The concern with Noah Syndergaard having Tommy John surgery isn’t just his being gone for the 2020 season and a significant portion of the 2021 season. The larger problem from a Mets perspective is this team has not had the best history with Tommy John surgeries and rehabilitation.
The Mets don’t have to look any further than their pitching coach Jeremy Hefner. Back in 2013, he was putting together a promising campaign when it was discovered he had a torn UCL. During his rehab from Tommy John, things were not going well, and it was discovered he would need to undergo a second surgery. He would only pitch one season in the minors after that before retiring.
Hefner was rehabbing at the same time as Matt Harvey. When it was discovered Hefner needed the second surgery, the Mets had eased the throttle off of Harvey who was pushing to pitch in 2014. In 2015, despite agreements on his innings limit, the Mets reneged and pushed him to pitch, and Harvey would throw more innings than anyone in the history of baseball after their Tommy John surgery.
In 2016, he was just not good with everyone trying to figure out what was wrong with him. It took a while to discover he had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Despite noticeable muscle atrophy, the Mets pitched him in 2017 leading to a stress reaction. Really, that was all but it for him as a Met and possibly his career. The big unknown is how the Mets handling of him affected his shoulder and/or aggravated or caused the TOS.
Harvey would not be the only Mets pitcher to return in 2015 from Tommy John. The other notable pitcher to return was Bobby Parnell. After discovering a torn UCL the day after the 2014 Opening Day, Parnell underwent the surgery. A year later, a Mets team hoping to stay in the pennant race activated him well before the end of the 18 month rehabilitation period. Parnell didn’t have his fastball, and his command was shot. By the middle of August, he had pitched to a 6.38 ERA before being put on the DL with arm fatigue. He’d only pitch 5.1 Major League innings after this season.
While Parnell was someone whose injury was discovered a day into the 2014 season, Zack Wheeler‘s torn UCL was discovered on the eve of the 2015 season. Wheeler had surgery, and he was slated to return in the middle of the 2016 season to help the Mets return to the postseason. During his rehab, he’d have issues with his stitches, and he would suffer a flexor strain when he was finally able to step on a mound again.
He wasn’t able to step onto a Major League mound again until April 2017, and he would have to be shut down that season due to a stress reaction in his right arm. Really, Wheeler wasn’t right until the 2018 season, which was three years after the first surgery.
A Mets pitcher having this level of difficulty in their Tommy John rehab is not anything new. In fact, that was exactly the case with Steven Matz when he was in the minor leagues. After being drafted in 2009, it was discovered he had a torn UCL, and he needed to have Tommy John surgery.
Matz really struggled with the rehabilitation, and there was a significant amount of scar tissue. At one point, they were concerned he was going to need a second Tommy John surgery. The advice was to just pitch through it. Matz would do just that finally making his professional debut in 2012. His Tommy John issues would not re-emerge until 2017 when he needed ulnar nerve transposition surgery.
When Matz underwent the surgery, he joined reliever Erik Goeddel and ace Jacob deGrom in having the surgery. With respect to Goeddel, he had Tommy John when he was in high school well before he was a member of the Mets organization. However, with respect to deGrom, he had his surgery and rehab as a member of the Mets organization.
With deGrom, he had seemingly appeared to be the one Mets pitcher who had a normal Tommy John surgery and rehabilitation. Yes, there were difficult times when he told Frank Viola he wanted to quit, but that was part of the normally grueling rehabilitation process and return. Ultimately, deGrom would become a Rookie of the Year winner, and he would introduce himself to the world with an incredible All-Star Game appearance and a postseason for the ages.
As noted with Harvey and Wheeler, Mets pitchers were dropping like flies in 2016. In addition to Harvey and Wheeler, Matz went down with a massive bone spur. It was then discovered during a pennant race, deGrom needed the ulnar transposition surgery. As we have seen, the surgery went well, and after a pedestrian 2018 season (by his standards), he has returned to be the best pitcher in baseball.
