2009 Mets Rotation

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2009 Mets Rotation

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.

A moderately improved rotation and a vastly improved bullpen with depth and versatility, backed by one of the league’s best defensive lineups, look poised to keep runs off the board and prevent a reprisal of the September problems of the last two years.

After resigning 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.

Pelfrey, Maine, and Perez are all capable of being No. 2 starters, but each is somewhat erratic at times and 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 key to the 2009 season may wind up being John Maine. All indications are he has made a full recovery, but coming off shoulder surgery, there have to be concerns about him going into Spring Training.

 

Rotation

Johan Santana

In his first year with the Amazin’s, Santana posted a 2.53 ERA, the best of his career.  His strikeout rate dropped, however, and his walk and hit rates rose. All three changes were marginal, but taken together could be cause for concern if one were looking for a weakness.

With both his walk and hit totals increasing, his WHIP increased to 1.15, his highest since becoming a full time starter. His velocity also appeared to drop, and by the end of the season he was sitting around 91 mph and touching 93, whereas in the past he had frequently topped out at 95.

Santana features a fastball and changeup, and while he has a breaking ball that he used more often last year, he’s still largely a two-pitch pitcher. His changeup is among the best in the game. Because he generates more fly balls than the Mets’ other starters, he stands to benefit most if they start the season with their current roster, which would feature younger corner outfielders with more range.

Despite various indicators of decline, Santana did lead the league in innings and ERA last year, and we can expect a few more years of elite performances.

Santana is also one of the most consistent starters in baseball, with 28 quality starts in 34 tries in 2008. Expect his strikeouts to return to normal, and with the improved bullpen behind him we should see a few more wins.

Santana should make a strong run at the 2009 Cy Young Award.

 

Mike Pelfrey

Pelfrey has turned into a typical sinkerball pitcher. After being fairly average for the first half of the year, he was excellent in July and August, going 8-2 with solid strikeout and walk rates. He tired in September, and with the Mets’ new bullpen to keep him rested, could improve markedly in 2009.

Pelfrey showed the ability last year to be a strong No. 2 starter, and there’s no reason to think he can’t fulfill that expectation this year aside from potential workload-related fatigue.

Pelfrey has a typical power pitcher’s build and repertoire. At 6’7” and 230 lbs., he has been clocked as high as 98 mph with his fastball, and complements it with a slider, curveball, and circle change. Last year he developed his sinker into a significant weapon and became more of a ground ball pitcher.

If he can consistently get ground balls and use his fastball to get strikeouts when he needs them, Pelfrey could develop into one of the game’s top starters. He is probably a year or two away from that point, however, and given the increase in workload from 2007 to 2008, the Mets will be happy if he reprises last year’s numbers.

The main concern with Pelfrey is that he 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.

Pelfrey’s final line in 2008 was 13-10 with a 3.70 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP, with 107Ks to 64 walks. Expect the strikeouts to rise, the walks and WHIP to drop, and the ERA to stay in the same vicinity.

If healthy, a final line of 14-10, 3.75, with 110 K’s to 50 walks in 180 innings would be a conservative expectation, but don’t expect him to reach 200 innings again.

 

Oliver Perez

By any reasonable measure, Perez is the Mets’ fourth starter, but they will probably slot him between Pelfrey and Maine to split the young right-handers.

Perez has consistently tantalized with his potential for several years now, and if he is ever to become a reliable starter, it will be for the Mets, who have just signed him through what should be the three best years of his career.

Perez is consistently overrated because of his strikeout rates and ability to dominate opponents, but as often as he shuts down an opposing lineup, he melts down and puts his team in an insurmountable hole.

Perception of his contract seems to simultaneously run two ways: first, that the Mets got him at a steep discount because of the economy (Boras had been seeking a four to six year commitment and settled for three); and second, that despite the discounted price of his contract, the average annual value exceeds his established worth by at least a couple million dollars.

The Mets seem to have bought into potential here, but if Perez does not improve, he will be overpriced.

Perez features four pitches. He pitches off an excellent fastball that consistently sits in the low nineties, but because he throws across his body, his control varies dramatically from game to game. When he’s on, he has good control; when he’s off, he has no control at all.

