New York Mets: Breaking Down the Potential 2011 Starting Rotation
The New York Mets starting rotation is not going to be what anyone had hoped for when last season ended.
With a lot of controversy already going on in the Mets front office, the team's ace starting pitcher (Johan Santana) will not be ready to pitch for a while. That opens up a huge spot in the starting rotation, and any number of guys could make the cut come April 1.
We know who three of the Mets starters will be, but which other two will fill out the rotation, and what other guys could we see starting games for the Mets this season?
Here's a list of 10 pitchers who will or could be starting games for the Mets in 2011.
Note: The first five pitchers are projected to make up the starting rotation on Opening Day. The next five are potential 2011 starters.
1. Mike Pelfrey
For the first time since 2007, Johan Santana will not be on the mound for the Mets on Opening Day. He had season-ending shoulder surgery last September and may not be back until the middle of the season.
With that, new Mets manager Terry Collins named Mike Pelfrey the Opening Day starter for the Mets on April 1 at Florida.
Pelfrey had a career season in 2010, posting career-best marks in wins (15), ERA (3.66), innings (204) and strikeouts (113).
His season, though, was sort of a roller coaster ride. He looked like a future ace at the start of the season as he had one of the best Aprils in Mets history. He went 4-0 with a 0.69 ERA and even saved a game in the 20th inning. His middle of the year wasn't so great as he hit a wall and he had an awful month of July.
Now, at age 27, Pelfrey is ready to assume the Mets' role of "ace" for the time being. This season may depend on Pelfrey if the Mets want to be in the mix for a Wild Card spot. If he doesn't get off to a good start, the Mets rotation would really take a hit.
2. Jon Niese
Entering his second full season in the big leagues, Jon Niese will be the Mets' top left-handed starting pitcher in 2011, and will most likely be second, splitting up right-handers Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey.
Niese at times in 2010 looked unhittable and on one night, he almost was. In a game in June against the Padres, Niese allowed one baserunner—a double to Chris Denorfia of all people—throwing a one-hit shutout.
He developed a nasty cutter to add to his wicked curveball and it all came together for him in June, as he went 4-0.
The one negative to his season—and what's been his career problem so far—is that he injured his hamstring again. He was coming off a torn hamstring in 2009 and re-aggravated it in a game in Miami in May. When he came back, he looked as strong as ever.
Just like Pelfrey, Niese struggled down the stretch, fatiguing as the Mets were contemplating limiting his innings. As a result, he finished the season with a losing record and high ERA.
Now, he seems to be ready to have a huge season. If he can stay healthy and continue along in his matchup development without any problems, he should be able to win 12-15 games.
3. R.A. Dickey
This is one of the most unbelievable stories of all time. A 36-year-old journeyman knuckleballer who impressed so much in one season that he earned a two-year contract with an option.
That's the story of R.A. Dickey, who was last season's Cinderella player in Major League Baseball. Dickey ended up winning 11 games in only 26 starts after coming up late and pitched to an amazing 2.84 ERA.
Start after start, the only thing that would be brought up was how long it would be before Dickey became the pitcher he had always been. Before last season, his best season was in 2003 with the Rangers, and his ERA that season was over 5.00.
Every time the Mets needed him to step up in huge moments when they were still in the race, Dickey would do just that.
Just like Niese, he also threw a one-hitter. In a game against the Phillies, the only hit he allowed was one to the opposing pitcher, Cole Hamels.
Being last season was his first as a true knuckleballer, the Mets decided to extend him for two more seasons with an option for a third. They're hoping that he could be the next Tim Wakefield and use his knuckler to baffle hitters for years to come.
This season will be a telling one in figuring out if the league caught up to him, or if Dickey is just starting out as a quality pitcher who developed very late.
4. Dillon Gee
After the first three starters in the rotation, nobody knows who'll be rounding it out from there. There are a bunch of guys that could get the final two spots, but based off of late last season, Dillon Gee should be one of them.
He still has to show that he has the stuff to succeed in spring training, but he shined in September of last season, throwing five quality starts.
In each start, he threw at least six innings, and gave up no more than three earned runs. Two of those starts came against playoff teams in the Braves and Phillies, which is what impressed the Mets the most.
There is the thought, though, that doing well in September doesn't mean much, being there are a bunch of minor league players on the expanded 40-man rosters, but Gee has always looked good in Triple-A. He's been too good for Triple-A, but not good enough for the big leagues: a "Quadruple-A" player.
With two spots open in the rotation and the Mets not expected to win a title this season, a quality spring training should get Gee the fourth starter job.
5. Chris Young
Once again, with Johan Santana not being able to start the season, the Mets needed some pitchers to try out for the fifth starter's job. If Dillon Gee doesn't make it, then two starters are needed.
With that in mind, new Mets general manager Sandy Alderson went out and signed veteran right-hander Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $1.1 million.
Young isn't your average journeyman who has been on 10 teams and hasn't worked out. He's an All-Star who has had flashes of dominance in his career.