Keep in mind, the Mets checkered Tommy John history isn’t just recent. Jason Isringhausen would have the first of his three Tommy John surgeries with the Mets. Looking back at Generation K, he, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher would all have arm issues leading to them never pitching in the same rotation.
The Mets haven’t had Tommy John issues with pitchers only. T.J. Rivera underwent the surgery in 2017, and he attempted to return too soon struggling in 22 at-bats. The Mets would release him, and he would play in the Atlantic Leagues for the Long Island Ducks before landing a minor league deal with the Philadephia Phillies. We will see if he can return.
Last year, we saw the Mets botch the handling of Travis d’Arnaud. Even with the team playing well with a tandem of Wilson Ramos and Tomas Nido, the team rushed d’Arnaud back to the majors before one full year of rehabilitation. He would have one of the worst games you would ever see a catcher have leading to the Mets rage cutting him.
He would first land with the Dodgers and then the Rays. Notably, he didn’t start really playing well until July, which was roughly 15 months after the surgery, which is much closer to the recommended 18 months.
This is not an extensive history, but it is a good snapshot of the struggles the Mets have had dealing with Tommy John surgeries. Perhaps, it is of no coinidence much of this has coincided with the Wilpon taking over majority control of the Mets, and as Pedro Martinez and others have noted, Jeff Wilpon’s interference with medical decision making has been a real issue.
Seeing the Tommy John problems the Mets have had, we get a better sense of why Seth Lugo was so unwilling to go through the process, and we see some of the dangers which may very well face Syndergaard as he attempts to return from the surgery before hitting free agency.
With a -1.8 WAR and 79 wRC+ through his first 105 games at the Major League level, the building consensus has been Dominic Smith was a first round bust putting him in a ground of renown Mets bust. Mets fans can cite them in their sleep – Alex Ochoa, Fernando Martinez, Bill Pulsipher. The list goes on and on.
It is a large reason why Pete Alonso has surpassed him on the depth charts heading into Spring Training. Truth be told, it probably happened some time prior to that. After all, while Alonso was becoming the first ever Mets minor leaguer to lead the minors in home runs, Smith was having a nightmare season.
The narrative had become he was lazy. He contributed to that by struggling to keep in shape. He would be late for the first Spring Training game last year, one he was slated to start. He didn’t hit well with the Mets, and he didn’t hit well in Las Vegas. To hear many tell it, he was a lazy player and his laziness had led him to be a bust.
Lost in that narrative was the fact Smith was still just 23 years old, a little more than six months younger than Alonso. Really lost in all of that was the fact Alonso was not lazy. Rather, he was just young and trying to find his way.
As Smith would tell Kyle Glasser of Baseball America, he used his time in the majors well. He watched players like Bryce Harper play, and he learned he needed to make changes. That meant not just losing weight but also getting into shape. He wanted to be an athlete first and a baseball player second. He also needed to make his swing more mechanically sound.
Smith has also learned the importance of sleep in his routine. He has refitted his sleep apnea mask.
Seeing Smith report to Spring Training detailing his diet, workout routine, and the importance of sleep, you are seeing a much more mature person. As a result, you are also seeing a better baseball player, the player the Mets believed him to be when they drafted him in the first round (11th overall) of the 2013 draft. Right now, you are seeing the best hitter in baseball.
— Jacob Resnick (@Jacob_Resnick) March 3, 2019
As noted by Mathew Brownstein of MMO, Smith is the leading hitter in the majors this Spring with a .500 OBP and .579 OBP. Overall, he is 8-for-16 with three walks, a homer, and five RBI.
Looking at it, Smith is a much different player than he was last year. Remember, last year, Mickey Callaway said of Smith, “I think we had expectations for guys, and if they don’t meet that expectation, we have to hold them accountable.” He would also say how he was shocked how someone fighting for a job could do what Smith did.
Now? Well, now, Callaway has this to say about Smith, “Obviously, the defense is always gonna be there and the offense looks special right now. He’s putting great swings on the ball. He’s got great energy and I love what I see so far.”