His second pitch is a sweeping slider that he throws to both left-handed and right-handed batters, but more often to lefties. He flashes a curveball, and last year showed marked improvement on his changeup, which he throws primarily to right-handed batters.

As he develops the changeup more, he could improve, but because of his motion will probably always be erratic. Some pitchers with his delivery have developed control and command later in their careers than typical pitchers do—Randy Johnson comes to mind, but that can’t be projected.

Last season was a disappointment for Mets fans, as Perez authored an ugly line of 10-7, 4.22, with 180 strikeouts to an astounding 105 walks.

Because his walk rates seemed to take a step back last year, I would expect him to trend back toward his 2007 numbers. Numbers in the range of 16-8, 3.75 with 180 strikeouts and 90 walks in 200 innings would be reasonable expectations, but he could easily put up an ERA anywhere from 3.00 to 4.50.

Perez is what he is: a tantalizing talent who may or may not put it together and become an ace. There is some hope that Santana may have a positive impact on him—he seems to have taken him on as a sort of protégé, but whether this will help him mature as a player is yet to be seen.

 

John Maine

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 No. 2 starter with strikeout potential, but with any sort of shoulder injury, we should reserve expectations.

There is also concern about his long term health because Rick Peterson had noticed a mechanical flaw before he was fired last year, but the problem in his delivery was probably caused by compensating for the shoulder injury.

Maine will be 28 in 2009, and because of his shoulder problems in 2008, his 2007 performance is probably a better indication of what he will do this year.

In 2007, Maine went 15-10, 3.91 with 180 strikeouts to 75 walks in 191 innings.

Maine pitches off of a two seam fastball with excellent movement. He throws easily and the ball darts late toward the plate.

His primary secondary pitches are a slider to right-handers and a changeup to lefties; he will flash the offside pitch fairly regularly, but mostly to keep hitters off balance. For the most part he is a two pitch pitcher; the second pitch just depends on the batter. He shows a curveball once or twice a game, and it’s an effective pitch, but he uses it so seldom that it’s not really a factor.

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.

A reasonable expectation would be 16-8 in 30 starts and 180 innings, with 170 strikeouts to 65 walks, a 3.65 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. He has the potential to surpass those numbers easily, and if he’s able to make 34 starts, could approach 200 innings, 190 strikeouts, and 18 wins.

 

Fifth Starter

The Mets look to be in much better position at the bottom of their rotation this year than last. In 2008, an aging Pedro Martinez made 20 starts, pitching 109 innings with a 5.61 ERA. After he totaled fewer than 270 innings the last three years combined, the Mets let him walk.

This year they head into spring training with five viable candidates for the fifth slot. Tim Redding, Freddy Garcia, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, and Brandon Knight will all get a chance to earn the spot in Spring Training.

The ideal situation for the Mets would have Freddy Garcia healthy enough to claim the spot. This allows Redding to shift to the bullpen, where he could be a long man and spot starter, gives Niese and Parnell more development time in the minors, and gives the Mets time to assess whether Knight’s improvement last year is legitimate.

Reports are that Garcia is healthy and throwing comfortably, but it’s possible he won’t be ready, leaving Redding as the fifth starter and Niese or Parnell as the long man in the pen.

 

Freddy Garcia

At 34, coming off two straight injury plagued seasons, Garcia’s time as an All-Star, or even as a solid major league regular, is likely behind him. Signed to a minor league deal, he could open the season at AAA until he proves himself healthy enough to start, particularly given that the Mets likely will not need a fifth starter often in April.

When healthy, Garcia is a four-pitch pitcher, with a fastball, changeup, curveball, and slider. In 2008 he sat out most of the year recovering from shoulder surgery for an injury he tried to hide for much of the 2007 season, then signed a minor league deal with Detroit and came up in September to make three starts.

In those starts, he went 1-1 with 12 strikeouts to six walks in 15 innings, a respectable 4.20 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.13. He pitched five innings in each start and appeared to be on a pitch count, topping out at 76 pitches in his second outing.

