Mets: Generation K is a cautionary tale of assessing pitching prospects

26 Jun 1996: Pitcher Jason Isringhausen of the New York Mets holds a baseball to his mouth as he concentrates on the game while looking on from the sideline during the Mets 9-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, New Yor
26 Jun 1996: Pitcher Jason Isringhausen of the New York Mets holds a baseball to his mouth as he concentrates on the game while looking on from the sideline during the Mets 9-5 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, New Yor /

Once in a generation or so the New York Mets will find a trio of young pitchers so potentially dominating that they need their own nickname. In 1995 Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, and Paul Wilson stormed the Mets and were handed the moniker Generation K.

In 2015 the New York Mets trio we all wanted to see the team build with was Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Zack Wheeler. They would do what Generation K failed to in the mid-1990s; at least we hoped so.

In 2018 it was a trio plus two in Harvey, deGrom, Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz.

This season we are back to three deGrom, Syndergaard, and Wheeler, and they are still being compared to the best Mets trios of all time, including Seaver, Koosman, and Matlack (late 1960s-early 1970s) and Gooden, Darling, Fernandez of the mid-late 1980s. Matt Harvey has been the biggest reminder of how fragile and unpredictable young pitchers really are.

Dominant starting pitching trios are few and far between. The Atlanta Braves had their “Big Three” trio from 1993-99 of John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. From this article by Zachary D. Rymer (2014):

"“Even the best pitching prospects, after all, are prone to failure. In looking at Baseball America Top 100 prospects from between 1990 and 2006, Matt Perez of Camden Depot found that over 75 percent of top pitching prospects became busts and just 10.58 percent became great.”"

Generation K has acquired a totally different meaning recently in the field of generational demographics and market research. Instead of calling the post-Millennial folks Generation Z (too apocalyptic), economist Noreen Hertz calls them Generation K after Katniss Everdeen who in my mind could become the Patron Saint of Met Fans some day.

Guess when the initial Generation K folks were born? 1995.

Before it all went wrong, these are the kinds of things people were saying about Izzy, Pulse, and Paul, along with what they said themselves. This article is from Spring Training 1996:

Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, and Paul Wilson have Mets fans giddy again. The twentysomething starters–Isringhausen is 23, Pulsipher 22 and Wilson 23–are the present and future of baseball in New York.”

Here’s Ken Rosenthal in the LA Times in 1995:

"“Right-hander Jason Isringhausen and left-hander Bill Pulsipher could be the Seaver and Koosman of the ’90s, and right-hander Paul Wilson — the No. 1 pick in the ’94 draft — may be a better prospect than both.”"

Years later, Jason Isringhausen–ultimately the most successful of the three– speculated on why the trio flamed out in this article from 2016 by Joe Giglio of the NJ Advance Media. Giglio wrote:

“During their respective 23-year-old seasons, Isringhausen (1996), Wilson (1996), and Pulsipher (1995) combined for 35 starts of at least 100 pitches. While that in itself isn’t outrageous, this is: 11 of those 35 starts clocked in at over 120 pitches.

To put that into context: The entire 2015 season only featured 40 games in which starters threw 120-or-more pitches. Of that group, only seven did it more than once and none were as young as 23.”

Obviously, the care and feeding of young pitching phenoms has evolved a lot since then, but it seems reasonable to think that this overuse contributed to their injury and effectiveness issues early in their careers.

Pitching phenoms, like pawns, start out with great potential, yet rarely come close to achieving it. They are sacrificed along the way or surpassed by slightly stronger pieces with more predictable value.

In the case of Generation K, they were pushed into play before they were physically or mentally prepared to dominate in the pressurized New York environment and sacrificed in the name of selling tickets.

Jason Isringhausen

At the age of 18, Izzy was picked in the 44th round of the 1991 draft by the Mets. When he was 22 (1995) Izzy went from Double-A Binghamton to Triple-A Norfolk to the Mets. He pitched a total of 221 innings and went 20-4.

In 1996 his record was 6-14 with a 4.77 ERA in 27 starts over 171.2 innings. From 1997 until the end of his career after 2012 he only started eleven more games and none after this regrettable trade with Oakland:

Traded by Mets with RHP Greg McMichael to Athletics for RHP Billy Taylor, July 31, 1999 (from Baseball America).

Although the Mets did use him in relief in 1991 before the trade after he missed the entire 1998 season with an injury, his career as an effective closer started with the A’s and continued with the Cardinals.

When he returned to the Mets as a free agent in 2011 after missing all of 2010, I was thrilled to have him back, and impressed by how well he pitched, and more importantly at the time, how well he mentored the young relievers.

Bill Pulsipher

Pulse’s journey has been challenging to say the least. He was picked as the 19th biggest draft bust of all time by Baseball Prospectus in this article from 2017. Oddly four of the five biggest busts were drafted by the New York Yankees. Any guesses on who they are? (See answer at the bottom.)

Injuries, loss of command, and anxiety all contributed to an overall disappointing career for Pulsipher. Good news is that Bill’s son Liam is learning how not to be a baseball prospect.

Paul Wilson

What is the expectation for a 1-1 (player drafted first overall)?

These are the players drafted first overall from 1990-2001:

1990 Chipper Jones

1991 Brien Taylor

1992 Phil Nevin

1993 Alex Rodriguez

1994 Paul Wilson

1995 Darin Erstad

1996 Kris Benson

1997 Matt Anderson

1998 Pat Burrell

1999 Josh Hamilton

2000 Adrian Gonzalez

2001 Joe Mauer

Paul Wilson made it to the Mets in early 1996, just two years after being drafted, and he pitched just one season for the Mets, ending up 5-12 with a 5.38 ERA. His only season included a brief stint on the disabled list (as it was called way back then) for right shoulder tendinitis, a hint of things to come.

There was a brief glimmer of hope in his final six starts where he averaged 6.27 innings per start with a 1.91 ERA. The next three years saw a series of injuries along with 82 1/3 forgettable minor league innings capped with a trade.

He did not pitch again in the major leagues until 2000 for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and he did not achieve one single full season of quality pitching. He was out of the majors by 2005 at the age of 32 after spending his final three seasons pitching for the Cincinnati Reds.

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Answer to trivia question: Drew Henson (1), Jesus Montero (2), Brien Taylor (4), and Ruben Rivera (5).

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