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Eating Those Innings

Mike SteffanosThursday, November 2, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

Yesterday I wrote why I wouldn't be in favor of a "whatever it takes" approach to acquiring Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins. My fear is that Willis' value would be based on his 2005 Cy Young caliber season, which at this point looks like somewhat of a career year where everything went right for the young lefty. This certainly doesn't mean that I would be against a sensible deal to obtain Dontrelle that made sense for both teams. I'm just not sure that's possible right now, given Florida's very real hopes in the division for 2007. Common sense tells me that they're unlikely to make a deal to strengthen the obvious front-runner unless it involves significant overpayment on the part of the Mets. We'll see.

What I do completely understand, however, is that the Mets can't go into next season trying to piece it together with Tom Glavine, possibly Orlando Hernandez and then a bunch of kids in their rotation. You would run into the same sort of problem that the Tigers did over the last month of the season, where so many of their young arms surpassed their career high in innings pitch and suffered an inevitable fatigue-caused downturn in performance.

Provided he doesn't decide to return home to Atlanta, the Mets will be more than happy to overpay Tom Glavine in 2007 because he's almost a given to provide 200 quality innings. In his four previous seasons in New York, he's contributed 183, 212, 211 and 198 while averaging 32.5 starts per season. Steve Trachsel was second on the team last season with only 165 innings in 30 starts. With Pedro out for at least half of next season -- and the real possibility that he may not come back from shoulder surgery at age 35 -- it's vital the Mets add one more pitcher who can give them innings in the 180-200 range. When you look at what the Mets currently have, it's somewhat problematic that they can find this from within. Let's look at the candidates:

  • Oliver Perez: He pitched 164 innings in stops at both the major and minor league levels last season. In 2005, kicking laundry carts limited him to 113 combined innings, after reaching 196 innings in 2004. Out of anyone under contract to the Mets, he may be the most capable of eating those 180-200 innings. The big question is whether he can find some consistency under Rick Peterson.

  • John Maine: Last year Maine pitched 90 innings in New York, plus 57 more in AAA-Norfolk, for a grand total of 147 innings. In 2005, he pitched 168 innings between Baltimore and the minors. He certainly might be ready to step up to around 180 next season.

  • Dave Williams: Pitched 114 combined innings in 2006. In 2005, he pitched 139 innings for Pittsburgh in 25 starts. In 2004, he pitched just over 150, mostly in the minors. At 27, he's never approached big innings, and may be better suited for the role filled by Darren Oliver last season, anyway.

  • Brian Bannister: Bannister didn't look too good in September, but given that he lost most of his rookie season to injuries, I think he deserves a little slack. However, it has to be noted that the hamstring injury limited him to only 80 combined innings in 2006. In the minors in 2004 and 2005 he averaged about 150 innings. Although he is no flamethrower, even a jump to 180 would be a rather big leap.

  • Mike Pelfrey: Mike pitched 128 innings in A, AA, AAA and the majors last season in his first year of pro ball. I would imagine (and this is only a guess on my part) that the Mets would like to keep him around 150 next season.

  • Phil Humber: Phil only has just over 150 innings combined in 2 pro seasons thanks to Tommy John surgery in 2005. While he has bounced back impressively, I would think 150 innings would be the ceiling for him next season, too.

Although some see Pelfrey and Humber as potentially winning starting jobs out of spring training, I would think that the Mets would prefer to start both in Triple-A and bring them up at some point during the season. This would give them some more time to develop and limit their innings for next season. As for El Duque, while I would be in favor of re-signing him to a reasonable contract, a look at his innings pitch over the last few seasons would indicate that around 150 innings would be a reasonable expectation:

  1. 94.2
  2. 146.0
  3. Did Not Pitch
  4. 84.2
  5. 128.1
  6. 162.1

Hernandez has not pitched over 180 innings in a season since 1999 and 2000 with the Yankees. Given that last year's inning total was Duque's highest since those 2 years, it's just not reasonable to expect more. Meanwhile, some worry about replacing Trachsel's 15 wins, but to me the more important number was Steve only contributing 165 innings in 30 starts. I would not be in favor of re-signing Trachsel at all. There are younger options with real potential that should reach that inning total. Time to turn the page.

Although the Mets don't seem to be considering him for a starting role, Aaron Heilman would have the potential to eat some innings. He's been limited to 87 and 108 innings over the past two seasons thanks to being mostly a reliever, but has certainly shown a resilient arm. In 2004, his last season as a full-time starter, he pitched 180 combined innings for the Mets and Norfolk. I understand that Mota getting caught with his fingers in the steroid jar muddy up the bullpen somewhat, but I still believe the Mets should consider Aaron as a starter.

