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.
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.