By Mike Steffanos
With all of the questions as to who might be on the playoff roster and who might be watching in street clothes, every start for John Maine is an important audition. Maine has had an eye-opening first season with the Mets, with a 5-3 record, an ERA of 3.44 and a WHIP of 1.03. He's been fairly consistent, too. In the 8 starts he has made since the All-Star break, 6 of them were very good and 2 were not-so-hot. An argument can be made that he has been the most effective starting pitcher for this team over that period. Below is a chart of those games:
|TOTAL (8 Games)||51||17||17||35||35||13||8||3.00||0.94||8-0|
Maine has been around long enough so that his strengths have become apparent. He challenges hitters and throws strikes, averaging only about 2.5 walks per nine innings, which is outstanding. He has a good live moving fastball that he's not afraid to throw in big spots. He's allowed 51 hits in 68 innings this year, which combined with his low walk totals speaks to a low amount of baserunners. One of the most basic facets of pitching is that if they don't get on base, they don't score.
Maine has some weaknesses, too. He's been vulnerable to the home run ball, surrendering 12 in 68 innings. That would equate to 35 in a 200 inning full season, and that's a lot of potential whiplash from watching balls change direction in a hurry. Part of the reason Maine is vulnerable to the long ball is his aggressiveness in the strike zone, but the inconsistency of his secondary pitches also play a part. Since Maine doesn't allow many baserunners many of these have been solo shots, but this is one area where there is certainly room for improvement.
For Maine to take the next step into becoming a solid middle-of-the-rotation performer, he will need to develop more consistency with his slider and changeup. Then he can throw them more often and set up his live fastball. His long delivery, a component of his success in that he hides the ball well, needs further refinement. He still seems to lose it a little, especially later in games, costing him command of his fastball and secondary pitches. The bulk of what walks he does give up tend to occur in these situations, as do pitches poorly located in the strike zone that lead to some of those home runs. The location and quality of his secondary pitches drop quite dramatically in these instances. He's definitely a work in progress right now, but the progress he has made under Peterson and company so far has been dramatic.
So what does this all mean for the playoff roster? It's likely with all the off-days built into the playoff schedule that the Mets will carry 11 pitchers and 14 position player. The 7 pitchers who are absolute locks, barring injury, are Pedro, Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, Billy Wagner, Heilman, Bradford and Feliciano. Based on performance, I would be shocked if Mota and Darren Oliver weren't on the roster. That leaves Maine, Steve Trachsel and Roberto Hernandez fighting it out for 2 spots. Oliver Perez and Dave Williams would also have to be considered, although I see both as the longest of long shots. The Mets could elect to carry 12 pitches, but that would leave them only 5 bench players. I can't see them going that way.
The bottom line here is that, while people keep talking about the lack of pressure on the Mets right now, John Maine is pitching under a lot of pressure every outing. Time is running out, and every performance is a statement, whether positive or negative. Come to think of it, maybe this is a terrific laboratory for a young pitcher who hopes to compete on baseball's grandest stage. After all, the pressure surely isn't going to go down in the playoffs.