Thursday, July 13, 2006

HALFWAY TO OCTOBER . . . OR TWO-THIRDS BY THE TIME YOU REACH THE END OF THIS POST

Welcome back for Part II the First Annual Mets All Star Break Review & Analysis ("FAMASBRA"), which I began on Tuesday. In contrast, this entry will end on Friday (or it'll seem that way by the time you reach the end). As expected, Part I set the baseball world on fire, as nearly every sportwriter & talk-show host has spent the last 48 hours arguing about my conclusions. Only one thing will bring them back to earth: My discussion of Met Pitching. As with hitting, I'll first address the staff as a whole, then discuss the individual pitchers, separated by tier.

The good news can be summed up by the Mets' number two NL rankings in both ERA and WHIP -- trailing only the Padres, who play half their games in a stadium the size of a Polo field -- as well as third place in strikeouts. They're 5th in K/BB ratio, trailing the D-Backs, Reds, Padres, and Astros. Unfortunately, 8 teams have issued fewer free passes than the Mets have. On the road, their ERA & WHIP rankings drop to third, and strikeouts to 5th. While Shea's helped them, it's not a huge factor.

The truly worrisome fact is something I discussed briefly in Part I on Tuesday: the nearly 4.7 runs given up per game since the end of the famous "9-1 Road Trip." That's too many for a team playing in Shea, too many for a team looking to earn a slot in, and advance in, the post-season, too many for a good team, period. And with very few exceptions, it's been a staff-wide meltdown over those 24 games.

The simple fact is that the Mets have a good pitching staff. Not great, not the best in the NL (as is true for the hitting), but pretty darn good. But -- and he's the proverbial rub -- the pitchers are old, somewhat injury prone, and the last month suggests that the April/May honeymoon is over. Pedro's health, Glavine's wrestling match with Father Time, the inability of anyone to emerge and grab the remaining rotation spots, the inconsistency of Wagner/Sanchez/Heilman since late May. There's no shortage of question marks.

Ok, let's get to it, shall we? Without further ado . . .

The Starters:

TIER I -- The Elite.

Scott Kazmir: Sorry, I had to do that.

TIER II -- Elite Lite.

Tommy Strikezone: He's been one of the team's real pleasant surprises so far. I'll admit I was ready to send his ass out to pasture last year at mid-season, and I remained unconvinced following his second-half resurgence as the Mets fell out of the post-season hunt. But then when he continued to drink from the fountain of youth this season, I figured maybe he'd turned the corner. A smart guy learning how to pitch in a different era, under different circumstances, with different skills. Like Seaver eking out 5 extra years as an effective junk-baller, or Ryan or Clemens learning to use their split-fingers as an out pitch.

From August '05 through this May '06, Glavine made 22 starts, going 14-6/2.30/1.02 over 156 1/3 innings, while giving up only 123 hits and 9 homers. He walked 36 and K'd 109! Since the end of May, however, he's returned to that lost land in which he wandered for the first half of last season, putting up the following pedestrian numbers over 8 starts: 3-0/4.89/1.63, on 46 IP, 63 H, 10 (!) HR, 14 BB, and only 22 K.

This is serious, in my opinion. His BB rate has risen from slightly over 2 per 9 innings to a bit under 3, but that's not even the trouble spot. What concerns me is his K rate, which has plummeted, going from a stellar 6.9K/9 IP to an unacceptable 4.3. It's no surpise that his BA yielded has jumped and the number of longballs has gone through the roof.

The good news is that Glavine, more than any pitcher in my lifetime, has defied conventional wisdom. His K/BB ratios were never that good, and he's fought back from seemingly career-ending slumps on more than one occasion. All things being considered, his record this year (11-2/3.48/1.32) is fine, if not as spectacular as it looked 45 days ago. If this is what the Mets number 2 starter's gonna do through the end of the season, we're fine.

But I'm concerned.

Pedro: Before his strange shirt-removing injury in Florida (no, I don't quite get it either), he was doing pretty much the same thing he did for most of last year: striking out a lot of guys, giving up a miniscule number of baserunners, and yet somehow still giving up runs. Not a lot of runs, but more than you'd expect based on the WHIP. Even considering the HR totals, Pedro was given up more runs than "he should have." 5-1/2.50/0.81 pre-injury.

