Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Jacob deGrom, etc. have all had some fantastic seasons for the New York Mets. One individual season stands out as the most underrated.
In his first full season with the Mets, Frank Viola finished third in the Cy Young race. The year was 1990. It turned out to be the final stand by the Mets before the dark clouds rolled in over Shea Stadium in the first part of the decade.
Viola had one final fabulous performance to give. He put together what would become the most underrated season a Mets starting pitcher has had.
What makes Frank Viola’s 1990 season the most underrated NY Mets starting pitching performance
We can start by simply looking at win totals. This was one of the rare 20-game winning seasons for a Mets pitcher. Viola factored into the decision in all but three of his starts for the ball club, going 20-12. He led the league with those 35 starts. Viola tore through those games with a league-best 249.2 innings.
This was old-school baseball. Viola was already like this when the Mets acquired him from the Minnesota Twins in the middle of the 1989 season. From 1983 through 1992, Viola was consistently on the field and going deep into games. There wasn’t a single season in that span where he pitched in fewer than 200 innings. In fact, he went well over it in 1989 when the Mets and Twins pushed him to 261 innings—a career-high.
Viola’s strikeout numbers were never exceptional especially when compared to today. His success came from avoiding walks (2.2 per 9) and not allowing a whole lot of home runs (0.5 per 9). His 2.67 ERA assures us he didn’t luck into winning 20 games. He carried the load on the mound for the Mets.
The exceptional season was worth 6.4 WAR which if voted on today might have been enough to get him the Cy Young because back in 1990, this statistic was just a twinkle in the eye of baseball stat junkies. The winner, Doug Drabek, was worth 4.2 WAR with runner-up Ramon Martinez at 3.9. Drabek did win 22 games but both he and Martinez had higher ERAs. Viola could’ve been overlooked because Drabek’s Pittsburgh Pirates won the NL East with Viola’s Mets finishing second.
Only six pitchers in Mets history have reached 20 wins in a season. Viola is the one most lost in the shuffle.