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The Professor

Mike SteffanosMonday, February 26, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

When I read Steve Popper's Rick Peterson article on NorthJersey.com today it reminded me of why I can feel optimistic about the pitching this season:

When Oliver Perez arrived in New York last season, he admitted that he was lost. The simplest solution was for Rick Peterson to provide a map.

... Once a promising star, the left-hander had struck out 239 batters in 2004 while posting a 2.98 ERA. But after opening the 2006 season as the Pirates' opening-day starter, his career went into free fall. He was 2-10 with a 6.63 ERA and was shipped to the minor leagues before the Mets obtained him. And even he began to doubt that he could turn it around.

"Yeah, because in that time I was lost," Perez said. "I didn't believe in myself. I'd just go to the mound and I wasn't sure what to throw, how to pitch. That was the problem for me. I didn't get it because my body was OK. The problem was my mind."

Sometimes circumstances converge though and find a person in the right place at the right time. If Sanchez had not been injured, the Mets likely would not have needed to make the deal. But they did, and the left-hander found himself now working with Peterson, a coach who focuses as much on the mind as on the delivery. There were no 10-minute guarantees, but Peterson found a pitcher without a plan on the mound, or a map in his mind.

"When you look at what his plan was, there was no plan," Peterson said. "There was no recipe. There was no map. The first question is, 'Where do you want to go? And where did you come from?' Then you lay out a plan and help them understand that. Not only was he lost, but he was driving in the wrong lane. He thought he was in England. We're driving in the right lane.

"It became a simple thing because he got it very quickly. Just like if you're lost and someone gives you directions, all of the sudden you go down a quarter of a mile, make a right and go, 'Jeez, I know exactly where I am.'

"Because if you look at what he did in 2004, how lost are you? You were one of the dominating pitchers in the National League. So when you look at it from that perspective, it's different."

If you've ever competed in sports at any level, you understand just how big of a factor believing you can succeed is to your ultimate performance. While there remains a tremendous amount of skepticism in both the press and on talk radio towards Oliver Perez, John Maine and some of the other pitchers, the Mets and their somewhat eccentric pitching coach have created the type of atmosphere that breeds success. So, while no one can guarantee that Oliver Perez can bring his game back to 2004, I think Rick Peterson's approach gives motivated pitchers like Perez the foundation to succeed.

There is a lot of negativity in the way this team is being covered, particularly in the national media, and more particularly in regards to the starting rotation. To read these stories it seems the question isn't whether the Mets starting pitching will implode, but rather when the inevitable collapse takes place. While it doesn't surprise me that many are skeptical towards Oliver Perez, given his struggles in 2005 and 2006, I find it somewhat amazing that so many are writing him off as if he has already failed. I think they're in for a surprise, both with Perez and with the staff in general. I don't believe that the Mets will have the dominant starting pitching the White Sox won with two years ago, but I think it will do the job in getting games to the bullpen with a lead.

The most important thing is that Oliver Perez believes in himself now, because when it all comes down to it, he's the one standing out their on the mound with the ball and the hopes of Mets fans in his hand:

After success in last season's playoffs, Perez now has a destination set on his map. He is penciled in tentatively into the Mets' 2007 rotation, one of the three front-runners with John Maine and Chan Ho Park to fall in line behind Tom Glavine and Orlando Hernandez. And he is happy, content that he is found.

"I'm back," Perez said. "I'm happy. The last few games I was feeling really good. I know that's me. After the season I was trying to continue to learn and understand about what happened last year. Now that feels like a long time ago. The Mets believed in me. I understand I can do this. That's why I'm here."

House Update
I haven't written much about the home that Lisa and I are in the process of buying because I understand most of you are here to read about the Mets, not me. A few people have asked me about the progress lately, so here is a quick update. The home inspection turned up some asbestos insulation on the heating ducts in the basement and also in the floor in the kitchen. It took a while to negotiate with the seller on who pays for what in the removal. We finally got past that, and should have a final closing date this week. It might still be six weeks off, and then there is some work to be done before we move in.

We once hoped to be moved in by April, but that certainly won't be the case anymore. Still, we're happy with how everything is going -- we even qualified for some money to fix the place up a little, but this unfortunately slows the process a little more. Bottom line is that April is looking a lot more like June before we are all moved in.

By the way, I'm in the process of writing my conclusion to the NL east previews, and hope to have it up by tomorrow.

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 (12)

Perez pitched pretty well in late Aug & Sept., including a rather impressive shutout against the Braves in mid-Sept. Then rather than shut him down, the Mets let him pitch thru the end of the year. He pitched two great games against the Cards in the playoffs, esp his last one.
He got better and proved it on a bigger stage and a national level
So what exactly is the problem?

Sydd - I remember writing that maybe the Mets should think about shutting him down after that Braves game to let him go into 2007 on a positive.

No doubt he's a project, but it's amazing how little chance he's being given to succeed in some quarters.

"Perez pitched pretty well in late Aug & Sept"?

Perez had six starts with the Mets from Aug. 26 to Sept. 26. His record was 1-3 with a 6.89 ERA.

I hope he can rebound, but there isn't a historical precedent for a pitcher dominating, becoming one of the worst pitchers in the league for two years, then becoming great again. He may chop off a run or two off of his ghastly ERA these past two years, but expecting anything better than 4.50 ERA next year is dreaming.