Whatever. 2 runs a game, 2 1/2 runs, 3. You'll win a lot more than you'll lose in either case. Or, in Pedro's case, when your offense makes like the '78 Mets, and Skip Lockwood or one of the other "Bad Times Closers" seems to blow all your leads, you won't win any of those games either.

But when you give up 6+ runs a game? You're gonna lose (just ask Alay Soler or John Maine).

Pedro's numbers in June? 2-3/6.23/1.58! 30 hits and 11 walks in 26 innings, plus 5 homers. And "only" 23 strikeouts. I'll say this. He'd better be injured, because if he's not, he's finished. We'd be better served with Nelson de la Rosa on the mound if that's what he's gonna do. Hell, we'd be better served with Lima Time! on the hill.

Actually, we wouldn't. A 6.23 ERA is far lower than what Lima Time! actually compiled.

Anyhow, I have to assume that Pedro is hurt, that his injury's coinciding with his standard "one month's worth of awful starts at some seemingly random, but actually well-planned, point in the season" routine, and he'll be juuuuuuuust fine for August and September. And October.

And if you follow me, I mean that. I have to assume he'll be ok. And so do you. Oh my, this is too scary to contemplate, so I'm moving on. (And a quick gander at some of the stiffs coming in the next few entries, and you'll know why it's scary.)

TIER III -- Slight Leak.

Ok. That was nice. Moving on . . .

TIER IV -- Better Get Those Buckets Ready.

El Duque
: 3-4/4.14/1.25. Not great numbers, but ok. He's managed to pitch some decent games (the complete game win vs. the D-Backs and the tough loss to the Yanks being good examples), and his peripherals are excellent: 2.64 K/BB; 7.3 K/9; a decent BA against (.251), and with no earned runs allowed, his slightly-over-four ERA paints an accurate picture. I feel fine with him as the number three starter.

No I don't, who the hell am I bullshitting. Our number three starter is a 51 year-old who gets rocked every other time out? Ohhhhh my.

Power of positive thinking, Mike. It's all gonna be ok. Positive, positive, positive . . .

Cy Trachsel
: I'm tempted (very tempted) to move him down to Tier V, but I'll allow him to escape that fate (and thereby escape association with the Lima Time!s of the world) because he's received more run support than Ed Lynch used to get, and managed to compile an 8-4 record.

"Wait a second, Mike," the readers shout. "You mean that you, stat geek extraordinaire, are actually rating a guy higher than he deserves because he got lucky?"

Yes, I am. Positivity, remember? And, who knows, maybe Trachs is reading this. He looks like a sensitive sort, so I wanna keep him up and motivated.

Of course his unrepresentative 8-4 record is accompanied by an ERA of 4.67 and a gruesome 1.58 WHIP. His K/BB ratio is 1.05 (yes, for those of you playing along at home, that is worse than Soler's). His K/9 is 4.3. The league's batting .286 off him, and he's managed to give up 12 home runs. Not only is his record lucky based on his ERA, but his ERA is lucky based on his other indicators. A 4.10 ERA during a six game win streak is higher than you'd expect, but not utterly shocking. But over that period his WHIP was 1.63, and his K/BB ratio 0.68!

Ugghhh. Enough is enough. He sucks. I'm demoting him. He's in Tier V:

TIER V -- Start Bailing.

Cy Trachsel
: See above.

Brian Bannister & Mike Pelfrey: I assume they'll both be good eventually (see my "have to assume" comment regarding Pedro). But with six combined starts featuring only 17 Ks and 21 BBs in 33 IP, we're wise to follow "The Wolf's" advice to Vincent, Jules & Jimmy in Pulp Fiction, and stay off our knees for the time being. The combined 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA is fine, but their combined wildness tells us they're not quite ready for prime time.

That said, I'm hoping they keep Pelfrey up and in the bullpen. Plus, with Bannister hitting 400/400/700, maybe they keep him around to pinch hit. As long as he doesn't have to run the bases.

TIER VI -- Bail Faster!

Ok. That was nice. Moving on . . .