For the past five seasons, Young spent his time with the Padres, and had his career thrown off by a plethora of injuries.
Mainly, he was always sidelined with shoulder problems, and he opened eyes last September with three great starts coming back from injury. He went 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA, and that gave teams like the Mets reason to look into signing him.
Now, the Mets are hoping he could at least give them something so that they can make him the fifth starter.
To show you how dominant he looked when healthy, in 2007 he only allowed 118 hits in 173 innings. If he can be half of who he was, the Mets have to be happy.
The previous five starters you read about are projected to be in the Opening Day rotation. These next five are guys you should and could see later on in 2011.
First off has got to be Johan Santana. Although he won't be starting the first game of the season, he should be ready to pitch at some point in the summer.
When he was talking to the media after it was announced he'd have surgery last season, Santana said he didn't know if he'd pitch at all this season. Earlier this offseason, it was said that he had begun the process of making the comeback.
In all likelihood, you won't see him until June at the earliest, but they say pitchers come back stronger off of injuries. His problem is that this is his third postseason surgery with the Mets in as many seasons. He's not getting any younger, as he'll be 32 by the time the season starts.
If he is able to be the quality pitcher he was signed to be, the Mets could be cooking if they're still in the race. It would probably take him about a month to get on track, so that will push back his effectiveness right from the start.
You can't predict how he'll pitch or if he'll ever be the pitcher he was before he started breaking down at the end of 2008. With this injury being a shoulder, opposed to an elbow or meniscus like the previous two, you don't know how hard he'll throw.
The Mets have to hope that when he returns, he can eventually pitch effectively for the rest of this season, and more importantly in 2012.
Just like with Chris Young, the Mets signed veteran left-hander Chris Capuano to a one-year contract, looking to add depth to a depleted rotation.
Capuano has had an up-and-down career on the field and recently missed two full seasons after undergoing a second Tommy John surgery.
His career year was in 2005 when he won 18 games and started the most games in the National League (35) with the Brewers.
His following season was a down one, as he came nowhere close to doing what he did in 2005. In 2006, he only went 11-12 and gave up 229 hits in 221.1 innings. After an awful 2007 season that saw his career fizzling, he underwent Tommy John elbow surgery and missed 2008 and 2009.
He appeared in 24 games for the Brewers last season, nine being starts, and pitched decently. Just like Chris Young, he showed teams in need of starters that he perhaps can pitch quality innings.
He could make the rotation out of spring training if either Gee and/or Young falter, but expect him to perhaps make the team more toward the middle of the season or when there's any injury.
He's still only 21 years of age, but Jenrry Mejia showed some signs last season that he could make an impact with the Mets not too long from now.
He made his much-anticipated major league debut on April 7 and spent the majority of his time coming out of the bullpen.
His last three appearances were as a starter in September, and he didn't look like he was ready to handle that role. He never lasted more than five innings in any of the starts and got injured in his final appearance. In a game against the Pirates, Mejia came out after only 2.1 innings after suffering a rhomboid strain of the right shoulder blade.
He finished his first season 0-4, and showed two things: Perhaps he should spend all of 2011 in the minors getting groomed, and there's a chance he'd have a better career as a late-inning relief pitcher. As a reliever, his ERA was 3.25 and as a starter, it was 7.94.
Don't expect to see too much of Mejia in the regular season, and don't be surprised if he's traded at the deadline.
Pat Misch always seems to be a dark horse to enter the bullpen or rotation at any point of any season. That's what he's done the past two seasons with the Mets, and he's shown he could eat some innings while not performing badly.
Unfortunately for Misch, 2010 was a hard-luck season. He came up to make four starts in August and lost every one of them, although he pitched quality starts in three of them.
He was then relegated to the bullpen where he made five consecutive appearances without allowing a single run.
His best start came on the final Friday of the season, when he allowed one run and three hits in eight innings, striking out 10.
He was actually the last pitcher to throw a pitch for the Mets in 2010, as he recorded the final two outs of the Mets' 14-inning marathon loss on the final day to the Nationals.
Whenever there's a problem, whether it be performance or injury, you could expect Misch to get the call-up from Triple-A Buffalo. He'll be in a Mets uniform at some point in 2011.
Although he hasn't started a major league game in four years, Taylor Buchholz could be up as a starter or reliever if really needed this season.
He's the third pitcher the Mets signed in the offseason, and Buchholz is another pitcher who recently had Tommy John surgery.
He hasn't had what you'd call a good career by any means, as he pitched terribly in his rookie season in 2006, when he went 6-10 with a 5.89 ERA. He came out of the bullpen for most of 2007.
His best season in the big leagues came in 2008 with the Rockies in 63 games as a reliever. He won six games while pitching to a 2.17 ERA, only allowing 45 hits in 66.1 innings.
He missed all of 2009 after undergoing elbow surgery and came back to make nine relief appearances with the Rockies and Blue Jays last season.
He's probably the last pitcher you'd expect to see this season, but with the way the Mets always suffer injuries, don't count anyone out.
Honorable Mention: Josh Stinson