Everyone has to love what they are seeing with Smith right now. Somewhat unexpectedly, he is making this a first base battle. More than that, he’s just battling. This was a young player, who had been knocked down and been humiliated. He struggled, and he’s seen perceptions of him change dramatically. He’s now much more mature, and like the mature person he is becoming, he is using his past experiences to make himself better.
The Mets are 9-1, and they are now off to the best start in franchise history. However, right now, when it comes to the Mets, this isn’t even the biggest news of the season:
Saturday, April 7th at Washington – Steven Matz
Sunday, April 8th at Washington – Matt Harvey
Monday, April 9th at Miami – Noah Syndergaard
Tuesday, April 10th at Miami – Jacob deGrom
Wednesday, April 11th at Miami – Zack Wheeler
Sometime after 7:10 P.M., after the bottom of the first has ended, the dream will finally be realized. The Five Aces will have finally taken one turn through the rotation. What’s funny about it is the dream was thought to be dead.
In 2015, before Syndergaard and Matz were called up to the majors, Wheeler needed Tommy John surgery. As a result, this meant the dream, which was still in its infancy, would have to wait a year.
Heading into 2016, the Mets re-signed Bartolo Colon to help allow Wheeler to take his time in his rehab. He would have a number of setbacks, and he would never pitch in 2016. That year also saw deGrom, Harvey, and Matz befall season ending injuries themselves.
In 2017, the Mets were once again poised to have them all in the same rotation. However, Matz would need to begin the season on the disabled list. Syndergaard didn’t have an MRI and tore his lat. Harvey and Wheeler would find their way onto the disabled list with stress reactions after they had probably been rushed into the rotation before they were ready.
The progress in 2017 was they at least all made a start in the same season. That was something Generation K never did. In 1995, we saw Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher in the same rotation. Like with Wheeler, it was discovered Pulsipher needed Tommy John during the ensuing Spring Training. As a result, this meant it was just Isringhausen and Paul Wilson in the rotation.
In 1997, Isringhausen was the only one to pitch for the Mets with Wilson pitching in the minors with shoulder problems and Pulsipher experiencing depression and complications from Tommy John. Pulsipher would be the only one to pitch for the Mets in 1998 with Isringhausen hurt and Wilson hurt and in the minors.
In 1998, Pulipsher was the first to go. He was traded to the Brewers for Mike Kinkade. In 1999, it was Isringhausen’s turn to go as the Mets thought it better to use him to obtain Billy Taylor rather than use him in the bullpen.
Pulsipher came back to the organization in 2000, and he lost the Spring Training competition for the fifth starter spot to Glendon Rusch. Both he and Wilson would get traded that season as the Mets sought reinforcements in Lenny Harris, Bubba Trammell, and Rick White to help them win a World Series.
The odd thing about seeing Generation K all being traded away for supporting pieces was they were supposed to be the leading drive towards a World Series. Overall, they’d never appear in the same rotation, and they would pitch for the Mets in the postseason.
Seeing Generation K’s struggles makes what is happening tonight all the more remarkable. Not only are we finally seeing these five pitchers in the same rotation, but we have already seen them have the success we once expected from Generation K. In fact, they’ve been much more successful.
In many ways, seeing Wheeler start tonight is going to slay many demons for the entire Mets organization.
From the start the Mets have had and the seemingly magic tough Mickey Callaway has had, there is a lot more in store for the Mets. That said, short of David Wright taking the field again, it is going to be hard to envision a more powerful moment that will happen this (regular) season.
With Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz starting the year in Triple-A, and the Mets discovering Zack Wheeler tore his UCL on the eve of Spring Training, we knew the Five Aces weren’t going to pitch in the same rotation in 2015. After winning the pennant that year, the Mets set their sights on 2016 to be the year the team not only won the World Series, but also as the year their plan would all come to fruition.
