The Fifth Starter

Some people wonder why I’m so panicked regarding the Mets’ fifth starter. After all, how many teams have a solid fifth starter? All we need is a guy to go out there and give us 5 decent innings, keep the team in the game, and then hand it over to the bullpen.

Well, take a look at the following table and draw your own conclusions regarding my concern.

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The above pitchers were the collective “spot starters” who filled in the fifth slot in the rotation at different periods during the 2007 season. I chose not to include Jorge Sosa because when he made his 14 starts, he was more of a regular in the rotation rather than a fill-in — and I wanted to focus on the fill-ins to see just how much of an impact they had on the team’s final record. Mike Pelfrey was included because his starts were sporadic; there was no point in the season where he took the ball every fifth day for more than five consecutive starts.

All in all, there were a total of 24 games started by a pitcher not part of the regular rotation. Perhaps this is a helpful comparison: El Duque also started 24 games in 2007. So, in a way, these six men are comparable — in volume — to a regular starter who spent time on the DL.

In those 24 games, the spot starters pitched a grand total of 100 innings, and gave up 99 earned runs. That’s an average of 4.1 innings per start, and an ERA a shade under 9. They added four wins (how did they even win 4?) and 13 losses to the final standings, with 7 no-decisions left to the overtaxed bullpen.

Since the Mets lost the division by one game, you can immediately see the magnitude of these statistics.

Right now, the Mets are TWO starters short — unless we really believe Mike Pelfrey is ready to make 25-30 MLB starts, and/or Nelson Figueroa is the next Aaron Small (circa 2005). So, in essence, there are two spot starters holding up the back end of the rotation, with the likes of Brian Stokes and Tony Armas, Jr. next in line.

Maybe Big Pelf and Figgy can outperform last year’s spot starters. Let’s hope so, because if last year is any indication, those spot starts can mean the difference between winning and losing the division.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. […] a post to Mets Today, Joe Janish cites a variety of picthers, such as Chan Ho Park to Dave Williams, as to why he is so […]
  2. isuzudude April 8, 2008 at 10:16 am
    Joe, I think your point is well taken. It would absolutely be grand to have a fill-in 5th starter available who could step right in and contribute a sub-4 ERA while winning 60% of their starts. We would all love that to happen. But your argument does not present any solutions, and I’m not sure there are any. You mention how there isn’t any great starting pitching depth in the organization, but what is the plan to make it better? Does signing a Robinson Tejeda or Claudio Vargas automatically give the Mets a legitamite 5th starter, or just more of the same sub-par depth they had in 2007? Would have signing Jason Jennings, Bartolo Colon, Shawn Chacon, Jon Lieber, or any of the other free agents this past offseason helped our current dilemma (taking into consideration their willingness to play for the Mets or starting the year in AAA)? Additionally, what starters are available through trade that would not only provide us with that coveted #5 starter, but also wouldn’t cost us more of our valuable minor league depth and prospects?

    I understand the Mets 5th spot last year, with the exception of Sosa, completely stunk. But I don’t believe it to be a foregone conclusion that it will repeat itself this year, despite the lack of quality names in the organization. I just don’t think it’s that easy to find all these quality pitchers anymore. Look at Philadelphia last year – they had Adam Eaton with an ERA of 6.30 getting 30 starts, 2nd most on the team! And they still made the playoffs. Look at Atlanta – with James, Hampton, and Smoltz likely to spend periods on the DL this year, they’re only left with Glavine and Hudson as reliable, durable starters. The rest is left up to Jair Jurrjens, Jeff Bennett, JoJo Reyes, and Buddy Carlyle. Not really the most fear-imposing group…yet, the Braves are the team most of us are most worried about. And look back to 2000, the last time the Mets advanced to the World Series. The #5 SP then was Bobby Jones, who started 27 games with an ERA over 5. Honestly, don’t you think a mix of Pelfrey/Duque/Figueroa/Armas can at least hold the opposition to a 5.00 ERA in 27 starts? My point is, the good teams will find a way to OVERCOME their flaws. And last year’s Met team, at least for the 2nd half, was not a good team, and it wasn’t entirely because of the #5 SP spot.

    Again, Joe, I realize where you’re coming from, and obviously it’s best for the Mets to have as many good starting pitchers ready in reserve as possible. But I just don’t think it’s that easy anymore. And, in my opinion, with Duque coming back in about 2 weeks and Pedro likely back in May, there’s no reason to go further depleting our system to trade for somebody, or signing all these mediocre swingmen when we’ll be back to full strength in about a month’s time.

  3. Micalpalyn April 8, 2008 at 12:01 pm
    Joe: your panic is well stated. However, Omar unlike previous yrs had two 5th starters lined up. Pedro (really) is the 4th and then El duque & Pel 5th.

    Last yr that was Pel, but he failed!! And then came the band aids….Williams, Park finally Sosa then Lawrence. You cant DISCOUNT Sosa. He simply suceeded where others did not…for a while.

    the previous yr- It was Bannister who then was injured giving way to Soler, maine and El duque (trade), then Maine came in.

    Yes> I am on the Tejeda sauce. but I can see why Omar is adamant in his ‘not interested stance’, when he has figgy, El duque, Pel, Sosa all as 5th spot starters potentially.