Home / The Ramble: Jerry Koosman, The Most Underrated Pitcher Of His Era

The Ramble: Jerry Koosman, The Most Underrated Pitcher Of His Era

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Lefty Jerry Koosman was overshadowed by Tom Seaver in New York, was stuck on some of the worst Mets teams ever, and then labored in relative obscurity for some average (at best) Minnesota Twins teams, before finishing his career with the White Sox and Phillies.

He has a darn good career stat line; 222 wins (tied for 67th place all-time) and 209 losses, 3.36 E.R.A., 2556 strikeouts (26th all-time), a good strikeout to walk ratio, 140 complete games, and 33 shutouts (tied for 85th all-time). He averaged 225 innings per season – he places 43rd all-time in total innings pitched – and faced an average of 940 batters per season during the 17-year period when he was a regular starter.

Koosman had some great seasons for the Mets from the years 1968-76 and a couple of very effective seasons with the Twins teams in the late ’70s, but two of his more interesting seasons came at the end of his string in New York, during the 1977 and 1978 seasons.

For those of you who don’t know, or who have tried to forget, 1977 was the year that saw the Mets, under the “guidance” of M. Donald Grant, trade Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds, a move that was the last in a series of putrid, penny-pinching moves that finally ruined the Mets. Seaver was arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the time – and had been for the past ten seasons – but the Mets were too cheap to pay him what he wanted. So they gave away the future Hall of Famer for Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn, Dan Norman, and Steve Henderson. But that’s another story for another time.

In 1977, Koosman was 8-20 with a 3.49 E.R.A. for a team that went 64-98. A 20 game loser!

I forget who said this – I think it may have been A’s manager Billy Martin on Brian Kingman – but I heard the defense of a pitcher who had a lot of losses in a season that went along the lines of “Do you know how well a guy has to pitch in order to lose that many games in a season?” There’s no better season to use as an example of this “defense” than Koosman’s ’77 performance.

In 32 starts Koosman pitched 226 innings and faced 940 batters – right at his career average – and struck out 192 batters, the second highest total of his career. So there was nothing wrong with Jerry.

Here are some other great stats for Koos from 1977. Despite being a 20-game loser, Koosman led the National League in strikeouts per game (7.62), was sixth in the league with total strikeouts (192), was fifth in opponents batting average (.232), and finished just out of the top five in fewest hits allowed per game (7.8). Jerry Koosman deserved much better than an 8-20 record, baseball fans.

If you go by the statistical whizzes at Baseball Prospectus, Koosman’s stats adjusted for the league norms change his record to 14-11 with a 3.41 E.R.A. My bet is that on an average team of the time – forget about adjusting stats to try and make up for the fact that the Mets were a team that had their hearts ripped out by the Seaver trade – Koosman pitched well enough to win at least 17 games.

Koosman’s results were due more to the horrid nature of the Mets teams of the late ’70s than they were to any problems that Koosman had as a pitcher. Forget wins and losses, it’s amazing that his pitching line was as good as it was. The Mets’ everyday lineup in 1977 was littered with names of the obscure – and that’s an insult to real litter – with only Lee Mazzilli and an over-the-hill Joe Torre being recognizable to all but only the most avid Met fans. Looking at the roster – even today – I get the big nausea.

The 1977 Mets lineup was an opposing pitcher’s dream as they flailed their way through the league for a .244 batting average and 88 home runs while scoring only 587 runs – which works out to about 3.6 runs per game. You can see that the Met pitchers had little margin for error.

How bad was the Mets offense? They were last in the league in batting average, last in runs scored – by far – and last in almost every meaningful offensive category.

But for as bad as 1977 was for the Mets, Koosman and the fans, 1978 was even worse as the Mets finished at 66-96.

It’s hard to believe that things could get worse for Jerry Koosman in 1978 but he had a 3-15 record to show for his 32 starts. His pitching line isn’t much different than it was during his good and great seasons; 3.75 E.R.A., 235 innings pitched, 986 batters faced, a few less strikeouts and about the same amount of walks. Once again, the problem wasn’t with Jerry, as the Mets were one of the worst teams in the league and ranked at or near the bottom of the heap in every offensive category.

