More Thoughts on Postseason Pitching

While basking in the afterglow of yesterday’s double-dip sweep of the despised Braves, an issue seems to have developed: what to do about Dave Williams and Oliver Perez?

Sure, it’s easy to get unrealistically excited about the shutout thrown by Oliver Perez. However, the Mets’ brass must be licking their chops and wondering if Perez circa 2004 has returned. If he has, the Mets have a NUMBER ONE starter for the postseason. Yes, Pedro is the Mets’ official ace, but the Perez of 2004 is better than the Pedro of 2006. Don’t believe it? Check out this line:
WHIP: 1.15 ERA: 2.98 K/9: 11 HR/9: 1.01 IP/Start: 6.5

compared to this one:

WHIP: 1.02 ERA: 3.84 K/9: 9 HR/9: 1.26 IP/Start: 6

Oliver Perez 2004 is the line on top, Pedro Martinez 2006 is the second line.

Of course, we don’t know for sure whether the 2004 vintage of Perez is pouring right now; for all we know, yesterday’s performance was a fluke. But it might not be, and with that possibility, the Mets HAVE TO give Oliver another start, to find out for sure.

Similarly, the Mets really need to give Dave Williams another start — or maybe three more. So far, the Mets have won all four of his starts in an NY cap, and he has gone 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP (walking only 2 batters total!), and averaging just over six innings per start.

Willie Randolph, on Williams, as quoted by the New York Times…

“I’ve only seen him four games, guys, but he’s been around awhile. … So again, it’s only four games, but it’s nice to see him take the opportunity and run with it.”…

OK, so what if you give him three more starts, and what if he continues the same pace? Do you say, “it’s only been seven games, guys … ” ? Or, do you make him one of your postseason starters?

The New York Yankees faced a similar quandary last year with Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon. The two no-names all but rescued the Yankee pitching staff, and could be credited with propelling the Yankees to their first-place finish in 2005. Chacon was given a start in the playoffs, yet Small — despite a 10-0 record — was banished to the bullpen, where he came in to mop up after Randy Johnson.

Looking back, you could say the Yanks were right to keep Small from starting, since he was the losing pitcher in Game 3. But that’s not fair to Small, who extinguished a fire started by Randy Johnson in the 4th, and was not returned the favor by Scott Proctor in the 6th. I also think it’s very difficult to expect a pitcher who has been starting, to suddenly be effective out of the bullpen. It’s a completely different routine, and not everyone can make that adjustment in a short time frame (Steve Trachsel says he couldn’t do it at all).

On the other hand, the decision to start Chacon worked out very well for the Yankees — though he needed some help from Al Leiter, of all people — as he pitched six and a third strong innings and allowed only two runs, giving the Yanks a great opportunity to win.

In retrospect, it was the Yankee “aces” — Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina — who let down the team and ultimately could be held responsible for the team’s exit from the playoffs.

Now look at the Mets’ pitching situation: Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, and Steve Trachsel are considered by many to be the leading candidates for postseason starting. However, Pedro, Tommy, and El Duque are all coming off injuries and their health is questionable. Pedro is going to be the #1 starter no matter what, so there’s nothing to discuss concerning his role. However, even when healthy, Glavine and Hernandez have been maddeningly inconsistent: one game looking outstanding the next game looking washed up. There’s been no in-between with these guys, and both have had more than a few games where they were battered into commission before the third inning. Those kind of outings can’t happen to a championship-bound team.

Then there’s Trachsel, who may have “earned” his postseason spot for questionable reasons. If he is handed a playoff start, it will be because of 1.) respect for his years as a Met; 2.) veteran status; 3.) his ability to win so many games this year; and 4.) his inability to pitch out of the bullpen. However, there are major problems with this reasoning.

First, it is senseless to give him a start based on his longevitiy as a Met. It makes about as much sense as giving Ed Kranepool the start at 1B over Keith Hernandez, had Kranepool still been around in 1986.

Second, the fact that he’s a “veteran”, and therefore would be more reliable or effective than a younger pitcher, is pure hogwash. Look back to the Yankee example, and Randy Johnson — a guy who was not only a veteran but also had previous postseason success. In the playoffs, you have to go with the hot hand, young or old — just as the Marlins did a few years ago with Josh Beckett, and the Angels did with K-Rod.

Third, and most alarming, is the idea that he “finds a way to win”. In fact he doesn’t; the Mets win games in spite of him. Everyday I hear some bunk artist on the radio or TV spewing about how it’s amazing that some pitchers get offensive support while others don’t. There’s no black magic going on here, it’s simple logic: a number-four starter will, most of the time, face the opposing team’s number-four OR number-five starter. So in most of Trachsel’s starts, he has faced the other team’s #4 or #5 guy. That said, and seeing the Mets’ offense this year, is it so difficult to understand how and why he is the recipient of massive run support? When the playoffs come around, Trachsel will be facing the #4 starter of a very good team (that’s much different from, say, the #4 starter of the Pittsburgh Pirates) … or, he might be facing the other team’s #1 on three days’ rest. Steve Trachsel has won a lot of games this year entirely by fluke, not unlike what Jason Marquis has accomplished in St. Louis; the only difference is that Marquis often gets past the fifth inning.

Finally, there is his reluctance to pitch out of the bullpen — something he made loud and clear last year after returning from back surgery. Mr. Willie and Omar can’t keep Trax off the postseason roster, he can’t pitch out of the bullpen, and he certainly won’t be filling in for David Wright at third base. So, if he’s going to take up a valuable roster spot, he might as well start — otherwise he has no value whatsoever. That’s the frightening part of this whole scenario.

But let’s get back to Perez and Williams. And John Maine, for that matter. Here are three guys who absolutely must be given more starts this month, to see if they are worthy of postseason duty. What happens if all three continue their winning ways? Could you possibly leave one behind, and take Trachsel instead? And now that El Duque, Pedro, and Tommy are all back from their injuries, how are you going to give these guys more starts? A seven-man rotation?

Maybe the thing to do is put one, two, or all three of them in the bullpen — now — and see what they can do when brought into the middle of a game. Perez, in particular, could be the kind of flamethrower you need to bring into a bases-loaded, no-out situation with two lefties coming up. Maine and Williams might prove to be better versions of Darren Oliver, if that’s possible. Or they might be great matchup / ROOGY – LOOGY guys. Or they might not be able to warm up quickly enough. Or maybe they can’t pitch back-to-back days. These are things we need to find out NOW, and not in the middle of a playoff series.

Or maybe these guys could be “faux starters”, and replace Glavine and Trachsel early in games. You have to start Glavine in Game 2 for nearly the same reasons you’re going to start Pedro in Game 1. But he doesn’t have to finish! Let him pitch two or three innings, and if he gets into any trouble at all, bring in Maine. Do the same thing with Trachsel, if you insist on giving him a start. Omar Minaya talked about shortening the game in the preseason; how about REALLY shortening it?

Whereas Heilman, Mota, Bradford, and Feliciano are charged with bridging the gap to Wagner, you could have Williams, Perez, Maine, and Oliver bridging the gap to the setup men. It’s not the craziest idea; heck, people thought Sparky Anderson was crazy when he started the whole idea of middle relief with the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds.

Of course, it’s going to be tough to carry 14 pitchers on the postseason roster … but hey, you can always use Oliver, Glavine, and Williams as pinch-hitters!

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.