Not much on comebacks, eh FC? Me neither, but we're not talking about the guy having to completely regain his '04 form and lead the rotation. At least that's not what I'm expecting. We're also not talking so much about his mechanics as his head. There seem to be enough guys in the Mets organization who firmly believe, late regular season notwithstanding, Ollie showed enough of his stuff to merit this "recovery" effort and get his confidence back. When better to do it than Spring Training? If he bombs, the line moves up one, with plenty of time before Opening Day.

Stats don't lie, but they don't explain everything, either. One way or another, we're about to find out if Perez is gonna make the rotation; hopeful yet realistic are the right words to keep in mind.

Mike S., sorry about the delay in your house thing. Hope it's an early-June move, which isn't so bad. Late June sends me into twitches and flashbacks...

Fact-checker - I'm not predicting greatness in 2007. My words were I don't believe that the Mets will have the dominant starting pitching the White Sox won with two years ago, but I think it will do the job in getting games to the bullpen with a lead.

On the other hand, a player has a lot more chance rebounding from problems that were primarily mental rather than physical.
geezer - We don't mind the delay so much, because by being elible for some low interest loans it worked out in our favor.

There is no doubt in my mind that the ptiching coach is potentially the most important member of the coaching staff and, all things being equal, he can have more impact than the manager. In Rick Peterson, the Mets clearly have a cutting edge pitching meister. The only mistake he has made in his three years with the club is saying he could fix Zambrano in 10 minutes. I doubt he will never make that mistake again. That being said, Oliver Perez probably has the most radical performance spread, low to high, that Peterson has ever grappled with. His stuff is pure electric; He is a southpaw and southpaws generally mature late; He has had amazing highs (2004) and debilitating lows (2005-July 2006). Perez is the dream project for a coach of Peterson's ilk. And this intelligent guru can get inside a head as well as a delivery. His incredible results with the A's notwithstanding, Rick's work with Aaron Heilman, John Maine, Juan Padilla, Duaner Sanchez and even vets like Glavine, Martinez and El Duque, Rindicate he knows the pitch. Just another exhilirating thing to watch on this exciting Mets ballclub.

I'm not quite as high on Oliver Perez as you. Perez is such an extreme flyball pitcher, I fear he's always going to have trouble with the home run ball. And this season he might have trouble with outfield defense too, on days that find Alou and Shawn Green out there. Don't think it can't matter, folks.

But while I'm not as positive about Perez, I am in agreement as regards the pitching staff in general. There's arms here, lots of them, and it's up to the coaching staff to get the work out of them, as I believe they will. I'll repeat my only prediction for 2007: the Mets won't lose the Division on the pitching mound this year.

Catch the article on Kevin Mulvey at the Mets' site, if you haven't already. Hey, the Mets have a pipeline, like some of those other teams! I always wanted our own pipeline, one that wasn't clogged with the likes of Grant Roberts and Jason Tyner types.

Regarding the house purchase, allow me to reference my earlier mail, bro. Those days before you move all your furniture in are priceless if you need to get a project done.

You wrote:
There seem to be enough guys in the Mets organization who firmly believe, late regular season notwithstanding, Ollie showed enough of his stuff to merit this "recovery" effort and get his confidence back. When better to do it than Spring Training? If he bombs, the line moves up one, with plenty of time before Opening Day.

I don't put much value in what people in the Mets organization believe about Perez. It's in their best interest to say he's on the comeback trail. It's like asking Cheney or Bush about Iraq -- they're just going to tell you what they want to believe regardless of the results. And, with Perez, the results showed a slight improvement in peripherals (strikeouts up, walks down, etc.) last year, but still a very poor bottom-line result (ERA). Meanwhile, everyone with an opinion and a blog is picking him as the comeback player of the year.

My fear with Perez is that with so many irrationally optimistic people surrounding him, he'll get chance after chance after chance and we'll be looking at someone with a 4-10 record and a 5.50 ERA in late-July. Even when he's been terrible, he's shown the mystifying ability to mix in a terrific performance between two bloodbaths. If he does it this year, fans will be thinking he's ohsoclose to turning back the clock and "figuring it all out." I just don't see it happening.

But, of course, I hope I'm wrong.

about the house, and the asbestos...if it is covered and not exposed and with slim potental for exposure, you might want to consider leaving it. the real danger is asbestos fibers in the air and removal, regardless of how spectacular they are, will more likely send fibers floating invisibly everywhere. just do some research before you spend money. that goes along with my previous tip to always get at least 3 estimates.

BT - The problem with leaving it is that if we sell the house some day we'd have to declare the asbestos, and it would be tough to sell. We have pros coming in to do the removal and we are getting the money to do the removal. It makes sense to get rid of it before we move in.

Is Perez Roger Clemens? No
But remember, what he did in Pittsburgh was with a very poor team. If he's half that pitcher on a strong Mets squad, then he's a pretty good #4 or 5.
Or he holds down that spot til another young pitcher does better or a midseason trade.
Does anyone remember how much the Cards starters blew it last year? I'm sure they don't, as they polish their ring

FC: I'm fixin' to go to bed, but just had to run through these posts one more time. Won't touch the politics thing (much as I'd like, being the card-carrying VRWCer I am) but even after today's game I'm on a spring-driven high. Maybe it's this DE sunshine and blue sky, I don't know.

"...we'll be looking at someone with a 4-10 record and a 5.50 ERA in late-July." My good brother, present management wouldn't let such a bad bet ride so long. We've too many hungry arms waiting in the wings, not to mention a trade or two just a phone call away. Faith is a cool thing to have, whether in politics or baseball.

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