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Underestimate At Your Own Risk

Mike SteffanosTuesday, April 24, 2007
By Mike Steffanos


Mets 6 - Rockies 1

Achilles only wished he had a heel as strong as the Mets starting pitching has been over the first four weeks of the season. Despite all of the ink -- both virtual and actual -- spilled on the subject, the starting pitching has been all any reasonable fan could have hoped for.

As for John Maine, he could serve as the poster child for this rotation. It seems that many considered his success last year a fluke, and focused more on the negatives from last year (high pitch count, home runs, loss of focus at times) rather than the positives (a live fastball, low hit totals, playoff experience. I even read an article by one fantasy writer cautioning against placing too high a value on Maine, since the Orioles didn't when they traded him. After all, we all know that teams never make mistakes evaluating their own talent.

For some reason, John Maine seems to have a talent for being underrated. Hitters underestimate the movement on his fastball and the improvement he has made on his secondary pitches. I still keep reading analysis of Maine that talks about his "ordinary stuff". Meanwhile, he just continues to dominate games. While I don't believe that he'll keep his ERA under 2 all season, I'm already convinced that Maine's potential is at least a solid number three starter for a quality rotation.

It wouldn't shock me if he turned out to be better than that. A low-90s fastball with late movement might not attract the oohs and ahs that triple-digit heat elicits, but combine it with an effective slider and changeup and you have a recipe for a consistent winner.

What's much more important than what I or anyone else think about Maine is that it's clear that he expects a lot of himself. He's not just happy to be in the major leagues, and he's not satisfied with just pitching well enough to keep his job. More and more, we're seeing the type of competitor John Maine really is. While it's far too early to make any definitive judgments, I have a feeling that by the end of the season it's not going to be quite as easy to for anyone to underestimate this kid anymore.

Omar never did. I remember reading in one of the papers this spring a quote from Jeff Wilpon regarding a game that they were watching last spring where Maine was being absolutely lit up by the other team. While most watching the game only saw a young pitcher taking a beating, Wilpon remarked on how Omar was smiling and talking about how good the kid was going to be. What Minaya's talent for evaluating talent revealed to him back then is what the rest of us are seeing from John Maine now.

A few quick thoughts on last night's game:

Kevin Devaney, covering for John Delcos on The LoHud Mets blog, makes the following statement in his game wrap from last night:

As much as people believe it, Jose Valentin isn't going to play his way off the roster. For whatever reason, so many people I talk to don't like Valentin and are obsessed with acquiring some young, flashy second baseman to replace him. I'll take Valentin any day, especially with how he's hit of late.

Valentin has rebounded from a slow start (.167 in first nine games) and is 11 for 27 (.407) with nine RBI over his last seven games. It reminds me a lot of Valentin's start last year. He was horrible in April before breaking out and securing an everyday job.

He's one of the smartest players on the team and has such an unselfish personality. He doesn't need to be the center of attention. He's just a solid, underrated No. 8 hitter on the best team in the National League.

I've seen the same phenomenon myself, and it always surprises me. All winter I read speculation that Anderson Hernandez would beat out Valentin for the job, or complaints that Omar Minaya didn't sign this player or that player to play second base. Valentin continues to prove that he belongs right where he is -- not only solidifying the defense and helping Jose Reyes improve his mental game, but providing outstanding offensive production. Make no mistake about it, there is no more difficult position to hit in than number 8 in a National League lineup. This guy is a "quiet MVP." Teams can't win without players like him, the guys who do all of the little things. As long as Damion Easley gets his share of starts at second this season, Valentin should be able to hold up throughout the summer.

Speaking of surprising, as much trouble as Pedro Feliciano has had in the early going consistently locating the strike zone, with 2 men on base and his team down by five runs, Brad Hawpe swings at the first pitch for an inning-ending pop out to Valentin. Don't they get scouting reports? There is a reason this team can't score runs.

If it would have helped me to hit like Moises Alou, I would have peed on my hands, too.

John Maine (3-0)
DateOpp.IPRERHKBBHRERAWHIPTeam Result
4/4@STL70016200.000.43W
4/9PHI4.22254613.862.36W
4/18@FLA72227412.570.86W
4/23COL7.21175201.171.17W
TOTAL (4 Games)26.15515221421.711.104-0

Box Score

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)

Great article on Maine and Valentin, Mike. Couldn't agree more about both of them.

The one thing that I've been really high on with Maine isn't just the late movement on his pitches and his repertoire of pitches. He's really effective at locating his pitches in the strike zone. I think more than anything, that's what batters are underestimating about him. In many ways, he reminds me of a young (with better velocity) Glavine.

As for Mr. Mustache himself, it's great to see his offense finally catch up to his defensive brilliance. He won't light the world on fire with his bat, and he most certainly won't hit lefties well, but he definitely makes the bottom of the Mets batting order work very well.