That was until Wheeler had a number of set-backs costing him the entire 2016 season. But it was more than just Wheeler. Matt Harvey would have a lost season culminating with a Thoracic Outlet Syndrome diagnosis. Jacob deGrom needed ulnar nerve transplantation surgery. Matz had one of his typically injury plagued seasons with him needing season ending surgery to remove what was described as a massive bone spur from his pitching elbow.
That made 2017 the year . . . until it wasn’t. Despite many believing neither Harvey nor Wheeler were ready to begin the season in the rotation, they ultimately did due to injuries. However, that did not mean the Five Aces would not begin the year in the same rotation as Matz once again had elbow issues.
After Matz, it was Syndergaard with a torn lat. Then Harvey and Wheeler would each go down with stress reactions to their pitching arms. While not confirmed, this may have been the result of them team pushing them too hard to start the season. Ultimately, after 13 starts, the Mets discovered what was wrong with Matz; he had the same nerve injury deGrom had the previous season.
This offseason was the offseason the Mets front office became more realistic. The team signed Todd Frazier to play third base all but admitted David Wright would not be able to play this season, and the team signed Jason Vargas. With Vargas lined up to the the third or fourth starter, the Mets were effectively announcing the Five Aces dream was finally dead.
Except, ironically, it isn’t. And I say ironically because it is an injury that has allowed the dream to be revived.
With Vargas needing surgery to remove a fractured hamate bone, the Mets need to replace him for at least two turns through the rotation. This means that Wheeler, who was a candidate to move to the bullpen, or Matz, who was considered to start the year in Extended Spring Training, will likely both find themselves in the same rotation with Syndergaard, deGrom, and Harvey.
Finally, it is all coming to plan even if those plans are two to three years late.
After seeing how each pitchers pitches in their starts, and with Vargas’ timetable not being completely set in stone, who knows what will happen. Maybe this will last for two turns, the first half, or the full season. With the Mets and their handling of injuries, you never know. The only thing we do know is against all odds, the Five Aces will pitch in the same rotation.
That’s no small feat given all of their respective obstacles. This is a great thing for Mets fans to see as well because we have been waiting years to see this. And for slightly older Mets fans, this is cathartic because we never did get to see Generation K (Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher) ever pitch in the same rotation.
We’ll now see it with the Five Aces. Let the fun begin.
When you go through Mets history, there are certain dark moments of Mets history which continue to haunt Mets fans.
The 1992 Mets were dubbed The Worst Team Money Could Buy. The Mets first real foray into free agency would see the team add Eddie Murray, Willie Randolph, Dick Schofield, Bill Pecota, Bret Saberhahen, and the prize of the offseason free agent class Bobby Bonilla. Under the guise of 1990 American League Manager of the Year Jeff Torborg, the Mets would go 70-92.
There would not be hope again until Generation K – Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen, and Bill Pulsipher. With Isringhausen bursting out of the gate in 1995 going 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA in his first 14 starts, Mets fans anticipation was at a fever pitch.
The funny thing is due to a myriad of injuries to all three pitchers, the trio dubbed Generation K would never appear in the same rotation. Over time, they would be surpassed and traded away for spare parts. To put it in perspective, the best player the Mets would get in exchange for the trio would be Rick White.
Fast forward 20 years and Mets fans have dreamed about this generations crop of pitchers winning their first World Series since 1986. While not as clever as Generation K, they had their own nickname – The Five Aces. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler.
They were going to scoff at the 1971 Orioles pitching staff and their measly 20 wins apiece.
Those 1990s Braves teams were going to laughed at for producing just three Hall of Fame pitchers.
Instead, what we got was Matt and Jake and All Five Pitchers Ache. Essentially, it all came off the Wheeler.
Each and every single one of them would go down with injury. Most of them went down with two or more. As a result, much like Generation K, these five pitchers have never appeared in the same rotation. Worse yet, in some sick cosmic twist of fate, last year would be the first year all five would start a game in the same season, and the end result was the worst ERA in team history.