His first game, at Texas, he gave up one earned run, struck out three, and walked one against a good lineup in an extreme hitters park. In his second start, on regular rest, he gave up five earned at home against Kansas City, but again had six strikeouts to only two walks. In his final start, at Chicago with the White Sox battling for a playoff spot, he gave up two earned with three strikeouts and three walks.

His performance was fairly consistent, and I think he can be counted on for 15 starts this year, perhaps even 20. With the other options they have in the minors, the Mets would be ecstatic with that performance.

This was a great move by the Mets, and a final line of 8-6, with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP in 20 starts would be reasonable. If he throws 110 innings, he will keep his K/BB ratio around 2.25, which will allow him to be dependably serviceable.

Even if he’s not able to keep that level of performance, having him in the rotation would be an asset because it would shift Tim Redding to the bullpen.

 

Tim Redding

If Garcia is not ready to go, Redding will likely be the Mets’ fifth starter.

Redding figures to eat innings and be consistently bad but never quite awful. He gives up far too many home runs, but appears to have settled into a niche as a serviceable fifth man.

Given the Mets’ defense, superior offense, and excellent bullpen, Redding could see marginal improvements from 2008 to 2009, but he won’t approach league average production. Redding’s biggest problem is home runs, a problem that will not be helped by moving to New York, as Washington is not kind to home run hitters.

Redding features a fastball, slider, and curveball, and will show a changeup to left-handed batters. None of the pitches is any better than average at best, and they frequently are not that.

In 2008, Redding had his first full season as a starter since 2003, going 10-11 in 33 starts and 182 innings with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and 120 strikeouts to 65 walks.  The strikeout to walk ratio is fair, but Redding’s stuff is such that he’s very hittable.

Redding was awful after the All-Star break last year, going 3-8 with a 6.92 ERA, and was non-tendered by the Nationals, a transaction that does not inspire confidence going forward.

If he pitches the season as the Mets’ fifth starter, we could reasonable expect him to go 12-10 in 180 innings with a 1.40 WHIP, 4.75 ERA, and 125 strikeouts to 65 walks, with most of the improvement coming from the fact that the Mets are better in every facet of the game than the Nationals. If shifted to the bullpen, which would be ideal, Redding might be marginally better, but would probably be limited to mop-up work and spot starts to rest Garcia, Pelfrey, and Maine.

Redding will break camp as the fifth starter if Garcia isn’t healthy, only because the other three options would be better served by more development time; Niese, Parnell, and Knight could all outperform him in rates if not in innings if given the starts this year.

 

Jon Niese

Niese will likely open the season in AAA and stay there until July or so. At that point, if they need a starter, he could slide into the rotation, and if their rotation is solid he could supplement their relief corps.

If the Mets hadn’t collapsed at the end of last season, it’s likely Niese would have broken camp as the fifth starter and pitched 140 Major League innings in 2009. As things stand, he likely gets another year to develop, which will benefit him and the Mets in the long run. Unless he completely dominates in Spring Training, Niese won’t be seen in Queens until midseason.

Niese, only 22-years-old, was born on the same night the Mets won their last World Series title. A power lefty, he sits in the low nineties, and at 6’4” and 215 lbs., has the body to increase his velocity in the next couple years. His breaking balls are still developing, but his curve ball will be a plus pitch soon, and by 2010, he could approximate the performance of Maine and Pelfrey, slotting into what could become a dominant young rotation.

A full season in the Majors would probably be a stretch for him in 2009, but he’s capable of making 20 starts near league-average with some bullpen work to save his arm.  Ideally, he could join the Mets’ bullpen in July or August and contribute the way David Price, Joba Chamberlain, and Francisco Rodriguez have in recent pennant races.

 

Bobby Parnell

Parnell is another talented young pitcher.  He profiles more as a reliever than a starter, though the Mets apparently see him as a viable rotation option for this year or next. He will get a chance in Spring Training to push Redding to the bullpen or AAA, but likely will start the season either in Buffalo or as a mid-inning relief pitcher.

24-years-old, Parnell has been named to the All-Star team of three different minor leagues, in 2005, 2006, and 2008. Despite a weak showing in five starts at AAA New Orleans last year, he earned a Major League call-up and looks ready to contribute to the Mets.

