After a second consecutive well-documented collapse, this one a failure of epic proportions, the Mets appear to have fixed the team’s only significant weakness. We should temper our expectations, because to paraphrase Casey Stengel, they find ways to collapse that I didn’t even know existed, but heading into 2009, the pitching looks to be a major strength.
After re-signing Oliver Perez, the Mets’ top four starters will be the same as last year’s. The rotation is anchored by Johan Santana and backed by a trio of solid starters, all with significant upside. Mike Pelfrey currently slots as the No. 2 starter, with Oliver Perez and John Maine in the three and four spots.
The fifth slot will be an open competition between half a dozen pitchers, including Tim Redding, Freddy Garcia, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, and Brandon Knight. They will have a lot of depth to work from, and between the five obvious names and whoever might come out of spring training, they should be able to come up with a better than average fifth starter.
The obvious strength of the Mets rotation is Johan Santana, who was arguably the best starter in the National League in 2008. Despite his slow start, he finished with sensational numbers and finished third in Cy Young Award voting.
Projected 2009 Numbers
Johan Santana (L): 18-7, 2.65 ERA, 230 innings, 205 Ks, 55 walks
Mike Pelfrey (R): 14-10, 3.75 ERA, 180 innings, 110Ks, 50 walks
Oliver Perez (L): 16-8, 3.75 ERA, 200 innings, 180 strikeouts, 90 walks
John Maine (R): 16-8, 3.65 ERA, 180 innings, 170 Ks, 65 walks
Freddy Garcia (R): 8-6, 4.50 ERA, 110 innings, 80 Ks, 35 walks
The biggest concern with the rotation has to be Pelfrey, who increased his innings total from 146 at two levels to more than 200 in the Majors from 2007-2008, which makes him one of the Major League’s primary candidates to break down this season. His health and workload will be things to watch carefully this season.
John Maine’s 2008 season was marred by stints on the Disabled List with right shoulder problems. After the season he underwent rotator cuff surgery to remove a massive bone spur, and is expected to be healthy for the start of the season.
If healthy, Maine is a number two starter with strikeout potential, but with any sort of shoulder injury, we should reserve expectations.
Maine’s health remains the key to the Mets’ season. If his shoulder is healthy—and all reports are that he’s back to normal and throwing comfortably—then Maine will easily be the Mets’ second best starter. With the revamped bullpen, this should be a breakout year for him, perhaps a career year.
He has the potential to surpass the projections easily, and if he’s able to make 34 starts, could approach 200 innings, 190 strikeouts, and 18 wins.
If Garcia is unable to start, Tim Redding can be consistently bad but never quite awful and eat 180 innings, which would be enough to save the bullpen. As things stand, he looks to slot into the bullpen as a long man, allowing Niese and Parnell time to develop and giving the Mets an opportunity to assess whether Brandon Knight’s improvement is legitimate.
Pelfrey, Maine, and Perez are all capable of being number two starters, but each has some shortcomings. The depth at the bottom of the rotation is also a strength, providing options in the middle of the bullpen as well.
Weaknesses will include an inability to deal with significant injury. Losing Santana for any length of time will end their season, and losing any of their three middle starters will put inordinate stress on the bullpen, which, while better equipped to handle a heavy load than last year’s staff, will nonetheless wear out quickly.
The Mets’ season will go the way of their starting pitching. They have elite arms at the back of the 'pen and options in the middle. They have an ace at the front of the rotation. They do not have depth to cover injuries or poor performance from Pelfrey, Maine, and Perez, and if even one of them is not dependable, their bullpen will be overtaxed by September.
The prediction here is that the Mets will make the playoffs in 2009, with a Cy Young caliber season from Johan Santana, a breakout year from one of their three other starters, and solid if unspectacular work from the other two. Which one will break out is anyone’s guess, but my money is on my Maine man Maine.
Expect Pelfrey to miss at least a couple weeks at some point during the season. Should Maine or Pelfrey struggle again this year, or if Pelfrey misses more than a few weeks, the loss will be difficult for the Mets to overcome, and the Phillies and Marlins will have an opportunity in October.
Read the complete run down of the Mets’ pitching here.