His Baseball Prospectus adjusted stats bumped his record to 9-13 with a little bit higher E.R.A. But a better lineup would have done more for Koos than some adjusted stats, as the Mets offense produced almost identically “offensive” numbers for the 1978 season as they did in 1977. As a matter of fact, the Mets averaged 3.74 runs per game, which was over a tenth of a point lower than the Mets pitching staff’s E.R.A. for the ’78 season, which was one of the best team E.R.A.’s in the league.

These two seasons should be referred to as “The Lost Seasons” for everyone associated with the Mets, but especially for Jerry Koosman. Here’s the pitching line for the two seasons: record 11-35, 3.62 E.R.A. where his team scored an averaged of 3.6 runs per game, he averaged 176 strikeouts for these two seasons which is better than his career average of about 150 per season, and he pitched every 5th day without fail.

If you look at his career record of 222-209 and make even the most conservative adjustment along the lines of what the Baseball Prospectus calls for during these two seasons, the Koos’ numbers change enough to make him 234-200, which would move him into about the number 55 spot for all-time wins. I’m a firm believer that if the Mets weren’t so horrid during the late ’70s Koosman would have had closer to 250 career wins and would have finished with less than 200 losses as well.

He probably still wouldn’t be considered a Hall of Famer but you have to admit that with somewhere around 245 wins and 190 losses Koosman becomes more of a guy that fans remember and better appreciate and is less of a “Oh yeah, he pitched with Seaver” kind of guy.

Looking at Koosman’s 1979 20-13 year for the 82-80 Twins you’ll see that, for all practical purposes, he was the same pitcher and put up almost the same numbers that he did during his “Lost Years.” The big difference is that in 1979 the Twins averaged 4.7 runs per game, which gave Koos and his 3.38 E.R.A. a much better than fighting chance during each one of his 37 starts.

Jerry Koosman was traded from the Mets to the Twins after the 1978 season, and unlike the Seaver trade, the Koosman trade provided dividends for the Boys from Shea. In return for Jerry Koosman, the Mets got Jesse Orosco, who had a fine career in the majors and, in one of the most memorable moments in the team’s history, got the final out as the Mets won the 1986 World Series.

With just a decent offense in New York, Koosman wouldn’t have had the pressure on to be perfect, but would have put the pressure on the opposition to scratch out some runs. There’s no telling what the Koos could have accomplished with a little more support.

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About Sal Marinello

  • Ron

    I remember the “Lost Years” quite well. As a Mets fan and ardent supporter of Kooz, it was distressing to see him take all of those losses. The stats are wonderful because that is what I viewed while watching the games. He pitched well but was on the losing end in so many games. His 20 loss season was the best 20 loss season I ever saw a pitcher have, truly. In fact he and Seaver would have had much better records if the Mets offense was not so anemic.

  • Rusty Tuttle

    Jerry should be in the Hall a Fame quite a character, I have known him for the last 20 years.
    You should here his Yonkers story. The man is now 66 or 67 and still hits the golf ball 300 yards and has a 9 handy cap on a 136 slope course.

  • Davan S. Mani

    What is Jerry Koosman’s ancestry? I never heard anybody with that last name. I wonder if he Anglicized it from an Eastern European name to pass for a Western European?

  • DerekLarsson

    Jerry Koosman was also a great, great clutch pitcher.

    Recall that Tom Seaver lost the first game of the 1969 World Series and did not pitch well against the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs.

    Down 1 game to 0 in the World Series, with the prospect of getting swept away by the Baltimore Orioles (who had won 108 games that year and had 4 Hall-of-Famers and three 20-game winners), it was Jerry Koosman who pitched a 2-hitter into the 9th inning that allowed the NY Mets to win game 2, by a score of 2 – 1, that kept the Mets hopes alive. Koosman went on to win the clincher, game 5 as well, and also shine once again during the 1973 postseason.

    Koosman as a rookie won 19 games (better rookie performace than Tom Seaver ever had).

    Koosman was indeed a Hall-of-Fame pitcher. He deserved to win 250 games and probably one Cy-Young award with better support.

  • Great, great story, Justene. I thought I was the only one that remembered Koosman’s stolen base! I also remember Jerry on Kiner’s Korner, as he explained the intricacies of the “Delayed Steal”.

    Do you remember the name of the award he got the next day? It was the “First Annual Lou Brock Award”!

