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This Thing Can Actually Work

Mike SteffanosMonday, March 19, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

When the Mets traded for Orlando Hernandez last year I wasn't thrilled. I wondered why, after Rick Peterson had finally turned Jorge Julio into a useful reliever, the team traded him straight up for a 40-year-old starter with a checkered 5 year injury history. His first couple of starts for the Mets did nothing to change my mind. However, slowly and steadily, he actually became the Mets most dependable pitcher for the second half of last season. If El Duque didn't do what he did in his 20 starts after coming over from the Diamondbacks, the Mets might have had the collapse that the baseball media so relentlessly predicted for them last season.

Much was made of it when El Duque injured his calf while jogging in the outfield the day before he was scheduled to make the start for game 1 of the NLDS. I think many in the media who were constantly forecasting gloom and doom all season long felt vindicated by that calf injury. But that injury didn't bury the Mets, but rather gave John Maine and Oliver Perez a chance to step up and give the club everything it could ask for.

Turn the calendar to the off-season, and all the dire forecasts that we were bombarded with most of last year have returned with a vengeance. It seems that by not outbidding the Giants for Barry Zito or signing a mediocre veteran pitcher to a 4- or 5-year contract the Mets have sealed their fate for this season. Once again, the theme of most of the stories written about the Mets are negative. Orlando Hernandez has been the subject of many of these.

You know, I get the fact that El Duque is 41 and hasn't approached 200 innings since 2000. I don't expect him to get within spitting distance of 200 innings this year, either. What kind of shocks me, however, is that the guy doesn't get the benefit of any doubt at all. Every setback is magnified -- the arthritis in his neck, the leg cramp yesterday -- while all the positives are glossed over. While I'm not saying that we should all expect the veteran Cuban right-hander to be a Cy Young candidate, it's awfully premature to write the guy off completely.

There actually are reasons for optimism. After missing all of the 2003 season due to injury, Hernandez returned to pitch 85 innings in the second half of 2004. He got off to a great start with the White Sox in 2005 and was a huge reason why they got off to a huge lead in the AL Central that year. Then he wore down in the second half and was eventually moved to the bullpen for the playoffs. He still wound up giving the Sox 22 starts and 128 innings pitched. Last year he started 29 games for the Mets and Diamondbacks and pitched 162 innings. The Mets skipped a couple of starts in August and it resulted in a very strong September for El Duque.

What won me over to feeling optimistic for Orlando Hernandez is the trend that he has been getting stronger over the last 3 seasons. I don't understand why he isn't at least given a chance to approach what he did last year. It's seemingly accepted that he will just break down and dodder his way through an ineffective and injury-plagued season.

A couple of items in Newsday caught my eye today. This one by Bob Herzog led off with this gem:

You wouldn't exactly call Orlando Hernandez the Carl Pavano of the Mets. And yet ...

I'm sorry, but how is it fair to find any resemblance between El Duque and Pavano? Pavano, a decade younger than the Cuban, didn't throw a pitch in a real game for the Yankees last year. Hernandez, as previously stated, made 29 starts last year. What exactly is the point of comparison here? The Yankees would kill to get 29 starts from Pavano at this point. I honestly don't get it.

In another article, Mark Herrmann went further. Despite noting all of the concerns the Cardinals have about their own pitching, he makes this statement:

But the Cardinals' arms seem stronger than the Mets'. They are so unfazed by their rotation situation that they didn't think one of their starters had to start yesterday. Isringhausen pitched the first inning to allow him a comfortable schedule.

Hmmm. Because St. Louis elected to have their closer pitch the first inning and then bring in their starter, this proves their pitching is better than the Mets. We only wish that we were looking at Braden Looper for one of the spots in our starting rotation. Or how about Kip Welles, who made 20 fewer starts than Hernandez in 2006? I try very hard not to make fun of writers anymore. Fortunately, in this case I don't think I have to. Herrmann's words speak volumes on their own.

Every team has their problems this year, and the Mets are no exception. I don't blame anyone if they are skeptical of El Duque's age or John Maine's youth or Oliver Perez' struggles over the last two seasons. I understand if they are not ready to buy into Mike Pelfrey until he proves he can translate his spring success into regular season achievement. But how about some benefit of the doubt? You would think all that the Mets overcame last season might at least warrant that.

