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Learning From Generation K- A Second Chance

By Mike Silva ~ August 4th, 2011. Filed under: Mike Silva, New York Mets.

 Paul Wilson, Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher. For now, that is the order in which their lockers are situated in the clubhouse at the Mets’ spring training complex. Someday soon that could be the order of the team’s starting rotation, perhaps as early as this season if Wilson can live up to all the hype surrounding his arrival.

Wilson, a 23-year-old right-hander, has yet to throw a major league pitch, but the consensus in the organization is that he has the potential to be better than Isringhausen and Pulsipher, who helped pump life back into the franchise last year with solid performances as rookies. - George Willis of the NY Times on February 15th, 1996. 

Binghamton manager Wally Backman is already on record as calling Familia’s curveball the best he has seen since a young Dwight Gooden. Now he sounds ready to include Harvey, last year’s No. 1 draft pick out of North Carolina, in the same conversation. - John Harper of the NY Daily News on August 4th, 2011

The Mets throughout the first thirty years of their history were known for pitching. Tom SeaverJerry KoosmanNolan RyanDwight Gooden, and Jon Matlack were top of the rotation pitchers that were drafted and developed by the ballclub. Others like Sid FernandezRon Darling, and David Cone were talented arms that honed their skills under the ballclub’s watch. Do you know who is the best homegrown pitcher the Mets have developed since Gooden? The answer is Bobby Jones, who was a very average 74-56, with a 4.13 ERA during his Mets career.

There have been plenty of promising arms since the great Doctor K. Pete SchourekMike Pelfrey, and of course the Generation K trio of Isringhausen, Pulsipher, and Wilson. It was 15 years ago that Gen K was winding down their first full season in the Mets rotation. It would be the only season they would spend together in the big leagues. Although the organization has changed quite a bit since that time, it’s important to look back at what went wrong in order to make sure they don’t blow a potential second chance at Generation K with their current crop of young starters.

The Mets botched the development of the Gen K trio long before 1996. A combination of heavy workload at a young age, and the naivety of the organization to thrust them into the rotation without a safety net, led to them becoming the biggest busts in team history.

Take a look at these innings totals going into the 1996 season:

Jason Isringhausen

1993: 90

1994: 193

1995: 221

Bill Pulsipher

1993: 96

1994: 204

1995: 217

Paul Wilson

1994: 192 (College and Pro Total)

1995: 186

The first thing you notice is the 100+ innings jump for both Isringhausen and Pulsipher. Wilson had a heavy workload throughout his college career (448 innings), so by the time he started his first game that April he had thrown 634 innings in 4 years. The philosophy was vastly different during that period of time. Jim Duquette, who was the Assistant Farm Director, told me the thought process was “if you are going to throw 200 innings in the majors, you have to first do it in the minors.”

Not surprisingly, all three pitchers were injured by the end of the 1996 season. There was good news from the bad situation as the organization decided to implement new measures, such as monitoring innings and pitch counts, thereafter. Duquette claims they were actually one of the more forward thinking organizations later in the decade due to the failures of their young pitchers.

The second mistake was thrusting all three into the rotation at the same time. The Yankees made a similar error in 2008 when they relied too heavily on Phil HughesIan Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain. You had veterans like Mark Clark and Pete Harnisch throwing around 200 innings, but both were backend of the rotation types. The expectation was that Generation K would be 1-2-3 in the pecking order with the veteran support. Not only was this asking a lot from an experience standpoint, but it was clear each needed to develop personally from an off the field standpoint. Each had their own personal growing pains to deal with in addition to learning how to pitch at the big league level. Expecting them to be Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux was not only foolish, but it was unrealistic and unfair.

So what does this mean for Matt Harvey, Jeurys FamiliaZack Wheeler, and Jenrry Mejia? First, the organization is obviously going to monitor their innings. They haven’t gone public with any specific limitations, but you won’t see the kind of jumps that Isringhausen and Pulsipher experienced. I also believe you will see them eased into the big league rotation when they are ready. There is a certain value to struggling at the big league level, but I also think it’s counterproductive to bring someone up when they aren’t ready (see Jenrry Mejia). Not every kid can handle a demotion, especially when they have experienced nothing but prior success on the diamond. Even though we don’t look at early career struggles as a “failure,” the competitive athlete may not feel the same way. You can lose a kid early in their development if you rush them too fast.

Mike Pelfrey had no business being in the big leagues in 2006, but the Mets called on him out of need. He struggled mightily his first two seasons, and I often wonder if he would have been better off developing his secondary pitches in the obscurity of the minors. Don’t you wonder what Pelfrey would be today with a better development program?

A good plan would be to have a solid 1 through 3 in the rotation, and incorporate the kids into the 4 and 5 spots. That way, unlike Gen K, they are expected to produced at a similar level to other backend of the rotation starters (essentially league average), versus arriving as the savior. Of course, the media will paint them as the next coming (it’s already started as you can see from John Harper’s article), but the reality is they are not being relied on. You also make it easier to limit their innings, since you don’t usually expect more than 150-160 innings from the backend of the rotation starters. Any results above a .500 record is gravy as well.

Also, I would ideally ease each of them into the rotation in stages. Harvey seems to be the most polished, so mid-season next year seems reasonable. Familia could be slated for 2013. Finally, Wheeler could be late ’13, or perhaps the beginning of 2014. Somewhere in-between the organization can find out if Mejia is going to be a starter or reliever. I suspect, if healthy, we will get that answer sometime next year. By 2013 you move away from R.A. Dickey, Mike Pelfrey, and Chris Capuano and have a rotation of Wheeler, Familia, Harvey, Mejia, and perhaps Jonathon Niese as the ace.

They say you don’t get a second chance at a first impression. The Mets may be lucky enough to get a second chance at Generation K. The hype machine has already started, but the good news is, unlike the mid-nineties, we have better information available to develop pitchers, as well as a forward thinking and competent front office led by Sandy Alderson. As a result, I suspect the organizational drought on pitching might soon be a thing of the past.

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
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