By Mike Steffanos
John Maine came to the Mets as a throw in on the Kris Benson for Jorge Julio deal last January. Maine was originally a sixth round pick of the Baltimore Orioles. It was thought at the time that a mediocre final collegiate season may have dropped him somewhat from the higher rounds of the draft. Maine soon forced himself onto the top prospect lists by absolutely dominating at the A and AA levels. In 2003, his second year in the Orioles system, Maine led all of the minor leagues in strikeouts with 185 in less than 150 combined innings. Although he struggled with his mechanics at times, and lacked consistent complementary pitches to his fastball, he had very good control and didn't give up many hits.
The next season, 2004, saw Maine rushed through the AA level after only five starts and pushed up to AAA-Ottawa. It was there that he struggled for the first time, as the occasional lapses with his mechanics and his inconsistent off-speed pitches caught up with him. He began the 2005 season in Ottawa, and continued to struggle. The Orioles were desperate for pitching and brought him up anyway. He got beat up pretty bad in 40 major league innings. It was at this point that his stock as a prospect plunged, and the former phenom was traded to the Mets that winter.
Maine began the 2006 season in AAA-Norfolk and did fairy well. As the Mets starting pitchers began to drop like flies, Maine was called up on May 2 to pitch a game against the Nationals. He wasn't bad, but didn't throw a curve ball the entire 5.1 innings he pitched. After the game Maine admitted that he had injured a finger and wasn't able to throw a breaking pitch. Another stint in the minors followed after he returned to action, and then Maine was called up for good in early July. A 26-inning scoreless streak highlighted his first month back, including a complete-game shutout of the Astros. Here are his numbers for 2006 at all levels:
|2006 Major and Minor League Stats -- John Maine|
|St. Lucie (A)||1||5||5.4||12.6||3.6||0.0||0.00||.167|
|Minor League Totals||11||61.2||8.5||8.0||3.2||0.3||3.21||.247|
There is good and bad looking at Maine's major league numbers. The hit rate and batting average against were outstanding, and the strikeout and walk numbers were good. The home run number was terrible, though, and reflected continued battles with consistency after his promotion. A familiar sight last season was Maine cruising through three or four innings where they couldn't touch him, and then it was almost as if someone flipped a switch as he lost command of his pitches. There were times he was very effective with his changeup and slider, but he'd make mistakes with his changeup in particular, and many of those mistakes found the seats.
Maine has a very good sinking action on his fastball. Although he has good results at times pitching up in the zone with his deceptive motion and movement on the ball, there is no reason why he can't cut the home runs to a reasonable level. As mentioned above, many of those dingers came on badly located off-speed pitches. His changeup was often his most effective secondary pitch, yet the NL batted .280 against it, which shows how mistake-prone he was throwing it. Some of those mistakes are attributable to an inability to keep his delivery solid deep into games.
After abandoning a large-breaking curve ball that he had trouble throwing for strikes early in the year, Maine showed a promising slider that he used to good effect when he got it over. The league batted only .167 against that pitch.
The conventional wisdom on Maine is that his tendency to loose his mechanics and his inconsistent off-speed stuff will limit him to being a bottom of the rotation starter or a reliever. I think Maine has made good progress with Rick Peterson, and has the promise to better that and become a solid third starter for the Mets. His fastball, particularly with the deceptive motion and movement, is good enough. He's also shown that he is not intimidated by the big stage, which is important. How far John Maine goes will be determined by his ability to master the mechanics of his delivery. Accomplishing that will help him to polish the off-speed stuff and become a dependable starting pitcher.
Last season Maine threw fastballs 70% of the time. He'll need to mix the other stuff in more, which will come if he develops more confidence in his secondary pitches. At times his pitch count runs up as batters foul off his fastball repeatedly. Developing consistency with the changeup and slider more can help him to finish off hitters faster. This is important, because with a simple improvement from being a 5-inning pitcher to a 6-inning pitcher next season, he can help the team immeasurably.
I find attempting to forecast Maine's 2007 season difficult because it's hard to guess how much progress he will make in finding that consistency. I don't expect him to match the very low .212 batting average that the league hit against him last year, so it's crucial that he cuts down on the number of homeruns he allows. What makes me optimistic about him is that he seems to be one of those guys who work very well with Rick Peterson, and as mentioned above he is not intimidated. I don't foresee any miraculous changes, but rather I think he will continue to improve and refine his game. I'm looking for double-figures in wins and for Maine to solidify his claim to a rotation slot with this team.
2007 Starting Rotation Previews:
John Maine (This Article)
Rotation Preview Conclusions
2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up