6. Jon Matlack, 1972
Though Jon Matlack‘s award-winning rookie season is almost 50 years old, it remains perhaps the most historic in Mets history. Drafted 4th overall by New York in the 1967 draft from Henderson High School in West Chester, PA, Matlack was vital to the success of the 70s Mets; from 1972 through 1976, Matlack produced 170 appearances in over 1200 innings with a 2.84 ERA for the Mets, the 8th best mark of any starter over that stretch.
Matlack’s rookie season was simply the start of a spectacular run. In 1972, he threw 244 innings and finished with a 2.32 ERA (4th in the N.L.), .623 OPS allowed (9th), 16.9 K% (12th), and 145 ERA+ (4th). He easily won the N.L. Rookie of the Year award over teammate John Milner and Giants catcher Dave Rader.
You could argue that Jon Matlack was the first Jacob deGrom; his 6.1 WAR rookie season evolved into a stupendous third year; Matlack finished with the best WAR for a pitcher in the N.L. (9.1) while ranking 3rd in the league in ERA (2.41), 3rd in WHIP (1.119), 8th in K/9 (6.614), 1st in shutouts (7), and 3rd in ERA+ (149).
And yet, because he finished with 13 wins and 15 losses–a losing record and also irrelevant–Matlack failed to receive a single vote for N.L. Cy Young. Two years later, with a 17-10 record, 2.95 ERA, and 5.3 K/9, he would finish 6th. Long live the olden days.
5. Juan Lagares, 2013
Yes, you read that right. This might be my favorite Met rookie season that I got to see in real time. The fact that I could even reasonably consider Juan Lagares’ first year as a spot on this list boggled my mind. And here we are.
Juan Osvaldo Lagares boasts a career .667 OPS, yet has produced 12.8 WAR in his first 6 MLB seasons. How? Because he is a maestro with the mitt, a firefly darting from point to point in the outfield every summer night. Lagares finished 2013 with the best UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating per 150 games) in the Majors by far; he finished with 27.2 and Manny Machado finished 2nd with 21.5. Even without his bat–Lagares’ slash line in ’13 was a horrid .242/.281/.352–Juan’s rookie season was very valuable to the Mets.
The best thing about Lagares’ rookie year wasn’t the perusing of cumulative stats in the paper or on twitter the day after a game, but the anticipation for a fly ball, any fly ball, to center field during a Mets game. How’s he gonna catch this one?
What if Juan Lagares could hit may be one of the forever maybes in Mets history. Last year, he started 20 for 59 with a 118 OPS+ before toe surgery ended his season in May. Consider this your 2019 Juan Lagares hype-up: if he can pick up where left off last season and even be half the defender he was as a rookie, the Mets will have a more important piece than they realize.