February 15, 2007
Five for Fighting

The long, cold winter appears as if it has no end in sight, but inexplicably the calendar tells us that spring training is upon us. As pitchers and catchers report, several pitchers reporting will be arriving with a little strut in their step. The fight for fifth starter will likely be the story of the spring, with Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber the odds-on favorites to be the final two in the ring slugging it out. However, one only has to look back to last spring to remember that what is expected is not always what winds up happening.

Aaron Heilman was supposed to be the Mets fifth starter this past season until a guy by the name of Bannister showed up and knocked the socks off everyone down in Florida. Granted, Heilman also had more value to the Mets by bolstering their bullpen, but Bannister was not the odds-on favorite when spring began last season. Let that at least be a lesson to prognosticators that while on paper Pelfrey and Humber may look like the goods, they might be better off honing their skills a bit more in the minors. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that someone with a bit more experience like Alay Soler or Jason Vargas could outpitch them in spring and surprise everyone.

The loss of Dave Williams for three months with a herniated disc helped everyone else in the field by eliminating one more contender. That is, until last week, when Chan Ho Park was added to the mix. Park’s agent seems to already be anointing him the Mets third starter. It’s not yet known what the Mets intend to do with Park, but I think it’s safe to assume he’s more likely to be in the mix for fifth starter than leaping ahead of John Maine. There is one question the Mets will need to ask themselves: is it safer to rely on the experienced arms of mediocre pitchers like Aaron Sele, Jorge Sosa, and Chan Ho Park or roll the dice on youth loaded with potential?

Surprises aside, let’s take a closer look at the top contenders.

Mike Pelfrey
2006 Stats (A+/AA/AAA): 2.43 ERA, 81H/96.1IP, 109 K, 33 BB

Pelfrey, showing some tongue and a great fastball, made an appearance at Shea late last season, demonstrating that, at the very least, he could be some sort of rainmaker for the offense—Mets’ hitters averaged 8.5 runs per game when he pitched. The problem with Pelfrey is that while his fastball is exceptional with good control and movement, he lacks a solid secondary repertoire. It was noted that he began working on a more traditional slider while attending the Arizona Fall League, but it’s yet to be seen if he’s honed it enough to be effective.

His curve and change are above average but he needs to be able to locate them with more precision. John Sickels of believes the problem with his breaking pitch is overblown, as he had displayed a decent one in college and just needs to have more confidence in it. If he regains that confidence this spring, he will be the prohibitive favorite to win this job.

Phil Humber
2006 Stats (A+/AA): 2.83 ERA,76.1 IP, 56H, 79 K, 20 BB

Humber recovered quickly from the Tommy John surgery which he underwent midway through his 2005 season. Unlike Pelfery, Humber has significantly better secondary offerings, boasting a strong curve ball, change up, and splitter. Oddly enough, the Tommy John Surgery actually allowed him time to improve his out-pitches, which complement his low-90’s fastball. His curveball is especially impressive: Matt Meyers of Baseball America noted it as one of the best in the minors.

Humber’s ability to throw a variety of pitches will cause some scouts to place him ahead of Pelfrey. Humber’s durability, however, is still a question mark. He left the Arizona Fall League early because of a sore shoulder, and only began to pitch a full season since his surgery this past year, throwing a little under 80 innings. While Humber shows great promise, it may be wise to allow him time and not overdo it.

The pragmatic side of me believes Humber is best equipped for the job, but I fear of throwing him to the wolves before he shows he can endure the wear and tear of a major league assignment. This spring we should get a better idea of where these two talented pitchers are in their development and which one of them is ready for to make the leap. It’s a nice dilemma to have, choosing between two pitchers who have a bright future ahead of them and will hopefully be pitching together in the same rotation for many years to come.

Chan Ho Park
2006 Stats (San Diego): 4.81 ERA, 136.2 IP, 146H, 96 K, 44 BB

A once promising prospect in the Dodgers organization, Park’s career seemed to unravel after joining the Rangers with a five year $65 million dollar deal. Before that he had four very good, sub-4.00 ERA seasons, where he averaged eight or more strikeouts a game, pitching in 30 or more games during each of those seasons. Once he left Los Angeles, things began to take a turn for the worse. Aside from his first season in Texas where he started 25 games, he only appeared in 23 games combined over the next two seasons. He found himself on the DL five times during those years in Texas and wound up being shipped to San Diego, where he finished the season with close to 30 appearances for both teams. In 2006, Park began showing some improvement in May and June when he pitched eleven games, with an ERA of between 3.76 and 4.00, but Park’s season was again interrupted in August due to a rare ailment that led to intestinal bleeding. Before landing on the DL, however, opponents caught up to him, batting .330 against him in four games in July.