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 (9)

Good post, Mr. Steffanos. One thing I'll point out is that Newsday is very biased towards the Mets- they practically hate them, out and out. I don't bother reading them because their slant is just too glaring, and sneering.

You should also point out that El Duque had 164 strikeouts last year between the Mets and D-Backs, while only having 61 walks. That's really impressive, and if it wasn't for his early Mets tenure being a learning process, it'd probably stand out more with a potentially lower ERA and hit/strikeout ratio. Plus, why are people complaining about him when Clemens, Schilling, Johnson, and Maddux are all potentially older or about the same age as El Duque?

As for the Cards, Newsday is a bunch of idiots. They lose Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver, and Jason Marquis and somehow Adam Wainright, Kip Wells, and Branden Looper makes up for it. Hogwash. It just shows how bad their bias towards the Mets is- I'd take Jeff Suppan over any of the three replacements any day. They also better pray that Izzy doesn't get injured again, because Wainright won't be in the 'pen to save them again.

El Duque will probably spend a month on the DL with the Mets; that's what Pelfrey and Vargas are around for. And he'll probably find himself in the bullpen if the Mets go to the playoffs, if Pedro successfully returns from rehab. If he gets anywhere near his '06 Mets numbers- with more wins hopefully- I'll be happy.

I think the El Duque mystique plays both ways and leads the writers to discount his effort for the upcoming season.

Orlando Hernandez has been 1)a legendary star while playing in Cuba, 2)a major weapon for the Yankees for several seasons, most particularly in the off season, 3) a mystery so far as his age is concerned, plus 4)hurt numerous times, to the extent that he missed a full season.

Other players have suffered numerous injuries; some others have even missed entire seasons. But El Duque's flair, the slight sense of unreality that accompanied his earlier successes, and the twin facts that he converses little in English and has been secretive about his age, has combined to allow many in the media to discount what he might still be capable of doing on the playing field.

El Duque pitched the best game I saw last year, against the Rockies. Personally I hope and expect a good half year or better from Hernandez. If the Mets get that I believe they'll be fine.

I feel your pain Mike. All I can say is, let the naysayers say nay, and let the haters hate. We're 2 weeks from the start of the most anticipated Mets season since 1988. Yes our pitching has some question marks, but who's doesn't?

The bottom line is this. Baseball writers and "experts" have had 5 full months to bash Minaya and the Mets. Now as the season approaches, we can just sit back and let our players show everyone what they are truly made of. All question marks are put aside. All speculation gets tossed. All negative press is meaningless.

Let the wins and losses make the point for us.

Let's Go Mets!

Can I be allowed an off-topic note? Yes? No? Yes?

We have read of the possibility that David Wright might see time this year batting from the Two Hole; I just read a couple of hundred words by Marty Noble on the subject. Virtually all of the discussion I have seen has focussed on Lo Duca's bat control, the greater likelihood of Wright seeing fastballs with Jose on base in front of him, the "disadvantage" of Wright hitting with so few baserunners on for him, the great question of why screw around with a working system in place -- all kinds of stuff.

No doubt someone has mentioned the thing that struck me, but if so I haven't run across it. I refer to the experiment the Yankees ran in 1985, batting their best hitter, Don Mattingly, in the second slot, to take maximum advantage of their pretty fair leadoff hitter, Mister Rickey Henderson.

I remember people being surprised that year that the Yankees would consider moving Mattingly from his natural place batting third. Remember, Donny had won the AL batting title the year before.

It worked out okay; Henderson scored over 140 runs and Mattingly drove in over 140. The Yankees led the American League in scoring despite having two offensive anchors manning shortstop and catcher.

Okay: Reyes isn't Henderson in his prime and Wright is not Mattingly at his A Game. But neither of those two Mets chopped liver either. It's a not-typical approach to a batting lineup, but I can sure imagine it working out for the Mets.

Oh, forgot to mention: that '85 Yankee team had Willie Randolph playing second base.

Thanks, dd. I was beginning to believe Willie Randolph and I were the only ones who thought this was anything more than an insane idea. At the game I got to attend in St. Lucie last Saturday, Wright hit second. While the team was awful offensively top to bottom that day, the thought of those two kids getting four plate appearances each every game, and five in most games, is appealing to me.

