Skeptics and doom and gloomers aside, the starting rotation for the Mets this coming season may end up surprising even the most hardened of experts. Granted having Johan Santana on the shelf optimistically until June, realistically and probably until 2012, doesn’t warm the blue and orange blood running through a Met fans veins.
However, looking back at 2010, most Met fans will tell you that in spite of the fourth disappointing season in a row, pitching was far from being the root cause. In fact, it was one of the few saving graces we could hold onto.
Mike Pelfrey needs to build upon last season where he seemed to mature both mechanically and emotionally on the mound. Gone or at least lessened were the hapless ad-nauseum renditions of Pelfrey, cap tilted back cradling his crown, licking the tips of his pitching fingers in disgust; staring blankly up and into the crowd searching desperately for answers after yet another self-implosion on the mound. Sure he had his less than stellar moments; perhaps the expectations placed on him were far beyond what his talent could ultimately satisfy. But he endured and at times thrived, especially the first half of 2010.
His first half statistics absolutely should have earned him an All-Star nod as he won 10 of his 15 games before the break. Unfortunately for whatever reason he didn’t and his second half showed signs that his All-Star omission may have tapped into his fragile psyche. Post All-Star break he compiled a record of 5-7 with an ERA of 4.57. It goes without saying Mike Pelfrey’s biggest enemy at times can be Mike Pelfrey. There’s no rest for the weary since Pelfrey, by default, becomes the number one starter in 2011. The key to his success will be his ability to throw strikes especially early in the count while utilizing the natural sink on his fastball and refining his splitter.
Historically he’s now at that age, 27, where most talented pitchers seem to “get it” and evolve. It does seem every year we’re saying, “This is the year Pelfrey has to step it up.” 2011 may be his biggest and most vaunted opportunity. Again.
If someone made a bet with you that R.A. Dickey, a 34 year old journeyman knuckleballer, would become not only one of the best inspirational stories of 2010, but would also become the anchor in the Mets rotation, you probably wouldn’t have taken that offer. Signed by Omar Minaya to a minor league contract and given a spring invite, R.A.’s 2010 season, as his physics defying power knuckleball, caught fans and experts completely off guard. He filled a void left by Santana’s injury, and contributed 11 wins with an ERA of 2.84.
All this from a man missing an Ulnar Collateral Ligament. Now if he’s able to build upon that success, then re-signing him to a two year contract just under 8 million will come as a steal, even for a pitcher in his mid-thirties.
When Sandy Alderson was named GM of the Mets, the moniker of “Moneyball” began to find it’s way into the Met fan lexicon. Debates raged on all winter on MMO regarding the validity of Sabermetrics and it’s use by Alderson and company over the years. If Moneyball refers to using any and all gauges to find the value in an individual player and to use it to your team’s advantage, then the signing of Chris Young fits that mold perfectly.
Young who’s managed just 36 starts the last tree years has battled through injuries the past two seasons. He doesn’t boast a tremendous career record; he’s 48-34 with a 3.80 ERA for his career. Not exactly superstar material but when you dig deeper into the numbers you find that over the past three years he has a ground ball to fly ball ratio of .43.
He also has given up only 6.17% of his flyballs 417 total, for homeruns, in Petco Park. Pitcher friendly Petco Park. Alderson is hoping for two things out of Young, health and duplication. If he can achieve both, in pitcher friendly Citifield, it’s more than possible he’ll have success.
Jonathan Niese has the Big Apple by it’s stem and all he has to do is continue learning and adjusting. He was absolutely brilliant at times last year, as I can attest having attended his one-hit gem against the Padres. Shout out to Coop on that one! Considering it was only his 18th career start, Niese showed the poise of ten year veteran. It’s that poise and his cutter that he’s hoping to refine this season, which will help him build upon his record from last year. Don’t be shocked to see him win 12 to 16 games this season. Niese was the sixth Met pitcher in history 23 years or younger, to throw a complete game one-hitter. The others are Gooden, Matlack, Ryan, Gentry and Schourek. Hopefully Niese is more like the first four and less like Schourek. Wouldn’t that be nice for a change?
Lastly the Mets have Chris Capuano. He’s possibly the biggest question mark in the rotation with his not one but two Tommy John surgeries. Yet he too has shown success in the past having won 18 games with the lowly Milwaukee Brewers in 2005. Not too shabby considering the Brewers won 81 games that year.
His velocity is finally back in the upper 80’s and low 90’s. Consider this, Oliver Perez was injury free and could barely top out at 85. Now speed alone doesn’t equal success that we all know but there’s an overarching theme with this 2011 Mets team and it sticks out like an overly optimistic Madoff return statement.
This is a team with a huge, I mean huge chip on their shoulder, probably from ownership on down. You’d be hard pressed not to find someone who doesn’t have something to prove, or throw in the faces of the naysayers or the so-called experts. I absolutely love it. How can you not really? What fun is it to have everything handed to you and crowned before you even step foot on the field?
It disgusts me to think that the core of this team – Wright, Reyes, Beltran, Bay, Ike, Pagan, Santana and the others aren’t able to dig into themselves and play like Terry Collins has said, “Like the back of their baseball cards.” If they stay relatively healthy, this should be a pretty damn decent team. A contender? Who knows, but definitely not a team destined for disparity as all the experts have predicted.
I’m an optimistic realist, I’m not expecting anything in particular from them other than that they give 100% of themselves game in game out. If they do that, stay healthy, and dare I say get a decent dose of good luck, anything is possible. You truly have to believe people.