Throughout their history, the Mets have had small bundles of team success. The team entered the league in 1962, and did not have their first winning season until 1969. After winning the 1969 World Series, the Mets had a small stretch of winning records (with the exception of 1974) until 1977.
Following the infamous Tom Seaver trade in the 1976-77 offseason, New York endured a seven-year streak of losing records before reversing course to a seven-year stretch of winning campaigns. That winning stretch led the Mets to their second World Series victory in 1986. After 1990 came more downtime and it was not until 1999 that they would return to the Postseason.
The team hoped the new millennium would be different, and began on a very high note; winning the 2000 National League pennant. Unfortunately, their success was mostly overshadowed by failure. Since 2000, the Mets have had eleven losing seasons, but did also capture two NL pennants and two NL Wild Card berths. Over this period, the Mets produced or acquired many recognizable names: David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Jacob deGrom, Johan Santana, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, among others.
For now, let’s look back at five lesser-known Mets performances of the past 20 seasons:
Mike Hampton (2000)
As mentioned, the Mets began the new era by picking up right where they left off in 1999. For the first time in franchise history, they managed to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Fierce competition from the Atlanta Braves and struggles on the road cost the Metropolitans the NL East. However, a 55-26 home record was tied with the San Francisco Giants for the best mark in the league, and helped the team maintain pace in the standings. The Mets made the postseason as the Wild Card team. They went 7-2 in the NLDS and NLCS en route to the fourth World Series appearance in team history.
The Mets pitching staff was once again led by Al Leiter, but he was joined by some much needed help. Before signing a massive eight-year deal with Colorado, longtime Astros pitcher Hampton was dealt to the Mets prior to the 2000 season. The 27-year old finished the year 15-10 with a 3.14 ERA in 33 games started. For his efforts at the plate, Hampton was awarded with a Silver Slugger award, the second of five in his career.
Despite slumping in the NLDS and World Series against the Yankees, Hampton was the awarded the 2000 NLCS MVP award. The lefty won each of his two starts and did not allow a run in either. While he was unable to replicate his impressive 1999 numbers in Houston, Hampton enjoyed a short but effective run with the Mets.
Aaron Heilman (2005)
The Mets endured another rough patch after 2000, missing the playoffs from 2001-2005 and finishing below .500 in three of those seasons. However, their fortunes were starting to look better in 2005. A young duo of David Wright and Jose Reyes were joined by free agent signing Carlos Beltran, adding to an impressive roster featuring former Cy Young award-winners Martinez and Glavine. Veteran outfielder Cliff Floyd had one of his best seasons that year with the Mets, slugging 34 home runs, a career-high.
The Willie Randolph-led Mets were on the rise, and they jumped right into a very competitive division race in the NL East. Every team in the division finished .500 or better that season. Unfortunately, it was not enough for the Mets to make it back to the Postseason.
During this time, a secret bullpen weapon emerged for the Mets. Starting pitcher Heilman was converted to a reliever. In his 25 career starts, Heilman went 5-13 with a 5.93 ERA and 1.57 WHIP. After he was converted to a reliever in 2005, he pitched much more effectively. As a reliever in 2005, Heilman finished with a 2.18 ERA in 46 appearances. Most impressively, Heilman’s second half of the season was dominant, as his 0.68 ERA led the National League during that time.
Heilman finished that season with a 1.14 WHIP, 2.97 FIP, and 130 ERA+. The 2005 season was the only time Heilman pitched over 100 innings and recorded over 100 strikeouts. While some may argue his best season came in 2007, Heilman’s quick and impressive turnaround from a starter to a reliever in 2005 is oft-forgotten.
Luis Castillo (2009)
New York returned to the Postseason in 2006, but endured a heartbreaking elimination in the 2006 NLCS. Then, the Mets had late-season collapses in 2007 and 2008, costing them a chance to return to the playoffs. Suddenly, everything was falling apart, as the 2009 season was completely derailed by injuries. During the year, 20 different players saw time on the disabled list, including staff ace Santana as well as Wright, Reyes, and Beltran. It was impossible for the team to click, and as a result they finished 70-92.
One player who managed to avoid the disabled list was veteran infielder Castillo. Yes, this was the season where “Castillo dropped the ball.” That moment will always live on in Mets infamy. However, throughout his career Castillo was known for his consistent hitting, speed, and ability to get on base. Despite that infamous moment, Castillo’s consistency continued in 2009. He played in 142 games and hit .302. He stole 20 bases, scored 77 runs, and had a .387 on-base percentage.
2009 marked the seventh time Castillo hit above .300 in a season, and the eighth time he stole 20 or more bases. The two-time World Series Champion walked more than he struck out that season, and his .387 on-base percentage was his highest mark since 2005. When it opened, Citi Field quickly became known as a “pitcher’s park.” Castillo managed to hit .350 in 73 home games, and he also hit .321 during the second half of the season.
Angel Pagan (2010)
The 2010 season was not much different for the Mets. Despite less injuries, they were not able to continue their early-season success after enjoying a very good start. By July 1, they were 44-34, good enough for second place in the NL East. Then July happened, and the team completely fell apart. The Mets went 9-17 that month, which included a rough 2-9 West Coast road trip against the Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Los Angeles Dodgers. For the rest of the season, the New York found themselves struggling to stay above .500. They finished the season 79-83, fourth place in the NL East.
One of the many Mets injuries in 2009 included outfielder Pagan. In 2009, Pagan began to break out, but injuries halted his progress. In 2010, however, broke out in his first full season. The native of Río Piedras finished the season second on the team to Wright in games played (151), plate appearances (633), and total bases (246). He led the club with 37 stolen bases (good for second in the National League), 168 hits, a .290 batting average, and a 5.3 WAR. Pagan’s production was a big contributor to the Mets during the first half. He hit .333 in May, .308 in June, and .337 in July. The Mets as a team hit .252 with runners in scoring position, but Pagan hit .339 with 51 runs batted in.
Jon Niese (2012)
Fortunes didn’t change in 2012, as once again, the Mets started the season stronger than anticipated. By the All-Star break, the Mets were 46-40. After the break, the Mets struggled once more, finishing 74-88 and another fourth-place finish. There were, however, some interesting developments involving the starting pitchers that season. Santana returned from missing a year with a shoulder injury and on June 1 made history by pitching the franchise’s first no-hitter. Highly-touted prospect Matt Harvey made his MLB debut in July, and had a very promising showing in ten starts that season. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey took the league by storm with 20 wins, 230 strikeouts, and a 2.73 ERA, all good enough to earn him the NL Cy Young award.
Niese became the fourth piece of the short-lived puzzle. After an inconsistent stretch from 2008-2011, the lefthander finally found form. He made 30 starts in 2012, tying his career-high. Career-highs were set in ERA (3.40), innings pitched (190.1), strikeouts (155), ERA+ (112), WHIP (1.17), and wins (13). Of his 30 starts, the 2005 draftee made 22 quality starts… also a career-high. With Santana and Dickey making history and Harvey on the rise, it’s easy to forget Niese’s solid 2012 campaign.
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