In any case, I think the likeliest scenario is the Mets acquire a starting pitcher who can give them those 180-200 innings, whether it's Willis, Zito, Matsuzaka, Scmidt or a somewhat lesser veteran pitcher. With Glavine and someone else taking 400 or so innings, the Mets can piece it together with the rest. Perez and Maine are reasonable candidates as third and fourth starters, and although I won't count on it, I also wouldn't bet against Pedro making it back in the second half. You'll have some reasonable candidates for the fifth starter with Bannister, Williams or maybe even Heilman, and Humber and Pelfrey can continue to develop while providing valuable rotation insurance in New Orleans to start the year.

The Journal News: Mota
John Delcos reports on Guillermo Mota's 50-game suspension for steroids. If nothing else, Mota gets some respect from me for not playing the silly "I thought they were Flintstones vitamins" card. Here is the text of Mota's mea culpa:

I have no one to blame but myself. I take full responsibility for my actions and accept MLB's suspension. I used extremely poor judgment and deserve to be held accountable.

To my teammates and the entire Mets organization, I am sorry. I truly regret what I did and hope that you can forgive me. To baseball fans everywhere, I understand that you are disappointed in me, and I don't blame you.

I feel terrible and I promise this is the first and last time that this will happen. I am determined to prove to you that this was one mistake.

If I were the Mets, I'd still try to sign Mota to an incentive-laden 1-year contract, although I would understand if they didn't.

Newsday: Or maybe not ...
Jim Baumbach cites Tom Glavine's agent that, despite what was reported in the Daily News yesterday, there have been no negotiations with the Mets yet.

Mets Inside Pitch Magazine Online ($): Top Prospects
Inside Pitch has done their annual ranking of the Top 50 prospects in the Mets farm system. With Lastings Milledge no longer qualified for the list, here is their top 10:

  1. Carlos Gomez
  2. Mike Pelfrey
  3. Fernando Martinez
  4. Phil Humber
  5. Brian Bannister
  6. Mike Carp
  7. Shawn Bowman
  8. Jonathan Niese
  9. Jesus Flores
  10. Deolis Guerra

Inside Pitch Magazine Online is a subscription-based site that offers pretty good, if sometimes inconsistent, coverage of the Mets farm system and the Mets themselves. They're currently running a promotion that expires at midnight tonight where you sign up for a month and get a second month free. If you've been thinking about checking out their site, that would give you a couple of months at a cheap price to decide if it's for you. Details of the offer can be found here.

More Mets Stories:
SportsSpyder Mets

Continuous Mets Coverage:
Hot Foot

Comments (4)

Jesus FLores has out produced him by alot at the same level at the same age playing catcher.

I have to admit that surprised me a little. I know Bowman still has some potential, but he's a very raw hitter and I think the injuries have cost him too much development time and made it unlikely he will ever be a major-league ballplayer.

To address your concerns about who eats up the extra innings, I really wouldn't worry about it. With that much young pitching, you can switch guys in and out of the rotation-- not suddenly so as to break up their rhythm and routine, but gradually and/or in accordance with a carefully planned schedule. Bannister, Williams, Heilman and Darren Oliver (should he return though I don't see him going anywhere) can all switch duties between the starting rotation and the bullpen. Other than that, you can have five or six young arms take the other four rotation spots and chip in about 125-150 innings each. The fans want to see Pelfrey, Humber and (though it's a serious longshot) Kevin Mulvey start on a consistent basis at some point or another. I think the most important reason to bring back Glavine is what he can teach some of the other young pitchers. Between him and Pedro, the young guys can have two Hall of Famers with rings to look up to and learn from, which is invaluable (see Liriano, Francisco; Oswalt, Roy; Papelbon, Jonathan-- for effects of lack of a role model on the team, see Ankiel, Richard; Weaver, Jeffrey; Washburn, Jarrod).

If you really want veterans to be there to eat up innings and Glavine doesn't come back, Vicente Padilla and Tony Armas are pretty attractive options. Stuck with bad teams in bad parks with bad pitching coaches their whole careers, I can see them turning from wastes of talent to solid middle-of-the-rotation guys by the All-Star Break.

That said, I maintain my stance on player acquisitions-- Luis Castillo, Octavio Dotel, Jay Payton. All will come without large contracts nor large egos. We do not need Zito, Willis, Schmidt, or Soriano (though I'd love to get him reasonably, say $85m over 5, but that's not happening). We should spend the money we save Reyes and Wright style-- locking down Pelfrey, Chavez, Bradford and Sanchez and making sure the future of our team stays put.

I'm not worried about it, Matt, and I'm not lobbying for the Mets to pick up anyone. I'm simply stating what I think will happen. I don't believe the Mets will gamble going into next year without picking up a veteran with a track record of innings. Omar said as much on WFAN after the Mets were eliminated.

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