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Pitching Questions

Mike SteffanosWednesday, January 24, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Some good stuff in the local dailies today. In the New York Post, Joel Sherman has an excellent column on the pitching heading into 2007. After quoting an American League GM that the Mets are good enough to be in contention by July 31 trade deadline no matter how much their starting pitchers struggle, Sherman offers some further common sense on the matter:

The GM's view was the Mets should truly see if Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez can stay productive at age 41, if John Maine and Oliver Perez really are more than just teases, and if Phil Humber and Mike Pelfrey can be rookie difference-makers.

By July 31, the Mets should have a better gauge on all of that, and if Pedro Martinez's recovery from shoulder surgery would make him a better stretch-run factor than an outside acquisition would. If the need for a starter is still substantial, the Mets can relent on dealing Pelfrey, Humber, Lastings Milledge or Carlos Gomez then. A surprising star could become available. It happened last July, when the Mets nearly obtained Houston's Roy Oswalt.

Nevertheless, Sherman does offer a couple of cautions. On the bullpen, he asks a valid question about what happens if the bullpen doesn't come together as well this year:

There is nothing more volatile in the game than the year-to-year ups and downs of relievers. Can the Mets really expect the superiority of last season? And, if not, how much more of a burden will that put on a rotation already infused with so many doubts?

Then, with the young pitchers, Sherman offers up the immortal cautionary tale of Generation K, although he does concede:

Internally, the Mets would rather focus on what pitching coach Rick Peterson did in Oakland breaking in Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Zito; with Mulder and Zito particularly informative because, like Humber and Pelfrey, each had fewer than 200 minor-league innings. Peterson definitely is more equipped intellectually to break in young arms than the Dallas Green Mets of the mid-1990s.

I do think that there are a few important points here. Number one, what happened with the Generation K troika was extraordinarily bad luck, even given the capriciousness of pitching prospects. Number two, the point about having Peterson as opposed to Dallas Green handling these kids is quite a favorable difference. Number three, the Mets aren't putting all of their eggs into the Pelfrey-Humber basket, so there is no "succeed or else" aspect working here. If they fail to win jobs this spring, they will go to New Orleans. The Mets have a lot of options for the rotation and while none are particularly high-end, there is no thought that either of the youngsters has to win a job this spring.

Things can go wrong for the Mets this year, but the same could be said for the competition. The Phillies have a solid rotation, but their bullpen is questionable, and what happens to their rotation if Hamels and Eaton -- both with injury histories -- get hurt, and the declining Freddy Garcia -- who gave up 32 homeruns in Chicago this year -- can't keep opposing hitters in the park? If everything goes right for the Phillies they will be a very good thing, but if a few things go wrong they could really struggle. There are no sure things in baseball.

Meanwhile, also in the Post, Mark Hale has an interesting piece addressing the concern about innings for Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber this season if they earn jobs with the Mets. Hale addresses other pitchers who have succeeded (and failed) with less than 200 minor league innings, and cites Rick Peterson's philosophy with young pitchers:

Peterson evaluates young pitchers more with his "peak performance pyramid" than he does with minor-league-inning totals. His pyramid has three prongs: fundamental skills, physical conditioning, and mental and emotional skills.

Peterson had Zito (170 minor-league innings) and Mulder (137) in Oakland and now has Pelfrey and Humber with the Mets. Peterson said he believes Mulder, Zito and former Oakland righty Tim Hudson (268 minor-league innings) are similar to Pelfrey and Humber when it comes to mental makeup.

Pelfrey and Humber each pitched three years of college baseball, which should be noted when it comes to looking at their minor-league inning totals. Peterson said, "Amateur baseball has come to a level that the exposure that these kids get, they're really performing on a main stage."

This is interesting stuff, and makes the battle for jobs this spring even just a little more interesting.

Finally, in the Bergen Record Steve Popper talks with Phil Humber and Mike Pelfrey on the upcoming season.

