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Eating Innings

Mike SteffanosTuesday, March 3, 2009
By Mike Steffanos

The battle for the fifth starter's job includes a couple of veteran pitchers who have shouldered a heavy workload in the past, Freddy Garcia and Livan Hernandez.

By even the most exacting definition, Garcia was an absolute horse in his time with Seattle and the White Sox. He pitched over 200 innings in 33 starts as a 24-year-old rookie with the Mariners in 1999. The next season he fell back to 124 innings, but then rebounded for 8 straight seasons of 200+ innings.

From 1998 with the Marlins through 2007 with the D-backs, Livan Hernandez reached the 200 inning mark in 9 of 10 seasons. The one he came up short was 1999, when he combined for "only" 199 2/3 innings with Florida and San Francisco. In that decade he exceeded 210 innings eight times, 220 six times, 230 five times, 240 three times and pitched 255 innings with les Expos in 2004. That makes Garcia look like a slacker in comparison.

Of course both of these pitchers are not what they once were, but I keep hearing about how either one of these guys would be a worthwhile innings eater in the fifth starter slot for the Mets.

I'm all for starters who eat innings and keep the bullpen from wearing out in August. The thing is, though, I'm not convinced that neither Garcia -- dreadful in two spring training starts -- nor Hernandez will actually be able to chow down on very many of those tasty innings.

The problem is that neither pitcher is as effective as they once were when they were pitching deep into ball games. I liken this to what happened with Steve Trachsel at the end of his career.

In 2004, his last full season with the Mets before hurting his back, Trachsel started 33 games and notched 202 2/3 innings -- an average of 6.1 innings per start. He struck out an average of 5.2/9IP and walked an average of 3.7/9IP. He allowed almost exactly a hit per inning, and his 4.00 ERA made him a slightly better than average pitcher -- to my mind, the very definition of an innings eater.

After missing most of 2005 with back surgery, Trachsel started 30 games for the 2006 Mets, but only managed 164 2/3 innings, an average of 5.5 per game. He walked almost as many batters as he struck out (78-79), while his hits per 9 innings rate rose to over 10.

To my mind, the difference between the two Trachsels was the 2 or 3 mph he lost off the fastball. Never a power pitcher in his best days, he was forced to become a nibbler to get by. Time after time he was staked out to big leads by the offense, which scored a ton of runs for him that year, yet still needed to be removed after barely surviving the 5 innings required for a win.

Trachsel actually managed 15 wins despite an ERA of close to 5, but that said a lot more about his offensive support than his pitching. He no longer had the weapons to be an average starting pitcher, and he was no longer able to consume the innings.

Even finesse pitchers like Trachsel, Hernandez and Garcia need to command a fastball with enough on it to force hitters to respect it. If they do, they can utilize all of their weapons. If not, they're forced to try to nibble for the corners, which inevitably leads to falling behind in the count and being forced to throw that diminished fastball over the plate. The formula leads to high pitch counts per inning and less effective innings overall.

Livan Hernandez, who often threw for very high pitch counts when Frank Robinson managed the Nationals, didn't even average over 6 innings per start last season, despite his almost indestructible right arm. He didn't pitch well enough to warrant it in stops in Minnesota and Colorado.

He's always given up his share of hits, but last year opposing batter managed an astounding 257 hits in only 180 innings pitch, mashing his meatballs for a .342/.375/.520 batting line and an ERA of over 6. Unless a manager has a death wish, he's not going to leave a pitcher in games to absorb that sort of beating. I find it rather astounding he was actually allowed to start 31 games.

My point here isn't to knock Hernandez or Garcia. They've had fine careers and both have been key parts of championship teams. My point is that, no matter how impressive his track record was, you can't expect a pitcher to eat innings for a contending team unless he has the stuff left to do it.

Garcia has looked awful this spring, with neither command nor any pop at all on his fastball. Hernandez has looked better, but his fastball hasn't shown much so far. You can dazzle with your pitching repertoire for a while, but they'll catch up to you if you don't have the heater to keep hitters honest.

