By Mike Steffanos
I had hoped to write a long post previewing all of the candidates for the Mets' 2007 starting rotation, but it has become clear to me that this week is going to be too hectic to allow me the time to write anything like that. Instead, I thought I would write a series of articles previewing each pitcher. I think we can assume that Tom Glavine, provided he remains healthy, will give the Mets a solid 30+ starts and 180+ innings. We'll concentrate instead on the 8 primary candidates for the other four slots. In alphabetical order they are Orlando Hernandez, Phil Humber, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, Alay Soler, Jason Vargas and Dave Williams. We begin with El Duque.
According to his official bio, Orlando Hernandez was born in October 1969 and has just turned 37. It's generally accepted that he is more likely to be 41. Despite his advanced age, Hernandez was terrific after coming over to the Mets, posting a 9-7 record in 20 starts with an ERA of 4.09. Even more impressive, he managed to strike out 112 in 117 innings. His fastball was consistently in the low 90s, and on days when he had a good slider he was a very good pitcher. When he lacked command of his breaking pitches, however, he often had a short and very unsuccessful night. Still, for long stretches of the season he was arguably the Mets top starter. Here are the numbers for 2006:
|2006 Stats -- Orlando Hernandez|
As previously mentioned, a 40-year-old pitcher averaging a strikeout per inning is fairly impressive. His walk totals were good after coming over from Arizona, and the home runs got much better once he escaped that bandbox. While the hit totals were remarkably low after coming over, he did give up his share of extra base hits, particularly in those outings where he lacked the effective breaking pitches.
I have to admit that I scratched my head a little over El Duque receiving a 2-year, $11.5 million contract, but when I look objectively at these numbers, particularly once he came here, I can't help but be impressed. In 20 starts with the Mets he averaged just a fraction under 6 innings per start, despite a couple of early exits. He held opponents to a .236 batting average in those 20 starts. Although he tired in August and required a brief hiatus, he came back in September with his strongest month of the year, pitching to a 2.01 ERA in 31.1 innings over five starts. He would have started the first playoff game if not for the freak calf injury.
Many play up El Duque's age, and that's a legitimate concern. I myself wrote a piece at one point of the season that I was concerned about El Duque's innings, since he had not reached that number in quite some time. After amassing over 400 innings for the Yankees in 1999 and 2000, here are Hernandez' totals over the next five seasons:
- Did Not Pitch
While it is extremely unlikely that the Mets would receive 32 starts and 200 innings from Hernandez, his strong finish to 2006 would indicate that it's not unreasonable to expect the 20+ starts and 150+ innings he contributed last season. That would be a huge contribution, particularly early in the season while Pelfrey and Humber are ideally getting some innings in Triple-A New Orleans and Pedro is rehabbing his shoulder. Moreover, I wouldn't bet against El Duque pitching in the rotation all season, with a couple of breaks.
Don't get me wrong. Being in my 40s, I understand that things can go wrong for an old-timer like Hernandez, but I think he showed a level of durability last season that makes his projection not quite as dire as some would have you believe. I'm looking for 28 starts and 14 wins from the veteran right-hander in 2007.
2007 Starting Rotation Previews:
Orlando Hernandez (This Article)
Rotation Preview Conclusions
2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up