Finally, this year was supposed to be the year. Everyone was shut down at a some point last year to help them get ready for this year. The team brought in Mickey Callaway, Dave Eiland, and a whole new medical staff. It was all set up for them.
And then, the team signed Jason Vargas.
Yes, given their respective health issues, the Vargas signing made a lot of sense. However, with him getting a two ear deal, it may just kill the dream because so long as Vargas has a rotation spot, we will not see the Five Aces pitch together in the same starting rotation. With Harvey’s impending free agency, this was the last chance, and it is going by the wayside.
Maybe it is for the best because as we saw in 2015, so long as we have three completely healthy, this team can go to the World Series. That more than the Five Aces pitch in the same rotation is the goal. Still, not seeing it happen once leaves you a bit melancholy.
At the end of this run for the Five Aces, we are ultimately going to be left with Vargas and Montero Where Did Our Five Aces Go?
The one thing we never got to see with Generation K was Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, and Paul Wilson in the same rotation. In fact, we have never seen them all in the same pitching staff. That never happened because of all the injuries they suffered. Then we saw Isringhausen and Wilson traded in successive years to help the Mets chances of winning a World Series instead of them pitching the Mets to the World Series.
Whatever you want to call the group of Mets young starters (most seemed to like the Five Aces), they never appeared in the same rotation. The closest we got was seeing Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz in the same rotation in 2015. Coincidentally, that was also the year the Mets went to the World Series on the strength of their pitching.
The reason Zack Wheeler was not a part of that group that went to the postseason was because he suffered an injury in Spring Training. In fact, Wheeler would be gone for two years rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. For a moment, it seemed as fait accompli the group would never pitch in the same rotation because Wheeler was almost traded to the Brewers with Wilmer Flores for Carlos Gomez. In fact, if not for Gomez’s hip, the dream would have died there.
Still to this day, we have never seen the five in the same rotation. However, we have seen them all pitch in the same season in the rotation. It may not seem like much, but it’s something. It’s also a step closer to seeing them all in the same rotation. It may finally happen next year.
Matz should be ready for Opening Day after the surgery to repair his ulnar nerve. This was the same surgery deGrom had last season, and he was able to last the entire season injury free. Both Harvey and Syndergaard were able to return and pitch before the season was over. Like in 2015 and 2016, the only question is Wheeler.
In the end, the Mets are a step closer to having all five of their proverbial aces in the rotation. At a minimum, they are a step closer to seeing them all on the same pitching staff. If it does happen, one of the open wounds Mets fans have suffered will close a bit. Howeve,r that wound will not fully heal until we see this group pitch the Mets to a World Series title.
Want to know how things went for the Mets today? Their best pitcher was Kevin Plawecki who allowed four runs on three homers in two . . . TWO! . . . innings pitched.
How the Mets got there is almost too exhausting to detail. Suffice it to say, it all started with Noah Syndergaard. After refusing an MRI for biceps complaints, the Mets sent him to the mound on Sunday. To be fair, Syndergaard probably thought MRI meant Mets related injury.
Every Mets fan knew what would happen. We knew he’s get injured. We’ve been expecting it since Generation K went up in flames with the injuries suffered by Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, and Paul Wilson. And it happened. After 1.1 innings where he allowed five hits, five runs, two walks (first two of the season) while striking out two, he was gone with a “lat injury.” It’s in quotes because it’s clear no one knows what’s going on with Syndergaard.
From there, it’s difficult to decipher what happened.
Even with the Syndergaard injury, the Mets were only down 6-5 heading into the bottom of the fourth.
Everyone was pitching in (pun intended). The resurgent Jose Reyes, moved to second in the lineup due to players getting the day off, got it all started with a first inning one out triple. Jay Bruce was 3-4 with a homer and two RBI. Rene Rivera had a homer of his own. Even Sean Gilmartin got in on the action with an RBI double.
Gilmartin, that’s where the trouble started. Initially, he kept the Nationals at bay when he came on after the Syndergaard injury. But, he melted down in the fourth allowing four earned. Gilmartin, like the rest of the Mets was victimized by Anthony Rendon, who hit two homers off of him.
