By Joe Rini
With his belated 2023 debut, Justin Verlander joined the 14 Cy Young winners who pitched for the New York Mets after winning the award. The success of these former Cy Young winners pitching in the orange and blue has varied. For instance, Bartolo Colon pitched long enough to become a folk hero while Dean Chance’s three games in 1970 barely cast a ripple in Mets history. One thing all 14 of these pitchers have in common is they never won a subsequent Cy Young in a Mets uniform. Will Verlander defy history?
Battling Age, Injury, and History
Age and injuries figure prominently as to why none of these pitchers joined Tom Seaver, Jacob deGrom, Dwight Gooden, and R.A. Dickey as Cy Young winners for the Mets. Like many former Cy Young winners joining the Mets, the 40-year-old Verlander is near the end of his career. However, he’s the first since Frank Viola in 1989 to join the Mets as a reigning Cy Young winner. A late-season acquisition in 1989, Viola won 20 games in 1990 for the Mets and place third in that year’s Cy Young voting. Unfortunately, he couldn’t duplicate that success in subsequent years.
A decade after Viola, neither Pedro Martinez nor Johan Santana replicated their successful first seasons in New York. Both pitched well in year one before injuries hampered the rest of their time in Flushing. Martinez followed his 15-win 2005 season with three injury-interrupted seasons. Three years later, Santana won 16 games for the Mets and placed third in Cy Young voting. Unfortunately, injuries marred the rest of his career, including two major shoulder surgeries. Fair or not, the injuries nagging Max Scherzer in 2023 ominously call to mind the fates of Santana and Martinez.
Cy Young Winners Verlander and Scherzer
Despite the 2023 reunion of Verlander and Scherzer as teammates, their performances have so far diverged. After missing the first month of the season, Verlander is giving the Mets reason to be optimistic every fifth game. He picked up his first win of the season with seven innings of one-run ball as the Mets edged the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Scherzer’s struggles mirror the current struggles of the Mets as a whole. Scherzer dominated for stretches last year before late-season injuries derailed him. Adding Verlander to Scherzer atop the Mets rotation was supposed to anchor the Mets staff. So far, that has not been the case. For instance, the Mets scratched Scherzer from his scheduled start on Tuesday against the Reds due to neck spasms. Nagging injuries in addition to a suspension have limited Scherzer to one start since April 19 as the Mets have dropped 13 of 18 games, adrift in the NL East at 19-20.
As the Mets look to rebound, they have multiple options to improve their offense. However, there isn’t a plan B if Verlander and Scherzer fail to anchor the rotation. The Mets need them to pitch well and deep into games. Historically speaking, it’s in the Mets’ best interests if Verlander duplicates the success of Martinez and Santana in their first seasons while Scherzer avoids the injuries that followed them thereafter.