Mets fans who lived through the 1969 miracle know for a fact that pitching wins championships. The ’69 Mets were one of the best examples of a crummy hitting team leaning heavily on team pitching to earn October baseball grandeur. That edition of Mets had the lowest team OPS of any team to ever win the fall classic.
Not much could be said for the Met offense in 1969. Tommie Agee led the team in HR’s and RBI’s that year hitting 26 round trippers and knocking in just 76 runs. Cleon Jones had a record setting batting average but only three Met batters would hit even 10 home runs.
Nobody is projecting the 2014 New York Mets to win a World Series championship. In fact when they stare in their crystal balls most noted baseball prognosticators predict the current edition of Mets will win games at or slightly below the 2013 season totals.
Even so, any buzz around the Mets this year involves pitching. The Mets have built a cadre of young arms that are nearing the time for their unveiling. That fact has caught the attention of many in the baseball world.
With all the attention directed at the young Mets pitching some baseball analysts are suggesting the addition of Bartolo Colon to the Met pitching staff serve dual purposes. There is little doubt, Sandy Alderson is hoping Colon can serve as a bridge to fill the wide chasm left in the starting rotation with the loss of Matt Harvey. Buy some are suggesting Colon can also model for young Met pitchers the important role that pounding the strike zone plays in pitching success.
Jarred Cosart, a 23-year old pitching prospect of the Houston Astros took note of Colon’s pitching approach. Cosart described Colon’s pitching strategy this way to the Sporting News. “Every time we faced Oakland, he’s basically got four different fastballs. He’s got a straight one, he’s got one that sinks, one that cuts, and one that’s basically invisible, like a BP fastball. Instead of preparing for fastball, curveball, slider, you’re basically looking at four different fastballs, and he probably threw 75 percent of his pitches as fastballs. It goes to show what a guy with good command can do, because, not just against us, but every team he faces, he’s going to give his team a chance.”
Outstanding command and pitchability were Colon’s calling cards in Oakland in 2013. The veteran righthander’s fastball is his signature pitch, a pitch Colon can move in different ways and place wherever he wants, inside or outside, up or down. The Mets hope Colon’s approach facing major league hitters, the game plan he takes to the mound, can provide tutelage for their young pitchers and demonstrate it’s not just the power in your arm but how you manage that power that equates as pitching success.
“I don’t know much about the team,” Colón told The Star-Ledger. “But I just want to go in there and help win games and help the young pitchers whenever and however possible.”
Certainly, Colon’s pitching approach could have an effect on one rising Met pitching star, Rafael Montero. Montero’s business like pitching style in some ways mirrors the points Cosart made describing Colon. Here’s how Matty Eddy of Baseball America describes Montero…
“Montero’s work ethic and mound presence stand out as much as his stuff. With long arms and loose limbs, he pounds the zone with fastballs, change-ups and sliders delivered from a three-quarters arm slot. Montero sits in the low 90’s, works the black on both sides of the plate and keeps enough in reserve to touch 96 in a pinch.”
Some are concerned with Montero’s lack of size, his poor frame, imperfect pitching mechanics, and high effort deliveries to home plate. Doug Thorburn, who specializes in pitcher’s mechanics, analyzed Montero this way in Baseball Prospectus:
“I think Montero’s mechanics are a big problem. The blatant over-the-top might overcome the height restrictions of his size, but his delivery is definitely not built for a big workload. Beside I would prefer that a pitcher have extension at release point rather than downhill plane (which is overrated) and such egregious spine tilt robs Montero of that extension.”
Concerns similar to those expressed by Thorburn have been voiced regarding Colon over his long career, a point that may not be lost on Montero. Adding Colon to the staff buys the Mets time to be more patient with their young pitchers allowing young guns like Montero, Noah Syndergaard or Jacob deGrom additional time to groom their mechanics and pitching approach at the highest levels of the minor leagues.
Speaking of deGrom, Eddy spoke glowingly of the young Met prospect in part because of the tremendous progress the Met righthander has made in a short span of time. deGrom is a shortstop turned pitcher who only began pitching during his junior year in college when he became the closer at Stetson University. deGrom as been on the fast track moving up the ladder of the Met minor league system quickly. Here’s Eddy’s take on the Met prospect. “deGrom succeeds by pounding the zone and showing a clean arm motion and bulldog mentality. He threw nearly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes last season, though he would benefit from expanding the zone and getting batters to chase when he gets ahead in the count. He sits at 92-94 mph with plus sinking life, and he can rear back for 98 when he needs it.”
Another young Met arm fighting to join the conversation this spring is Jeurys Familia. The 6’4,” 230 pound Dominican has a power arm and will be battling to grab a spot in the Met bullpen. Familia, with a fastball that sits in the mid 90’s and has been know to reach triple digits, too, could benefit from watching Colon command the strike zone. The big righthander is a pitcher with an arsenal that could find major league success if his pitch location and a pitching approach ever match his pitching stuff.
Here’s how Bernie Pleskoff sums up Familia for MLB.com. “There is a great deal of mechanical inconsistency in Familia’s delivery. He has to smooth out the motion, using less effort with repeated clean finishes in his arm action to find rhythm. Clearing his delivery, finding the fringes and corners of the strike zone with consistency, finishing his pitches and adding a pitch to his arsenal seems like a laundry list of flaws to correct. For smaller pitchers with less arm strength and not as much intensity, it might be a tall order. The task is less daunting because Familia has shown he can be reliable and overpowering. He just needs to be more consistent.”
The Mets have to hope Familia takes note of the mound consistency of the old pro Colon. If he does, Familia could take a giant step toward becoming an asset in the Met bullpen this year.
Although the Mets signed Bartolo Colon to fill the huge gap left by the loss of Matt Harvey, should the residual effect of Colon’s pitching blueprint on the mound speed the development of even one young Met pitching prospect, Colon’s signing would include added pay value, a bonus indeed.