New Starters' Attitudes and Unique Pitches Provide Breath Of Fresh Air For Mets

former writerCorrespondent IMay 28, 2010

NEW YORK - MAY 11:  Hisanori Takahashi #47 of the New York Mets pitches against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on May 11, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

It's amazing we're just now approaching Memorial Day Weekend, the end of baseball season's first two months.

The Mets have played 48 games. Six away from reaching the one-third mark of the regular season. Has it really only been 48 games?

It feels like this roller-coaster season has already lasted a lot longer. Maybe that's what happens when your team goes from winning 10 of their last 11 games in April, and leaping to the front of the NL East, to a tumbling slump on the road. New York fell seven games out of first place, and into the NL East cellar, at the low point of that slide.

The Mets did indeed win 10 of their last 11 games in April, finishing 14-9 that month after a tough first few weeks. But once the calendar turned to May, the Mets sputtered, losing nine of 11 games at one point.

They had gone from last place to first place, and back to last, faster than you could blink. Heck, the Mets were—and still very much are—a tough bunch to put your finger on.

One week, they look like playoff contenders. The next week, they look like also-rans.

The emotions swing back and forth with the team's success. I mean, I started out the year making a somewhat bold prediction, picking the Mets to finish second in the NL East , ahead of the Braves and Marlins.

I figured, hey, Sports Illustrated has us finishing fourth after the debacle that was the 2009 season—why not show some faith in the Amazins with their healthy roster?

Mike Pelfrey had a tremendous April. At one point, his ERA was supernatural, leaving me a little superstitious. Yes, his ERA was literally 0.86 at one point, and then lowered to a Major League-leading 0.69 after another fine performance.

I mean, come on—to have the ERA actually spell out the two seasons of the Mets' two world titles? It has to be destiny, right?

The Mets were rolling as April came to a close. I made my feelings known with another piece as the Mets were on the top of the world.

Then the road loasing streak hit the club like a ton of bricks. The Mets weren't just losing. They were playing bad, sloppy baseball. Ugh.

The questions about Jerry Manuel's job status were everywhere. After a 2-6 road trip against three NL East rivals, I though a bad home stand against the Yankees and Phillies could be the final nail in the coffin for the Mets skipper.

Then the Yankees came to town, and other than Alex Cora forgetting how to throw, the Mets flat-out outplayed and out-executed the defending world champs for 27 innings over that weekend.

Most people didn't expect it, and honestly neither did I. Although, I did say the match-up between the Mets and Yanks would be closer than most people expected .

Then again, two days later, I compared the inconsistent 2010 Mets to the 2004 team . Their similarities are eerie enough to keep me on guard.

Thank goodness for Roy Oswalt's ridiculous contract and no-trade clause. I don't want him anywhere near this Mets team.

I'm the optimistic Mets fan—always have been, always will be. But it's making me crazy trying to figure out this team's identity.

I still think I know five ways to improve this team . What I'm realizing now is that the Mets don't need to do all five of those things at once. Those five topics are like a checklist, they become a contingency plan for the solutions preceding them as it goes on.

That's why the Mets have gotten back on track recently. I thought they first needed to overhaul the starting rotation. It's a cliché, but everything really does begin with good starting pitching.

The Mets have clicked as an offense, thanks to the tremendous pitching they've gotten since R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi replaced John Maine and Oliver Perez in the Mets rotation.

So far, it's working better than anyone could have expected. And until Dickey's knuckleball stops dancing or Takahashi decides to give up a run, there's really no need to go ahead with some of the things on the list.

For now, Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya are safe.

Don't get me wrong—I'd still love to see Jenrry Mejia down in the minors, as I've written countless times. But Manuel says as long as he's the manager, Mejia's going to be in the bullpen.

Honestly, that's fair. If I were in Jerry's position, I'd want an arm like that in my bullpen to try to save my job too. That doesn't make it the long-term right move for the organization. But it's a sign of the respect Minaya has given Manuel. Their fates are likely tied if the Mets fall flat in the end.

Until Carlos Beltran gets back, which at this point is still up in the air, Jeff Francoeur is the guy in right field, if only because no one on the roster can field as well as he can. Among the ones that arguably can, Francouer is the only one that also has a pulse at the plate.

Chris Carter can bring the wood. But right field at Citi Field is more real estate than anyone is comfortable giving him. I expect to see him starting most days at DH in the AL parks, though.

But as a HUGE Carlos Beltran enthusiast, I urge New York fans to not give up on him in a Met uniform. I feel like we should look at it as if it's a trading deadline acquisition for a power-hitting right fielder who can take at-bats away from Francoeur, and add a bona fide middle of the order bat to lengthen the lineup to one of the best in the National League.

With Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey, the Mets' plan to stick with what they had this offseason could not be working any better this year.

The lefty-righty pairing has become a lefty-righty ace tandem that rivals the best in baseball. Jon Niese is expected to come back soon from his hamstring injury. And I'm a big fan of the young kid who was born on Oct. 27, 1986, the day the Mets won the 1986 World Series.

Niese has the potential to be a nice third starter behind Santana and Big Pelf. Who knows how long Takahashi can pitch like he's been doing? The same can be said for Dickey. Well, that's where FanGraphs comes in.

Takahashi has a 10.42 K/9, as well as a 3.55 B/9, which is nearly a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio, second on the team to Raul Valdes, a fellow rookie.

But in his 12 innings as a starter, he's struck out 11 and only walked a single batter.

What's baffling about Takahashi is probably his out pitch, the "shuuto," a sort of hybrid two-seam change-up. It might not have the mystique of the gyroball, but this shuuto pitch has been getting hitters off-balance all season.

Looking at Takahashi's pitch type breakdown , you can see that he throws what's registered as a change-up 34.5 percent of the time. But an unknown pitch that can't be classified ("XX" in the column) is mixed an additional 17.3 percent of the time as well.

Chance are, if FanGraphs doesn't have a precisely accurate report on it, neither do the hitters. That's why Takahashi has a 2.13 ERA overall in 38 innings in the big leagues, and a FIP of only 2.31. With a BABIP of .329, it all tells me that Hisanori Takahashi is the real deal until he proves otherwise.

R.A. Dickey, on the other hand, is a great addition to any pitching staff for a different reason. He's got the type of rubber arm, thanks to that knuckleball, that can throw 100 pitches in a start and then probably 25 to 30 or so in relief two days later. It's useful to have a guy like that essentially save a roster spot, especially when Oliver Perez is wasting one at this point.

My head hurt trying to look at the graphs at the bottom of this page . But it's pretty fascinating how brilliantly Dickey has been able to reinvent himself. He's yet to throw a curveball, a change-up, or a slider this season, focusing exclusively on throwing knuckleballs and fastballs.

As long as Dickey keeps getting out of jams, he deserves to start. And at the very least, he deserves a roster spot for the foreseeable future.

Call me crazy, but it's just refreshing to see two guys that are true professional pitchers in Takahashi and Dickey. They know how to pitch and just DO it, instead of the sorry excuses from Oliver Perez and John Maine.

Why were these two guaranteed rotation spots going into spring training? Have either of them really pitched well consistently since 2007, especially Johnny "bad body language" Maine?

I know Perez is getting paid the big bucks. But Maine hasn't even hit free agency yet.

He looks washed-up. I appreciate his time here, but that ship has sailed.

Step One: Overhaul the rotation. Look what's happened in the still very young post-Ollie, post-Maine era.

The Mets completed a 5-1 home stand against the two league champions, and outscored the two-time defending National League champion Phillies 16-0 in the series. That's 27 scoreless innings, a three-game shutout sweep , to pull the Mets two games back with 114 games left to play. They went from seven games back to two games back in five days.

The stat of the day, which comes from Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling of SNY's second-to-none Mets broadcast team, was that it was only the second time in Mets franchise history that they swept a three-game series, allowing zero runs in the series. The team was the Philadelphia Phillies. The year was 1969.

Ya gotta believe, right?

All I know is, this season isn't even halfway through. Let's hope the Mets bring the consistent baseball they've played at home on the road with them this time. Milwaukee is the first stop on the road trip to take us into June. They're a team I was high on and may have been dead wrong about, and they look beatable right now.

The Mets are now 19-9 at home, the first team to 19 home wins. Yet they're 6-14 on the road. They need to keep the foot on the gas against the Brew Crew.

With Willie Randolph and Rick Peterson on their bench, maybe the Brewers would be interested in taking John Maine and/or Oliver Perez off our hands to boot.

Hey, beggars can't be choosers when you're that desperate for quality arms. Wait, did I just call John Maine a quality arm? Maybe Peterson can fix him in 10 minutes.

If the Mets can get the productive outs they've been getting recently, along with the clutch hits with two outs and/or RISP they got against the Yankees and Phillies, it takes pressure off the starting pitching so they don't worry about giving up a run,which hasn't happened since Sunday, for the record.

Confidence is key, as Jerry Manuel mentioned in his post-game comments.

If the Mets can bring that Citi Field confidence on the road, they look like they can make some noise in the NL East this year. And if they can sneak their way into the playoffs, who knows? The Jets did pretty well with low expectations even after they got a surprise playoff berth.

Maybe there's something in the air.

(This article was originally posted on my personal blog, MetsJetsNetsBlog , and can be found here .)


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