Fernando Salas started the fifth, and he eventually put the game completely out of reach allowing three runs. When he left, it was 13-5. The Nationals still had 10 runs left in them.
Six of them came off Josh Smoker, who melted down in his second inning of work. He didn’t record one out while facing five batters that inning. He and the whole team left Terry Collins little choice. He had to go to a position player to pitch the final two innings.
It was hard to tell if Plawecki was throwing a knuckleball or a batting practice fastball. The answer was a knuckleball, but the Nationals were teeing off of him and all Mets pitchers like it was batting practice. Whether it was the knuckleball or the fact that Plawecki was the least important player on the roster, it was an inspired choice by Collins.
What wasn’t inspired was how the Mets finished this series. After rallying back from losing six in a row, 10 of 11, and Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets beat Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in back-to-back games. It was an announcement the Mets weren’t done. It was enough to give a Nationals team, who just lost Adam Eaton for the season, doubt they were the better team.
Twenty-three runs later, in a game started by Syndergaard, that doubt should be erased. Trea Turner was the only Nationals starter without a multi-hit game, and he still hit a double and scored a run.
More than that, Rendon was 6-6 with five runs, a double, three homers, and 10 RBI. The Mets as a team had five runs on nine hits.
Game Recap: Reyes had another error, but this one was at shortstop as the Mets gave Asdrubal Cabrera the day off. Neil Walker had another poor game at the plate and is now hitting .195. Same goes for Curtis Granderson who is now hitting .128.
Going into the 2016 season, there is one fear each and every Mets fan has. We dare not speak its name, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still present. That fear is that a pitcher will get seriously injured.
Looking at this year’s list of pitchers who could befall the dreaded “Verducci Effect,” Noah Syndergaard headlines that list. If Syndergaard was to suffer a season ending injury requiring Tommy John surgery? it would greatly hinder the Mets chances of winning not only the World Series, but also making it to the postseason. It’s something that not just Mets fans fear, but as Anthony DiComo of MLB.com reports, Syndergaard fears it also:
I’ve thought about it quite a bit. But I trust myself to put my body in the right situations to be able to perform at a healthy level.
The fear is justified. Syndergaard threw 65.2 innings more last year. He throws over 95 MPH more than anyone in the game. He’s working to add the fabled Warthen Slider to his already dominant repertoire. Name a risk factor for UCL years requiring Tommy John surgery. Syndergaard meets most if not all of them.
One risk factor not readily discussed is the team he plays for. Look at the projected Mets rotation when healthy: Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler. Put aside Syndergaard for a moment. What do the other four have in common? They are all hard throwing pitchers under the age of 30 who have already had Tommy John surgery.
Go outside this group. Since Warthen took over as the Mets pitching coach, the following homegrown Mets have sustained arm injuries: Jon Niese (shoulder), Dillon Gee (shoulder), Jeremy Hefner (two Tommy John surgeries), Rafael Montero (shoulder), Bobby Parnell (Tommy John), Josh Edgin (Tommy John), Jack Leathersich (Tommy John). There are more, but you get the point.
Now, is this an organizational problem since Warthen took over, or is it just bad luck? Could this all have been avoided? Back in the 60’s and 70’s the Mets developed pitchers like Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, and Jon Matlack. These pitchers threw more innings than the pitchers today, and yet, Matlack was the only one of this group that suffered an arm injury.
In the 80’s, the Mets had Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Rick Aguilera, Randy Myers and David Cone. Of this group, only Doc and Cone had arm issues. It should be noted that Doc had many other issues as well, and Cone’s problem was an aneurysm later in his career.
