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September 17, 2009
  
Remember the Maine

(Please forgive me to the clichéd title of this article; there were a number of bad pun choices but I just decided to go with the easiest one, I offer my apologies with an ill song by Queens native Q-Tip.)

My prediction that John Maine would take a step forward this year was probably my biggest miss from this past offseason. I became a huge fan of Maine during 2007 when his FIP of 4.18 was better than Perez’ 4.35, yet, due to his higher ERA, his season was not as lauded as Perez. Being a fan, maybe I’m a bit biased, but my gut cannot get behind the sentiment being floated around by Mets fans that Maine is a potential non-tender candidate. However, I don’t make many decisions with my gut, so with Maine making his return to the mound on Sunday, I thought it would be appropriate to look at both his performance and health to decide just what Maine could be worth this next season.

Contrary to general wisdom, I don’t believe that Maine was part of the Jorge Julio/Kris Benson deal as a “throw in,” just as I don’t believe that Oliver Perez was a “throw in” player in the Roberto Hernandez/Xavier Nady deal. It always appeared to me that the Mets’ front office used these older relief pitchers, making a couple of million dollars, as a screen for picking up a young pitcher who been hit hard recently but had a history of good pitching. John Maine had a fantastic minor league career with 465 innings pitched, 9.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, and a 3.23 ERA across all levels. The reason the Mets were able to acquire Maine from the Orioles was due to the fact that Maine had a rough Major League debut as well as somewhat subpar seasons in Triple-A. However, Maine quickly both proved the Orioles made a mistake and that the Mets had something to worry about by pitching well in 2006 as well as also having his first trip to the DL with inflammation of his right middle finger.

As I alluded at the top, Maine had a solid 2007, his first full year in the majors. However, looking at Maine’s season in the aggregate doesn’t tell the whole story. Before the All-Star Break, Maine had 2.71 ERA and the beginnings of a great season; however, he appeared to tire shortly thereafter. After the All-Star Break, Maine saw his walk and homeruns rates increase—though his strikeout rate increased as well—and his ERA for the period was 5.53. Of course, Maine temporarily righted himself, throwing 7 2/3 of one-hit ball on the second-to-last game of the season. According to Wikipedia, around this time Tom Seaver referred to Maine as something of a protégé, though no source is given, so take that for what it’s worth.

Maine started off the 2008 season with a phenomenal spring training and was pretty effective for the first two months before his fastball speed began to diminish and he began throwing fewer sliders, which led to more foul balls and shorter outings. The reason for both became apparent after he was shut down for the season mid-year and had surgery to remove bone spurs during the offseason.

Regarding the surgery, Maine stated, “They told me it was the biggest one they’d ever removed, the biggest one they’d ever seen. They couldn’t believe I could throw with that in there.” The shoulder problems really shouldn’t have been a surprise since Maine scap loads below the acromial level and behind the acromial plane. Honestly, I don’t really know why exactly this is bad and I probably should learn, but I know that it can possibly lead to shoulder and oblique problems though it’s arguably not as dangerous as scap loading above the acromial level and behind the acromial plane, the dreaded “inverted W.”

So far this year, Maine’s recovery did not go as planned as he pitched with mixed results before being put on the DL with a pinched nerve in his right shoulder, which was eventually changed to “shoulder weakness.” It’s hard to get a beat on what exactly was wrong with Maine this year as his timetable was moved around quite a bit as he worked hard to rehab his shoulder. Perhaps worried about the Mets’ team doctors’ recent history, Maine requested a second opinion by Dr. James Andrews in late July, who recommended he simply stop throwing. Maine has credited Andrews’ advice for the improvement in his shoulder and, per Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger, he said he probably should have done that earlier than he did. The latter leads me to believe that Maine rushed to come back from surgery too early or rehab was not as effective as it should have been. But I’m not a doctor. Stephenson also mentioned that the shoulder is not healed fully, but there’s no pain in between outings, as there was in the early part of the season. Maine does expect his shoulder to be fine for spring training.

Overall, between Maine’s delivery and his recent injuries, I’m a bit worried but is he really falling apart performance wise? As we know, the two key signs for a declining pitcher is decline in velocity and increase in homerun rate. Maine’s velocity over the past five seasons have been 90.8 MPH in ’05, 91.0, 91.2, 92.1 and 91.5, thus his velocity had been relatively stable. Over the same time span, Maine’s homerun rates have been 1.80, 1.50, 1.08, 1.03 and 1.02, so it’s actually improving, another great sign. The bad news is that over the past three years, Maine’s FIPs have increased with his increase in LD% and increase in BB rate. Still, it’s very hard to figure out how much of the poor performance is due to the injuries.