I haven't given up hope on either guy, but one of those ancient right arms is going to have to show more than we've seen so far to give me hopes of a true innings eater at the bottom of the rotation. What I see right now is two veterans who will struggle to last long enough to qualify for wins.

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)

What about Redding?

I wasn't trying to discuss all the candidates for fifth starter here, just all the talk of these two being innings eaters. Redding has been pretty much a five inning pitcher himself during his career. He has better stuff than Garcia and Hernandez, though.

Garcia I would be happy to see go to N'Orleans (I almost said Tidewater, I mistake I wouldn't make in mid-season) to see if he can recapture whatever he showed late last year. At lease he has looked sort of good recently, if only for a span of a few games.

Hernandez I want no part of. Robinson wasn't the only manager to overuse Livan; I remember in 1998 Hernandez threw the most pitches of anyone in the National League for Jim Leyland's Marlins. Make that: a 23 year old Livan Hernandez was the most overused pitcher in the National League in 1998, pitching for a team that lost 108 games. That he lasted as long as he did is fairly remarkable.

Anyway, Liv is done, all he can do is give up 6 runs a game for your team. Better, far better to send out one of the other options.

A little help: wasn't Tim Redding a very different pitcher when he first arrived on the major league scene? I seem to remember that he threw quite a bit harder in his early days with the Astros, but that might be my memory filling in details that never existed; does anyone else remember him from those days?

I think that Livan is gonna get the nod for the 5th Starter if only because he's looked pretty sharp in camp so far, and that Garcia's looked awful and Redding isn't ready yet.

And at the end of the day, Livan DOES know the NL East quite well, and will provide the Mets with enough cover at the 5 hole until Redding is ready- or Livan proves himself to be good enough to keep around.

Also, let's face it: it's a much better year when we're talking about Garcia, Livan, and Redding fight for the 5th slot than hear about Pedro's diminishing returns.

jose lima, jeremi gonzalez, brian lawrence, freddy garcia, livan hernandez..the beat goes on..let's try jon niese in the 5 hole..omar just keeps bringing in washed up batting practice pitchers for the 5th spot..can we please try a young arm??

I believe Garcia has to build up velocity on his fastball, from what I have read, that is the pitch that is hurting him the most. His breaking/offspeed stuff has been good. It's just probably him needing to build up arm strength and get some movement on the fastball. Redding is getting on track, Livan is pitching well for the most part, and Niese is going through a few bumps and lumps, so the battle for the fifth spot is still wide open.

gary s. is right on. Niese and Parnell need to be given a shot at #5, if Redding isn't completely healthy and/or doesn't show us anything in March. Pelfrey rose to the occasion - one of these young lads can as well.

I really like Niese and Parnell, but they haven't spent enough time in the minors, and I'd rather not see them have to go through what Pelfrey went through last year (and the year before) in the Majors. They might as well be in AA and AAA getting the kinks worked out rather than losing games on the Major league level.

Of course, all of this would be moot if Redding can get his butt in gear, and start for the Mets as their #5. I'd rather have him in that position than any of the other contenders.

And while we're at it, there is one thing that WILL help the Mets this year: their bullpen is so much better (on paper) that all of their starters will see the game as a 6-7 inning game. As a result, they won't have to pitch with the kind of razor thin margins that they did last year and watch them bumble in the 5th and 6th innings. Hell, just look at Ollie's "OMG it's the 5th inning and I need to be around 65-80 pitches! oh noes! I'm over it! There goes the game!" scenario from August through to September. We won't see that, hopefully. That means that the Mets are probably fine with Liva/Redding as their #5 starter for the forseeable future as a 5-6 inning pitcher.

This all is moot if Niese and/or Parnell end up throwing lightning in the Minors and eating them alive. If that happens, yeah, bring them up ASAP. But I don't see that happening. And Redding.....knows the NL East. As a #5, that's worth alot.

redding's last 10 starts he pitched to a plus 6 era.. livan h. gave up TWO HUNDRED FIFTY SEVEN HITS IN 180 INNINGS AND HAD A 6.05 ERA FOR THE SEASON.hey omar, do u have a laptop??.check out www.mlb.com.they have the above info for all to see.boy, being a mets fan is fun, isnt it???

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