In the 90’s, Generation K was a bust, and the Mets haven’t developed the caliber of starting pitchers like they have in the past until now. However, this generation seems to befall injuries far more often than their predecessors. Is it organizational? Is it bad luck? Is it preparation? For his part, Harvey wonders what if:
I think now, there are things I could have done better in high school or in college to maybe prevent it. But I don’t know. I’m not saying [Syndergaard] works that much harder than everybody else, because we all work hard. I think as time progresses, guys pay more attention to stretching the shoulder, strengthening the shoulder. If I could go back — I don’t know if this would’ve prevented me from having [surgery], but if I could go back and really do 20 extra minutes of stretching and arm care, you never know what could happen.
That’s the thing. We really don’t know why one guy suffers elbow and shoulder injuries while others don’t. Is it preparation? Is it good genes? Is it just good luck? Much time, energy, and money has been spent on this issue, and yet pitchers still get injured. Pitchers get injured despite teams doing everything in their power to try to prevent it.
It will help Syndergaard being in a clubhouse with players who have had Tommy John surgery. They each will have advice for him on why they suffered the injury and what they could’ve done differently. More importantly, Syndergaard appears to be a hard worker who takes the health of his arm very seriously. There is no doubt he is doing everything he can do to avoid the dreaded Tommy John surgery.
Based on what we’ve seen, if anyone can avoid it, it’s him.
Editor’s Note: this article was first published on metsmerizedonline.com
The year was 1996. The Mets were supposed to open the season with a trio of pitchers dubbed Generation K. Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher were all supposed to usher in the next era of great Mets pitching. They were supposed to win multiple Cy Youngs and World Series titles.
It never happened.
Pulsipher was the first to arrive on the scene. In his first year in AA, a 20 year old Pulsipher pitched 201.0 innings. The prior year he only pitched 139.2 innings. The following year, 1995, Pulsipher would pitch in AAA and get called up to the majors. He threw 218.1 innings. Pulsipher wouldn’t pitch in 1996 as he had a torn ligament in his pitching elbow.
In Pulsipher’s rookie year, he made 17 starts. He never reached that plateau again. His last major league appearance came in 2005 when he was 31 years old. When Pulsipher made those five appearances, it was the first time he pitched in the big leagues since 2001. Pulsipher finished his career going 13-19 with a 5.15 ERA in 46 starts and 60 relief appearances.
Unlike Pulsipher, Wilson burst on the scene in 1996. He was the first overall pick in the 1994 draft after dominating at Florida State. In 1995, Wilson pitched his first season of professional ball, and he pitched well in his 186.2 innings. So well in fact, that the Mets called him up to the majors. He went 5-12 with a 5.38 ERA in 26 starts. His season would end as he needed arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder.
Wilson would never pitch for the Mets again. He would be part of a trade on 2000 for a fourth outfielder in Bubba Trammel and a bullpen arm in Rick White. He finished his career going 40-58 with a 4.86 ERA in 153 starts and 17 relief appearances.
Without a doubt, Isringhausen had the best career of the Generation K pitchers, and he had to go to the bullpen to do it.
Isringhausen burst on the scene in 1995. In 14 starts with the Mets, he went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA. Even though he only pitched in half a season, he was so impressive that he finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting. While he may not have been the most heralded pitcher of Generation K, he had the most success out of all of them when he was first called up. However, that success would not last as like the other two pitchers, Isringhausen’s arm was a ticking timebomb.
In 1994, the year before Isringhausen pitched in the majors, he threw 193.1 innings. The year before? He threw only 90.1 innings. In his career, Isringhausen would need shoulder surgery and three Tommy John surgeries. This doesn’t even include surgery for a broken wrist because he lost a fight with a water cooler.
Isringhausen would eventually make two All Star teams due to his work as a closer. He would record 300 saves. The last seven were with the Mets in 2011 when he came back on a minor league deal. At that point, he served as a mentor to a young bullpen. It was a nice bookend towards the end of his career. The former young hothead with arm troubles became a veteran leader.
These three heralded young pitchers were ruined by the Mets organization. They were needlessly pushed beyond their limits in the minors and majors. As a result, they had a series of shoulder and elbow injuries. The heralded trio would never appear in the same rotation.
