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The Battle for the Rotation

Mike SteffanosTuesday, March 6, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Sorry for the late post today, but Internet connection problems threw a monkey wrench into my morning. Just a few thoughts before I get back to the stuff that pays the bills. I was pleased to see Oliver Perez bounce back yesterday with a better outing. He avoided hitting any innocent bystanders this time around, and did a better job of keeping his pitches off the fat part of the plate. He did get away with a few mistakes again, though, and they were the sort of mistakes you might not get away with once they start playing real baseball games. Still, it was progress, and it was important.

It seems that the Mets are asking Perez to be really aggressive in the strike zone early in the count so far, and they're attacking first pitch on him as a result. With his control problems that's probably not a bad approach, although he needs to improve location as the spring goes on. His mechanics looked a little better yesterday, but they're a work in progress.

Although I am following the performances of all our potential starters very closely, I'm trying not to read too much into each individual performance. For instance, Phil Humber needs a little time to round all of his pitches into shape, and on top of that seemed nervous his first time out. You got to give him a couple of more starts before you really judge him. Kevin Mulvey is another example of a pitcher that needs some time to get all of his pitches working.

Alay Soler has looked pretty good, and has had decent results in his two outings. He obviously came into camp in shape and ready to pitch, and is ahead of some of the other pitchers at this point. Whether he is still ahead of them by the end of spring is a different matter. He's thrown a lot of breaking pitches so far, and I for one would like to see him establish his fastball more. When he got into trouble last year it had a lot to do with him nibbling too much and throwing too many off-speed pitches. There are days that he is not going to have his good slider, and he needs to show he can still pitch decently without it. It also concerns me a little that he has only one strikeout in 5 innings. Still, he deserves a ton of credit for working hard to insert himself into the mix this season.

Joe Smith has been interesting to watch so far this spring. He's a groundball machine, and really has a chance of grabbing a job if he keeps it up. With Duaner Sanchez looking less and less like he'll be ready for opening day, there is an extra job to be won. Ambiorix Burgos probably has a job that's his to lose right now, and he's looked good in his two outings. I also liked John Maine and Jason Vargas in their first outings. Jorge Sosa seems to have bounced back today with a strong two innings after giving up a couple of bombs last time out.

It's been an interesting spring so far, and I'm sure the intensity will pick up very quickly. Beyond the pitching derby, it would be nice to see the team start hitting a little.

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 (10)

Hope you're right regarding Perez. Of course I agree that it's way too early to reach any definitive judgments on any of these hurlers; but my impression was that his stuff is simply easier, possibly too much easier, to pick up from the right side. Obviously I would love to be wrong about that.

A thought that occurred to me was that Chan Ho Park better get himself into a game without further delay. Some members of the Mets' pitching batallion is impressing; and Park's path into the rotation appears to grow longer, not shorter.

I think Joe Smith is going to make the team for Opening Day.

It's setting up to be an interesting April, no?

I know its S/T but I am starting to yell at the batters, everybody looks flat,except Reyes God bless him. He is one of those guys you go to the game to see. He is always on even when he makes out, I am o.k. with it. Please everybody else can we start showing some life. Can I fire Green?

Some of the pitching looks really good. How long have I been saying not to sleep on Soler? Also, the kid Vargas is looking like a serious steal. Time will tell, though; it's still real early. You seem to be right about Smith from what I understand; he's supposed to be pretty filthy. Burgos is also apparently the real deal.

As for position players, Milledge has been doing WORK. Other than some defensive gaffes, Ben Johnson looks like he can be nice off the bench also. This guy Newhan seems to have a knack for clutch hitting as well.

You think about the 25-man for a second, and there might not be enough room for all these guys. Though Sosa seems to be fading in the competition for the 5-man rotation, there are 4 guys (Park, Vargas, Soler, Pelfrey) who could snatch the 5th spot (Sele, it looks like, is a longshot). If you figure that Willie takes 7 guys in the bullpen, Wagner, Heilman, Feliciano, Sanchez and The Show all have jobs. That leaves Burgos, Smith, Padilla, Schmoll, Urdaneta and Collazo to compete for the last 2 bullpen slots, 3 if Dirty can't play by Opening Day. That leaves 5 bench spots-- Franco, Castro and Chavez are guaranteed 3 of them. That leaves Sierra, Johnson, Newhan, Easley and Hernandez to compete for the fifth.

Ideally, out of the competitors for those spots, I'd like Vargas to be the 5th starter; Burgos, Smith and Padilla to man the bullpen; and Newhan and Johnson to occupy the bench spots. I'd be interested to know what you think.

Joe Smith will soon make us all forget about Chad " Undersea Boaten " Bradford . And he's Cheap to ! I hope Joe makes the Team out of ST Mike ................:)


Funny how nobody's mentioned Jon Adkins...the poor bugger! Then again, a year in N'Orleans isn't exactly a death sentence.

I've always been nervous about all the hype about Humber, but a quick glance at the calendar reminds me to be patient. Still think Perez and Pelfrey are the best shots at making the rotation; Park would have to really suck tomorrow to make me believe he won't be #3.