    I wonder why Seaver never mentions this event in his broadcasts?

  • sal m

    the toy cannon jimmy wynn hit 291…

    i actually think koosman and reuschel are pretty close. however, koosman had more complete games more shut outs, more strikeouts, more innings pitched, fewer hits per 9 innings, and faced more total batters. plus koosman was more durable.

  • MCH

    I wonder who hit more homers…Jimmy Wynn or Jim Wynne…?

  • The pitching stats are very nearly equal, and Koosman did not “finish with better stats.” He had a few more wins (Koosman 222 vs. Reuschel’s 214) but Reuschel had the better winning percentage (.528 vs. .515 for Koosman) and their ERAs were essentially equal (3.36 for Koosman, 3.37 for Reuschel).

    Since we’re dealing with a lefty and a righthander here, maybe we should split the award.

  • sal m

    reuschel had one better year with a really bad team than koosman did – his ’85 season…other than that the two are very close…koosman played on some really bad teams and i don’t think – with the exception of the 85 pirates – reuschel played with as many bad offensive teams as koosman did. his early years, the cubs had pretty good offensive teams, no where near as bad as the mets.

    koosman finished with better stats. reuschel being better with the bat and glove – if that is even the case – is insignificant.

  • Have a look at Rick Reuschel’s numbers. very similar to Koosman’s (although slightly better almost across the board) and Reuschel was a better hitter and a significantly better fielder.
    Koosman most underrated for his era? Fffft.

  • uao

    Koosman was one of my boyhood heroes; as a New Yorker, I discovered baseball at the age of 11, just after the 1976 season. I pledged allegiance to the Mets, not the Yankees.

    In reward for my loyalty, the Mets traded away Seaver and Kingman for a bag of broken fungo bats and a pop-up toaster (to wit, Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson and Stormin’ Dan Norman).

    I’ll never forget that miserable 1977 season; Koosman was a good sport about it, even reviving the famous quote from the anchor of the 1962 Mets staff, Roger Craig: “It takes a good pitcher to lose 20 games”.

    Jon Matlack, another favorite was gone after the ’77 season.

    That 3-15 year was awful (but like you noted, not Koosman’s fault; it works out to about 7 innings per gane, three runs, after which he’d be pinch hit for). I was actually happy to see him go to Minnesota in 1979; the 20 wins he racked up there in ’79 were well deserved.

    Thanks for a great piece on a fine pitcher who deserved better; he was one of the best lefties of the 1970’s.

  • sal m

    kingman…1575 hits, 1816 k’s..ba 236 oba 302, slugging 478 compared to reggie’s .262, .356, .490 so you’d be very, very right!

  • MCH

    As did Reggie Jackson (2,597 strikeouts to 2,584 hits)…although a comparison of Kingman to Jackson would be very unequal, in favor of Reggie.

  • sal m

    the problem with kingman is that he struck out more than he made contact, as he finished his career with more strikeouts than hits.

  • MCH

    Great nickname, Victor. My dad saw him play in Chicago, said he that long swing of his reminded him of a big, graceful swan.

  • sal m

    i don’t think it’s necessarily mets country…it’s just that met fans share the bond that comes from rooting for a team that when bad, was as bad as bad can be…different from the 86 years of suffering that red sox fans suffered through, but suffering nevertheless…

    i miss the old mets announcing team of lindsey nelson – who also did college football – murph and ralph kiner. they’d switch in and out of the radio booth and tv booth…not like today where there are separate radio and tv teams…

    that being said, the mets new network features gary cohen, who has been with the team for at least 20 years, ron darling and keith hernandez…and this trio is a great listen.

  • MCH, the answer is “Sky King.”

    Murphy was under-appreciated in my book. He also made the best flubs, though Kiner’s are legendary. For example, “No bout a adoubt it.”

    Anyway, Murph would say something like this:

    “David Arthur Kingman steps up to the plate. The Skeyeeyeeye King is swinging a mean bat these days. You can call him King or you can call him Sky, but he prefers just Sky.”

    Man, do I miss Murph’s play-by-play!

  • Maybe it was established before I already got here, but this is looking more and more to be Mets country ’round these parts.

    Go … Diamondbacks?