Parnell, at 6’4” and 200 lbs., has a power pitcher’s build. He sits at 92-93 and touches 95 when he needs to, even late in games. He has a plus slider at 85-86, but his changeup is below average.

With his fastball/slider combination, Parnell can be a dominant relief pitcher; if he develops his changeup to be even an average pitch, he can become an excellent starter.

He profiles as a relief pitcher long term because of his motion. Parnell short arms the ball, and pitching from the pen could reduce the risk of injury.

Parnell pitched 153 innings at three levels last year, and as a starter could probably pitch 150-165 innings and outperform Redding. The question is whether the Mets want to lose a year of control to let him develop at the Major League level.

Given their options, Parnell looks to start the year in the rotation at Buffalo, but will likely be the first call-up in the event of injury to one of their starters.

If all goes well and no one gets hurt, he will join the bullpen just before September to keep him eligible for postseason play, and he and Niese will add a dynamic young power presence to their bullpen in the season’s final weeks before competing for the rotation in 2010.

Given a rotation spot, Parnell could probably post an 8-10 record with a 4.65 ERA and 1.50 WHIP with 100 strikeouts and 70 walks in 165 innings, but seeing as Redding could approximate that without impacting Parnell’s development, it’s not likely he’ll get the opportunity unless his changeup has developed into an out pitch by the start of Spring Training.

 

Brandon Knight

Knight will likely open the season as Buffalo’s No. 3 starter, but could wind up starting games for the Mets if Redding regresses and Garcia isn’t ready for the start of the season. At 33, Knight is not a prospect, which actually works in his favor, as the Mets will be inclined to let Parnell and Niese develop.

In 2007, a pitching coach adjusted Knight’s motion to give him a lower release point. His command and velocity immediately improved, and after posting a 2.28 ERA at AAA last year, Knight earned a promotion and looked fairly good, though the numbers were not pretty.

In his first start, for instance, he gave up four runs in the first inning, then settled down to pitch four scoreless against the Cardinals. In his second start he pitched five innings and gave up two earned with five strikeouts.

In AAA last year, he went 5-1 in 12 games with a 2.28 ERA and outstanding rates of 55 strikeouts to 12 walks in 43.1 innings.

With a strong performance in Spring Training, he could open camp with the Mets as a starter or reliever, and again, outperform Redding. It’s likely the Mets will send him to Buffalo and assess whether his new release point will lead to long term success.

 

Conclusion

Ideally, Garcia will be healthy enough to be the Mets’ fifth starter. If he’s not, Spring Training will be an open competition between Redding and Knight, as the Mets will want Parnell and Niese to open the season in the minors, though a strong showing from either of them could change minds in the front office.

 

Bullpen 

The Mets’ bullpen will be a major strength in 2009. Assuming Garcia breaks camp as the No. 5 starter, they will probably play April with a twelve man rotation, leaving them with seven bullpen slots.

Among their seven relief pitchers will be Rodriguez, J.J. Putz, Sean Green, Duaner Sanchez, Tim Redding, Pedro Feliciano, and either Brian Stokes or Nelson Figueroa.

They will be outstanding in late innings, with Rodriguez, Putz, and Feliciano; and with Putz in the fold, they will be protected if Rodriguez gets hurt. But the fact that they have only one left-handed relief pitcher is a weakness, particularly given the left-handed power on the rival Phillies. Sanchez and Stokes both have tremendous upside and the ability to pitch to lefties, but they could use another left handed pitcher, and may sign one if someone falls into their laps.

 

Closer

With the injury to Billy Wagner, the Mets went into the offseason without a closer.  While it’s possible he’ll return in late August, Wagner likely will be out for the year, in which case his career as a Met is over. The Mets signed Francisco Rodriguez to a three year, $37 million deal, an outstanding bargain given the price of closers in today’s market.

Rodriguez is an atypical reliever in that he pitches backward off his slider. He has an excellent fastball that reached into the high nineties early in his career, but currently sits around 91-92, touching 93-94 infrequently. He uses his fastball primarily out of the strike zone, either to entice hitters to chase his pitch or to set up the slider.