TIER VII -- Thrown Overboard (or should be).

Maine, Soler, Fuckin' Zambrano, Gonzalez & Lima Time!:
Just abominable. The fact that Fuckin' Zambrano, Gonzalez & Lima Time! even saw action on a big league staff is inexcusable. Maine & Soler have been awful, but with their youth and their stuff (relatively speaking on both counts), I can see why they got their opportunities.

Not that they didn't stink it up too. The combined stats for these five? Hope you're sitting down. 3-12/6.81/1.66 over 23 starts and 113+ IP. (And yes, that's correct. The WHIP is only slightly worse than Trachsel's). Just monstrous. But other than repeating -- for cathartic effect only -- that Lime Time! sucks, there's really not much to say here.

The Bullpen:

There's no one in Tier I, and I'm not too sure any of them even deserve Tier II status. But the top four guys are certainly above Tier III.

You following this? Don't worry, I'm not either. But don't worry, it'll all make sense in the end.

Or maybe it won't. Anyway . . .

TIER II I/II (Roman Numerals are not helpful for fractions) -- Elite Slight Leak.

Billy "Shut Your Damn Mouth & Concentrate On Pitching" Wagner
: I don't like him. I don't trust him. I'm certain he will blow at least one key game in October. And on top of that, he seems to need to flap his gums to the press about some nonsense every week. About the Phillies and their lack of chemistry, about the need to trade for Willis, about how he's blown four saves plus the 4 run debacle against the Yanks in the non-save situation.

Oh wait. He didn't say anything about the last part. That was me.

Seriously, he walks too many batters for an elite closer. Nearly 4 per 9 innings.

"El Otro Pedro" Feliciano: Solid LOOGY, showing some signs of returning to earth lately. What else can I say? This whole LOOGY thing baffles me.

Duaner "Dirty" Sanchez: Lights out through May 5: 21 IP, 8 H, o R, 7 BB, 17 K. Wow! Since May 5 . . . 26 2/3 IP, 30 H, 16 R, 13 ER, 3 HR, 14 BB, 17 K. That's an ERA of 4.39 and a WHIP of 1.65. Both waaaaaaaay too high for a late inning reliever. His K/BB over that period? 1.21. His K/9? Under 6.

I don't know if he's fatigued, if he's been slumping, if he's reurning to pre-2005 form. I just don't know. But those numbers (two months worth) are simply unacceptable for your 8th inning guy. I'll keep him in tier II I/II based on the awesome start, and his good season last year, but he's dropping fast.

Oliver & The Domestic Partners Known As Chad-Brad: A hidden strength of the team. They could be a tier higher, but since they usually pitch in mop-up, long situations, etc . . .

But their combined 6-2/2.68/1.02, with a K/BB of nearly 3 is excellent. Nothing bad to say here. Although someone's needs to ask this, so I'll be the one: Darren Oliver??? Are you kidding me! Before the season, if I asked you to identify the Mets' "What the hell is he doing on the team?" or "What the hell is he doing in the majors?" the only guy who could've hoped to garner as many votes as Oliver would've been 'Stache, right? And unlike 'Stache, who's obviously stepped into The Juvenation Machine (or is shacking up with Willie), Oliver was never good. Ever!

This is simply inexplicable. Shit, I'd better stop talking about it or someone's gonna notice, and void his contract with Mephistopheles. In fact, if anyone asks, you never read what I just said about him. I never even wrote it. Deal? Good. Let's continue, shall we?

TIER IV -- Start Bailing.

Aaron "Sieg" Heilman
(credit to my friend, F.I., for the nickname): Utterly perplexing. Awesome last year. Slated in his own mind, and most of ours, as a starter this year. Then passed over for Bannister, despite outpitching him badly in spring training. Then, a solid, if not spectacular, start to the year: through the end of May his ERA was 3.03, his WHIP 1.21, his K/BB over 2, his K/9 almost 9.

And then three things happened. First he was passed over for a starter's slot in favor of Lima Time!, John "Forget The" Maine, and Jeremi Gonzales. Talk about betrayal! Second, Omar foolishly dubbed him "The Best Reliever in the Game." Third, he started to suck. Since the beginning of June? 6.30/1.45, with only 13 K in 20 IP. His walk rate actually dropped, and his K/BB improved. But under 6 strikeouts per 9 innings is simply not where a late inning reliever needs to be.

