Hey, did you guys hear? The Mets rotation is too old! And while we’re at it, it’s too young, too! And inexperienced! And mediocre! I don’t know if you all have realized this, surely this hasn’t been covered ad nauseum by the media, both local and national, radio and television! Just thought I’d spread the news!
It seems every day there’s at least one article — and typically, there’s about three or four — written about how the Mets rotation isn’t up to snuff. Oh, sure, the lineup’ll be swell and the bullpen’ll be terrific, but those Mets are sure to have a hard time winning relying too heavily on veteran/rookie/lousy/fill-in-the-blank pitchers. Perhaps these writers don’t remember the Mets winning 97 games with a rotation that was, at one point, an injured Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel, Jose Lima, and Geremi Gonzalez. Maybe they don’t remember the Mets winning 97 games while starting thirteen different pitchers last year. They surely don’t remember the Mets winning 97 games without ever having a set rotation at any point last season.
If they did remember that, they probably wouldn’t worry all that much. They’d probably recall the fact that the Mets gave Mike Pelfrey four starts of 5.48 ball, Dave Williams five starts of 5.59 ERA ball, Victor Zambrano five starts of 6.75 ERA ball, Oliver Perez seven starts of 6.38 ERA ball and Alay Soler eight starts of 6.00 ERA ball. That’s twenty-eight games with a combined ERA of 6.04 ERA — and you know what the Mets’ record was in those games? 15-13. Yes, despite the fact that those pitchers pitched twenty-eight games — seventeen percent of the season — with an ERA over six, the Mets still managed to play two games over .500 baseball. And that’s not including the aforementioned Lima/Gonzalez starts, or the fact that the Mets turned Steve Trachsel, a man with a 4.97 ERA, into a fifteen game winner.
The fun thing about Spring Training is that the season hasn’t begun yet, and everything is started anew. The miserable thing about that is there really isn’t too much to discuss, so attempting to write about a team can be difficult. That’s why the biggest story out of Mets camp so far is that Cliff Floyd, now a Cub, thinks Willie Randolph was “confused” in the playoffs. And across town, all that mattered for week was that A-Rod and Jeter are not BFFLs anymore. With nothing much to focus on writers tend to grab a hold of three or four concepts early and milk them dry through February and March, whipping most casual fans into a frenzy. But some closer observation can sometimes disprove these thoughts.
The fact of the matter is this — the Mets had some pitching issues last season, and they overcame them splendidly with a terrific lineup and a nasty bullpen. Now, in 2007, they have some pitching issues… to go along with a terrific lineup and a nasty bullpen. So, why should there be any more concern about it this year? Right now the rotation is Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez and John Maine, leaving two spots in the backend to be filled accordingly. Fighting for those spots are Chan Ho Park, Phil Humber, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, Jason Vargas and Aaron Sele. Six guys, all with track records of success on various levels, to fill two spots — and we’re supposed to expect them to do worse than a 6.04 combined ERA from the schlock the Mets threw out there last year? Heck, the guys fighting for spots this year combined for a 5.22 ERA total in ’06 — if we had that last year, that’d mean over 100 wins!
Realistically, nobody can say the Mets have a good rotation at this point, because it’s just not true. As a matter of fact, they don’t even have a rotation at this point, unless it’s 1890 and we’re expecting Tom Glavine to go Charley Radbourn on us and start sixty-eight games. But what they do have is potentially far better than what they had last year. Are there some older fellows? Sure, Glavine’ll be forty-one come Opening Day, and Hernandez is anywhere from thirty-seven to fifty years old depending upon who you ask. But — as Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Greg Maddux, Jamie Moyer, Tim Wakefield, Woody Williams, David Wells, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Kenny Rogers and Mike Mussina have taught us — age only matters if you suck. Luckily for us, Glavine (15-7, 3.82 ERA) and Duque (9-7, 4.09) do not.
Are they inexperienced? Yeah, but everybody in the game is inexperienced at some point. It’s what you do after your development year — or, in some cases, years — that really matters. Last year was a chance to prove he could do it at the big league level for John Maine, who allowed only sixty-nine hits in ninety innings of work, to go along with one of the best fastballs in the majors. It was a shot for Oliver Perez to start re-learning his delivery and develop a gameplan from one of the best pitching coaches in the game in Rick Peterson and, though the final numbers don’t look too spectacular, did you know from September on Oliver Perez went 39.9 innings with a 4.28 ERA allowing only thirteen walks while striking out thirty-nine? It was also a year in which Pelfrey and Humber combined to go 12-6 with a 2.77 ERA with 188 strikeouts throughout the Mets minors. And those numbers came from one guy coming off Tommy John surgery and another who threw a pitch all season he decided to scrap after the year.
Is there the possibility that the Mets will throw some lousy retreads out there? Of course, but unlike years past these lousy retreads have a chance to actually be good — or at the very least serviceable. Park is still only thirty-three years old, healthy for the first time in years, and but a scant four years removed from a career so stellar it landed him a sixty-five million dollar contract back when that number meant something. Frankly, it’s just as conceivable he’ll be terrific as he’ll be bad, and if he does perform terribly it only costs the Mets some loose change to find that out. Sele’s a notorious fast starter, 96-52 with a 4.35 before the All-Star break for his career, and was terrific for the majority of his time with the Dodgers last season. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that neither of these guys will be leaned on heavily. The season will not be made or broken by how well Aaron Sele pitches.
The Mets’ pitching will get this team by. True, they’ll never be compared to the Tigers’ or Red Sox’ rotations, but they’re not going to be smacked around on a nightly basis, either. This season will depend on what a season typically depends on — the offense. Does good pitching win ballgames? Absolutely, but despite the old adage to the contrary, good hitting will typically beat good pitching, and the Mets’ offense is the best in the National League, possibly all of baseball. You think the Mets’ lineup is gonna be afraid of Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton? Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano? Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom? The hitting will be there. The fielding will be there. The bullpen will be there.
The rotation? Relax, it’ll be there.