Greatest Mets Rotation Ever

Loyal MetsToday reader Joe Muscaglione brought up a great discussion topic — how does the projected 2008 rotation compare to 1986? I’ll go one further: how does it stack up against the best rotations in Mets history?

Here are my candidates …

1969: Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, Don Cardwell / Jim McAndrew

Seaver had arguably the best season of his career, winning a career-high 25 games, posting 5 shutouts, 18 complete games, 1.04 WHIP, and 2.21 ERA, finishing second in the NL MVP voting. Koosman had a great year as well – 17-9, 2.28 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 6 SHO, 16 CG. The young Gentry looked to be another Seaver in the making, with a big curve and hard fastball that helped him win 13 games and pitch 234 innings. Cardwell and McAndrew split time as the #4 starter, combining for another 14 wins and 2 shutouts. Oh, and then there was this kid Nolan Ryan who made ten starts and looked pretty decent.

1973: Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, George Stone

Again, Seaver dominated the NL, with 19 of the Mets’ 82 wins, 2.08 ERA, 251 strikeouts in 290 IP, and a remarkable 0.97 WHIP. Koosman’s 14 wins, 2.84 ERA, and 1.18 WHIP look paltry next to that line, and Matlack had a breakout year winning another 14 with a 3.20 ERA as the #3. Fourth starter George Stone was the big surprise, as the journeyman posted a 2.80 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and a magnificent 12-3 record.

1986: Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Sid Fernandez, and Rick Aguilera

It wasn’t Doc’s best season — in fact, it was a disappointment compared to his 24-4 record the year before — but he still went 17-6 with a 2.84 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP (imagine if he wasn’t on coke the whole time?). Darling was just as good, going 15-6 with a 2.81 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, El Sid went 16-6, and fourth starter Ojeda went 18-5 — how many fourth starters win 18 games? Aguilera made only 20 starts, but posted a respectable 10-7 record in bringing up the rear end of the rotation.

1988: Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Sid Fernandez, and David Cone

Same rotation as 1986, but swap out Rick Aguilera for David Cone — who went 20-3. On paper, you would think that rotation would rank with the greatest of all time in MLB history, but this was the year of underachievers (other than Cone). Gooden and Darling were neck and neck in the race to be ace — Darling going 17-9 and Gooden 18-9 — but Gooden wasn’t as dominant as in previous years (sniff sniff). El Sid (3.03) and Ojeda (2.88) posted excellent ERAs, but went a combined 22-23. Even underachieving, a damn strong fivesome.

2008: Johan Santana, Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez, Orlando Hernandez

Order them any way you wish — this is potentially one of the deepest Mets rotations in their 46-year history. We’ll see …

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Mets Best Rotation Ever

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Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. sincekindergarten January 31, 2008 at 6:32 pm
    In a way, Joe, your premise is flawed, in that the ’69 and ’73 rotations were four-man ones, and the others are five-man rotations (they’re tough to compare). Also, with the possible continued interest in Kyle Lohse by the Mets, the ’08 rotation isn’t set . . .

    But, in the real world, I said that the ’86 rotation was the best . . . closely followed by the ’88 and ’69 rotations. The ’73 team was two games over .500, so that doesn’t say a lot about them, and the ’08 rotation has one guy coming off a major injury, another whose durability is questionable, and a third who isn’t officially signed yet (as of 6:30 PM, Thursday, 1/31/08).

  2. kcw228 January 31, 2008 at 9:54 pm
    Mets only have a 46 year history..
  3. joe January 31, 2008 at 10:15 pm
    kc – you got me … what the heck was I thinking?

    that’s what happens when I write a post at 2am (with a glass of wine in hand) and pre-publish.

    thanks for the eagle eye!

  4. joe January 31, 2008 at 10:42 pm
    SK – a point to ponder. Can we really hold it against the ’69 and ’73 rotations because they only had 4? Or hold it against the “modern” staffs for having 5?

    As with ANY comparison across eras, there are going to be issues that imbalance the effort — so we have to be creative.

    I suppose the best way to try and compare these rotations (old school vs. modern) is to evaluate them as a whole.

    I’ll tell you what — as much as I like the 1986 and 1988, it’s hard to pick either of those rotations for this: 1969 top three starters completed 40 games, including 14 shutouts. In comparison, all five starters from BOTH 1986 and 1988 (total of 10 pitchers over two years) completed 57 games, including 24 shutouts. To me — being an old school guy — finishing what one starts has tremendous value. Yes, the rules were different back in old days — higher mounds, bigger strike zone, etc. — but there is something to be said for hurlers who could pitch effectively for 240, 260, or 300 innings in one season.

