Long Distance Relationships?

Posted on April 8, 2010 by

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What is everyone’s favorite new game?

Bash the Mets starting rotation. John Maine can’t go more than five innings. Oliver Perez is the most inconsistent pitcher in the history of the game.

But just how accurate are these statements? Are these just ramblings of trolls or legitimate complaints of true blue Met fans?

Just two games into the season it is still too early to accurately answer these questions. But what is interesting is how the Kings of Queens are carrying several relievers who can be considered swingmen.

Most Mets fans are not criticizing Johan Santana, but the other four appear to be fair game. No. 2 starter Maine, for example, gets condemned for having no stamina. Maine did not help his own cause with his 93-pitch performance in just five innings. But unlike many other 29-year-old starters, he just does not have a long history to draw from. Maine has thrown 546 innings in five years and a cup of coffee – including 191 innings in 2007, 140 in 2008 and 81.1 in 2009. He underwent rotator cuff surgery two years ago and spent most of last year recovering.

The next pitcher on the list is Mike Pelfrey. Just 26-years-old, Pelfrey has thrown 479 innings in 82 games during three years and a cup of coffee. His ERA has been over 5.00 all four years, except for 2008 when it fell to 3.72 while he tossed 200.2 innings. Last year Pelfrey may have fell victim to the Verducci Effect. Named after Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci’s logic, which suggests that pitchers under the age of 25 who have 30-inning increases year over year tend to underperform.

No. 4 starter Jon Niese is actually a legitimate question mark. Just 24-years-old, Niese has thrown only 39 innings of major league ball through eight games. He was poised to become a mainstay in last year’s rotation before tearing his right hamstring in just his fifth appearance. He tossed more than 100 innings in most of his five minor league seasons, averaging 111.2 innings each year.

On the other hand, final starting pitcher Perez seems to attract the most questions. The same age as Maine, Perez has tossed 1,065.1 innings in 189 games, primarily because San Diego and Pittsburgh rushed him into the majors. He has never thrown more than 200 innings in a season, but did break the 190-inning mark twice. He performed well in 2007 and 2008 – sporting a 3.56 ERA and 4.22 ERA, respectively – in 177 and 194 innings, respectively. Right leg injuries hampered his 2009 season.

In retrospect, Niese looks like he suffered a fluke injury and should become a reliable major league starter. Pelfrey needs to prove he can handle the additional workload while keeping runners from scoring. Maine shows potential to be a dominant pitcher, if he can stay healthy and throw more innings each year. Perez shows flashes of ace-like stuff, but has never consistently put it together.

Waiting in the bullpen, three relief pitchers appear to have the ability to throw more than just an inning at a time. Fernando Nieve is a perfect example of this. Nieve has thrown 145 innings in his career, spreading from 2006 through 2010. The 27-year-old suffered elbow injuries that necessitated Tommy John surgery. He boasts a four-seem fastball, slider and change-up, along with the chutzpah to challenge anyone. Medical conditions affecting his stamina and his ability to relieve cost him a starting job, but he should be on the short list to spot start if need be.

Hisanori Takahashi is a more unusual case. The 34-year-old was a starter in Japan, finishing 2009 with a 2.94 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 144 innings through 25 games. Takahashi boasts a screwball with sinking action, two-seam fastball in the high 80s, slider and curveball. However, he never threw more than 122 innings in more than half of his 10 years of Japanese ball, and NPB Tracker founder Patrick Newman said Takahashi would be better suited as a reliever in American ball.

Finally we come to the strange case of Jenrry Mejia. Mets management upset a large contingent of fans by calling up the 19-year-old starter after just two years of minor league experience to fill a short-term role in the bullpen. Mejia threw 94.2 innings in 19 games between High-A Port St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. He collected a 1.97 ERA in Port St. Lucie, but allowed a 4.47 ERA in Binghamton. Mejia’s got a plus mid-90s fastball with great movement, as well as a curveball and change-up still being refined.

The New York Mets carried seven pitchers in the bullpen to start the 2010 season and almost half are capable of starting in a pinch. Then again, Takahashi is known for getting righties out and Mejia captured attention with his electric stuff in the minors and Spring Training. Without answers from management or observing more games being played, it’s not apparent what rolls Nieve, Takahashi and Mejia fill.

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Posted in: Perspectives