Mike,

I agree von your commentary, and of course I have lauded Maine since last Spring training, two comments;

a. He does not remind me of Glavine, but rather ROY OSWALT, his build and repetoire are similar, and I think we might see similarities in their growth curve.
b. With the above comparison(s) made that puts him as a #2-possible ace type. his use of the high FB as with most 'ace-tyes' sets him apart.

Actually Maine reminds me a bit of Kris Benson when he first came up, before he started losing his A game to injuries. Benson was pretty special for a moment there; I don't think he had the guts that Maine routinely shows, challenging everybody with that high heat. I love it, absolutely.

And agreed on Valentin, who can also field with the best, that error against the Braves notwithstanding.

Guess I'm not finished.

All the negative things that were said in the winter to the contrary, I prefer the Mets starting pitching situation this year to last year's. And I believe I could say that even after a couple of the starters come back down to earth.

I just realized that I am repeating myself from an earlier post, but anyway: last year we started the year with an ailing Pedro, Victor Zambrano, a returning from injury Trachsel, Brian Bannister, of limited potential and zero accomplishment at the major league level, and our war horse Tom Glavine, who had been in what appeared to be an end-of-career decline until the previous July. Our resources in the minor leagues were pretty much zip; okay, Alay Soler and who else? Was Neal Musser still hanging around?

Well, there WAS a guy who we had picked up as a throw-in on the Benson for Julio trade, John Maine, but we sure didn't know what we had in Maine.

This year, we've got a healthy El Duque, an effective Glavine, Maine, who is coming into his own, Perez, ditto, and Pelfrey, with vast poteltial and the perfect opportunity to settle in to the major league way. If someone falters we have Humber, who was the PCL pitcher of the week recently, or Vargas, who has had success at the major league level. Sele can start, and Deolis Guerra and Parnell are on the way.

Much stronger than before. Stronger than most teams, in fact. Think the Yankees would like to have the Mets' problems?

ps: Have you noticed, ol' Steve Trachsel is pitching about league average over in Baltimore? He is positioned to be a classic Oriole, recent vintage, one who soldiers along for three months before collapsing in the second half. In any event, Steve's a nice guy; glad he's getting a bit more milage out of his career.

Great article Mike. What most of us hoped for from Maine was a 6 inning guy who pitched to a low 4 ERA. Basically a 3 or 4 starter, and that would have been fine. But it has been clear since his fist start in ST that Maine is aiming alot higher. I'm not shocked at all by his evolution as a pitcher, since it's a rare thing for a 24 year old to step into game 6 of the NLCS and toss a shutout under immense pressure. But I am amazed at how much better he has become so quickly. It's as if he made a list of things to fix for his career and took care of all of them in the offseason. We can only hope that Perez is doing the same.

As for Valentin, there's really nothing more you could want from the guy. He's 37 but a phenonmenal athlete. He learned everyday 2nd base last year, and now plays it like a near gold-glover. And his bat would have him hitting 6th in most lineups, but he provides the same production out of the 8th spot in Flushing. He is probably the main reason Jose Reyes has a bunch of RBI to go with his stolen bases and triples.

Omar Minaya just knows how to put together a team. And we haven't even touched on the bench. As you said in a previous article, let's make sure we enjoy the ride. We as fans deserve it.

Mike, you hit it right on the head with your assessment of Valentin: "This guy is a "quiet MVP." I don't understand why he doesn't get more credit, or get attention that doesn't have some tinge of mock behind it. On the other hand, he does get some very solid applause at Shea from fans who aren't blogging every five seconds and needing something to bitch about (NOT referring to anyone here).

Remember Valentin's performance during the first games in St. Louis? Every double play was precision, he and Reyes were just lock and load. There's a positive story there if someone could be troubled to find it and write it. But instead, call WFAN and try to talk about Jose Valentin and you'll get mocked by just about everyone.

First of all, sorry for the late response to everyone's comments. I was painting last night until 1:30 am. We're getting down to crunch time on the house. [M.S.]
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Jason - That's an interesting comparison with Glavine, who actually had a pretty good fastball back in the day, though it lacked the late movement Maine's has.
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Ed - Another interesting comparison. Not quite Oswalt's velocity, though.
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dd - I was going to write something about the starting pitching this year as opposed to last, just no time with all of the painting at night. Even when you have a Mike Pelfrey enduring some troubles, you can hope that he's learning something that will help him be an effective starter down the road. Couldn't really say that about Lima and Gonzalez last year.

I'm actually shocked that Trax is effective at all in the AL east. I thought he'd be getting killed, walking too many guys and giving up extra base hits. Shows what I know.
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Salman - The Mets were saying all winter that they liked their guys, particularly Maine, and no one believed them. We're learning that Minaya and company are better evaluators than sportswriters. Go figure.
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metsgrrl - Being mocked on WFAN should be looked at as a badge of honor by any serious Mets fan.

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