I think he can, and will, turn it around, but this is what he's done so far, and Tier IV is where he belongs.

And yes, I'm as exhausted as you right now.

Heath Bell: Even more perplexing. The guy has 19 strikeouts in 22 innings, yet the league's batting .344 against him. And yet (yes, that's two "yets"; I told you, I'm getting punchy), with that .344 BA, his ERA is "only" 3.68. How could that be?

Two reasons. One, his K/BB is good, over 2. He's also given up 913 inherited runners. But most importantly, he's allowed 4 unearned runs in those 22 innings. His RA (as opposed to ERA) is 5.32. Yup, he's been that bad.

Whew. Done. I'm drenched in sweat, I'm gasping harder than Dick Cheney after climbing one step, and my brain has been replaced my a skullfull of mush. But this has been my gift to you!

And, to wipe away any lingering negativity from the run-down of the Mets pitchers, let me leave you with the following positive images: Baseball returning this weekend; Keith in the booth; guys with holes in their necks and other human disasters telling you not to smoke; the goofball from American Idol singing about how he "get's what he needs," and . . . El Rapido & the Prince of New York manning the left side of the infield.

(Admit it. The last two made you smile, didn't they?)

4 Comments:

Blogger Danny said...

Good stuff Mike. I wasted thousands of dollars of production for my company reading this, but it was well worth it (I clearly value my time very highly, apparently).

I think you underrate Mr. Sanchez. Relievers are tougher to evaluate statistically, because one or two bad outings can skew their statistics so drastically. I think Dirty is one of the better 8th inning guys around. I am very comfortable with him.

Sieg Heilman, however...

9:49 AM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

Very nice Mike, though I could have done without being reminded about Mr. Kazmir.
Gotta agree with Danny on Sanchez, he has been real good, yeah, he had a bad patch, but has been better of late.

10:32 AM  
Blogger ajsmith said...

Hey Mike,

Far be it from me to shine some sun on your gloom - I believe our pitching is actually pretty sketchy - but take another look at John Maine.

Last season (from what I read) and early this season (from what I saw) he was throwing in the upper 80's to very low 90's. Over his last couple of starts, however (since returning from the injury) he's been in the low-mid 90's and even hit 96 at least once. Given his former status as elite prospect, and his ridiculous minor league numbers (an Owens-esque 18+ K/9 in AA) prior to last season, I'm starting to think that we may just have caught some lightning in a bottle.

Yes, his improvement has only happened over a couple/three games, but over those games, he's seemed to have improved each start.

I'm not saying that I have faith in the guy, just that he's got a shot to maybe, just maybe, re-claim the title of "guy who may turn out to be a pretty good major league pitcher."

On Heilman, I really think that this game of "pitch well in the winter leagues and you've got a rotation spot... er, we mean, outpitch Brian Bannister in Spring Training and you've got a rotation spot... er, we mean, hang in while we see if there's someone else who can start for us, and if not, you've got a rotation spot... er, we mean, we'd rather give starts to the usher from section 23 in the Mezzanine - you know, the one with the stutter and the limp - than give you a crack at a rotation spot" has taken its toll on the kid's psyche.

It doesn't take much to lose your edge in the Show, and I think that if Willie and Omar were out to f### with the kid's head this season in order to keep his asking price down in arbitration, they might just have hit paydirt.

We'll win the division, and there's even an outside chance that El Duque can ride his big-game mojo through a couple/three quality starts in the playoffs. Barring a miracle though, we don't have the pitching to make it through any of the lineups the AL will be coming with.

And I think we're going to have to go into the offseason thinking that Petey and Glavine (if he comes back) will both look like quality #3's, and work from there.

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

AJ-

I hear you regarding Maine. But for a rookie, I had to go on what he's actually done, versus what he did in the minors/might do in the future. He has good stuff, and his peripherals are good. But he's given up a lot of long balls.

AS to your "Heilman Declension," I'd call it comic genius . . . except it's true! I think he's a bona fide head case at this point.

1:24 PM  

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