#9 – Jon Matlack: Tough Luck Pitcher

Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #9, Jon Matlack:

During his seven year Mets career, Jon Matlack was among the best pitchers in the National League. Among NL pitchers in the 1970s, he has the 9th most wins above replacement, ranks 7th in ERA, 3rd in FIP, and 4th in shutouts. His win-loss record, however, was a less than stellar 82-81, and the Mets actually had a losing record in games started by Matlack. This happened because he received no help from his teammates — and I mean no help. His Mets companions scored just 3.6 runs per game for him, and he lost 37 times in quality starts, or just over 5 times a season. Just to compound things, they also played shoddy defense behind him, as a significantly higher than normal percentage of Matlack’s runs were unearned.

This lack of support apparently annoyed Matlack at times:

Matlack, whose 14-8 record, along with Koosman’s 17-8, indicates that the Mets have reserved most of their ineptitude for Seaver and Lolich, hit the ceiling in June when Dave Kingman misjudged a fly ball to right field, allowing the weak-hitting Giants to score five runs in the first inning. “The trouble with this club,” Matlack said later, “is that you don’t have to take fly balls in practice. If you did, you might catch that ball.”

– Sports Illustrated, September 1976

Maybe his team didn’t score for Matlack because he said mean things about them in the newspaper.

Anyway, his win-loss record says far more about his teammates than it does about him: He was absolutely an ace, and one of the 70s’ top pitchers. People mention Seaver, Koosman and Gooden as the great Mets pitchers, but Jon Matlack can and should be mentioned in the same breath.


Best seasons by a non-Seavarian Mets pitcher, by wins above replacement. Yes, Tom Seaver really does have 10 8 of the top 18:

Rk Player WAR
1 Dwight Gooden 11.7
4 Jon Matlack 8.6
8 Jerry Koosman 6.8
9 Jon Matlack 6.7
10 Jerry Koosman 6.7
11 Al Leiter 6.5
12 Johan Santana 6.4
14 Frank Viola 6.3
16 David Cone 5.8
18 Craig Swan 5.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/7/2011.


Filed under Mets, Words

9 responses to “#9 – Jon Matlack: Tough Luck Pitcher

  1. Holy crap, take a look at Matlack’s 1974 season, then look at the 1974 Cy Young voting. He got jobbed, big time.

    • Patrick Flood

      First in wins above replacement, first in shutouts. Third in ERA, I think. You could make a case for some other pitchers — Niekro — but I think Matlack was the best that season. Didn’t even get a vote because of his w/l record.

  2. “Best seasons by a non-Seavarian Mets pitcher, by wins above replacement. Yes, Tom Seaver really does have 10 of the top 18:”

    My math is hazy today. Shouldn’t that be either ’10 of the top 20′ or ‘8 of the top 18’?

  3. Seriously, you put this guy above Mike Piazza you have to be kidding. I’m all for the sabermetrics but you really dropped the ball on this one. How many playoff wins does this guy have? You should add swagger into your formula and as far as I’m concerned Matlock has none. Mike Piazza is the a difference maker. For all of his short comings defensively he more than made up for it at the plate and in the clubhouse. Piazza single handidly delivered 2 playoff births and almost 4. (1998 and 2001). Ask any Met fan who they would draft first Matlock or Piazza and the numbers would be overwhelmly favored toward Piazza. You can bring up the position player vs pitcher debate, but Piazza is one of the top three Mets period.

    • Patrick Flood

      I didn’t really get into why Piazza goes here — I think it’s best to compare him to Edgardo Alfonzo, to show why Piazza caused him teammates to be underrated, which I’ll do sometime soon. This list has been held up from me being here, but I’ll explain soon.

    • I’ve spent a lot of time defending Piazza and his place among the great catchers, but Eddie, I have to say you’re off on this one. Piazza’s great years were with the Dodgers, and he simply wasn’t as great with the Mets as Matlack was.

      And no player ever “single-handedly” delivers a playoff birth. If that were true, the Tigers in the Cobb years would have won a lot more pennants, the Yanks would have won in 1920, the Red Sox would have won a lot more with Williams…you get the picture. Hell, even if Gehrig and Ruth in 1927 had been only as good as Meusel the Yanks would have still won the pennant. Takes a team to win, not a single player.

  4. The only years when Seaver/Koosman/Matlack weren’t the best top three starters the Mets ever had were the years when Seaver/Matlack/Koosman were.

    Thank you for rehabilitating Jon.

  5. Gdash, my problem with Matlock being put ahead of Piazza is simply my opinion. Everything changed that day in late May that Piazza arrived to play for the Mets. Yes, he had better seasons with the Dodgers but he brought the Mets back to relevance again. He got that big contract and he lived up to it. The Mets no longer were a laughing stock and he brought swagger to a team that had none. Guys like Edgardo Alfonzo and Todd Zeile got better pitches to hit, and Mike was the reason. While the Yankees had their own post 9/11 moments in the World Series, none could compare to Mike’s homerun that made every New Yorker feel normal again.

    I used the wrong choice of words by saying single handily delivering two playoff births. But you have to admit if Mike is not on those teams they don’t get anywhere near the same success. When I think of Matlock I picture a above average pitcher but not a great one. I even rank David Cone ahead of him even though it was a shorter period of time.

    Mike Piazza is the Mets face of the franchise behind Tom Seaver. He is beloved and clutch and made his teammates over achieve. The same can’t be said about Matlock.

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