The New York Mets don’t have the most storied history out of the bullpen. It’s mostly been a history of disappointment. Bob Apodaca is a different beast.
The New York Mets were riding high in the early 1970s. They had just won the World Series in 1969 and made a World Series appearance in 1972. They were one of the best teams in the National League without a doubt.
The biggest reason for that was the team’s pitching. Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack all played for the Mets during those years. It wasn’t just them though, the bullpen was also one of the best in baseball.
Tug McGraw was arguably the best closer in the league. He was joined by pieces like Ray Sadecki, Danny Frisella, and Ron Taylor. The legacy continued with Bob Apodaca.
The Mets signed Apodaca as an undrafted free agent after the 1971 draft, and he raced to the majors making his debut in 1973.
From spot starting to domination
Apodaca faced two batters in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in September in 1973. He walked both batters and one came around to score. That was his only work in 1973 leading to an infinite ERA. That would be the last season Apodaca had an ERA over 3.50.
Apodaca won a roster spot in spring training in 1974 and earned his first save in his first appearance of that year against the St. Louis Cardinals. That was the highlight of Apodaca’s first half.
He was absolutely dreadful in 52.1 innings he pitched in the first half of 1974. He had a 5.16 ERA, and a 1.59 WHIP. It was a disastrous start to his career, but the Mets’ stuck with him.
Apodaca moved into a larger role as a spot starter in the second half. Apodaca made 13 appearances and started five games. He was phenomenal. He had a 1.78 ERA in 50.2 innings with a much improved 1.066 WHIP.
Overall, Apodaca had a 3.50 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 1.301 WHIP in a career-high 103 innings. Apodaca had the second-most innings on the team and the second-best ERA of any reliever with at least 30 innings. He had become an invaluable piece.
Apodaca became a star in 1975. At just 24-years-old Apodaca put together one of the greatest seasons a Mets’ reliever ever has.
Apodaca was named the team’s close after they traded McGraw to the Phillies prior to the start of the season. Apodaca filled the role better than anyone could have imagined.
He had a 1.51 ERA, and 0.897 WHIP in 35.2 innings in the first half. He somehow got even better in the second half. Apodaca saw an increase in his inning pitching 49 innings and he wasn’t quite as effective, but the ERA was even better. He had a 1.47 ERA and 1.265 WHIP.
Apodaca put together a 1.49 ERA, 3.13 FIP, and 1.110 WHIP in 1975. Apodaca’s 1.49 ERA was a record for Mets’ relievers at the time, it would stand until Jesse Orosco broke it in 1983. His 3.1 rWAR makes it the fourth-best season from a reliever in New York Mets’ history. Only McGraw’s 1972 was better at that point in Mets’ history.
Decline and injury
Apodaca never reached the heights of 1975 again. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective. Apodaca was still one of the Mets’ best reliever in 1976.
Apodaca lost the closer job to Skip Lockwood in 1976. He regressed back to the longman/spot starter role. Apodaca and Lockwood were the only Mets’ relievers to pitch at least 50 innings in 1976.
Apodaca started the 1976 season strong. He threw 54.2 innings with a 2.63 ERA, and 1.061 WHIP in the first half. He wasn’t the elite pitcher form the year before, but he was still one of the better relievers the Mets had in a long time.
The second half was a little rougher. Apodaca only pitched 35 innings and had an ERA of 3.09, and a 1.200 WHIP. It was the first signs of decline.
Over the course of the year, Apodaca had a 2.81 ERA, 3.28 FIP, and 1.115 WHIP in 89.2 innings.
1977 was Apodaca’s final year with the Mets as a player. It was also his worst since 1974. The season started out strong for Apodaca.
He had a 2.91 ERA and 1.209 WHIP in 46.1 innings in the first half. Not the elite standard he had set for himself, but still strong work. That evaporated in the second half.
He had a 4.06 ERA and 1.513 WHIP in 37.2 innings. Overall, Apodaca had a 3.43 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and 1.345 WHIP in 84 innings in 1977.
Apodaca would tear a ligament in his elbow in spring training of 1978. He wouldn’t pitch in the major leagues again. Looking back now, it’s possible that the first signs of the injury were in the second half of 1977 when his numbers took an unexpected nose dive.
Continued impact on the game
Apodaca tried to make a comeback for years after the injury. He didn’t retire until a few games into 1981. When he did retire the Mets immediately hired him to as a coach for the short season Little Falls Mets.
He would work his way up the minor league coaching ladder for the rest of the 1980s. In 1988 he served as Clint Hurdle’s pitching coach for the St. Lucie Mets in Hurdle’s first season as a manager. They would work together a ton during their time in the minors.
Then Apodaca got the call. In 1996 he was named the New York Mets’ pitching coach replacing Greg Pavlick. The team immediately regressed on the mound. The Mets’ team ERA ballooned from 3.88 to 4.22 in 1996. The ERA wouldn’t improve past the team’s 1995 mark until 1998 when it dropped to 3.76.
That improvement disappeared in 1999. The team’s ERA hit a new high of 4.27. Apodaca was fired following the season.
He caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2000 holding their pitching coach job for two years. He returned to St.Lucie in 2002, but it would be a short-lived reunion.
When Clint Hurdle got his first major league managerial job in 2002 he brought Apodaca with him. He would hold the pitching coach job with the Colorado Rockies for a decade. He oversaw Ubaldo Jimenez’s breakout and Aaron Cook’s steady career as the Rockies’ ace.
Since he left the position in 2013 Apodaca has been working with minor league pitchers in Colorado helping mold young pitchers like Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, and Trevor Hoffman.
Apodaca is a great look at how injuries can impact a career. He was one of the best relievers the New York Mets ever had, and then all of a sudden he wasn’t. He turned that sorrow into a story of triumph creating a second career as a coach.