Heilman Still Wants to Start

For the fourth straight offseason, Aaron Heilman has expressed his desire to be a starting pitcher.

This annual proclamation gives every Heilman hater out there another reason to despise Aaron — citing his “selfishness” and suggesting that “he should just be happy to be in the big leagues”, yadda yadda yadda. Whatever … there’s no point in arguing with the emotional lunatics. It would be easier to turn a Barack-blinded liberal into a George Bush supporter.

We won’t again go into the many, many, many reasons it makes sense to move Aaron into the rotation — just refer to this post and this page for the arguments. Notice I stated “move Aaron” rather than “give Aaron a chance”. This isn’t ONLY about Heilman wanting to be a starter — it’s about addressing the Mets’ current needs and using their available talent pool to fill spots. Speaking of, let’s focus on the latest thought-provoking explanation given by Omar Minaya to keep Aaron Heilman in the bullpen:

“We talked and he expressed himself,” Minaya said. “He told me that he’d like the opportunity to start. But my job is to make sure I do what’s in the best interest of the team, and we still see him in the bullpen.”

Huh. So, the fact that Jerry Manuel did everything in his power NOT to use Heilman in the final weeks of the season suggests that Aaron will be a key component of next year’s bullpen? How? Why? If Heilman continues to be such a valuable bullpen arm, why in the world are the Mets going after K-Rod and Brian Fuentes? Why not just name Heilman the closer and be done with it?

The Mets’ most dire needs right now, in this order, are: 1. starting pitcher; 2. closer; 3. starting pitcher; 4. starting pitcher. Those are four huge holes to fill, and the Mets are already behind the eight-ball regarding starters by not getting into the C.C. Sabathia bidding. Before they blink they’ll see not only C.C. but also Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett off the market. “The best interest of the team” is filling those four holes. If all the closer eggs are going into the K-Rod basket, then doesn’t it make sense to move Heilman into one of the open starter roles?

Even more laughable is the scoop from Jon Heyman, who reported on SNY’s Mets Hot Stove that the Mets are “protecting” Heilman by keeping him in the bullpen. I’m not going to blame Heyman for that nonsense, as he’s simply the messenger reiterating what “insiders” have told him. Heyman tells us that the Mets are concerned about Heilman’s delivery, in particular the “high back elbow” motion that is similar to Mark Prior’s, and points to that specifically as a reason not to allow Aaron to pitch more than 100 innings in a season.

There is so much wrong with this “report”, I don’t know where to begin! Let’s start by reminding everyone that these “insiders” of the Mets organization are the same geniuses who recommended they trade Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano because Kazmir was going to blow his elbow out (huh … funny how things work out).

I will admit, as a pitching coach, that Heilman’s mechanics are complicated and have flaws — and the “high elbow” is something to be concerned about. But, it’s not nearly as big a problem as Heyman suggests. Don’t take it from me, though, use your own judgment. The argument is based on the fact that Heilman throws like Prior, and Prior had a major arm injury. Well, based on that logic, one would have to also believe that Greg Maddux will one day blow out his arm, because he throws with a low back elbow in the same manner as Pedro Martinez, and Pedro blew out his arm. Of course, that makes no sense. For every guy throwing like Prior who eventually injured his shoulder, there are two dozen guys who throw “correctly” and eventually injured himself.

In other words, everyone is different. Yes, Mark Prior suffered arm injuries, and it can be ascertained that at least part of the problem was due to his “high back elbow”, or what some term “inverted W”. But there have been many pitchers with this same arm action who DID NOT suffer a serious arm injury, the most obvious example being Don Drysdale. Yes, Drysdale’s career was over at age 32, but he managed to average somewhere in the neighborhood of 250+ innings per season through a dozen years before breaking down. Maybe Heilman will blow out his arm just like Drysdale did, and maybe it won’t happen until after he throws 3300 innings. No one can know for sure (again, everyone is different).

As a side note, I would like to point out that Mark Prior’s mechanics were once touted as “perfect” by Tom House, who is widely acknowledged as one of the best pitching coaches in baseball history when it comes to mechanics. In fact, Prior’s motion was gushed over and cited as an example of ideal mechanics in Will Carroll’s “Saving the Pitcher”. I point this out not because I agree with House (I don’t) or believe he’s as smart as everyone says (he’s not), but rather to illustrate just how subjective pitching mechanics can be. There are a ton of theories out there suggesting what’s “right”, but no one really knows for sure — no matter how many hours of video are studied, and no matter how many pitches are counted. What was believed to be “correct” today may be proved “incorrect” tomorrow, and vice-versa.