It’s been four years since Isringhausen has retired, and now people want to interview him when we talk about how prospects should be handled. Here’s what he revealed about how those Mets handled prospects:
Jason Isringhausen: In the minors if we didn't pitch 9 innings, we got a talking to. We didn't watch pitch counts as much as we do today
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) March 3, 2016
Twenty years later, the Mets have a new trio, who for some reason don’t have a great nickname like Generation K. While Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey have had Tommy John surgery, the Mets handle their young aces much better now. They took better care of their pitchers during the rehabilitation process. Last year, we saw deGrom and Harvey team up with Noah Syndergaard to pitch the Mets into the World Series.
This was supposed to happen 20 years ago. It’s happening now. So next time, the Mets are too patient with a player, or a player or his agent voice concerns over a pitcher’s workload, remember Mets fans were robbed of seeing three aces in one staff due to over usage of the young pitchers.
I’m sure innings limits, six man rotations, and skipped starts will be a story line at some point in 2016. When it does, embrace it because the Mets not using that forward thinking might’ve cost at least one World Series title. Young pitchers are fragile, and they need to he handled as such. If you don’t, the workload could lead to injuries and/or ruined careers. Next thing you know, the window to win a World Series is slammed shut.
I’m not willing to see another chance go by the wayside due to some meaningless starts again.
I know where I was three years ago. I was sitting in front of the TV in my basement watching Matt Harvey make his major league debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was important to watch that game because it was the first glimmer of hope Mets fans since the collapses closing out Shea.
It’s been a whirlwind since then. He started by striking out Gerardo Parra (yes, that Gerardo Parra) in a record setting 11 K, 5.1 inning shutout win. He would finish 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts. He showed us glimpses of his potential.
In 2013, he started out like gangbusters. From the outset, he was the NL Player of the Week and April’s Player of the Month. He was in ESPN’s “The Body” issue. He almost had a perfect game (my second SNY appearance):
Then things started to turn sour. The Mets let him pitch through forearm tightness (paging Dr. Warthen). After he was shut down, he fought seemingly everyone on getting the surgery (because the Mets should control anyone’s medical decisions). Now all of a sudden his Rangers fandom was a problem (because hanging around and learning from Lundqvist is a bad thing). He had the gaul to want to be around his teammates during his rehab. He had the audacity to seek to pitch one inning in 2014.
There were other missteps, some true and some overblown. Overblown: him paying respects to Derek Jeter. He wasn’t allowed to travel with the team. He goes and watches Derek Jeter’s home game (as inconspicuously as he could), and he gets blasted. By the way, we want our players to love and respect the game, and when Harvey does it, he’s vilified. The real ones were the social media gaffes.
Finally, 2015 mercifully arrived. He has been a very good starting pitcher, but not quite Matt Harvey yet. For his part, Harvey thinks he’s back. Let’s hope he is because I can’t stand the inane backlash from his travel arrangements to his being curteous after playing a round of golf. I can’t stand it.
You know what I see when I see Matt Harvey? I see a fierce competitor. I see a good teammate. I see someone who has handled fame and pressure well. He’s always at his locker answering questions, win or lose. I see a player whose nightlife activities include Ranger games. You don’t hear about all night drinking or drugs with him. After the 80’s, we should appreciate that.
On top of the lessons of the ’80’s Mets, we should remember the lessons of Generation K. The Mets were supposed to have three aces in Isringhausen, Pulsipher, and Wilson. That blew up rather quickly. We need to revere these pitchers while we have them (and while they are healthy).
For those of you who have read this blog before, my favorite player was Darryl Strawberry. My brother’s favorite player was Dwight Gooden. Trust me, that lead to some awkward conversations down the road with my Dad; conversations I frankly don’t want to ever have.
I hope my son grows to root for Harvey because: 1) he has so many positive traits to celebrate (competitiveness, accountability, he’s not a quitter); and 2) it means he will be effective with the Mets for a long time. I’m celebrating this day because it’s the anniversary of when the Mets started turning things around. I hope you are as well.