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A Historical Breakdown Of Other New York Baseball Teams That Had Their Rotations Built Around Older Pitchers Like The Mets Are Doing With Justin Verlander And Max Scherzer

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The Mets signing Justin Verlander today now gives them two pitchers that will be 38 or older in their starting rotation.  This has happened before with mixed results. Here are some notable times in recent New York history when this has occurred and how it worked out.

2002-03 New York Yankees

Roger Clemens (Age 39-40) 

2002: 13-6, 4.35 ERA, 29 Game Started

2003: 17-9, 3.91 ERA, 33 Games Started

David Wells (Age 39-40)

2002: 19-7, 3.75 ERA, 31 Games Started

2003: 15-7, 4.14 ERA, 30 Games Started

Tony Gutierrez. Shutterstock Images.

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In the moment, this time in Yankee history felt like a failure. They had just been to the last four World Series and other than a broken bat single by Luis Gonzalez, they also seemed nearly unbeatable. However, no one knew it yet but the Yankee dynasty was over. The 2002 team was very good and went 103-58 but got stunned in the ALDS by the future champion Los Angeles Angels. The next season saw the Yankees in the World Series against the Florida Marlins but after two full seasons from both old pitchers, age finally bit them in the ass. 

After four games in the series, it was tied 2-2 with David Wells taking the mound for Game 5. But he came down with the ultimate old man injury: a bad back. Wells had to leave the game after only one scoreless inning. The Yankees wound up losing that game 6-4 and Josh Beckett shut them out the next game and the Series was over. 

I know this didn't result in a World Series title but it's tough to say this was a failure. Both teams were very good and if anything, they put too much trust in these older guys. The 2023-24 Mets will be putting even more pressure on their old hurlers. They won't have Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina also in the rotation.

2004-05 Yankees

Orlando Hernández (Age: 38)

2004: 8-5, 3.64 ERA, 22 Games Started

Kevin Brown (Age: 39-40)

2004: 10-6, 4.09 ERA, 22 Games Started  

2005: 4-7, 6.50 ERA, 13 Games Started

Randy Johnson (Age: 41)

2005: 17-8, 3.79 ERA, 34 Games Started

Giphy Images.

George Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman sure loved really old pitchers. I wonder if the remarkable durability (Not as remarkable in Clemens' case) of the older pitchers we just talked about gave the Yankees false confidence. But this is more in line with what you expect when you see guys this old. 

By 2004, Clemens, Wells and Andy Pettitte had all moved on. The Yankees made a trade to go get Kevin Brown who was coming a fantastic year for the Dodgers. Kevin Brown's time with the Yankees was a disaster. He battled nagging injuries all season long and saw his ERA jump nearly two runs since the year before. He got so frustrated that he punched a wall and broke his non-throwing hand.

Orlando Hernández missed the first half of the 2004 season coming back from rotator cuff surgery the year before. He pitched quite well when he came back but he only made one start in the ALCS choke job against the Red Sox in 2004. It was Kevin Brown who came back from the broken hand, made two starts and pitched a total of 3.1 innings with a 21.60 ERA.

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In 2005, the Yankees knew Brown's best days were behind him so they went out and traded for Randy Johnson. Brown wound up being even worse. His season (and career) would be over by July with a bad back. The Big Unit meanwhile put together a solid season but his days of being a Cy Young Award winner were over. He would also pitch in 2006 for the Yankees and go a combined 0-1 with a 6.92 ERA in two playoff starts.

This is the scenario for the Mets that I fear. Both Johnson and Brown were dominant pitchers before coming to the Yankees and both got old overnight. If this happens to the Mets, they are going to be fucked.

2006-07 New York Mets

Tom Glavine (Ages: 40-41)

2006: 15-7, 3.82 ERA, 32 Games Started

2007: 13-8, 4.45 ERA, 34 Games Started

Orlando Hernandez (Ages 40-41)

2006: 9-7, 4.09 ERA, 20 Games Started

2007: 9-5, 3.72 ERA, 24 Games Started

New York Daily News Archive. Getty Images.

I can't lie. Doing this exercise has made about 10% less excited about the Verlander signing than I was beforehand. The 2006 Mets are a team known for being great…until the starting pitching fell apart due to injury and they lost to an inferior Cardinals team in the LCS.  In fairness, Glavine was NOT one of the guys that fell apart in 2006 but El Duque was.

The 2007 team is known for choking down the stretch and losing 12 of their last 17 games. This time Glavine AND Hernandez contributed to the failure. Glavine had a 14.81 ERA in his last three starts capped off with giving up 7 runs in the first inning of the last game of the season. El Duque was too banged up to even make a start during this late September collapse. 

That the 2004 Yankees and 2007 Mets have this fact in common has me a little shook. That's the ultimate fear with these older pitchers. They don't just lose speed but the durability goes as well. Now, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are both still elite pitchers and that wasn't the case with everyone on this list. But Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson were both great pitchers before coming to the Yankees. This is why who the Mets sign as a 3rd starter is so critical. I want them to get the most durable guy they can so if (when?) these guys break down, they will have someone in that staff who can eat those innings until they get back. 

This wasn't the case with the rest of this list but similar to Verlander and Scherzer, there was a time when two future Hall of Famers were both on the same team late in their career. Steve Carlton was 42 and Phil Niekro was an amazing 47 when they were both on the 1987 Cleveland Indians. That team went 61-101.

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