    Interestingly enough, the ’69 staff was one of the first in MLB to go to a 5-man rotation – though it wasn’t a full season thing. It was an experiment by manager Gil Hodges, who implemented the 5-man rotation in September of that year as a way to a) keep everyone fresh at the end of the season and b) make use of the extra arms he had at his disposal.

    Also interesting is that Koosman, Seaver, and Ryan all pitched 19+ seasons, “despite” being part of 4-man rotations and pitching 250+ innings per year early in their careers (Cardwell enjoyed a nondescript, but healthy, 14-year career). Gentry and McAndrew had injury issues which curtailed their careers, but if you ever saw either of them pitch, you’d see each of their deliveries were flawed (particularly McAndrew’s). Which makes one wonder, just what the heck is wrong with the modern pitcher? Sound mechanics would seem to be the fundamental aspect of healthy arms — not necessarily “overuse” as most mamby-pamby medical consultants would lead us to believe.

    Oh jeez, I digressed … sorry!

  5. skibolton February 1, 2008 at 9:51 am
    Modern pitching mechanic lead to much more stress on joints, but at the same time lead to much more movement on the ball. I think it’s fair to say that the increased dependance on the slider and more pitchers using a splitter or sinking pitch at a younger age has led to more stress on joints at an early age. In the 70’s and even the 80’s, you’d never see a little league pitcher throw a slider. Actually I saw a quote from torri hunter yesterday that said the first slider he ever saw was at 17. Now you see pitchers in the little league world series using sinkers and sliders. Thats a lot of stress on a joint while you still have open growth plates. I don’t know that this is the reason that so many young kids have elbow issues, but I’d guess it contributes.
    I also would guess that there were plenty of guys who just flamed out in the minors in that time period due to injury but never had the option of some modern corrective surgeries. The few guys that were able to handle that workload without injury probably left a much smaller talent pool to work with, leaving a larger talent gap between starter and relief guys.
  6. isuzudude February 1, 2008 at 10:03 am
    Here’s an unrelated topic that I’ve pondered in the past and crept back into my brain with his mention in this discussion.

    Roger Clemens is being investigated for supposed steroid use. And aside from the Brian McNamee accusations, perhaps Clemen’s biggest incrimination is the fact that he seemed to get better during the age range that 99% of pitchers in history have gotten worse. With this being the case, have there ever been any rumblings that Nolan Ryan may have been a steroids user? Here’s a guy who turned 40 prior to the 1987 season but still went on to pitch 7 more years, compiling 1,271 innings with 1,437 strikeouts and 71 wins over that time. Unless this guy is an absolute freak, how are these accomplishments possible? He was putting up all-star numbers when players his age were retired for 10 years already! Ryan may have bowed out of the game before the “steroid era,” but you can’t tell me steroids weren’t in the game in 1987 and onward. As proof, 1987 was the same year Mark McGwire bashed 49 HR for the A’s in his sophomore season, with Jose Canseco as a teammate. Another interesting line: Clemens’ first breakout season was 1986 when he won 24 games, at the tender age of 24. Ryan was already 39 at this point, but had just as good of a strikeout per innings pitched ratio throughout his 40s as Clemens had throughout his 20s. I know Ryan is an immortal and is the all-time strikeout king…but doesn’t anybody find it the least bit suspicious that Ryan’s stats seem to stay unbelievably strong the older he got, especially in lite of Clemens’ recent success? I guess I just don’t understand why I’ve never heard anyone ever speculate about how Ryan achieved such dominant success when guys his age were becoming grandfathers.

  7. joe February 1, 2008 at 10:37 am
    skibolton – you are ABSOLUTELY dead on re: the use of the slider. It was never intended to be a pitch thrown more than a few times a game, but quickly became the lazy man’s way to make batters swing and miss. The main reason it wasn’t used as much in the old days was simple — it put too much strain on the arm!

    isuzudude – here and there some people have pointed to Ryan, and there’s some merit to the speculation. I think the thing that keeps Ryan “in the clear” (pardon the pun) is that he didn’t get better as he got older — he had the ability to dominate in the 1970s and early 80s, but was not nearly as physically dominant at the end of his career. The numbers sort of bear that out … yes, he did strike out 300 batters at age 42, but consider that he struck out 383 while in his mid 20s. Ryan more or less prolonged / maintained his body and his stats, while Clemens clearly hit a point where it looked like his career was over, then miraculously spiked and became arguably one of the greatest pitchers of all time.

    Who knows, though … Ryan very well might have been helped by PEDs … hopefully that’s not the case.