Sunday, April 05, 2009

2009 Mets Preview: The Pitchers

The 2008 Mets' pitching and defense weren't as superlative as the offense, but they still bested the league average by allowing 4.41 runs per game (the average was 4.63). The team's 103 ERA+ ranked sixth in the league. This year's starting staff is basically the same as the group that did a solid job last year, aside from perhaps some improvement in the fifth starter role. The bullpen, however, has been almost completely remodeled and this could be the piece that puts the Mets over the top in the NL East.

Johan Santana
2008: 16-7, 2.54 ERA, 234.1 IP, 206 K, 63 BB

A starting pitcher can't do much more than lead the league in both ERA and innings pitched as Santana did in 2008. A bullpen that coughed up seven leads after he left probably cost him the Cy Young Award, but he was at least one of the three best pitchers in the league. The fact that he did all this while posting the lowest strikeout rate of his career is a bit puzzling and troubling and I don't really expect him to post another ERA under three, but I have little doubt that he'll fill the role of ace admirably once again.

Mike Pelfrey
2008: 13-11, 3.72 ERA, 200.2 IP, 110 K, 64 BB

Pelfrey is another starter whose record doesn't reflect how valuable he was in 2008. It was a breakthrough year for the former first round pick. His strikeout totals don't look too impressive but he and his sinker do a great job keeping the ball in the park as he allowed just twelve home runs all year. He may never match Santana's low ERA, but the twenty-five year old Pelfrey could be very valuable for years to come if he repeats last season's quality and durability.

John Maine
2008: 10-8, 4.18 ERA, 140 IP, 122 K, 67 BB

Maine lost significant time in 2008 to a bone spur in his right shoulder, but surgery has apparently taken care of the problem. He has yet to give the Mets a full, healthy season, which has contributed some to the team's September troubles. But when he does take the mound in good health he is a solid mid-rotation starter. He will only turn twenty-eight this year and doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his arm, having pitched his first full major league season in 2007. There is certainly a chance that he will put it all together for 200 innings and if he does that, the Mets' could have a rather formidable rotation.

Oliver Perez
2008: 10-7, 4.22 ERA, 194 IP, 180 K, 105 BB

I could probably just fill this space with a picture of myself shrugging my shoulders and looking confused. I like Oliver Perez and am glad he's back, but he can be quite maddening at times. At the very least I am pretty confident he'll pitch a good number of innings and strike out a bunch of people. Beyond that, who knows? Last year he led the majors in walks and he has been pretty awful in both the World Baseball Classic and Spring Training. On the other hand, he pitched better under pitching coach Dan Warthen last year than he had under Rick Peterson in the first half. In 2009 he will probably be the Met most likely to walk seven batters in an inning but also among the top two most likely to throw a no-hitter.

Livan Hernandez
2008 with the Twins and Rockies: 13-11, 6.05 ERA, 180 IP, 67 K, 43 BB

Well, one thing the Mets didn't have last year was a fifth starter who could reliably go out and pitch for six or seven innings without getting completely annihilated. So now they have that. Hernandez will do what he does, eat up a lot of innings while giving his team the chance to win 7-5. Hopefully Jonathan Niese will get on a roll at AAA at some point and save us from this.

That brings us to the bullpen. The only relievers who played a significant role in 2008 and are returning in 2009 are Pedro Feliciano and Brian Stokes. Feliciano somehow lost the ability to retire right-handed hitters in 2008, but he still did a good job against lefties and will likely do the same this year. Stokes had a solid year and should be okay in low leverage situations this year.

Bobby Parnell pitched a few innings in the majors last year but should have a bigger role this year. I was never too impressed with his numbers as a starter in the minors, but as a hard-throwing reliever, he may find his niche. Darren O'Day and Sean Green are a couple of newly acquired righties who should look pretty good by virtue of not being Aaron Heilman or Scott Schoeneweis.

And then there's the big two. JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez could give the Mets the best eighth and ninth inning combination in the league. The only question, aside from how to split up the proceeds from 70s buddy cop movie-themed "K-Rod and Putz" merchandise, is Putz's health. If he is recovered from the elbow troubles that bothered him last season, he could be the best reliever in the Mets' 'pen. Rodriguez won't save 62 games for the Mets, but he should give them the most reliable closer they've had in years.

All of this adds up to a team that should once again be very competitive in the National League East. The Phillies and Braves both have good teams, so I don't expect the Mets to have an easy road to the playoffs, but I feel good about this team. Last year, my official prediction was 95 wins. The Mets fell six short. But I am undeterred.

Offical prediction: 93 wins

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