It’s difficult to say what to expect from Park at this point; perhaps under the tutelage of Rick Peterson, Park might be able to tap into the pitcher he once was, but it would be an improvement just to see him step onto the field enough to make that happen. It will be interesting to see how many chances the Mets give him in spring with so many arms fighting it out for a chance to join the rotation. Clearly they had to see something that would cause them to add another contender to the mix. Opportunities to impress may become more limited for others considering the late acquisition of an experienced pitcher like Park.

16 Responses to “Five for Fighting”

  1. Comment posted by Ellis Dee on February 15, 2007 at 1:53 am (#232372)

    Park’s 4.81 ERA last year is well above league avg for a #5 starter. I think it might be in the #4 starter range. So it wouldn’t be the worst thing if he started the season as the 5.

    I think they will (and should) take it slow with Pelfrey and especially Humber. I don’t want to see them burn out their arms over-throwing early or accumulating too many innings late in the season.

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  3. Comment posted by pj on February 15, 2007 at 8:46 am (#232393)

    My guess is that a reasonable showing from veteran pitchers in ST will give the Mets good reason to go at least half a season with Pelfrey/Humber in the minors. With a little more seasoning, I think they will both be ready to take over if injuries and ineffective pitching warant a replacement. In the long run this will be good to keep the innings down on their young arms.

    Park, I hope pitching in front of rabid Korean baseball fans will help him regain the pitching form he showed in LA.

    Nice piece on Vargas in the NYT today.

  4. Comment posted by Danny on February 15, 2007 at 8:54 am (#232398)

    I think we are going to see that the guy who pitches the best in the spring is NOT going to get the #5 slot. Unless Park is awful, I really think his signing signals the Mets’ intentions to start both of their young guys in AAA.

    There is some merit to that. The Mets were snakebitten by injuries to the starting rotation last year, and the best way for the Mets to build maximum depth in their rotation is to send the kids to AAA.

    I think that only gets thrown out the window if Park is dragging a fork on his back out to the mound.

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  6. Comment posted by pj on February 15, 2007 at 9:01 am (#232400)

    Aaron wants to start over

    Yes, Aaron Heilman asked again. No, he’s not going to get a look as a starting pitcher this spring.

    “I haven’t given up,” Heilman said yesterday, a day after arriving from his home in Chicago. “I’ll still do everything I can to pursue that – until I don’t feel I can be an effective starter.”

  7. Comment posted by Fredsaid on February 15, 2007 at 9:28 am (#232408)

    Since they have brought in so many “potential” good pitchers, and it would also be nice if the jacket can set a few of them in a good place to be winners, then they may end up with around 7 or 8 good starters, and also be over loaded in the pen.

    Well if that happens, then they could have enough them on the team in order to make a great trade with some of them while getting an ace coming back to the Mets.

    Go jacket go.

  8. Comment posted by benny blanco from da Bronx on February 15, 2007 at 9:28 am (#232409)

    I would have no problem with Park getting the 5th spot.
    I mean for one, Mike Pelfrey has never pitched more than 139 innings in his career, including college, and in college it was a 6 man rotation.
    Now you put him in the Major Leagues and expect him to surpass that by about 60 innings, in a 5 man rotation, and with much harder workouts.
    Look how tired Justin Verlander got. He was constantly accomodated in the season due to fatigue. By the time the ALDS came he was throwing 92 instead of 97. That’s a big difference.
    I don’t want the same thing to happen to Pelfrey.
    And as far as Humber goes, even more so. Besides the fact that he’s never pitched that many innings, he’s coming back from injury. I’d be more careful with him.

    I expect to have an amazing AAA staff with Pelfrey, Humber, Vargas, Sele, Clint Nageotte, and Willie Collazo starting.

    With Maine, Oliver Perez, and Chan HO Park in there for about 2 months or so, it’ll DEFFINITLY give the Mets a chance to gauge who should go, who should come in, who’s available to trade, and who’s injured (I’m looking at you Duque).