I too just finished reading about the David Wright experiment, and I must admit my first thought was to leave well-enough alone. Wasn't Alou brought in for the express purpose of providing protection for Wright? If so, then why move David out of the 5 hole? There is some admitted intrigue to having Wright possibly get 5 at-bats a game, and with Beltran hitting third he's less likely to see a switch from a lefty to a righty pitcher because Beltran has better power numbers from the left side. Plus there's another benefit that I've not heard yet, and that would be to take the thought of the home run from Wright by making him focus more on making contact. I thought some of his loss of production after the All-Star break last year was a result of him pulling his front shoulder too early trying to pull everything. This was especially noticeable in the post-season, when Wright missed numerous pitches he had been hitting early in the year because he was trying to mash everything over the left-field fence. The result-a lot of weak ground balls to short and third. He's a gap hitter with great power the other way, and he's at his best when he hits to right-center; it means he's waiting on pitches better and as a result making better contact. Having Reyes on base in front of him 200+ times a year would force him to alter his thinking and just swing to make contact, and when he does that the home runs (and doubles) will come. On the other hand, as Marty Noble mentioned, is LoDuca likely to be as effective hitting lower in the order? He was fantastic in the #2 spot last year, routinely moving guys over with singles the other way, and there is question about whether he can be as effective batting 7th or 8th. It is an interesting thought and one I've not considered before reading about it today. I'm curious what other Met fans think.

I can't believe you still read Newsday. They easily have the worst sports section out of any New York newspaper, and by a very comfortable margin.

At any rate, I will laugh when the Cardinals are out of the playoff race come September and we are once again atop our division. Additionally, I will laugh harder when Pelfrey, Perez and Maine anchor a solid rotation at that time with Humber doing WORK in his second cup of coffee at the ML level. That should also be the time when Milledge blossoms and begins dominating in right field. The more I think about how well the team is developing, the more I foresee total dominion over the National League. But hey, I've been wrong before.

Herzog is a self-admitted Yankees fan (it came up in some Filip Bondy type revelation a while back) and it's been well-established that Herrmann is a talentless, insightless hack. David Lennon does a good job and I like Neil Best, but the rest of Newsday's sports section is best served as placement for boat ads.

Joel Sherman did a bit the other day on his Post blog batting back the idea that he's pro-Yankee, anti-Met, that sportswriters root only for good stories and short games and, besides, he grew up rooting for the Reds, therefore he's pure and all you fans are a bunch of morons. Easy out for him and his cohort.

Though I could do without self-admitted Yankees fans (like Herzog) covering the Mets, that's not the bias that's troubling. It's the bias toward what each of these guys knows and how they're comfortable reinforcing it over and over again. Sherman, for example, covered the Yankees when they were winning World Series. He's going to lean on that experience. It informs what he does. He and others who made their bones covering that team tend to have a default position that if the Yankees are doing something, they must be doing something right. They get infected by the culutre. The Mets? The Mets who don't act haughty about everything? The Mets, whose own television network came out of the gate and declared we cover the Yankees, too? They're obviously not winners. If they weren't winners when I was on the beat, it's hard to believe they'll ever be winners. Let me go ask one of the sources I cultivated when I was younger and covering those great Yankees teams what he thinks.

I seriously doubt Bill Madden goes home and dons a Yankees jersey in his off hours, but he doesn't have to. His view of the world is already pinstriped. Why do you think he can't go three columns without injecting What Would Lou Pineilla Do into it?

Jason - good points, all. I have to agree that Newsday offers my least favorite Mets coverage, which is somewhat ironic since it is basically the hometown paper for the team.
dd - I agree. If they could get a good half year out of Duque that buys time for the younger pitchers. I still think, based on what I saw last year, he could pitch well all year given a couple of breaks like they gave him last August.
Salman - When I read stuff like that it isn't so much pain as indigestion.
dd - I go back and forth on this in my head. I think Wright could do well in the 2 spot, but I'm not sure that I like the bottom of the order with Lo Duca down there.
Matt - I try to at least skim all of the local papers. David Lennon is a good writer, but I'm not a fan of most of Newsday's columnists.
Greg - I'm sure that most of the newspaper guys don't actively root for any team, but I agree there is a huge Yankee bias in the local press. But who cares, really? I'm just looking for an excuse not to read, and thankfully they give me one.

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