Reliever Previews
I've been consistent this week in getting the individual previews up late at night. The late night stuff has been getting to me a little, though, so I might not make it on one or both of the Steve Schmoll and Scott Schoeneweis previews scheduled for the next two days. If I don't, expect the Schmoll preview no later than noon Thursday, and the Schoeneweis by the same time Friday.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (7)

Interesting stuff. Especially with regards to the minor league innings logged by Pelfrey and Humber. The development of young pitching has definitely changed, as strong American arms tend to eat up tons of work in college rather than struggle through the low minors at a very young age. By that standard both Pelfrey and Humber would be considered ready to start coming out of the gate in 2007, pending their spring training performances.

My money has always been on Humber (even if I'm in the minority here) simply because his physical stature and pitch repertoire should afford him more early success than Pelfrey. But I certainly look forward to the battle. The future is bright.

The future really looks good with a bevy of young arms. I too think Humber is a better candidate for success at this juncture, even with last years surgery. I like his makeup and I think he has the stuff to be effective at the major league level. With Pelfrey it's a matter of mastering the secondary pitches. He has a live fastball, but as we know you can't get into the "Big Leagues" if you can't hit a fastball. So while I think it's his best pitch we saw that he tended to leave that fastball up second and third time through the order. Then he began to rely soley on it and got touched up a bit. If he can get the movement on his slider and work a changeup in there he will be successful. I see Pelfrey starting at AAA New Orleans more than being with the big club, but I could be wrong. Vargas, Sosa, Williams, and Solar are the other options with Vargas being the most likely to move into the starting role behind Maine and Perez should Humber and Pelfrey both go to AAA. With the vets it's more likely they will be better than adequate even considering age. Glavine is a smart pitcher, a lefty, and knows how to pitch. He seems hyped to get his 300th victory and we have witnessed old lefties hang around and be effective (Moyer, Wells, Kaat). El-Duque will be alright with an occasional blow to keep him rested throughout the season. The ACE/Joker is Pedro. He's a competitor, and if he comes back healthy and rehabs well, the second half is going to be good. The pen looks to have enough arms by commitee to round into a better than alright pen. Sanchez is the key, if he comes back true to last years form along with Heilman, Wags, Sosa(if he doesn't start), Schoe, Padilla, Feliciano, and after may Mota it looks to be very good. Well at least on paper. Come on Spring Training!

Salman - I thought so, too. I actually agree with you that Humber is more advanced than Pelfrey right now. I think the concern is more with the surgery and then the limited innings after that.
L.J. - I think that the thing about Pefrey's fastball is that it's so good he just needs a couple of mediocre pitches to set it up. He already has a decent changeup, though he needs to disguise it better at times. If that slider works out he might be ready to pitch decently at the major league level this year. With Humber, he's probably ready now, and again it's all about health.

I'm convinced it'll be more emotionally satisfying for Mets fans to see Perez, Humber and Pelfrey get into the rotation and excel than some hired-gun journeymen with 4+ ERAs. They're young, hungry, armed with great stuff and well-coached; let's see what they can do.

Sounds good to me.

Agreed with Geezer, above.

I don't think the failure of Generation K was entirely bad luck. I believe the Mets of that time simply didn't have an idea of how to bring along a young pitcher; they sure killed off enough of them, going back to Kirk Presley and even before, as in Tim Leary.

Fact is I believe that most of the difference between organizations who always have good youngsters and those that don't lies more in the development than in the drafting.

Of course, those Mets didn't know how to draft a position player, either, so it was hard times from a developmental standpoint. It made some of us (meaning me) particularly vulnerable to despair at the Kazmir trade; how long do you continue to follow a dumb franchise?

Which is why I particularly appreciate Omar I reckon. Thank God and about time.

That's a good point, really. I think Tony Bernazard and Adam Wogan deserve a lot of kudos for they're doing with the player development.

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