New York Mets pitchers coming of age for better or worse
By Alan Karmin
The New York Mets came into existence in 1962 by grabbing on to old familiar names, has-beens, trying to capture some magic of the past. The inaugural season was more of a walk down memory lane. And the love affair with some of the old-timers sprinkled on the Mets roster, probably made the misery of losing more tolerable.
After that inaugural season, the Mets seem to have made a habit of bringing in older players who have pretty much had their better days elsewhere, and whose glory days were in the rear-view mirror.
This is especially true when it comes to pitchers, and you would think that given the life-span of a pitcher’s arm, and how fragile they can be, management would look to get younger on the mound rather than older. Over the last two off-seasons, the Mets have added Max Scherzer (a year ago), and Justin Verlander (this season).
For five seasons the duo were the 1-2 punch in the Detroit Tigers starting rotation…from 2010 to 2014. Scherzer captured the Cy Young Award in 2013 and led the American League in victories in 2013 and 2014, while Verlander won the pitching triple crown in 2011, leading the AL in wins, ERA, and strikeouts.
The Detroit Tigers finished first in the AL Central Division four consecutive years – 2011-2014 – making it to the World Series in 2012 with Scherzer and Verlander at the top of the rotation.
The Mets reunited them, for a hell of a lot of money, allocating over $86 million for the two - Scherzer $43,333,333and Verlander $43,333,333 – with the hopes that they could duplicate what they did for the Tigers.
Scherzer, 38 years of age, made 23 starts in 2022, twice missing significant time with an injury. And when he did return for the stretch run and playoffs, he was not the Scherzer everyone expected, obviously lacking his usual effectiveness. The three-time Cy Young Award winner finished with a respectable, but rather deceptive, 11-5 record and 2.29 ERA throwing only 145 innings. Scherzer had 201 careers wins heading into this season, winning No. 200 as a member of the Mets last season.
Verlander, 40 years of age, came back in 2022, to win his second Cy Young Award by going 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA making 28 starts and throwing 175 innings for the Houston Astros. Verlander missed all but one game of 2020 and all of 2021, after leading the National League with 21 victories in 2019. Verlander has 244 career wins to start the 2023 campaign…WHEN he starts the 2023 campaign as he didn’t even manage to break camp with the Mets.
The New York Mets have not had time on their side very often with former star pitchers.
Warren Spahn…the winningest lefthander in Major League history with 363 wins was a shoe in Hall of Famer when he took the No. 21 from a young Ed Kranepool and donned a Mets uniform. He was a 14-time All-Star and captured his only Cy Young Award at the age of the 36.
Beginning at age 35, from 1956 through 1963, Spahn won 167 games, winning at least 20 in seven of the eight campaigns, and led the league for five consecutive seasons (1957-1961) in wins and led the league in complete games in each of those seasons totaling 165.
But in 1964, Spahn pitched to a 6-13 record with an ERA of 5.29, more than double his ERA of the previous season. And he threw 80 innings less and threw only four complete games.
The Mets, perhaps, thought he just might return to form, and, at age 44, purchased him from the Braves. They even brought Yogi Berra out of retirement and paired them in what would be the oldest battery in MLB history. Berra didn’t last long, going a mere 2 for 9 in his brief Mets playing career, and neither did Spahn. Spahn pitched to a 4-12 record and 4.01 ERA before the Mets released him in July.
Another future Hall of Fame southpaw, Tom Glavine spent five seasons in a Mets uniform from 2003 to 2007. Glavine was already 37 years old when he joined the club and owned two Cy Young Awards.
He did not endear himself to Mets fans when he had a losing record and high ERA’s his first two seasons in a Mets uniform. In fact, he was rather average during his Mets career, sporting a record of 61-56 and an ERA of 3.97.
Glavine won his 300th game in his final season with the club at the age of 41. But, unfortunately, he will be most remembered for the game he DIDN’T win, the game he got knocked out of the box in the very first inning when the Mets were playing to get into the post-season on the last day of the 2007 season. His time in New York was not very productive, and it couldn’t have ended any worse.
For the second time in team history, the Mets had two future Hall of Famers in their starting rotation, when they signed Pedro Martinez. (The first time was Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan.) Pedro joined the Mets at a bit earlier age…he was actually 33 in his first season with the Mets. But his best days, his day of dominance, were far behind him.
He teamed with Glavine for three seasons – 2005-2007 – but the duo couldn’t lead the Mets to the post-season.
Pedro was a real character and he brought confidence and a sheer desire to win when he came to the Mets. He spent parts of four season (2005-2008) with the club, making the All-Star team in his first two seasons, before breaking down and only pitching in five games in his third season. By his fourth season, his dominance as “Pedro” was a distant memory, as he posted a 5-6 record and 5.61 ERA, the worst season of his career.
Pedro Martinez, who finished his career with 219 victories, had, really, one good season for the Mets, his first, when he won 15 games and made 31 starts. After that, he was rather pedestrian, and although he did get career win No. 200 with the club, finished his time as a Met in a disappointing fashion.
The Mets have had other pitchers who were stars with other teams, guys like Mickey Lolich, Randy Jones, Orel Hershiser, only to have nothing left by the time they arrived in Flushing.
Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are two of the all-time greats who are still active…and have shown they are still effective. But they are not unbreakable. The Mets did not make a strong bid to re-sign Jacob deGrom because of his vulnerabilities. But Scherzer missed two chunks of time last season and Verlander wasn’t even able to make it to opening day.
It’s a legitimate concern and, unless we’re talking about the Texas Rangers version of Nolan Ryan, or a gray-haired knuckleballer like Phil Niekro, history has shown that Father Time is not a fan of the New York Mets. Actually, it might be interesting to see if the duo of Tylor Megill and David Peterson will outperform the tandem of Scherzer and Verlander. Time will tell.