By Mike Steffanos
We begin our look at the Mets season so far with the starting pitching. Here is a look at the starters as a group:
|Mets Starters -- 87 Games|
While the numbers have trended down over the last 6 weeks, it's hard not to like what the starting rotation has done. Predicted to be the Achilles heel of the team this season, Mets starters are averaging a solid 6 innings per start and, for the most part, giving the club a chance to win. Let's look at some individual numbers:
|Chan Ho Park||1||4.0||15.75||13.5||9.0||4.5||4.5||.333||.400||.722|
Tom Glavine isn't putting up the type of numbers you would want from your number one starter, but Maine and Perez have both virtually surpassed him in my mind. At this stage of his career when Glavine doesn't have it, the game can turn ugly quick. For the most part, though, he gives the Mets a chance to win and eats 6 innings per start. The Mets resigned him to stabilize and anchor a young staff, which he has done quite admirably.
After winning pitcher of the month in April, John Maine's numbers dropped off in May. Those who were skeptical of the young right-hander were quick with their I told you sos. Maine rebounded with a strong June and, at 10-4, an argument can easily be made that he has been one of the best pitchers in the league so far this year. After struggling a little with walks the first couple of months, Maine has allowed only 6 walks over his last 7 starts. His off-speed pitches, particularly the slider, have improved exponentially this season, as has his concentration in games. The big question for John Maine in the second half will be how he holds up under the workload. Already at 109.2 innings on the season, Maine will be entering uncharted waters in late August and September.
There have been many games in 2007 where Oliver Perez has pitched like an ace, particularly in big spots. He's pitched well enough to be close to double figures in wins if the Mets were a little less stingy with the run support. The sore back that cost him a couple of starts before the break may be a partial explanation for some struggles in June, but by all accounts he will be ready to come back off the DL when eligible after the break. Under Rick Peterson's tutelage, Oliver has done a great job in repeating his delivery despite extreme skepticism and low expectations of the local and national media and some of the faithful. A little more consistency would make Perez one of the best lefties in the league, if he's not already there.
When Orlando Hernandez went on the DL with bursitis in his shoulder at the end of April there was a lot of moaning about his age and dire predictions of an August return. Hernandez was back in a month, and has given the Mets quality starts. Like Glavine, he is prone to the occasional stinker of a game, but for the most part has been very good. His 4-4 record is deceptive. In the 5 games shown below, El Duque allowed 1 run in 32 IP. All that earned him was 5 No Decisions.
Even if he does another stretch on the DL, if Orlando Hernandez can give the Mets another 10-12 starts of similar quality to what he has already produced his $4.5 million salary would be a bargain in today's market.
In 3 of his last 4 starts, Jorge Sosa has been hit pretty hard. You have to wonder if perhaps the league has caught up to the changes that have propelled him to 7 wins in 11 starts since coming up from New Orleans. Even if that proves to be the case, Minaya deserves some credit for taking a chance on the 30-year-old journeyman. With basically a 2 pitch repertoire, he may be better suited as a reliever, though his propensity to give up the long ball might work against that. Either way, he gave the Mets a terrific shot in the arm during a stretch of the season when they really needed one.
Since his return from New Orleans, Mike Pelfrey has been more aggressive and looks a little more like he belongs. The results have still been lacking, however. It hasn't completely clicked for Pelfrey yet. Besides continued difficulties in mastering complementary pitches he's been up in the zone too much with that hard sinker. If he could keep that pitch down more consistently and throw strikes he could help this team in the second half. What baffles me is how many Mets fans have given up on a kid who was pitching college ball just over a year ago. I still think he has a chance to be a very good major league pitcher.
Jason Vargas has had a rough time in his two starts. His velocity is down in the mid-80s with the fastball, and his command hasn't been nearly good enough to make up for that.
Dave Williams was really, really bad in his audition for a second half role with this club. With no options remaining, the Mets will have to keep him on the 25-man roster to keep him.
Second Half Outlook
By all accounts, the signs are very encouraging for an August return for Pedro. If he could return with reasonable velocity and command, this starting pitching staff can be very good down the stretch. For me, the big questions are whether Maine can hold up for a 200 inning season and whether El Duque can stay healthy enough to start 10-12 games. The short stint on the DL might prove to be a godsend for Perez, keeping him strong through the end of the season. Barring something unforeseen, I think the Mets have more than enough starting pitching to compete through the second half, especially if the offense decides to wake up.