It's far too early to gauge the potential starting 5 pitchers, but the first week of baseball has brought a few things to light. First, Oliver Perez is just not the lock in the rotation many of us hoped he would be. He's still a work in progres. And as it goes for all works in progress, he stands on unsteady ground. Many projected Perez to be 4th starter. I think the team's preference for a 2nd lefty starter will pit Perez directly against Vargas in a race for that spot.

Second, if Mike Pelfrey continues to pitch like he did in his first outing (intelligently using his outstanding stuff), he will quickly end the debate over the 5th starter spot. He offers the much needed dimensions of dominant power and youth to the Mets rotation. The job is likely his to lose right now.

And third, the most pleasant pseudo-surprise so far has been the performance of John Maine. He has added a splitter to his repertoire and has improved his changeup making his very good fastball that much better. Maine may become that consistent performer and inning logger the Mets have been seeking since the end of 2006.

I can't wait to see what the next 3 weeks have in store for all of us.

Oops--here's where I went off the tracks... we all know John Maine's the projected #3, so Park will be, at best, #4. That "MLB Extra Innings" thing's got me so freakin' torqued I can't think straight.

Perez did look much better. He was spotting his slider pretty well for the most part, and the one or two bad ones he threw were had deceptive enough speed and break to fool the batter even though they had a good chunk of plate. He also recorded Ks with all three of his pitches. The velocity wasn't there yet but it was better than last time. The big kink was his inability to get the ball in on righties. Gary Cohen and Ron Darling noticed it too. If he can't keep righties honest, they're going to kill him. His changeup isn't dynamite to begin with. He gets the slider in okay, but not the fastball, and the slider's not hard enough to keep hitters honest. When he tries to hard to get his fastball in he often starts to lose his release point as well, and the ball starts flying up and away. It was like the more times LoDuca set up inside in a row, the further the ball drifted away. Ron Darling's advice was to try a cutter. I'm no pitching coach, but I agree. I believe he already has two different slider grips, and a cutter's really a slider type grip anyway. He commands his slider well, and if he could get a low 90s cutter in on righties, even if it wasn't his top velocity, it would definetly help keep them honest. This is really something I wish Pedro was around to demonstrate for him.

As for Pelfrey, I'm not surprised he's been successful and Humber hasn't. Pelfrey's always been known for getting by on his nasty fastball alone, Humber needs his feel pitches to be better before he really starts impressing. Pelfrey's velocity isn't even all the way there yet, but he's commanding his fastball really well and the sink looks even better than I remember. When you look at feel guys are struggling like Sele and Humber, it really makes Glavine look impressive. Perez too, his breaking ball has been pretty sharp considering how early it is. Also keep this in mind when El Duque pitches Thursday. He's a feel pitcher whose tradionally had a an incredibly high K rate for a guy who relies on so much breaking stuff.

I haven't seen any of Maine yet, but his numbers look solid. I wish I could see Park tomorrow.

And as for the bullpen guys, I know its a long shot but don't forget we're going to see Juan Padilla again this weekend. I saw both Burgos and Smith and both looked solid, but this early pitching late in games isn't going to sell me on anything. Smith's sinker sure was nasty though, and Burgos seemed to have better command than I expected.

Sosa's day today may have been less impressive than it looked. Of his six outs 5 were fly balls and the other was a K. Sosa really needs to keep the ball down, his HR rate has been through the roof. If he's generating a high percentage of flyballs when he pitches its likely he'll get hurt. Although, not having seen it its possible they were 3 weak popups and 2 foul outs.

Noted: Ol' Buddy Brian Bannister has now thrown five spring innings without having surrendered a run.

Mets fans might find a trip over to Royals Authority at the Most Valuable Network instructive. Poor Royals fans; they've been down so long, and quite a few of them can remember when following their team was a very different experience. The weight of all that downtime tells in the writing; the mostly flattering article on Bannister winds up with words on the order of, "of course it would be better if this pitcher and that pitcher emerges, and we've forgotten all about Bannister a few years from now." Nice, huh? That's really going for the pyrite.

Over here in Metsland, we've got it good.

dd - I'm not convinced that Perez will become a consistent winner, just thought it was a reasonable gamble. I didn't really get the same impression as you, I just thought some of his pitches were just not quality strikes. I just think you have to give it time to play out.

Smith looks good so far. He throws strikes, and that's always good to see in a young pitcher.
Al - Glad you're rounding into regular season form. I think we need to give it another week or so before we give up on guys.
Matt - The one thing that scares me a little on Soler is that he doesn't strike out anyone. Still, he's looked good. I'm with you in that I would like to see Vargas win the fifth starter job out of camp. I need to see Padilla throw a few times before I make any judgement on him, but I agree that Smith has a chance to make the team out of camp.
Mark - seems like Smith has endeared himself to many of us already.
geezer - Adkins has no options left, so if he picks it up (a lot) he still has a chance to make the team out of camp. I wish today's game was televised, as I'd like to get a chance to see Park pitch.
Salman - I agree Perez is no lock. I thought when I wrote his profile that the job was his to lose, but that he could indeed lose it. Maine could be huge for this team in 2007.
Mark - Solid analysis. I still think Perez needs to smooth out his delivery before he will be able to come inside to righties more, but I agree a cutter could help a lot. I thought the changeup looked okay for a new pitch.
dd - True. Being a Royals fan now is probably a lot like being a Mets fan in the early 80s.

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