The Ballad of Oliver and John

A few weeks ago, I suggested that the Mets pitching staff’s overperformance could result in a hat-tipping to Dan Warthen, who may be deceivingly quiet. By “deceiving,” I mean he is not a flashy pitching coach, people rarely ever heard of him before he came to the Mets although he does have a bit of a distinguished and respectable career as a pitching coach. His pitching staff is very formidable. Johan Santana is who he is, Jon Niese shows incredible poise and maturity for a rookie, and Mike Pelfrey is finally the strong throwing home-grown guy we have been waiting for.

That leaves the other two in the rotation, John Maine and Oliver Perez, as anomalies. Maddeningly inconsistent, yet one shows promise, the other the ire of the Mets fanbase. One still is given yards of rope by the fanbase – possibly more than he should be given, and the other the rest are ready to use the remainder of said rope to yank him off the pitcher’s mound and out of town.

While the Mets team in general left the fanbase with a bad taste in their collective mouths in 2007, two bright spots that season were Maine and Perez. Both had breakout years, with Maine in his first full season as a starter and Perez in his fourth but arguably most consistent season, both 15 game winners. Truly, former Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson could have been given a lot of credit for their performance, but he was let go in 2008. Since then, Maine has been plagued with injuries, not pitching full seasons in 2008 and 2009, and Oliver well, reverting back to being Oliver. Of course, the biggest difference (besides the fact that Maine is righty, Perez is a southpaw) is that prior to his injury-shortened season in 2009, Oliver Perez had a big pay day by hammering out a 3-yr/$36mm contract with the Mets.

Yes, Oliver Perez, a career .468 pitcher who hadn’t given a reason to warrant anything above $10mm per year or more than a one-year contract, gets paid $12mm a year on average, while John Maine, a career .539 pitcher gets paid $3.3mm per year. That’s a HUGE reason why Mets fans are willing to give John Maine the benefit of the doubt, while Oliver gets to sleep easy in his bed of money at night.

This season should be the litmus test of how we can predict future performance from these guys.  I have discussed with other fans that John Maine should have gotten an extended spring training.  His first three starts were lackluster to say the least; however, he WAS able to get his ERA down from a high of 13.50 to currently 5.45. His record is not impressive at 1-2, but the Mets are just below .500 with games he’s started, at 3-4. Maine as a fifth starter? Yeah, that’s a fair assessment.

While the Mets have won only ONE start of Oliver’s seven in 2010, the losses can be a bit deceiving. One of those games, Friday, April 16 versus the Cardinals, was noteworthy since Jerry Manuel took him out with 97 pitches (and he seemed to be doing incredibly well). On the flip side, his start against the Dodgers back on April 27, Manuel gave him a short leash after 74 pitches as he was struggling, which ended up being a good thing, since Hisanori Takahashi came in for “mop up” duty, and the Mets won the game, 10-5. Of course, his most recent start Sunday, May 9, against the Giants did keep them in the game; however, he threw 98 pitches and ONLY pitched 3 1/3 innings where he gave up 2 runs (not to mention giving up SEVEN walks). A record of 1-7 in games he’s started is not even formidable for an EIGHTH starter, let alone a fifth starter getting paid like an ace.

Oliver Perez is the most LIKE the Mets. He is maddeningly inconsistent, frustrating, underachieves, and is expensive…but we see glimmers of hope from time to time that keep us coming back for the abuse. As I told someone earlier today, Mets fans are masochists. We keep coming back for that delicious pain.

What is the point of this post? Well, in Tuesday night’s game, a survey was taken on SNY where 89% of fans said Oliver Perez should NOT stay in the rotation. I am no Oliver Perez fan now (for full disclosure purposes, I was in 2007, but realized it was lightning in a bottle. Why couldn’t Omar Minaya see that?), but why make the argument he should stay in the rotation when John Maine is almost the same pitcher?

Oliver Perez is so talented, but he frustrates because he’s so maddeningly inconsistent. History has dictated that John Maine will have that one bad inning but will typically bounce back, and often gives the Mets a chance to win. Of course, that “one bad inning” here and there can mean that he gives up six runs. Perez can often put the Mets in a hole early in the game, but it’s mostly what he does to the morale of the defense while on the pitcher’s mound and overall to the team. He does not put them in the best position to win every fifth day he starts.

Why do Mets fans let Maine off the hook while giving Perez the finger? John Maine wears his heart on his sleeve and we all see he cares deeply about his personal performance. Yes, I do recognize that “caring” and “doing” are two different things. However, I think that’s what Mets fans see and appreciate in Maine. Oliver Perez gets to rest comfortably while those of us who work in office jobs for a living would be fired many times over for performance ratings like his. It is easy to point to Oliver Perez’s paycheck and say he only cares about getting paid.

At the end of the day, these guys aren’t going anywhere (unless Maine — the most tradable entity of the two pitchers given he is so cheap — is sent to another team). We have to get used to them making starts. Especially Perez. When have the Wilpons EVER demonstrated that failure is not an option and actually cut dead weight when it is absolutely warranted? It would be ballsy, it would give the fans a vote of confidence. It will never happen.

As Mets fans we are conditioned to hope for the best but expect the worst. Like a new day that dawns, The Ballad of Oliver and John carries on, carries on.