Perhaps Mike Pelfrey or R.A. Dickey will be the ones to finally crack the 18-win plateau, as Big Pelf won a career-high 15 games for the sub-.500 Mets last year and R.A. used his Dickey-pedia to outsmart his opponents on his way to 11 victories despite not starting a game until May 19. But for a team that has supposedly prided itself on having great pitching over their long history, having a strike-shortened season keeping the Mets from being the only team without an 18-game winner since 1990 is not something they should ever be proud of.