Mets: When John Franco rebounded from a career-worst season in 1993
By Tim Boyle
John Franco had the worst season of his career for the 1993 New York Mets but managed to rebound quickly with how he performed in 1994.
The 1993 New York Mets aren’t remembered fondly. The club lost 103 games despite having a roster seemingly built to compete. Poor pitching, injuries, and a shallow offense all led to one very bad year for National League baseball in New York that year.
Nobody was spared from the grief. Anthony Young went 1-16 while splitting time between the bullpen and rotation. Pete Schourek had a similar role and went 5-12.
If there was one surprise from the end of year statistics, it might be the ones listed alongside John Franco’s name. The longtime Mets closer had a very bad year for the club. In 35 games, he was 4-3 with a 5.20 ERA.
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Franco’s 1993 season was an anomaly during the best years of his career. Up until that point, he had only one season that included an ERA higher than 3.00. Even then, in 1989 with the Cincinnati Reds, he had an ERA of 3.12 and made the National League All-Star team.
It was a different story for Franco in 1993. He allowed home runs at a rate of 1.5 per nine innings. He also walked a ton of batters, finishing the year with 4.7 per nine frames.
This could have been the beginning of the end. After all, the 1993 season was his age 32 campaign. At that point in a pitcher’s career, decline seems inevitable.
For whatever reason, Franco wasn’t about to start declining just yet. He returned in 1994 with Mets hoping for a far different outcome. He did just that.
The 1994 season ended prematurely because of the Player’s Strike. Unfortunately, it meant not getting a chance to see how Franco might finish the year with more opportunities.
In this abridged season, Franco earned a league-leading 30 saves while posting a 2.70 ERA. It was the third time in his career he led the league in saves and the second time as a member of the Mets.
Franco cut down his home runs allowed to a rate of 0.4 per nine. It showed in his other numbers and helped him do something he never did in any other year of his career: receive Cy Young consideration.
That’s right, in 1994 Franco was the seventh-place finisher in a unanimous Cy Young Award decision. Greg Maddux won the award easily but Franco was there a mile away with two points of the vote. He also received the mildest of MVP considerations, finishing with three points of the vote and in 20th place overall.
The turnaround was huge for Franco. He returned in 1995 with a 2.44 ERA season and was even better in 1996 when he had an ERA of 1.83.
It’s pretty amazing how consistent Franco was throughout his career. From his rookie season with the Reds in 1984 until the end of the 2003 season, he only ever saw his ERA climb above 4.00 twice!
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Relievers aren’t meant to have two decades of excellence like Franco had. Although he lacked the dominance we see from some modern closers, there’s no doubt why Franco managed to save over 400 games.