He throws his slider in two ways, the first as a hard, sweeping, conventional slider with a two plane break; the second as a looping, slower breaking ball that almost moves as a curve ball. He uses both breaking balls against hitters from each side of the plate, and complements them with an increasingly effective changeup that has become a weapon in the past couple years. He uses the changeup exclusively against left-handed batters.

Rodriguez is coming off a season in which he set the single-season save record with 62.  Despite this, he appears in fairly regular decline from his peak with the Angels.

His WHIP has risen each of the last two seasons, and with the exception of 2006, has risen every year he’s been in the league. His strikeout rate has declined every year since 2004, and while still an outstanding 10.14, shows a clear downward trend. His walks have remained steady. 

As well, the Angels have shown an increased reluctance to use him for multiple innings in recent years, and last year he was exclusively a three out pitcher.

While he is transitioning to the National League, the change produces less pronounced discrepancies in relief performances, particularly among closers, so we should not expect any improvement from last year to this. 70 innings with an ERA around 2.50, a WHIP around 1.30, approximately 9.50 K/9, a walk rate of about 4.50/9, and around 40 saves would be reasonable expectations, but projecting another 60 or even 50 save season would be foolish.

It is unreasonable to expect his strikeouts to improve, and the Angels’ defense has been consistently excellent, so even the Mets’ strength there will not provide much potential improvement.

Rodriguez is a potential injury risk with no potential for improvement. If healthy he is a reliably excellent one inning closer, but he will not be among the three or five best closers in the game in 2009.

His flamboyance on the mound will play well with Mets fans and will stoke the developing rivalry with Philadelphia.

 

Set up

J.J. Putz

Putz was the centerpiece of a three team trade that sent Aaron Heilman and Endy Chavez to Seattle. He is expected to provide a devastating tandem with Rodriguez in the eighth and ninth innings, prevent another season from being sabotaged by bullpen failures, and step into the closer’s role should Rodriguez miss time with injury.

Putz would probably be a better closer than Rodriguez at this point, but having the superior pitcher available to enter in the middle of innings and in more leveraged situations will be much more valuable. Putz is signed for 2009 with a team option for 2010, so if he and Rodriguez both stay healthy, the back end of the Mets’ bullpen should be set for the next two years.

After a dominant season in 2007 as the game’s best closer, Putz suffered Disabled List stints in 2008 for rib cage and elbow problems. He is expected to be fully recovered in 2009.

Prior to his injuries last year, Putz had seen his ERA and WHIP drop every season of his career, his strikeout rate settle in well above 10 K/9, and his walk rate settle at about 1.50 BB/9. He is a power righty with outstanding control, a rare combination that will play well in the seventh and eighth innings this year.

Putz features an excellent fastball that tops out in the high nineties and sits at 92-95.  He learned the split-finger from Eddie Guardado before the 2006 season, and when paired with a slightly below-average slider, the splitter has made his career. The pitch is a hard split with late break that dives out of the zone.

He throws the slider more often against right-handers, but will use it against left-handed batters as well. He uses the split in any count against both righties and lefties, and the fact that he offers a different look than Rodriguez can only help both of them.

A return to the phenomenal form of 2007 would be optimistic, but numbers in the range of a 2.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10.50 K/9, and 2.00 BB/9 for a 5.25 K/BB ratio would be reasonable, giving the Mets one of baseball’s best relief tandems.

 

Pedro Feliciano

Feliciano, the Mets only left-handed reliever guaranteed a spot in the pen, figures to get a lot of late inning work in leveraged situations against the division’s numerous power lefties:  Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Chipper Jones, Raul Ibanez, and so on.

He has performed well in that role for the Mets the past couple years, but he cannot pitch to right handed batters at all. With Putz able to take care of eighth inning duties against both right and left-handers, he looks to be strictly a situational pitcher in 2009.

Feliciano pitches off a fastball/slider combination, mixing in a fair number of curves and using his changeup exclusively against the few right handed hitters he faces. He moves the ball around well against lefties, utilizing all parts of the plate and changing planes, but against right handed batters he stays away, usually low and away, and never comes inside.