  • MCH


    Charley Pride. He told me in an interview (which I am still kicking myself for not recording!!) that his first dream was to play major league baseball. He was an outfielder/pitcher in the Negro Leagues, minor leagues and semi-pro ball before pursuing his singing career fulltime. In 1965, he led Montana’s Copper League in hitting with a .440 average.

    Charley also had a tryout with the Los Angeles Angels, where he personally confronted Gene Autry in an attempt to persuade the owner to get on the team.

    Re Kingman…was it “Kong”?

  • MCH:

    Just a crazy guess here: Glen Campbell? Let me know. Great question by the way.

    Another trivia question (probably too easy):

    What was announcer Bob Murphy’s nickname for Dave Kingman?

  • MCH

    Thanx sal, re the Les Rohr confirmation. He pitched Legion ball for Billings, where McNally and Jeff Ballard also got started.

    Trivia question for diehard Mets fans:

    Which future Country and Western singing star invited himself for a tryout to the Mets spring training camp in about 1964 or ’65, but was asked to leave by Casey Stengel?

    On his drive back to Montana, he stopped by Nashville and recorded what two-years later became his first big hit.

  • jacob k

    Missed the best part of the story. The Cincinnati Reds defense, who were the opposition that night, were so stunned, that no one covered second base, and the throw from the catcher went into centerfield allowing Koosman to take third and eventually scored what proved to be the winning run.

  • sal m

    He took the line drive off the melon in 1973…so it didn’t have any effect on his career…he actually pitched great down the stretch and in the playoffs…he actually had a monster year for the rangers in 1978…here’s another met horsecrap trade…

    matlack and hammer milner were traded to the rangers for willie montanez, tom henderson and tom greive..oy vey…

    and les rohr did pitch for the mets from 67-69 and had 10 appearances during these 3 seasons.

  • MCH

    This is just from memory, so adjust accuracy accordingly…but didn’t Les Rohr pitch for the Mets in the late ’60s? We Montanans haven’t had too many make it to the big leagues – Dave McNally being the best – but if memory serves I think Rohr was a prospect in the Mets organization and may have actually made it to The Show briefly…(?)

  • Sal,

    Matlack had a terrible injury (Line drive into the head) as a Met. I don’t think he was ever as brilliant as he showed he could be before that. I don’t remember the year or who hit the ball now. Maybe someone will.

  • sal m

    the mets had a bunch of great young arms back in those days…in addition to the names mentioned they also had craig swan who showed flashes of brilliance but was always battling arm troubles and jon matlack who was one of the best young pitchers in the league from 72-77, but who did a quick fizzle after the mets got rid of him.

  • Sal, just a wonderful story about an underrated pitcher. I have been a Mets fan all my life (even during those dreary late 70s). I can’t tell you how many games Kooz lost by scores of 1-0 or 2-1, but there seemed to be a hell of a lot in my memory.

    I can remember his delivery, very fluid and almost without a hitch. The ball left his hand and zipped to the plate like a perfect spiral thrown in football by the QB. It was just a pretty thing to watch.

    He was one of my favorites, along with Agee, Swoboda, Clendenon, and Grote. Everyone thought Tom was terrific, and that he was, but Kooz was an unsung hero on that staff.

    Thanks for a great post!!!

  • MCH

    Nice tribute…I always liked the Koos…Those Mets of the late ’60s to late ’70s had a great pitching staff, what with Seaver, Koosman, Nolan Ryan (when he was still a thrower, but think of how scarey that had to be, facing a 99mph fastball and not knowing where it might go), Tug McGraw, et al…I actually think that if Koos had more support – as you so eloquently document – he could very well have deserved Hall of Fame consideration…

    LOL!!! Great story!!

  • sal m

    sweet, another Koos fan…great story.

  • Aw, you didn’t tell my favorite Jerry Koosman story. One game, late in the summer, when there wasn’t any hope, Koosman got on base. He’s standing on first and, as he told it, he looks over and second is just wide open. Pitchers didn’t steal. Valuable pitchers didn’t risk injury by stealing. There wasn’t any reason to steal. So second is just sitting there. He takes off and runs to it. Got his only stolen base. Scared the hell out of the rest of his team.

    The next day, there was a grand ceremony in front of home plate, led by Tom Seaver, in which they awarded Koosman second base to hang on his wall so he never, ever, ever did it again.