  9. Comment posted by Fredsaid on February 15, 2007 at 9:36 am (#232411)

    And the funny part of it is that if they do have a good starting five, and then in the mid season Pedro, Pelfrey, and Humber are ready, willing and able to start on the team, then what will they do with all of the overload of good starters?

    And the same thing can be said about the pen.

  10. Comment posted by BryanB on February 15, 2007 at 10:29 am (#232457)

    I expect to have an amazing AAA staff with Pelfrey, Humber, Vargas, Sele, Clint Nageotte, and Willie Collazo starting.

    Pelfrey or Humber will probably be with the Mets, Collazo in AA or the pen, Nageotte in the pen. That will probably make the NO rotation Pelfrey/Humber, Vargas, Sele, Bostick, and either Morales or Devaney, possibly Sosa if he’s not on the ML roster.

  11. Comment posted by sid on February 15, 2007 at 10:46 am (#232477)

    my only problem with this particular article is the reference to last year. This is the only place that i heard anything about Heilman starting. The organization has been saying for 3 years now that they view him as being more reliable as a reliever than as a starter.

  12. Comment posted by Danny on February 15, 2007 at 10:50 am (#232486)

    sid, that’s not true. The Mets had Heilman start in winter ball to build up arm strength, and he came to spring training last year with the inside track for the #5 starter’s role. But then Bannister pitched equally well in the spring, and the Mets thought it better served the team to put Banny in the rotation and Heilman into the bullpen, where they knew he could be effective from the previous year.

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  14. Comment posted by The Great El Deppo on February 15, 2007 at 11:11 am (#232502)

    Danny is on point here.

    Anthony – very nice article. Glad to see you writing over here. I think hotfoot is one of the most underappreciated mets blogs on the nets. you do a great job :)

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  16. Comment posted by The Great El Deppo on February 15, 2007 at 11:35 am (#232524)

    make that the mets! not nets! my bad!

  17. Comment posted by joemetsfan on February 15, 2007 at 12:19 pm (#232595)

    I expect the April rotation to be Glavine, Hernandez, Maine, Perez and Park. After their postseason work, Maine and Perez would have to have awful springs not to make the rotation. Pelfrey and Humber need to start the season at AAA. With so little pro experience and significant question marks (Pelfrey’s offspeed stuff and Humber’s stamina after TJ surgery), no way should they open the year at Shea. Vargas too belongs in New Orleans; looking at his stats and scouting reports, looks like Florida mistakenly rushed him through their system.

    While it would be nice if Park can at least be adequate (i.e., no worse than Trachsel was in ’06) until Pedro is ready, the worst case at #5 is that Park stinks out the joint for 5-6 starts (a real possibility, I’m afraid). At which point you can release him in May w/ only a minor financial hit and bring up whichever of the AAA guys is throwing best (add Soler and Williams, when healthy, to this mix). They all should have plenty of options, so you can have revolving door auditions if necessary, until Pedro’s back or a trade can be

  18. Comment posted by sweetlew on February 15, 2007 at 1:02 pm (#232630)

    Pelfrey and Humber to New Orleans.

    They will be better for it in the long run.

    Benny has been the only guy besides me to point out that starting Pelfrey in April means he will be shot in Aug/Sept…not to mention maybe burned out in 2008….not worth it.

    As noted above — Park is way above average for a #5 starter. If we can get three good months out of him, we are golden.

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  20. Comment posted by pj on February 15, 2007 at 5:30 pm (#233109)


    see post #2


  21. Comment posted by ajsmith on February 16, 2007 at 12:25 pm (#233606)

    I absolutely agree that sending the kids to AAA to start the season is the way to go. Assuming Maine and Perez make the staff – and I expect that they will – the options for #5, in order, should be Park, Sele, Sosa, Vargas (whom I also think would benefit from some more time at AAA.)

    Given the inconsistent need for a #5 early, the cold weather, and the kids’ lack of experience, go with a veteran, with at least one other vet ready to step in if the first one stinks, who has enough experience to at least handle the role without doing risking their long-term physical/emotional development.

    If the kids are alright in July down in the Big Easy, everything is on the table and you can set up your rotation any way you want down the stretch.

    It would help, of course, if Maine and Perez do their part.