To give us an idea of possible directions Maine can take, let’s look at baseball-reference.com’s similarity scores. Maine’s most comparable player through age 27 is, eerily enough, the man he was traded for: Kris Benson. Just like Maine, Benson put up a good age 25 season that was followed by two declining seasons full of injury. However, Benson regrouped in his age 29 year, the one during which he was traded to the Mets, and pitched 200 innings of 3.75 FIP ball, his best season. Unfortunately, decline followed thereafter as Benson’s fastball continued to erode along with his strikeout numbers, effectiveness, and health.

Thus, it’s possible that a pitcher can regroup to have their best seasons based on the numbers Maine has put up, although citing one example of the latter happening is by no means empirical data. Additionally, it’s possible that next year will be his last hurrah, but based on Maine’s steady fastball numbers, I don’t see that. All and all, I would definitely tender a contract to Maine, and I really think he can regain his effectiveness, but I have real concerns about his long term health and really don’t have a great idea of what kind of pitcher he will be. Therefore to end with a rough estimation of Maine’s worth next year, I’ll use a simple weighted average—5,3,1—that really punishes Maine for this past injury plagued year: 102 innings of 4.68 FIP ball which is worth exactly 1 WAR or $5.1 million on the FA market. If Maine is supposed to get roughly $2.5 through arbitration, this is a no-brainer move, especially when considering the potential upside despite some serious concerns.


4 Responses to “Remember the Maine”

  1. Comment posted by Tim in LA on September 17, 2009 at 3:54 pm (#1081925)

    Slight tangent, but in regards to scap loading… It kind of amazes me how often in sports, people can seem really knowledgeable, but then miss a really simple concept. Nothing is worse than the “seeing the ball poorly” explanation for platoon splits, but this subject has a similar problem.

    In the article you linked to, the author says he doesn’t believe scap loading adds much velocity, because of the small size of the muscles involved. But the muscles involved have little to do with why scap loading is effective.

    The only thing that matters for pitch speed is the velocity of your fingertips as you release the ball. It’s muscles that pull your fingertips forward and make your arm accelerate, but just as important is having room to accelerate — and that’s that scap loading does. It’s basic physics — an apple falling 20 feet will reach a higher velocity than an apple falling 15 feet, because he has more time to accelerate before it hits the ground. Because the elbow is coiled behind the back, the pitcher’s elbow has more physical space through which to accelerate, and that extra velocity at the end is transferred up to the fingertips.

    It’s actually the same reason why batters have more power when they pull the ball — the bat head has more space through which to accelerate, and has reached a higher speed at the point of impact.

    Anyway, I agree with the article’s inverted-W-is-bad theory, though all I have is personal anecdotal evidence — I’ve tinkered around with mechanics a lot, and I can feel the strain on my own shoulder when I use the inverted-W. Regular old W doesn’t feel like a strain at all. And looking at the mechanics of pitchers with injury histories, the theory seems to hold. The only thing I wonder is how much variation there is in individual physiologies — maybe it’s not a strain for some pitchers to scap-load the bad way.

    Tangents aside, I’m a fan of Maine, too, and think he has a few more quality years left in him. I don’t think he has much longevity, though, even if he stays healthy, because I don’t see him developing into a pitcher who can live on off-speed stuff as his fastball declines.

  2. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on September 17, 2009 at 4:06 pm (#1081940)

    My prediction for Maine:

    Until someone coverts him to middle relief or gets him some kind of therapy toward his attention span difficulties, he’ll keep showing flashes of brilliance and regular fucking wallbanger stretches of giving up home runs to people who should not just hit them and otherwise melting down.

    Hopefully, for his sake, either a team comes along and turns him into the middle-reliever that his mentality is better suited for or a team comes along and gets him the sports psychology help that allows him to keep his head together over seven innings straight once every five days.

    But I think that the Mets are too desperate for a quick-cheap starter than to ever treat him life that. Best for all to let go.

  3. Comment posted by Joe A. on September 17, 2009 at 4:20 pm (#1081945)

    When he’s healthy, Maine is a better pitcher than Pelfrey or Ollie. Since he’s making peanuts next year in arbitration, it makes zero sense to let him walk. In fact, he is precisely the kind of guy we should be scouring others teams’ rosters for.

  4. Comment posted by WT Economist on September 17, 2009 at 5:42 pm (#1081998)

    As I’ve said, continually trying to fill the roster with free agents, many of them past their prime, is like trying to fill an inside straight. A roster of Hall of Famers didn’t exactly help the Mets in 1962. You have to go with your guys for long enough to give them a full shot, knowing these things can take a long time. If you let a guy go who does well elsewhere, you have failed.

    I’ll admit Ollie, Pelfrey, Maine, Parnell, Murphy, Evans, and (as back-ups) Anderson Hernandez and Angel Pagan may not in fact be major leaguers, but I’d give all them next year. And then follow with Ike Davis, Thole, F-Mart and Niese. If you are going to let someone go, make it someone who isn’t a Met, like Francoeur. To me his is the toughest call of the off season.

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