However, Heilman’s arm action is definitely not something I would teach, mainly because it is wasted motion and I like efficiency. It’s true that whipping the elbow up high before bringing it around could possibly lead to a dangerous load on the shoulder. But, there are a LOT of things in a pitching motion that can put undue stress on the shoulder — the most common one being over-rotating and opening up the front side too early. John Maine and Oliver Perez are two of the most blatant offenders of over-rotation — the ironic thing is, there are Major League coaches who TEACH this technique!

But the point is this: Maine and Perez have flawed, potentially damaging mechanics. But neither left the rotation … why are the Mets “protecting” Heilman and not Maine or Perez? If the Mets are going to allow Maine to continue to pitch with his flawed mechanics, will they also move him to the bullpen, as “protection”?

What’s much more concerning is that the Mets think there is a point in terms of accumulated innings that will cause Heilman’s arm to fall off. If they really believe this, I’m extremely curious how they arrived at this “magic number”. Did they pick it out of a hat? Do they simply like to apply the number 100 to all limits for pitchers? Certainly there is no scientific basis, because there haven’t been any studies done specifically on pitchers who throw like Aaron Heilman. If Drysdale is an indicator, then Heilman should be able to handle 300 innings a season for quite a while before hurting himself. John Smoltz does the “inverted W” thing and he had many 200+ inning seasons. Interestingly, Smoltz had four surgeries on his elbow before this most recent one on his shoulder — so it can be suggested that his motion didn’t do anything to his shoulder until he got into his 40s. Oh, and strangely enough, Jeremy Bonderman also went down due to and ELBOW injury — not shoulder — despite the fact that he, also, has a “high back elbow” motion similar to Aaron Heilman’s. Bonderman threw 175+ innings four years in a row.

What I find most hilarious about the idea of the Mets “protecting” Heilman by keeping him in the bullpen is that, in reality, they’re doing the exact opposite — they’re destroying him! There is not, and has not been, any indication in the past five years (at least) that the Mets follow any kind of system or protocol when it comes to the bullpen — not in as far as frequency of use, pitch counts, or “ups and readies” (i.e., warming up in the bullpen). Under each manager going back to Art Howe, the relievers were used recklessly, with no care or thought given to the preservation of individual arms. Instead, every game was managed like it was the seventh game of the World Series, with no thought given to tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or two months from now. Pitching on back-to-back days was a rule rather than an exception, particularly if a pitcher was “hot”.

It boggles the mind, some of the blasphemies that come out of the Mets organization. How in the world can pitching sporadically and without limits as a reliever be “safer” than the regimented structure a starting pitcher follows? Particularly when you rarely allow your starters to throw more than 100 pitches in an outing?

What this comes down to is the Mets showing Aaron who is boss. One of the many chefs in the kitchen doesn’t like the idea of Heilman telling them he wants to start, and as a result, the Mets will never fill one of their gaping holes in the rotation with the former #1 draft pick from Notre Dame. That’s the only explanation that makes sense — the rest of these excuses are exactly that, excuses.

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. isuzudude November 21, 2008 at 4:45 pm
    Honestly, I just want to be done with this issue already. Just trade him so we don’t have to hear about this anymore. I don’t even care if Heilman goes on to win 20 games and wins the Cy Young. Most of us can’t see Aaron being a successful component of the Mets anymore, and as long as the team moves on and makes it back to the playoffs, having Heilman on the team is inconsequential. Obviously the relationship between player and team has soured, the relationship between player and fans has soured, and the longer this is allowed to fester the worse it is going to get. The Mets are too stubborn to give in to Aaron’s wishes, and Aaron’s mind is made up that he hates working out of the bullpen (which had to play a part in his 2008 digression). Both sides seem unwilling to compromise and back off, so the best solution would be to go separate ways. Hopefully Aaron has retained enough value for the Mets to get a decent return, but at this point I can’t say many fans are going to stress out if Omar can’t get an above-average player back in a deal.
  2. joe November 21, 2008 at 4:51 pm
    Interesting that both this story and the Castillo one broke at around the same time. Do we think it is another PR move, somehow designed to drum up interest?
  3. Cliffy44 November 22, 2008 at 10:14 am
    I think thast it’s time to trade Heilman for 2 popcorn venders and a cotton candy vendor, to be named later.

    I cringed every and any time that that talentless and inconsistent 3rd string pitcher came in the game.

    I doubt that any true Mets fan feels any differently.

    A.H. (how appropriate his initials are) would be better on any other team, other than the Mets.

    I’ll put up a thousand dollars torwards the fund that’ll get A.H. gone from the mets.

    Maybe the mets can trade him for Bill Buckner?