Feliciano is not a power arm. He is effective against lefties, but does not have the fastball to be truly dominant.

His final numbers will reflect his use. He will look better if used primarily against left-handed batters. If Manuel uses him against more than a smattering of right-handed hitters, he will deserve what he gets, and it will not be pretty.

 

Middle Innings

Sean Green

Acquired in the same deal as Putz, Green is a ground ball machine who is nearly a right-handed specialist. In 2008 he posted a 3.38 ERA with a K/BB ratio of nearly 2:1 against right-handed batters and a 6.68 ERA against lefties with more walks than strikeouts.

He stands to replace Chad Bradford, and will benefit from the Mets’ strong left side defense. Provided he’s not overexposed against lefties, he should pair with Feliciano to provide solid matchup work.

Green pitches off a two seam fastball with long break that moves more like a sinker than a fastball. His only significant secondary pitch is a slider, which is why he’s so vulnerable to lefties. Against right-handers, the slider is an above average pitch. He flashes a curveball and a changeup only occasionally, but neither is a good pitch. And he shows them mostly to keep hitters from sitting on his two effective pitches.

Green can be expected to put up an ERA around 4.00 or slightly north, with a ground ball to fly ball ratio around 3.00 and about 7.00 K/9, 4.50 BB/9, and a 1.50 WHIP. Those are not stupendous numbers by any stretch, but he will generate double plays, and perhaps most importantly, he wasn’t part of the Mets’ failures the last two seasons.

Green gives up too many walks and hits, but he provides value as a durable pitcher who could throw 75-80 innings and pitch in 70 games. There is the possibility that he was overexposed last year, and reports are that Putz was ecstatic to see him come to New York, but the splits cannot be ignored.

As with Feliciano, the Mets will get what they deserve: if used to complement Feliciano exclusively against righties, he will be an asset, but if used against lefties, he will routinely be hit around.

 

Duaner Sanchez

Sanchez had developed into an outstanding relief pitcher in 2005 and 2006. In late July of 2006, a taxi Sanchez was riding in was hit by a drunk driver.

In the accident, Sanchez separated his right shoulder. Though the Mets thought he had  recovered, Sanchez suffered a hairline fracture to the coracoid in the front of his shoulder as a result of structural weakness caused by the shoulder separation and missed all of 2007. He rejoined the Mets in mid April of 2008, and while the Mets brought him along slowly, he was able to pitch a full season with limited innings last year.

There is no way to know what Sanchez will provide in 2009. It’s unlikely he will ever return to being the dominant set up man he was in 2006, when he went 5-1 with a 2.60 ERA, but all scouting reports on him indicate he should be able to improve markedly on his effort last year, which saw a 4.32 ERA despite a strikeout to walk rate nearly identical to his peak levels. He records both fewer strikeouts and fewer walks now than he did in 2006, as well as a higher hit rate.

Sanchez’s best pitch is an outstanding circle change that he throws to both right handed and left handed batters. He pairs it with an outstanding, high effort fastball and a good slider that he uses often against righties and less often against lefties, though even against left handers, he does more than show the pitch.

Because of his changeup, he actually shows a bit of a reverse split, pitching more effectively against left-handed batters, which is part of the reason the Mets are comfortable going into Spring Training with only one lefty in the pen, but 2008 splits aside, he is effective against right handed hitters as well.

Provided he doesn’t reinjure himself, Sanchez should be able to put up numbers similar to his 2005 season, which would be more than enough for the Mets.  Expecting a sub-3.00 ERA would be a stretch, but numbers in the vicinity of a 3.75 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.00 K/9, and 3.75 BB/9 for a K/BB ratio of 1.87 in 65 innings are possible.

If he is ineffective, he could be released by midseason to make room for Parnell or even Eddie Kunz.

 

Nelson Figueroa

Figueroa looks to be the last man out of the pen, though the spot could as easily be filled by Brian Stokes, Brandon Knight, Bobby Parnell, or even Freddy Garcia if his arm is ready but not stretched out enough to start.  Figueroa is a body and little more.

After rehabilitating a torn rotator cuff in 2005, he pitched 2006 in the minors and played 2007 in Mexico and Taiwan. In 2008, Figueroa pitched 45.1 innings for the Mets, with six starts and 16 relief appearances. He was fairly awful as a starter, but was an effective reliever, posting a 3.00 ERA in 12 innings with 11 strikeouts to five walks.

Because of his relief performance last year, I think the last spot is his to lose, but his leash will be short in Spring Training, and if the Mets decide that Knight’s arm slot has resulted in a new level of performance, they’ll be hard pressed not to give this spot to him.

Figueroa is a classic AAAA pitcher. He throws five pitches, none of them well, but by finding two or three that work on a given day, can have moments of effectiveness.

His numbers will depend on exposure, but assuming about 90 innings as a reliever/mop up man/spot starter, he could probably put up a 4.85 ERA with a 1.60 WHIP, and K/BB ratio around 1.35. He won’t get to 90 innings, however, because those numbers will result in some shuttling back and forth between Buffalo and New York.

Expect Figueroa to be the first man sent down when the Mets transition to the normal eleven man rotation, and don’t expect to see him back except in emergencies. Given their other options, if he throws more than 35 innings in blue and orange this year, the Mets will have much larger problems to worry about.

 

Tim Redding

Redding’s performance will be little different as a reliever than a starter. His role would be to protect the bullpen from overwork.

 

Other Options

Brian Stokes is primarily a starter, but could be added to the pen in place of Figueroa.  Stokes is a hard throwing righty who has touched 98 from the bullpen.

Jon Niese will almost certainly be added to the bullpen or rotation in August before the rosters expand, and ideally will provide a second left-handed relief arm to pair with Feliciano.

Bobby Parnell could be added to the bullpen as well. His call up will depend on the health and performance of the rest of the Mets’ relievers. It could be as early as opening day or as late as the September roster expansions, but the Mets hope to give him time to develop his changeup in the minors.

Brandon Knight could see time in the bullpen as early as opening day if Redding opens the season in the rotation or if he impresses in camp.

Casey Fossum and Tom Martin have been offered minor league invites to Spring Training, and will have a chance to break camp as the second lefty in the pen, though the Mets are comfortable opening the season with Sanchez complementing Feliciano.

It’s not entirely impossible that Billy Wagner could come back in time for the playoffs. A back end featuring Green and Feliciano for situational work, Wagner and Putz as a left/right setup tandem, and Rodriguez closing is enough to make Mets fans salivate, but it’s probably nothing more than a pipe dream.

Eddie Kunz was effective as a closer in AA last year, and could reach the Majors sometime before the fall.

 

Conclusion

The Mets should open the season with a twelve man rotation because of innings limitations on their top relievers.

They also have several pitchers slated for the World Baseball Classic this spring, including Santana, Putz, Rodriguez, Feliciano, and Perez. While some of them may decline the opportunity, several will probably compete, and the Mets will bring them along slowly when they return.

Feliciano and Green both profile as specialists, Sanchez will be watched carefully, Rodriguez is a one inning pitcher, Figueroa is not reliable for leveraged innings, Stokes is even less so, and they will not want to overuse Putz. They will need a swingman to eat innings, and will carry Redding to fill this role if Garcia is able to pitch.

Their primary vulnerability will be the potential for overwork. All of their relievers are limited in some capacity, either by innings or splits, and if they’re not able to carry an effective swing man, most likely either Redding or Knight, the bullpen will be taxed by August and will repeat the collapse of last September.

That said, their bullpen is set up to be a major strength if used properly.

Rodriguez and Putz will be an outstanding combination for the eighth and ninth innings.  Green and Feliciano provide matchup work. Sanchez is outstanding against lefties and solid against righties, and someone will emerge from their list of fifth starter candidates to eat innings effectively at the end, be it Knight, Redding, Garcia, Stokes, Figueroa, or Parnell; and they have two top young arms that should be ready to contribute this year.

Ultimately, the Mets’ bullpen performance will depend on the durability of their starters and how Manuel deploys them.

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.

Given Pelfrey’s increase in workload, 60 innings from 2007 to 2008, his health will be a major concern.

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.

 

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